Friday, September 29, 2017

School Movie Month: Au Revoir, les Enfants

Au Revoir les Enfants (1987)
The students of the school mock the teachers as “Monkeys” and marvel at the faculty’s stupidity and cluelessness -- pretty much like high school students everywhere -- but these particular students live during a strange and dangerous time. The school in Au Revoir les Enfants (1987), is in France during World War II when the French government collaborated with Nazi Germany. The boys are in a boarding school run by Carmelite Brothers. As often is the case, there is much more to the teachers than the students know.

Au Revoir les Enfants is an autobiographical film written and directed by Louis Malle, one of the great filmmakers of the 20th century. Though the names were changed, Malle said this was a true story of what happened when he was a boarding student at the Petit College as a child in France.

Julien Quentin (Gaspard Manesse) takes the place of Malle, as a young boy from a well to do French family (which is true of most of the students in the school). Julien would rather stay with his family, but his mother says, “You know I can’t keep you in Paris with me.” He’s still young enough to respect the Brothers and their teachings, but his older brother is cynical about the priests (he, like many of the older students, calls the Monks “Monkeys”).

Julien becomes friends with Jean Bonnet, a new student brought into the school by the priests. Jean is Jewish, but the priests keep this quiet, of course. Jean claims to be Protestant which explains why he doesn’t participate in communion or confirmation. But Jean must still go to religion classes and chapel.

The boys still have some fun at the school -- we see boys acting out battles from the Crusades on stilts, and even one of the priests joins the fun. The school stages an elaborate capture the flag type game in the woods, but Julien and Jean get lost and are out after curfew. They are picked up by German soldiers, which obviously frightens Jean, but they are safely returned. The students even get to watch movies; no one laughs harder than the priests when they watch Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant.

Still, some things are forbidden in the school. Jean and Julien share and love books, particularly old novels like The Three Musketeers and Robinson Crusoe.  But Francois, Julien’s brother, gives Jean a forbidden novel, Arabian Nights, which is rich in naughty bits that the boys read quietly by flashlight at night. Francois won’t take communion, claiming to have moved on from the superstitions of religion. The school teaches Thomas Aquinas’ evidences for the existence of God, which Francois disdains, saying, “They really don’t hold water.” He expresses his desire to join the Resistance, but he doesn’t.

Of course, while Francois talks about resisting the Nazis, the priests are actually doing so by taking Jewish students into the boarding school. Francois mocks materialism, while the priests actually speak out against it to the rich and powerful.

When the parents are at the school along with the students, Father Jean preaches at a special chapel: “My message today is especially for the youngest among you, who will be confirmed in a few weeks. My children, we live in a time of discord and hatred. Christians kill one another. Those who should guide us betray us. More than ever, we must beware of selfishness and indifference. You’re all from wealthy families, some very wealthy. Because you’ve been given much, much will be asked of you. Remember the Bible’s stern lesson -- It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Saint James says, ‘Now, you rich, weep and wail for the woes awaiting you. Your wealth has rotted and your garments are eaten by worms.’ Worldly wealth corrupts souls and withers hearts. It makes men contemptuous, unjust, pitiless in their egotism. I understand the anger of those who have nothing when the rich feast so arrogantly.”

So, the Father Jean isn’t exactly timid in speaking to donors, and he does get some walk-outs.

He concludes by saying, “I don’t mean to shock you, but only to remind you that charity is a Christian’s first duty.”

The food is scarce in war times, so the priests insist that students share the food they receive from home with other students. Julien and Francois are among the students disciplined for not sharing, but a poor kid who works in the kitchen is disciplined much more severely for stealing food. He is fired. In vengeance, he tells the Nazis about the Jewish students.

Soldiers come and arrest not only the Jewish students, but some of the priests, including Father Jean. Francois realizes that the priests have been taking action against the regime all along, while he just talked about taking action.

