by Kathy Winings
I am not a football enthusiast. It’s because I simply do not understand the sport.
This may sound strange since I grew up in Indiana and Hoosiers love football and basketball — especially on the collegiate level. As a young girl, I enjoyed watching basketball because I understood the game. But football was another matter altogether.
As a member of my high school marching band, I had to play at all football home games. Imagine sitting there in the stands cheering our football team to victory yet not having a clue as to what was happening on the field. Tight ends, quarterbacks, safeties, wide receivers, centers, first and down; and what about those numbers that a player is shouting out before everyone goes head to head in the scrimmage. It was all Greek to me. Football just did not make sense to me.
And of course, my brother and father camped out in the living room on weekends rooting for (yelling, more like it) their favorite collegiate or professional football team. Needless to say, I had no clue who was winning or how they could win. My freshman year at Indiana University was much the same. All I learned about football that year was that the late John Pont, the head coach for IU’s team, was one of the top college coaches in America and that the varsity football players received special meals every day and drove around in brand new sports cars.
Though I still don’t understand football, I do know it has captured the attention and loyalty of millions of fans. I also understand there are billions of dollars tied up in the game and thousands of people earn their living from the sport, one way or another, and that football means millions of dollars in revenue for the cities that host a professional team. This does not begin to scratch the surface of the popularity and economics of the Super Bowl, where television advertisers pay millions to promote their product.
I also understand the furor caused by a quiet, unassuming forensic neuropathologist from Nigeria when he discovered what came to be called “chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” or CTE, after conducting autopsies on several former NFL players beginning in 2002.
By Kathy Winings
I was just a small child when the Berlin Wall and Cold War took center stage in the news. Though my parents did not speak of such things while I was growing up, my father did talk about the “Red Scare” and “those Communists.” Of course, I would not understand what that meant until I was much older. I could not even imagine the level of fear that many people must have felt during this period of American history with its talk of spies and counterespionage.
I do remember hearing about a pilot, Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down and captured by the Russians. But I did not know the full story and had no idea of the maelstrom that surrounded this episode in history – at least not until I saw “Bridge of Spies.”
Director Steven Spielberg, together with writers Matt Charman, Ethan and Joel Coen, has captured the intense feelings of the Cold War era and the issues surrounding the trial of a real-life Russian spy, an American U2 spy plane pilot, and an American student caught on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall in his latest movie.
This excellent film tells the story of a successful Brooklyn, NY, insurance attorney, James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), who is asked by the U.S. government to defend captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, who was tried for espionage in 1957. In the minds of many Americans, Abel is the personification of all that was evil in the Soviet regime. In this post-atomic bomb era of fear, the average American citizen is certain their government will do the right thing and simply sentence Abel to death, teaching the Russians a lesson they would never forget.
However, the American government sees it differently. As a potential powder keg, it is believed Abel should receive the best defense possible, or at least have the appearance of a strong defense to guard against any retaliation from Russia. What the government does not account for is Donovan’s strong sense of right and wrong. Though it is a foregone conclusion Abel will be found guilty, Donovan has the foresight to convince the presiding judge to sentence Abel to prison rather than condemn him to death.
by Kathy Winings
When we were younger and just beginning to study Principle concepts concerning the purpose of life and about the nature of our lives as children of God, many of us tended to think in simple, basic terms.
In terms of our life journey, we often taught that we were conceived and nurtured for nine months in our mother’s womb as our first stage of existence. Our life continued as we burst on the scene and embarked on a journey through this earthly existence for our second stage of life, hopefully looking forward to a long and healthy life. Ultimately, we would pass into our eternal home to live with God and rejoin our loved ones who had gone on before us. We learned in those early days that in the grand scheme of things, our physical life would be but a passing moment, as it were, when compared to our eternal life. Yet how we lived in this second stage of life, how well we loved and how well we lived according to God’s life-giving words were of prime importance. Most of the content though was fairly theological and did not deal with the practical dimension of our daily life.
I don’t know about you, but for me, I did not give much thought to the numerous physical challenges that might make our life on earth difficult. I was too busy going about the work of God to think too long or hard about such things other than to perhaps feel that somehow we might be shielded from some of these challenges because of the importance of the work we were doing.
However, I was reminded of this overly simple view of life while watching the sobering and powerful film “Still Alice.” Julianne Moore, in an Oscar-winning performance, masterfully portrays Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Columbia University and sought after guest lecturer, who, just after celebrating her 50th birthday, is diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that manifests at an early age. An intelligent and active woman, and mother of three adult children, this diagnosis cuts to the quick. Here is a woman whose life is defined by words, language and a life of the mind now rapidly being deprived of her thoughts and ideas as well as her memories.
By Kathy Winings
Clint Eastwood’s powerful film, “American Sniper,” dares to bring to public consciousness the hidden side of war. This hidden side is the tremendous toll war takes on the moral and psychological dimension — the soul — of the men and women who serve on the front lines. The film is based on Navy Seal Chris Kyle’s autobiography by the same title and follows his experiences as one of the most lethal snipers in U.S. military history with 160 confirmed kills.
