Review

Coloring the Story

THE GRAPHIC NOVEL Radical Jesus, edited by Paul Buhle, has three distinct sections offering different expressions of Jesus’ life and social message. The brevity of the graphic novel medium allows the writers to construct a clear and distinct message in a moving art form.

Part one, “Radical Gospel,” illustrated by Sabrina Jones, uses biblical quotes to construct a visual story that connects the words of Jesus to modern situations. The black and white ink styling is simple yet profound.

While Jesus and his disciples are portrayed as first century Jews, the people Jesus interacts with and tells parables about are all in modern dress. This puts Jesus in an accessible conversation not only with his disciples, but also with the reader. In a collection of Jesus’ sayings from the Sermon on the Mount, the art drives home the emotional impact of his words.

Jones does not shy away from the radical implications of Jesus’ message. My favorite of her modern interpretations is an image of the destruction wreaked by the 9/11 attacks, contrasted with Jesus’ reference to the temple in Jerusalem, where he exclaims, “The day will come when there isn’t one stone left on top of another that is not thrown down.”

The second section, “Radical History,” moves from the words of Jesus into the history of the Radical Reformation, continuing the narrative of people living into God’s dream for the world. The illustrations by Gary Dumm (with coloring by Laura Dumm) imitate the style of medieval art, with full-bodied pastel colors and static but emotional characters.

Presented as an anthology of stories by several authors, the assortment is anchored by an interpretation of the beginnings of the Anabaptists, a people who rejected infant baptism, seeing baptism as properly a sign of adult conversion and faith.

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Bringing the Word to Life

ONE YEAR MY small group decided to have each member choose a person named or alluded to in the gospels to “follow” during Lent. We researched our people and the customs of that time and reflected individually and collectively on their encounters with Jesus. Then we hosted a community meal for family and friends on the night before Easter. Each member of our group came in character as the person we’dstudied and tried to recreate the mood of that frightening, confusing, grief-filled night for followers of Jesus after his death and before his resurrection. After the meal, each of us presented a monologue that tried to project what our person might have been thinking and experiencing at that time.

The attempt to immerse mind, soul, and body into scriptures that I had listened to for much of my life (but perhaps hadn’t really heard) was a transformative experience: It burned away long-held assumptions and revealed new facets of chapter and verse.

The book Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, by Sojourners contributing editor Reta Halteman Finger and George D. McClain, provides a useful and fun toolbox for small groups, Sunday schools, religion classes, and even imaginative individuals who want their own full-immersion experience of scripture and biblical scholarship. It invites readers to a deeper understanding of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth by using role play to “become” members of the different factions of that community as they hear Paul’s words read for the first time. The authors assert that “as we more clearly experience what Paul meant in the first century, we can better understand what his writings mean in our 21st century context.”

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The Harvest of Fidelity

THE STILL, ATTENTIVE, affectionate, at times lamenting, always sagacious, well-defined, occasional poems in This Day, Wendell Berry’s most recent collection, are a magnificent gift to American letters.

For nearly 35 years Berry has kept the Sabbath holy. His practice is either unorthodox or so deeply orthodox that professional religionists may not recognize it. On Sundays Berry walks his Kentucky “home place,” the roughly 125 acres of bottom land in the region his family has farmed for more than 200 years. From the seventh-day silence, solitude, and natural world, Berry has crafted his Sabbath poems.

“Occasional poems” commemorate public events, but here Berry lays quiet markers to remember personal days in the life of one man. He writes in the preface: “though I am happy to think that poetry may be reclaiming its public life, I am equally happy to insist that poetry also has a private life that is more important to it and more necessary to us.”

Berry’s first collection of Sabbath poems appeared in A Timbered Choir, uniting work from 1979 (“I go among trees and sit still”) to 1997 (“There is a day / when the road neither / comes nor goes ...”). This Day includes this previous material plus dozens more written through 2013. It opens with “Preface: From Sabbaths 2013” and places Berry in his human landscape:

This is a poet of the river lands
a lowdown man of the deepest
depths of the valley, where gravity gathers
the waters, the poisons, the trash,
where light comes late and leaves early.

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REVIEW: Well-intentioned 'Son of God' Doesn't Go Too Deep

Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in “Son of God.” Photo courtesy of Lightworkers Media / RNS

The first half of “Son of God” features an upbeat and kindly Jesus spreading the good word in familiar, if occasionally over-simplified, biblical phraseology.

Then things get bloody — thought not quite as graphic as in 2004′s “The Passion of the Christ” — when Jesus is seized, beaten, and crucified. The production values are modest and the special effects uneven in this PG-13 repurposed and condensed version of the History Channel’s miniseries The Bible.  (That series drew flack for casting an actor who resembled President Obama in the role of Satan. The film sidesteps any hint of controversy by keeping the devil out of this story.)

Son of God, which opens Friday, takes no real chances, opting for a moderately involving re-telling of an oft-told story.

States of Being

The 10 best U.S. films of 2013.

Gareth Higgins is a writer and broadcaster from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who has worked as an academic and activist. He is the author of Cinematic States: America in 50 Movies and How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films. He blogs at www.godisnotelsewhere.wordpress.com and co-presents “The Film Talk” podcast with Jett Loe at www.thefilmtalk.com. He is also a Sojourners contributing editor. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

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