As Father Jean is led off by the soldiers, he calls out the title, “Au revoir les enfants” (Goodbye, children). The real Father Jean was imprisoned and died in Mauthausen. No greater love can be shown, which is why the brothers of St. John of the Cross receive the highest rating of 4 Steeples.

(Of course, we don’t review films at this site, we review the clergy and churches in films. That said, this is a great film well worth seeking out.)

Friday, September 22, 2017

School Movie Month: God's Club

God’s Club,2015
At Movie Churches, we often note that we don’t review movies but rather the churches in movies. So I don’t need to mention that it may well be one of the worst Christian films I’ve ever seen. I should, as usual, be writing about the clergy and the churches in the film, but there are no churches in God’s Club. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing about it at all, but this annoying piece of socalled film took 90 minutes of my life that could have gone to, say, three episodes of 30 Rock before it leaves Netflix. I want to get something out of the unhappy experience.

Besides, the reason there is no church in the film is so strange, it provides the one compelling reason to write.

God’s Club opens with a childish argument between a husband and wife. The wife wants the husband to go with her to a meeting she says is very important to her. He whines about not feeling like going until she tells him they can get dessert on the way home. Sadly, their teenage daughter witnesses this sorry display. Stephen Baldwin plays the husband, Mike Evens, in the film. (He’s the Christian Baldwin brother, not the 30 Rock Baldwin.)

I didn't catch Mrs. Evens first name - she's gone quickly
They’re headed for a school board meeting that will be discussing whether Mrs. Evens should be allowed to have a Bible Club -- a Christian club called “God’s Club” -- at the high school. Both Mr. and Mrs. Evens are teachers at the high school, and everyone on the school board agrees there is no legal way to prevent the club. But the debate in this incredibly badly run meeting continues anyway. (The actual law about Christian clubs on public school campuses is a little more complex than the movie portrays it. In the last few years, the Christian organization InterVarsity was barred from California State and UC system campuses because they had the audacity to require Christian leadership for a Christian organization.) Back to the movie, where many parents are vocal about their disapproval of religion in any form having a place on school grounds.

On the drive home, the Evenses talk about the club, with Mike still saying it isn’t “my thing.” Mrs. Evens argues it’s the only way to help the troubled youth in the school. They joke and laugh and then unfortunately decide to smooch while driving. This leads to a deadly accident, and (spoiler) Mrs. Evens doesn’t survive long after the crash.

So, after three months of mourning at home, MIke returns to school and starts God’s Club on his own. I’ve been involved in Christian clubs at schools from my own high school years through my years as a pastor, so I’m familiar with some of the laws and regulations involved. One of those stipulations -- mentioned in the film -- is that the school can not be seen as sponsoring or endorsing the club. This has usually been interpreted as barring faculty from leading such a club. School staff can provide some supervision, being present in a classroom during club meetings, but usually not formal leadership. In this film Mike leads the club (and does it remarkably badly, especially considering he’s a teacher by profession).

During an event when students are encouraged to sign up for clubs, Mike and his daughter, Rebecca (Bridget Albaugh), sit behind a sign-up table for God’s Club (there are also tables for drama, chess, and hiking clubs). A couple of students sign up for the club, supposedly to sabotage it, but they make no serious attempt to do so. We were disappointed.

During Mike’s first club meeting, he rambles about how people have worshiped God since the paleolithic era. He rambles in response to questions that touch on other religions, the Bible, and the Resurrection. Talk of resurrection leads to talk of zombies, and the boys get sidetracked into a discussion of what was the best zombie movie. (This is the one part of the film that felt real.)

During that meeting, one of the boys makes a truly astounding statement. He says that there are no churches in the town where they live. This is just bizarre. From our travels, and even actual research, I can state quite confidently that any town large enough in the United States to have a high school, has at least one church, and most probably several churches. In 1880, George Walser founded a town, Liberal, Missouri,  that was supposed to be an Atheist Utopia, which would be church free. But that dream didn’t hold long. Christian missionaries soon came to plant churches in the outskirts of town, and soon there were churches in the town itself.

