Thursday, September 16, 2021

Is This How We Play the Game? More School Sports


If you were to listen to some of Twitter's great minds of the atheist variety, you'd think the Church has brought nothing of value to the world; only war, prejudice, and intolerance. I assume people who tweet such things have no respect for higher education because most of the major universities in the United States were founded as religious institutions. I’m writing, of course, about schools such as Princeton (Presbyterians), Yale (Puritans), and Harvard (yet other Puritans). (Harvard did just hire an atheist chaplain -- a choice the founders of the institution might find, um, questionable.)

And then there is Notre Dame, still very much a Roman Catholic institution and also one of the most respected universities in the country. It’s a school respected for its academics but loved for its football team. Going back to the days of Knute Rockne (widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in football history which led to retellings of his story on the silver screen with Pat O’Brien and Ronald Reagan). The football team still has a tremendous following, and NBC has a contract to show all their games on their streaming service.

This love of Notre Dame football is the basis of Rudy -- and the foundation of the true story behind the film. It's the story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who wanted to play Notre Dame football more than anything else in the world. This seemed rather unlikely as he was a small guy and a terrible student.

In the film we see Rudy (Sean Astin) in his high school years at a Catholic school in Joliet, Illinois, giving his all on the football field but not so much in the classroom. The priest who taught civics told Rudy the opposite lesson to that taught in almost all sports films. He told Rudy that dreamers don’t accomplish things in this life, but instead, “The secret to happiness is to be thankful for the things the good Lord has bestowed upon us. Not everyone was meant to go to college. You don’t have the grades to go to community college, much less Notre Dame.”

This priest takes a group of students to visit Notre Dame, but refuses to let Rudy on the bus. Since Rudy has no chance of attending the school, he believes Rudy is just coming to sightsee and gawk.

This might not be how priests are supposed to act in sports films, but I’m not going to be too hard on the guy. Our society, particularly the media, often looks down on those who pursue blue-collar jobs though these are honorable and vital jobs. The steel workers in Rudy’s family do important work. The advice the priest gives Rudy is not bad advice. But Rudy has something that keeps him following his dream even after this decent little speech from his high school priest.

Rudy doesn’t go to college out of high school. Instead, he works in a steel mill, but when his friend is killed in an accident at the steel mill, Rudy decides he has to give his dream a real shot. At the funeral, the priest implores God to spare Rudy's friend Peter from everlasting punishment. Rudy decides to think of this world and not just the world beyond, so he takes a bus to North Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame is one of the only football programs in the country that encourages walk-ons for the team.

Rudy arrives at the Notre Dame security post early in the morning, well before anything is open. Rudy says to the security guard, “There must be someone I can talk to.” The guard says, “You can always talk to a priest.” (That kind of line almost guarantees a bonus Steeple in our Movie Churches ratings.)

Rudy finds Father Cavenaugh (Robert Prosky), a priest on the campus. When Rudy tells the priest about being there to follow his dream, the priest thinks Rudy wants to be a priest. He is surprised to learn Rudy wants to be a football player. Rudy tells the priest his story, including his poor academic record.

The priest can’t get Rudy into the university, but he tells Rudy, “I can get you one semester, at a junior college, Holy Cross. If you get the grades there, you can go one more semester. Then you might get a chance to go to Notre Dame.” It’s a small chance, but good for the priest for offering it. Rudy takes full advantage of it.

At Holy Cross, Rudy takes a religious studies class where he talks about the inspiration of Scripture with a very low view of the doctrine of inerrancy. A classmate, D-Bob (Jon Favreau), offers to help Rudy with his studies. He tells Rudy that with the priest teaching that class, “all you need to remember is ‘sitz im leben’ and you’ll be good.”

Rudy does well at Holy Cross but still worries about getting into Notre Dame. He goes to one of the university’s chapels to pray, and Father Cavenaugh finds him there and asks if Rudy is “taking [his] appeal to a higher court.” 

Rudy asks the priest if he can help him get in. The priest responds, “Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and I’m not Him.”

Rudy gets in at Notre Dame -- and gets on the football team. (Otherwise there would obviously not be a movie). We see a couple more priests in the film, one on the sidelines and another praying with the team before a game.

The priests all come off pretty well, as does the school -- which isn't surprising when one considers that this was the first film that Notre Dame permitted to be filmed on campus since Knute Rockne, All American in 1940. Therefore, the priests in this film, for their good work of pursuing higher education and meaningful life, earn our highest rating of Four Steeples.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

This Isn't How We Play the Game: School Sports Month Continues!

The Way Back

The Way Back came out at a very interesting time. Note the date on the poster pictured here. “March 6 Only in theaters.” And yes, that was in 2020. This film opened just shortly before most movie theaters in the United States closed, so it's probably the movie a lot of people saw on their most recent trip to a movie theater.

The night before the full lockdown in Washington State, we went to Rodeo Drive-in in Bremerton. The Way Back was one of our options, but instead, we watched Pixar’s Onward

I did see this film in 2020, on DVD, and last week I checked it out of the library to watch it again.

The Way Back must have been a very personal film for Ben Affleck, though his only hat was that of star. Brad Ingelsby wrote the screenplay and Gavin O’Connor directed, but the story of an alcoholic forced to deal with his problem reflects the actor/writer/director’s public battle with the bottle.

The film is the story of Jack Cunningham, an ironworker who was a high school basketball star. When the basketball coach at Bishop Hayes Roman Catholic High School has a heart attack, the school’s principal, Father Edward Divine (John Aylward), calls Jack and asks him to coach the team. He leaves a message on Jack’s machine (leaving a phone number that doesn’t include "555" and closing his message with, “God bless.”) Jack hesitates but eventually agrees.

Jack's not alone when he works with the team. A math teacher (Al Madrigal as Dan) serves as assistant coach and Father Mark Whelan (Jeremy Radin) is the Team Chaplain. When the chaplain asks Jack how he feels about taking on the job, Jack tells the chaplain, “F***, I’m as nervous as s***.” 

Whelan is quite obviously taken aback.

