Christianity Today has an interesting interview with two film-makers who are doing what many Catholics want them to do : create intelligent beautiful films that don't beat their viewers over the head with religion and morality but deal with themes of faith and redemption in more subtle ways.
They find themselves caught between the rock of secular industry suspicion and the hard place of a potential Christian audience that is mostly evangelical and wants their cinematic religion loud and clear.
Executive producer Buzz McLaughlin and director Aaron Wiederspahn formed Either/Or Films—named for a book by Soren Kierkegaard—a few years ago "for the purpose of developing and creating films of beauty and artistic excellence that provoke the public to engage with the providential mystery of grace," as their mission statement says.
Other than ourselves, however,we don't know of any contemporary American filmmakers with films in distribution, who are upfront about their faithand attempting to make intelligent films outside the commercial marketplace that are not evangelical or didactic in intent.If they're out there, we'd love to know them.
Before The Sensation of Sight premiered in 2006 at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, you hired a well-reputed firm, Premier Public Relations of London. But before the festival you received a surprising phone call from the PR person, didn't you?
McLaughlin: Yes, not long after we hired them, I received a call in which she said, "I know who you are." I asked, "What do you mean?" She said, "I was a philosophy major in college.I know about Kierkegaard, and I can see from the film what you're up to."
This surprised me. We'd thought that The Sensation of Sight would be our Trojan Horse into the film business, since the spirituality was not overt; we were trying only to tell a story of a man's search for meaning in a hurting world. Our mission statement appears on our website, but is not explicitly Christian.
Her next question was even more unexpected: "Did your church fund you?" I assured her that all our capitalization had come from private equity investors. She warned that there would be considerable hostility from the press, and that we should be careful not to mention anything about our faith or why we founded the company.
That must have been a surprising revelation to you.
McLaughlin: Up until that moment, both of ushad been blissfully unaware that a sizeable portion of the secular media would be hostile to any production company bold enough to state what they're trying to accomplish on the spiritual plane. Our assumption while making The Sensation of Sight was that the work would be assessed on its own terms, on the basis of quality and artistic merit. Like most film companies, we'd employed the best talent possible, from actors (including Strathairn, an Academy Award nominee for Best Actor in Good Night, and Good Luck) to cinematographer to key crew; most of themwere not religious, and had come on board simply because they wanted to work and liked the material.
As it turned out, our London PR person was right. This is something that we've learned to live with since.In some venues where the film has screened, there hasn't been a problem at all, with everyone seeming to judge the film on its own terms.At others we can sense the resistance, and sometimes wonder how the film even managed to slip into the festival. Of course, this brings up the issue of the gatekeepers and the power they wield in accepting or rejecting films.
The dilemma of so many creative lay apostles in the marketplace. I wonder what Barb Nicolosi would say to them?
And I should note - this is ID's 2000th post. And our 2 year anniversary is coming up on the first of January. Mark Shea just marked 20,000 (!!) posts but I will gladly leave industrial size posting to him.
Thanks all y'all for your companionship, comments, and the memories over the past two years. And for giving us a chance to think (or bleat) out loud for your entertainment.
And because you need to make this ahead of time so it can age, I'll re-post the recipe for the best fruitcake ever.
I've never been a big fruitcake fan but this makes a cake that almost no one can resist.
I received the recipe via Fr. Mike who got it from his friend, Judy in Salt Lake City. I have six of these loaves, marinating in brandy, sitting in a cold, protected spot in my garage as we speak. And none of them will be wasted on the Manitou Springs fruitcake toss! Remember: don't change the recipe!
It will be cold and snowing here for the next couple of days. Just the setting to watch this touching video. It is a recreation of the bitter-sweet moment during Christian Eve, 1914 when British, German, and French troops all spontaneously declared a ceasefire for the evening. Beautifully done.
Taken from the 2005 French film Joyeux Noel.
There is a fascinating WIki article on the many (not just one) examples of such ""unofficial" Christmas ceasefires during World War I.
Our traveling teachers are a most gifted group and are doing all kinds of interesting things when not roaming the country with us. If you are looking for thoughtful, one of a kind gifts, some of our CSI family have interesting things to offer this Advent.
Katherine Lundquist of Portand, Oregon, is not only an occasional poster and commenter on ID and long time CSI supporter. She also is a wonderful musician and glass artist. You can listen (and buy) her exquisite Advent cd here and view her fused glass jewelry here.
Meanwhile, the amazing Barbara Elliott, author, journalist, speaker, philanthropic adviser, human rights champion and gadfly, continues to delight in teaching the Called & Gifted and Making Disciples seminars. Her book, Street Saints, is a one of a kind guide to some of the most cutting edge and effective urban ministries in the US. You can buy a copy through the CSI online bookstore.
