The Birth of a Nation

I’m blogging through the AFI top 100. You can read more here.

The Birth of a Nation is a awful reminder of the world that was, and perhaps the world that still is to some degree. It’s a ficticious account of the Civil War and life following. It’s the oldest film on this list, having been produced in 1915. At over 100 years old the piece is remarkable for a number of reasons: its racism, its length (the first 12-reel/3 hour film), and its unique position as the first film to be screened at the white house.

I’m aware that there was a remake that was intended as a sort of correction to the numerous faults of the original. I haven’t had a chance to view it yet, however.

I don’t have much good to say about this film. Any three hour long silent film is going to strain to keep the attention of any human born after 1910. It is dreadfully boring and would be difficult to watch even with a less objectionable subject manner. But seeing as this film was used as a recruitment tool for the revitalized KKK in the earlier part of the last century, I don’t have to explain why I’m shocked that it was chosen for the AFI top 100. There is no doubt that it was the most historically important film of 1915, but any number of films over the 100 years were a higher quality and more truthful.

Much of the first half of the film could be seen as a relatively acceptable fictional account of the Civil War. The main objectionable part of this is the large number of roles played by white men in black face. The second half of the film really goes off the rails when it begins to depict a fabricated version of the antebellum south that is besieged by an uncivilized and tyrannical black political majority. The film then shows the creation of the Ku Klux Klan who rides in and saves the day. The film has quite rightly been the subject of a great deal of criticism for its inaccuracies and general racist tone. The one thing I’ll say about it is that the fact that this film is still in the modern vernacular at all is an indication that censorship has not won out. The film was an early victory against film censorship. While I’m very much for free speech, and I’m glad it wasn’t censored (for the president censorship sets, mind you, not because I do not find the matter abhorrent.) I wish censorship could’ve been tested on something that was less objectionable.

Firm Foundation week 5: The Global Mission of the Church


1) What’s been your experience with Global mission work?

The Global Mission of the church

2) Read Matthew 28:16-20. This bit of scripture is called the Great Commission, where Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. As we talked about last week the word for “make disciples” is a Greek word that takes the noun “disciple” and makes it a verb. It is different than the word for preach or teach. Why do you think Jesus commands specifically to make disciples instead of simply preaching or teaching?

3) Read Proverbs 25:25, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Today the global church is growing faster than ever before and soon there will be far more Christians in China and Africa than the US and Europe. Are we still called to go to these regions even if they already know Jesus? How else might we be called to support them?

4) Short term mission trips are sometimes criticized as less beneficial to the people overseas. What are some of the pitfalls of short-term missions? When do you think they are beneficial?

If you want to read more, here’s a good article on this discussion:

5) Read Luke 10:29-37. There is actually much more in scripture about simply loving foreigners and travelers in our presence than there is about going to far off lands, how does that inform the way we can help accomplish the mission of Christ here as well as overseas?

6) Read Exodus 23:9, Malachi 3:5, 1 Kings 8:41-44, how might these passages challenge our view of refugees and immigrants?

7) How are you actively helping accomplish God’s global mission now?

Wrap up:

8) We’ve covered several topics over the last few weeks; Discipleship, Evangelism, Holiness, Scripture, the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Global missions. Of these topics what is the area that you need to learn more about or what is your chief growth area?

9) What can you do to, or continue – to improve in this area? Do you need to read more scripture? Do you need to study a specific topic? Do you need to take a mission trip? Do you need to start to serve in an area of the church? Do you need to commit to attending worship more often? Do you need to commit to spend more time with God? What next step can you take and how can this group help you?

A Firm foundation Week 4: The Church and Discipleship


1) What negative thoughts come to mind when you hear the word “church?” What positive thoughts?

The Church:

2) Last week we talked about sanctification –AKA “Holiness” – John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement once said “You can no more be a Holy hermit than a Holy adulterer” – what does he mean by that? Have you seen this to be true in your life, or in the lives of others?

3) Read Hebrews 10:22-25, why are church gatherings necessary for believers?

4) The word church can have lots of different meanings. The word we use comes from a German word that could be interpreted “house of God,” but in Christian theology we don’t believe that God resides in our church buildings. The Greek word that we translate as “church” in the Bible is “ecclesia” ἐκκλησία – which at the time referred to a democratic gathering of Greek political leaders. Given this information, what is the difference between “a church” and “the Church?” (also known a the universal church, or the ecclesia.) Why is it important to know the difference?

See: for more info on the word ecclesia (as well as any other greek words you have questions about)

5) Read Acts 2:42-47 – what would you say were the goals and purposes of the early church? How is this different from the modern, American church?