Jack goes into Gene-Hackman-in-Hoosiers mode and turns a last-place team into a real competitor. He does the old “cutting the cocky star player from the team when he doesn’t follow the rules” routine and works the kids hard, but he also swears like a, well, ironworker. During a game when the team gets sloppy, Cunningham yells at them to “Reach into their shorts to see if they have a pair. Because you’re playing like a bunch of pu****s!” accompanied by a number of F-Bombs.

Chaplain Whelan watches this display aghast. On the bus ride after the game, the chaplain tries to have a heart-to-heart with the coach. Chaplain says, “Jack, I just wanted to have a little chat with you about something that is on my mind. I don’t know if you recall from your days as a student that we have a Code of Conduct at Hayes, and part of that code of conduct includes the use of appropriate language. I know you’re trying to motivate the team but I wonder if there isn’t a different way.”

“So you’d like me to be more Christlike from the bench?” Jack responds.

“Our job isn’t just to win basketball games but also to develop men of integrity and faith. I’d like you to give it some thought,” the priest answers.

Jack tells the priest that there are so many problems in the world he has a hard time believing God cares about the language they use. The priest tells him that as Christians we integrate faith into our lives, so yes, He cares.

Now I understand that in the real world coaches often do use colorful language. My brother had quite the stories about his basketball coach at dear old Piner High. But using F-bombs to insult the officials isn’t going to go over well in any league or level of play. And a religious school should hold its staff to a higher level. If anything, I thought the priest was a bit wimpy in holding Jack accountable. Jack is a lot tougher in holding his players accountable.

But, of course, Jack does have a bigger problem than swearing. He’s still drinking.

It seems quite odd that the rival coaches are aware of Jack’s drinking problem but the priests who hired him weren't. A rival coach mocks Jack for hanging out at the bars. It does seem the school should have done a bit of research and reference checks.

When his assistant coach tells Jack that he found empty beer cans in the coach’s office, Jack first snaps at him for snooping in his office and then comes up with a lame excuse for the cans. But Jack drinks more as the season schedule becomes tougher and family pressures rise. After winning the big game that secures a spot in the playoffs, Jack comes into practice drunk.

Father Divine goes to Jack with the assistant coach and fires Jack. The priest says, “Our decision is final, we have a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol.” 

Jack snarls back at the priest and the assistant coach. Jack goes on another bender and winds up with a DUI in jail. But the team plays on.

The chaplain prays with the team before they play their first playoff game (the first time Bishop Hayes goes to the playoffs since Jack was a player). He prays not for victory, but for the boys to play their best. Before they go out, the team captain drops an F-bomb.

In my job, I work with men in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, so I appreciate employers giving such men a chance. The priests of the school were irresponsible in hiring Jack, but when they recognize their mistake, they deal with it. That’s why  I give Fathers Divine and Whelan a three of four steeple rating.

And on another note, something outside of the film: I read recently that though he previously described himself as an agnostic, Affleck has been attending a Methodist Church with his family. He said, “Faith has served me well in my recovery as an alcoholic.” We at Movie Churches wish Mr. Affleck ongoing success in his recovery.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Taking One for the Team: School Sports Month!

Trouble Along the Way

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation is a book that has been stirring up some waves in the church these days. The book is a critique of views of masculinity in the American Evangelical Church of the 20th and 21st centuries -- all quite interesting stuff -- but it has little to do with today’s film because as it turns out, John Wayne isn’t in an evangelical church but rather in a small Roman Catholic college.

And some of Wayne’s behavior in Trouble Along the Way (1953) is, well, troublesome. I had high hopes for this film because it starred not only Wayne but also the delightful Donna Reed and was directed by Michael Curtiz (The Adventures of Robin Hood, White Christmas, and Casablanca). 

One of the posters for the film has this line, “That All-Man Quiet Man has a new kind of dame to tame!” The aforementioned “dame” is Donna Reed, who comes across a bit like the librarian Mary (if George Bailey had never been born).

She plays Alice Singleton, a social worker investigating football coach Steve Williams (Wayne) for his fitness as a parent. Steve’s wife left Steve and their daughter Carol (Sherry Jackson) when the girl was a baby (she’s 11 when the film opens). Williams is an often-fired football coach who lives in an apartment over a bar. We clearly see that Miss (officer of the court) Singleton's concerns about Williams’ parenting are understandable.

So what does Williams do as Singleton investigates the case? He drunkenly bursts into her office, mansplains to her about why she’s single, and forces her into an embrace and kiss. This is stupid and unacceptable on any number of levels. But since he’s the movie star, this is romantic of course.

Fortunately, this is Movie Churches and we aren’t discussing the Duke in this film. We get to talk about the priest who hires him, Charles Coburn as Father Charles Burke. The priest is the President of St. Anthony’s College. The school is in financial trouble because Burke doesn’t take tuition from over eighty percent of his students. He is very proud of this monetary recklessness.

Not surprisingly, his superiors are looking to close the school because it is $170,000 in debt. Burke tells them, “When I take a vow of poverty, I go all the way.” (Of course, that isn’t how a vow of poverty works. It’s like someone said they were taking a vow of poverty because they were running up debt on a credit card.)

Word gets to the students of the college that the school will soon close, so they gather under his window and sing Auld Lang Syne. The priests who compose the faculty are quite concerned, of course. But he assures them they shouldn’t be afraid because it is only a matter of money, so why be fearful?

Burke asks the priests if they have a Bible and they look about furiously for one. Burke says, “Do you have a Bible in the house or do you have to go to a hotel?” (An admittedly funny line.) Burke then reads Deuteronomy 32:15 but what he reads sounded nothing like the verse when I looked it up. I don’t know what is worse about this Catholic College, that they have so few Bibles or that the President of the school seems ignorant of the Scriptures.

So Burke comes up with a brilliant scheme to save the school. He'll start a football program that will raise money to save the school. This isn’t much worse than fundraising schemes we’ve seen in other church films, such as writing a hit song or betting on horse races. But it’s still a crapshoot and pretty stupid.

Burke hires Williams, a coach with a shady reputation, and gives him a free hand to run the football program. Williams sees an opportunity to make some money and brings some coach friends to come to work with him. He will let the school keep all the gate receipts, but he and his friends will make money selling parking, programs, and concessions.

