People of Every Color: You Must See Lee Daniels’ The Butler

The ButlerWhat have we done, and why would we do it? That’s the pair of questions that kept going through my mind as I sat in a theater in Rogers, Arkansas last night as we watched Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The synopsis is:

As Cecil Gaines serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler at the White House, the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and other major events affect this man’s life, family, and American society. (via IMDb)

I’ve always been a Forest Whitaker fan, and he out-shined all previous performances in his role as Cecil. Oprah was equally magnificent in her role as Cecil’s wife, Gloria. As far as movies go, it was stellar. The acting was superb, the storyline strong, and the emotions deep. It’s a must-see on that level, but it’s also a must-see on a deeper level.

I was born two and a half years after the fall of Saigon, which ended the Vietnam War. While that war happened over there, another war was taking place on American soil – a civil war of sorts, between ethnicities. History is replete with humankind’s inability to get along with each other, especially across ethnic and cultural boundaries, but as Whitaker (as Gaines) says in his narration, while we are shocked at the atrocities of the Nazi’s in the concentration camps of Europe, we tended to ignore the same plight domestically for large number of African-Americans.

People. Human beings. Who happened to have dark skin, were murdered, hung, burned, bombed, beaten, shot, falsely accused, jailed, tried, and executed for crimes such as hoping to be served a sandwich outside the “colored” section or riding near the front of a public bus. A few fought back in hate while many fought back with love and on a large scale, America has repented of its racist past. One of the sweet moments in the film is the reaction of Cecil and his family to the election of the nation’s first African-American President, Barack Obama. We’ve come a long way.


Racism still exists. It exists in places where communities find creative and legal ways to sustain an informal version of segregation using private schools. It exists in churches that refuse to embrace members of every tribe, tongue, and nation (literally ethnicity). And it exists in the heart of anyone who minimizes and ignores the past conditions under which our ancestors placed their brothers and sisters.

And that’s why you need to see this movie. You need to be aware of the potential for evil of depraved humanity. You need to see, from the perspective of one who lived through it, what the civil rights movement was really like. You need to feel the emotion of one who is slapped, spat upon, and thrown in jail for sitting at a lunch counter ordering a sandwich.

And if you’re a Christian, you need to see your responsibility in the reconciling of all people to each other in Christ. It saddens me that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in American life. It broke my heart the day a Deacon in one of my early pastorates looked with disgust at a picture of African-American children and proclaimed, “They have their churches, and we have ours.” And it stings when I hear the “N” word, with which I would have hoped my children would never become acquainted.

Remember that famous quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “I Have a Dream” speech?

I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.

His dream is being fulfilled in many ways, but for certain segments of American society (including the church, on the whole), it’s still a reality that lies slightly beyond our grasp. Unless we repent. Of our intentional arrogance. Of our willful ignorance. And of our unwillingness to openly receive the entire human family into God’s family, the church, with open and outstretched arms.

One Christian’s Take on The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

When there is no freedom, no God, and no food, people go nuts.

My wife and I saw The Hunger Games last night. I don’t normally review movies, but as far as movies go, I thought it was good. My wife had recently read the book, so she explained that the violence of the movie was scaled back many times over, probably to achieve the PG rating.

Leading up to seeing the movie, I had read and heard quite a bit of chatter from the Christian community about the story – much of it negative. Katniss should have taken a stand and refused to participate. Instead she’s made the hero in a game of gratuitous violence. Granted, the value system of this futuristic society, and even of Katniss herself, is a bit warped. But sometimes Christians tend to view pop culture through the wrong lens.

If you evaluate The Hunger Games, or almost any other story, from the perspective of a Christian, using Scripture as the only infallible guide to right and wrong, it’s easy to pick out all the errors. We tend to assess the values portrayed by the characters as if Scripture is their guide too, and make our judgments accordingly. I think we may be missing an important point, however.

When Angie was reading the book, she continually reported on the story’s progress to me. The Hunger Games is set far in the future, in what was formerly America, now fallen in some kind of war and controlled by a dictatorial regime and divided into districts. Katniss’ district is located in the Appalachian region, reflecting the poverty of a coal-mining village with little food to spare. What is noticeably missing from the setting, however, is religion.

