A Love Song
Directed by Max Walker-Silverman
Not much happens in this movie, but between the sweeping Colorado landscape and the beguiling characters, it’s hard to look away. Faye (Dale Dickey) is a widow on an extended stay at a remote campground. She is alone, but not solitary – she has dinner with a couple at an adjacent campsite, she helps a local family fix their truck, she talks to the campground manager. In time, we learn that she is waiting for Lito (Wes Studi), a childhood friend and old flame, also widowed, to visit her where they had gone on a middle-school field trip. It’s unclear he’ll show up, but eventually he does. Their initial halting conversation progresses into relaxed recollections of their shared history and candid reflections on the emotional devastation of losing one’s spouse.
At one point Faye asks Lito, “Reckon you can still love something that ain’t there no more?” The bigger question the film tackles is what happens to the love that someone has to share, when the old ways of sharing it are gone? Director Max Walker-Silverman’s first feature film answers that question in a beautiful way, thanks in large part to a terrific cast, expansive cinematography, and a stirring soundtrack.
in a beautiful way, thanks in large part to a terrific cast and soundtrack.
Directed by Rosalind Ross
Mark Wahlberg plays Stuart Long, a rough, messy, and endlessly charming boxer with big dreams yet little to show for them. He and his alcoholic father (Mel Gibson) and long-suffering mother (Jacki Weaver) all privately harbor the grief of losing Stu’s 6-year-old brother, Stephen, decades earlier.
After a boxing injury, Stu moves from his Montana hometown to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He encounters an array of seedy industry folks, gets a job at a supermarket, and meets Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), whom he begins to pursue more ardently than acting. Carmen is staunch in her Catholic faith, and atheist-but-smitten Stu is soon showing up at her church and attending the religious ed classes she teaches; he even gets baptized. When he suffers a near-fatal accident, he begins to question his path. His recovery coincides with a real, growing faith, including what he perceives as a call to become a priest.
Stu’s pre-conversion story is depicted with little nuance, but the movie shines when it shows the challenges Stu endures as he pursues his vocation.
The film – based on a true story – was released in early 2022 with a well-earned R rating. A new PG-13 version, Father Stu: Reborn, was released on Dec. 9.
An Awakening in the Board Room
By Dave Beckwith with Joanne Beckwith
Elk Lake Publishing, 2022
Veteran pastor Dave Beckwith and his wife, Joanne, provide spiritual care for spiritual leaders in their work with Standing Stone Ministry. God Meetings: An Awakening in the Board Room (Elk Lake Publishing, 2022) is the core curriculum for Standing Stone’s national Healthy Leadership Initiative.
Early in the book, they highlight data from the late Robert Munger of Fuller Theological Seminary: Eighty percent of church board members reported that their spiritual life declined since they began serving on the board. The authors pair this staggering number with stories of their own struggles as pastoral leaders. They are frank about the challenges of leadership in a church or ministerial organization and identify many dysfunctions that can plague ministry leadership teams as they wade through a litany of dysfunctional practices so congregations don’t have to – or, rather, so congregations have realistic insight about these not uncommon pathologies of board and administrative governance.
The Beckwiths share a “playbook for God’s team” that focuses on building harmony and being pleasing to God so that these governing bodies can handle their administrative work in a way that consciously puts Jesus in the forefront. They offer practical, hopeful, and experience-tested strategies and resources to repair what can sometimes be less-than-heavenly leadership group dynamics.
Playing as Others:
Theology and Ethical Responsibility in Video Games
By Benjamin J. Chicka
Baylor University Press, 2021
Even if you’ve never played a video game, you probably know someone who does, including people in your congregation. As Benjamin J. Chicka explains in Playing as Others: Theology and Ethical Responsibility in Video Games (Baylor University Press, 2021) gross revenue for the video game industry surpassed $150 billion in 2019, more than the movie and music industries combined.
Chicka (a Pittsburgh Theological Seminary alumnus) looks past the industry’s best-known games in favor of a handful of selections outside the mainstream, games that provide a “gateway into the lives of other people.” He writes about games that deal with immigration (Papers, Please, and Cart Life), childhood cancer (That Dragon Cancer); children and divorce (Papo y Yo); queer identity (Gone Home); and geopolitics (This War of Mine), among other topics.
Situating his study in the context of Gamergate, the 2014 scandal that exposed harassment and threats against women and people of color in the video game industry, Chicka makes a strong argument that video games are, or have the capacity to be, “full of theological depth and ethical possibilities.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the pop culture topic makes for a quick read. The book is written primarily in a traditional academic style, drawing on the work of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and theologian Paul Tillich, among others. This is not the first theological study to address the issue of video games, and Chicka makes a strong case that it should not be the last.
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