Of course, they need a winning team to make this work, so Williams recruits players who have played professionally and others who don’t meet the college’s academic standards. But the shady practices aren’t Williams’ alone. Burke puts pressure on the presidents of other Catholic schools such as Notre Dame to play against them. This seems to be not in line with the regular collegiate practices.

It all works for a while, and St. Anthony’s makes money. Williams and his friends make money, too, but his ex-wife notifies the press about Williams’ unscrupulous practices in order to gain custody of their daughter. It becomes quite the scandal in the press.

Burke fires Williams and professes shock, shock! that unethical practices took place in the college’s football program. The only reason he wouldn’t know the problems of the program he began is because he was a fool or he kept himself willingly ignorant. This is not unlike many college presidents in the NCAA. But as Burke says, “You won by going against the very principles we teach!”

After firing Williams, Burke does apologize to him for putting him in a position where the only possible way to succeed was to cheat.

So Burke agrees to resign from his presidency when his higher-ups say they will save the school once it is free of his incompetent leadership. Though John Wayne doesn’t corrupt the evangelical church in this film, he does corrupt college football. But really, Father Burke plays a part in the corrupting as well, earning a sad Movie Churches rating of Two Steeples.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Movie Churches is confused: Is this old or new?

Hail Caesar

I’ve watched the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar a number of times, but this time I watched it after watching some of the Biblical epics satirized in the film, particularly Quo Vadis and The Robe. Among other things, Hail Caesar presents a compelling argument for why such films are so very bland.

The film follows Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a studio fixer whose job is to keep the worst antics of the studio’s stars out of the newspapers and to ensure that the studio’s releases don’t offend the “average American.”

The film opens in a church, with Eddie in the confessional booth. Eddie is a frequent occupant of the confessional, concerned about his smoking habit and white lies to his wife but showing very little concern for the lies and crimes that are a part of his job.

His current task is to make sure the studio’s new Biblical epic, Hail Caesar, is not offensive to religious audiences. As a Catholic, Mannix naturally thinks of bringing in a priest but adds, “Let’s also invite a Rabbi and a Protestant padre of some kind.” Which he does, along with an Orthodox priest.

Mannix addresses the clergymen (and they are all men): “We don’t want to send it to market except in the certainty that it will not offend any reasonable American, regardless of faith or creed. Now that 's where you come in. You’ve read the script; I wanna know if the theological elements of the story are up to snuff.”

The response of the Eastern Orthodox priest (Aramazd Stepanian) is not really to the point, “I thought the chariot scene was fakey. How is he going to jump from one chariot to the other, going full speed?”

Mannix is trying to sell the men on the power of movies to educate and exhort people (“Yes, and entertainment,” he adds with a winning smile) and particularly on this production which he insists will be the best telling ever of the story of Jesus. 

Again, the Orthodox priest answers, “Perhaps, sir, you are forgetting the telling in the Holy Bible.” 

Eddie answers, “You’re quite right, Patriarch. The Bible, of course, is terrific.” (High praise indeed.)

Eventually, Eddie asks, “As for the religious aspect, does the depiction of Jesus Christ cut the mustard?”

The Catholic priest (Robert Pike Daniel) answers, “Well, the nature of Christ is not quite as simple as your photoplay would have it.”

“How so, Father?” Eddie asks.

“It’s not the case, simply, that Christ is God or God Christ…” The priest responds.

“You can say that again,” explodes the rabbi (Robert Picardo), “The Nazarene was not God!”

“He was not not God,” the Orthodox priest interjects.

“He was a man!” the rabbi insists.

“Part God,” adds the Protestant (Allan Havey).

“No, sir!” answers the rabbi.

“Rabbi, all of us have a little bit of God in us, don’t we?” asks Eddie, seeking common ground.

When the Catholic priest insists the important thing is to show that Jesus is the Son of God, the rabbi responds that God doesn’t have children. The priest answers, “God has children.”

The rabbi gets sarcastic, “What? And a dog? A collie, maybe? God doesn’t have children. He’s a bachelor. And very angry.” 

The Catholic priest answers, “No! No! He used to be angry!” 

The rabbi asks, “What? He got over it?”

The Protestant butts in, “You worship the God of another age!” 

“Who has no love!” adds the priest. 

“Not true,” the rabbi responds, “He likes Jews.”

(I must interrupt here to say the theology of the Catholic priest and Protestant minister is going to dock them some Steeples in our clergy rating. Christianity actually teaches that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New are one and the same.)

The Catholic priest makes another shot at explaining Jesus to Eddie saying, “It’s the foundation of our belief that Christ is most properly referred to as the Son of God. It’s the Son of God who takes the sins of the world upon Himself, so that the rest of God’s children, we imperfect beings, through faith, may enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Not a bad little Gospel presentation.)

Eddie asks, “So, God is...split?”

“Yes! And no,” says the Catholic priest.

“There is unity in division,” says the Orthodox Priest.

“And division in unity,” says the Protestant.

“I’m not sure I follow, padre,” says Mannix.

“Young man, you don’t follow for a very simple reason,” the rabbi tells him, “These men are screwballs.”

Now I wouldn’t call these men screwballs, but for Christian clergymen, they seem to have a pretty poor understanding of Christology, or at best aren’t very good at explaining who Jesus is. Orthodox Christianity teaches Jesus was and is fully God and fully Man. None of the Christian clergymen expressed this doctrine.

Perhaps the real problem was the Christian clergymen going along with the idea of a presentation of the Gospel as uncontroversial. According to the Apostle Paul, the Gospel has always been a scandal, a stumbling block for the Jews, and foolishness to the Gentiles.

To tell a story of the Gospel in a way that is uncontroversial neuters the story and makes it rather dull. But Eddie’s concern is making money for the studio and protecting the business. Even though his Catholic faith is important to him, he doesn’t consider staying true to the Gospel as part of his job.

But that is one of the most endearing things about Eddie, his devotion to his work. Throughout the film, he considers leaving the studio and taking a more cushy and financially lucrative job in the aerospace industry, but a talk with his priest (as far as we can tell, not the priest in the focus group) reminds him that his job makes people happy and God wants people to be happy. So he stays at the studio because he believes it is what God has called him to do.

