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Archive for the ‘Holy Scriptures’ Category

Though I enjoy watching new movies, I love to watch certain movies again and again, depending on the calendar.

In the fall I imagine I am sitting in Notre Dame Stadium, chanting with the crowd “Rudy, Rudy.” At Christmas I am shopping in Bedford Falls and discussing my wonderful life with George Bailey. As spring approaches, I am helping Ray Kinsella plow up his corn and build his field of dreams.

The Passion of the ChristI look forward to these films and the happy mood they put me in. However, every Lent I make a concerted effort to watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Unlike the other films, this one puts me in a somber, reflective mood that’s perfect as I prepare for Holy Week.

It helps that Mel Gibson and his production team took great measures to create a realistic portrayal of Roman-occupied Jerusalem and the dramatic events during that first Holy Week.

Artistic inspiration
When you watch Gibson’s film, it looks like you have stepped into a painting by Caravaggio, an Italian painter during the Baroque period. Like the painter, the filmmakers used multiple lighting schemes, such as the shades of blue in Gethsemane or shades of gold in the Temple, to create specific moods or “emotional realities” throughout the film. The use of slow motion techniques adds to these moods.

To stage the dramatic last scene of the crucifixion sequence, Gibson used the painting “The Pieta” by French artist William Bouguereau for inspiration. After Jesus is taken down from the cross, Mary holds the crucified Christ. The painting and the final scene show Mary, not looking at Jesus, but straight at us with a far-away look in her eyes. She is strong; she does not break down like other women, but the pain is there. “Both the painting and this scene have the same essence, the same look in Mary’s eyes, sort of a pleading grief, full of pain,” says Gibson in the DVD extras.

Languages and subtitles
The film’s dialogue was recorded in two of the languages spoken at that time: Aramaic and Latin, along with English subtitles. “Using Aramaic and Latin brings people backward in time” says Rev. William J. Fulco, a Jesuit language scholar who served as the film’s translator. “We are like flies on the wall to the Jesus event.”

The filmmakers also used the languages to artistically convey a depth to Jesus’ personality and his conviction to complete his task. When Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate for the first time, Pilate addresses him in Aramaic. As a good administrator stationed in Jerusalem for eleven years, Pilate would have known the local dialect. Pilate asks him in Aramaic “Are you the King of the Jews?” However, Jesus answers Pilate in Latin. The filmmakers wanted to show that Jesus knew what Pilate was doing and that he was trying to beat Pilate at his own game.

Storytelling
Throughout the story arc that starts in Gethsemane and ends on Calvary, there are short flashbacks to earlier times in Jesus’ life. When Pilate is washing his hands, Jesus recalls the day before when he washed his hands before the Last Supper and broke bread with his disciples. As Jesus nears the large hill of Calvary, he remembers standing on a hill, teaching the people to “love your enemies” and to pray for them.

One of the most poignant moments is when Jesus carries the cross and falls for the second time. His mother Mary runs to him, just as she did many years ago when a young Jesus tripped and fell. “I’m here,” she tells him. Jesus, like all children, confides in his mother. Taking her face in his hand, he utters a line from the Book of Revelation: “See, mother, I make all things new.”

Special effects
The filmmakers used special makeup and visual effects to realistically depict the wounds Jesus received during the scourging and the crucifixion. Makeup sessions for Jim Caviezel (who portrayed Jesus) lasted anywhere between three to eight hours. During this time, the makeup artists applied large sheets of rubber prosthetic wounds all over his body. Then in post production work, computer artists applied “digital skin” patches that covered up the wounds. As a Roman guard swung a cane or a digital whip and appeared to hit Jesus, the skin patch was digitally wiped away, revealing the artificial wounds underneath.

“One of the biggest struggles was trying to make the make the makeup as real as possible and at the same time retain a human element, something the audience could connect to,” says Christien Tinsley, one of the makeup artists.

Whenever I watch The Passion of the Christ, I feel shock, despair, embarrassment and amazement. The film helps me understand, ever so slightly, how terrible the crucifixion must have been for our Lord.

Since he endured this suffering for me, the least I can do every Lenten season is watch the film, try to understand what he went through, and then dedicate my life to be more like him. That is my reel life journey.

