Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Tale of the Fortune Hunters

"The Tale of the Fortune Hunters"

A spoken word video about the Syrian refugee crisis. 

Filmed by Maarten Smeenk and Directed by David Bonsink

Friday, September 25, 2015

They need much

Young Syrian refugee living in a tent settlement in the Lebanon | copyright Carmen Andres

It has been a long week, full of long days--sick kids, doctor appointments, back to school nights and meetings, work hours, work conference, phone calls, bills, cleaning, shopping, editing, gas stations and oil changes. And it's still not over.
Yet, every time I leave home, I know it will be there when I get back. When my kids get sick, my biggest struggle is coordinating schedules to get them to the doctor. I have a job--a good one that I love--and money to get food, gas and oil.
As tired as I get, it isn't even close to the exhaustion of millions of mothers and fathers living in tent settlements and refugee camps.
They had homes, cars and jobs; now they have nothing. Their kids went to school; now far too many work long hours for less than $10 a day. If they get sick, there are few if any doctors to help them.
We have much; they need much.
We can help.
This is a repost of a blog post made at For Such a Time is Nowa website I developed to raise awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, where you can find out more about the crisis and how you can help.

Monday, September 14, 2015

'Fast' family

Sometimes, images echoing the kingdom show up in unexpected places.

Take Furious 7, for example. The latest installment in the Fast & Furious franchise took in $1 billion in 17 days. That’s faster than Avatar, The Avengers and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Interestingly, the muscle car and high-octane action franchise has a wide appeal. Forty-nine percent of the Fast & Furious 6 audience was women. The films attracts across ethnic lines as well.

In a Washington Post article, Stephanie Merry notes that the film’s success is due to a combination of factors, including appealing characters, charismatic and multi-ethnic stars, and car race and chase scenes “whose James Bond-caliber inventiveness and sheer grace let you ignore their absurdity.”

Then Merry notes the film’s surprising emotional core: “the loyalty of these engine-revving, brawling, backyard-barbequing street racers-turned-heist artists who consider themselves ‘family’.”

The Fast & Furious family centers around Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), a tough but good-hearted ex-con and elite street racer. He’s protective of his sister Mia, whom he raised after their father was killed. Mia falls in love with and eventually marries Brian O’Connell (the late Paul Walker), who becomes like a brother to Torretto.

Over the years, others—most of whom live on society’s margins and have little if any connection with their biological families—graft into this diverse, unified, forgiving family. Each brings gifts and talents which make them stronger together. They bond deeply and share their resources. Individual members often sacrifice their own best interest for the best interest of each other and the group.

“I don’t have friends,” says Tortetto in Furious 7. “I have family.”

This surrogate family is their primary group. “The most important thing in life will always be the people right here, right now. That’s what’s real,” says Toretto.

One of the most iconic images of the franchise is the crew gathered around a large backyard table sharing a prayed-over meal. In a culture fraught with individualism, it’s no wonder Fast and Furious family speaks to our craving not only for connection but deep bonds like theirs.

There’s plenty in the Fast & Furious world that conflicts with the Jesus Way of life, but I find this grafted-together, table-gathering family a thought-provoking image echoing the kind of family Jesus calls us to.

“Jesus radically challenged His disciples…to join the new surrogate family of siblings He was establishing—the family of God,” says Joseph Hellerman in When the Church was a Family.

“Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” Jesus asks. He stretches out his hand toward his disciples, a grafted-together eclectic group that occupies the margins of society. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers” (Matthew 12:48 Message). 

This family was their primary group, not only nurturing spiritual growth and formation but also serving as economic safety nets for each other. Noting Jesus’ conversation with his disciples after his encounter with the rich young ruler, Hellerman points out that Jesus expects this surrogate family group to reflect the practical benefits of biological families, including access to the material resources.

Early Christian literature is full of stories of the ancient church living this out. And let’s not forget all that table-gathering, the most basic of family activities and a simple yet profound act of resource sharing.

While Torretto’s crew probably isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he put all that in motion, perhaps it should give us pause. In some ways, the Fast & Furious family reflects Jesus’ kingdom family better than many of us live out today.

“The group, not the individual, took priority in a believer's life in the early church,” says Hellerman says in a Christianity Today article. “If we are really serious about spiritual formation, we must become really serious about creating churches that act like real families.”

This post originally appeared as a column for MWR.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Disruption in Natural Order

Refugees from the Syrian civil war rest at the Budapest Keleti railway station on Sept. 4. — Rebecca Harms, Wikimedia Commons via Mennonite World Review.