We are privileged to have all these women as part of our little family of co-conspirators.
It is fitting, in light of our conversations lately about practical and spiritual ecumenicism between Catholic and Orthodox, that I stumbled across this interesting site: the only Byzantine Catholic Carmel in the US:
I love this story from their website:
It is recorded in the Life of Pope John XXIII that when he was Apostolic Nuncio in Istanbul an old Armenian priest questioned him: "Excellency, what is the great sin against the Holy Spirit?" To which query the Archbishop replied, "Your Reverence tell me". "The division in the Church" was the old priest's answer.
That incident has been reported as the origin of the Vatican II Council. At any rate we may safely say that Church unity has been the great desire of the 20th century pontiffs. It is also the reason for the foundation of Holy Annunciation Monastery - that Carmel be not the gift to, the possession of only the Western Church, but that the spirit of Teresa and John and the Carmelite charism be open to women of the Catholic East.
The community is quite large for a Carmel (15) and multi-cultural and multi-rite in background: the US, Slovakia, Carpathia, and India (5 sisters of the Malabar rite are part of the community). Reconciliation seems to be one of their charisms.
The community supports itself by breeding the most gorgeous little horses. One little horse, only 24 inches high, apparently serves as a therapy horse during Christmas. I'm sure she is a hit where-ever she goes.
Fr. James Moore, OP, a young, newly ordained Dominican friar who lives with me in Tucson, and I went on a hike in the Santa Rita mountains the day after Thanksgiving. Hiking up to a saddle below Mt. Wrightson, not too far from my parents' home, the conversation turned to preaching, as sometimes happens among members of the Order of Preachers. Fr. James mentioned that he was receiving some great comments on his preaching, but also some negative ones as well. In the course of the discussion, he pointed out that Dominicans were known for their doctrinal preaching, and that's when it hit me (or, better, when the Holy Spirit enlightened me).
St. Dominic and his early compatriots lived in a very different society than we do today. The Order of Preachers formed out of a preaching mission to heretics. These were people who were interested enough in the spiritual life and the question of how a disciple of Jesus is to live that they were willing to "buck the trend" and formally leave the Catholic Church, which was, at least in Europe, pretty much the only spiritual game in town. For them, doctrinal preaching was exactly what was needed. They needed to hear the Church's doctrine explained clearly and logically, as well as how the Albigensian/Cathar interpretation of scripture was incomplete. They also needed to hear this message proclaimed by men who were living simply - even poorly - since they were rejecting the goodness of created things and saw any trappings of wealth as a kind of spiritual degradation.
The challenge for Dominicans - and for all those who have the office of preacher in the Church in the US and the rest of the developed world - is quite different. Rather than preaching to people who are passionate about questions of God and how to live according to God's will, we face congregations with many individuals for whom religion is not much different than belonging to a club. According to the recent Pew Foundation study on religion in America:
43% of Catholics surveyed say religion is "somewhat important" or "not too/not at all important" (and the younger you are, the less important religion is to you) 48% of Catholics are absolutely certain that God is personal 45% of Catholics are certain in the existence of an afterlife 42% of Catholics attend Mass at least once a week.
These statistics do not indicate a great deal of religious zeal in our parishes, and while all of those four points have to do with doctrine, perhaps the more important emphasis in preaching today needs to be on the question of how does one relate to God? I would propose that preachers today need to be more transparent regarding their own relationship with God: Father, Son and Spirit. If I, as a preacher, never speak about my relationship with God - the struggles, joys, disappointments, hopes - my congregation may simply think of faith as simply a set of ideas that are not terribly interesting or pertinent to daily life.
It is stunning to realize that a mere two weeks before the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Catholics held a huge (100,000 in attendance) peace rally i downtown Mumbai.
Catholic bishops, leaders of other religions and human rights activists who addressed the Nov. 15 Sadbhawna Melawa (peace rally) called for harmony and peace in India, which they said is being ravaged by divisive forces.
Bombay Catholic Sabha (council) organized the rally at Shivaji Park in downtown Mumbai, a popular venue for political events. Participants in the three-hour rally that began at 3:30 p.m. protested religion-linked violence, bomb blasts and mob terrorism in the country, and pledged to work for communal harmony and peace.
After leading the opening prayer, Auxiliary Bishop Bosco Penha read out a message from Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay that highlighted the need for fellowship and unity. "India is a great country and there should not be room for terrorism, violence and hatred. God will be with us if we only love our neighbor," the message said.
