Films and Books

Digital Liturgies: Rediscovering Christian Wisdom in an Online Age

Samuel D. James
Crossway, 2023

Like Marshall McLuhan who famously claimed that “the medium is the message,” Samuel D. James argues that it’s not the content on the internet that shapes us so much as the internet itself. Digital Liturgies: Rediscovering Christian Wisdom in an Online Age, Samuel D. James (Crossway, 2023) Just the act of being online forms us, no matter the reason we’re there or the material we engage with. James suggests that our online experience has led to five particular patterns of belief and behavior: authenticity, outrage, shame, consumption, and meaninglessness. One could dispute his claim — after all, humans have long participated in these “liturgies” — but James offers convincing testimony about how the online experience is distinctively different. How can someone be magnanimous in person but malicious online? What’s behind the shortened attention spans and the haze so many people feel, spiritually and intellectually? What about our common struggle to unplug, or the draw of the “infinite scroll?” James offers a perceptive synthesis of insights from theologians, cognitive researchers, computer engineers, and sociologists, among others — and yes, hard-earned wisdom from his own personal experience — to illuminate the values of the web and to reflect the state of our online lives back to us in a way we can recognize. “By identifying how the web shapes us,” he writes, “we can use these technologies more deliberately, more wisely, and more Christianly. To be in the world is not necessarily to be of the world.”




Films and Books

Life & Death & Life

Steve Thorngate, 2024

Chicago-based church musician and singer-songwriter Steve Thorngate’s latest album Life & Death & Life (Steve Thorngate, 2024) includes 16 songs in a country/Americana style to take listeners from Ash Wednesday through Easter and on to Pentecost. The songs run an emotional gamut, from the sparse “Burn to ash” to the playful “All flesh.” Thorngate is a multi-faceted musician who sings lead vocals and also plays guitar, bass, piano, electric piano, organ, banjo, dobro, accordion, melodica, and harmonica. Phillip Miller accompanies him on drums, while additional lead vocalists Susannah Thorngate-Rein and Brian Bolton join in on a few tracks. The album is clearly a family affair – harmonies are credited to The So Many Siblings Singers, all of whom share the Thorngate name, and The Cousins Chorus provide additional vocals on “Up above my head.” Thorngate, who also works as an editor at The Christian Century, devotes meticulous care to both the music and lyrics. It’s easy to appreciate lines like “The Spirit is mighty/But not very tidy”. Congregations will find the songbook to be a worthwhile addition to their usual musical fare during these liturgical seasons. The album and songbook are both available for download at




Films and Books

The Boy and the Heron

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
124 Minutes

In its efforts to describe a film that defies easy description, Studio Ghibli bills The Boy and the Heron as a “semi-autobiographical fantasy about life, death, and creation, in tribute to friendship, from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki,” the octogenarian filmmaker behind such animated classics as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.

The film opens with the blare of an air raid siren waking Mahito, a preadolescent boy. The local hospital has been bombed; Mahito’s mother had been there and did not survive the blast. Eventually Mahito’s father determines that it’s time for them to move on with their lives, and he relocates himself and his son to the countryside to build a new family with his deceased wife’s sister.

Mahito, meanwhile, struggles with his deep feelings of loss. During some solitary wandering in the peculiar rural landscape, he encounters a heron – or what seems to be a heron – and is transported into another world, one full of beauty, pain, danger, and confusion. Through it all, Mahito discerns what he must do, and he does so, sometimes with daring and selfless actions. The story conveys the sense that nothing is truly lost, meaning can come out of tragedy, and that our actions matter. It’s a message that resonates, even in our “real” world.


Films and Books

A Town Called Victoria

Directed by Li Lu
165 minutes (in three episodes)

When the one mosque in a south Texas town burns to the ground on a night in January 2017, members of the Victoria Islamic Center are suddenly scrambling to find a place to gather, mourn their loss, and plan to rebuild. This three-part documentary series follows the town (pop. 65,000) in the wake of the fire as it grapples with issues of identity, a persistent and complicated legacy of racism, and its difficult task of becoming a community that cares for all of its residents.

Part one of three one-hour episodes focuses on the fire, the outpouring of community support, and the discovery that the fire was set intentionally and would be prosecuted as a hate crime. Part two continues the storyline, and part three chronicles the court proceedings, the financial and emotional strain of rebuilding the mosque, and the tentative hope for a new beginning after a verdict is reached and the new mosque opens its doors.

Director Li Lu conducts thoughtful interviews with a diverse sample of Victoria residents. Especially effective are the interviews with three members of the mosque’s board, whose stories highlight the strong bonds that members of the Victoria Islamic Center have with the larger community, the valuable contributions these individuals have made to the town, and the stress caused by prejudice and trauma.

The film is available on PBS and Amazon Prime.


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