We’re are supposed to believe that the California city of Echo Grove is church-free, and the only religious organization of any kind is God’s Club at the high school. So within the reality of the movie, God’s Club can be seen as the only church in town, and Mike is the only clergy.  (Another interesting demographic oddity of Echo Grove - everyone in town seems to be white.)

At the next meeting of the club, Mike hands out rather ugly t-shirts emblazoned with a “God’s Club” logo and illustrated Bibles. (“Sick! A comic book!” one of the boys exclaims. “No, it’s a graphic novel,” says another.) But again, Mike presents an incoherent message.

Mike and his daughter don’t seem to know Scripture very well, except for citing the occasional verse. They don’t even seem to be familiar with Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek. Both father and daughter are egged into throwing the first punch in fights. Hardly the example that is going to win over a school and town.

The worst bit of theology is expressed by the daughter toward the end of the film. Vic is a troubled kid, who has been prescribed Prozac and other drugs to deal with his depression and suicidal tendencies. He begins a friendship with Rebecca and begins to read the Bible. He talks about these things with his therapist. His therapist tells his “studies show many people have been helped by reading the Bible” but also warns him that “Christian girls wait for marriage”.

At the climax of the film, Vic is considering suicide and Vic’s father (Lorenzo Lamas) blames Rebecca for discouraging his son from taking his meds (she didn’t). Vic runs off, and Rebecca finds him about to jump off a bridge, and Rebecca tells him, “If you kill yourself, you can’t go to heaven. It says so in the Bible!” Now the Bible says no such thing. There has been debate about the eternal fate of suicides for centuries in the church, and the reason there has been debate is because there is no handy verse to point to with a clear cut answer. Rebecca’s proclamation is bad theology and even worse counseling.

Mike creates controversy in the town and wrecks much havoc by insisting on starting a Christian club on campus when he could accomplish what he wants to accomplish by starting a Bible study in his home. What Echo Grove really needs is a good church, but I’m giving God’s Club on the high school campus just one steeple.

Friday, September 15, 2017

School Movie Month: St. Vincent

St. Vincent (2014)
There are certain words and concepts about which there is little agreement. For instance, “chili” in Texas is mainly beef and chili paste and flavorings. But there is also “chili” for vegetarians with a bean focus and peppers and onions and a lot of spice. And then there is Cincinnati “chili” which can consist of catsup and hotdogs on top of noodles and is an abomination against all that is right and holy.

“Saint” is another word subject to a variety of definitions. For Protestants, “saint” is a general term for Christians; Ephesians 4:12 in the King James Version talks about the “perfecting of the saints” referring to everyone in the Church. In the Catholic Church, on the other hand, a person isn’t called a saint unless they reach a special degree of holiness, which must be judged by special ecclesiastical judicial proceeding, canonization. The definition of “saint” in the movie St. Vincent is more, um, loose than either of these.

St. Vincent is the story of a boy named Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) who moves to a new city with his mother (Melissa McCarthy) to begin a new life away from Oliver’s adulterous father. Oliver must enroll in a new parochial school, St. Patrick’s. On his first day of school, Oliver’s fellow students break into his locker and steal his bus money, phone, and house key. Apparently, no teacher and no priest in the school comes to Oliver’s aid. Since Oliver’s mother is at work, he must walk home in his gym clothes. Since he can’t get in, he knocks on his neighbor’s door. That neighbor is an old curmudgeon named Vincent (Bill Murray).

The school does a little better in religion class than they did in P.E. The class is run by a good natured priest, Brother Geraghty. (The priest is played by Chris O’Dowd, an atheist actor who has stated someday religion will be viewed as unacceptable and offensive as racism. But being a decent actor, no one would guess that view from his performance.) The priest introduces Oliver to the class and asks him to lead the morning prayer. Oliver objects that he can’t, “I think I’m Jewish.”

