‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’: God versus King

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By Andrew Stewart

AndrewStewartIt’s been a good year for biblical movies. “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is the last major biblical film to hit theaters this year, with “Son of God” and particularly, “Noah,” making waves earlier on. The first two films met many expectations, yet surprisingly, the third falls short.

Advertised as a biblical epic, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” has issues with characterization, pacing, as well as wardrobe. In contrast with 1956’s “The Ten Commandments” (starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner), “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is shorter, covering less of Moses’ life. Directed by Ridley Scott of “Gladiator” fame, it takes a much more unconventional approach to a well-known story. So which does “Exodus: Gods and Kings” resemble more: Cecile B. DeMille’s epic or Scott’s 2001 “Best Picture” Oscar winner?

“The Ten Commandments” is the standard by which any film about Moses should be measured, and is probably the best known religious film alongside the 1959 “Ben-Hur.” “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (not to be confused with the 1960 film “Exodus,” about the founding of the state of Israel) like “The Ten Commandments,” focuses on the extra-biblical side of Moses’ life. There are a few themes present in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” that might be a homage to those same extra-biblical themes, such as an exchange where Moses asks Ramses to improve the lives of the Hebrews and pay them wages. But that is where the similarities end, with even some biblical story elements missing. The question of why they were not included is that they probably are not realistic enough to fit into the feeling of the movie. The film tries very hard to be faithful to a realistic approach, becoming a battle between Moses and the Hebrews versus the Egyptians. The film attempts too much, and ends up not progressing much in any one area it tries to tackle.

It all begins with a prophecy, that God has not forgotten his people. After a few epic CGI renditions of Memphis at the height of its glory, Moses (Christian Bale), Ramses (Joel Edgerton), and his father, Seti (John Turturro), are sitting around a table, arguing about going to war with the Hittites.

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The Geese at Belvedere Holy Rock and Other Poems

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By Donna FerrantelloDr.Ferrantello edit

The Geese at Belvedere Holy Rock

It was early morning.
Walking at the Belvedere Estate along the Hudson River…

I heard a great flock of Canadian geese from afar away,
And then, saw them circling around in the sky.
They flew off in the distance…honking, honking, honking,

I continued my walk…
in prayerful wondering about nature’s ways…

Then, one flock of geese returned,
Riding high — as though on an invisible highway
of going places at high speeds —
and somehow, almost decidedly
circling and returning to see the rock where I stood,
their honking stopped…

One by one —
each goose slowed to an abrupt stop way above my head….
Each one glided down,
braking like tiny airplanes preparing for landing…
and each landed gently on the ground near me….

A congregant of geese now stood attentively on the grass,
next to our Holy Prayer Rock on the hillside
(where many prayers have been offered here….)
All awaited in this landscape amidst the spacious beyond.

Again, from the distant sky,
a second honking flock of geese circled around above me
and they too stopped honking….

Noiselessly, one by one,
each began to float down,
with wings extended like a parachute.
Each floating goose
made landing on the grassy hillside.

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How New York City Invented the Holiday Season

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By Ronald J. Brown

Ronald_BrownThe celebration of a mid-winter holiday is as old as humanity. The sadness of death and desolation that surrounded our ancient ancestors mingled with hope that the days would lengthen, the sun would grow stronger, the trees would burst into bloom, the animals would give birth, and the crops would again ensure their survival. In keeping with the mid-winter celebrations of their neighbors, the three early Christian Churches in Rome, Greece, and Egypt, assigned Christ’s birth on or near December 25 already by the 4th Century.

But the Protestant Reformation began to question any celebration that was not Biblical. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Huss, Knox, and other reformers sought Biblical justification for saints, statues, indulgences, seven sacraments, nuns, monks, popes, and Christmas. If none was found, then they were relegated to the dustbin of Christian history. Scotch Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers flatly rejected Christ’s-mass and even forbade its celebration while the Lutherans, Anglicans/Episcopalians, Dutch Reformed, and French Huguenots admitted that frail humans needed such holidays and it did little real harm even if there was no Biblical justification for it. The Dutch Reformed Church also allowed a sober celebration on December 25 but reserved the real fun for the December 6 feast of their patron saint, Saint Nicholas.

When the newly-founded Dutch colony of New Amsterdam was established in 1624 it literally threw the doors of immigration open to anyone willing to work and defend the colony from Indian, English, French, and even Spanish attacks. Soon the great Christmas controversy that divided Catholics and Protestants, and Protestants and Protestants, filled the streets and villages of the Dutch colony.

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“The Red Tent”: What the Bible Might Have Been, Had Women Written It

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By Andrew Wilson

WilsonIn a holiday season with a biblical blockbuster, Exodus: Gods and Kings, far more interesting from a theological perspective is the recent Lifetime Television miniseries, “The Red Tent” (video link), taken from the best-selling novel by Anita Diamant. “The Red Tent” is a retelling of the familiar stories of Jacob, his wives and children from the perspective of Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter.

