Category: Movies

Secularizing the “sacred”

In his 2010 book, Spiritual Bankruptcy, John Cobb discusses the process of secularizing. He wrote: Some secularizers are liberal, some conservative, some orthodox, some neoorthodox, some liberationist, and some progressive. I employ for myself the last of these labels. But if the best possibilities for secularization are now with progressives, it is only when progressives are defined as those who draw upon the best of liberalism, the best of conservatism, the best of orthodoxy, the best of neoorthodoxy, and, especially at present, the best of liberation theologies.

In my view, that’s an important paragraph because it seeks to affirm the best of these various traditions and it may help us get past today’s rampant polarization and tribalism. Like Cobb, I identify with the progressive “label,” but (like him), I try to avoid doing so in an us versus them kind of way.

Cobb says the word religion is problematic because it means many different things in different contexts. Cobb sees the process of secularizing as a way to highlight the best and most practical attributes of “the great traditions that have shaped the world in the past two or three millennia, especially Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” Then, Cobb suggests that “instead of religions, we call these, and other smaller movements, Ways, or the traditional Ways of humankind.”

To begin to unpack some of Cobb’s points, I invite you to ask whether you self-identify as more secular or more religious. I grew up in a secular world and while matters of faith and theology are important to me, I served as a pastor for much of five decades with a secular self-consciousness. So, I’m very much at home with Cobb’s advocacy of the process of secularizing. Even as we respect the broad dimensions of the sacred, I agree with Cobb that one of our healthiest spiritual actions is to secularize (and thereby de-sacralize) aspects of religion that are today (as Cobb asserts) spiritually bankrupt.

Old Testament prophets did this in their day. Hence, Cobb’s subtitle: “A Prophetic Call to Action.”

From “John Cobb,” The Work of the People: Films for Discovery & Transformation,

Hope–more than a strategy

In financial and political circles, sometimes we hear the phrase, “hope is not a strategy.” It is usually spoken with a cynical edge in response to a business or government leader who begins a sentence with the words, “I hope….” Sometimes, “hope” comes across as merely wishful thinking.

Hope catalyzes and energizes positive action. Hope shapes life-changing and world-changing dreams, strategies and platforms. Hope forms worthwhile goals and ideals. Hope fuels progress. Hope is more than a strategy; hope is the seed, the basis, the nucleus of every worthwhile strategy.

Hope is expressed through poetry, music, art, writing, gardening, medicine and science, plans of action, statements of purpose or faith. Nefarious intent can be disguised temporarily as hope, but sooner or later, disillusion occurs and authentic hope emerges. Hope heals. Hope endures. Hope floats.

From “Does Hope Really Float?” by Maria Bucci, Wholehearted Workshops (The quote from the movie is “endings are usually sad….”)

Imperfect unions

I’ve been thinking about the Preamble to the US Constitution, which begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union….” The process of perfecting is never-ending.

As I drove home yesterday from an overnight men’s retreat, I was thinking about the process of being made perfect. The men at the retreat reflected on wholeness in the midst of imperfections.

After a few minutes of Radio Margaritaville to decompress, I listened to a May 3 interview with Alan Alda, 86, on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. His earliest memories are traveling with his parents to burlesque theaters. His father, Robert Alda (1914-1986) was a singer, dancer and actor. His mother, Joan Browne (1906-1990), suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

As Alda shared memories of his mother, I thought about Mothers Day, my late mom, and our retreat conversations about grace, healing and wholeness in the midst of imperfections and imperfect unions.

From NPR’s Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, May 3, 2022


Israeli actor Chaim Topol, 86, gave us his 1971 interpretation of Tevye, embodying the mystery of tradition and renewal. As I deal with the secession of people and congregations from the United Methodist Church, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof helps me bless those who leave or stay.

Christianity is a “do this in remembrance” faith, but also part of a more ancient balance that remembers some old things and forgets some old things. It’s never either/or. It’s always both/and. We remember the meaningful past as we welcome the hopeful future. We differ in what we choose to remember and how we choose to hope.