I grew up in Kentucky and am quite familiar with the history of the region, and if one institution is synonymous with it, it’s the church. Granted, some churches in Appalachia have represented a rare and unique, snake-handling, shouting, and foot-stomping brand of Christianity. But no church is to be found in Suzanne Collins’ depiction of District 12, or in any other for that matter, which leads to my own conclusion about the genius of the story.

Where there is no worship or recognition of God, there is no value of human life. In a society without the witness of the church to the Creator and Savior of humanity, people go nuts. The Tributes, or players in The Hunger Games, are pawns. The entire nation cheers as they are pitted against each other in a fight-to-the-death matchup. One lone victor is intended to emerge from the arena with 23 dead children left behind.

The story sounds eerily similar to the dark spot in the history of the Roman Empire when traitors, such as Christians who were falsely blamed for the burning of Rome under Nero, were pitted against one another and against lions and other wild animals in a coliseum while Rome’s upper class cheered on. This is the product of a society that has rejected the story, the love, and the redemption offered by its Creator. This is the story of a Christ-less people. And as Winston Churchill said, “It is Christ or chaos.”

Humanity is depraved and sinful. In The Hunger Games, the President, sick with power and cold to life, is pleased to continue this game along with most of the culture. Katniss, the hero, who demonstrates bravery, selflessness, and a willingness to put others before herself, is still willing to harm others to save her own skin in a desperate situation. She plays along, somewhat unwillingly, but participates in the madness in crucial moments. In other words, the good, bad, and ugly among us are all infected with the same disease – depravity, inherent sinfulness, which is the thing that separates us from God for eternity unless we embrace the truth of the Good News.

Sadly, the odds are not in our favor.

God has loved us, even in our depravity, so deeply that He gave His only Son Jesus to die on a cross as our volunteer, our stand-in, and our sacrifice. He alone was worthy to take the penalty of our transgressions agains our Creator and pay the ultimate price for our freedom. In Christ, we are truly free. And what is required of us in the story of redemption? Nothing. That’s the nature of grace. We need make no sacrifice of ourselves or pay any penance to earn the restored favor of God. It is undeserved. It is grace. And it is ours when we simply come to Jesus, trusting fully in Him as our only Savior and turning to Him from our sin.

I walked away from The Hunger Games glad for my God, and glad for a Savior who so valued humanity that He paid the ultimate price for us. If Collins’ story teaches us anything, it is the dark reality of what people do when God is removed from the equation. Simply put, to avoid becoming a world that consumes itself, we need Jesus Christ.

The Pro’s and Con’s of Planting a Church In a Movie Theater

MalcoThis past Sunday made the fourth week in a row we’ve worshipped in a local movie theater with January 15 being our official launch. We didn’t intend to launch in a theater. I fact, we spent a great deal of time looking at retail spaces, but eventually landed at the Malco because of space, price, and availability. There’s a part of me that fell in love with the idea before we moved in, and has remained attached to it since.

Advantages of Meeting In a Theater

We know that we won’t be in the theater forever. We’re already looking around for our next home, but we’re enjoying some great advantages in the meantime, such as…

  • The rent is great, especially since we’re only paying for a few hours per week instead of the whole week. For us, it’s $650 per week, which gives us access to three theaters.
  • The decorating is done. It’s not what we would do in our own space, obviously, but it’s something we don’t have to think about.
  • We don’t have to stack chairs.
  • There is a cultural barrier between the church and the community around the church that is automatically gone. It already feels good and familiar to most people to walk into a movie theater.
  • There is a cultural barrier UP between the church plant and those who are uncomfortable with non-traditional settings. Since “churched” people are not our target, it can actually help that some people are uncomfortable with the idea of their kids going to worship in a room with a marquee that reads The Devil Inside.
  • The acoustics are great. We’re figuring out how to squeeze drums in, but the sound quality of the room is just right.
  • There’s a screen. It’s really, really big, and we don’t have to retract it after the service.
  • Kids think that going to kids’ worship in a theater is awesome.
  • We have community visibility – a prime location well-known to the community. Our theater is on what the locals call “restaurant row” in a very visible shopping district.
  • The theater personnel are wonderful at both the local and corporate levels – we love Malco‘s people!

