Sugar Shack

The song by the same title was performed by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs way back in 1963.  The lyricist simply told a tale about a coffee shop.  Not so for the “controversial” movie The Shack, based on a novel by the same name by author, William Paul Young.  I try viewing as many faith-based films as I can.  Sometimes I just can’t find a theater nearby.  I had no problem as The Shack is playing everywhere, most likely because Octavia Spencer and Tim McGraw are starring in the film.

The film opens with a troubled young boy, named Mack, who lives with his mother and abusive father.  Not many people in his small town acknowledge the abuse, except for one black neighbor, played by Octavia Spencer, who comforts him with her home cooking. When home life becomes unbearable, young Mack, who feels deserted by God, makes a horrible decision.  We quickly fast forward to the present.  Mack is now a man, living with his deeply religious wife and their three children. On a camping trip his youngest daughter is kidnapped and murdered.  The film does not dwell on this so don’t be put off thinking it will be bloody because it’s not.

Mack blames himself for his daughter’s death and cannot shake his depression.  He receives a letter from “Papa”, his wife’s name for God, inviting Mack to meet at the very shack where his daughter was killed. Mack decides to go and is shocked to find “Papa” is the same black woman who consoled him in his youth. Papa explains that Mack couldn’t accept a father figure at this time.  He meets Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit, a beautiful Asian woman.  Towards the end of the film Papa decides Mack needs a father to take him through the rest of his journey of forgiveness and Papa becomes a mature, Native American man.  Again, the viewer knows exactly why God chose this form.

It’s this portrayal of the Holy Trinity that has several Christians upset.  I accepted God’s explanation of why He appeared in these forms.  Mack despised his father and couldn’t forgive himself for not being there for his daughter. He did not have a father figure he could rely on.  The Holy Spirit is portrayed as an attractive, soft-spoken, attentive Asian gardener.  Many Christians associate the Holy Spirit as a dove, ray of sunlight, a spiritual counselor and consoler.  Anyone who gardens knows how devoted you must be to your plants and flowers.  You protect them from predators and the elements as well as nourish them.  The same as the Holy Spirit is in her garden of souls.  All three display the wounds of crucifixion…something I’ve never seen before but makes perfect sense.

More importantly, The Shack is a story of forgiveness and how God loves ALL his children—the good and the bad.  It also emphasizes our free will to make our own choices.  Mack thought God had deserted him when he was a boy, but he comes to learn God was with him every step of the way, even when he made the wrong choice.  God never forgot about him and never stopped loving him.

I would definitely recommend this film not only for its message of forgiveness but also for showcasing the relationship individuals have with God.



When I’m Sixty-Four

Will you still need me when I’m Sixty-four? All Beatles fans recognize those lyrics. Will you still love me when I’m no longer young, trendy, or attractive? With that in mind, I often wonder what Sunday Mass will look like when I’m sixty-four. Look around any church and see the age demographics. Middle age adults are sometimes the youngest in the group.

This is a far cry from when I was a child. You either went to Sunday Mass or you were sick—very sick. My entire family lived in the same neighborhood. We lived, worked, ate, played, and worshipped together. Mass was a family event and your life revolved around it. If something weighed heavy on your heart—you consulted Father—he always had a solution. After Mass you visited with friends, clambered to shake Father’s hand, grabbed a cookie at the church bake sale, and headed off to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner.

Family is the key. In the 50’s and 60’s children went to Catholic school. In the 70’s, with the migration to the suburbs, many parents opted to send their kids to secular public schools and sign up for Religious Education at the closest church. Once their children were out of school, they stopped attending Mass because there was no connection to the parish. Grandma, the glue that held the family together, was gone. The 80’s gave birth to the “me” generation. The 90’s brought the internet. With each passing decade the more stuff we acquired: TV, video games, computers, cell phones, iPads, etc. Suddenly there was no room for God. Yet young and old alike, who seem to have everything, realize there is a great void in their lives. They search high and low, work out at the gym, drink alcohol, take drugs, meditate, or whatever they can to try and fill that undefinable “something” that is missing. That something—is God.

