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Daniel Day-Lewis and The Art of the Holy “No”

I said no to something today, something pretty cool.  Not because I wasn’t interested, or because it wouldn’t be beneficial in some ways.  I just knew that saying “yes” meant I could not do that, and probably many other things, as well as I should.  So I said no.

It felt weird. But also good.  I’m not good with “no”.  I like it in theory.  I know that boundaries are important.  I know, as the saying goes, “every time you say ‘yes’ to something you are saying ‘no’ to something else.”  But it’s so hard to practice that.

Christians are often bad with “no”.  We are so infected with the culture of nice, and often so motivated by the twin demons of people-pleasing and guilt, that we can’t utter it.  But there is such thing as a righteous, healthy, and holy “no”.

I found some inspiration from Daniel Day-Lewis via Ain’t It Cool News.  It seems that initially the acclaimed actor was going to turn down Steven Spielberg’s offer to star in the now-successful Lincoln.  This is the email he sent to the director before he, in the end, accepted:

Dear Steven,

It was a real pleasure just to sit and talk with you. I listened very carefully to what you had to say about this compelling history, and I’ve since read the script and found it in all the detail in which it describes these monumental events and in the compassionate portraits of all the principal characters, both powerful and moving. I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore life as opposed to another, but I do know that I can only do this work if I feel almost as if there is no choice; that a subject coincides inexplicably with a very personal need and a very specific moment in time. In this case, as fascinated as I was by Abe, it was the fascination of a grateful spectator who longed to see a story told, rather than that of a participant. That’s how I feel now in spite of myself, and though I can’t be sure that this won’t change, I couldn’t dream of encouraging you to keep it open on a mere possibility. I do hope this makes sense Steven, I’m glad you’re making the film, I wish you the strength for it, and I send both my very best wishes and my sincere gratitude to you for having considered me.

That’s how you say “no”.  Of course, since he relented in the end, maybe it isn’t the best example.  But the language is there.

A great question for everyone, especially those in the caregiving business, is this:

When was the last time you said no?

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Here Comes the (Catholic) Boom

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I regret that I have yet to see Here Comes the Boom.  I’ve been excited since I first read reports about it, but between writing my Full Connection papers and getting writing for Charge Conference, I’ve been stuck in the purgatory of bureaucratic minutiae. Alas, had I taken the time, I would’ve known about what is apparently a strong faith element in the MMA-themed film.  Kevin James, of King of Queens fame, is a faithful Catholic who made it a point to show Christianity in a prominent and positive light in the film.  Via the United Methodist Reporter by way of Patheos:

Was there a deliberate decision to include scenes where faith is organic to the lives of the characters?

Yes, absolutely. There are so many movies out there that go the opposite way. There’s so much negativity. To show faith and prayer as positive things was important to me. You’re right in that it’s difficult. You don’t want to beat people over the head. They’re hip to it, and they know when you’re just banging them over the head to get them to believe it. So that was important to me, to make it organic, and to have it be in the main stream of this movie.

I’ve written a couple of times (here and here especially) about the intersections between Christianity and MMA, and I’m glad to see a devout Christian so public with his MMA fandom (I often get blank stares and agape mouths when I name my favorite sport in a room full of preachers).  Fighters, like other athletes, are complicated people – driven, often superstitious, and more faith-oriented than one might think.  So says James:

Faith plays a HUGE part for the fighters I’ve met, following the sport. I became a fan of the sport back in 1993, and as I grew to know these people and these fights, to see them and work out with them, it wasn’t even the fighting so much that impressed me. They seem like gladiators going at each other in a cage — but they’re real people…In the fighting world, I see it all the time. I know how much prayer and a strong relationship with God is needed, and they rely on it.

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Noah on Film?

by Drew 1 Comment

Russell Crowe is set to play Noah in a film by Darren Aronofsky, whose recent successes include The Wrestler and Black Swan.

First look at Crowe as Noah here.  Should be an interesting take, though I doubt that the evangelical marketing machine will get behind this one.   According to the LA Times,

Be warned, though: Aronofsky’s Noah might be a bit different from the bearded boat-builder most remember from the Bible. Aronofsky told us back then that he sees Noah as the “first environmentalist,” a man tormented by survivor’s guilt after living through the flood.

Not at all shocking that a Hollywood account would take a ‘green’ twist.  After all, environmentalism is the closest many come to any kind of faith now.  At least this means it will look nothing like this:

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A Lament for Scripted Television

by Drew 1 Comment

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Tonight I watched two shows about motorcyles (to one extent or another).  One was the season finale of Sons of Anarchy on FX.  The other was the American Chopper Build-Off Live on Discovery.  The common theme shared by these two programs exacerbated the differences in a very telling fashion.

Sons of Anarchy is possibly the best show on television, a masterpiece by Kurt Sutter (one of the masterminds behind my all-time favorite series, The Shield).  It follows a motorcycle club (read: gang) brought together by intense bonds of fidelity but torn apart by power struggles, greed, and sheer lunatic mania.  The club is their only real loyalty.  They call club meetings “church,” for crying out loud.  It has, impressively, maintained edge-of-your-seat drama through all four seasons.  I’ve never watched an episode and thought, “That was a dud.”  Not so for much-lauded programs like The Sopranos, for instance.  Excellent acting, intriguing characters, but most of all – amazing writing.  Storylines are weaved with mastery, and every angle, look, and pause has meaning.