Brother Geraghty assures Oliver that’s fine. There are many religions represented in the class, “We have Buddhists, agnostics, a Baptist and an ‘I Don’t Know’ which may be the world’s fastest growing faith. We celebrate all religions in this class. Though Catholic is the best because we have the best rules and the best clothes.”

Oliver does pray, “Dear God, Thank you. Amen”  

The priest affirms the prayer, “Stirring stuff.”

We see more of this religion class. The priest teaches a unit on saints. He asks for examples of saint and a kid mentions St. Jude. When asked what St. Jude did, the kid responses “He owns a hospital and runs a golf tournament.”

The priest doesn’t bother to correct him. Instead he defines a saint as someone who serves other people at great sacrifice. He makes no mention of God or holiness which is rather odd for a Catholic priests.

Brother Geraghty assigns the students the project of a report on a saint of their choice.

Meanwhile, Vincent cares for Oliver when his mother is working at the hospital. Vincent is an unconventional sitter, taking Oliver to a bar and the racetrack. Vincent also introduces Oliver to a Russian woman, Daka (Naomi Watts), as someone who works in the world’s oldest and “most honest” profession. Vincent also teaches Oliver how to fight dirty.

Oliver beats up Robert, one of the kids who stole his stuff, breaking Robert’s nose. Oliver’s mom is called to the school ot meet with the principal and Brother Geraghty. She says that the school doesn’t want to hear her troubles and the principal says, “We have loads of time.” She pours out her life story, including details of her husband’s affairs, and the men listen with incredible patience and compassion. For punishment, Robert and Oliver are assigned to clean bathrooms together and the boys become friends.

The students are to present their reports on saints in a “Saints Among Us Assembly” which is open to parents, friends, and apparently the general public. Oliver chooses as his saint his neighbor Vincent (as noted above, Brother Geraghty has a rather elastic definition of saints). Oliver says, “Saints never give up. Saints fight for themselves and others. Saints make sacrifices.  Saints are human beings, very human beings.” He introduces Vincent, acknowledging all of his vices.

I was debating how many steeples to give the clergy who run St. Patrick’s. The most disappointing moment is the lack of care Oliver receives that first day of school, but at the end of the film we see Oliver at a meal. He asks the blessing for the food and crosses himself (with some direction from Robert). Seems the priest must have done something right. So I’m giving them Three Steeples. Plus - for Groundhog's Day alone, Bill Murray deserves Sainthood.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

In Theaters Now: All Saints

All Saints (2017)
Years ago, when I served in a church in Healdsburg, there was discussion about whether a little piece of the property should be used for a community garden. Arguments went back and forth about water issues and strangers on the property and use of resources, and the church ended up not doing it at the time. The benefits of the project weren’t appealing enough for the church leadership.

A very different story is told in the new film, All Saints, which is based on the true story of a Episcopalian Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, that turned most of its land into a farm to save itself. In 2007, first time pastor, Michael Spurlock (John Corbett), was brought into a church to close it. Only a dozen people were in attendance on Sunday mornings, and the diocese didn’t feel they could support the church any longer. Spurlock intended to follow instructions to facilitate selling off the property and to encourage the members of the congregation to worship elsewhere.  

But Spurlock began to see another path when a group of Burmese refugees from a people group called the Karen came to worship at All Saints Church. The refugees became Christians in the Anglican Church back in Burma, so they’re ready to worship as Episcopalians. But they also had great financial needs of their own, including a number of families struggling even to feed their children.

Spurlock believes God gives him an answer to the question, not unlike Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Whereas Costner was told by a voice to plow under corn to make a ballfield, Spurlock says God told him to use the land that had once been used for ball fields to plant corn -- and tomatoes and a Southeast Asian favorite, sour leaf. Spurlock hopes that the crops can provide food for the Karen, and the sale of the rest of the crops will pay the church’s mortgage.

But God does a more interesting work of bringing Tennessee and Burmese farmers to work together and eventually to worship together. Mindy and I have visited a number of ethnic congregations over the last couple of years, and we’ve visited churches that have English language services and on the same facilities a congregation using another language. Sometimes there seems to be little contact between the congregations, but All Saints uses a translator during the service to allow the two groups to worship together.

