The most generous, depressing, and ambitious television series has concluded. Yet, it is foolish to suggest that any character on The Wire will rest in peace. Show creator David Simon remains restless, angry, and ready to rumble.

Last week, I had the privilege of hearing Simon speak at the University of Southern California. The event was hosted by Diane Winston, the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication. Diane is committed to deepening the media’s understanding of religion and their subsequent coverage of spiritual issues. Diane and David worked together as reporters for The Baltimore Sun. Simon has ample reasons to worry about the future of journalism. But alas, current USC journalism majors may have been too busy chasing down the ever-shrinking job market to pay attention.

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The Critic

As film critics go, I’m pretty low on the totem pole – I’m still new (coming up on two years), I don’t have a background in film or even the liberal arts (but I’m working very hard to catch up), and, well, I’m a girl, which seems to be uncommon in today's film reviewing world, Manohla Dargis notwithstanding. But I work a lot, which is a boon, and I’ve been blessed with some great outlets, so I’m not complaining.

However, in class, we’ve been talking lately about the role of different cultural institutions in taste-making, from the museum to the University to the market – and the critic. Much of our discussion has been around what a critic is supposed to do. Should the critic focus on evaluation of aesthetics? Evaluation of content? Evaluation of experience? Education of the reader?
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Tags | Film

To Die in Jerusalem

Ayat Al-Akhras was a 17-year-old living in a Palestinian refugee camp. She was beautiful, an A student, and already engaged to be married.

Rachel Levy was a 17-year-old Israeli living in Jerusalem. She was striking, free spirited, and a loving daughter and sister.

On March 29, 2002, Rachel’s mother asked her to go to a local supermarket to pick up ingredients for Sabbath dinner. While Rachel was in the store, Ayat entered the building and detonated a purse full of explosives, killing herself, a security guard and Rachel. The two girls looked so remarkably alike that pathologists had difficulty correctly reassembling their remains. When Newsweek magazine placed their pictures side by side on its cover, many readers suddenly perceived the conflict in the Middle East less as an abstract issue of politics and more as a human tragedy of needlessly wasted lives.

Hilla Medalia is a talented young Israeli filmmaker who was completing her master’s degree in the United States at the time of the bombing. Almost immediately after the incident, she began work on a documentary about Rachel and Ayat and their families. A short student film (Daughters of Abraham) eventually blossomed into To Die in Jerusalem, a heart-rending and thought-provoking feature currently airing on HBO, screening at film festivals and available online. The film focuses on the mothers of the two girls and climaxes with an emotionally charged meeting between them—via satellite, even though they only live a few miles apart.

To Die in Jerusalem is a film about an ancient and enduring conflict embodied by two heart-broken mothers and two lives cut tragically short. It leaves viewers moved and frustrated and anxious for change. Christianity Today Movies recently give me an opportunity to speak with Medalia about her five-year quest to tell a devastating and important story. You can read the full interview here.

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Tags | Film

Podcast: Interview with missionaries from the Congo

Hi everyone! Recently I had the privilege to sit down with two very special friends of mine from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Camille and Esther Ntoto. I met Camille and Esther in 2003 when they helped lead a short-term missions trip to Kinshasa, Congo that I was apart of.

Camille and Esther are magnetic people who illuminate God's goodness with their lives. Camille is a radio broadcaster, ministering to thousands through the air waves of Goma, Congo. Esther has kind eyes and a fierce love for seeing transformation take place in women and children in Congo.

I am deeply blessed by my friendship with Esther and Camille and think you'll feel the same after hearing from them a bit on this podcast. So listen to it and be blessed. :)

Sit in the Chair

There is a trend in my community to place Adirondack chairs- two of them- on the front lawn of one's house.  I see them around town- under trees, on porches, on chairs, black chairs, green chairs, mostly white.  On one street I frequent, there is a red set under a lemon tree with a little table in between them set with a bowl full of lemons.  It is very quaint, even pretty.  In another neighborhood, off the bay, there are two white Adirondack chairs on the lawn when you first drive in the security gate.  There isn't even a house there, just two chairs on a common lawn area.  Every time I pull in I wonder who sits in those chairs.  It's like the chairs are there to announce, "We relax here! " " We lean back in our expensive chairs with our feet in the grass and enjoy living by the bay."  But the thing is I have never seen anyone sit in them.  In fact I have never seen anyone sit in any Adirondack chairs anywhere around town.  I don't even know how to say Adirondack.

