Tag Archives: film

How 9/11 Changed Our World Forever

I was late. In only my third week as a freshman at ORU, here I was in a mad rush from my dorm room on Michael 12 to make it to American History. A strange sight in the fishbowl commons area slowed my speed-walking: a dozen students gathered around the big-screen TV watching images of a burning New York skyscraper.

My frame of reference led me to one thought: Why is everyone watching Armageddon so early in the morning? Arriving at class, I learned the images on TV were real. Classes were called off, the Chapel hosted an intense prayer and worship service a few hours later… and by day’s end, that American history textbook we discussed on September 11, 2001 was outdated.

Be Alert, not Afraid

A homemaker I met recently introduced me to her “9/11 TV” as she called it. “Oh, after 9/11 happened, I realized I knew almost nothing about what was happening in the world. So I installed a large TV in my bathroom – my 9/11 TV – and watch the news every morning as I put on my face.”

She reflects a much larger trend: we’ve become more aware of how complex and interconnected our world is. In the process, we’ve become more fearful at times. 24/7 media is complicit; thanks to much larger potential audiences following 9/11, cable news networks ratchet up the drama—with Red Alerts often interrupted by sirens-blazing Breaking News.

In the wake of 9/11, the clips on repeat were indeed scary. These terrorists could legitimately be feared. Their methods flipped Washington’s accepted security doctrines on their head: a group not acting officially under a state government launched a suicide mission that killed three thousand Americans. Even with overwhelming military might, that’s a difficult threat to overcome.

Discretion and Debate

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” states Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. While it provides Congress an important role in approving all funds spent in military action, our nation’s guiding charter gives the President discretion in waging war to ensure our nation’s safety.

How President George W. Bush and his administration exercised this discretion following that fateful day remains a topic of intense debate. Launching an aggressive attack against Afghanistan, where the terrorists were trained and organized, as well as later Iraq, continues to involve trillions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, overwhelming amounts of data gathered by intelligence agents, millions of foreign nationals affected overseas, and the personal sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of military families.

Then there’s the results. Reasonable evidence exists on both sides; some friends of mine point to how average wages in Iraq have actually decreased since before the conflict, while others emphasize Iraq and Afghanistan’s unprecendented free elections and human rights improvements. “Unmitigated disaster” or “The liberation of oppressed peoples”: the truth likely lies somewhere between these two extremes.

What’s indisputable is the Bush administration’s good sense to reorganize our intelligence programs to stop another large-scale strike from happening. This effort has been a great success. Over 40 attempted terrorist attacks have been thwarted since 9/11. Opening secure channels between CIA, FBI, NSA, OSD and other acronym agencies surely involved a lot of boring internal politics. Yet it’s exactly what was needed to save lives.

United We Stand… Divided We Fall

Of the movies and TV specials produced to date, United 93 gets closest to the heart of 9/11. Telling one story well, it becomes a microcosm of our national decade-long struggle.

Confusion reigns as stewardess and control tower alike have no idea what’s happening. Then shock when we realize what is happening. Followed by impatience when we hatch our own plan but cannot take action right away.

Ultimately, the pivotal moment comes when Todd Beamer rallies other passengers to storm the cockpit and stop United Flight 93 from reaching the U.S. Capitol. Race, income, religious background, occupation: none of this mattered. Pulling together is how these everyday heroes stopped the madness.

America learned from their courage. According to The Economist reporting on a string of recent in-air incidents, “After 9/11, the vast majority of airline passengers are now inclined to resist any attempts to hijack a plane.”

Their example carries through to the larger struggle. Those serving in the US Armed Forces have learned and sacrificed most in this fight. (Full disclosure: my brother Tim, also a former ORU student, is currently deployed to Afghanistan.) Early on in the war, Defense and State Departments alike faced a steep learning curve. Where do we engage this unknown enemy? How do we ensure safety and sanity of people on both sides? And when the fighting stops, how do we spark a national culture shift?

Maybe answers are not so far from our grasp. Imagine a future business graduate in dialogue with social workers, crafting a plan for all to benefit from oil discoveries. Engineering and psych experts have safety and sanity questions to tackle. Teaching children drama and music opens up new directions in their culture. Yes, we even need philosophy majors: Just War Theory may once again be at the forefront of discussion.

This strategy of synergy—pardon the marketing buzzwords—isn’t fantasy. A friend of mine here in DC, who happens to have a theology degree, embeds Old Testament history in his briefing reports to top-ranking officers at the Pentagon. (Like all theologians, he says his greatest struggle is keeping his insights to the standard one page.) Thank God he didn’t dismiss it as a useless degree.

Everyone was late in grasping the enormity of 9/11. How we think and interact must continue to change. Rather than fear and lethargy getting the better of us, let’s roll.

Originally published in The Oracle, Sept. 9 2011 edition

Warming a Seat, or Using Your Feet?

Having lived most of my life in the Bible Belt cities of Dallas, Tulsa and Colorado Springs, I have observed how the American church is growing – getting butts in seats, as it were. If statistics are to be believed, this in itself could be a good thing.

Now on the East Coast, word has it that church was less of a social institution. Surprise! I arrive here and observe the church is also growing in many areas of Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states. Probably a great thing… but do peoples’ lives look different? Or does our 21st century culture not allow for a God-centered life?