Bishop Penha now looks after Bombay archdiocese, India's largest diocese in terms of Catholic population, as Cardinal Gracias recuperates from cancer surgery. The archdiocese based in Mumbai has retained the old name of the city, India's commercial capital, 1,410 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.
Reminding participants that they are all God's children, Bishop Penha urged them to join the struggle "to transform society from hate to love, from division to unity, from violence to peace."
Bishop Percival Fernandez, another of the archdiocese's three auxiliaries, told the people hate propaganda feeds terrorism and "should be stopped before it is too late." Citing terrorist attacks in various parts of the country, he said: "Peace, my dear friends, is not absence of war but harmony, justice and love." The biggest problem India faces now, in his view, is the threat to sectarian harmony.
Dolphy D'Souza, who heads Bombay Catholic Sabha, estimated 100,000 people attended the program. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims joined the mainly Catholic crowd to pray for peace and pledge to "build bridges of love and understanding," he told UCA News on Nov. 16.
The lay leader described the gathering as "a rainbow of all faiths, castes, creeds, organizations and common citizens" that has kindled hope amid "dark clouds" of divisive politics. He told the rally recent attacks on churches and Christians, especially in the eastern state of Orissa, have upset all Christians in the country.
Speakers from other religions also saw the rally as an auspicious sign and said they hoped the momentum for peace would continue.
Muslim academician Mehmud-ur Rehman remarked that such a huge gathering signaled the triumph of love over hate. "If each one here could become an ambassador of peace, we can overcome divisive forces in the country," the former university vice chancellor asserted.
Sikh leader Surjan Singh Ahuja called the rally "a good beginning to spread the message that violence and hatred have no place in any religion."
Buddhist monk Venerable Bante Ayupal called for a federation of religions to fight discrimination and violence.
Hindu leader G.K. Bhanji commented that he knew of no other meeting at the park that did not discuss politics or a political agenda. Rather, people craving peace had gathered there, he said.
Teesta Setalvad, secretary of Mumbai-based Citizens for Justice and Peace, condemned sectarian violence as a cancer weakening the country's democracy: "Violence against any minority has to be treated as violence against humanity. This can only be done when the rule of law is enforced properly."
Obviously the terrorist attacks were planned for months in advance but the first word that came to mind as I read this was "spiritual warfare".
There is a tremendous need for organized, prolonged, intercessory prayer to address the spiritual power behind the many and complex historical and cultural sources of this violence.
Item 8145 The Paulist Evangelization Training Institute (PETI) will offer its online course Keys to Reaching Inactive Catholics from January 19 to February 29, 2009. Over the six-week course, John and Therese Boucher will discuss ways to reach today's inactive, marginal and unchurched Catholics. They will explore six keys for developing a new model of everyday missionary outreach that goes beyond programs and relies on God's presence in each person's journey of faith
I know the Bouchers and they are the real deal - dedicated, creative, effective, experienced evangelists. This won't just be about getting bodies back in the pews - it will be about calling Catholic to intentional discipleship in the midst of the Church. John is Director of the Office of Parish Life and Evangelization Ministry for the Diocese of Trenton. Therese wrote the new Life in the Spirit seminar manual.
This is especially timely because if you register by December 19, the course is half-price. A mere 75 samolians. Check it out!
I'm not ignoring y'all and I do have a number of things to blog but first i have to write a book proposal.
It's simple. All I have to do is write a 100 -125 page book summing up the most important stuff we've learned over the past 11 1/2 years and the implications for pastoral ministry and leadership at all levels, the new evangelization, the formation of the laity, the discernment of charisms and vocations, and the fulfillment of the Church's secular mission to heal and transform the culture. No worries.
That's one of the main reasons that I am going to be home a good deal more over the next six months. That and re-writing interviewer training, revising Making Disciples yet again, and developing a graduate level course on the theology of the laity for Sacred Heart Seminary starting the day after Memorial Day.
Don't worry. The tempter will tempt me and I will blog. Always more fun than working!
But I could really use your prayers for the book. I am a slow and tortured writer - and even though I will be drawing upon the writing charism of my old friend, Mark Shea to help break my writer's block, it's still going to take a lot of focused effort.
Focus? What's that? Its much less demanding to run in panicked circles!
I let Pippin, our black and impossibly youthful 17 year old house cat out on the patio to experience snow.
As she tentatively made her first pawprints in the white stuff, a small avalanche dropped from the roof directly on her. In a flash, she was back inside the house and watching the open door apprehensively for any further move by the evil winter gods.
Pippin is not the stuff of which cat superheroes are made.