Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of LAST FLAG FLYING

Last Flag Flying, rated R
**

Last Flag Flying features a strong cast, an Oscar nominated director, and had great promise, but ultimately doesn’t deliver on that promise. It was extremely slow and has a significant amount of adult language. It was a HUGE missed opportunity for it to be a great film.  The film was directed by five-time Oscar nominee Richard Linklater (Boyhood). Linklater and Golden Globe nominee Darryl Ponicsan (Cinderella Liberty) wrote the screenplay based on Ponicsan’s novel, which was a sequel to his novel The Last Detail. The movie was filmed in and around the Pittsburgh area.
As the film begins, it is 2003.We see Larry “Doc” Shepherd, played by Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) walk into Sal’s bar in Norfolk, Virginia,owned by Sal Nealon, played by Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston (Trumbo). The depressing bar is past its better days, and only has one customer. Nealon is an alcoholic and has a vulgar mouth, some of his language being of a sexual nature.  Sal doesn’t recognize Doc initially. The two served as Marines together thirty years earlier in Vietnam, but hadn’t seen each other since. These days, Doc works for the Navy. The next morning, Doc asks if they can take a drive, and they end up at a church, clearly not a destination that Sal is happy about, or familiar with. However when they enter, Sal is surprised to see that the pastor is his old Vietnam buddy Richard Mueller, played by Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne (What’s Love Got to Do with It?).
The three old friends enjoy reminiscing over a meal at the Mueller home, prepared by Richard’s wife Ruth, played by Deanna Reed-Foster (Chicago Fire). It’s then that Doc, who lost his wife Mary to breast cancer earlier in the year, tells them he had just been notified that his 21-year old son Larry Jr., also a Marine, was killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq. He has sought them out so that they might travel with him to pick up his son’s body, which will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sal immediately agrees to Doc’s request, but Richard, while fine with connecting with Doc and Sal, declines. Being with his former buddies reminds him of a dark and painful period in his life when he was known as Mueller the Mauler. He now walks with a cane due to a badly injured knee from the war and admits to being a recovering alcoholic. But his wife Ruth wisely tells him that he needs to go with Doc and Sal to support Doc during his time of need. Reluctantly, he agrees to go, which we’re glad for, because he’s a good Christian foil in this film.

***SPOILER ALERT***
We see the three drive initially to Arlington, but then realize that Doc’s son’s body will arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware; so off they go. Doc is told by Colonel Wilits, played by Yul Vazquez (American Gangster), that his son died as a hero, and with honor while serving his country. As he mourns, Sal and Richard find out the truth from Lance Corporal Washington, played by J. Quinton Johnson, Doc’s son’s best friend who had escorted the body home. Doc’s son didn’t actually die in battle. Rather, he was shot and killed at a public market by an Iraqi insurgent when they went to buy soft drinks during their mission of moving supplies for Iraqi schools.
Sal decides that Doc needs to know the truth. As a result, Doc decides that his son will not be buried at Arlington in his Marine uniform. Instead, he will take him back home to be buried, and he will wear his graduation suit. Eventually the body is loaded first into a rented van and then onto a train, and we follow the three reunited friends and Washington on the trip back home. On the way back to New Hampshire, they make a stop in Boston to visit with the mother of a former Marine. While on the train, we see a few moments of what we have expected, the former marines humorously reminiscing about their time thirty years earlier, though some of this is done in a crude and vulgar manner.
*************************

Understandingly, Doc is somber and soft-spoken during most of the film. The script doesn’t allow Carell much flexibility. Cranston’s Sal is consistently vulgar, but we see that he truly cares for Doc and also the mother of the former Marine. Fishburne’s Richard, never seems comfortable with his former Marine friends, and is always on the verge of heading back home. However, he does an excellent job representing a Christian pastor, especially when tempted to enter into his old ways by Sal.    J. Quinton Johnson is a pleasant surprise in his portrayal of Washington.
The film wants you to see the three friends from long ago bond together, but I never felt that fully developed. There are some regrets and guilt from their time in Vietnam, and we are told that Doc served two years in prison, but that is not fully explained even though it’s an important event.
The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language, including many abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names, and much of the language being of a sexual nature. The film ends with Bob Dylan’s excellent “Not Dark Yet” playing over the ending credits. Themes in the film are regret, shame, guilt, honesty, faith and friendship.  We really enjoyed the humor in this film.
The film, with its fine cast and director, had great potential, but overall is one of missed opportunities. This emotional film is extremely slow, and overly long at 125 minutes. It never developed the characters – you really wanted to feel like you were tagging along on this journey of old friends reminiscing and talking about difficult subjects such as war, death, heaven and faith.  Instead you couldn’t wait to get off the train.  The foul language will keep many people of faith away, and the boring plodding of the film will keep others from even renting it.