It can be yours, too.

CF


Originally published in the March 19, 2010 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2010 Christopher Fenoglio

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Changes are everywhere. The New Year approaches. Soon we will change our calendars to 2009.

Historic changes are underway in Washington, DC as Barack Obama prepares for his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States.

Changes in jobs, retirement funds and consumer confidence levels happen daily across America as unemployment rises.

How do we deal with changes in our lives? Do we view changes as opportunities in which to excel or tragedies in which to wallow in doubt and fear? To whom should we turn for comfort and guidance?

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. (John F. Kennedy)

harry-potter-5-posterThere’s a moment near the end of the fourth film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry, Hermione and Ron are talking about Lord Voldemort, who has taken shape again to terrify the wizardry world and the students at Hogwarts.

“This is all going to change, isn’t it?” asks Hermione.

Harry, who is the object of Voldemort’s hatred, courageously answers “Yes” with a certainty that is far wiser than his years. He and his friends realize that their world will be different in the future, that there will be hardships to bear and battles to fight.

But who will fight the dark forces in their world? Should they follow the suggestions of the elders at the beginning of the fifth film (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and just stay out of the way? No, says Harry, if Voldemort is gathering an army of Death Eaters to change the world as they know it, then he and his friends want to fight. He teaches his friends defenses against the Dark Arts and they succeed in helping the elders win the first battle.

They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. (Andy Warhol).

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Faramir is presented with a great opportunity to profit from the changing fortunes of war. The second son of Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor, Faramir grew up in the shadow of his older brother Boromir, who was favored by his father.

One day while patrolling the woods of Ithilien, he captures the hobbits Frodo and Sam, who are on their way to Mordor to destroy the One Ring of Sauron.

All Faramir has to do is reach out and take the powerful ring, and he can win the favor of his father. “A chance for Faramir to prove his worth,” he mutters to himself. This acquisition would change the war for Gondor and garner considerable wealth and power for Faramir.

In the end, however, he does not succumb to the ambitions that destroyed his brother. Despite the attraction to profit from the changes to his own world, he finds the strength to remain true to himself, setting Frodo free to continue his quest.

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

For the past couple of months, I changed my regular weekend schedule to sing during Advent with the Chancery Choir of Glen Leven Presbyterian Church on Franklin Road. While the rehearsals and services have added more miles to the Mercury, the time spent has been very rewarding, for a couple reasons.

First, it reminded me of my teen years when I went to Mass on Sunday mornings and then sang in the First Baptist Youth Choir on Sunday nights with my high school girlfriend. Worshipping with friends at other Christian churches is usually a step outside my comfort zone. Yet these special events help me realize that the similarities of our Christian faiths greatly outnumber the differences.

Secondly, I was introduced to an inspired homilist, Dr. Mark Bryan, the pastor of Glen Leven Presbyterian Church. Each week he delivered a fresh look at Holy Scripture and its place in our lives.

Recently he was speaking about the prophecies of Isaiah and their fulfillment in the birth of Jesus the Christ. Even though our lives are like the grasses of the fields (Is 40, 6-9), soon to wither and die, there is comfort to be found.

“Though the world is changing, though we are constantly in transition, though our lives are short and fleeting, there is one constant and stable thing…God’s Word,” said Dr. Bryan. “God’s promise of faithfulness to us, God’s covenant with us is constant, though all of life and all of the world is changing around us.”

May God’s Word be a constant comfort and companion to you and your family as we step forward into the New Year.

CF

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First published in the December 28, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio.

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Based upon the Gospel for February 3, 2008 Matthew 5:1-12a

The journeys continue in the new year, looking for Light in all the right places: the quiet corners of prayer, next Sunday’s readings, and the faces of our children.

Yet inspiration is also found onscreen in celluloid characters who embody the values we long for, search for, try to emulate. Fictional or factual, they strike a chord that resonates in our lives. Oh, that I could be more like them.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land – like Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hobbits by nature are quiet, peace loving beings. They shy away from Big People like us, preferring instead to till the earth, enjoy a hearty meal and savor a cold pint. They usually avoid adventures, yet are surprisingly resilient when adventure is thrust upon them.

