New Feature On the G sides

You know how much I love movies so I stumbled upon this cool little plugin called WP Review. It allows me to rate the movie – on a bunch of different scales if I wanted to – and it puts a cool little review box at the bottom of the post.

But here’s the cool part – it lets YOU rate the movie as well. So click on a couple of these movies or hit the sidebar widget and see for yourself.

Movie Review: 20 Feet From Stardom
Movie Review: Gravity
Movie Review: Let The Fire Burn

I like the plugin but I’m having a couple of issues with it.

1. The review won’t show on the home page or an archived page of all my movie reviews. The only place the plugin works is on the individual post page. I’ve asked for help on this in a couple of support forums but so far – to no avail.

2. Font issues. I’d love to be able to change the font of the widget and the review box to match my current theme. I’ve look in a couple of different places but there just doesn’t seem to be an easy fix for this without jackin’ up the other stuff.

3. The color of the widget background and review bars. Figured this one out. Took some doing.

4. Love to have the ability to put my own title above the widget with the widget itself. Know what I mean?

Movie Review: 20 Feet From Stardom

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I’ve wanted to see this film since it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary this year and Darlene Love sang “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” for her acceptance speech.

It did NOT disappoint.

The movie is about the chasm that exists between the backup singers and the star. It may be 20 literal feet but it might as well be to the moon and back. What makes an incredible back-up singer is counter-productive to being a star – and the film explores this reality with some of the best back-up singers that have ever existed.

Just take a quick quiz and sing 10 of your favorite songs prior to 1990. What are you singing? You are singing the hook or the chorus that was predominantly sung by these back-up singers. You won’t recognize these names – Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Merry Clayton, or The Waters Family – but you will immediately recognize their voices as they were practically on every single hit record starting in the 1960′s to the 1990′s. Some are still singing today into their 70′s and 80′s.

Two huge things stood out in the film – the first one is how back-handed and superficial the entertainment industry is. This is exposed quite well as many of these singers had their voice recorded then “given” to other artists on records. Many of the artist talk about how for some labels – it didn’t matter how well you sang, it mattered how you look.

But the other HUGE point of the film was the role of the Church. It is astounding how many of these singers came out of the church. Some of the world’s greatest singers talk about how they look for back-up singers with a church background because they bring “something special” to the studio when they sing.

And when these ladies cut it loose…it is something special. Sting, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, and Bruce Springsteen have cameo roles and huge insights on these ladies. You won’t forget Lisa Fischer either as she sings with both Sting and Mick Jagger. I realized as I listened to her sing – SHE’S the reason I love Sting – no offense to Sting – but it’s her voice that draws me in and makes it all work.

Loved this film.

My Maundy Thursday

It’s a privilege for me to serve Topeka as a volunteer Fire Chaplain. My primary role is to facilitate the CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) Team. The short story – the CISM team helps first-responders learn tools and techniques to deal with traumatic stress that could impair their ability to function. It’s psychological first-aid for those who see and experience things that many of us will never see or experience.

So tonight I will be filling that role as a couple of us visit Soldier Township Fire Department. Over the last couple of months they have dealt with two fatality accidents involving children as well as the loss of one of their own and his daughter returning from enrolling her in the fire academy in Hutchinson. Tonight we will help all of these firefighters and their spouses try to deal with the hurt and find the ‘new normal.’

And it’s tonight. On Maundy Thursday.

This is not lost on me.

Maundy Thursday – a day where we remember Jesus serving others before he was betrayed and killed. Maundy Thursday – the last Thursday death had free reign and the last word. The last Thursday of dread, fear, and despair. There would never, ever be another Thursday where darkness reigned with no challenge. In less than 72 hours, the world would change forever.

Maundy Thursday was somber.

Good Friday was dark.

Saturday was silent.

But Easter Sunday…

That changed everything. It didn’t take away the hurt of grief or the sting of loss but it kicked down the finality of death. It destroyed the capability of loss to handcuff us to grief forever.

