Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: reconciliation (page 1 of 2)

Guest Post: Two Tables

by Rev. Beth Givens

This week I celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion twice in 24 hours. That’s not normal on a non-Sunday, and for a good United Methodist like me, I’m up to celebrating 4 times this week.

Seems we are needing a lot of Jesus.

Tuesday night, when I celebrated, it was a part of Election Day Communion.  Election Day Communion is a movement among churches of different denominations to draw people together amidst the divisiveness of an election season here in the United States. We offered Election Day Communion in our congregation.

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Book Review: Monkeys & Crocodiles Play Baseball

Baseball_coverMonkeys and Crocodiles Play Baseball, Angel Krishna, Global Publishing Group, 2015.

This is a fun, little book for children about a group of monkeys who are playing baseball. It’s what they do every Sunday afternoon. But one Sunday there were no coconuts to be found. They couldn’t play baseball without a coconut to use as their ball.

The only solution to their dilemma is to go to the other side of the island to get more coconuts, which means crossing the river. But they cannot cross the river with help from the crocodiles. The crocodiles see the monkeys coming and know that they are going to ask for help to get across the river. Continue reading

Book Review: Burning Bush 2.0

51Eka19YuhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet, Paul Asay, Abingdon Press, 2015

The title is what caught my eye. If you know me, or have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like pondering the intersection of faith and pop culture. So, I was interested in Asay’s take, especially in his take on how pop culture has replaced the prophet.

In each chapter, Asay writes on a theme, weaving in different elements of pop culture. For example, one of the chapters deals with call (the burning bush connection) and Asay uses illustrations from various superhero films. Along the way, he makes valid points about why we should expand our thinking enough to hear what God may be saying to us through pop culture.

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Jesus Said: Be Shalom

Jesus SaidHappy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. (Matthew 5:9, Common English Bible)

There have been a lot of troubling images out of the city of Baltimore. These images of violence fill our TV and computer screens. And let’s be honest, at times, they are a little bit more than we can handle. The tension in our society over justice for all people seems to have collied in the streets of Baltimore this week.

Questions are being raised by many, especially those in the church, as to how we should respond. What does justice look like? What role does the church play in such discussions? Where is God calling us to be a part of this?

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Sermon: Love: More Than Words

The Color Purple (1985)

The_Color_Purple_posterSteven Spielberg’s film is based on Alice Walker’s novel of the same title. It is the heart-wrenching story of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg). Celie is raped by her father, gives birth to two children who are immediately taken from her and sold. When a neighboring widower comes by to request marrying Celie’s younger sister Nettie.  Celie’s father offers Celie to him instead, along with a cow.

The man is Albert Johnson (Danny Glover), but throughout most of the film, Celie calls him “Mister.” Living in rural Georgia in the early 20th century, Celie’s journey is one of self-discovery through discrimination and violence, mostly from the hands of those who are to love her. That summer, Nettie shows up at the Johnson’s home. She has escaped her father, who will not keep his hands to himself. Mister is okay with Nettie coming to live with them, because he has had his eyes on her for a long time.

The move is good for Celie. The sisters have always had a deep, spiritual connection. Nettie, who goes to school, teaches Celie how to read, including Charles Dickson’s Oliver Twist. Celie seems to find solace in Oliver Twist, for she too feels orphaned.

On her way to school one day, Mister makes an attempt to rape Nettie. She, however, refuses to become a victim. Furious that she refused him and furious that she kicked him, he violently throws her out of his house. It is one of the most intense scenes of the film. Mister is yelling and screaming, all while throwing Nettie’s belongings. Nettie and Celie cling to each other, and Mister violently pries them apart. Nettie shouts over and over, “Why!” Nettie, played so well by Akosua Busia, carries this scene. She represents Celie salvation. Her relationship with her sister, is the only thing that soothes Celie’s soul. With her gone, that sense of calmness and salvation is gone. And along with it, all hope.

Nettie cries out to Celie as Mister continues to force her off his property, “Nothing but death can keep me from you!”