To be honest, I was even more impressed by another church not shown, but talked about in the film. The leader of the refugees, Ye Win (played by Nelson Lee), told Spurlock about the refugee camps where he and other Karen refugees lived for years. In those camps there was theft, brutality, and abuse, and often the only refuge in the refugee camp was found in the rice hut where the food was stored. That was also where the church met. It was a sanctuary for hurting people.

In the film, Spurlock made many mistakes as pastor, taking on too much work on his own. His wife started a youth choir which the movie portrayed as having somewhat mixed results. On their own, the children sing songs with enthusiasm in Karen, but she taught them a rather weak English language version of “For the Beauty of the Earth.”

The church’s path isn’t a smooth one. The people in the film end up asking, “Why, God, did you ask us to act and seem to ruin the results?” a variation on the old “Why do bad things happen to good people” question. Amazingly, the film comes up with some decent answers.

In spite of the choir’s sour notes and Spurlock’s Scripture-light sermons, I’m going to give the church in All Saints our highest rating of four steeples because they do raise the Name of Jesus,  and they care for the poor -- their neighbors -- in that Name.

(A bonus for fans of the old CBS show, Northern Exposure; not only is the lead role played by Corbett who played the DJ Chris in the Morning on that show, the film also features Barry Corbin, who played Chris’ boss, Maurice the former astronaut. It was fun to see them bickering again.)

Friday, September 8, 2017

School Movie Month: A Matter of Faith

A Matter of Faith (2014)

“What came first; the chicken or the egg?” Traditionally this has been presented as an unanswerable question; a philosophical conundrum. It’s been used to describe situations when it isn’t clear which is the cause and which is the effect, but there’s been a trend in the last few years to try to provide a definitive answer to this question.

The 2014 film A Matter of Faith also wants to provide a definitive answer to that question, with this answer: Chicken. What has in the past been a question of philosophy has become a question of science. Evolutionary biologists argue that the answer to this question is the egg. The makers of this film and evolutionary biologists don’t agree on much.

The film tells the story of a father, Stephen Whitaker (Jay Pickett), sending his daughter, Rachel (Jordan Trovillion), off to a state college to major in biology. Whitaker wanted her to go to a Christian school “but we hope she finds a good church.” He’s quite concerned about staying true to her Christian faith. Before she leaves, he even sets up a test: he puts a $20 bill in her Bible so he can check to see whether she reads it -- because far be it from him to just ask his daughter whether she’s been reading her Bible and trust her to answer with integrity.  

The real shock for Whitaker comes when he finds out that his daughter, majoring in biology, takes an Intro to Biology class which teaches evolution. Whitaker goes online to research Rachel’s teacher, Professor Kamen (Harry Anderson of Night Court). He is shocked to discover Kamen wrote articles about evolution “which don’t even present Biblical creationism as an alternative.”

Whitaker goes to his pastor to find out if it can actually be true that evolution is taught in public schools. The pastor (who doesn’t seem to have a name, but is played by Fred Stella) breaks the bad news to Whitaker that evolution is indeed taught in public schools. (Especially taught in biology classes. Did I mention Rachel is majoring in biology?) “The attack on the book of Genesis is a real battleground. There are even Christian schools that are buying into evolution.”

The pastor asks the sensible question, “Have you talked to your daughter about this?”

Whitaker responds, “She’s not the one I want to talk to.” So Rachel’s parents make a surprise visit to their daughter at college, and without consulting his daughter, Whitaker goes to talk to Professor Kamen. He says to the Prof, “I have a problem with what you are teaching in your class.”  

Kamen asks Whitaker, “Are you a religious man? Does your faith help you sleep at night?” Kamen says that’s a good thing. He then says he just teaches evolution because that is what is in the text books. (Which is true, of course. If the father had done even a tiny bit of research, or been awake in the 20th century, he would have been aware of this.)