Easter changed everything. For good.

Today is Thursday – for many of these families. We will have to get through Friday and Saturday. But Sunday is coming. I’m praying and hoping to help them to make it through to their Easter.

Movie Review: Gravity

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It won 7 Academy Awards.

Don’t ask me how.

Special effects? Can totally see that. There were multiple scenes where I was going – ‘how in the world did they shoot that?’ Listen, I know it’s all greens screens these days but it didn’t look like a green screen. Some amazing cinematography.

Best Director? Ummm…okay.

Let’s be clear – this really isn’t a fair review of the movie. I went in expecting 2001 or at least the space version of Castaway or 7 Years In Tibet. Probably wasn’t a fair expectation, then again maybe it was given all the hype and the caliber of actors in the film. Let’s face it – these two – Bullock and Clooney – are two of the best ever actors.

After an incredible and visually stunning first 15 minutes of the film, it sort of coasted a bit and then when it was about to get interesting again -

[SPOILER ALERT]

Bullock’s character starts dealing with her past, the loss of her daughter, and her own insecurities – and it just races to the end. Much to abruptly, I might add. Who ever walks out of a movie thinking – you know, they needed another 20 minutes or so to end that movie?

Nobody.

Ever.

Until now.

Overall, it’s worth a rental. It’s one of the most visually stunning movies ever. Think Avatar and Life of Pi.

Unlike Castaway (another movie that depended upon a single actor carrying the bulk of dialogue and acting for a movie), Sandra Bullock (who I have always had a major crush on) just doesn’t quite hit the depth of authenticity or subject matter that was available to explore. I don’t think that is the fault of execution. I think it’s the fault of material. It just wasn’t there for her to explore. The script just didn’t take her there.

Clooney nails his part in the incredible short time he had to do it. You immediately fall in love with his character and want more from him. I almost wish they had kept him around a bit more to help push Bullock’s character a bit deeper into her own mind.

Gravity left a lot on the table. It could have really explored the topics of faith, life, regrets, grief, and survival. What is super frustrating about this is the film sets the table up to explore all of this about as perfectly as you can. It has all the ingredients – great visuals, incredible acting, and a superb setup. Gravity sucks you into the moment, gets you completely ready to deal with the deeper issues of life and then………..

It races to end the movie. Instead of being a film that you watch over and over again, it’s one that you’ll watch once, enjoy the eye candy and will forget about it entirely when this summer’s barrage of movies hits the theater.

It is a fine movie…but it doesn’t deliver like it could have.

What Kind of Prayer Is Your Sigh?

I always love getting emails from Chris* (not his real name). You pretty much know it’s going to be a great email because of the subject line. It normally is half a completed sentence, sounding more like the title of a great movie or book than just an email. Of course, I don’t ever get ‘just an email’ from Chris. Let me give you a couple of examples…

When The Walls Speak
Be True To The Absent
I Know You Want A Darth Vader Costume

Ok, the last one really didn’t happen. Here’s the latest one:

The Significance of A Sigh

Mark 7:34

“He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh…”

This really had an impact on me today. I tried this out. It’s like a poker player’s ‘tell’.

Insignificant times of prayer begin with words; but, significant times of prayer begin with an outward sigh.

How do you pray?

My buddy has just a couple of people on this email – an intimate group. But we all had about the same response.

Holy cow, he’s right.

I love this insight and have noticed it more in my own life. There are different kinds of sighs, each noting a time of significance.

There is the “I’m so frustrated/mad/angry/disappointed that I have no words” sigh.

There is the “Content As A Baby” sigh.

There is the “Discontent As A 2-Year Old” sigh.

There is the “Deep Thought” sigh.

The sigh. It’s like our spirit already speaking for us before we ever form a word. It’s our unconscious ‘tell’, it’s proof that what follows is not just a rambling of words but something from the deep place.

