2014 in Film: My View

I’ll admit it, our household is all about stories.  We read them, watch them, occasionally write them, dream up really funny ones, play games built around them…. and go see them on the big screen.

I don’t know how The Man lucked out to get a wife as awesome as me, who loves action movies, war films, sci-fi, drama, superhero movies, and honestly funny & ironic comedies, while eschewing rom-com nonsense and chick flicks.  (Mindnumpingly dull!)  But he did.  🙂 So we go see movies.

Late December apparently inserts a nostalgic gene into the water, so here were some of our favorite bit-screen experiences of 2014 (in no particular order):

Fury. A film starring the only ruminating German Tiger tank, also starring Brad Pitt.   Saw it twice.  There’s a long scene in an apartment with two women and the tank crew that’s just stunning – displays the utter brokenness of war, in the civilian victims as well as the soldiers who had to wield the weaponry.  Genuinely violent, but that’s what you should expect in one of the most accurate war movies I’ve ever seen.
Interstellar. I *felt* that movie as much as watched it. Yeah, some parts were cheesy (5th dimensional Morse code, anyone?) but I thought the overall effect was masterful.  I felt that movie in my soul for days after seeing it….  it sat there, in my mind, and brooded. Loneliness, exploration, love, time.   Can’t get enough of the soundtrack (we listen to it regularly now, especially when playing board games; makes every move So Epic).  Helped that we saw it in IMAX to appreciate the gorgeous cinematics.
Birdman. Laughed out loud several times at this witty, ironic, “meta” film. The drum soundtrack got on my nerves (sorry, Stevo!) but Edward Norton was a dream. Laughed so hard I snorted at one point ….
Snowpiercer. We had to go all the way to NYC to see this one. Seriously. I don’t know if it ever came to SC. Stupid state.  This was a great thriller of a tale all the way until the last 5 minutes. Then I was like, “What?” Still not sure sure if we were left with two frozen popsicle people or a polar bear snack, but I guess I’ll be the American optimist and assume they made it.  “Captain America” (never remember his name) was the star; Tilda Swindon was pure genius. The scene in the kindergarten was ridiculous.
Lego Movie. Brilliant.  We quoted this for weeks.  I still make fun of Batman and shout SPACESHIP! SPACESHIP! SPACESHIP! awkwardly in social situations.
Guardians of the Galaxy. Dude. This movie hit all the right points for a summer comic book blockbuster. I cried when Groot made his tree-nest at the end. “We are Groot.” Yes, Groot, we are. I cried. Right there in the theater.  Unashamed.   I don’t know that a sequel will live up to this film, but I’m happy to see them try.  And that soundtrack!
Edge of Tomorrow. Because in my heart, Tom Cruise is still a teen heartthrob and I’m still 16. Also, Emily Blount is badass. And it was sci-fi. Support the cause…. Woulda been a better film (to me) if the damn trailers hadn’t given away the story before we got to see it – I dunno why the film companies have to beat us to death with a review of the story before feeling assured enough to release a film.  *rolls eyes*
Grand Budapest Hotel.  I’m lukewarm when it comes to Wes Anderson (I just can’t take The Royal Tennanbaums, sorry Joey) but Moonrise Kingdom and GBH are winners in my book.  The story is a lovely one and told with the precision of a watch maker.
The Theory of Everything.  One of the best biography films I’ve seen, plus a constant interplay of faith vs science questions, and the realities of loving someone with a significant disability.
Fun films that really aren’t that important to Life And Stuff but we saw them and liked them anyway:
  • Mockingjay (hey, I like the books. Go read them)
  • The Mazerunner (felt pretty adolescent, but it’s a good tale)
  • Divergent (because somehow we need three teen dystopian movie series out for it to be a normal year)
  • The Hobbit part 3 (finally done with Peter Jackson’s masturbatory return to Middle Earth in the guise of telling a Tolkien Story)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (because I’ll never pass up a chance to see Patrick Stewart & Ian McKellen & that cute guy who plays the young Professor X)
  • Captain America: Winter Soldier (would have been un-American to miss it, right?)
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2 (still cute; great use of 3D)
  • Into the Woods (funny to me how many people are pissed because this “happy ending” fairy tale actually makes them think)
  • Godzilla (I thought it was a good monster story, and I’m not particularly a Godzilla fan)
  • John Wick (what? Keanu Reeves still has a career??)
  • Jack Reacher (see note re: Tom Cruise, above)
  • The Legend of Hercules (more faithful to the mythology than any Rick Riordan Percy Jackson series, and probably more fun)

Yawns of the Year:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  300: Birth of an Empire (*sighs*); Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (doesn’t have the magic of the original); Non-Stop (why is every Liam Neeson story the same now?); A Walk Among the Tombstones (ditto)

Missed These and Hope to See on DVD:

Noah (I’m curious);  Maleficent (ditto); Lucy (ScarJo); Under the skin (more ScarJo); Robocop (old time’s sake); Muppets Most Wanted (it’s the MUPPETS!);  Foxcatcher;  Monuments Men;  The Drop; A Most Wanted Man (goodbye, PSH :/ ); Only Lovers Left Alive (it’s showing up on a lot of “best movies” lists).