But Whitaker continues to complain and says the teaching of evolution “goes against what Christianity stands for.” (It should be noted that while there are Christians who believe evolution is contrary to Scripture and Christian teaching, there are many Christians who don’t agree. Among those who believe God may have used some form of evolution in the act of creation include: many Christian scientists, the Roman Catholic Church, and the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis.)

Kamen then asks Whitaker if he would like to have a public debate about Creationism vs. Evolution, and Whitaker agrees. He agrees to this without consulting his daughter. His daughter who is still in Kamen’s class. In fact, Professor Kamen seems to take Rachel’s feelings into consideration more than her father does, explaining to his class that though her dad is debating, Rachel can think for herself.

Rachel is embarrassed by her father taking on the debate. “Dad you can’t!” But he can.

Her father says, “That man has no respect for God or what we believe in!”  Just to be clear, Professor Kamen never said anything hostile to the Christian faith.

Rachel says, “I can’t believe this is happening!”

Kamen is one of the most popular teachers on campus. He makes an effort to make his lectures funny and entertaining. He also promises that students who attend and pay attention will get a minimum of a “C.” (The filmmakers present this as a devious plot to get students to listen to teaching about evolution. Just seems like good teaching to me.)

There is very strange scene where Kamen asks a track student in his class about his race times. Kamen points out that the student’s time would have won him a gold medal in the 1896 Olympic Games, but track times have gotten faster, which is a proof for evolution in the human “race.”  This really upsets Rachel.

This is a simply awful argument for a number of reasons. The improvement of race times can be explained better by improvements in technique rather than evolution. On the other side, evolution or change within a species is not a problem with even seven day creationists. Everyone acknowledges there is change within a species -- looking at the history of dog breeding, for example, makes this plain. Most Creationists have no problem with “microevolution” (change within a species) but have problems with “macroevolution” (change from one species to another).

Whitaker goes to his pastor for support.The pastor thinks it is great that Whitaker is taking a stand for Christianity. This baffles me. Why would you want someone to take your side of an argument if they’re completely ignorant of the issues just days before debating someone who is a professional in the field? The pastor promises to drive the three hours to the college, bringing along congregants to cheer Whitaker on.

When the big debate comes, the rules are baffling. Each man is given the chance to make a statement, and then they can respond to each other and ask questions. But they don’t stick to issues of biology. Whitaker keeps bringing in the Big Bang, which is an issue of physics and astronomy. And Kamen brings in Freud, whose theories have been discredited by most of academia, rather than evolutionary biologists who have dealt with theories of the origin of belief in God.

Whitaker argues that Biblical creationism should be presented on a equal plane with evolution. But should the Creation stories of other religions be presented with equal respect? If Whitaker knew the issues, he would have argued for the presentation of “intelligent design” rather than “Biblical Creationism.” Creationists generally prefer the former phrase, because it can be couched in scientific rather than theological terms. Sadly, there seems to be little intelligent design in the making of the film.

The film ends with a title card saying, “The chicken came first.” The mystery of the old chicken and egg question must be resolved -- no more gray, just black and white.

As for our steeple rating for Whitaker’s church and pastor...the Pastor obviously believes Creationism is one of the basics of the faith, but doesn’t provide even rudimentary teaching about the alternative views, I can’t rate him too highly. But he seems like a nice guy, so I’m giving Two Steeples.

Friday, September 1, 2017

School Movie Month: Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)
I have a friend who’s a professor in the Cal State system. He’s spent years, of course, researching in his field of study. I’ve heard him expound at length on educational theories and approaches. It’s kind of sad, because it’s really all so simple.

In Sister Act II, Fraud Nun Doloris van Cartier (Whoopi Goldberg) gets recruited to teach high school. She has no experience as a teacher, but she tells the others how it’s done. “The curriculum is boring,” she says. “Just be interesting.”

Such great advice. Perhaps I could give advice on lounge singing to Dolores. “Don’t sing off key. Sing pretty.” Just, you know, do what you’re doing but do it really, like, well.