From A Disruption in Natural Order by Ryan Dueck:

The “natural order,” for our God, is bringing impossibly different people together and calling them “family.” 
The story of Scripture, the story of God is, in many ways, about the creation of a profoundly “unnatural order,” where Gentiles eat with Jews, where tax collectors and prostitutes mingle with religious know-it-alls, where gender biases are abolished, where last become first and first become last, where sinners and saints embrace realizing they are one and the same, where every tribe and tongue is brought together by the one God who made and loves them all. 
And this is what gives me hope, whether I’m anxiously glancing at the refugee crisis across the pond and wondering how things will unfold here in Canada, or I’m thinking about families I know and love that have kids with different colored skin and ethnic backgrounds. On a purely pragmatic level, it makes no sense to throw all this difference together in families and churches and cities and nations and expect it all to end well. On a purely pragmatic level, we should expect conflict and identity crises and scarcity and pain. On a purely pragmatic level, people should stay where they belong. On a purely pragmatic level, we should cling to what is safe and predictable, and “natural.” 
But, as followers of Jesus, we have been liberated from looking at things on a purely pragmatic level. As followers of Jesus, we are free to imagine families, churches, cities and nations that struggle and strain and stretch toward the glorious reality of God’s unnatural order.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Breathtaking: Grief & Hope

Syrian refugee child in a tent settlement in the Bekaa Valley / copyright Carmen Andres

Last Wednesday, the photo of little three-year-old Aylan Kurdie lying on the beach in Turkey went viral. He was one of 12 refugees who drowned when their boat sank in a failed attempt to reach Greece.
It hurt to breathe after I saw that photo.
Since last summer, I’ve been actively working with others to find ways to advocate for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. In January, I saw their suffering first hand when I met them in tent settlements and crammed with multiple families in apartments in Lebanon, which hosts almost 2 million of refuges.
I came back to the U.S. eager to share their stories. At first, I was full of hope and enthusiasm, but as months passed I grew discouraged and frustrated. It felt like their stories—be it those I shared, those shared by others advocating for refugees, or the ones on the front pages of newspapers around the world—evaporated into the air. It felt like the world was simply shrugging its shoulders and looking away. While I connected with Christian leaders and friends advocating for refugees, I was disheartened by the lack of priority and concern in churches in North American and the church as a whole.
Then came Aylan Kurdie. All that discouragement welled up with deep grief.His little body symbolized the indifference and inaction of us all.
“I just hope this photo of my son changes everything,” said Aylan’s father before he returned to Syria to bury him with his wife and their other son.
Maybe it has.
In the last few days, European leaders and other countries around the world have committed to taking in more refugees. Op-eds are popping up everywhere, focusing on everything from the ineffectual responses of the world leaders to the call to find long-term solutions. An Egyptian billionaire even offered to buy an Italian or Greek island in order to house refugees.
“All I need is the permission to put these people on this island. After that I don’t need anything anymore from them. I’ll pay them for the island, I’ll provide the jobs, I’ll take care of all the logistics. I know I can do that,” he said during a CNN interview.
But here’s what makes my heart quicken.
This morning, I read in the Huffington Post that Pope Francis announced the Vatican would take in two refugee families and called on European Catholic bishops to “express the Gospel in concrete terms” and have their dioceses do the same.
“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger, and who are on a path toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be neighbours to the smallest and most abandoned, to give them concrete hope,” he said.
“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family, starting with my diocese of Rome.”
Then I read a post by Ann Voskamp announcing the formation of We Welcome Refugees, founded by Voskamp, World Relief and The Justice Conference to connect churches, communities, organizations and individuals to respond in practical and tangible ways to the crisis—including sponsoring refugee families and finding concrete ways to embrace them into our communities.
These are the kinds of “third ways” I’ve been longing for. They remind of the resourceful, outside-the-box responses Jesus made in the gospels.
They remind me of what it looks like to love.
Today, there are tears in my eyes again. But this time, it is hope that is taking my breath away.