Hot on the heels of these questions comes Hillsong United, a group of young believers from Australia who have consistently given bold new songs to the global church. Now they up the ante by filming their two-year world tour and kicking off the movie with this verse:

“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.

When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” – Amos 5:21 (The Message)

Clearly we were in for something radical with this I-Heart Revolution film. Seven observations about this remarkable movie:

  1. Our culture is fundamentally in conflict with a biblical perspective. We have trained ourselves to look past need – I know I’m guilty, passing by DC panhandlers everyday. Since six companies control 90% of popular media, we are programmed to accept things like consumerism. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, realizing the problem and removing my own importance is step one.
  2. The conflict plays out uniquely in the world of “worship rock stars.” This film digs into the disconnect of staging stadium-size worship events in regions of abject poverty: band members often alternated nights of sleeping in slums and lounging in posh hotels. They desire to make a difference, yet they confess, “We’re not just sleeping through the fires raging in our world, we’re fanning the flames.”
  3. For inspiration and understanding, look to the past. I-Heart Revolution features a half-dozen segments that briefly recount stories of young revolutionaries throughout the world: South Africans who ended apartheid, William Wilberforce in England, the Little Rock Nine, etc. The entire film is book-ended by audio clips of Robert Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation Speech. In history we see that living God’s call may mean you’re a rich man (like Wilberforce) or a missionary to Hong Kong: sacrificing all for Jesus never looks the same.
  4. Martin Smith plays the Paul McCartney of modern worship quite well. As a lifelong fan of delirious?, it heartens me to see Hillsong United give the band props as forerunners of this movement. From a studio backdrop Martin serves up bits of inspiration throughout, along with delirious? music cues used at key points (i.e. “Kingdom of Comfort” plays during a segment on how modern Christianity is missing the point.) 
  5. Indifference and injustice are real problems. They tell of visiting Rio de Janeiro and spending time among destitute families. You see children at age 4 who are carefree, loving life as kids do. But by age 9, their faces are reduced to a cold stare after years of impossible living conditions. Leaving blankets and sweets with these people is nothing if we ignore the bullet holes in the nursery.
  6. It’s a danger to think this is all about charity. I appreciated this plumb-line in the film, as some of I Heart‘s 20 Causes veer close to a hand-out agenda (which studies show can actually be destructive). Absolutely, every human should have access to food, water and shelter — that doesn’t mean we want a massive world-government program instituted to bureaucratically provide said needs. To hear a UNICEF rep say flatly that the church plays an important role is a beautiful thing. Now we have to step up.
  7. The agenda is love. You cannot talk about love, you have to show love. Just Walk Across the Room is the title of a popular evangelism book, also a point from the film about how to start simply. Seek God, then do something.

Your thoughts on all this?

P.S. So I looked at the post just below this one (with a Wish List link, no less) and I thought, “Yep, the film was a good message for me.” I was tempted to edit that post, but the dissonance itself says something I suppose.

A review of Prince Caspian

I have had the good fortune to work with some folks at Disney, to help promote the new film Prince Caspian. It was especially cool to attend a special screening of the movie in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, a few days before the theatrical release.

My contact at Disney asked if I could send any thoughts about the movie the next day. Here’s the gist of  my notes, a review from a few different perspectives:

As a moviegoer who loves fantasy and great stories—

** Incredible! The screenplay, directing, and landscapes were much richer and more interesting than the first Narnia film. Prince Caspian is a film I will watch many times.

** Except: It was strange plotting that Peter’s pride was never dealt with. His castle raid led to the deaths of many Narnians, and I was surprised that neither Aslan nor anyone “reprimanded” him for his selfish strategy. Perhaps a scene was cut that would’ve addressed this better?

As a member of Focus on the Family’s Narnia campaign team—

** Many true messages and moments of spiritual insight. A powerful metaphor for where modern culture is, and calling for return to the good that once characterized it.

** Except: The level of violence concerned me. It really pushed the PG rating, in my opinion. I expect Focus may get backlash from some parents, who take their 5, 6 or 7 year-olds and find it too intense (if families read the Plugged In review, they will be warned). I’m not sure my mom will like the film for this reason, though she loved the first Narnia film.

As a fan of C.S. Lewis—

** Wow, Reepicheep was awesome. The characters were accurate to Lewis’ vision, the Narnian creatures richly detailed, and the visuals stunning. It was wonderful to see his story come alive.

** Except: The film is a significant departure from the novel. The story structure, with its added set pieces, gives you a different impression than the novel—like Narnia is a warring culture, which is debatable. Peter and Caspian’s rivalry was interesting, though the Caspian/Susan relationship is something (as Edmund said) I don’t understand.  : j

There you have it. Ultimately, a very fun time at the movies for me, and families with older kids.

Two links to leave you with:

ChristianityToday.com Interview >> Star Ben Barnes says the Telmarine accent he created is inspired by the Spainard Intigo Montoya in The Princess Bride

LookingCloser.org >> Film critic Jeffrey Overstreet is collecting reviews and articles that show how the movie Prince Caspian “botches the meaning” of C.S. Lewis’ novel

Your thoughts on the film?


p.s. the marketer in me forces me to mention… if you want to enjoy a version of Prince Caspian that’s much closer to C.S. Lewis’ novel, check out Radio Theatre’s Prince Caspian audio drama. ok, the commercial’s over.