So while the presentation of the clergy at the studio meeting is less than impressive (though quite funny), the care that Eddie receives from his priest keeps the Movie Churches rating for the church and the clergy in the film at a rather respectable Three Steeples.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Movie Churches Goes Yet Older School

The Sign of the Cross (1932)

These last three weeks we at Movie Churches have been looking at films set in Rome during the early days of the Christian church. Based on two different novels and a play, each film has pretty much the same plot. A Roman soldier falls in love with a woman and they are separated by their faiths. The major difference is that in Quo Vadis and The Sign of the Cross, a pagan soldier falls for a Christian woman, whereas in The Robe a Christian Roman soldier falls in love with a pagan woman. All of the films portray these couples facing persecution and martyrdom from Rome.

Today’s film, The Sign of the Cross (1932), was made a couple of decades before Quo Vadis (1951) and The Robe (1953), so did those films from the fifties steal from the film in the thirties? Perhaps, but it's also worth noting that The Sign of the Cross was based on a play written in 1895, while Quo Vadis was based on a novel that came out in 1896. (The Robe was based on a novel that came out in 1942.) 

Portions of the Quo Vadis novel were released earlier than The Sign of the Cross play opened, so it's hard to tell who stole from whom -- if anyone did. What I wonder is why couldn’t anyone come up with a different story?

Like Quo Vadis, The Sign of the Cross is set in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. Both films focus on Nero’s persecution of Christians, who he blames for the burning of the city. In this film, Fredric March plays the Roman prefect Marcus Superbus (as opposed to Taylor’s Roman prefect Marcus Vinicius in Quo Vadis or Burton’s Roman tribune Marcellus Gallio in The Robe. ‘M’ names were popular in the empire.)

March was a great actor. The year before this film came out, he gave a fabulous performance in the lead roles of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this film, his performance is pure ham. On occasion, he emotes straight at the camera.

Mercia, the Christian woman that Marcus falls for, is played by Elissa Landi, and she's a rather bland character. Marcus risks his career to save her. He later walks with her into martyrdom (just as, two decades later, Jean Simmons would follow Richard Burton into martyrdom). I frankly just don’t understand what is so compelling about this woman, especially when the alternative is Empress Poppaea as played by the enchanting Claudette Colbert.

One way this film differs from the two epics from the 1950s is that those films feature famed Biblical characters, Peter and Paul. This film is, sadly, without any apostles. The closest we get is a character named Titus, a friend of the Apostle Paul, who brings a message from Paul to the church in Rome. It isn’t clear whether this Titus is the same Titus who received the epistle included in the New Testament, but he’s a swell guy.

The Sign of the Cross differs from the previous two epics in other ways. It was made in 1932, so it's not surprising that it was black and white rather than color, and it was made before the Hays Code came into effect. It would have been a different film if it had been made two years later.

Some have accused director Cecil B. DeMille of using the trappings of a Biblical epic to insert racy material into the picture --  of portraying much more sin by following up with some redemption. Throughout the film scantily clad men and women are onscreen, but there are two scenes that would never have been made under Hays. In one scene the Empress takes a milk bath. It is evident that Colbert is indeed naked and audiences watched the screen carefully looking for naughty bits. (Colbert does share the milk with a couple of friendly felines who drink from the side of the tub.) She also invites another woman to join her in the giant pool of milk, and we see the other woman's clothes drop to the side of the tub.

The other notorious scene takes place at a party at Marcus’ home. (The party isn’t called an orgy, but that is the implication). Marcus is frustrated that Mercia doesn’t join in the merriment, so he instructs one of his guests, Ancaria -- evidently a former lover -- to do the Dance of the Naked Moon. (The actress who plays Ancaria is played by an actress with the intriguing name of “Joyzelle.”) The dance has a clearly lesbian focus, with Ancaria caressing the clearly horrified Mercia. This scene was cut when the film was re-released in 1938, along with some of the gladiatorial fighting and scenes of naked women being attacked by crocodiles and gorillas. (These scenes wouldn’t be restored until the film’s DVD release over a half-century later.)

Really, though, our concern here is how is the church presented?

The church is enduring persecution. They meet secretly, signaling to each other by making the sign of the cross in the sand (this is not exactly James Bond-level spycraft) whispering that the meeting will be “at the grove, the Cresian Bridge.”

They try to sing quietly so as not to draw attention (which puzzles a child at the service who wants to sing loudly). Titus brings words of comfort from Paul, but he claims not to be a teacher himself. 

Unbeknownst to the worshipers, the Romans have learned where they are meeting and prepare an attack as the service goes on. (They learned the location by torturing Mercia’s foster brother, Stephan.)

The Romans attack the worshiping Christians with bows and arrows in a rather spectacular scene. Later,  DeMille presents the slaughter of the Christians in the Coliseum as a sporting event, with spectators complaining about their seats.* 

Though many of them seem reluctant or afraid, the Christians all choose to be obedient to Christ and follow Him, even though this leads to their deaths. Mercia is even given a chance to have her life spared if she will deny Christ, and she refuses. So though the Christians are a rather dull bunch, their faithfulness means they earn our highest rating of four steeples.

*A man and woman making their way to their seats have this interchange:
    Wife: “We can’t see anything from this high.” 
    Husband: “Well, the gallery seats were good enough before we were married.” 
    Wife: “We were interested in each other then.”

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Movie Churches Goes Really, REALLY Old School: Quo Vadis

Quo Vadis

Along with the box office and Academy Awards love when the blockbuster Titanic came out, some complained that the film focussed on the love story of pauper Jack and pampered Rose while 1,500 lives were lost in the background. Perhaps James Cameron had Quo Vadis in mind as he wrote the script. While the 1951 epic is ostensibly about the burning of Rome and the persecution of the early Church, it's really about the love between Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor), a Roman military commander, and Lygia (Deborah Kerr), a Christian captive, daughter of a foreign ruler.

For me, Titanic holds up well, even if the romance is a tad sappy. The replication of the ship's disastrous sinking is spectacular. 

Perhaps people back in the early 1950s found Rome's burning in the film breathtaking, but I found the effects to be underwhelming -- unlike the burning of Atlanta sequence in1939’s Gone With the Wind which still has quite an impact. The lions menacing the Christians in the arena is nearly comical because of the distance kept between the participants.