Selah

The psalmists wrote in sighs to make sure worshippers didn’t just run through the words. Of course, you can’t write in the condition of a heart.

My good friend Mari issued a challenge to me at the start of the year – to spend as much time listening in prayer as I do speaking. I think the sigh helps me with this.

Time to add the ‘sigh’ as a spiritual practice.

Easter Can Be Traumatic

I don’t really understand why more people go to church on Easter than on Christmas – but that’s what the statistics tell us. Of course, Mark Twain had a theory about statistics.

My bigger point is this – why Easter and not Christmas? Doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Christmas is the “kind” religious holiday. There’s a baby and a manger. You’ve got some cows and donkeys and lambs…a drummer boy and some gifts. It’s angels singing and good will toward men. Christmas is sweater vests and hot chocolate.

Easter? Easter is being forced to wear some ridiculous outfit to go to a place where you don’t know anybody – either a family reunion or church.

Easter is about death. It’s bloody. It’s about sacrificing The Lamb. Easter is about back room deals, betrayal, denials, and late night kangaroo courts and false accusations and three deaths – two deserved, one innocent. Easter is about a weak leader who gave in to injustice.

Christmas is about a mom giving life. Easter is that same mom watching her son be tortured and killed.

Christmas is a warm hug for non-religious people. Easter is a kick in the groin.

Christmas claims there is goodwill towards all men. Easter says I killed Jesus.

Christmas is the story where there are no villains. Easter is the story where we all are villains and only one hero. And he gets crucified.

So why in the world do people come to church on Easter more than Christmas?

There is only one reason.

The resurrection.

The resurrection changes everything. It makes Jesus instead of a crazy loon – really God’s Son. Instead of Jesus being this delusional demonic nut job, it proves He is the way, the truth, and the life.

The resurrection turns a denying fraud into a martyr for the cause. The resurrection is the single most important even in the history of history.

The resurrection is THE ONLY reason.

For what?

Where do we start? The only reason for Christianity to exists. The only reason for living. The only hope we have. The only reason to believe.

The resurrection is what we celebrate and that’s why people show up.

Movie Review: Let The Fire Burn

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This is a documentary that investigates the events on May 13, 1985 in Philadelphia, PA. That was the day Philadelphia police attempted to evict the radical group MOVE from a local neighborhood home. Tensions had escalated over the years to a point that by the end of that day there would be over three city blocks destroyed by fires and 11 people dead, 5 of whom were children.

The film is unique in that only archival news footage and film taken from the public hearing afterwards are used. There are no reenactments, no voice overs, no running commentary. It’s a bold move that allows the viewer to make their own mind up as to who is the villain and who is victim. The filmmaker maintains a sense of neutrality throughout the film. Absolutely brilliant editing and story telling. This film unfolds like a well-written drama.

The story starts in the late ’70s with the formation of MOVE and their counter-cultural ways that alienates both neighbors and city officials. MOVE teaches all to distrust the system, keeps their kids out of school and living in a commune culture. It was not uncommon to see MOVE members walk the streets with rifles and shotguns.

By 1978 with racial tensions at an all-time high in Philly, there is a standoff with the city police department that ends with 1 police officer dead, 1 MOVE member beaten, 8 others arrested, and MOVE using their own children as human shields – all caught on live news feeds.

Also caught on film was the beating of a MOVE member by three white cops. None of whom were ever convicted of any crime.

This sets the stage for the events of May 1985.

Scenes from the public hearing allow each side – MOVE and the City officials – to speak for themselves. As the testimony plays out, I found myself disgusted with all parties. MOVE apologists come across as angry voices with no thought of the collateral damage they bring to the neighborhoods they live in. Their treatment of children as pawns with the police department is deplorable. The mayor, police chief, and fire commissioner do not fair much better. Caught in the middle was a blue-collar neighborhood that eventually gets burned to the ground.

It’s a tragic case study of what happens when one (or both) side refuses to listen to the other. Wonderfully done and highly recommended.