On my list for right now in theaters:   Big Eyes; The Imitation Game; Big Hero 6; Unbroken.

OH AND — not to be overlooked —

Best film by local filmmakers:
Cinema Purgatorio, by Chris & Emily White.  A pair of indie filmmakers (who are husband & wife) set out to impress Bill Murray at a 48-hour film festival where he happens to be judging, in hopes of launching into the big leagues…. or they’re giving it up for good. It’s funny and warm and quirky and delightful and YOU SHOULD TOTALLY SEE IT.  (Trailer below; the featured image for this post is a still from the film.)

The Ways Women’s Magazines Convinced Me I Must Earn My (Inherent) Worth | Thought Catalog

The problem is that you’re not supposed to linger in a perpetual state of “reaching for something more.”

You don’t divide your life between “periods in which you are transforming” and “periods in which you are living.” There is healing and experiencing, there is rest and adventure, but there is no behind the scenes, there is no show, there is no performance that you put on for anybody but yourself and your illusions.

via The Ways Women’s Magazines Convinced Me I Must Earn My (Inherent) Worth | Thought Catalog.

Link: Long-Range Writing (Sometimes A Light)

“People—particularly women—need to hear that you can start late.”
~Ursula LeGuin

My friend Hannah wrote a great post on her blog about the long-range view of being a writer, She’s wrangling several kids, the full-time job of being a pastor’s wife, and a budding writing career. So yeah, I’m sure it gets discouraging.

You can read Hannah’s post on her blog, Sometimes A Light.
“Long-Range Writing”

What really struck me was this: As Hannah notes, we glorify youth in American culture. The Silicon Valley startup culture exacerbates the need to “accomplish something” by the time you’re 30. Maybe 35. At the latest.

I’m always thankful for my husband who’s been a beacon of common sense in my life since I first met him, challenging people to let go of dumb, popular ideas in favor of better, more thoughtful approaches.  I remember when we were still short of 30, he observed that most of us will hit our best stride in our 50s. By then, you’ve lived long enough to know something; you’ve gained experience that makes problem solving a little more efficient.  Sure, you aren’t spry and bouncy anymore…. but that’s the point.

Our consuming culture taunts us with the New and the Now so we throw away our good-but-familiar stuff to buy new-and-somehow-“needed” stuff.  We do the same with people.

We all need to hear the truth, so eloquently stated by Ursula LeGuin, that you can “start late.”  It’s never too late to recognize the Big Thing That Matters, and go do it.

We Zombify Those We Want to Hate

“As Christians, we can’t preach about the cross as a life-giving moment, while continuing to participate in the same dehumanizing, degrading, and justifying of violence that allowed Rome to nail our Savior to the cross.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore crimes when they occur or cease to hold people accountable for their actions. But as Christians, regardless of the circumstances, we are to love both neighbor and enemy alike, not strip them of their humanity and justify their oppression whenever we see fit.”

– See more at: http://theamericanjesus.net/2014/12/10/thugs-illegals-king-jews/#.dpuf

Grace for G.R.A.C.E. at Bob Jones University?

Today has been a difficult day.

The organization Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E) released their report today detailing a two-year investigation of how the victims of sexual abuse were mishandled by counselors at Bob Jones University.

You can read the entire report here:
G.R.A.C.E. Report on Bob Jones University (pdf)

It’s very long so if you’re looking for a summary instead, several news articles have offered good summaries of the findings, including Religion News Service, the Greenville News, and Al Jazeera (yes, their summary is spot on).

Honestly, folks, that report is a rough read. And I should have waited. But honestly, I didn’t expect it to have the effect that it did.  I don’t have “triggers” because —thank God— I’ve never been abused. That’s an honest ‘Thank God’, a recognition that I’ve been spared the horror that victims of sexual abuse have lived with.

quoted by AJA
quoted by AJA

So I didn’t expect this, not when I sat down during my extra moments of lunch time to read the gist of the central findings.

Didn’t expect to be sick to my stomach, to feel pounded and nauseated. To feel wrath and anger and sorrow down in my abdomen.

Visceral.  Painful.  The reality of seeing all of the truth heaped into a single report.

Thing is, nothing in that report surprised me.  I was at BJU as an undergrad for 4 years in the 90s, a graduate student for 2 more years, and 4 years on staff.  Ten years total.  I saw the place inside out and outside in.  And since now it’s more than a decade in my past, I usually go throughout my day with little thought for the Bastion of Fundamentalism up the road.

I knew, based on what I saw and what I heard from fellow students, that the counseling offered by BJU via untrained grad-school students in the name of “dorm counseling,” along with the official student life counselors (dean of men/women, dean of students, dorm supervisors) was harmful and unhelpful, often leading the counselee into guilt, shame, and self-loathing.