It’s sad but many Catholics either have none of my earlier memories or have forgotten them. So what happened? The excuses vary: Vatican II, churches are full of hypocrites, I work all week and I’m tired, God loves me so I don’t have to go to church, it’s boring. Some changes from Vatican II did upset some Catholics, but Church doctrine can never be altered. If you are worried about hypocrites then you’d never partake in any pastime. Everyone is tired, but if someone offered you tickets to an entertainment event you’d find energy to attend. Yes, God does love you, but He was the One who gave us the Fourth Commandment in the first place. Mass is boring? Are you aware of what is happening on the altar? I don’t pretend to know all the symbolism, but the more I find out the more intrigued and caught up in the Mass I become. It leaves me wanting to learn more, and the more I learn the more exciting it becomes.

Last Sunday our pastor spoke about the Catholics Come Home ad1 that is proving to be very effective, not only for Catholics but for those of all faiths or those with no faith at all. He spoke about how powerful the images were and read the wording aloud. It was witnessing similar images portrayed in the ad from my memories that lead me back to my Catholic faith.

So, what will Mass or being Catholic look like when I’m sixty-four? How will parish churches flourish if nobody is supporting them? How do we get young people interested and excited about the faith? Some say it’s a lost cause. We can’t compete with Hollywood and academia expounding the fun of immorality and degradation. But I’m full of hope—we can turn it around. There is no greater role model for a child (no matter the age) than his or her parents. Leave your bedroom door open when you’re on your knees and let them see you pray. Let them see you practice your faith in and outside church. Let them see you making a difference in peoples’ lives. Let them see you serve others. Don’t just talk to your children about values and morals—live them. Grandma may be gone but we need to connect as families again—have Sunday dinner together for starters. We must openly discuss our faith, our church, our Mass, and our love for God. We need to learn how to think again—not take the word of a professor or media outlet.

I read an article recently about Lawrence M. Krauss, cosmologist, theoretical physicist, and professor at Arizona State University. During a speech at the Victorian Skeptics Café in Australia he said, “Change is always one generation away. So if we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion will go away in a generation or at least largely go away—and that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.” 2 Professor Krauss caused a large stir earlier this year when he said teaching creationism to kids is akin to child abuse. This professor and others like him are who our children admire. Remember when role models were people of integrity and honor? We looked up to them and wanted to be like them. Our children look up to sports thugs, radical professors, and celebrities and they are becoming just like them. We need to reverse this.

Our once sacred 1st Amendment Right of freedom of religion is under attack by a small group of extreme atheists, who seem to be supported by our government. It’s no coincidence that the Revolutionary War was aided by the “Black Robe Regiment”. These were not soldiers who wore black uniforms—they were the influential preachers who supported the Patriots cause. They were enemy number 1 to the British because from their pulpits they reassured their audiences that the revolution was justified in the eyes of God.3 We cannot be oblivious to this.

There is a viral YouTube out right now showing a girl, approximately eight years-old, screaming at a young preacher on the street. The child is incredibly rude and vile. A child that age is not on the streets alone. Her parents must be nearby—undoubtedly cheering her on. I saw on Facebook a couple of days ago, a Texas mother walked into her child’s grammar school and saw pictures of Indians, but no Pilgrims. When she asked the teacher she was told that Pilgrims were the first American terrorists. The Pilgrims, through insurmountable odds, left England and crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the sole purpose of practicing their religion without persecution and now our government is branding them terrorists? And they lived harmoniously with the Indians—hence the first Thanksgiving!

Back in 1967 when the Beatles launched Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, radicals were the counter culture. Now those same radicals are in power and teaching our children. Our world has flipped. We are now the counter culture. What was good is now evil, and what was evil is now good. Many adults can’t tell the difference so how can our children? Especially when it’s taught in schools and entrenched in television, movies and pop music/rap? If we don’t stand up now, radical atheists like Professor Krauss and government promoters of nationalized Common Core education will be dancing in the streets, and our churches and Judeo/Christian religions will be asking us, “Will you still need me when you’re 64?”

Hooray for Hollywood

My Dad was a huge fan of Benny Goodman and his orchestra. However, I know this song because Doris Day sang it. I loved her movies as a kid. Heck, I still love her films. They just don’t make them like that anymore. I find myself saying that more and more, especially now when Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner.