Sister Act 2 is a sequel to Sister Act. In the first film, Deloris is on the run from the mob, and to hide she impersonates a nun and lives in a convent. In this film, the same group of nuns have begun teaching in a parochial high school in downtown San Francisco. The sisters want Deloris to teach music, but Father Maurice (Barnard Hughes), who runs the school would not, they believe, accept a lounge singer without qualifications to teach. So Deloris pretends to be a nun so the setup of the first film can be repeated.

Did you ever have one of those late night conversations about integrity and lies? One person says it is never right to lie, and someone else says, “Well, what if it’s WWII, and you’re hiding Jews in your house, and Nazis knock on your door and ask if there are Jews in the house? It’d be okay to lie then.” Sister Act (the original) has killers after Deloris, so you can understand why the sisters would bend the truth. If someone argued, “I think it’s okay to lie if it’s to get a job you’re not qualified for,” the argument wouldn’t stand up to late night conversation, let alone in ethics class. But these nuns are more than okay with lying so that Deloris can teach as a pretend nun at St. Francis Academy.

As the film opens, we see Deloris performing her new Vegas show. It’s not just a lounge act, she’s the headliner of a big production with special effects and dancers. Some of the nuns from the first film come to see her perform, and after the show, Deloris asks if they can stay so she could show them the town. One of the nuns tells her, “We have to get back, we’re teachers now, and it’s a school night.” No sign that the nuns themselves did any training to be high school teachers, they just jumped in. They admit to Deloris, “At St. Francis we’re in slightly over our heads. We need your help, become a teacher.”

Once they get to the school, the nuns tell Deloris, “The Fathers at St. Francis are strict. If they found out you’re not a teacher or a nun, you’d be out.” Deloris again takes on the name of Sister Mary and meets the priests who teach in and run the school.  Father Ignatius teaches math, Father Thomas teaches Latin, and Father Wolfgang is the cook. None of them seem very good at their jobs; the Biblical concept of giftedness doesn’t seem to come into play.

Father Maurice calls Sister Mary into his office to share his theory of education. It comes down to one word, “Discipline. That’s all they can absorb here.”

In education there are numerous ideas about the practice of discipline (as in the Christian life), but the headmaster gives no specifics about what he’s talking about.Since we saw no knuckles rapped with rulers, it must be somethng other than that.

Mary comes into her music class to find kids rapping spontaneously, but for some reason no one notices any musical giftedness. (That high school kid, Rita [Lauryn Hill] might make something of herself musically speaking.)  Mother Superior tells her, “Well congratulations, you’re the new mayor of Sodom and Gomorrah.” But the class seems pretty clean cut to me.

Eventually Sister Mary makes the radical choice to make her music class into a choir. This takes everyone by surprise for some reason. The class does a wonderful performance of “O Happy Day” (a song I love). She also encourages the other teachers to not be boring -- because so many teachers go to class, planning on being boring. If only someone had told them not to be.

But trouble is brewing. The school is in financial trouble. Mr. Crisp (James Coburn), the financial director for the Diocese, wants to close it down. The nuns and priests are sad because, “It’s the only school in the area, and if it closes kids will have to be bused somewhere else.” Which is a little crazy, because there a quite a number of high schools in the city of San Francisco (a quick Google found seven Catholic high schools) and the public transit system is good.

Still, Sister Mary comes up with a plan. She enters her choir in the “All State Music Competition” in Hollywood. Her plan seems to be:

  1. Win the All State Music Competition
  2. Something, something
  3. Save the school

Will they win the competition? Does something else happen? Do they save the school?

I don’t want to spoil the film for you by answering those daunting questions. But I will give a Movie Churches rating to the parochial school and the clergy in the film. They don’t need to know much about education, and they don’t seem to have very high standards of truthfulness. They do seem to care about the kids, and Mary/Deloris gets the kids to perform a spontaneous, unrehearsed, and yet awesome performance of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” so for that the school and clergy get Two Steeples.