Nothing Will Keep Me

From then on, the Johnson mailbox becomes a focal point. The sober shots of the empty mailbox represent the emptiness in Celie’s heart. Celie longs for a letter from Nettie to show up in that mailbox. “She said she would write,” Celie narrates, “but she never does.” Mister threatens her to open that mailbox, so Celie never really knows.

Mister gets a letter from Shug Avery (Margaret Avery). Shug is a pivotal character in this film. We first meet her as she comes into to town to sing. Celie sees in Shug who she wants to be. If she only has the courage.

One night Mister brings Shug Avery to the house, drunk and sick. Mister tries to care for her, but he can’t. He doesn’t know how. Celie, meanwhile, cooks, baths, and brushes Shug’s hair. A relationship between the two women begins to form, one that is more intense and sexual in Walker’s novel than in Spielberg’s film. It is this relationship, like Celie’s relationship with her sister that is Celie’s salvation. When Shug is around, Mister does not beat Celie. When Shug is around, Celie can be herself.

Shug offers more than just salvation to Celie, she empowers her to the point of transformation. But more on that later.

Credit: Photo by Moviestore Collection / Rex Features

Credit: Photo by Moviestore Collection / Rex Features

Shug is the main entertainment at Harpo’s bar. There is drinking, singing and laughing, and all kinds of carrying on. A fight breaks out, with Sofia at the start of it. In the midst of this bar scene, the camera takes us across the swamps and fields to the nearby church. It is only seconds long, but it has a significant impact on the story. With directors like Steven Spielberg, scenes like that may seem out of place, but are actually very intentional.

The inclusion of the church and the preacher giving a sermon against such sinful behavior as the bar scene illustrates the tension between sinfulness and righteousness. Or, more accurately, perceived sinfulness and perceived righteousness. There is a perceived understanding that treating your wife as another piece of property is acceptable. While singing jazz and the blues at a bar is not.

Shug goes to the church to see the preacher. She stands in the back of the church talking to the preacher who is sitting on the front pew facing forward. He refuses to turn and face Shug, no matter how much she pleads with him. He gets up from the pew, walks into another room and closes the door, all without saying a word. Shug backs out of the church, closing the church doors, symbolizing her relationship with the Church and with her father, the preacher. Her father will not look at her for he will look at sinfulness.

With the doors closed on the relationship with her father, Shug leaves town again, this time for Memphis. Celie dreams of going with her, escaping “Mister Jail,” and finally breaking free. But she doesn’t quite have the courage yet to stand up to him.

In the spring of 1936, Shug returns to the Johnson’s home, this time with a husband, Grady. While the men are drinking, Shug checks the mailbox and sees a letter for Celie. It is from Nettie.

While the two men are out of the house, Shug and Celie go through the whole house until they find the other letters from Nettie.. She learns that Nettie has been a nanny for African-American missionaries who were serving in Africa. The missionaries’ children are Adam and Olivia, Celie’s children that her father sold to the missionaries.

This connection to her sister begins a change in Celie. When finally see – and hear – the change when the family is gathered at the dinner table. Shug announces that she and Grady are going to be leaving soon. She also announces that they are taking Celie with them. Mister does not like this idea. Celie, standing up from the table, speaks her own voice for the first time:

You’re a low-down dirty dog! It’s time to get away from you . . . You took my sister Nettie away from me. You knew she was the only somebody in the world who loved me  . . She’s coming home . . we’ll all get together and we’ll whip your ass! She’s got my children and they know other languages.

As they leave the house, Mister shouts to Celie, “You’re black, you’re ugly, you’re a woman, you’re nothing at all!”, which sums up how Celie thought of herself for her whole life at the oppressive hands of men who were suppose to love her.  As the car drives away, Celie shouts back, “I may be black,  poor. I may even be ugly. But I’m here!”

In the fall of 1937 and Mister’s life has gone down hill. The house and property are neglected, just as his own life. Celie comes home for her father’s funeral, only to learn that he was her stepfather. Celie, though still disgusted that he rapped her, has a sense of relief that her children are not her half-siblings. Celie inherits her birth father’s property. Celie moves into the house and starts a seamstress shop in town.

One afternoon as Celie and Shug walk through the fields of purple flowers that she and Nettie did as children. Shug compares people’s indifference to the flowers with their indifference to God. It is a theological statement that brings to mind the scene where Shug closes the doors of the church.