Posted in Iraq, Kyle, brilliantly played in the film by Bradley Cooper, served four tours of duty before being honorably discharged in 2009. On coming home, like many returning veterans, Kyle had the difficult task of adjusting to civilian life in Texas as a husband and father to his two children. In 2013, he and fellow veteran, Chad Littlefield, were shot and killed by another veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, while at a practice range. Routh, who had been recently discharged from a mental health facility and been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), had arranged to meet with Kyle, who was trying to help him with his depression. The poignancy of the film was heightened when Routh’s trial began as “American Sniper” was being shown across the country. Routh was convicted of the murders two days after the February 22nd Oscars telecast, and immediately sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The film brilliantly and poignantly presents the personal turmoil that a soldier faces when holding a life in the crosshairs of his or her rifle. One particularly heart-wrenching scene shows a moment of decision when Kyle has a small Iraqi boy and a woman, who we assume is his mother, in his gun sights. The young boy is given an anti-tank grenade by the hijab-clad woman and begins to walk toward the column of approaching American soldiers. Kyle is praying for the child to stop or at least indicate he means no harm. But the boy doesn’t, and Kyle must do what he is trained to do — shoot him. When the mother then rushes to her child, picks up the grenade and runs toward the soldiers, Kyle must shoot her as well.
By Andrew Stewart
It’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.
By Andrew Wilson
In 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?
by Kathy Winings
An old adage used to be that there were two constants in life: death and taxes. For the 21st century, it seems that we have two new constants: cultural conflict and food. The news is replete with stories of the latest cultural clash, whether it is Palestinian/Israeli, Black/White, Muslim/Christian, Ukraine/Russia, and on and on. There seems to be no end to the cultural conflicts.
Then there is food. Food plays an important role in our lives. The popularity of top shelf cooking shows attests to this point. Food sustains our life, it comforts us during stressful or difficult times and it brings people together. It certainly isn’t by accident that food has played an important role in Christian ministry and spiritual life. Whether it is the feeding of the 5,000, the Last Supper with the disciples, or Holy Communion, food has been intimately connected with worship and liturgy. This is also true for other faith communities. Food’s ability to reconcile humanity — whether to God or with each other — and to heal our emotional and spiritual wounds is well understood.
This is what makes The Hundred-Foot Journey, based on a popular novel by Richard C. Morais, such a powerful and inspiring movie. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, and directed by Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules; Chocolat), The Hundred-Foot Journey presents the challenges of getting along in our multicultural world and how food can be the vehicle for reconciliation and forgiveness during times of conflict as it focuses on the dynamic of a family from India and a French restaurateur.
The Kadam family business is food. The second son, Hassan, brilliantly played by Manish Dayal, is singularly blessed with a gift for cooking, a gift he inherited from his mother. Hassan is just beginning his training as a chef when his mother is tragically killed during a riot that also destroys the family’s restaurant. Having nothing left, the Kadam family leaves India and resettles initially in Great Britain before finally settling down in a small village in the south of France.
A review essay of the 2013 films “American Hustle,” “August: Osage County” and “Blue Jasmine.”
By Kathy Winings
If it were not for animated films, I’m not sure our children would see anything in today’s popular media that would recommend the beauty and value of marriage and family. Too many films that received Oscar nods this year portrayed marriage and family as either a lost cause or totally dysfunctional. I’m referring to three where either the film or its lead actors were nominated for the 2014 Academy Awards: “American Hustle,” “August: Osage County” and “Blue Jasmine.”
The acting in each was Oscar-worthy. However, anyone watching those films would come to the conclusion that the American family is lost forever and there is little hope of anyone reclaiming the ideal God envisioned for marriage and family.
Set in the 1970s, “American Hustle” portrays a con artist, Irving (Christian Bale), and his girlfriend, Sydney (Amy Adams), who spend their days setting up Ponzi and get-rich-quick schemes. Unfortunately, they get caught in a sting operation led by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper). To avoid charges, Irving suggests he can help the FBI set up a major undercover operation that will expose a mafia boss and local politician. An elaborate operation is set up to catch the newly-elected mayor of Camden and a major mafia boss in the act of defrauding the citizens of New Jersey. There are plots and sub-plots with so many twists that the viewer isn’t quite sure until the very end who is crooked, who isn’t, who will end up in prison, and who will walk away.
But the sub-theme running throughout the film is the relationship between Irving, Sydney and his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and young son. Irving views himself as a good husband and father, despite that he’s a con artist and has a mistress.
By Andrew Stewart
(Note: This film review contains spoilers)
The newest Godzilla reboot starts with a nuclear bomb, a ridge of spines in the azure waters of the Bikini Atoll, and a clever retelling of some of the most painful parts of human history. Expectations are set high at the start of the movie with bits of nuclear testing footage interspersed with “secret documents” that turn into credits. An organization named Monarch, that was part of the movie’s viral marketing campaign, is revealed in snippets and glimpses. “Godzilla” gets the plot underway with a panoramic shot of a beautiful unnamed Pacific island, and an introduction to the bones of a giant prehistoric being.
It should be easy to figure out where the plot goes in “Godzilla;” it takes a backseat to the action and is rather simple with a heavy focus on wide shots of monsters, destroyed military bases, and burning cities. Humans unwittingly cause their own problems in the film by waking up monsters that should have been left alone. The militaries are very ineffective when dealing with the beasts and of course the brunt of the battle lies in Godzilla’s hands. It’s a common trope in Godzilla films that the monsters themselves represent nuclear power, but they are portrayed more as a force of nature rather than malicious beings, and there is an eco-friendly message that the monsters are merely seeking to restore balance. Perhaps the best feature of the giant monsters is that they absorb radiation, thus, a relic of the old Cold War fear of nuclear winters and radiation poisoning is dispelled by the very beings that come to destroy humanity.
Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (played by Ken Watanabe) basically reveals the message of the movie, that Godzilla himself is a balancing force, and humanity’s fate lies in his hands: An angry reptilian guardian angel who does not mind wrecking cars and knocking down buildings like bowling pins.