FrodoWhile mortal men argue over power and who should be in charge, it’s the meek hobbit who speaks up and volunteers for the most dangerous task of all. He willingly accepts the burden of bearing the great One Ring, for he knows that he alone must destroy the evil at hand.

And while there are friends and wise counsel to guide him on his journey, he alone must decide what to do with the time that is given to him. He does not shy away from the new and difficult, though he prefers the familiar and the comfortable. His response to this treacherous task is simply “What must I do?”

When his deeds are over and evil is vanquished, he sets his affairs in order and says goodbye. To leave his middle-earth, he boards the ship that sails to the horizon. “The grey rain-curtain of this world will roll back to see…white shores, and beyond a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

An inheritance worth living for.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God – like Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump. While his intellect may be below average, his instincts are deeply rooted love.

GumpHe loves his mama, who raised him to believe that no one was any better than anyone else. We are all God’s children, loved by the Father, saved by the Son, inspired by the Spirit. We each have our unique talents and tastes, which we use when we open the box of chocolates called life.

He loves his wife, navigating the twists and turns of their separate roads until they merge into one loving freeway. Together they produce a family that will live on in future generations.

At times Forrest is floating like a feather on the wind, intersecting with the lives of the famous and the faithful. Other times he looks back and believes he was destined to follow the path he’s on, though he doesn’t know where it is going.

Yet on his journey, he takes time to recognize God in his surroundings. “In the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began.”

A vision of God worth living for.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – like Anakin Skywalker at the end of Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi.

AnakinHis life started with so much promise. He was the promised one, heralded to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

He had a special sense of the world around him and learned that his gifts solved big problems. He focused his youthful ambition first on helping people, even if it meant leaving his mother and his home. He fought through his fear of separation and joined the righteous warriors.

But as he grew older, he allowed Fear to creep back into his life, along with its cousins Doubt, Greed and Anger. Under the influence of a powerful dark force, he turned away from the righteous path. He encased his humanity in a machine and became an instrument of evil.

Yet his humanity and sense of righteousness remained inside, dormant until kindled by the love of his own son. In his son, he saw the look of steadfast faith and unconditional love.

At journey’s end, when faced with the finality of evil’s triumph, Anakin regained his humanity and destroyed the evil, even though it proved fatal to him. But with his sacrifice, he fulfilled his destiny, succeeding to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

A righteous cause worth dying for.

So now there are no more auditions, you’ve got the part. You are the lead actor in a film that is still in development. While it is sometimes tempting to go on strike, you have to keep writing, keep living, keep creating the next scene in your film.

There are times when you are adapting someone else’s screenplay to fit into your own life, but the best screenplays are true originals.

Produced by family and directed by God, it’s up to you to create a film that resonates in the lives of others.

Quiet on the set. Action!

CF

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First published in the January 25, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio

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A Profile of Faith

In between long drags of his cigarette, Mel Gibson asked Jim Caviezel again if he wanted to portray Jesus in Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, as Hollywood has a history of typecasting actors after high-profile roles.

“Absolutely,” Caviezel replied. While he joked with Gibson that he was perfect for the role (being 33 years old with the initials of JC), it was Caviezel’s strong faith that led him to the acting profession.

“I have no doubt that God put me in this business. When I was a teenager in a movie theater in my hometown, I felt this huge pain in my chest, like a voice saying, ‘Please get into this business—this is what I need for you to do.’ And I asked, ‘But who am I? I know nothing about acting. I don’t know any actors. I’ve never taken any classes,'” he said in a recent interview.

Besides, Caviezel has been able to find land other roles since The Passion and Frequency. He stars as Kainan in the upcoming Howard McCain directed film Outlander and will work with Ray Liotta and Gerard Depardieu in the film Only in New York.

Back in Nashville last week, Caviezel took part in the second annual “A Light for the City” concert in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Sponsored in part by Thomas Nelson, the concert was the perfect setting for a scene from “The Word of Promise” audio bible, recently released to bookstores by Thomas Nelson.Jim Caviezel visits Nashville

In this 25-hour, 20-CD set, Caviezel leads an all-star cast in a state-of-the-art presentation of the New Testament. Narrated by Michael York, this multi-voiced audio drama features original scored music and movie quality sound effects set to the text of the New King James version of the Bible.