Mervyn LeRoy was a good director with actors, and he made classics such as Little Caesar and Mister Roberts. Though LeRoy gets at least two wonderful performances (from Peter Ustinov as Nero and Leo Genn as the emperor’s chief counselor, Petronius), Cameron is the master of spectacle as Titanic (and even intellectually empty films such as Avatar) makes clear. Sure, some very good matte paintings show gorgeous vistas and amazing crowd scenes in Quo Vadis, but the film's more than a bit of a slog at nearly three hours long.

Fortunately, here at Movie Churches, we're not here to judge films, but rather the clergy and churches in films, and this film features the early Church in Rome along with some rather notable clergy: the Apostles Peter and Paul.

Lygia is the central Christian figure in the film. Though a captured enemy of Rome, the daughter of a barbarian king, she is raised as the foster daughter of Roman General Aulus Plautius (Felix Aylmer). Plautius is an actual historical figure, but there is not strong evidence that he was a Christian as he is in this story (though history indicates his wife may have been).  The family is good friends with that famed traveling philosophy teacher, Paul of Tarsus. At least, that’s how Plautius introduces the Apostle to Marcellus. Plautius is afraid to refer to Paul as a Christian evangelist.

In the film, Paul is visiting the family shortly after a visit to Antioch and Corinth, a free traveler. But since this film is said to take place thirty years after Jesus’ death, approximately 63 AD, my understanding is that the historical Paul would be imprisoned -- but perhaps not. On the other hand, tradition does claim that the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down by the Romans following the city fires as depicted in the film.

Really, if you are going to have clergy in a film, it’s hard to do better than these two apostles, but the characters in the film have significantly different personalities from their presentation in the New Testament. 

We first meet the film's Paul at General Plautius' home. While Marcellus and his friend are visiting him,  Plautius introduces Paul as a “teacher of philosophy” rather than as a disciple of Jesus. Paul goes along with this, saying, “I guess you could call me that.” Later when Paul and Plautius discuss this deception, Paul admits sometimes “strategy is necessary.” He says of Marcellus and his friend, “They are Rome. If we could teach them, we could teach the world.” 

This doesn’t sound much like the Paul who wrote, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

When Lygia talks about her interest in Marcellus, Paul doesn’t seem at all concerned about a follower of Jesus marrying a worshiper of Rome's power. This Paul doesn’t seem like the man who wrote, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?” But it ends up being Marcellus who doesn’t want to share his wife with Jesus rather than Christians worried about Lygia sharing her husband with Roman gods.

The most peculiar thing about the film's presentation of Paul is his attitude toward Peter. He's quite the fanboy. Paul excitedly introduces Peter as someone who was in the presence of Jesus. One gets the feeling he never met Peter before, but the Bible represents them as having a long relationship going back to when Paul became a Christian. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul in Galatia describes confronting Peter for compromising the faith. In his writings, Paul repeatedly tells about having seen the resurrected Christ himself, and is firm in his claim to having been called as an apostle. 

But in the film, Peter comes to Rome to serve the Church with Paul. Together, they lead a worship service, and Peter tells the church the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This Peter is a much more mellow preacher than the Peter of Acts 2, who blames the crowd for killing Christ. Paul conducts a baptismal service, pouring water from a cup on people’s heads rather than immersing them. At first, I wondered if the filmmakers worried about offending Baptists in the audience, but then I realized Baptists back in the 1950s weren’t going to the movies. 

Or rather, Baptists in the 1950s weren’t admitting they were going to movies.

For some reason, Peter is much older than Paul in the film. And Paul seems much more stereotypically Jewish than Peter. But both are portrayed as good men who love their Lord Jesus and desire to serve His Church.

And the Church comes off rather well in the film, too. They preach peace and tolerance in opposition to the tyranny of the emperor Nero. They are willing to be burned, thrown to the lions, or crucified rather than deny their Lord Jesus. So while I found the film to be rather a snooze, the church in the film certainly earns the highest Movie Churches rating of Four Steeples.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Movie Churches goes REALLY Old School

The Robe (
As we've mentioned a number of times before, we don’t do many Biblical films here at Movie Churches because films such as the 1956 Ten Commandments or any of the versions of Ben Hur don’t have much in the way of church or clergy. (The 1923 version of The Ten Commandments is another story.) Occasionally, though, Sword and Sandal epics set in early AD have one or both of them. One such film is The Robe.

Based on the Reverend Lloyd Douglas’s best-selling novel of the same name, The Robe tells the story of a Roman military tribune, Marcellus (Richard Burton), who participates in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and goes on to become His follower in the early church. Jesus had worn the article of clothing of the title, but Marcellus won it in a game of chance in the shadow of the Cross. The robe plays a role in the tribune’s journey of faith, as does his Christian slave, Demetrius (Victor Mature), and his childhood sweetheart, Diana (Jean Simmons).

The Rev. Douglas seems to have written the novel as a means of sharing his Lutheran faith. 

Producer Frank Ross saw the property's moneymaking potential before the book was published and bought the rights to the novel. He spent a decade bringing it to the screen, and it made him a very wealthy man. 

Screenwriter Albert Maltz saw in the story an opportunity to present his Marxist vision of revolt. Maltz was one of the famed Hollywood Ten who refused to give names to the House Un-American Activities Committee (his name was removed from the credits and not returned for decades). 

It was directed by Henry Koster, a Jew who fled Germany in 1932, who stressed the story’s theme of tolerance.

But when (and if) the film is remembered these days among cineasts, it is chiefly noted for being the first feature film presented in Cinemascope. In the early 1950s, movie studios were in an existential financial struggle with the upstart television industry. Instead of boxy images, Cinemascope's widescreen provided a new vision for storytelling. In an introduction to the DVD version of the film we watched, Martin Scorsese marvels about the movie screen opening wider and wider on his first viewing of the film.

Of course, what we care about here is the presentation of the church and its leadership. Both come out quite positively in the film.