6) Jesus preached to thousands during his ministry. Why do you think he chose 12 to spend more time with? Do you have someone discipling you?

7) Throughout the new testament there is one word that is translated as “disciple” or make disciples, mathēteuō, as seen in acts 14:21 where it says “after preaching and making many disciples…” And the word didasko as in acts 15:1 where Luke talks about the false teachers who came to said that all Christians had to go through the Jewish right of circumcision to be saved. What do you think the difference is between making disciples and teaching?

8) Read 1 Tim 2:1-2 – What does this passage tell us about our roles as disciples?

9) If you are being poured into by people who are discipling you, are you discipling anyone else?


10) How are you engaging with a gathering of believers at least once a week for worship and discipleship? What next step can you take? Serving in a church? Discipline others? How can this group help?

Firm foundation week 3 – Holy spirit & Sanctification

Holy Spirit/Sanctification:


1) What are some negative things that come to mind when you hear the word “Holy?” What are some positive things?

Holy spirit:

2) Did you grow up hearing about the “Holy Spirit?” or “Holy Ghost?” what have you heard about it?

3) Read John 14:26, Romans 8:26, Acts 1:8 – what roles does the Holy Spirit play in our lives according these passages? Have you seen that in your life or the lives of others?

4) Read Galatians 5:22-23, have you seen these “Fruits” in your life or in others? Have they ever surprised you?

5) Read 1 Corinthians 2:14 and 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

see: for more reading on the Holy Spirit.


6) Sanctification is a big, churchy word. It simply means to be made Holy. One definition of it “Becoming the kind of person who would be comfortable in heaven.” Have you heard people talk about Sanctification before? What comes to mind when you hear it?

7) Read 1st John 1:8 then read 1 John 3:6 – why do you think these two verses seem to conflict? (notice the verb tenses) and what can they teach us about a Holy life? Is holiness just about avoiding sin?

…This is a big topic that theology nerds love to talk about, so if you’re having trouble grabbing hold of it, remember Jesus told us in last week’s passages to simply “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”

8) read 2 Peter 3:18 – do you think Sanctification is a process or does it happen in a moment? What has it looked like in your life or in the lives of Christians around you?

9) Read Romans 12: 1-2. Be honest, do you believe that you can be made Holy in this life time? Do you believe that God’s sanctifying grace is at work in your life? Why or why not?


10) What practical steps can you take this week to allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life?

Firm Foundation Week 2: Grace


1. What comes to mind when you hear the word grace?

2. What is the difference between mercy and grace?

3. Can you think of a time that someone (other than Jesus) extend irrational seeming grace to you or someone else you know?

Prevenient Grace:

4. Read Jeremiah 1:5 , Ezekiel 34:11, 16, John 12:32 what do these verses tell us about what we call “Prevenient Grace” or grace that goes before us?

5. Look back at your life, can you think of specific ways that God was at work to call you to him before you even knew him? Maybe even before you were born?

Justifying Grace:

6. Read Ephesians 1:7, Titus 3:7, and Romans 5:21 – Do you have trouble believing God justified all of us on the cross? That he forgave you? That he forgives others?

7. Read Ephesians 2:8 and James 2:14-26. How would you explain the balance between faith, works, and grace in salvation?

Sanctifying Grace:

8. Read 1 Corinthians 6:11 and 2nd Corinthians 5:17 – After being Justified – or made right with God, there is another work of Grace, called “Sanctification” or being made Holy by God. Have you ever heard of this word, what does it mean to you?

9. Read Matthew 5:48. (if you have time read all of Matthew 5 beforehand) At the end of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, after talking about all the ways his followers should live he hits us with this. But don’t freak out just yet. Read Matthew 6:33 what does this tell us about how we can be made Holy and Righteous?


10. How can you live into God’s grace this week? Is there someone you need to show grace to? Are you seeking his Kingdom first?

Firm Foundation Week 1: Jesus & Scripture

1. When you hear the name of Jesus what comes to mind first?

2. Read Philippians 2:6-11 – what does this verse tell us about the character of Jesus?

3. What are some ideas about Jesus that you or your friends/family have had that you now believe are wrong? What caused those ideas?

4. Read John 1:1-4 & v14 – what do you think it means that the “word became flesh?” What could this mean about Jesus’ relationship to scripture?

5. Is there a difference between the paper Bible and “the Word of God?”

6. Read Hebrews 4:12 – what does it mean that the word of God is living and active? Have you seen that activity in your life?

7. Read 2 Timothy 3:16, Matthew 5:18, and John 14:15. Some people want to put Jesus’ words in scripture above the rest of the Bible. What do these passages have to say about that?