<When you purchase the Word of Promise audio bible, your church can receive 10% of the proceeds. For details about the “Pay it Forward Program,” go to www.thewordofpromise.com.>

The production also includes Academy Award winners Louis Gossett, Jr. as John and Marisa Tomei as Mary Magdalene, along with John Heard as Matthew, Lou Diamond Phillips as Mark, Chris McDonald as Luke, Stacy Keach as Paul, Ernie Hudson as Peter, Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Mary the Mother of God, Richard Dreyfuss voicing quotes from Moses, and Terrence Stamp as the voice of God.

The original music for the audio bible was composed and conducted by Stefano Mainetti, one of the two composers who scored music for Sony’s “Abba Pater,” the album which blended original music with the voice and chants by Pope John Paul II.

For Caviezel, portraying Jesus in The Passion was the most physically demanding role of his career. During the course of the production, he was struck by lightning, felt the sharp barbs of the whip when twice it missed its target, and suffered hypothermia from the intense cold as he hung on the cross.

To pass the time during the tedious filming delays, Caviezel listened to music on headphones. One song in particular, Michael W. Smith’s “Above All,” helped him get through the filming of the crucifixion scenes.

He felt “rejected and alone as all those around me laughed while drinking their hot coffees, oblivious to what was occurring. Jesus must have felt like this—forsaken, rejected, alone, and despised. The song helped me pray in a very deep way—to pray without words, to pray from the heart. The discomfort, the loneliness, the split shoulder, the raw flesh all forced me into the arms of God because I had nowhere else to go for a performance I knew I was unable to create.”

Caviezel has challenged everyone from university students to priests and bishops to resist the desire for comfort, popularity, and timidity. In an interview published in the Catholic Standard & Times, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he challenged leaders to preach the unpopular gospel “in season and out of season.” He called on all Catholics to recommit to prayer, the rosary, fasting, frequenting confession and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“Our whole world is entrenched in sin. There in the quiet of our hearts a woman is calling us, each one of us, back to her Son. Jesus is there for us in the Scriptures. How often do we ignore Him? We must shake off this indifference. Only the faith and the wisdom of the Church can save us, but it requires men and women, warriors ready to risk their good names, even their very lives to stand up for the truth.”

At the closing of his speech at the Nashville concert, Caviezel gave a passionate rendition of Mel Gibson’s battle cry from the Oscar-winning Braveheart. He challenged the audience to fight for the freedom that is real—freedom from weakness and from the slavery of sin.

“You, my friends, by God, you must fight with the Holy Spirit as your shield and with Christ as your sword. May you fight with St. Michael and all the angels in defending God, in sending Lucifer and his army straight back to hell where they belong!”

CF

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Analysis

While the recent release of The Da Vinci Code has garnered worldwide publicity and the scrutiny of Christian clergy and religious groups, the upcoming film The Omen has so far flown under the radar of this same scrutiny.

Yet like The Da Vinci Code, The Omen uses scriptural references and popular culture images to take viewers on a fictional thrill ride while also distorting the symbols and teachings of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, it uses news clips of real tragedies to gain a familiarity with the audience in order to make more credible the film’s premise that the Apocalypse and the Anti-Christ, as foretold by the Book of Revelations, may be here – today.

But in director John Moore’s vision, who is causing these horrible events: Satan and the arrival of the Anti-Christ or mankind itself?

The film is an updated version of the 1976 horror classic of the same name that starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick and was directed by Richard Donner. The 2006 film stars Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles in the main roles and was directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix). The current remake uses most of the original screenplay written by David Seltzer (TV’s Revelations).

As the story begins, we meet a young diplomat (Schreiber) whose wife (Stiles) is in the hospital delivering their first-born son. However, the father learns from the hospital’s chaplain that his son died in childbirth. In order to spare the mother from the awful truth, after previous unsuccessful pregnancies, perhaps the father will adopt another boy born at the same time, but whose mother died in childbirth.