The Bible knows her only through the tragic story of her “rape” at the hands of Shechem, a prince of the land. As the Bible tells it, Shechem offered to marry her, but Jacob’s sons connived to murder him and all the men of his clan as retribution for defiling Dinah’s honor. Indeed, the rape of Dinah is the premise behind several Christian “Dinah” ministries to women who have suffered abuse. But as Dinah tells her story in “The Red Tent,” she fell in love with Shechem, they married according to the customs of his people, his father then asked Jacob’s permission to approve their marriage, but what Jacob’s sons did in the name of honor — slaughtering Shechem and his people — totally devastated her heart and left her bereft. Dinah cursed Jacob and went off to Egypt, eventually found a new life there as a midwife, remarried, and attained some closure after she met Joseph there some 20 years later.

It is not difficult to grasp that the Bible was written from a male viewpoint. Hence, we might find a woman’s viewpoint, though fictional, to be intriguing. It is actually quite plausible that Dinah fell in love with Shechem; after all, he was a prince of the land and would be a good catch for a shepherd girl. For that matter, if Leah and Rachel could speak to us, how would they characterize what the Bible describes as a catty relationship as they competed for Jacob’s favor? Did they ever reconcile? “The Red Tent” reminds us that they were first of all sisters, and some of the things they did together were kept secret from their father and their husband—and hence never made it into the biblical narrative. For that matter, what was Eve thinking when the archangel tempted her? What was the nature of her inner life after the Fall?

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Joining the Church

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The following is a chapter excerpt from My Life with Rev. Sun Myung Moon, just published by Rev. David Kasbow.

By David Kasbow

392609e606477b36c737e2b66598b5e3In April 1973, I was 22 years old and in my third year of college at Wayne State University. As I was walking from the Student Center across the mall, a person came up to me. This young man asked, “What do you think about unity?” I said, “It’s great.” That afternoon I was on my way to a theatrical lighting class, a requirement for the minor in theater I was working on. As we walked, we talked about how people can come together. He said his group was having a lecture on this topic back at the Student Center and asked me to come. I told him I was on my way to class, but when he told me more about the people he was with, I got more interested. He had a German accent and explained he was traveling with a group of young people from Europe. Having had a great experience in Europe, I decided to go with him to meet these people and hear what they had to say.

When we got to the Grossberg Religious Center on the third floor of the Student Center, we sat with some other students. A young lady was standing at a chalkboard and began a lecture entitled the “Principles of Creation.” Over the next 45 minutes as she drew diagrams on the chalkboard, she explained God’s ideal for creation. She said that Adam and Eve, our first ancestors, were created to share God’s love as God’s children. They were the first human beings to have eternal souls and were thus the first people with human responsibility. She laid out God’s plan for a good and peaceful world that would have unfolded had Adam and Eve fulfilled their responsibility and not sinned so disastrously. I was intrigued by the ideas she was presenting.

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Power and Its Distribution

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by Alison Wakelin

Alison WakelinA revival of authoritarianism and fundamentalism is sweeping the world today. As Unificationists, this presents a challenge, because post-Foundation Day an encroaching darkness is stealing the hearts and lives of so many millions.

We must ask ourselves, if we truly have a foundational spiritual role to play in the development of society in the near future, how has this come about? The answer seems that there is still an outstanding issue within our movement, one that Reverend Moon spoke of as the failure of Christianity, and which we now see clearly from our Western perspective embodied within a Cheon Il Guk Constitution. We do not see Western values expressed within our own projected future.

We must look at this directly, and accept that action is needed. Too much centralization of power is fine when the person at the center is trusted and admired by everyone, but it leaves only one option when people disagree with the central person. We indeed see several instances where splinter groups have arisen from within our movement. In a post-Messianic era, we cannot cling to too much authoritarianism, and certainly as a prescription for a nation, it is a major problem.

A society with a well-educated populace can only be harmed by a concentration of power and decision-making in too few hands. People grow and mature throughout their lives by making responsible decisions and learning through the outcomes, and if the majority are expected to live solely within the parameters defined by a central powerful body, then vast numbers of people are deprived of the right to self-determination. Thus collective life is reduced to a very circumscribed existence and growth is thwarted.

Of course, it is quite acceptable that some decisions are left to a few representatives, because they know the issues best, and may have the most experience and wisdom to make decisions for the whole — but this only works if there are many levels of decision-making between the individual and the central power. On this basis, those making final decisions do so aware of the opinions and desires of others.

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No One is Minding the Store in Our Two-Party System

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by Gordon Anderson

GordonMany people do not like President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, but in his November 20 speech, he stated that if Congress did not like his solution they could pass their own bill for his signature. The failure of Congress to pass an immigration bill reflects a larger problem in the U.S. political system: our current two-party system.

Political parties, almost by definition, do not serve the nation. Rather, they serve the interests of their financial contributors, who do not contribute to the nation, but seek to get something for themselves from the government. With our current two-party system, no one is minding the store. The current U.S. Government can be compared to a Wal-Mart in which people bribe a security guard to get in the store, and, once they do, take what they want from the shelves without paying at the cash register. Our elected representatives are those security guards, and, instead of representing the people, they have become operatives of political parties.

American political parties are coalitions of economic interests justifying themselves through ideological rhetoric. They have become the factions that so worried the U.S. Founders, particularly James Madison:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

— James Madison, The Federalist 10

U.S. government policies today are determined primarily by political parties, not by citizens. As much as possible, political parties place party loyalists on the ballot as candidates. Once elected, party contributors prepare legislation and hire lobbyists to help these loyalists shepherd it through.

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