After Demetrius escapes, Marcellus searches for him in the small town of Cana (yes, the place where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding). He encounters a weaver named Justus (Dean Jagger), a leader of the local church. Justus encourages all the believers to treat the stranger from Rome with generous hospitality. Marcellus attends a worship service that seems to consist entirely of one song about the death and resurrection of Jesus sung by Miriam, a paralytic woman who knew Jesus while He was on earth. 

Marcellus asks the woman why Jesus didn’t heal her and she responds that Jesus healed her spirit, giving her love, joy, and hope in place of bitterness and anger. (Though I certainly believe that God allows people to live with illness, such as Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, I know of no instance in the Gospels where Jesus didn’t perform physical healing when there was an opportunity to do so.)

Marcellus does eventually find Demetrius, who wins the Roman over to the Christian faith. In fact, Marcellus agrees to join his former slave and Simon, the Big Fisherman (yes, that Simon, the Apostle Peter) on a mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus. Marcellus is betrayed by a former companion, and the Romans capture Demetrius. The former slave is imprisoned and tortured. 

When such things happened in the New Testament account, the Church would gather to worship. On occasion, men like Peter and Paul were supernaturally rescued. At times they weren’t. But in this story, Marcellus plans and executes a bold and violent rescue of his friend. It makes for a good action sequence but raises issues of submission to authority and peaceful non-violence that are not mentioned in any way by the men that join Marcellus on his raid.

Though Demetrius is rescued, he is near death. The Apostle Peter (Michael Rennie) is brought in to care for their friend. Peter’s healing powers don’t live up to their full potential as seen in the book of Acts, though. In Acts 3, a lame man is immediately able to jump to his feet upon the word of Peter. In Acts 9, a good woman returns from death to life at Peter's command. The best Peter can do here is make Demetrius not quite so sick and he still needs to be carried about on a stretcher while he heals. (And he does heal. He becomes well enough to star in a sequel to this film the very next year, Demetrius and the Gladiators.)

The example of love, compassion, tolerance, and humility shown by the community of believers changes not just Marcellus's heart, but also his beloved Diane. While assisting Demetrius to escape from Roman authorities, Marcellus turns himself in to buy time for his friend. At his trial before the Emperor, Caligula (Jay Robinson), the tribune claims that he never flagged in his loyalty to Rome (though he did just break a Roman prisoner free) but he also will never deny Christ. He is sentenced to death. And Diana asks to go with him to death. (Though I wasn’t really sure whether this was due to love for the teachings of Jesus or for her man.)

Though The Robe won only two of the five Oscars it was nominated for (wins for Costumes and Art & Set Direction but not for Best Picture, Actor, or Cinematography) but I’m sure the film's makers would be thrilled to know that the Church and its Leaders earned the highest Movie Church rating of Four Steeples.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

"Classic" Christian Films Face the Giants

Facing the Giants
It should probably be stipulated that this month's "classic" Christian films aren’t necessarily, well, good, but all of these films have a unique place in the growth of the Christian film industry. 

Facing the Giants is the second film from the Kendrick brothers, Alex and Stephen, after their debut film, Flywheel. This second film broke through commercially, bringing in ten million dollars on a million-dollar budget. After Facing the Giants, the brothers went on to make several financially successful films. In 2008, the Kendrick brothers made a film about marriage called Fireproof on a budget of half a million that went on to earn 33 million dollars.

Facing the Giants is the story of Grant Taylor (Alex Kendrick), the football coach at Shiloh Christian Academy. As the film opens, Coach Taylor’s Eagles lose the final game of their season to end a losing record. He is struggling financially, and we learn that he and his wife, Brooke (Shannen Fields), have been unable to have children (though they’ve been attempting to do so for four years.)

film flashes forward to the first day of school the next year. Oddly, the first day of school at Shiloh Christian Academy seems also to be the first day of football practice. At most every school I know, football programs begin weeks before the school year starts. And that same week they begin school and practice, they have their first game. The Eagles go on to lose their first three games. Coach Taylor’s job seems to be in danger.

But then Coach Taylor goes to the woods behind his house and begins to pray. And things begin to turn around. There is a revival at his high school, beginning in the Bible class. Students are praying all over the school property. And at practices, Coach begins to challenge his players to play not just for the win, but for God. This turns the kids around, and they start to win games.

Now it seems like in some conferences, three losses might already know you out of contention to win the division. Not necessarily, but it could. Instead the Eagles begin to win every game. And then every playoff game. And soon they are on the way to the state championship.

But that’s not the only thing that turns around for the coach. Because he’s praying, apparently, he is given an increase in salary. And he is given a free, spanking new truck. (The father of one of his players is so thrilled that the coach told him to respect his father, the father gives him a truck.) I would worry greatly if someone gave me a gift like that with no explanation. If for the tax liability alone.

Best of all, his wife goes to the doctor’s office and gets good news (eventually.) This is one of the most unprofessional doctor’s offices I’ve ever seen. The coach’s wife goes in the office and one of the nurse’s announces loudly to the other, “It’s Coach Taylor’s wife! I sure hope she’s pregnant this time!” And do you know what? She is!

That is the way things go in the world of Facing the Giants. Though there are problems for these Christians, everything eventually goes their way. God must want everyone to win the big game. (But what if there are Christians playing against them? It can’t be.) And God must want every Christian to be financially successful. And no Christian could possibly be impotent.

Now there are two big problems with this type of storytelling. It builds false hope that all will eventually go well in life if you have enough faith. But the Christian life often doesn’t go swell. The Apostle Paul was beaten, arrested, stoned, shipwrecked, and eventually beheaded. A far cry from winning the state football championship. (And you might recall how Jesus’ ministry ended. When the people brought Him before Pontius Pilate, He didn’t get a pay raise.)

The second problem is dramatic. To have everything go the way of the protagonist is not very interesting. Even in sports movies. Rocky is one of the greatest sports movies ever made because the hero doesn’t win in the end. But he gives his all.

Shiloh Chistian Academy is a small school with so-so players. God could miraculously take them to the state championship, but why? It seems a rather pointless miracle.

