The first black big screen hero in the Marvel Avengers franchise to earn his own cinematic origins story, Black Panther is many things—a celebration of African diversity and culture, a grand adventure, a reflection on family dynamics, and about the awakening of its hero to social needs outside himself. It has all the pulses and beats of a hero’s story with echoes of a Messianic tale (loss, betrayal, death, and resurrection, with him extending forgiveness to his attacker and being found by ‘the women’), but at its core is a deeper message about forgiveness of the past and shifting the world toward social betterment, instead of violence. Continue reading A Larger Awakening: The Subtext of Black Panther
MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY JESSICA PRESCOTT
It’s a tricky thing, is it not?
Simply put, faith is the act of believing in that which we cannot see. If we could see God in all his glory, right before our mortal eyes—faith would instantly become a superfluous virtue. A moot point. After all, when we see the sun rise, we don’t stand about debating whether it’s a “real” sun or simply a clever sham. We know beyond a doubt that it’s real. We’ve seen it.
But . . . we cannot see our God. And this uncomfortable fact leaves each and every human being on earth alone to face, in their own way, the following dilemma. Namely: is God real? Or is the concept of an all-knowing, all-loving God just another pleasant fiction; something we humans have fabricated over the centuries as a way of keeping ourselves sane?
I know I, for one, have certainly struggled with this dilemma over the years. It’s a tough one. Deep inside, I feel—I know—that there’s a real God out there. There has to be. I’ve talked to Him, for Pete’s sake. And yet, I still have doubts, every so often . . . doubts that run something like this: “What the heck am I doing, anyway—trusting my heart, my future, my whole life, to a Power that I cannot prove is even real?”
If I could see God, this would be a lot easier, wouldn’t it? But I can’t. For the past year or so, whenever I’m wrestling in my mind with this issue, there’s a certain quote that keeps coming back to me—over and over. I think it means something; something special. (It does to me, anyway.) Here it is: “I know how you think. But I have seen too much. I believe in prayer for the dead. I have seen too much.”
As you might surmise from the reference to “prayer for the dead,” this quote is in the context of a Catholic-Protestant debate. It’s taken from Willa Cather’s masterpiece My Antonia, from the scene in which a Bohemian friend of Antonia Shimerda’s family tries to explain to their Protestant neighbors, the Burdens, why the Shimerdas need a priest for their dead father. But it doesn’t only apply to the Catholic-Protestant divide. This quote, I think, ultimately speaks to the struggle of human faith as a whole. Why, in the end, do we choose to believe in God? More to the point, why do I believe in God?
It’s pretty simple, really, I guess. I believe in God because . . . I have seen too much.
No, I haven’t seen God. And I never will, until I die. But I have seen, over and over and over, so much that tells my soul there truly is a God in this universe—a real, living, all-powerful God. And it’s what I’ve seen that keeps me going; even in the face of repeated attacks on my faith from the outside, and continual doubts from the inside.
I’ve seen men and women who have dedicated their entire lives to God’s service—and who are some of the happiest people I know, in the bargain.
I’ve seen people I love facing death in peace, without fear—and all because of their complete confidence in what awaits them on the other side, in their Father’s house.
I’ve seen the breathtaking, otherworldly joy on a child’s face when he or she receives the Eucharist for the very first time.
I’ve seen friends and family who don’t believe in God, and are yet comforted in times of pain and grief and uncertainty by the mere mention of His name.
I’ve seen awe-inspiring summer storms and the delicate, shimmering rainbows that follow; and I’ve felt the certainty of knowing that the Artist Who created them must be a thousand times more awe-inspiring and beautiful.
More than anything, I’ve seen how God’s love and mercy has changed me, as a person, and continues to change me—every day.
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, I still believe in Almighty God, and I always will, no matter how many doubts assail me; “not . . . because I see [Him], but because by [Him] I see everything else.”
