The Place of Real Arrival

Good science-fiction consists of more than just alien invasions, body-snatchers, and “Take me to your leader.” Done well, sci-fi tells us deep truths about ourselves and our world. The Oscar-nominated film Arrival most definitely falls into this type of good sci-fi because of the way it takes the viewer deeper into the emotions of human experience. As film critic Anthony Lane wrote in The New Yorker, “What lingers, days after you leave the cinema, is neither the wizardry nor the climax but the zephyr of emotional intensity that blows through the film.”

Director Denis Villeneuve is the wizard behind the wizardry of Arrival, while Amy Adams plays the main character: a respected linguist named Dr. Louise Banks. The United States Army seeks out Dr. Banks and her top-notch translation skills so she can help them decipher what a group of mysterious, newly arrived aliens want with the human race.

Arrival doesn’t begin with the aliens, however. The opening sequence of the film shows us intensely emotional scenes from the life of one person, beginning to end. In a matter of minutes, we feel boundless joy, soul-twisting loss, and the agony of sorrow. Villeneuve masterfully crafts this sequence, helping us see and feel the fleeting nature of time from a distance, and all at once. We are voyeurs on the outside of time, looking in.

This isn’t how we normally experience time, of course. We live in time. It’s something happening to us in a specific moment, like a dot on a timeline. In the first few minutes of the film, we are seeing one person’s timeline all at once, which highlights the brevity of life and causes us to feel as Solomon did, that life is a vapor and a vanity.

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Book Review of Comfort Detox By Erin Straza

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Erin has been a mentor to me. We connected through Christ and Pop Culture (where I do some writing). She is the managing editor of the Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, which is for members only. And she has a podcast through CAPC, with Hannah Anderson, called Persuasion. This is one of my favorite podcasts, because these two women are deep thinkers, culturally savvy, and don’t spend too much time chatting and giggling (as do some podcasts for Christian women).

Now Erin has launched into the book publishing realm to release Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom From Habits That Bind You, through InterVarsity Press. She starts off with what she calls “The Shredding”, which for her was a defining moment in the red light district of India. This shredding was a humbling experience and a severe mercy that devastated her, but woke her up to the sorrowing world around her. And out of “The Shredding” came what she terms, “The Question”, which was, “What am I doing?” Erin finally faced this uncomfortable question when she came home from India; this is where her comfort detox began.

Erin does a great job explaining what she means by a comfort detox: it is rewiring our brain by rewarding it with true comfort, instead of the false comforts of this world, and thereby replacing old habits with good ones. She thoroughly analyses the culture around us and the craving for comfort, and specifically unpacks a few ways our culture attempts to satisfy this craving. Three broad categories, Erin proposes, for old, world-conforming habits are: convenience, safety, and perfection. These three areas are ways we seek comfort. But Erin points us in a new direction.

Her new direction is true comfort. And Erin unpacks the idea of God being our comforter. This where comfort is redeemed. As Erin says, “I have pursued the comfort of things, when all along comfort is a person.” She goes on to say that God designed us to crave comfort, but it was meant to find ultimate satisfaction in him. And the comfort from God does not stop here, but is joined together as we comfort others with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4), which in turn equals more comfort for us. Instead of collapsing inward, we must turn outward. This way, as Erin says, we’ll receive a full measure of comfort. She says, “True comfort enables us to turn outward – toward God for the comfort we need and toward others who need what comes only from God.” 

Erin reminds us that comfort is a mindless habit, and that the gospel overpowers the old habits of living for convenience, safety, and perfection and replaces them with “life-giving habits we need – compassion, trust, and humility – in order to walk free from the destructive habits that bind us.” She then ends the book with three chapters dedicated to the ways true comfort is set loose in our lives. First, we experience gospel freedom, then we are engaged with the sorrowing world around us, and finally we will be captivated by God’s kingdom purposes.

This book is a true treasure full of creative insight and deep biblical thought. Erin writes as she speaks (which, if you’re a writer, is a compliment). She writes clearly, thoughtfully, and vulnerably. It’s obvious she feels and cares deeply, and she inspires us to do the same.