Celie & ShugShug: You just walk past the color purple and don’t notice it.

Celie: You mean that God just wants to be loved.

Shug: Everything wants to be loved.

We go back to Harpo’s bar where Shug is singing. Across the water, just as before, the camera takes us to the church where the preacher is preaching. The song Shug sings includes these words, “God is trying to tell you something.” Someone in the congregation interrupts the preacher to tell him, “God is trying to tell you something.”

The choir starts to sing, and it at first overpowers Shug and her band. It’s not long before Shug starts singing with the choir, and makes her way to the church. The crowd from Harpo’s follows her. When the crowd gets to the church, Shug flies open the church doors singing with the choir, “God is trying to tell you something.”

Shug and the preacher meet in front of the altar and embrace. Shug whispers to him, “See, Daddy, sinners have a soul too!”

This is such an amazing scene! Where previously these two worlds – the righteous and the sinful – were separate now they collide in a powerful way. Shug is the prodigal daughter coming home, opening the doors that she closed on her relationship with the church and her father. It is also a transforming moment for her father, the preacher. The moment is a reminder of the powerful transformation that can occur through reconciliation.

Mister, Albert, has been sitting on his front porch this whole time, listening to all the singing. With the choir singing as the backdrop, Albert checks the mail and there is something from the immigration office for Celie. He gets a handful of cash out of the hiding place. He goes downtown to the immigration office and the next thing we see is a car pulling up to Celie’s place.

It is Nettie and the children back from Africa. Celie and Nettie are finally reunited in the fields of purple flowers at their home place. Albert watches the reunion from a distance. The only person who sees him is Shug, who smiles to herself, knowing that Mister has finally grown up.

The women in The Color Purple, including Sopia (Oprah Winfrey), display for us what the journey through Lent results in: Transformation.

Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor: Bruce Dern, Best Supporting Actress: June Squibb, Best Director: Alexander Payne, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

There is something remarkable about a film that is able to move you to tears along with a grin. Nebraska is such a film. While it is filled with crankiness that causes you to grin, it sparks love. The film is beautiful, even in its black and white imagery. Perhaps because of it. This film reminds us that the cinematography is just as much a part of the story as the actors and the script. The black and white images leave you with a lump in your throat, and your heart.


Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) receives a sweepstakes letter saying he won a million dollars. Most of us would throw it away, because we know that its primary goal is to sell magazines. Woody, a Korean War vet-alcoholic, is a bit senile. No amount of reasoning from his wife or two sons will convince Woody that it is a scam.

On more than one occasion, Woody decided to make the 900-mile journey from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim the winnings. On foot. After making attempts more than once, David (SNL‘s Will Forte) decides to drive him to Lincoln. For David, the road trip will be a chance to spend time with his father who is slipping away right before his eyes. The journey takes them to Woody’s hometown in Nebraska for a few days. Woody is reunited with some of his brothers, and David learns things about his dad he never knew.

Kate (June Squibb) and the older brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) arrive to bring Woody back home. The road trip brings this family together. Kate appears to be a simple, house wife, but she is a strong, loud, and at times foul-mouthed. While Woody tends to believe and trust other people, Kate tends to see through the bullshit. Even when it comes from family.

When word spreads that Woody is a millionaire, there is a familiar refrain that David hears. “Woody owes me money.” It comes from their extended family, as well as Woody’s old business partner, played by Stacy Keach. The irony, of course, is that Woody is not a millionaire, and when the truth comes out, Woody is the joke of town.

The film is a story of complicated people who are flawed by failure, mistakes, and regrets. There are themes of guilt, selfishness, and greed. And yet, there is the very humbling theme of reconciliation. The road trip that David and Woody partake is a journey that brings them closer together, while helping them understand each other. We may not be able to change or fix our past, but we have the power and the ability to change our future.

Scandal 2.16: Top of the Hour

Ponderings - Scandal Season 2 recapsThe Stanner family is preparing for dinner. When the doorbell rings, Dad gives Daughter a $20 for the pizza. But when Daughter opens the door, there is no pizza, just a lawn full of reporters and cameras.