8. Read Revelation 22:18-19, Proverbs 30:5-6, and Deuteronomy 4:2, – What are some examples you’ve heard of or seen where someone has tried to take away from or add to scripture?

9. Is it possible to idolize scripture? How do you make sure you’re worshiping Jesus and not the Bible?

10. What can you do this week to make sure that both Jesus and the Word of God are given their proper place in your life?

Lawrence of Arabia

I’m blogging through the AFI top 100. You can read more here.

Lawrence of Arabia is a phenomenal epic. As I watched this sprawling film I wondered if it had been made today how it would be different.

As with many of the movies on this list Lawrence of Arabia enjoys a massive run time. Of the six cuts of the film the shortest is over three hours and the longest adds more than half an hour. It’s likely that if it were released today it wouldn’t have been allowed this considerable length. Viewed through the eyes of a modern day film fan, Lawrence of Arabia appears to have poor film economy as shots that would often be cut from today are allowed to play out. Sequences that would be shortened via times shifts in the edit are shown in full length so as to give the viewer the feelings of tedium, scale, and fatigue which the characters are experience.

The film has an all-male cast of characters. If it were made today there would be some great fictionalizing to assure that there were equal representation of the sexes. Likely the reporter who covered Lawrence would be made into woman. Though not a love interest, because if it were made today then then rumors of Lawrence’s sexual orientation would’ve made them play up that supposed aspect of his life.

Also most of the film’s violence is rather muted. With a few notable (and there fore more impacting) exceptions, very little blood is seen and never do we see a person getting shot or stabbed up close and in many cases we don’t see it at all. If this film were made today there is no doubt that it would’ve been a hard R with realistic violence. I would actually point to this film as an argument for making war movies less violent while still making them great.

The film was also made during a time when wide shots were a sign of production value. Small budget movies can’t afford to shoot on location, pay crowds of extras, or build large set pieces, but today many large budget films still choose to focus on the performance rather than scenery by using long lenses to focus on the actors. This was no the case for Lawrence of Arabia; even many moments that were more intimate were shot in medium shot, while shots that would be shot in medium today are shot in wide, and shots that might require wide today are ultra wide in this film.

Not every change would be negative. If it were shot today they would likely actually shoot the night scenes at night. In the 60s, even in large budget pictures they would shoot day for night whenever they could and it’s painfully obvious in this movie – which is otherwise a gorgeous film. It’s obvious that they’ve simply filtered the camera lens because of the shadows – the shadows wouldn’t be so harsh after sunset in reality.

Also if it were shot today all (or at least most) the parts would played by people of the appropriate race. In the film as it sits the majority of the Arab people depicted were played by well-known British and American actors wearing makeup. While Hollywood still gets accused of “white washing” it’s usually done in fiction where the character’s race is changed for the sake of casting – in films based on true events it is increasingly rare to see any race depicted by a person who isn’t of that race.

The film is beautiful and compelling. Perhaps most interesting is to read the many historical discrepancies that made the film controversial at the time. Though at the very least it is interesting to consider that at a time when the west was still largely considered the great, white hope this film dared to depict the west as largely treacherous; as they scheme to take control of the Arab empire after using their armies to conquer the Turks. Though, admittedly the hero is a white dude, though in this case it seems that has the benefit of being true.

Doctor Strangelove

I’m blogging through the AFI top 100. You can read more here.

There’s no accounting for taste. That’s all I can say regarding the inclusion of “Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” in AFI’s top 100. I perhaps could think of 100 movies that were not on the list that I believe to be better than this film.

It’s one of the few comedies that made the list, so naturally I expected it to be humorous. While I found some remnants of wit that were not lost on me, much of the film was just odd rather than funny. It seems a combination of realism with odd interjections of the heightened reality that I normally associate with satire, but with a duller uptake than most similar movies. In moments it comes off as mildly humorous, other moments it comes off as over-the-top-goofy, other moments it comes off as odd, and still other moments the film appears to take itself seriously. It’s this indecision about what genre it is in that makes it difficult to watch.

The whole film feels much like a shaggy dog story – one of those jokes where everyone acts as if it’s the funniest joke they ever heard, but when they get to the end of it, there’s no joke. This is the first film I’ve watched on the AFI top 100 that I truly don’t get. I’m sure those who love it – and I know there are many who do – will flay me for saying so, but I really believe it is highly overrated and perhaps only so because it was directed by Stanly Kubrick who famously directed dark, cynical dramas. I think much like the first time a comedic actor does a drama, people were shocked at how seemingly adequate a comedy director he was and that was more the cause of the interest in the film.