Less is More? What Minimalism Can and Can’t Teach Us

must have always been a minimalist at heart. As a teenager I would periodically initiate a purge of unused and well-worn clothing. I would also routinely clean out my closet, throwing out the old to make room for the new. Now as an adult, I still enjoy the art of decluttering. I feel alive when I can throw together bags for donations or toss something in the trash. When I was first married, I impressed my decluttering ways upon my husband, helping him loosen his grip on baggy clothes from the ’90s, which he kept for sentimental reasons. (Interestingly enough, my husband has always had double the number of shoes I’ve had; when he was single, he would buy a pair of shoes a month.) Now my husband always wants to get rid of things too, though I still have fewer shoes and clothing than he does.

I guess I was cool before it was cool to declutter, or, as some like to call it: simplify. Now minimalism could be called a trend or a movement. And though it is about decluttering and simplifying, it is also much more. One of the leaders in the minimalist movement, Joshua Becker, defines it this way: “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it” (25). For most of us, the term minimalism conjures up images of stark white walls, a solitary chair in the living room, bare countertops, and a cold hard mattress on the floor. It’s an extreme picture, though it could be true for some who call themselves minimalists. What Becker and others like him are trying to do is make minimalism more balanced and fit for everyone, not just bachelors. Minimalism is not just about decluttering, but owning less. It’s about letting go of your possessions before they possess you. It’s about simplifying your life and schedule, not just physical objects around your home. But all of this is done so you can pursue the things that do matter in life, whatever it is you value.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>

Dream Weddings and Our Search for Wholeness

The gleam of a sparkly new ring, the rustle of satin and lace, promises made in tender budding love, and the glistening eyes of the groom as he beholds his bride are what make up the wedding dream. It’s the archetypal story of the princess who finally found her prince charming, and it all feels so perfectly magical. Weddings have long been a symbol of covenant relationship, but they seem to have morphed into something different, something more of an obsession. The dream wedding has become the utopia we all long for. It’s become the mirage we all envision and long for in this dry desert of a world—we think surely this will make me happy; surely now I will be complete. But as we walk through to the other side, we find ourselves still in the desert. We find ourselves still battling feelings of being incomplete, undone, and unsettled. Was it the wedding that failed to deliver? Was it the wrong bride/groom match-up? Was it the wrong timing? Nagging doubts demolish the fantasy of the dream wedding once real life resumes. The whole thing sets us up for a very disappointing post-wedding reality, scattering around us the casualties of disillusionment in the form of divorce.

But that sad reality is not what we think about, often because that’s not what the culture-at-large focuses upon. Our cultural wedding obsession is evident in the vast amount of reality shows dedicated to the big day. According to psychotherapist and divorce coach Micki Wade, “Shows like ‘Bridezillas’ and ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ have encouraged a cultural fascination with weddings, but it is our own entitlement that causes us to obsess over a one-day event…There is a much more materialistic emphasis today on the wedding.”

If you’ve ever planned your own wedding, or helped someone planned one, you know the cost is high. Each year in the United States, about 2.5 million people get married, and the industry is estimated to be $60 billion ($300 billion globally). The average wedding cost in the United States is $26,645. Couples typically spend between $19,984 and $33,306, but most couples spend less than $10,000. Money is where it’s at in the wedding industry. A quick scroll through Pinterest will help you find anything and everything wedding related: centerpieces, dresses, bouquet arrangements, photo booth ideas, favor ideas, themed cakes, table settings, and the perfect candy and dessert table spreads. Weddings are no small affairs and become the focal point for a couple once they decide to commit.

“The wedding is, on the one hand, a healthy way of making a public commitment to each other and acknowledging that you’re part of a web of family and friends that helps to nourish the relationship,” says Stephen Fabick, a consulting psychologist who specializes in conflict resolution. Planning the big day together can also build teamwork as a couple, preparing for a unified life. But when the main focus is the wedding, and not growing together as a couple, then the couple is set up for disillusionment, just like Fabick continues to say, “But on the other hand, it preps like a cancer, where the focus is on the show and not the long-term or reality of the relationship.”

In addition to the burgeoning wedding industry, we can also see this wedding obsession play out in the tabloids littering store checkout lanes. Personally obsessing over our own weddings isn’t enough; we also obsess over the preparation and planning of countless celebrity weddings, even those across the pond. Remember Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding? They literally embodied the archetypal story of Prince and commoner-turned-Princess; hopeless romantics everywhere swooned. And then there was the highly publicized wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries the same year as Kate and William. Although Kim and Kris are far from royal status, their following is just as grand. Both weddings were major media events, with coverage on everything from the dresses to the guest lists to the receptions. Sadly, it only took 72 days for the Kardashian–Humphries marriage to end in an equally publicized divorce. And here we have the cultural dichotomy of wedding obsession and the common reality of painful divorce.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>

Duty and Desire in The Crown

There is a complexity of ideas at play beneath the authentic scenery and elegant costumes of the new Netflix series The Crown. This tactful English drama set in post-war Britain centers on the rise and reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy). The camerawork and creative writing take us into the hidden realities of relationships between monarchy and family, monarchy and parliament, and monarchy and church. At the heart of it all is the interplay of duty and desire.