OmenYears later, as their son Damien grows up in the privileged home of the U.S. Ambassador to England, strange and horrible events start happening. A nanny commits suicide in front of birthday party guests, zoo animals become enraged at the site of Damien, and a mysterious Mrs. Baylock arrives to care for the boy. (In a casting coup, the director enlists Mia Farrow as the new nanny. Her participation is a direct nod to her starring role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the first famous “son of Satan” film).

Meanwhile, the ambassador is visited by a priest who implores him to accept Christ and research the true origins of his son. Aided by a photographer whose photographs foretell horrific events, the ambassador follows the growing warning in his heart and delves deeper into his adopted son’s past.

Convinced by the strange events surrounding Damien (and the “666” birthmark on his scalp, labeled “the mark of the Beast” in Revelations), the ambassador takes steps to end the boy’s life and prevent the maturity of the supposed Anti-Christ on earth.

The majority of the film that deals with the main storyline is a fine, contemporary retelling of the original film. While The Da Vinci Code is a mystery thriller, The Omen is a shock horror film throughout. The director added new dream sequences and rich colors in order to layer psychological terrors onto the horrific events of the film.

The parents, much younger than the stars of the original, are more engaging and thus bring us deeper into their fears and questions about the true nature of their son. Mia Farrow’s nanny adds a creepy, sometimes comedic personality to the film.

To combat the difficulty the director sees in asking “the audience to believe something immediately that’s far fetched, to say the least,” he adds controversial new scenes at the film’s beginning and end to herald the possible beginning of Armageddon.

Historical film clips of the World Trade Center burning on 9/11, the fiery remains of the Challenger explosion streaking across the sky, and the destructive waters of the Tsunami in India and the Gulf Coast floods set an ominous tone for the film.

“There has never been a more salient time to remind people that evil is neither a concept nor a theory,” Moore says in the film’s publicity materials. “It has a human face and it empowers itself through human actions. The true nature of evil has never been more apparent.

“In the past four years alone,” Moore continues, “the world has been hit with devastating events – political, natural and man-made. One can’t help but notice a certain momentum.”

Indeed, the connection of these historical and cinematic events utilizes a dispensational view of Christian history that many fundamentalist Christians have adopted. This view purports that man’s relationship with God is a series of historical events that began in the Old Testament and will continue to the actualization of the Kingdom of God as portrayed in the Book of Revelations. The Left Behind series of books is written around this view.

In contrast, the Church teaches us that the foundation for the Kingdom of God was built upon the covenants that God made with all mankind. In addition, the Kingdom of God is here today, the “redemptive presence of God actualized through the power of God’s reconciling Spirit.”

The final events of this world are “grounded in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and are anticipated even now in faith, hope, charity, in the sacraments, and in the Church itself.” (Catholicism by Richard P. McBrien)

Moore ends the film with a troublesome new scene – a dramatic depiction of Pope John Paul II in bed taking his last breath, a crystal goblet of red wine falling down onto his white cassock, the final blood spilling of the film.

During interviews following a preview of the film in New York, I asked Moore why he used actors to portray the death of the pope instead of news footage. Was he trying to inflame emotions and enhance publicity for the film by making some sort of connection between the pope’s death and the Apocalypse?

“It was simply a visual demonstration of the triumph of dark over light, a moviemaking technique,” said the director. “I struggled with it. I had it in and out of the movie a couple times. (In the end) I wanted to portray a loss in the battle, not just a victory, because it makes (the film) feel all the more chilling.”

There were significant technical and scheduling aspects to completing the film, according to Moore. There were only 10 months between the first phone call from Fox Studios to Moore and the release date. One has to wonder if the film would have been made at all if not for the marketing-driven release date of 6/6/06.

Liev Schreiber said that he played the role of Robert Thorn as a lapsed Catholic who was “familiar with those passages of Scripture but maybe felt some reticence that it held some truth.” Schreiber ably carries the audience along for the ride as he portrays Thorn’s emotional journey from incredulity to possibility to acceptance.

In the end, Thorn believes so much that he draws upon his faith and recites the Lord’s Prayer in the climatic scene, dialogue that was not in the original screenplay. “It was an instinct that I had, it wasn’t scripted. But John liked it and we went with it,” said Schreiber.