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

CHRISTMAS!

  • 7 Suggestions to Have the Best Christmas Ever. Ron Edmondson writes “Not all of these will apply to everyone, but my guess is if there are a couple here you need to work on – to better celebrate Christmas – you already knew it. As we begin the rush of the Christmas season, pause right now, take a few deep breaths, and let’s make this the best Christmas ever.”
  • Good News of Great Joy. This Advent, John Piper would like to read you a short devotional each day. Beginning this Friday, December 1, and leading up to Christmas Day, you can listen to John read his 25 daily meditations, called Good News of Great Joy. Then after Advent, we’d love to have you consider walking with us all year long. For many months now, John has been recording not just the Advent readings, but all 365 of our daily devotions called Solid Joys. Christmas will come and go, but God willing, these daily readings from John Piper will keep coming.

    Doug Michael’s Cartoon of the Week

  • Don’t Expect a Spectacular Christian Life. Rusty McKie writes “Reading your Bible, praying for your world, sharing your faith, and prioritizing your local church all seem ordinary, but maybe that’s the point. These spiritual activities remind us that we need daily bread from Jesus, and that it takes faith to keep coming back to the source of grace.”
  • Depression and God’s Grace. In this episode of BreakPoint, Eric Metaxas states “If you’re dealing with depression, you might as well know there are no quick fixes, but there is always God’s grace.”
  • Would You Let a Stranger Live with You? Lisa Chan writes “as we have opened up our hearts and our home to others, what we have received far outweighs the sacrifice and surrender.”
  • Prayer as a Way of Life. Richard Doster interviews Paul Miller, author of A Praying Life.
  • Together for Good? My Burden for Our Racial Brokenness. John Piper expresses his hope for Christian racial harmony despite the setbacks and sorrows of this moment.
  • 7 Hard Truths About Retirement. Chris Cagle writes “The problem is that nobody wants to talk about the fact that your retirement could be different from what you plan and imagine. That’s because of the things that may materialize in retirement that can make it very challenging.” Better to Lose Your Life Than Waste It. Recently, John Piper challenged college students in Phoenix that it’s better to lose your life than waste it. Listen, watch, listen to or read this new 48-minute message.
  • Friends Help Their Friends Finish Well. Scotty Smith prays “Lord Jesus, I’m so grateful for the close friends you’ve woven into my heart and story. As an introvert, the journey of investing in long-term relationships requires time, tenacity, and an ongoing supply of your grace.”

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Songs of Experience – U2 (Deluxe Edition)
****

U2 has always been more than just a band. With Songs of Experience, they show their maturity, while still taking chances. The band’s 14th studio album – incredibly with no band member changes – is their follow-up to 2014’s companion Songs of Innocence. Thematically, the album is a collection of letters written by Bono to people and places closest to his heart. The album is influenced by Bono’s “recent brush with death”, and inspired by the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly’s advice to him to “write as if you’re dead”. The band worked with nine different producers and 15 engineers on the album. There is much to digest here, and it will best be appreciated after multiple listenings.

The album was ready to be released in late 2016, but after the shift of global politics in a conservative direction, the band decided to delay it and reassess the tone of the album. The album included nine different producers and 15 engineers, so there is a lot of variety included. The album cover features a photo of Bono’s son Eli and the Edge’s daughter Sian holding hands, taken by the band’s long-time photographer Anton Corbijn.

Here are a few brief comments about each song:

Love Is All We Have LeftThis song was produced by Andy Barlow. It’s a slow, quiet song, with Bono singing with synth backing. Bono uses some falsetto, as he duets with his own electronically modified voice. A rather underwhelming track to start the album, which repeats the song title often.

Lights Of HomeThis song was produced by Brent Kutzle, Ryan Tedder, Jacknife Lee and Jolyon Thomas, and co-written by the Haim sisters from the alternative pop-rock band HAIM, who sing back-up vocals. This song references Bono’s brush with death “Shouldn’t be here ’cause I should be dead”, and has him looking toward Heaven (the lights of home). The song features a nice guitar solo from the Edge.

