Religious Moments In Unlikely Places
"Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby": This bumpy-ride lowbrow comedy about a race car driver (Will Ferrell) contains a startlingly frank and lengthy discussion at the dinner table about prayer. Is it OK to pray to "baby Jesus"? Or must we address a "full-grown Jesus with a beard"?
"The Painted Veil": In an otherwise unremarkable re-make of the 1934 film based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel, there is one memorable conversation between the Mother Superior (Diana Rigg) and a young British doctor's wife (Naomi Watts) come to Shanghai to help with the cholera epidemic in China in the 1920's. Mother Superior asks the attractive young woman why she has come to such a dangerous place, and she replies, "Duty" (meaning following her husband). Mother Superior looks wistful, then discloses that she fell in passionate love when she was 17---with God!---but now that she is older, their relationship has changed. She and God are like an old married couple sitting on the couch in the evening with nothing to say to each other. But she stays in the orphanage because the children need her. She then advises the much younger woman that when duty and passion meet, there is grace. Amen to that.
"Sherrybaby": Be forewarned of drug use, sex, and nudity in this high-impact film about an ex-con (Maggie Gyllenhaal) trying to get her life back together after being in prison, including re-claiming her daughter from her brother and his wife, who don't want to give her up. At one point, the beleaguered parolee lays her head on the pillow in the darkness and makes a sincere, profound plea to the Lord for help with her life, in the spirit of the prayer of the publican in Luke 18:9-14. This noteworthy petition is humble, contrite, and from the heart.
Bridge To Terabithia: Two lonely pre-teen neighbors (Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb) find solace in each other's company, and in their make-believe hideaway in the woods. A strange combination of kid movie, science fiction/fantasy, and emotional melodrama that doesn't quite hold together, but there is one theological conversation in the back of a pickup truck. One child says to another that we're going to Hell if we don't believe in the Bible, another child agrees, but the third replies that God isn't like that. At least the worship service in the little country church is straightforward, where everyone sings "Rock Of Ages" like they mean it.
"Amazing Grace": The fascinating story of the life of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), the late-eighteenth century member of the British Parliament whose life work was finally succeeding in getting a provision passed which banned the slave trade in Great Britain. (OK, so historically, it just moved to other places during the next century, like the Indies and the Americas, but it was still an heroic struggle.) His Pastor, John Newton (Albert Finney), a former slave ship captain, wrote the classic hymn "Amazing Grace," and lived to see it popularized in church circles, but ironically, he died blind, and severely haunted by the "20,000 ghosts" of the innocents whom he had personally transported to slavery. Wilberforce is greatly comforted by a late-in-life marriage to Barbara (Romola Garai), and personally helped by his close friendship with the Prime Minister, as well as politically assisted by the collective conscience of a Christian nation not in the throes of land expansion. But it is still inspiring to watch him striving for what he believes to be right in the face of the constant opposition of those who are economically powerful, strategically adroit, and morally bankrupt. The tone here is a little too smug and self-righteous---he'd be a bore as a dinner guest----but this is the kind of movie that churchgoing folk would really appreciate, because it's a valentine to the transformational potential of one pious and passionate soul. And best of all, in the packed worship service, everyone sings "Amazing Grace" like they mean it.
Questions For Discussion:
1) Is there a righteous cause today where one pious and passionate soul can make a difference?
2) Does God send people to Hell? If so, what kind people?
3) Where have you seen duty and passion meet? Did grace result?
4) Do you pray to Jesus? If so, what age is he in your mental picture?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas
(NOTE: "BRIDGE" OPENS 2/16 AND "AMAZING" OPENS 2/23)