Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Noah or Epic Fail

I went in to see the movie Noah, wanting to like it.  Wanting to love it.

I wasn't looking for a biblical epic.  I didn't feel a need for it to be “true” to the Text.  I didn't even feel it needed to be true to the flannel graph.  I just wanted it to be good film.  It wasn't.

What I did like.  I loved the performances of the two leads: Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly.  Particular Jennifer Connelly who was given very little to work with but when the time came for her key scene it was the only thing truly epic in the entire film.  Crowe was excellent throughout as a man tortured by visions, the task and the rape of the earth that precipitated the coming judgment.

In jokes.  If you know the story of Noah from Genesis then you’ll get references, both visual and dialog that other people unfamiliar will miss.  Some nice little Easter eggs here that tells you that someone aware of the source material was consulted.

Noah’s creation account.  Beautiful CG version that was the best of both worlds.  I liked it a lot.

What I didn't like.  Pacing.  The movie couldn't decide between epic adventure and drama and suffered as a result.  Scenes that should have taken longer, pauses and reflections that should have been there weren’t and other scenes of much ado about nothing, stretched on and on.

Transformers.  How did Transformers get into this movie?  This stopped being an epic story as soon as they became a part of it.  Their appearance in the story pulled me out of the film and into my imagination of the office where the merchandising spin-off opportunities were being kicked around.

Hermione.  Emma Watson was incredibly good at playing Hermione in the Harry Potter franchise.  Put her beside Crowe and Connelly, particularly when her big scenes put her in the same frame as Crowe and Hopkins and immediately following Connelly’s big scene (the best scene of the whole film) and she just can’t pull it off.  It was a terrible casting choice or directing choice or both.

Story.  What was Noah, the movie, about?  Man’s tendency to destroy the perfect balance of creation with his greedy ways.  No, wait, that was Avatar.  Um, energy beings that fall to earth and get trapped in the form of inanimate objects that can transform into super powered robots to help protect mankind.  No, wait, that was Michael Bay’s Transformers.  An ancient Hebrew story that was really a thinly disguised political commentary on recent world events.  No, sorry, that was The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston.  O.K., hold on, I just saw this so I should be able to tell you what this story is about…let’s just say it didn’t feel original.

In this version, Noah isn't a good guy, just the least offensive guy left on the planet.  No one in his family or the rest of humanity thinks he’s crazy for building a huge boat miles from water. Of course, when your work crew consists of talking, stone robots, crazy has already been tossed out the window.  Noah’s boys are literally boys and the oldest two are really horny boys.  The oldest is a vampire, I think, and the middle one is Percy Jackson (where was Poseidon?).  The Ark takes almost no time at all to build (thanks to aforementioned robots).  The marauding bands of bad guys from the first half of the film completely miss or ignore the giant forest that suddenly erupts and never go in to investigate until the Ark is completed.  Methuselah is sort of like Dumbledore and has all this power that he uses at odd times and nobody ever asks him why he’s hanging out like a homeless man instead of living with the only family he has on earth.

What could have been a fascinating drama about a family with a crazy patriarch, cooped up in a giant boat with wild animals, becomes about something I couldn't feel anything for other than confusion.  I haven’t read any other reviews on this one yet, but I will and maybe I’ll learn how brilliant this film really is.  For me it was not good film.

If you've seen it, leave a comment with your reaction and if you think I saw a completely different movie from you and you loved it, tell me why:

Thursday, March 27, 2014


One of my favorite movies is Zelig.  It’s the fictional story of a man, told in documentary style, who has a curious ailment.  It seems that he is so desperate to fit in and be liked that he takes on the dominant characteristics (down to facial hair, accent, weight gain/loss and profession) of the people with whom he shares space.  I think the movie, as a whole, is a pretty good metaphor for the pastoral profession.

I think it’s time we acknowledge that we have (at least) two “notebooks full of pastors”.  One is full of professional pastors and the other is full of vocational pastors.

The professional pastor is like Zelig, generation after generation they are defining themselves and what they do by the spirit of the age.  We trend.  And we’ve lived through trends in pastoral leadership that are constantly being shaped by the dominant culture of which we are a part.  We figure out what we do by sensing what our culture wants us to be.  There’s a hunger for acceptance by those in power (the dominant) and for us to gain access to them and the power behind them.  And of course we do all this for the glory of God, our own popularity and acceptance is just for the sake of reaching everyone with the Gospel.

I will be the first to admit how powerful the want to be wanted is.  But I will also say that, from firsthand experience that “want” is really the Siren’s song that beckons us come closer to the rocks.

It’s no wonder we have experienced and continue to experience a pastoral identity crisis.  In the absence of a clarity about who we are and what we do and why we do it, we’re bound to fall into the gravity of the personality of the dominant culture around us.

A pastor is all about building a church and what is a church but a startup business?  And what is a church planter if not an entrepreneur?  And has there ever been a time more conscious of what it takes to make business grow and be successful if not now?  What a rich time for a pastor to be able to use the resources available to become wildly successful at franchising our startups, let’s call them ‘multi-site’s, and generating the revenue that allows us to REALLY do the will of God.

But really a pastor is all about gathering and what is a church if not a brand and church discipleship if not brand loyalty?  People love a rock star and what is a pastor if not a rock star, the lead vocal (bandmates come and go but the lead vocal guides the narrative – Pete Best? never heard of him)? What an amazing time to be a rock star pastor with all of the multi-media platforms over which to promote your brand, the stylists you can hire to tweak your brand and the consulting companies you can pay to research and write your messages, your books and even get your books to #1 on the Best Seller charts.  It’s a good day to be a rock star pastor.

And the beauty of our zeitgeist driven pastoral profession is that we have large publishing houses that will spare no expense, once you are marketable, to make you believe all those things the desert fathers used to fast over to silence the whispering voices: you deserve this.  You’ve earned this.  You are special.  It’s easy to justify our bad behavior now and then (we even have people who take care of that for us) because look how big we've our church has become.

All the while, quietly off in various places, the vocational pastor goes about his or her calling.  They invest their lives into the messiness of the lives of the people among whom God has placed them and commissioned them to guide and feed and guard.  These vocational pastors, year after year, quietly go about raising up men and women (rather than perpetual nurseries) by being with them, sharing life, speaking words that are true with a heart that is moved, not by the Siren’s Song but by the steady, unforced rhythms of God’s Spirit.  These men and women, you will never know their name.  You will probably never see a book they wrote on a best-seller list and they won’t be on a TV chat show.  Their churches will be the size God gives them to pastor, some growing, some shrinking, some holding steady, some big, some small, and some somewhere in between.  But what they need to know, what they absolutely need to be sure of is that they are called by God and the investment they make with their life is never for nothing.

Who are we, pastors?  We have a 2000 year old tradition from which we can know, into which we can anchor our lives, from which we can figure out how to improvise the act in which we find ourselves, with confidence, relying on the stories of faithful men and women who heard this music before we had ears and whose lives call us to join and become and follow and improvise and be.

But there are at least these two choices and every day we decide to be Zelig or to live out our own part in the closing act of this story in which we find ourselves, faithfully in step with the vocational tradition.