One thing I will note about this film that is a curiosity: it is the fourth I’ve watched on this list that was shot using black and white long after color film had become the norm. I’m reminded of young Frankenstein which received the same treatment and is far more deserving of a place on this list than this film. I suppose the most I can say about it is this: perhaps contextually, during the cold war, this film had great value. And perhaps its addressing the cold war with a wink and a nod (if a cynical one) was more important that I realize. The Berlin wall came down shortly after my 4th birthday, so admittedly I was only so aware of the threat of nuclear war and how much people really wanted to see an offbeat comedy based around it.

Taxi Driver

I’m blogging through the AFI 100. You can read more here.

For those who aren’t familiar Taxi Driver is about an mentally unstable veteran who deals with his insomnia and general dissosiative feelings toward the world. He has an unsuccessful relationship with a woman who is disgusted by his choice in dirty movies. After a run-in with a pre-teen prostitute and tries to liberate her from her lifestyle. He purchases several unregistered guns and teeters between assassinating the presidential candidate that his would-be girlfriend is campaigning for, and killing the man that pimps out 12-year-old Iris.

Taxi Driver is an odd movie. Aside from the fact that it feels like multiple plots surrounding the same character, it manages to meander while also having a speed uncharacteristic of it’s genre. It’s dark, somewhat twisty, yet notably faster paced than most of the dramas on the AFI top 100. It’s a well-acted film with plenty of intrigue and drama, but it also is heavily stamped by it’s era. Not because of the clothing styles but because of the filming style and score. I say this because many of the movies on this list have a quality that makes them feel timeless, but this one feels more dated.

When the film comes to it’s conclusion I didn’t find myself as certain about what the worldview of the filmmakers is, which I think is a good thing. This film didn’t have any preachy positive view for sure, but nor did it have a totally cynical, angry view that I expected.

It’s odd to watch this movie with a 33-year-old Robert DiNero who hadn’t yet become the caricature we’ve come to know today. 14 year-old Jodie Foster, who was already a well-known face, was having her break-out cinematic performance. Both of course are fantastic and it’s easy to see why this one made the list. I found it surprising that considering how dark the film gets, it ends on an up note.

Schindler’s List

I’m blogging through the AFI top 100. You can read more here.

Ok, so there is absolutely no doubt that Schindler’s list a phenomenal film. Personally I’d move it from #9 to #1 if it were up to me. I think that it cannot be undersold for it’s raw emotion and power of storytelling and it has the benefit of being a true story (in the top 10 Lawrence of Arabia is the only other one.)

I could tell you all the amazing thing about this film (which everyone already knows is awesome) for 1,000 words or more; how it effected me emotionally, how important it was in being truthful about the Nazi atrocities during WWII, and how fantastic it is from a cinematographical standpoint. Or, I could be my weird self and talk about the one thing that I’m usually talking when this movie gets brought up in conversation. And say something controversial: this movie isn’t perfect.

I’m one of these strange people who takes the scriptures seriously. So when I read “Let there be no hint of sexual immorality in you” I take it seriously. No, I don’t think that films shouldn’t be allowed to have objectionable content. But I do believe that there is no situation that truly requires full frontal nudity. I know, I know, how stupid and unartistic of me to believe that there could be a limit to the pallet that we should choose from. I’m bringing this up because whenever I say this, someone says to me “what about schindler’s list? Don’t you think it was necessary to show how terrible it was?” I certainly agree that we shouldn’t cut the scenes that show the indignities the Jewish people suffered at the hand of the Nazis. But I do disagree that this means that we must depict full, frontal nudity to communicate something. I believe this actually removes the art. Me personally, I believe the only reason to show full nudity is if you believe that the viewers are so desensitized that they can’t imagine a thing without being shown it directly.

Having said all this – it was not my major takeaway from this film at all. I only bring it up because it’s been brought up to me so much. This film’s power is found not only in its film value, but also in its truth. My favorite moments come in the film’s end when Oskar considers all he could’ve done to save more people and regrets wasting his life before he took on the task of saving the lives of his factory workers. When he’s assured that generations of people will go on living because of him, he finally flees the oncoming soviet army. This is all punctuated and enhanced by the final scene when the real survivors and their families visit Schindler’s grave in Jerusalem, setting a stone on his grave marker as they walk by.

I’ve often said to my friends that young men should attend as many funerals as they can, as it will make them consider what they’re doing with their lives and what they want to do with their lives. In the same way, this movie should have a similar effect on anyone who is watching. You will find yourself asking, how am I spending my resources? How am I spending my life? Who will benefit from the way I spent my resources? Who will be grateful for the way I lived? Whose life will be better because of mine?