This post was originally posted at For Such a Time is Now, a website I developed to raise awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, where you can find out more about the crisis and how you can help.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Back to school

A Heart for Lebanon non-formal education center for refugee children in Beirut ©Carmen Andres
My kids go back to school this week. Last week, I spent hours filling out stacks of forms, funding lunch accounts, standing in registration lines and tracking down school supplies. Most years, I struggled to curb my irritation with the paperwork and long lines. This year, I simply felt lucky.
USAID reports that 2.7 million of the estimated six million Syrian refugee or displaced children can’t go to school. According to UNICEF , that is more than the combined under-18 population of Los Angeles and Boston. Iraqi refugees are expected to reach three million this year. Of the estimated 6,000 to 7,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, half of those are children and the majority can’t go to school either.
For many of these children, the public school systems in the hosting countries simply don’t have room, and most refugees don’t have the funds for private schools—even if the private schools would take them.
Most of these children haven’t stepped foot in a classroom for several years, and many of them are working instead. The Guardian reported this summer that thousands of Syrian children have become farm laborers in fields and warehouses in Lebanon, and nearly half of the Syrian refugee households in Jordon rely on children’s income to survive. In Lebanon, children make about $8 a day for 10 hours of work.

I met some of these children earlier this year when I went to Lebanon, which is hosting close to two million refugees. It was winter, and most of the Syrian children I met spent their days in tent settlements or working. In Beirut, I met Iraqi families at a food distribution center, where the children sat on their parents’ laps or helped them carry bags of food and rations.

As the crisis continues to grow, so will the number of refugees. But in the midst of staggering statistics, there are islands of hope.

In Lebanon, I visited two of three non-formal education “Hope Centers” run by Heart for Lebanon, a Lebanese faith-based relief and development organization working with Iraqi and Syrian refugees. With public schools unable to take in refugee children, non-formal education efforts funded by NGOs has gained momentum as a substitute for the hosting country’s schools.

A classroom in a Heart for Lebanon non-formal education
center in the Bekaa Valley / copyright Carmen Andres

In the Bekaa Valley, H4L’s education center is housed in an old church at the foot of a large mountain range which separates Lebanon from Syria. Standing outside, we heard the distant booming of artillery from a battle taking place on the other side of the mountains. Inside, the classrooms were cold. One class met in the kitchen next to a wood stove.

The children were the most vulnerable or marginalized of the refugee population. Some were orphans, and others had lost a parent. Others were disabled or traumatized from their experiences. The mother of one of the girls had died in childbirth at a checkpoint in Syria, and one of her brothers had been shot and killed. Another girl needed eye surgery. I saw one little boy on crutches.

But you wouldn’t know that most of them were refugees by the way they acted. They reminded me of the kids in my own children’s schools—laughing and smiling during games, concentrating on assignments, raising their hands and writing answers on chalk and white boards.

A classroom in a Heart for Lebanon non-formal education
center in Beirut / copyright Carmen Andres

It was the same in Beirut. In a converted warehouse in densely packed city, the classrooms of this H4L education center were packed with over 100 children. From a second story window, I watched children play organized games on the concrete parking lot below. Inside, children were learning traditional subjects like arithmetic and reading. After school, some of them took lessons to play keyboards, guitars and other instruments. It felt like a miniature version of our elementary schools.

As I watched them, it dawned on me that these kids in the Bekaa Valley and Beirut were experiencing normal in a place where normal was rare and precious.

And that makes a difference. A big difference.

If you are looking for a way to tug at the edges of largest humanitarian crisis to face the world since World War II, consider supporting H4L or another organization like it. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the stories, pictures and sheer numbers of refugees. But you can make a difference. Don't wait. Do it now.

This post was originally posted at For Such a Time is Now, a website I developed to raise awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, where you can find out more about the crisis and how you can help.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Humanity washed ashore

devastating picture made headlines yesterday: the body of a Syrian toddler washed up on a beach in Turkey. He has short cropped dark hair and he's wearing a bright red shirt, shorts and brown shoes. He lays on his stomach, his head tilted slightly to the side, arms at his sides and legs slightly bent. It almost looks like he is sleeping.
His name is Aylan Kurdie, and he was three years old. He was one of 12 refugees who drowned--including his mother, Rihan, and five year old brother, Galip--when their boat sank in a failed attempt to reach Greece.
It hurt to breathe after I saw it. It still does.
I’ve seen pictures of dead children before. I was in Beruit, where I’d just met a refugee couple with several children who had fled Iraq after ISIS attacked their village. They had just finished telling me how an ISIS bomb had killed their four year old son, David. Then the mother handed me a stack of photos. On top were pictures of flesh and body parts that were no longer recognizable as human. Pictures of her son. Underneath those were photos of injured children in torn clothes lying on beds, their bodies blackened and bloody. One of them was her nephew.
The world needs to see pictures like these. They blast through statistics and politics. Numbers and issues strip away humanity. These photos, as horrific as they are, restore it.
When the photo of the dark-haired toddler lying on the beach hit social media, it came with a hashtag: #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik. “Humanity washed ashore.”
I can't help thinking that we are standing on the beach watching them drown.
Those of us who live in North America and Europe are in a unique position. Many of us abound in wealth, influence and resources. We have the power to speak for those who do not have a voice (Proverbs 31:8-9). We are Esthers with a choice to make. Will we stand by and watch a whole population suffer and die, or will we use our positions of power and influence to reach out and help?
Yes, it is hard to wrap our minds around the staggering numbers and the immensity of suffering. It feels like there is nothing we can do. But that’s not true. Talk to your church. See what the charities you support are doing. Check out the ways you can help listed on this website. Learn about what the people in Iceland are doing.
Don’t stand by. Help them. Please.