I know (now) the narrative of the Gospel that BJU tells is one of law-keeping for the sake of maintaining righteousness for a God who is angry, who is harsh, who finds sin everywhere with His searchlight. You aren’t safe anywhere, really. Not unless you can prove to Him that you’ve been good.

Even the Lord’s Supper became a device for guilt and shame at the Fundy church I attended in Greenville.  You weren’t supposed to approach the Table until you’d convinced your conscience that you were sin-free The pastor called it “unpacking all the boxes” — his advice was to sit in silence and beg the Holy Spirit to bring to mind a sin you had committed, then repent, and ask Him to bring out another box. It was Judgment Day in miniature, every month.  Not a love-feast.  Not a table of Grace for redeemed children of God.  Only the “worthy” got a seat.

I knew, personally, two people who lost their minds because of the guilt and shame piled onto them by Fundamentalism.  And a third, who was not a personal friend of mine, but I heard his story too.  Mentally ill. Hospitalized. Suffering.

I knew that the rule structures were abusive and well beyond the Bible’s definitions of obedience or morality. Glorifying the informant was wrong. Confronting a girl walking up the sidewalk in front of me because their skirt slit was two inches above their knee was self-righteous assholery.  That never really fit my personality; the few times I “confronted” left me in a cold sweat and feeling like a major douche. I knew the rhetoric: “upholding the rules” was the work of the Kingdom. But my gut knew it was wrong, unloving, graceless snobbery.

I destroyed a relationship with my best friend (unintentionally) because, as a 20-year old, I was asked by a dysfunctional and legalistic dorm structure to make the final assessment of whether she was “spiritually fit” for “spiritual leadership” in the dorms. I knew she’d been abused as a kid and was kind of unstable (never occurred to me to tell anyone though; it’s not like the University liked her much anyway).  And I knew she didn’t deserve the pressure cooker of being a “prayer captain” in charge of the “spiritual health” of 3 other girls, held accountable for their “sins” before the administration and dorm staff.  Christianity built on perfectionism destroys people. But she knew that not being granted a position of leadership was a public humiliation — and she hated me for that humiliation, and my lack of courage to face her directly. I simply let the dorm spiritual evaluation process run its course.

Truth is, the GRACE report about Bob Jones tells me a lot of things I already knew — that it is a college who fixates on rule-keeping rather than Grace in an environment driven by a powerful administrative discipline structure.  That the people who really bought into BJ’s culture believed snitching was godly because all behavior is a discipline issue, even being late for class. That it was kind of weird for an entire department of counseling to reject all scholarship completely, all psychiatry, all psychology, all medication (oh, they paid it lip service but we all knew that depression was the fault of the depressed person’s sin).

I was complicit.  I was part of the dorm structure for a few years, even being a “hall leader” (like an assistant RA), and it was a soul-sucking experience.  I constantly had the dorm staff on my back about KEEPING THE RULES while trying to keep the girls on my hall from being crushed by what I could even see were petty and unfair expectations.

There was little Grace.

But actually, there was.

My BJU story is complicated.  It really is.  Because my professors were, for the most part, great people. They invested in me. They were themselves victims of a college who paid them nearly nothing, stripping them of social capital or any sense of financial independence, and pounding down any independent thought or person brave enough to speak it.

Because my years there were actually very good for me.

Because it was under Barrett and Bell and Rude and others that I saw Jesus. I saw the Gospel. I found Reformed theology. I learned Greek and Hebrew and an allegiance to what the Bible actually SAYS, not what some man says it says.

And then I woke up. And I saw for myself. And we left.

But today — years later — I weep.

Bob Jones University has one choice.  They must change, or they will die.  And dying is actually better than the judgment God will pour out on an unrepentant institution if they stubbornly cling to unbiblical, legalistic, harmful definitions of sin, grace, and righteousness.

It is a very hard day to be a Bob Jones University graduate.

Fairness: BJU’s response to the report

Update, March 10, 2015:

The University presented its response to the assembled students, faculty, and staff today, and to the world via video and web page. 

BJU’s Response to the GRACE Report

Unfortunately, BJU failed to respond to the most damaging allegations in the Report, citing their own evidence that no laws were broken (when GRACE cited numerous examples of failures to follow mandatory reporting law).

Even more egregious to me, the University not only failed to acknowledge the abusive nature of its culture of legalism and rule-keeping, President Pettit reaffirmed Jim Berg and other counselors as “biblical.” If you have read the GRACE Report, you know that the investigation centered on Berg as a significant source of gross error and negligence in counseling, recommending that he immediately be fired and his books entirely removed.

I’m not surprised that BJU, whose motto has been “Standing without apology” for most of its 90 year history, failed to apologize meaningfully to victims or own up to its problems. But I’d hoped for more. 

Con or Candor: A List of the Lies in BJU’s Response to the GRACE Report