Faith. It’s still a tricky thing. But it’s worthwhile.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Prescott is a former homeschool student and current graduate student, pursuing a master’s degree in American history with a focus on immigration studies. In her (sadly limited) free time, she can usually be found listening to “Hamilton” or Celine Dion or Twenty One Pilots and dreaming up new ideas for historical fiction novels. Which, she hopes, will someday make her famous. Someday…
MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY CHARITY BISHOP
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was like as a child? How he felt about leaving Alexandria, a great city of intellectual learning and trade, for a Judea under Roman occupation? He went from a philosophical environment to crucifixions, and although John tells us in scripture that Jesus did “many things,” enough to fill several books, we know nothing about his childhood until at twelve years old, his parents found him among the rabbis in the temple.
Speculation on the childhood of Christ is so controversial, only former vampire novelist Anne Rice dared to do it, in her first-person novel Christ Out Of Egypt, made into a film last year called The Young Messiah. In both, Christ is seeking the truth of his birth and identity at seven years old, but the subplot involving a Roman Centurion named Severus whom Herod Archelaus commissions to “find and kill this messiah-child,” was written for the screen. Young Jesus resurrects dead birds and boys, heals a relative from a fatal illness, and discovers the truth about his birth and greater purpose, while Severus faces demons from his past… he led the assault that murdered the babies of Bethlehem for “Herod the Great.”
This film aroused some controversy upon release due to its speculative nature; some felt it inappropriate to “imagine” stories centered around a young Messiah, but I find it thoughtful and well-written, based upon in-depth research, with a respectful tone toward Christ and his family. It brings awareness to what it must have been like for Jesus, to encounter his first instances of brutality… to face the horrors of a Roman occupation… and it shows how others interact with him, even as a child; through receptive hearts or resistant ones. Instead of thanking Jesus for resurrecting him after an accident, an Egyptian bully attacks him a second time; a stranger on the road, kind enough to give Jesus a carved wooden camel, turns knowledge of him over to Archelaus; when the Centurion asks why he did it, he confesses it was for money—something even the hardened Severus, child-killer, set upon the trail of slaughtering “yet another boy,” struggles to understand.
In one scene, a man assaults a woman on the road. She’s a slave and her attacker murdered her master and mistress, raped her, and intends to sell her; she kills him in self-defense. Jesus has never seen “domestic” violence before, stricken as he encounters human cruelties unfamiliar to him from a sheltered upbringing in Egypt. He shows her kindness and forgiveness in inviting her to come with them and be part of the family; he gives her the gift of sandals “for when you walk with us,” a symbol of shedding her old life, and walking forward to a new one. The Jews could have stoned her for killing a man, and or for her rape —making her “unclean,” but he looks upon her in love.
It’s not a sin to wonder, theorize, or discuss how Jesus might have come to the knowledge of his birth and purpose, or to ponder what miracles he might have performed that weren’t written down. The film invites us to contemplate these things and more… to consider the life Jesus left behind in returning to Judea; to wonder what his first interaction with Roman soldiers was like; to imagine how he must have felt, witnessing incredible acts of violence and loss; to learn about the zealots and his people’s persecution; and to grow into the rabbi who urged a nation under domination to turn the other cheek, offer forgiveness to their enemies, and “love one another.”
Stories are powerful, which is why Jesus used them so often in his teachings; he told people parables intended to provoke them to think and change their way of thinking. A good story lingers with you longer than anything else because it engages your mind and heart. The stories that urge us to think deeper, contemplate truths beyond the obvious, and make historical or Biblical figures real in respectful ways, broaden our understanding of God. For me, few do that better than The Young Messiah.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and literature, but alas, she must make a living, so she spends her days doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!
MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY CHARITY BISHOP
In the second episode of the BBC’s The Last Kingdom, based on Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling Saxon Stories book series, Alfred the Great turns to his priest, Beocca, and asks whether they ought to spread God’s love to the pagans or kill them. Beocca pauses, considers, and says he believes the pagans must first feel “God’s might” (though violence) before embracing “his love.” Continue reading Brutal Christianity: Alfred the Great
MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY JESSICA SANTULLI
On October 31, 2003, a horrific event happened off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. No, it wasn’t a Halloween prank gone wrong; the occurrence had nothing to do with the ghost- and goblin-filled holiday. Thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton, an up-and-coming professional surfer, was waiting for the next wave with her friend Alana, and Alana’s brother and dad. Suddenly, out of the murky blue water, a shark surface and attacked her. It bit her surfboard, and ripped off Bethany’s right arm. This young, forceful, athletic competitor was now fighting for her life.