This is a slightly edited version of a post that first ran on at For Such a Time is Now, a website I developed to raise awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, where you can find out more about the crisis and how you can help.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Third Way

Syrian refugee children © Carmen Andres
In the past couple of days, the TelegraphGuardian and New York Times have all reported on how over 10,000 Icelanders (the country has a total population of 300,000) have responded to a Facebook campaign by author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir to urge the government to take in more Syrian refugees. Bjorgvinsdottir started the site in response to the government's offer to take in a mere 50 refugees.
The striking aspect of this story is not only the number of Icelanders expressing their support but that they are also volunteering to personally help the refugees by donating services, time, clothes, money, furniture, children's toys and even their homes.
It makes me wonder what it might look like if churches, communities and cities around the U.S. started to talk about pooling our resources and offering to support groups of refugees in our own country. Perhaps some members could offer one of their rental homes for free for a year. Maybe others could offer jobs. Doctor offices could offer a list of pro-bono services. Churches and mosques could offer furniture, clothing and food. Teachers could offer language training. Local social agencies and organizations could link together and coordinate to provide services.
The possibilities of ways we could come together to embrace refugees into our communities is endless. I'm not suggesting that there aren't major hurdles and challenges that would be faced--or dismissing the fact that very few communities are doing these things already for those already suffering and in deep need in their community. But perhaps this is not only an opportunity to tug at the edges of the largest humanitarian crisis in four decades but also move our communities in a direction that would benefit its own members as well.
When people ask me what can be done in the face of such overwhelming need, suffering and turmoil, I often wish I could think more like Jesus. In the gospels, his responses are clever, creative, resourceful and outside-the-box—he often seems to find a third way, a way different than what we expect or one we hadn't even conceived.

The response of the Icelanders reminds me of that; maybe we should consider something like that, too.
This post was originally posted at For Such a Time is Now, a website I developed to raise awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, where you can find out more about the crisis and how you can help.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Adeeb and Doha: An Iraqi refugee story

IT’S JANUARY IN BEIRUT, LEBANON. The air is cold in the shade of the old apartment building I walk into with Hoda Melki and two other women from Heart for Lebanon, a Lebanese faith-based relief and development organization working with Iraqi and Syrian refuges.

Over 1.8 million Syrian and Iraqirefugees have fled to Lebanon due to the Syrian civil war and the unrest in Iraq. H4L, which Hoda and her husband Camille founded in 2006, provides food and hygiene distributions to over 800 Iraqi families in Beirut. Hoda is taking me to meet one of the families.

Inside the building’s concrete foyer, a door opens to a tiny elevator, its floor hovering a few inches above the foyer. It isn’t big enough for all of us, so I follow Hoda up four flights of stairs to a small landing with only two doors. One of the doors opens and we step into a long corridor.

Inside, a kind faced Iraqi man in his 30s meets us. The women talk with him in Arabic and introduce me. His name is Adeeb. His family shares this apartment with a number of other refugees.

Adeeb leads us by a sparsely furnished living room and kitchen, down a long hall and into a bedroom. Four single beds pushed together and neatly covered with blankets take up most of the room. The walls are empty except for a baseball hat and a single window with brown curtains. A small television sits on a cloth-covered table in one corner, and a large cabinet takes up space along another wall.

Adeeb’s wife, Doha, is sitting on the bed at the end, her legs covered by the blankets. She smiles a little as she talks with the other women. Translating their conversation, Hoda tells me that Doha isn’t feeling well. She has had an allergic reaction to medicine she is taking for an infection.

Two boys—Joseph and Aynar—bring plastic lawn chairs through another door that leads to a tiny balcony. Their sister, Sarah, leans on metal crutches and watches me with a small smile as I pull out my camera and recording equipment.

When we sit down, one of the women pulls the youngest boy, Aynar, onto her lap, talking to him in Arabic. He smiles and shyly answers her questions.

Then one of the women ask Adeeb and Doha if they would share their story again, telling them Hoda will translate for me. Doha looks over and nods.

ADEEB AND DOHA lived in a small Christian village in Iraq. They had a good life and lived in a beautiful house with their extended family. Adeeb was an English teacher, and Doha stayed home with their four children. They had just bought land on which to build their own house.

“But now we cannot go back,” Doha says.

One day last August, ISIS began shelling their village. The family was taking shelter in the garden.

"My son, David, was four years old,” Doha tells us. “He and his cousin were playing, and a bomb landed on him.”

David and his nine-year-old cousin Milad were killed. The bomb not only destroyed the house, but also David’s body. The children in the village brought pieces of his body to his family. One of Adeeb and Doha’s sons found his brother's ear.

The people in the village took pictures, and Doha wants to know if she can show them to me. When I nod, she gets out of bed and moves over to the cabinet. From a shelf of neatly folded clothes, Doha pulls out a large envelope. Inside are official papers regarding David’s death and a stack of photographs.

On top are photos of flesh and body parts that are no longer recognizable as human. Pictures of her son. In silence, she hands them to me one by one. At one point she looks away.

She pauses on a photo of smiling young boys. She hands it to one of the other women in the room, who tells me it is David with his cousins before the bombing. Underneath it are photos of injured children in torn clothes lying on beds, their bodies blackened and bloody. One of them is another of David’s cousins.

“Why are we suffering like this?” Adeeb asks. “My children had to pick up the pieces of their brother…. I am so sad, thinking about all this.”

AFTER THE BOMBING, most of their friends and family fit whatever they could into their cars and fled the village. Adeeb, Doha and their children stayed behind to take care of David. Adeeb washed what was left of his son’s body, and they buried him.

By the time they left, ISIS wouldn’t let them take anything with them, including their car. “ISIS took everything from us," Doha says.

They walked for days. Sarah, who was born with a paralytic condition that affects her legs, was on crutches. Adeeb shows me where he had to mend one of them after it broke.

They lived on the streets, fending off stray dogs at night. “No covers, no clothes, no money," says Doha.

Eventually, the family took shelter with others refugees in a school in Arbil. A local church had turned it into a refuge. Adeeb, Doha and the children were there for a month and half.

“How did you get here?” one of the women asks her.

Before the crisis, Adeeb and Doha traveled to Lebanon to seek medical care for Sarah. While here, they met a nun and priest who, after they heard about the family’s situation last summer, sent a car for them and helped them leave Iraq. The family stayed at a convent in Lebanon until they moved into this room in the apartment.

"Everything you see here," said Doha, nodding to the tiny room, "is from them."

THE TRAUMATIC EVENTS of the past six months has taken its toll on their children. They are scared to go outside or leave their parents. Sarah needs a surgery that would help her regain use of their legs, but Adeeb and Doha don't know if they'll be able to get it for her.

Doha tells us about one of Aynar’s recent dreams. David came to him and asked, “Why did you leave me? Why don't you come home?”

"Anyar dreams this because we buried David, and then we left," Doha explains. Her voice breaks. "We did not have time to visit the graves."

Adeeb and Doha are waiting to see where the UN will send them, but the process is slow. While Sara's medical needs and David’s death may be factors that enable the UN to process their status more quickly, they will probably be in Beirut for many more months—even years.

That is distressing for Doha and Adeeb. Jobs are almost impossible to find for refugees, and landlords often unfairly raise rents. Adeeb and Doha also worry that Sara may not get the medical attention she needs and that their children are not going to school. With hundreds of thousands of refugee children in Lebanon, the schools don’t have the room to take them in.

“I want to get out of here,” says Adeeb. “I want a better life for my family.”

The boys, who left earlier, come back into the room to talk with their parents. The women look concerned. Hoda tells me that the family’s dinner burned while we were talking to them. I understand why the women are concerned. Losing a meal means the family will go hungry tonight.

AS WE GET READY TO LEAVE, we pray with them. Sarah asks if she can sing us a song she had recently learned. She sings a children’s Sunday school song in Arabic for us. “She is singing, ‘God is so good to me,’” Hoda tells me. “’He loves me.’”

Before we go, Adeeb shows me a picture of David on his cell phone. A dark haired little boy stands against a brick wall in blue jeans and a sweater. I ask if I can take a picture, and Adeeb smiles and nods. When I take the family’s picture, I ask them to hold up the photo of David, too.

After we leave, Hoda and the other women walk straight to a corner store, buy several bags of groceries and carry them back to the apartment building. Adeeb and Anyar are coming out of the elevator and break into smiles. They load the bags back into the elevator as we leave.

“We burned their dinner,” Hoda says. “The least we can do is give them another one.”

* * *

This account of my visit with Adeeb and Doha originally appeared on For Such a Time is Now, a website dedicated to raising awareness of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis. Adeeb and Doha’s story is only one of many—and those of us in North America and Europe are in a unique position to help them. Compared to refugees like Adeeb and Doha, we abound in wealth, influence and resources. We have the power to speak for those who do not have a voice (Proverbs 31:8-9). You can help by sharing their story with others and supporting organizations like Heart for Lebanon who are providing food and other aid to refugees. To learn more about Heart for Lebanon, visit their website. To learn about other organizations advocating for the refugees, visit For Such a Time is Now. To learn more about the crisis, go here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

'Exodus: Gods & Kings' -- This Moses is no 'Noah'

This month, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods & Kings came out on DVD. Below is a (slightly edited) reflection I wrote on the film in a MWR column earlier this year:

Last year, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods & Kings capped off a year of biblical films. Like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, it is a Bible epic made by a director who has identified himself both as agnostic and atheist. Yet Scott’s approach to his story is very different from Aronofsky’s — and both reflect ways we believers approach Scripture, too.

I enjoyed Noah, particularly how Aronofsky used midrash, an ancient Jewish approach to Scripture used to fill in narrative gaps in difficult or sparse passages with the goal to better understand them. While Noah has elements outside the Bible narrative, many of Aronof­sky’s choices are rooted in Jewish and biblical texts. He shows a respect for the narrative that ultimately helps us wrestle with the story’s hard questions.

I was disappointed by Exodus. Unlike Noah, it was not well-received by critics. Many found the film inconsistent, disjointed and unconvincing.

Take the film’s uneven portrayal of God. Moses’ first encounter with God comes after a head injury, suggesting his vision of God (as a grim and angry child) is a delusion. Yet God’s reality is displayed powerfully later in the film.

I was also disappointed by how the film’s flaws undermined its approach to one of the more disturbing aspects of the Exodus narrative. As Peter Chattaway points out in his review, Scott is troubled by why God would let people suffer so long, as well as by the violence of God’s actions. Indeed, one of the more moving parts of the film is Rhamses’ confrontation with Moses after the death of Rhamses’ son. “Is this your God? A killer of children?” asks Rhamses, holding out his child’s body.

That’s a question worth tackling, but we lose its context in the film. After all, the man asking the question demands to be worshiped as a god himself, strips an entire people of their humanity through slavery and follows in the footsteps of a man who slaughtered Hebrew children.

But we get no real sense of that in the film. Even as Scott fleshed out the Egyptians characters, he “watered down his protagonists, giving us almost no insight into their suffering and burning need for liberation,” writes Annalee Newitz in her io9 review.

Part of the inconsistency may be explained by Scott’s own struggle with belief in God while simultaneously trying to understand him. In Variety, Scott Foundas says the director describes himself as “compelled by the notion of Moses as a reluctant hero — a nonbeliever like himself who . . . finds himself actively questioning God’s plans and his own role in them.”

Or perhaps Exodus ultimately fails because Scott approaches the story by eliminating and adding elements to make it fit with his own unsettled journey and worldview. In an interview with Jonathan Merritt, Scott describes himself as a “very practical person” who chose what elements to accept and reject in the story based on “what did make sense and what didn’t make sense” to him.

That’s not an uncommon way to approach Scripture, even for believers.

“Some people read the Bible as if its passages were Rorschach inkblots. They see what is in their head,” writes Scot McKnight in The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. “Instead of being an opportunity for redemption, the Bible becomes an opportunity for narcissism.”

To some extent, Noah and Exodus reflect these two approaches to Scripture. And that’s part of the reason I love film: for the stories it tells and how it tells them, and also for the way it challenges us to think about how we read and tell those stories.