“It made sense to me because what he was doing was horrible. In order to accomplish it, he had to put his faith into something. If he accepted the premise that the prophecies of Revelations were true, then he also had to accept the premise of The Lord’s Prayer and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness for what he was doing,” recounted Schreiber.

Films like this, according to Schreiber, allow us to “vent our anxieties and our fears” even though it is just a “popcorn thriller.” We are relieved, he says, when we can say at the end that “it’s only a movie.”

CF
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First published in the June 2, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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“Symbols are a language that helps us understand our past.” – Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code

Tell us a bedtime story Dad,” my children would say as I put them to bed, so many years ago.

“Okay,” I would answer, quickly formulating a plot, some interesting characters and a decent conflict. Sometimes I could weave in elements from The Hobbit, Star Wars, or even from my own childhood. Corky, the black Irish setter of my youth, was a favorite character.

The bedtime stories that made the biggest impact were the ones that involved familiar characters in unexpected situations. The more outrageous the tale, the better, as it fired up my children’s imaginations. They would smile and close their eyes while I spoke, drifting off to sleep while enjoying the “wild ride” of the unlikely tale.

I wish “grown ups” would treat The Da Vinci Code the same way.

If you haven’t read the book, Dan Brown’s 2003 best-selling novel describes a murder investigation that turns into a quest to uncover a secret that could “change the course of mankind forever.”

DaVinciA series of clues supposedly evident in famous Da Vinci paintings “The Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” plus other clues found in architectural elements of historical buildings like Westminster Abbey and The Louvre, combine to point to the final resting place of The Holy Grail.

But unlike other depictions of the Holy Grail (most notably Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and even Monty Python and the Holy Grail), this grail is allegorical. In Brown’s novel, the “cup of Christ” is actually Mary Magdalene, whose fictional relationship with Jesus produced a line of descendants that still exists to this day.

Now if you start from the point of view that Brown wrote an engaging novel that blends fictional ideas with historical characters, artifacts and contemporary institutions, you’ll probably like the movie. The trailers for the film show an exciting hunt for mysterious clues that will surely have me on the edge of my seat and my mind racing through the fantastic possibilities.

But if you start from the point of view that Brown has a deep hatred for the Catholic Church and a hidden agenda to destroy the Christian faith and corrupt the uneducated with half-truths and fanciful lies, then you’ll also like the film and probably find what you are looking for.

What’s the correct point of view? According to the author, a self-proclaimed Christian, the controversy surrounding the book and film is beneficial and should inspire “discussion and debate” that will ultimately lead to a more solidly defended faith.

I agree. Instead of calling for boycotts, we should use the film as an opportunity to learn more and teach others about the true meanings behind the symbols of our Church.

When I moved here after spending 14 of 16 years in Catholic schools in predominantly Catholic communities, I felt some pressure among Nashville coworkers and friends to explain my faith.

Religious statues, devotions to Mary and the Saints, and the teaching authority of the Pope and his bishops were all discussed with my Protestant brethren. Did they refuse to try to understand my point of view? I’m not sure. But most of them stayed put on their side, speaking from their fundamental reliance upon the Bible and their own personal convictions that they have been saved by the blood of Christ. Nothing else mattered.

True, the redemptive, saving grace of Christ’s death and resurrection binds all of us Christians into one community, one Body of Christ. It is the cornerstone of our faith and is told through the God-inspired writings of the Bible.

“So why do you worship statues and pray to the saints instead of to Jesus?” I would tell them that we don’t worship statues. The church has a long history of using art to teach and inspire our prayers to God.

Before the 1450s when Johann Gutenberg invented book printing, most ordinary men and women had no formal education. They learned about God at church, listening to the priests tell the stories behind the statues, the intricate stained glass windows, and other man-made art in their churches. Even the churches were built like crosses to remind the faithful of Christ’s sacrifice.

So these symbols, I explained, are visual reminders of God’s glory, the life of Jesus on this earth, and the Christ-like lives of ordinary people whom we remember as the saints. What you see is what you get. There are no hidden meanings or secret codes to discover. All roads lead to the Jesus we know in the Bible.

But leave it to a savvy author like Dan Brown to take these same images and weave a fanciful tale to ignite our imaginations and get us talking. While many people are working hard to refute its storyline, millions more are discussing The Da Vinci Code and thus talking about Jesus and their faith.