You’re The Best Thing About MeThis song was produced by Ryan Tedder, Steve Lillywhite and Jacknife Lee. It was the first single released from the album. It opens with some excellent guitar from the Edge and continues with a driving beat led by drummer Larry Mullen. The song could very well be about Bono’s wife Ali. It includes some humor “Shooting off my mouth, that’s another great thing about me”. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Spiegel & Grau. 354 pages. 2014.  
****

Lecrae is one of my favorite music artists. His new album All Things Work Together is brilliant, and one of the top releases of the year. Recently, he announced that he is “divorcing ‘white evangelicalism’”. Read John Piper’s response here. I was saddened when I read this, and reached out to Lecrae. He suggested a number of books I could read to help with understanding where he was coming from. From those books, my wife Tammy and I chose to start with Just Mercy:  A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
Bryan Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. This well-written and powerful book weaves in some stunning statistics about the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S., while telling the heart-breaking story of Walter McMillian (and many others) from thirty years of his work.  It’s the best book I’ve read this year.
Bryan’s story began in 1983 as a 23-year old student at Harvard Law School working with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee (SPDC). SPDC’s mission was to assist condemned people on death row in Georgia. When he finished his internship he was committed to helping the death row prisoners he had met. He returned to law school with an intense desire to understand the laws and doctrines that sanctioned the death penalty and extreme punishments.
His time on death row revealed that there was something missing in the way we treat people in our judicial system. This is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.
He writes that there are more than two million incarcerated people in the United States, with an additional six million people on probation or parole and an estimated sixty-eight million Americans with criminal records. Other statistics about the U.S. prison system that I highlighted from the book were:
• We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
• One in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.
• By the mid-1980s, nearly 20 percent of the people in jails and prisons had served in the military.
• Convincing empirical evidence that the race of the victim is the greatest predictor of who gets the death penalty.
• By 2010, Florida had sentenced more than a hundred children to life imprisonment without parole for non-homicide offenses, several of whom were thirteen years old at the time of the crime. All of the youngest condemned children—thirteen or fourteen years of age—were black or Latino.
• Over 50 percent of prison and jail inmates have a diagnosed mental illness, a rate nearly five times greater than that of the general adult population. Nearly one in five prison and jail inmates has a serious mental illness. Continue reading


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My Review of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, rated R
***

This is a well-written and acted film featuring a strong cast, but has significant content issues. It is written and directed by Martin McDonagh, two-time Oscar nominee, and winner for the short film Six Shooter.
Frances McDormand, four-time Oscar nominee and winner for Fargo, portrays Mildred Hayes, a recently divorced mother whose teenage daughter was brutally raped and murdered seven months earlier. Mildred lives in Ebbing, Missouri (though the movie was actually filmed primarily in Sylva, a small mountain town in western North Carolina), with her teenage son Robbie, played by Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea). Her ex-husband Charlie, played by Oscar nominee John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), now lives with a nineteen-year old girlfriend.
Mildred is furious with the local police for their lack of progress on her daughter’s case. She decides to rent three abandoned billboards on a rarely traveled road near her home on the outskirts of the town for the purpose of shaming popular Police Chief Willoughby, played by two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson (The Messenger) and his staff, for what she perceives as their ineptness on her daughter’s case. She works with Red Welby, played by Caleb Landry Jones, at the local advertising agency to rent the billboards. Welby’s character will play a significant role in the film.
The billboards become a controversy in the town when the local television station does an interview with Mildred.  A Catholic priest named Father Montgomery, played by Nick Searcy, visits the Hayes home and tells Mildred that he has taken a poll and most folks in the town are against the billboards, and that she should remove the messages. Mildred responds with vitriol toward the priest, taking the opportunity to implicate him in covering up for all priests who abuse young boys.
Chief Willoughby is married to Anne (Abbie Cornish) and has two small children.  [Note:  Abbie Cornish is a strange choice for this role – her Australian accent keeps breaking through – you’re probably not going to find many Aussies in that part of Missouri.]  The billboards prompt him to reach out to Mildred. He tells her that all of the leads have dried up; he’s sorry, but sometimes cases take a long time to be solved.
Sam Rockwell (Moon) plays Dixon, Willoughby’s second in command. He is racist, emotionally immature, lives with his mother, played by Sandy Martin, is often drunk, and enjoys comic books. James, played by Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) plays a small but key role in the film.
The film depicts flawed characters. Both Mildred and Chief Willoughby wonder if there is a God, or if there is anything past this life. Even though some of the characters do some very bad things, they are not all bad. The film is rated R for a significant amount of adult language – lots of swear words, some of it of a sexual nature, and includes racist and discriminatory language, some played for laughs, and several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. These issues along with the violence may keep many people of faith from seeing this film.
Themes in the film include justice, vengeance, racism, and forgiveness. The film’s unique music score is provided by Carter Burwell and the cinematography is by Ben Davis.
This is a well-acted (especially McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell), written (including a lot of humor), and directed film. However, with the significant content issues noted above, I can’t recommend it to people of faith.


