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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 mother.
T…
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Metro cars and church

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 was in a church service.
And that got me t…

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 or just our own thought process. It can be difficult, though, to see what we are imme…

Inside 'The Circle'

This past weekend, the film adaptation of Dave Egger’s The Circle premiered in movie theaters. While the film—at least initially—sticks pretty close to the book, I didn’t find it nearly as creepy or effective in its themes, which challenge us not only to examine the implications of technoconsumerism but also our understanding of transformation.
Like the novel, the film focuses on Mae Holland, a recent college graduate who lands a job at The Circle, a powerful internet corporation that consolidates all your online needs--from tablets, computers and cell phones to biometric devices, social media and financial security and identity—into one service. Picture Apple, Microsoft and Google wrapped up into one and you start to get the picture.
As Mae rises through the ranks, we encounter a society where privacy is slowly being strangled by voyeurism in a world where cameras proliferate, the hunger for connection is insatiably fed by social-pressured and all-consuming social media, and corporati…

Netflixing the Story

Recently, friends of mine who are software developers told me about Netflix’s data collection, which not only tracks everything we watch but also every time we fast-forward, rewind, pause or abandon a movie or show altogether. Netflix uses this information to personalize recommendations as well as make decisions about what programming to feature or create.
In “How Netflix Reverse Engineered Hollywood,” Alexis Madrigal explores how Netflix also “microtags” every movie and show (from the plot, director and actors to the main characters’ jobs), incorporating that data into a system she compares to Facebook’s Newsfeed—“but instead of serving you up pieces of web content that the algorithm thinks you’ll like, Netflix is serving you up filmed entertainment.”
I find all that pretty impressive (and handy)—but others are a bit more wary.
In “How Netflix is Using Big Data,” Ritika Tiwari notes that some critics are concerned that Netflix is abusing the data and hindering creativity—for example, “i…

The ghosts that haunt us

Last month, the live-action remake of the 1995 anime film Ghost in the Shell hit theaters.
Set in a future when many humans are augmented with cybernetic enhancements, the story follows Major Mira Killian, whose body was mortally injured in a terrorist attack. Her brain is experimentally integrated into a robotic body called a “shell.”  With no memory of her life before the attack, Killian uses her enhanced abilities as part of a counter-terrorist team.
Both films explore themes related to integration of biology and technology, what makes us who we are and the mystery of consciousness (referred to as one’s “ghost”). A central theme in the 2017 film is Killian’s struggle with identity and purpose heightened by her memory loss and cybernetic body. In a way, she is haunted by her own “ghost” as she experiences “glitches” or flashes of memory, leaving her feeling isolated from herself and others.
She longs not only for understanding of who she is, where she came from and her purpose bu…

Hiring a refugee

Besides being a fascinating story about creating a business, 60 Minutes' interview with Chobani's billionaire founder last month gets at the benefits of employing refugees. Several churches in our region are encouraging their members who are employers to consider hiring refugees. It makes such a difference in their lives.
They got here legally. They’ve gone through a most dangerous journey. They lost their family members. They lost everything they have. And here they are. They are either going to be a part of society or they are going to lose it again. The number one thing that you can do is provide them jobs.  The minute they get a job that’s the minute they stop being a refugee.

Bringing God-talk back to open spaces

Some of you have noticed that I took a break from blogging for about a year. It was less intentional than due to an influx of responsibilities and pursuits—from settling into a new job with a local social services agency to going through the college application process for my oldest child and getting my youngest prepared for high school.
In particular, I have had some amazing opportunities to advocate for refugees. My job connected me to the resettlement agencies in our region, and over the past year, I began helping to inform our community as well as congregations about the refugee crisis, connecting them to resettlement agencies and working to develop ways to both embrace refugees who have resettled in our communities as well as those languishing in camps and settlements around the world. It is exciting and encouraging work—one which I hope to share more about both here and at For Such a Time is Now in the coming months.
It’s been a full and good year, but I have missed taking the …

Small miracles

Good films, like all good stories, tell us something about ourselves and the world around us, and the best stories challenge and inspire us. You might think Christian films would be at the top of my list in this regard, but generally they’re not. From their low production quality to poor storytelling and character development, these films leave me more frustrated than inspired.

Over the last few years, faith-based films have seen an infusion of Hollywood studios, star power, and directors. Unfortunately, most of the time this tends to simply put a shiny sheen on poor storytelling. But lately a couple of films have given me hope—and Miracles from Heaven is one of those.

An adaption of Christy Beam’s memoir by the same name, the film tells the story of Christy’s journey and crisis of faith as her young daughter Annabel gets sick and is eventually diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.

This film gets some essential things right—and much of that is due to a strong performance by Jenni…

The temptation of vengeance in movies

Writer and director Scott Derrickson recently posted on Twitter: “I believe that in future history the revenge ethic will be seen as the great cinematic signature of American mental [and] spiritual sickness.”

Historical drama that speaks today

[This review may contain spoilers]
The Oscar-nominated Bridge of Spies is an inspiring story and a great piece of filmmaking. Critics praise the collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, calling the film gripping, satisfying, and even eloquent.

Rocky relationships

I grew up watching the Rocky films, so after Sylvester Stallone received a Golden Globe for his performance in Creed, I thought it about time to see that one, too.

Polarizing Fallout

Kyle Hinckley made a stir in the video-game world by successfully completing the hardest mode of Fallout 4 with zero kills.

Real or not real?

Last month, Mockingjay: Part 2 concluded the film version of TheHunger Games series, a dystopian story in which children are forced to fight to the death in a televised Survivor-like arena. President Snow uses

Five things to consider about Syrian refugees

A few days after the news about the ISIS terror attacks in Beirut and the day after the Paris attacks, I was a judge at a high school debate tournament where the Public Forum topic was to resolve this statement: In response to the current crisis, a government should prioritize the humanitarian needs of refugees over its national interests.
Timely, right?
As I listened to my daughter and her team members go over their affirmative and negative arguments in preparation for the tournament (they have to argue both), I was mesmerized. I’d forgotten what it was like to hear a conversation where both sides of such a relevant and hotly contested issue were being discussed so calmly. It’s not that my daughter and her teammates didn’t care about the topic; in fact, they each voiced their own opinions about it. But they did so in a way that was informed and respectful.
I’ve tried to keep that in mind as I’ve read through op-eds, news articles and my Facebook feed this week.
At times, it was a strugg…