Disadvantages of Meeting In a Theater

As I stated before, the theater isn’t our permanent home. I think it could work for some churches on a permanent basis, but for us, there are a few things that we’re thinking about long term that stand in the way.

  • We only have access on Sunday mornings until noon. We have to find other sites and spaces for membership classes, etc. We meet in homes a lot anyway, but larger, non-Sunday meetings can be a trick.
  • Altar calls are tough to figure out – not impossible – just tough.
  • As with any space rented weekly, we’re still loading and unloading, setting up and tearing down. We love it, but look forward to a sense of permanence (and trust me, we’re very patient on this one).
  • Lighting is an issue. The theater lights dim and brighten, but we still turn on the house lights for the teaching time. We bring in a lot of lamps.
  • Sometimes the movie posters in the lobby scare the children. Thankfully, Malco’s folks make a good effort at keeping those in the wing we don’t access.
  • Sometimes there is the remnant odor of popcorn… which could have fit in either category, actually.

If we had it to do over again, we’d definitely head to the Malco. It’s been pretty ideal. We’re beginning to look now for a larger, retail or warehouse space with some freedom to spread out, create our own space, and still have the flexibility of a lease instead of incurring debt this early. For now, it’s off to the movies for us, and we’re excited about next Sunday!

My Interview Question to Dennis Quaid

Yesterday was a cool day in Los Angeles for me. For my wife, it was cool, mixed with managing a very active almost-one-year-old at a small outdoor shopping mall in 90 degree weather for a few hours while I was off in Hollywood attending a press junket for the Soul Surfer movie.

I was invited to represent since the press has brought a lot of attention to the faith-related elements of the film, and I’ll be posting on the site shortly about that very thing.

I sat in a hotel room around a table with five other reporters from various showbiz media outlets and spent twenty minutes doing group interviews with Dennis Quaid, AnnaSophia Robb, Bethany Hamilton, Rob McNamara, and Lorraine Nicholson. Because I was completely new to the experience and was surrounded by experienced Hollywood reporters, I kept mostly quiet, but I did want to ask Dennis Quaid one single question. Here’s the audio…

[audio:|titles=My Question to Dennis Quaid]

Continue reading My Interview Question to Dennis Quaid

UP: A Different Sort of Animated Movie

My thoughts after the trailer…

My daughter and I went to see the Disney/Pixar movie Up tonight. I went in thinking Pixar had taken an enormous risk with a movie so different from any other Pixar movie. My instincts proved somewhat right – they did take a risk and was a different sort of movie, but in the end, I think it paid off.

Continue reading UP: A Different Sort of Animated Movie

Reflecting On a Very Nice Christmas

I just wanted to comment briefly about how great this Christmas was. Starting off with the superficial… I got a Wii and a Moleskine. A couple of good friends invested several hours of their lives into helping my wife pull off the Wii sneak attack – I was totally surprised, especially after opening a present that included a check made out to me, from Angie, for a Wii. “Sorry I couldn’t get you one, but when the stores have them again…” Ha, two presents later, from a package wrapped obviously for a woman with ribbons to boot, out pops a Wii! The Moleskine is a close second favorite. To some, it’s just another notebook. To a preacher/writer/designer, it’s a beautiful thing!

Deeper matters? I love my family! I missed seeing my family in Kentucky – my parents, my two grandmothers, my brother and his family – things didn’t feel complete without the full trek to the bluegrass state this year, but I got to talk to many of them by phone. In St. Louis, I got to spend the holiday with my wife and daughter and my in-laws. Angie and I even snuck away late one night to see Seven Pounds with Will Smith.

I’m hurting for the Shults family. Louis and Mary spent the weekend, including Christmas, in the hospital awaiting the doctors who are coming in on Monday with the probability of open heart surgery. Pray for Lou and his family. At the end of it all, I’m glad to be home in Bentonville – this is where God has called me to live my life for God’s purposes, and I’m excited about what the next year will bring!