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

MY JOB:

  • What Do I Do If My Job Is a Bad Fit? Russell Gehrlein writes “Finding a new job in your same field or making a radical change to something new is always a spiritual journey. You may need to boldly step out in faith. God may change the circumstances, or he may change you.”
  • How Do I Glorify God in My Job? In this episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, John Piper answers the question “In Colossians 3:22-24, Paul exhorts his readers to ‘work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.’ Does this mean that any work not done in excellence is sinful? And how do we apply God’s view of work to cleaning our house, writing a paper for school, or working a 9-to-5 job? I have been feeling guilty about the way I handle these things for months now, and I’m not sure if I’m just being lazy, self-righteous, or am I disobeying the Lord?”
  • Can a Work Colleague Be Your “BFF”?Art Lindsley writes “So enjoy, as far as possible, all your friendships at work and play. Appreciate the common circumstances and fun times you have together. But don’t necessarily expect that all those relationships will be equally lasting.”

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES:

  • Your Purpose Is Revealed in God’s Design and Desire for Creation. Hugh Welchel writes “Deep within each one of us is a hunger to live a life of significance and purpose. The key to satisfying our hunger for meaning is understanding one basic principle: we are stewards of everything we have.”
  • The Four Postures Toward Faith in the Workplace. Jeff Haanen writes “How do should I think about the role of faith in my company? How do corporations in America today handle issues surrounding spirituality in the workplace?”
  • How to Work Hard and Be Happy. J.D. Greear writes “I fear that for many people, you will grow old and realize that you gave away the greatest moments of your lives to an elusive future that didn’t deliver what it offered. I’m not talking about sacrifice for the mission (which we can—and should—joyfully embrace). I’m talking about yearning and endlessly working for that ethereal something to fulfill you somewhere out there in the future.”
  • Dear Cinderella Mamas. Alyssa Miller writes “When we lean in to hear God from a place of contentment, we are free to hear him say, “Stay. Be. Slow down.” And we are free to hear him say, “Go. Move. Do.” He may call you, in addition to the precious and weighty responsibilities of raising children, to pursue a business endeavor or help with a community development initiative. He may call you to a church leadership position. He may call you to homeschool your children. But let the call be from him, not from a desire to fulfill wanderlust or craft a public persona of yourself.”

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

Courtesy of World Magazine

CURRENT EVENTS/IN THE NEWS:

  • 9 Things You Should Know About Sexual Misconduct. Joe Carter writes “For the past several weeks, reports and allegations of sexual assault and harassment by celebrities and politicians have been in the news every day. Here are nine things you should know about these forms of sexual misconduct.”
  • Tyler Perry Visits with Eric Metaxas. Tyler Perry recently visited the Eric Metaxas Show to talk about his new book Higher is Waiting. The interview begins at the 21:30 mark.
  • Law and Grace in Roman J. Israel, Esq. Kenneth Moreland writes “Christian viewers may disagree in their interpretations of Roman J. Israel, Esq., but it is nevertheless exciting to see a serious Hollywood production that openly invites such discussion and revolves around such questions.”
  • Religious Liberty and Racial Justice—It All Matters to God. Watch this two- minute video from Jackie Hill Perry. She states “Religious liberty, abortion, marriage, and racial injustice—all of it matters to God, so all of it must matter to us.”
  • The Hidden Hands of Caitlyn Jenner. Andrew T. Walker writes “The hiding of Caitlyn Jenner’s masculine hands show that the way through gender dysphoria cannot be to transition our gender. The holding out of Jesus’s scarred hands shows there’s a different way through all our struggles and brokenness. It’s to come to him, and to find forgiveness and transformation.”
  • It’s Official: Evangelicals Appreciate Chick-fil-A the Most. Kate Shellnutt writes “62 percent of evangelicals considered Chick-fil-A to have a positive impact on their community, compared to 48 percent of Americans on average.”

  • The Christian’s Job Description. Irv Busenitz writes “Our job is to glorify God. This must be our purpose in life, whatever we do, do all to the glory of God. How are we to accomplish this? By placing the benefit of others ahead of ourselves, by foregoing our liberties so that the lost might be saved, and by pursuing the likeness of Christ.”
  • Matt Forte on Sharing the Gospel. Watch this less than two minute video of NFL running back Matt Forte talking about how God has empowered him to share Christ even when it’s uncomfortable.

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