BITTER IN TENNESSEE: An Unholy Warrior

If you want to know why we initiated the Purple State project, look no further than the murders committed Sunday morning at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.   While 25 children sang songs from “Annie,” the gunman fired three blasts from a shotgun.    The seven people shot and two people murdered are the latest victims of the culture war.  

Sadly, this wasn’t the first shooting to occur at a house of worship in America and not likely to be the last.   Do we remember the four teenagers and three adults who were murdered at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas in 1999?   Two more died at New Life Church in Colorado Springs last December.   (And as a nation we continue to support the right to shoot others over sane gun control policies).  

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The Dark Knight: Best of the Decade?

With The Dark Knight’s claims to box-office pre-eminence secured, the spin cycle begins.   What does this hugely popular, amazingly resonate movie mean?   What is the message amidst all the madness cruising through Gotham’s streets?     At HollywoodJesus.com, The Joker is associated with postmodernism and all things relative, making Batman the force for moral absolutes.   At Dirty Harry’s Place, Batman emerges as a surrogate George W. Bush, willing to be hated for the sake of a larger mission.  Yet, at Beliefnet.com, The Dark Knight is traced back to St. John of the Cross and his dark nights of the soul.   Is this the sign of a great movie or merely a conflicted audience?  How many readings are possible?  How many readings are helpful?  What might be the filmmakers’ intent?

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Tags | Film

Craig Detweiler Conversation, Part 1




I sat down with Peter from ConversantLife.com to talk about my new book "A Purple State of Mind: Finding Middle Ground in A Divided Culture." I hope you enjoy the conversation.

THE DARK KNIGHT: Instant Classic

The Dark Knight is the most ambitious and satisfying comic book movie ever, an instant classic.   It thrills and chills, combining massive spectacle with timeless questions regarding our humanity.  In exploring our disturbing depths, director Christopher Nolan attains unparalleled cinematic heights.   It is a feast for the eyes and a challenge to the brain.   While Batman battles the Joker for the soul of Gotham City, Nolan pulls audiences into the rarest of responses to a Hollywood blockbuster:  genuine introspection.  It is a soulful adventure.   The Dark Knight explores the cost of combating evil.   How many rules are we willing to break to maintain order?   How many freedoms will we sacrifice to reign in chaos?   The Dark Knight calls us to give an account.

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Tags | Film

COLDPLAY LIVE: ORDINARY HEROES

From the backdrop of Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting of Lady Liberty leading the people to their Les Miserables-style, “Storm the Bastille” clothes, Coldplay’s tour shouts “Vive le Revolucion!”  But on the opening night of their tour at the Forum in Inglewood, it was not clear what freedom was being celebrated beyond the sheer joy of musical release.   Occasionally, the songs approximated a European soccer match—boisterous sing alongs where all were temporarily united as one.    It was nice in an era of concert calculation to feel the arrangements being tested in front of us.  

Earnestness remains key to the Coldplay oeuvre.   They are a post-ironic band (which naturally begets a critical backlash).   Singer Chris Martin expressed genuine appreciation throughout the concert, concluding, “This is gonna be a good one” after thefirst song.   It is easy to imagine these four lads sipping coffee, reading the newspaper and playing withtheir kids.   No drug overdoses for such studied musical pros.

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Tags | Music

Forgiving the Franklins (and apologizing to the gay community)

A major event in my life came full circle last month. I had coffee with Jay Floyd, director of Forgiving the Franklins. This bawdy, subversive satire premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. The premise of this homemade, low-budget film intrigued me. This religious sex comedy has just been released on DVD (rated R for “strong sexual content including a scene of abherrant intimacy, graphic nudity, frank dialogue, and some language”–you’ve been forewarned!)

A devout Christian family has a car accident enroute to a church potluck. They are whisked away to a heavenly place where Jesus is chopping down a cross. He has grown tired of seeing the worst moment of his life paraded around people’s necks. Jesus greets the Franklin family and reaches into the back of their heads. He removes a bloody apple and sends them back to earth to continue their lives. The Franklins have been given a new lease on life, free of guilt and shame. Jesus removed their original sin.

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Tags | Film

Two Books, One Day

It is rare to get a book published. So it is an exceptionally rare privilege to have two books published on the same day. But on ‘new release Tuesday,’ I have two new volumes hitting the marketplace. They are not twins, but their definitely related: more fraternal than identical in their concerns.  

A Purple State of Mind is a companion piece to the comedic documentary, Purple State of Mind. It begins with the questions prompted by my onscreen conversation with John Marks. For those who wanted to see a more aggressive Christianity, it explains why my responses were often open-ended. Each chapter contains snippets of dialogue from the film as a starting point. It allows me to expand on my answers to John’s queries, putting things into a historical context. For example, how do we move past the political rut we’ve been in, caught between those who thought the prosperous 1950s were America’s greatest moment and those who relish the creativity unleashed during the 1960s? Many have grown tired of the rhetoric rooted in old grudges and earlier battle. This election may be the first to be decided by generations born after the advent of the culture wars. A new wave of voters have their feet firmly rooted in the 21st century rather than the past.

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Tags | Film

TRACES OF THE TRADE: Tuesday on PBS

What kinds of skeletons may be lurking in your family’s closet? As a descendent of a distinguished founding family in Rhode Island, Katrina Browne decided to investigate her roots. The De Wolf family tree includes senators, architects, writers and ministers. As faithful Episcopalians, the De Wolfs donated most of the stained glass windows in Katrina’s home church in Bristol, Rhode Island. So how did they get so rich and powerful? When Katrina would talk to her relatives, she got vague responses about an “import/export business.” What were the De Wolf’s buying and selling? Katrina discovered she is a descendent of the largest slave trading family in New England.

Traces of the Trade follows Katrina’s efforts to respond to her lamentable roots. What do we do with family secrets? How do we process shame, guilt and responsibility? Nine De Wolf descendents accepted Katrina’s invitation to retrace the De Wolf’s family business, from Rhode Island to Ghana to plantations in Cuba. Traces of the Trade kicks off PBS’s essential documentary series, P.O.V. on Tuesday night at 10 pm. It demonstrates that slavery was not just a southern problem, but an ongoing shame even in “the Deep North.” You can see the trailer here.

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Tags | Film

The media-savvy minister

I was recently interviewed by Collide Magazine about my upcoming book, Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century. Collide covers the intersection of church and media.  They're interesed in how congregations are incorporating technology into worship settings.  How does the Internet change our notions of community?   What kinds of electronic expressions of faith will be forged via web 2.0?  Collide is committed to creating more media-savvy ministers that understand how and why technology matters.   We don't need a bigger, faster, and louder church, but a more thoughtful engagement with electronic media. 

DISBELIEFNET.COM: Comedy or Tragedy?

So I am a regular reader and blogger at Beliefnet.com. It is one of the largest gatherings of people across the religious spectrum (more eclectic and inclusive than our community at Conversantlife).   Steven Waldman and staff are to be congratulated (hopefully) on their recent sale to Fox. Beliefnet built a brand by offering substantive and entertaining takes on a variety of spiritual subjects, with especially strong insights on entertainment and politics. But Beliefnet also brings a certain gravitas to the proceedings, definitely not made for or by Generation Y. Given their authority amongst those who take religion seriously, I suppose it was only a matter of time before they became a satirical target. (Is that still a form of flattery?)

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Tags | Film
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About
Craig Detweiler, PhD is a filmmaker, author and professor. He directs the Reel Spirituality Institute for the Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary.