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First They Killed My Father: Beauty and Suffering

Last month, Netflix released First They Killed My Father , based on the experience of Loung Ung who is a childhood survivor of the  Pol Pot regime during the Khmer Rouge years in Cam bodia . It is not only a compelling story of individual suffering and the personal toll of a horrific period in history but also a story with galvanizing relevance today. Director Angelina Jolie, who co-wrote the script with Loung, whose book provides the source material. The film peels away the layers of politics and history and gives a human face to the genocide of a quarter of Cambodia’s population. Jolie crafts the story so that we experience the horrors of war, hunger, violence and loss through the eyes of a child. This adds power to the rare moments that bring comfort: a smile, a kind voice, the gentle touch of a hand and, somewhat paradoxically, stunning images of natural beauty. Some critics thought Jolie’s use of beauty weakened the film, but I found it haunting. It brought to mi
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Last Ship: Family and mission

“One ship against the three of us? They are outnumbered.” ~ Sergeant Azima Kandie in the “ Detect, Deceive, Destroy” episode of  The Last Ship If you read this blog, you know I’m a fan of disaster and sci-fi stories, so it will come as no surprise that  The Last Ship   is part of my regular summer viewing. The TNT action-drama, which wrapped up its fourth season this month, centers on the crew of the   U.S.S. Nathan James   after a global pandemic wipes out over 80 percent of the world’s population. The crew of the U.S. Navy ship spends the first three seasons finding and distributing a cure and the fourth tracking down and finding the solution to a plant virus that threatens to wipe out the world’s food supply. The last season or two has slipped into a more formulaic format than the first two. As Captain Chandler has transformed from a vulnerable father and mourning husband struggling with the consequences and costs of leadership into your standard hulked-out action h

Blade Runner 2049: Beautiful but flawed

Blade Runner is one of my favorite films . It is layered with meaning and questions and themes that take you in all sorts of directions. And I found Director Denis Villeneuve ’s Arrival one of the most thought-provoking and moving science fiction films I’ve ever seen. So, I really, really wanted to love Blade Runner 2049 . But I just couldn't. Perhaps if I'd never seen the original film, this one would feel fresher. As it is, it feels like a drawn out epilogue of the original that could have been at least an hour shorter. At the writing of this post, the film has an 88 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 83 percent rating for users, so I get that this obviously puts me in the minority. Still, I found the film a disconnect on multiple levels. First, there were inconsistencies and unevenness that kept knocking me out of the story. Some were little, like where did the flower come from in a landscape where there is no living vegetation. Others were character rela

Starting in the middle

Lynch/Frost Productions In May, Showtime released a limited series revival of Twin Peaks , a 1990 quirky two-season television crime drama set in a small town in Washington and centered on FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s investigation of the murder of a teenager named Laura Palmer.  I hadn’t watched the original series, so when I ran across it on Netflix, I thought I’d try to give it a go before Showtime’s series aired. From the opening scene, however, I was utterly confused. The characters made references to other characters as if I  should already know who they are, and I couldn’t really grasp what was going on from scene to scene. At first, I chalked it up to creator David Lynch’s surreal style, but half-an-hour in I discovered why I was so confused: I was watching the first episode of the second season instead of the first season. The memory still makes me laugh, but it also reminds me of the way many of us approach Scripture. We often start in the middle, with J

Time to take our temperature

I recently ran across an article in The Dartmouth that underscores the effects of political polarization in the U.S. " A survey of Dartmouth's political landscape " explores the results of a campus-wide survey last month in which a little over 430 students answered questions about several issues, including tolerance for and relations with opposing political viewpoints--as revealed in the graph above. Surveys like this take a reading of public opinion and where certain populations stand, but they are also a good opportunity for us to take our own temperature. How would we answer questions like how comfortable we'd be having a roommate with opposing political views to our own? A question like that can reveal how much we invest our belief systems in political ideologies--and as I explored in my previous post, we need to be mindful of that. 

Bugs, politics and the church

If you are looking for something to binge watch on Amazon Prime, consider the one-season CBS comedy-thriller BrainDead , a political satire set in a present-day Washington, D.C. that’s been invaded by extraterrestrial insects which both feed on the brains of and take control of people, including congress members and staffers.                                                     As the bugs take over, they cause their hosts to become more extreme in their ideologies and tactics—so much so that the Democrats and Republicans mirror each other to the point that it gets hard to distinguish one from the other. The bugs’ agenda? To keep people distracted: while the humans fight each other, the bugs take over the planet. As the political climate degraded last fall, I found a bit of relief in the satirical series' use of things like exaggeration, irony and humor to comment on current issues. But with the frequent shots of Trump and Clinton on TVs in the background, BrainDead ’

The scope and nature of suffering in 'Lion' and life

Recently, I finally got around to watching Lion , the Oscar-nominated film based on the true story of Saroo Brierley who, as a five-year-old boy, is accidentally separated from his older brother while scavenging in trains in India. After falling asleep on a bench at one of the stations, Saroo (played by Sunny Pawar) boards another train hoping to find his brother but ends up 1600 kilometers away in Calcutta. Illiterate, Saroo doesn’t know his last name or his mother’s name and he can't speak the local language, so he ends up spending harrowing weeks trying to survive on the streets. He eventually ends up in an orphanage, where he’s adopted by Sue and John Brierley (played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) along with another boy from India, and they both grow up in Australia. In his 20s, haunted by his past, Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) begins a six-year search for his birthplace, eventually locating the town he grew up in using Google Earth and reuniting with his birth m

Metro cars and church

photo by Carmen Andres The other day, I took the Metro into DC. The station was at the beginning of the line, so the car was only a quarter full. I grabbed a seat, took out my phone and started scrolling through email and social media apps. By the time I put away my phone 10 minutes later, the car was packed. You’d think with that 60 or so people crammed in one little space, there’d be some noise, but it was so quiet that I could hear the rustle of a newspaper page being turned half a car away from me. Some riders were reading or looking at their phones while others closed their eyes or looked at nothing in particular. No one was talking. This isn’t unusual. There’s a certain etiquette for riding public transportation that creates a kind of unspoken social order to protect personal space and politeness. And as an introvert, I don’t mind at all. But that morning it suddenly struck me that one of the only other places where I could sit with that many people in silence

Virtually Real Church

Last summer, my family acquired one of the latest revolutions in virtual reality — a headset that uses a smartphone as a display. It looks like a giant visor, and once you hold it up to your eyes and strap it on, you are immersed in a wide variety of 360 environments — from standing in a dense forest with a very real-looking computer-generated dinosaur to balancing on a surfboard gliding under giant curved walls of moving water. Some of the environments almost feel like the real thing — and many people are drawn to it. “This technological paradigm shift brings a level of immersion unlike any that has come before it,” says Monica Kim in “ The Good and the Bad of Escaping to Virtual Reality .”                                                           Like many technological developments, there are concerns about how it will affect us and our culture — but immersion itself is nothing new. “We are always immersed in something, whether it is narrative, a form of media o