Sarah Stanner is RYO Corp CEO and has been outed as having an affair with a Supreme Court justice nominee when she was in law school and he was her teacher. Which means, it’s not a great week for President Grant. The hostages are still being held in Kashfar. Olivia pays Jake Ballard a visit and gives him the information regarding the hostages that she has. She tells him that he tell anyone it came from her and he can’t go to the CIA with it.

Sarah calls her lawyer, who sends Olivia Pope. When she arrives with Abby and Harrison, she is on the phone with Cyrus, who is trying to get Olivia to take care of the situation in his favor. Olivia tells him that Sarah is her client, not the judge. Harrison and Abby think that Olivia should pull the car around the back. The press will eat them alive. Olivia keeps telling them to wait for the top of the hour. They don’t understand. But once the top of the hour arrives, the cameras turn back on and the reporters go live. Olivia, Abby, and Harrison are able to slip into the house without any notice.

Scandal 2.16 - Top of the Hour

Olivia along with Abby and Harrison deal with the Sarah Stanner case from various angles. Sarah holds a press conference where she admits to the affair and gets it out in public. The pressure is put on the Supreme Court justice nominee. The Board wants to fire Sarah based on their morality clause, but Harrison and Abby call the Board’s bluff on that. Cyrus is not happy that Olivia is working the case. It becomes Olivia vs. Cyrus, and their friendship does not change the intensity with which they go at it.

Olivia stays with Sarah and her husband 24/7 during the ordeal, in turn helping them keep their marriage together. Perhaps because Olivia can relate to Sarah. Olivia has been the other woman. As she watches this family get torn apart, I imagine that she feels guilty for her actions. Olivia is searching for grace. While drinking bottles of wine with Sarah, Olivia gives the following advice, again from her own experiences:

Olivia: You did what you thought was best at the time, even if it was wrong, you can’t change the choice you mad;, all you can do is not let it ruin you.

Sarah: What if he never forgives?

Olivia: You’re going to have to learn to forgive yourself.

Sarah: That sounds lonely.

Olivia: It is.

Olivia is on to something. Forgiveness and reconciliation go hand in hand. We too often want to jump right to reconciliation, without putting the energy or the focus on forgiveness. Olivia’s advice to Sarah to forgive herself, is Yoda gold. It is also something that Olivia must do herself. A preacher once said that the best sermons were the ones he preached to himself. Olivia, keep preaching.

President & Jake BallardJake Ballard shares the information with the President that Olivia had given him. He does not tell the President where the information comes from. A rescue effort is put into action. As Jake leaves the Oval Office, Mellie happens to catch a glimpse. Mellie has suspected that Fitz and Olivia were back together. But seeing Jake she knows that Fitz is not cheating on her, but on Cyrus. Jake’s intel pays off, and the American hostages are rescued.

And Mellie has reason to be worried. Fitz has continued to keep her and Cyrus at arm’s length. When Fitz takes Teddy for his feeding time, he slams the door of the Oval Office in Mellie’s face. Well, then.

While the President gives a prime time address about the rescue, a masked man is trashing an apartment. He is looking for something. When a photographer from the Stanner’s home walks in, the masked man beats him up, and takes the camera. When he sees that the picture of Olivia and Jake is indeed on the memory card, he takes the card and leaves. As he does so, he removes the mask. It is Jake Ballard. Who is this guy?

Throughout the whole episode, Huck is teaching Quinn, which is quite something to watch.

Quinn: You’re good at this. Stalking people.

Huck: You’ll get there.

They are watching the CIA director. They know that he is making drops somewhere in the city and in public. It turns out that he is doing it at a local dry cleaners. Quinn tries to play it cool and pretend is picking up her husband’s dry cleaning, affirms that the dry cleaners is the drop off site, and awkwardly tries to return the suits.

As the episode ends, the CIA director (who is the mole) receives pictures of Quinn from the dry cleaner guy.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. Banks received nomination for Best Original Score.