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Jesus Wept for Sia Too

“Jesus wept.” This is the shortest verse in the Bible and also the title of a new single from Sia’s deluxe version of the album This is Acting. The verse is a unique portrayal of Christ’s humanity. Sia’s single gives a true depiction of humanity with a hint of hope. Together, the verse and the song show us how light can overcome the darkness…

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Bon Iver and the Sounds of Change

“Skinny Love” and “Re: Stacks” were some of my favorite Bon Iver songs in my early twenties. Back then I prided myself on knowing about a band before they went mainstream, and I hung out with a like-minded group of friends who were mainly interested in music, film, literature, and art. Recently I turned 30 and developed a growing nostalgia for the “cool me.” At home with a preschooler and toddler, art revolves around paper plates and popsicle sticks. And while I’m behind on my music game, I’m on point with Elmo, Daniel Tiger, and PAW Patrol.

My role as a wife and mom has changed me significantly, so I can relate to the significant change in Bon Iver’s sound on the new album, 22, A Million. I was a different person in my single, early twenties. Though parts of that person are still in me, I’ll never be able to completely recreate my old self, because change has progressively moved me forward. As we are entering the fall season, with leaves changing to yellow, red, and brown, I’m reminded that change brings a form of death to us. Christians see an echo of Jesus in the way the leaf must first die and fall before we get to the resurrected buds of spring. With 22, A Million, Bon Iver similarly shows us how change is a necessary progression forward.

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Special Revelation, General Revelation, and Chronicle’s Library of Luminaries

I’ve been an admirer of Coco Chanel’s ambition, designs, and other aspects of her life story, so when I found out Chronicle Books had a series of illustrated biographies called Library of Luminaries and that Coco Chanel was one of them, I was all in. Chanel’s biography was released this past August along with one on Frida Kahlo, joining books on Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. Nina Cosford illustrates these women’s stories with delicately sharp watercolor designs, while Zena Alkayat pieces together quotes and personal letters from each author or artist, along with her own words, in handwritten text.

This concept of placing equal emphasis on text and visuals is a rarity in adult literature, perhaps even more so for Christians…

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Moral Failures in Ministry and My Social Media

Not long ago, I heard about a pastor who committed adultery. This same man also started a flourishing homeless ministry. Though he did step down from the pastorate, he would not step down from his leadership position in the homeless ministry — a decision that caused many of his employees to either cover for him or to leave the ministry altogether.

News like this is hardly shocking anymore, because it has become so common. And though it didn’t shock me to hear this, it did sadden me and stir my thoughts about the growing disconnect between our public and private lives.

Read the rest at Desiring God >>

The CAPC Digest: Embracing the Supernatural in Stranger Things

I recently made my podcast debut with Christ and Pop Culture. I’m with Tyler Burns and Drew Dixon discussing my recent article on CAPC. Honestly, this was my first podcast experience and I was nervous, but also excited to share and discuss some important truths, while talking about the Netflix series Stranger Things. Here is the blurb about the podcast episode:

The supernatural side of the Christian faith is often times overlooked in favor of rational thought by conservative evangelical culture. The idea of a unexplainable supernatural occurrence can be scary and it was the reason Drew and Tyler chat with Liz Wann about her recent article “Stranger Things and Our Quest for the Extraordinary in the Ordinary.” The duo return from vacation to discuss what Christians can learn from the new show Stranger Things and the importance of acknowledging the reality of the supernatural around us and in Scripture.

Go here to listen to the podcast >>

Go here to check out other CAPC podcasts >>

Seeking Revelation in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown

I recently had my second post over at Think Christian up a few days ago. Here is a short excerpt and a link to the original post:

Anthony Bourdain is more than just a crass, foodie traveler known for eating rotten shark meat and a still-beating cobra heart. In his CNN show Parts Unknown, Bourdain reveals the many layers of faraway cultures. Fast Company’s Rob Brunner writes that “Bourdain is on a mission to illuminate underappreciated and misunderstood cultures, whether it’s Myanmar or Detroit. He regularly takes viewers to the sorts of places—Libya, Gaza, Congo—that most Americans know only from grim headlines about political strife and body counts.”