Some of my favorite traditions are relatively new blends of the familiar and the nostalgic. Many Southerners seceded from the Union in 1861 in the name of a tradition that was brought to America in 1619 (or 1565). It was contrary to an older tradition that still sounds astonishingly new: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.”

As Methodists discern what traditions are most vital, I respect everyone’s sadness about what’s being lost and everyone’s hope about what’s being gained–confident that what’s now familiar and preferential will change with time, while the most meaningful and most life-giving traditions will long endure.

John Wesley (1703-1791), from Biography Online; and Chaim Topol (born 1935), from IMDb

When the accent was on Loyal

History’s lessons can provide inspiration and context. One of the gifts of longevity is that I now carry a fair amount of history within me. I can remember when democrats and republicans had a modicum of respect for each other and were able to come together on big issues.

I’m old enough to remember disagreements between members of the same political party. They were held together by principles big enough to allow differences about priorities and strategies. One of the speakers at an Inaugural Gala for Jimmy Carter in 1977 was a republican named John Wayne, who said:

I have come here tonight to pay my respects to our 39th President, our new Commander-in-Chief and to wish you Godspeed, Sir, in the uncharted waters ahead.all of our hopes and dreams go into that great house with you. And everyone is with you.

I am privileged to be present and accounted for in this capitol of freedom to witness history as it happens … to watch a common man accept uncommon responsibilities he won “fair and square” by stating his case to the American people … not by bloodshed, beheadings, and riots at the palace gates.

…I am considered a member of the opposition … the Loyal Opposition … accent on Loyal. I’d have it no other way. …I add my voice to the millions of others all over the world who wish you well, Mr. President.

American actor John Wayne (Marion Mitchell Morrison) acting in Cast a Giant Shadow. 1966 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images), from “John Wayne Was Honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom from Jimmy Carter a Year After His Death,” by Clayton Edwards, Outsider, February 25, 2021

My context is too small

Yesterday, after giving my aunt’s room a spring cleaning (while she’s at a rehab facility), I stopped at Burger Station 120 for a Southern Railroad burger on my way home. I didn’t know why I was humming “The Circle of Life” theme song from 1994 film, The Lion King until I read responses to yesterday’s post from Ernie and Kathy. Memory loss is sad. Aging is a pain. But, it’s part of the circle of life.

It was an epiphany, a splash of cold water. When I’m sad (Ukraine) or depressed (church secession), or worried (health), or angry (politics)… invariably I’m reminded that in the Big Picture, “it’s all small stuff.” Without diminishing the urgency or pain of any of the “stuff,” I find energy and healing when I can put our problems within a larger context, such as faith, or the circle of life, or the Universe.

J.B. Phillips (1906-1982), biblical trail blazer, wrote Your God Is Too Small (1952). To paraphrase the Paraphraser, I continually say to self: “Your context is too small.” When I look at problems with self-centered tunnel vision, it’s like seeing the Universe through a cardboard toilet paper roll, as a child might, thus hiding from my view the grandeur of the earth, the Milky Way, the Universe.

In the Big Picture, my aunt–including her diminished memory (whose isn’t?)–is a whole person and a vital part of the circle. So are you!

From “Who is God?” an excellent introduction to the contributions of J.B. Phillips at Sarah’s Musings, January 26, 2018


The Jewish day begins at sundown with a mini-Sabbath, a time of celebration and rest. A meal, family time and rest are preparation for the workday. Sundown Friday ’til sundown Saturday is a day of Sabbath. Some Christians continue the tradition of Saturday Sabbath. The earliest Christians, virtually all Jewish, gathered in synagogues on Sabbath, then met in someone’s home on the first day of the week (Sunday), which came to be called “the Lord’s day.” Whatever one’s practice, Sabbath celebration and rest is a source of renewal and a time of harmony with the earth and earth’s creatures.

In that Sabbath spirit, I offer Rita Clagett’s 2/10/22 post, “Hargila,” from her Morning Rounds blog. It’s about the endangered greater adjutant stork, and the work of Dr. Purnima Devi Barman, a conservation biologist in Assam, India also known as “Stork Sister.” The local people in northeast India call the bird Hargila. Barman and her women’s conservation movement are known as the “Hargila Army.”