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Introduction to Bruce & Stan's new book "I'm Fine With God, It's Christians I Can't Stand"

Every segment of society has its members of the lunatic fringe. But Christianity seems to have a disproportionately high percentage of them. "I'm Fine With God, It's Christians I Can't Stand" is a candid dialogue about the Christian community that will make you laugh and even cringe as you read about well-meaning but misguided believers who take some parts of the Bible to ridiculous extremes while ignoring other parts.

ELIOT SPITZER: "Be sure your sins will find you out" is not the right response

I’m sitting here in a hotel in Nashville where I’m attending the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. All of the televangelist are here, from the good to the … others. Lots of comb-overs, and most of the rest have high hair. (The unofficial motto here seems to be “the higher the hair, the closer to God.”)

I’m glued to the TV, but I’m not watching a televangelist. I’m watching the news stories about Spitzer’s prostitute fiasco. My mind flashes back to what my mom always told me as a little kid: “Be sure your sins will find you out.”

Political commentators and the friends and enemies of Spitzer are saying similar things. “He should have known that he would get caught, so he shouldn’t have done it.”
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Slow Food, and Getting My Hands Dirty

I’ve been reading Slow Food: The Case for Taste, by Carlo Petrini, the Italian founder of the slow food movement.

 What is slow food, you might ask? I’m still working that out, but without much trouble, you can tell from the name that it’s a reaction to “fast food”. In fact, it’s a reaction to the globalization of the food market, the “flattening” of taste, and the increasingly prevalent loss of regional cuisine, especially, apparently, in Italy.

Slow food advocates call for organic, locally-grown food, and for making food and eating it purposefully, preferably around a communal table with one’s friends, family, and neighbors. Essentially, it’s a call to move away from mindless refueling at the local fast-food joint (or even convenient eatery) and a return to eating healthy food.

For the Christian, this easily relates to our understanding that all we have is from God, that every meal is a gift from Him (even the least liturgical among us, those who would never observe fixed-hour prayer, still offer thanks before our meals), that we are not to take anything for granted – least of all, the food we may have – and that we are to fellowship with those God puts around us, which often involves food.

My mom had started researching healthy foods and changing our diet when my brother was born, because he spent the first few years of his life in and out of hospitals, and Mom knew instinctively that injecting him full of drugs wouldn’t be a productive way to live life.  Most of the trendy food and health movements now – filtered water, organic produce, hormone-free dairy products, green tea, "medicating" with herbs, free-range chicken and grass-fed beef, gluten-free food, crazy Dr. Bronner’s soap, salads all the time – were things we did fifteen years ago, when people told Mom she was crazy, negligent, and probably unChristian for feeding us this way. Apparently, she was just about ten years ahead of the marketing folks.

Though I felt weird then, I’m glad now that she did the footwork to feed us well.  We never had much in the way of money, so we grew a lot of our food, and when we lived out in rural upstate New York, we had laying hens and had our own fertile, free-range eggs, though we never ate the chickens (my Dad and brother just couldn’t bring themselves to chop their heads off). We also belonged to the local food co-op. Many hours of my life were spent with Mom at the co-op, working off our four-hour-a-week commitment in order to get cheaper, healthier food.  

So, I was delighted when Tom and I finally decided to join the local food co-op in our Brooklyn neighborhood last fall. This is a much bigger operation than our little place in Albany. There are about fifteen thousand members, and each member works about three hours a month to maintain membership, which allows one to shop at the store. Only members can shop, and all members have to work side by side, whether they're affluent bankers and lawyers from the nice neighorhoods or more blue-collar workers who've been in Brooklyn for generations.

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inhaling the scent of hope

Life can be chaotic at times: bills, traffic, shopping, work, family, romance, are ingredients that, when mixed together excessively, create a ferment that builds pressure into the walls of our souls, as well as the walls of our homes.

It was against such a backdrop of chaos that I found myself with a rare Wednesday off last week, and rarer still for early March in Seattle, the weather was clear - crisp, as is appropriate for early March, but mercifully cloudless. My skis were in the car by 8AM and by 9:30 I was carving some Sabbath healing into my soul, negotiating the friendly terrain, which was still locked in the dead of winter, with temperatures well below freezing.
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What's the Word?

Are there writers for whom a blank page (or, perhaps, a blank computer screen) is an invitation? For me, every unwritten column/blog/letter/song/book/sermon is a door, bolted and double-bolted shut. Every word must be sneaked in undercover, crammed through the mail slot, jammed past the hinges, forced through the peep hole. It takes time, effort, and subterfuge to coerce a piece of writing into being. It makes me tired and grumpy. I don't care for it.
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