Thanks to the wonder of DVR, I also watched the live build-off between the elder and junior Teutels and the now-infamous Jesse James (look up Sandra Bullock’s personal life if you’re not tracking). This series has been revived, sadly, due to the falling out – personal and professional – between the father and son duo that won the company such acclaim both on TV and in the custom bike industry.  As the series has been revived as a father vs. son competition – their bike shops build similar products in the same town, to be fair – there have been questions as to the authenticity of the drama.  I hadn’t been too concerned about this, but tonight’s programming was the height of manipulation.

They held a “build-off” between the three main characters and their teams.  Jesse James has never before been mentioned on the show as competition or even inspiration, so I’m not sure why he was brought in except to add lots of bleeps and false bravado.  That, and Discovery may be bringing him back on a new show yet to be named.  A couple episodes ago, James sent obscene cakes, seperately, to Senior and Junior to drum up some conflict.  In every frame, he finds something negative to say about their respective NY bike shops.  They aren’t real builders, for instance, they are “cake decorators.”  Each built a machine that was shown in the previous episode, and the hook for tonight was that you tune-in to find out who would get the most votes for the title of “Greatest Builder on the Planet” or something awful like that.  Of course, this wasn’t a judged competition at Sturgis, but a staged performance for cameras in Vegas.  It was clearly a popularity contest from start to finish, and if you paid attention you knew who was going to win weeks ago.

The actual live show was terrible.  The host went out of his way to get each competitor to say negative things about the others’ projects.  When they didn’t give sufficiently biting critique, he asked them not to hold back.  When there was a moment that actually meant something – father and son embraced for the first time in over a year – it was followed up immediately by a clip of the elder smack-talking the younger.  The one moment worth viewing was immediately spoiled by a Michael Moore style editing trick, forcing a clip in your face that was hoping to create tension.

I finished SOA in awe at the story I’d just seen unfold: it’s elegance, unpredictability.

I finished American Chopper Live and just felt…dirty.  This poor family has been made wealthy and famous by reality TV, and been torn apart by it.  I’m not sure if the subjects or the views are being more exploited in all of this.

There’s no art in this or any ‘reality’ show.  It shouldn’t even be called ‘reality’.  Reality indicates that it corresponds to the way the world actually is.

But in reality, there is no zoom, no music to toy with your emotions, no editors to crop out the boring parts and create plots out of days on end of reel.  Reality can be quite boring, lifeless, rigid, and drama-free, which is why we perhaps want the escapist contrivance of “reality” TV.  I think this current trend may be the most obvious effect of human sinfulness in the realm of entertainment: we are so uninterested in reality (actual love, drama, conflict, hopes and dreams) that we can no longer identify it.  We are hoarding fool’s gold.

As Don Draper said on another great scripted TV show, “Can’t you find something else to do besides dining on the drama of other people’s lives like a bunch of teenage girls?”

If the current crop of reality television programs is indicative of what the networks think of us, then we should all be insulted.  Here’s looking at you, Jersey Shore.

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Muslim who threatened ‘South Park’ creators gets 25

Another shoutout to one of the best animated shows around; this times, it seems that their fight for first amendment rights has been fruitful.  The founder of the ‘Revolution Muslim’ website had most recently become infamous for implying death for Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park who dared to show Muhammad in an episode of the show (alongside Jesus, Moses, Krisha, and several other religious icons).  This was offensive to Muslims, for whom it is verboten to depict the prophet in any manner.  Parker and Stone, quasi-liberterians who are major advocates of free speech, balked at network restrictions and decided to show Muhammad inside a U-Haul van and a bear costume to poke fun at the double standard applied to Islamic sensibilities.  Death threats and controversy continued, but it seems the Federales were paying attention too. The 21-year-old Chesser apparently helped out a terrorist organization, in addition to other charges.  Via the Hollywood Reporter:

“Zachary Chesser will spend 25 years in prison for advocating the murder of U.S. citizens for engaging in free speech about his religion,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said Thursday. “His actions caused people throughout the country to fear speaking out — even in jest — to avoid being labeled as enemies who deserved to be killed.”

Full story over at Ain’t it Cool.  In many ways, this is a continuation of the Danish Cartoon controversy and the discussion over the ‘right’ not to be offended.  As a Christian, of course, I realized long ago my own beliefs are fair game and, moreover, that I need to laugh at myself.  One of the things I most respect about South Park, for instance, is their insistence on making fun of everyone.  We should all be able to laugh at ourselves; there is no reason this cannot coexist alongside a serious faith commitment.  Kudos to prosecutors for insuring that the bullies don’t get their way.

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The Chicago Code and Gender Studies

by Drew 0 Comments

Shawn Ryan, creator and writer on The Shield (best show ever) is a gifted fellow.  I was particularly struck by this line on Monday’s premiere of his new show on Fox:

“Do you know the problem with men?  If they can’t eat it, drink it, snort it, smoke it, pawn it…they destroy it.”

-Det. Wysocki in the Pilot episode of The Chicago Code

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