Season 7 of Parts Unknown concluded in the streets of Buenos Aires this past June. The episode hinged on extended therapy sessions, as Bourdain invited us into the “dark crannies of my skull” in honor of the psychology-obsessed Argentinians. He can also be found engaging in the local pastime of lawn chair-lounging and beer sipping while watching airplanes land.

Read the rest >>

 

 

Stranger Things and Our Quest for the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

My husband and I enjoyed the first season of this new show on Netflix. Here is a review of the show with a theological angle. 


***This article contains spoilers for the first season of the Netflix series Stranger Things.***

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “strange” as “different from what is usual, normal, or expected.” The relatively new filmmakers the Duffer Brothers pulled off the unexpected by casting four middle-school-age boys as the central characters in an adult-targeted TV show. Television networks told the brothers it wouldn’t work unless they targeted the show at kids or made the two leading adult actors the main characters. They were rejected fifteen to twenty times, with one TV exec telling them, “You either gotta make it into a kids show or make it about this Hopper [detective] character investigating paranormal activity around town.” But the brothers were loyal to their own creative instincts. Matt Duffer responded by saying that if they were to follow this advice, “[t]hen we lose everything interesting about the show,” and they sought out instant streaming networks instead. The loyalty to the script for their horror/science fiction series, Stranger Things, paid off. According to Parrot Analytics, the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix summer hit was the most popular digital original series in the U.S. for the week of July 17 to 23. What TV execs perceived as strange in the Duffer Brothers choice of main characters became normal as the new Netflix series spread through Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>

The Avett Brothers and the World’s True Sadness

It was my first time seeing them in concert. The place was a box of a venue, smelling of wood and beer, with dim lighting. The X on the back of my hand, made with a Sharpie, told the bartenders, “Don’t serve this girl alcohol.” It didn’t matter. I wasn’t there for alcohol. I was there for two, stereotypical Jesus lookalikes whose voices cracked as they yelled and yodeled, then settled down into a peaceful croon. The Avett Brothers were raw, grungy folk artists with tender, lyrical rhymes. They could make you dance and make you cry.

The Avett Brothers have come far since they were underground and I was underage. They recently released their ninth album, titled True Sadness. Since gaining popularity, Scott and Seth Avett have polished their raw musical edges while maintaining their folk ballad lyrics. Many of the songs on True Sadness tell stories with similar themes: fear, disappointment, hardship and redemption. Whether it is set to an upbeat twang, like “Divorce Separation Blues,” or to the gentle strums of “No Hard Feelings,” the brokenness of this world is made clear. The lyrics sing truth about a perfect world gone wrong. Once, perfect peace filled our souls. Now we battle with fear and, as the Avett Brothers phrase it, “…this evil inside me. I step out my front door and I feel it surround me.”

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Chuck Norris vs. Communism and the Transformative Power of Film

Animals speak, conspire, and plot to overthrow a farmer in George Orwell’s fable Animal Farm. And in his nearly prophetic novel 1984, Orwell presents a world filled with thought police, revised history books, and surveillance from an entity called Big Brother. The concepts in these constructed literary worlds are bizarre and unrealistic, but the alternate realities hide real truths. These are the worlds buried beneath some of our past, present, and possibly future cultural and political ideologies.

Orwell poses the “What ifs?” of our time in his prophecies of doom. He sheds light on the world around us, picturing for us a completely censored and controlled culture, a world in which people are told: “You must read this and not that, you must watch this and not that, and you must think this and not that.” These made up worlds are in reality representations of our world and its history. For many countries, this was the world in which they lived; it was not made up. People felt this reality in their own lives: the reality of being watched, interrogated, reported, and being told what to think, the thick fog of paranoia blocking their vision, while their very words were censored. This was (and in some countries still is) the world of communism.

The western world (particularly the United States) has directly interacted with the leaders/dictators who promote this ideology. We were involved in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and we played major roles in the Cold War. But in 1989 the downfall of communism in Romania was planted by a small seed from the west. The United States played an indirect role this time and unknowingly sparked a revolution in Romanian hearts. The revolution didn’t involve weapons, armies, missiles, invasions, or financial aid—it came on reels of film from the Hollywood hills.

Read the rest at Christ and Pop Culture >>