You may know the story of Bethany Hamilton. She recovered, and almost every national and local news source covered her unbelievable comeback and success in the professional surfing world. She wrote a memoir in 2004 entitled Soul Surfer and a biopic of the same name hit theaters in 2011. This film has inspired millions of people to never give up and overcome obstacles. However, the driving force behind Bethany’s willingness to share her story is her faith in Jesus Christ.
Bethany’s parents raised her in the Christian faith, and she gave her life to Jesus Christ as a young child. She became more serious about her commitment to serve God in the years before her attack. Just two weeks before that fateful Halloween, Bethany prayed fervently every day with her mom: Lord, use me. She assumed God would use her to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the often dark world of the surfing community. She was ready to serve God with her whole heart.
After her attack, Bethany realized God wanted to use her not just to impact the surfing world, but the entire world. Before she got back on the board, she journeyed to Thailand for a missions trip after a devastating tsunami, helping children overcome their fear of the ocean. This trip took immense faith; Bethany didn’t know if she’d ever surf again. But God was in control. Bethany got back on the board three weeks after the attack, and went on to win surfing competitions, speak around the country, and make sure Jesus Christ received the glory for it all.
Bethany’s story has turned people towards Christianity, myself included. I saw the film Soul Surfer when I was fourteen years old. I wasn’t serious about my Christian faith. I attended church, going through the motions, but wasn’t living out the teachings of Christ. Watching Bethany’s story on-screen changed my life. I needed to find out more about this incredible girl. Her faith in God prompted me to seek His face. If God can help an amputee thrive at surfing, he is surely King of the Universe. He spared Bethany to tell the world about His love, and I want to do the same, I resolved. To this day, I credit Bethany as the number one influence behind my strong faith (except for God himself, of course).
By all worldly standards, Bethany beat the odds and lives a life of success. She became a professional surfer, married a godly man, and has a beautiful, healthy son, but the main reason I admire her is because of her unwavering faith. Bethany had more faith in God’s ultimate plan for good than she did in her own plan for her life. Bethany still got to achieve her dreams; she just did so on God’s timing. Often in the midst of a setback, I convince myself I have missed an opportunity and my plans are ruined. However, during these times, I think of Bethany’s story, and how God brought hope to millions out of a seemingly hopeless scenario.
I’ll leave you with a Bible verse. Maybe you have heard it, maybe not. I believe it’s the truth, and so does Bethany.
Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Santulli is a graduate of Ramapo College with a passion for storytelling in all forms. She works in a library where she is surrounded by her favorite things: books, films, music, and people. On her free time she loves to run, hike, or just contemplate in nature. She credits God for any talents or abilities she possesses and hopes He is glorified through her life. Connect with her on her book blog, Librelephant.
MARCH / APRIL 2016: BY CHARITY BISHOP
In the eyes of many Game of Thrones fans, the cold, hard Stannis Baratheon had one redeeming quality: his love for his daughter, Shireen. He protected her from his fanatical wife, went to great lengths to stop the progression of her disease (turning her to stone), and shared heart-wrenching interactions with her. Then, to appease the “Lord of Light,” Stannis let his ruthless priestess tie his child to a pyre and set it alight. He stood by as her pleas for him to save her turned into tortured screams. His anguish was evident… but he capitulated, out of a desire to appease an angry god and win a battle. Continue reading The God You Serve
SEPT / OCT 2011: BY ELIZA GABE
Today, I’m afraid this is more than just an invitation to the past. I’m going to break the rules and invite you to the future. Can I do that?
I hope so!
Dr. Lockridge once stated in a sermon that a certain man was the loftiest in literature. Of all the ideas and men in literature, who would be so? There are several “lofty” literary men. From Sherlock Holmes to Superman to Harry Potter to Mr. Darcy, they and many others have become a lasting part of our society for their charm, uniqueness, and attraction. When faced with these literary men, it really is a matter of opinion on who is the best. You can argue all you like with your friends as to whether Mr. Knightly is better than Mr. Darcy or Edward is preferable to Jacob. However, I propose to you that I do know who the greatest literary man is, and not because I’m smart or anything particularly special on my own. Continue reading The Greatest Literary Man