Things were very different and not all that long ago. During Christmas or Easter season we could always count on great films like The Greatest Story Ever Told, King of Kings, A Christmas Carol, The Bishop’s Wife, The Sound of Music, The Song of Bernadette, The Bells of St. Mary’s, and It’s A Wonderful Life. I also remember gathering with my cousins around the television and watching Family Classics with Frazier Thomas. We couldn’t get enough of Heidi, Gulliver’s Travels, Jungle Book, Little Women, The Lone Ranger, and so many more.

When I got married and began having children, I passed on many of these traditions to my girls. It was an Easter ritual for my eldest daughter and me to watch The Ten Commandments. Along with Christmas and Easter films you could always count on Yankee Doodle Dandy on Independence Day, The Quiet Man on St. Patrick’s Day, and Pride of the Yankees on baseball opening day. In 1992 the country was caught up in Sister Act mania, thanks to Pope John Paul II, including my two daughters who routinely paraded around the house with arm chair guards on their heads (their nun veils). But that was 22 years ago! As my girls got older these films all but disappeared except for an occasional go-round on Turner Classics.

Think about it. Christmas classics are now considered Home Alone, Elf, and A Christmas Story. As much as I love Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder B.B. gun, there is not a mention of Christ in A Christmas Story. Actually, I’m shocked they’re still airing A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC since Linus proclaims the real meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ.

Let’s face it. We people of God are movie-starved! Remember the excitement when Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ? And the movie doesn’t have to be religious. Name one person who hasn’t seen The Blind Side. The Book of Eli was more than thought provoking. I went to see it at the theater where several young boys were seated in front of me. At the end of the film one of them got up and shouted, “Yeah, God!” Do you see what I’m talking about?

But we’re beginning to see a shift. The Bible miniseries, which aired on The History Channel last spring, broke all records and its major motion picture follow-up, Son of God, was a box office smash. God Is Not Dead opened several eyes and what did Hollywood do? They released Noah. It made money but was not nearly as successful as the independently made movies mentioned above. Why? It was “loosely” based on the story of Noah. Now I’ll give them room for creativity since the story of Noah is not lengthy. But portraying Noah as an almost homicidal baby-killer? Even the Hollywood movie critics laughed at it and gave it a bad review for not being Biblically correct.

Why is all of this happening? Elitist Hollywood types and others like them want to change our traditions and eradicate religion. Unless of course you practice the religion of environmentalism or atheism. When Tim Tebow bent his knee to thank God before and during each football game he was ridiculed and eventually blackballed. When Kirk Cameron was gearing up to release his faith based documentary, Unstoppable, Facebook pulled the trailer from their site and his Twitter feed filled up with words of hate. Facebook eventually restored the page, but Cameron had the biggest laugh of all. His one night only documentary broke all records and he was named King of the Box Office by Yahoo! Movie Talk. Why? The film grossed more than $2 million on just 700 screens.

However, it seems like the joke is on Hollywood. 2014 is going down in history as one of the worst years for the film industry. Box office sales are abysmal and movie studios are handing out pink slips. Why is nobody going to see Transcendence, Ride Along or Sex Tape? But they are flocking to see Heaven Is For Real, Mom’s Night Out, Persecuted, When the Game Stands Tall, and America? Americans are hungry for something to believe in. Something they can relate to with substance that makes them think about what has been missing in entertainment—like truth, wholesomeness, and God.

Noah is not the answer—but it could have been. Hollywood elitists don’t grasp that to create a fantastic film that can survive the test of time is not just about the money—you have to know it and believe in it. Cecil B. DeMille, whose mother was Jewish and father an Episcopal lay minister made The 10 Commandments to spread biblical values during the Cold War. A little unknown fact—DeMille himself appears at the beginning of the film with this message to the audience, “The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God? The same battle continues throughout the world today.” Amazing. Too bad this is left out of the television version. And what DeMille said is still true today.

Hope springs eternal. There is a new Exodus film coming out later this year. David and Goliath is scheduled for a 2015 release. The latter is produced by an atheist turned Christian and promises to be based on the Bible and history. Sounds promising given the fact that there is so much written about Moses and David.

Let’s face it folks, we are now the counter-culture. It’s up to all of us—no matter what denomination or no denomination at all—to come together and sponsor, promote and frequent these films. We must win the culture war or our grandchildren and great-grandchildren may never know what Christmas or any Judeo-Christian-based traditions truly are. They’ll only know what Hollywood tells them they are.