But we have bigger problems here at Movie Churches. Because though there are plenty of Christian characters in the film, there isn’t a church in the story or any clergy. (Fireproof at least had Alex Kendrick as a minister that leads the main couple in a renewal of their marriage vows at the end of the film.) So it would seem we don’t have anything to write about. Fortunately, a church shows up in the credits. Because the film is produced by Sherwood Pictures. And Sherwood Pictures isn’t an ordinary production company but a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.

So it is rather cool that a church has a film production company. It’s just too bad the Prosperity Gospel in the film is not very solid theologically. On the other hand, the gospel is presented in the film, so we’re giving Sherwood Baptist Church, who provided money and many extras for the film a Movie Churches rating of Three Steeples.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Recently in a Theater

Recently, Movie Churches got to see this year’s Best Picture winner in a theater, and if you're thinking that film was Nomadland, you would be wrong. Nomadland merely won the Best Picture Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We're talking about the winner of the Drive In Academy's Best Picture award -- the coveted Hubbie -- presented by the nation’s preeminent drive-in reviewer, Joe Bob Briggs.

This year's Best Picture Hubbie (engraved on a genuine Chevy hubcap) was presented at the First Annual Joe Bob’s Drive-In Jamboree at the Mahoning Drive-In in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, and it was writer/director Jeff Wedding's second feature film, Tennessee Gothic. Based on a short story by Ray Russell, this certainly is a unique film.

Tennessee Gothic is the strange tale of a farmer (Victor Hollysworth) and his grown son, Caleb (William Ryan Watson). They find Sylvia apparently assaulted and abandoned -- near death -- and take her into their home. As she recovers from her injuries, she expresses her gratitude by taking on cooking and other chores, including farm work. Before long, she shows her gratitude to Caleb in more sensual ways, with a literal roll in the hay.

Most disturbingly, she then takes Paw, Caleb’s father, as her lover as well.

Actually, this might not be the most disturbing element of the film to us here at Movie Churches, because the Reverend Simms (Wynn Reichert) comes to the farm, concerned about the, shall we say, moral climate. He is concerned that Sylvia is underage and that it's not proper for her to be staying in the home of a widower and his young adult son. When he first visits the farm, the Reverend tells Paw it would be best if Sylvia went to live in a Home for Young Women.

But before any action is taken, the Reverend agrees to meet with Sylvia privately. She tells the Reverend she would like to stay on the farm. And she uses everything in her power to make her point -- including her sexual power. (As you might have guessed already, there are a number of graphic, sometimes humorous, sex scenes in the film.)

The Reverend agrees to allow Sylvia to stay on the farm if the Reverend could come back every Friday to provide “spiritual counseling” for the young woman. The form of this counseling ensures that our Movie Churches rating for the Reverend is our lowest, One Steeple. 

It should be noted that he's married, and the dinner at the farm with Sylvia, Paw, Caleb, the Reverend Simms, and Mrs. Simms (Christine Poythress) is beyond awkward. From this scene on, it becomes obvious that while the men in the film deal with most matters rather ineffectively, it takes a showdown between the women to bring resolution to the film.

So look for the film in a drive-in near you. But you’ll be more likely to find it on Blu-Ray or streaming. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Classic Christian Films Get Scary

Image of the Beast

Hollywood has had many successful film franchises, from the Universal Monster films to the Hope and Crosby Road films to the Bond films to the Star Wars franchise to the Fast and the Furious movies….There are lots. But Christian film franchises? The Thief in the Night series of four End Times films is one of the first. 

Since then we’ve had Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind trilogy (there have been other non-Cameron Left Behind films, too, such as the Nicolas Cage remake). More recently, there's been the God’s Not Dead trilogy and quite a number of films in the Pastor Jones film series (directed by and starring Jean-Claude La Marre.)

But that early series began with 1972’s A Thief in the Night, followed by 1978’s A Distant Thunder, followed by this week’s film, Image of the Beast, the third in the quartet of films. All of the films are the work of writers Donald W. Thompson and Russell S. Doughten Jr. (and all are directed by Thompson). All of the films take place in the End Times of a Dispensational worldview. Though we are supposed to focus on clergy and churches here, it seems worthwhile to detour into eschatological theology.

Through the centuries people have developed a variety of interpretations of the Bible passages that discuss the last days of planet Earth. Those Scriptures primarily include the books of Daniel, First and Second Thessalonians, Revelation, and various teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. These passages have been discussed and debated endlessly.  

For instance, Revelation 20: 1 - 6 talks about a thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on Earth. Premillennialists believe this reign will take place after Jesus’ Second Coming. Postmillennialists believe the reign takes place before the Second Coming. Amillennialists believe the reign is symbolic.

Is there anyone still reading? If so, thank you very much.

In the 1800s a man named John Nelson Darby introduced a new theological system known as Dispensationalism, which neatly divides all of history into different “dispensations” or sections. He was the first to tidily divide the Last Days into discrete little sections. He wrote that we are now living in the “Church Age,” and the next dispensation, the Seven Year Tribulation, would occur after the Rapture of the Saints (when all Christians would be taken into Heaven when Jesus meets us halfway without coming down to Earth). At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus would return and begin his thousand-year reign on Earth. And after that comes the Final Judgement and then eternities in Heaven or Hell.

The Thief in the Night films (like the Left Behind series), treats the Dispensational System as, well, Gospel. This is made clear in the opening scroll of Image of the Beast: “The book of Revelation reveals a time to come, of great tribulation. A time of such great catastrophe, that no film could portray its reality.” (Especially on this budget). “It is the belief of many Bible scholars that the facts presented in this film story could become a reality in your lifetime.” (I love the use of the word “facts” to describe events in a fictional film. And arguably many more Bible scholars would say things won’t happen in the way they are presented in this film.) “After watching this film, we hope you will take seriously what God says in His word about these prophecies, and turn to Jesus Christ -- and avoid the events you are about to experience in this motion picture.”

So what are the "events you are about to experience"? This film opens the way the previous film, A Distant Thunder ends, with the heroine of the first two films, Patty Myers (Patty Dunning), looking up at the blade of a guillotine. In the world of these films, those who won’t take the Mark of the Beast (a tattoo on the forehead or hand) are doomed to execution by the government. Patty wouldn’t become a Christian prior to the Rapture and didn’t in Tribulation either. And so Patty, facing the blade, calls out, “I’ll take the mark! Don’t kill me!” Sadly, at that moment a great earthquake makes the blade comes down and slices off Patty’s head.