Ponderings - Saving Mr. Banks reviewIn 1961, P. L. Travers, the acclaimed author and creator of Mary Poppins, spent two weeks at the Disney studios in Burbank. Walt Disney had courted her for twenty years for the rights to make the Mary Poppins film. Travers had consistently said no. She came to Burbank as a last-ditch effort to put this project to rest, either by making it or destroying any hope of its existence.

Emma Thompson plays P. L. Travers to Tom Hanks’ Walt Disney. Hanks’ Disney is warm and welcoming. He insists on being called “Walt,” not “Mr. Disney.” Thompson’s Travers is cold and critical. She will not allow anyone to call her “Pam” or “Pamela.” They must call her “Ms. Travers.” Travers, herself, was a bit of a shock to screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak).

The film does an amazing job of recreating what it was like to work with Travers and the mostly unknown difficulties the filmmakers had. Many of the conversations held in the studio were taken directly from over thirty-nine hours, which by the way, you should stay through the first set of credits, where the original recordings are shared. This provides a glimpse into how cold and difficult Travers was, but also how well Emma Thompson portrayed the author.

Despite what the trailers communicated, you quickly figure out that this film is about so much more than the making of Mary Poppins. More than once, Mrs. Travers tells Disney and his team that the Banks’ are like family to her. The flashbacks to her own childhood suggest that the Banks family is really her own family. Colin Farrell plays the father, Travers Robert Goff, and he’s good at it. Farrell’s Goff is a loving, playful father who loves being around his children. Unfortunately, he does not love to be at the office so much. He struggles with his own dark side, all while seeking the bottom of a bottle.

Travers’ Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths) comes to save the family when Goff gets sick. From the moment she appears on the screen, you know that Travers based Poppins on her aunt. Aunt Ellie gets to work on empowering the family to clean the house and to get things in order. The only thing that Aunt Ellie is not able to fix is Goff. Travers was extremely close to her father. She had left to go get him pears and when she came back, he had died.

The death of her father would shape Travers. The life she as aspired to as a child no longer seemed possible. The carefree, imaginative world of her father only led to death. As she worked with the Disney team on the film, these memories come flooding back to her. In one heartfelt scene, Travers goes outside the studio, sits in the lawn, and begins to construct a small house out of sticks and leaves. Her driver for the week, the only fictional character in the film played by Paul Giamatti, comes over and helps her. Here in the lawn, these two adults recall and reclaim childhood.

Travers finds it hard to break free from the past. While Walt Disney and Travers are at odds on so many things, this they have in common. Disney can relate to having a less than perfect relationship with his father. Our pasts can haunt us, but they do not have to control us. Travers, through the two-week film making process, claims her past as part of her story. And it is her story to tell.

Ponderings - Saving Mr. Banks review - Disney and Travers

It is in relating his father to Mr. Banks, that Disney realizes that Mary Poppins comes to the Banks family not for the children, but for the father. It is figures like Poppins, Aunt Ellie, and Walt Disney to help point us in the direction of reconciliation with our past. We too can wrestle with our past, claim that part of us, and tell our stories.

There is a lot of Oscar buzz around this film. Tom Hanks will undoubtably get a nod, but my money is on Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers. The film is really her story and Thompson frustrates us, makes us a laugh, as well as makes us cry. I also think Colin Farrell should get a shout-out as supporting actor.

Home Alone (1990)

Home_aloneWhen I was a kid, I remember anxiously waiting for the chance to stay home alone. It was as if to stay home alone without a parent or another sibling was to receive some outstanding award. It was proof that my parents trusted me. But, it was also the only chance to do whatever you wanted to without being told you couldn’t. It was freedom.

John Hughes, the prolific screenwriter of a generation, penned Home Alone. Hughes, well known for films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, had the gift of being able to remember what it was like to be young. He could tap into the imagination of a child or teenager, keep audiences laughing, and throw in a dose of reality.

Home Alone is the story of eight-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) waking up and finding himself home alone. His family and extended family had already left, in haste, for Paris, where they will spend Christmas. At first, it is a dream come true for Kevin. He eats what he wants; watches what he wants; and sleeps where he wants. But he quickly becomes the defender of his home against two goons, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) who have their eyes set on Kevin’s home. Kevin develops a series of traps for the burglars to keep them out. And they work.

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