Adult Hargila and their chicks in a tree-top nest, from the video cited below

Hargila: A Story of Love and Conservation,” is a half-hour video by photographer Gerrit Vyn and videographer Andy Johnson of the Cornell University Ornithology Lab. “The film reveals the awkward beauty of these birds, which may have evolved as far back as 15 million years ago, as well as their present peril.” A 100-foot bamboo tower was built to capture images from tree-top Hargila nests. They followed the birds to their feeding ground (a garbage dump) 10-kilometers from their nesting area.

Hargila scavenge for meat carcasses and other food while humans scavenge for recycled goods to sell, from the video cited above

The art of apology

The reference in yesterday’s post to President Biden’s apology caused me to think about the art of apology. Though he had plenty of material with which to work, Mr. Biden’s predecessor refrained from venturing into this art form. Perhaps he is never wrong. Maybe he has a blind spot. Or, he may be living into the philosophy expressed in Love Story, the 1970 movie in which Jennifer Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw) said to Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal), “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Jenny’s line conveyed forgiveness. Later, Oliver used those words to tell a dying Jenny that no apology is necessary. However, a genuine apology can defuse anger, overcome bitterness and restore personal and corporate relationships. A heartfelt apology builds bridges of civility, honesty and reality–elements in short supply these days. The art of apology dispels illusion and builds community. The ability to apologize reveals one’s great inner power–not a weakness to fear but a strength to embrace.

From “Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal on Love Story at 50,” by Amy Nicholson, Town & Country, December 1, 2020 (Photo by Lee Morgan)

Too liberal, too religious

Yesterday’s brown bag lunch at Dayton’s courthouse square drew me to the statue of Bill Bryan (William Jennings Bryan). When I was 14, my grandfather recalled reading about the 1925 trial of John Scopes in the Knoxville News, which editorially opposed the recently passed Butler Act that prohibited the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution in Tennessee schools.

My grandfather was the one who first helped me see that evolution doesn’t conflict with biblical faith. Science studies facts, asking “how” questions. Faith studies truth, asking “why” questions. Faith is about life’s meaning. After a recent foray into Bryan’s history, I realized that my view of him has been shaped by the Hollywood caricature presented through the 1960 movie “Inherit the Wind.”

Bryan may be more remembered as the loquacious ringer to help Tennessee’s prosecutors, rather than as a 3-time presidential nominee (1896, 1900, 1908) and Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State. The “Great Commoner” was the most progressive political leader of his era. Think of him as an early Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, rather than as a foil for the character played by Spencer Tracy.

One observer said Bryan never made it to the White House because he was “too liberal for the religious and too religious for the liberals.” His death in Dayton five days after the Scopes trial made him an icon for anti-evolutionists. I bought into the movie version, but I now see him in a larger context. This is another reminder that I learn by asking questions, not by jumping to conclusions!

Even though all the names were changed, the 1960 film “Inherit the Wind” was clearly about the real-life Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, which pitted Darwin’s theory of evolution against creationism in court. Spencer Tracy (left) and Fredric March (seated) played Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady, characters based on the real-life court opponents Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.

(From “Two sides boldly taking a stand,” a review of the movie “Inherit the Wind,” by Roger Ebert, January 28, 2006)

Unconditional love

My friend Joe is living into a vision that has grasped him for many decades, a vision of radical, unconditional love. He’s inviting others to be grasped by this vision that transcends all religions and philosophies. Joe says, “Love is the universal language.”

As others join him, the vision becomes re-shaped, expanded, deepened, more inclusive. As Joe began to share this vision with others, he envisioned “grace teams” that would seek to live into the spirit of undeserved love or unmerited favor.

A person may have difficulty with the word grace if it is part of an invitation to convert to Christianity. So, Joe has moved the focus from grace to love. Grace is a Christian tributary flowing into the main channel of a universal river called love.

In light of recent posts, I’m obliged to say that I love Donald Trump enough to tell him, respectfully, where we disagree. Political or ideological disagreements are not barriers to genuine love. When disagreements aren’t tolerated, expediency is present, not love.

In Fiddler on the Roof, Leibesh asks the rabbi if there’s an appropriate blessing for the Tsar (via YouTube)