Now that’s a “wild ride” worth taking.

CF
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First published in the May 19, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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Enraged after miles of horn blasts, hand gestures and angry yells, the driver steered his Tahoe onto the left shoulder to pass his competitor. The other driver swerved sharply to avoid it, causing a chain reaction. Chalk up another Nashville accident caused by road rage.

Across town, driving home alone after a busy day at the office, I stopped short of the intersection. Two city buses were in lanes one and three, their doors open and blocking the middle lane, their drivers busy chatting to each other. “Okay, let’s move *#$&^#&$* and get going,” I yelled.

The expletives hung in the air of my sealed, air-conditioned car, echoing in my ears. “Wow,” I thought, “where did that come from?”

Where does our anger come from? We’ve been taught that anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, yet Jesus was justified for getting angry at the salesmen in the Temple. When is anger an acceptable emotion to protect yourself or a loved one? Why is the line between acceptable anger and rage so gray?

CrashCrash, the 2005 Academy award-winning Best Picture, explores the issues of anger, racial prejudice, rage, paranoia and compassion in an intricate film presentation (with heavy doses of earthy street language). Starring an ensemble cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and others, the film chronicles 36 hours in Los Angeles when individual lives from different races, cultures and economic backgrounds become intertwined through a series of related events. Some of the personal collisions are dramatic, some humorous, some tragic; all of them generate a great deal of personal reflection.

We meet two young African-American men on a sidewalk discussing whether their waitress had ignored them over higher-tipping white customers. One has a chip on his shoulder, the other carries at St. Christopher statue in his pocket.

Next we see the upper middle class housewife who instinctively grabs her DA husband’s arm as they pass the two black men. This angers the men, who pull out pistols and highjack their car.

At home, the husband meets with his election campaign staff, trying to spin the story so that he can still attract “the black vote.” His wife worries that the Mexican repairman installing new locks on all their doors will sell the keys to his friends. When she announces loudly to her husband that she wants the locks changed again in the morning, the repairman drops all the new keys on her kitchen counter.

The repairman goes home to find his five-year-old daughter lying under the bed because she heard a gunshot, reminding her of the bullet that came through her window at their old house in the “bad neighborhood.” Her father’s reassuring words help her feel safe and protected.

Across town, driving home from an awards dinner, an African-American TV director and wife are stopped by two LA policemen. The older cop, hardened by years of work in the city, aggressively questions the couple. He then takes advantage of his authority by thoroughly searching the wife for hidden weapons. When her husband does not speak out in protest, she accuses him of catering to the white society so to not risk his career.

The husband later succumbs to the stresses of his work and attacks the two blacks who try to highjack his car. Cornered in a cul-de-sac, there’s a showdown with a policeman he’s met before.

Meanwhile, the locksmith replaces the locks at a grocery store owned by a Persian family. The owner, whose paranoia is evident through his broken English, believes the repairman is trying to cheat him. He ignores the recommendation of a new door.

When the store is later trashed by neighborhood thugs, the owner’s anger motivates himself to seek revenge. He grabs his new gun and parks outside the repairman’s home, waiting for his arrival.

Across town, a black detective visits his mother after worried calls about his younger brother. Prior arrests, juvenile detentions, career ambitions and bouts with drugs cloud the lives of this family. Later, while investigating a crime scene, the detective finds a St. Christopher statue.

Cathy Schulman, co-producer of the film, hopes that viewers will finish the film with lots of questions, such as “Was this film about me? Was this about the person next to me? Was this about the person I don’t even want to know?”

When life is comfortable, it’s easy to be a Christian. We can plan nice things to do for each other and enjoy the outcomes. But when the veneer of our normal life is ripped off during a tragic event or confrontation with another, how do we respond? Do we still treat our neighbors as members of the same body of Christ or do we respond with anger and mistrust?

Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)

So now when I drive home after a long day at work, I take my time, often driving without the radio on, giving myself time to calm down from the stresses of the day. In this frame of mine, I am much more tolerant of other drivers and chatty bus drivers.

The film’s slogan states that “Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.” What can each of us do to soften the blow from these collisions?

CF
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First published in the April 21, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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