Patty’s death might be frustrating for people who cheered for her in the first two films, but it makes sense with the theology expressed at one point in the film: those who refused to become Christians prior to the Rapture can’t become Christians during the Tribulation. Someone says that Paul wrote this in First Thessalonians and I have no idea what they're talking about.

So in Image of the Beast, we follow new folks: Leslie (Wenda Shereos), Kathy (Susan Plumb) and her young son, Billy (Ben Sampson), and David Michaels (William Wellman Jr.) who is trying to wage a civil war against the government. I suppose none of these people had the Gospel clearly presented to them before the Rapture because they all seem to have a possibility of salvation. In fact, early in the film, Leslie trusts in Jesus as her Lord and Savior, but during an escape attempt from government forces is paralyzed from the waist down. She puzzles over why God keeps her alive.

Toward the end of the film, we learn why Leslie is kept alive. She is able to present the Gospel to young Billy using the Wordless Book. (This is a book composed of different color pages which each represent the aspects of the Gospel. If you went to Vacation Bible School in the seventies or eighties, you probably know the Wordless Book.) Having become Christians, Leslie and Billy are able to face the guillotine without fear.

I was more puzzled by the salvific situations of Kathy and David. Had they received a clear presentation of the Gospel before the Rapture? If they had watched one of those Worldwide Films where Billy Graham clearly presented the Gospel at the end of the film, were they done for? If they had stumbled on a Chick comic tract pre-trumpet call, were they doomed?

Even more puzzling is the fate of the Reverend Matthew Turner (played again by writer/executive producer Doughton). In these first three films, he plays a pastor who taught falsely prior to the Rapture, but then becomes the go-to source for expositional explanation of the Dispensational Chart of what is happening in the End Times. In this film, he lives in a cabin in the woods and feeds Leslie, Kathy, Billy, and David with produce from his little farm. Turner seems to now be teaching the truth about Jesus and exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit, but can he truly be a Christian if he didn’t accept Christ prior to the Rapture? The film never really answers the puzzling question.

We do have a church in the film. The World Church of the film collaborates with the government, corporations, and Brother Christopher (who the film presents as the Antichrist). Kathy and David attend a service in a local congregation of the World Church, and it really does seem more like a stockholders' meeting for the One World Government rather than a time of worship.

Reverend Turner explains, by pointing to his End TImes Wall Chart, that the World Church is the Whore of Babylon described in Revelation 17. Since I’m puzzled by the actual motives and stance of Rev. Turner (perhaps things will be clearer in the fourth film of the series, The Prodigal Planet), I’m just going to give our lowest rating, One Steeple, to the World Church of the film (a church being pro-Satan and anti-God is not good in the Movie Churches book.)

Friday, July 16, 2021

It's Dead in Church!

Back when I was a youth pastor, I once organized a zombie night for the high school youth group. A woman, not part of the church or (as far as I know)  connected to the youth in any way, sent me an email. She had heard about the event and wanted to let me know I was exposing the youths to great evil and imperiling souls. 

Here I thought I was teaching the kids some important spiritual truths.

This incident came to mind as Mindy and I were sightseeing in Pennsylvania recently. Early in the morning, we went to Evans City to see their cemetery, the one used in the opening scenes of the 1968 horror classic, Night of the Living Dead. The film opens with a brother and sister, Barb and Johnny, visiting their father’s grave. Their dialog is all that brings the film into the realm of Movie Churches.

Barbara is praying when her brother says, “Hey, come on, Barb. Church was this morning… I mean, prayin’s for church."

She responds, “I haven’t seen you in church lately.” 

He answers back, “Well, there’s not much sense in my going to church.” Though zombies have yet to make an appearance in the film, Johnny is foreshadowing the possibility that judgment is inevitable and it is too late for any redemption the church might have to offer him.

These themes are made more explicit in the 30th-anniversary commemorative edition of the film that had additional scenes, including some with the Reverend John Hicks, a clergyman who warns, “This is like the flood that happened during Noah’s time or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah! We are being punished for our sins! The dead are rising, and Judgment Day is upon us!” It appears in the film that the Rev. Hicks and other ministers didn’t do enough for the Church to bring people to repentance, possibly, along with other possibilities like chemical warfare and a virus in space, causing the rise of deadly cannibalistic zombies.

The themes of spiritual emptiness and spiritual needs return in the first sequel to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead.  In that film, a small group of survivors from zombie attacks take refuge in a shopping mall (specifically, the Monroeville Mall, which Mindy and I were also able to visit, though the museum was closed). Zombies flock to the mall (though they are initially locked out) and one of the survivors, Francine, says, “What are they doing? Why do they come here?” 

Stephen, another survivor of the zombie attacks, responds, “Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”

This reference to the mall as an important place in the former lives of zombies not so subtly satirizes the materialism that dominated many lives, leaving little room for the spiritual. (There is no church in the Monroeville Mall; churches in storefront spaces wasn’t a thing back in 1978 when the film was made except in some very large cities downtown areas. It's more common in suburbs now.)

Though there isn’t much church or clergy in either film, the films’ director and co-writer, George Romero had some interesting church connections in his life. Romero wrote and directed the 1973 film, The Amusement Park, for the Lutheran Society, condemning our society's abuse of the elderly. But apparently, the organization found the film too bizarre and grim and wouldn’t release it. In 2018, a print of the film was discovered, the film was restored, and this year it was released on Shudder, the horror streaming service.

Romero also played a role in saving a church. In 2011, Romero made a contribution of $50,000 to repairs for the chapel of the Evans City Cemetery, spearheading the funding raising drive. Along with the donation, he wrote a letter to the city thanking them for their contribution to making the film that made his career. The chapel doors were locked the day we visited, but through the front windows, we could see enough to know that the drive was successful.

Still, I think the greatest contribution of the Dead films is the way they bring a spiritual truth to life. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you followed the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I can't read, “You were dead,” “gratifying the cravings of our flesh,” and “we were dead” without thinking of Romero’s shambling zombies. So that was the scripture passage I sent to the concerned emailer, I never heard from her again.