Favorite First Time Watches of 2022 (Not Including 2022 Releases)

All About Eve (Directed By Jospeh L Mankiewicz)

An outstanding character study built on the stand out and largely complimentary performances of Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in the role of these two women in quiet contest each with their own interests and motivations. The script is equally wonderful as it weaves in some wonderful twists and turns. And that ending. Absolutely transfixing and haunting.

Definitely shines as a true classic with some wonderful reflections on the artistic world, the creative process, and its ambitions and allure.

Come and See (Directed By Elem Klimov)

It’s not often an initial viewing inspires a five star rating. Typically my rule is time and consecutive watches for bumping it up from a 4.5. Every once in a while a film comes around that is simply that undeniable. This is one of those.

A true masterpiece in every way, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to say anything profoundly observant that would add to this experience in any way. Certainly nothing that hasn’t already been expressed many times over through the years since it’s release. I’m content to say this is simply a film you need to experience in order to fully appreciate, an inspired story of two young lost souls caught up in the unimaginable horrors of war being forced, well beyond their years, to wrestle with the tension that exists between hope and despair.

Thief (Directed By Micheal Mann)

Mann’ debut feature, and he directs this like he is already a master of the craft. Captures the grime and the grit of its street level story, a setting which also allows the characters to follow suit (also an early feature for James Caan). A deliciously fun ride that manages to expose the fallacy of the great American dream.

High and Low (Directed By Akira Kurosawa)

A superbly written detective story that simply moves with the dance of its effortlessly positioned performances. The first hour alone features some expectionally written dialogue stationed as it is in a singular apartment. The high and low of the story frames the films setting as it moves through the city with the second half broadening our point of perspective with the unfolding mystery.

Everything about this, from the small details of the story and the set pieces to the cinematography is richly designed and an example of genuine craft that demands your attention and likely several rewatches. Simply brilliant.

Winter Light (Directed By Ingmar Bergman)

“If only we could feel safe and dare show each other tenderness. If only we had some truth to believe in. If only we could believe.”

I’m not sure I can recall a more honest prayer being uttered. That it emerges from such a striking posture of doubt and struggle is what makes it more than merely honest, but also palpable and formative. Building off questions raised in Bergmans previous film regarding the tension that exists between God’s love and Gods seeming silence in the face of tragedy, Winters Light digs deep into the feelings of despair that emerge when the silence appears to be far more present than the love.

The question of Gods love is intimately attached to loves expressive voice in relationship to one another, suggesting that wrestling with God is not something we do in isolation. It is community with one another that holds the power to awaken is to communnion with God as the same tension plays out in the inner workings of our lives. We see this in the contrasting responses of the Priest’s joyous celebration over the liberating acceptance of unblief and the parishioners concession of lifes futility. This is a tension that longs to be reconciled as we are confronted with the cruel nature of this world. The tension becomes more real when we bear the weight and responsibilty of stepping into the struggle of another to offer hope.

There is a thread of personal failure that makes its way through the character arc of the Priests journey. He fails himslef, his marriage, his mistress, his parishioners, his church, and ultimately God. There is a sense in which this becomes a necessary beginning point for contemplating the nature of God, beckoning us towards an acknowleegment that we are not in control and that we desperately long for something to make sense of our uncertainty. In the above prayer this doesn’t come through certain answers but rather a posture of humility and acknowledgment of both our fears and our longings. As we see this transforming the way we see one another, we can see it transforming the way we see God, with love being the truth that once again makes itself known.

The Face of Another (Directed By Hiroshi Teshigahara)

“Looks like you’re getting used to the mask. Or is the mask getting used to you?”

The story follows two essential characters- a man with a facial disfigurement who gets a mask which he wears to cover up his blemishes, and a young woman with a scar that holds in its presence the larger story of war, post war reality, and socio-political headship. Here the intimacy of the indivual story is seen through the larger context of the world that forms it.

This comes alive through the Directors attention to detail, with each frame and each sequence calling us deeper into the the film’s questions. In many ways these questions revolve around identity and identity crisis, wondering about how it is that we make sense of who we are where we are in a given moment and a given context. Whats powerful about this is the way the camera awakens us to matters of perspective, the one that we perceive looking in on us and making judgments of us and the one we perceive and judge looking outwards. These perspectives are shaped togther informing one another as we attempt to move out into the world and participate as we are, or as the mask suggests, as we wish to be seen.

The uncertainty that comes with the fear of being recognized for who we are lingers in the forgotten spaces of the details, which makes so much of this film an exercise in memory. Memories of the forgotten past set in tension with the unseen future, an idea that this young woman with a scarred face projects on to the larger socio-political reality. This is, in its way, what pushes us in our insecurities to engage in a constant process of juggling several masks at the same time, with the question of how we begin to unconsciously conform to these identities being a crucial one. It’s relationship to the larger culture in terms of that inevitable tension between the ways we are formed by it and the ways we inform it is where we uncover the layers, ultimately allowing us to reapply this to the notion of the indivual in helpful ways.

A powerful film that will require mulitple watches to uncover the richness of its detail and it’s substance.

Cries and Whispers (Directed By Ingmar Bergman)

The cries and whispers of the inward soul spill out into the seemingly endless void of an ambivalent, uncaring universe. We do not matter because we do not matter to oursleves.

And yet, the mystery begins to speak quietly from void in ways unexpected- by way of someone who hears. Someone who picks up these cries and whispers and formulates it into a conversation. We matter, it turns out, because we matter to an other, and this frees us to matter to ourselves.

This is how the mystery makes itself known. Where God has heard the cries and the whispers he is given it to us to stand in the void as the hands and feet of the one who hears, the one who loves, the one who, in its most basic expression, is present. Simply togther.

The Death of Mr. Lazorescu (Directed By Cristi Puiu)

Operates as a scathing critique of the health care system whole affording its workers and the patients caught within it a great deal of empathy. It’s surprisingly funny too for something this serious and important. Paints a deeply human portrait.

Sweet Smell of Success (Directed By Alexander Mackendrick)

A breathtaking romp through the mud of some generally disgusting and nasty human behavior. This film is chock full of memorable and great lines, but one word rings true- they are all “snakes”. No other way to describe this mash up of characters.

The story essentially follows a columnist writing for the New York Times and his efforts to break up a romance he disapproves of between his sister and a jazz musician. He has a way with words of course and is used to being in a position of control. The more things spin wildly out of control the deeper he sinks into this increasingly self interested and merciless scheme. This is where charachter and motivations and the desperation of the damaged ego rises more and more to the surface.

The fllm translates readily across eras and feels uncomfortably familiar to certain traits of modern society. While the treatment of women on display rings loud as a product of its time (making its commentary that much more profound) what’s perhaps more scary are the ways this still expresses itself today in different forms.

The black and white sinks this all into the wonderful noirish vibes, making this a real visual delight along with a near perfect script and outstanding performances.

Fanny and Alexander (Directed By Ingmar Bergman)

From the opening scene Bergman beckons us forward into the world of this film and invites us to linger in the shadows where we are able to experience the story from the perspective of a child. Or perhaps more poignantly from the the perspective of widened adult eyes peering backwards into the solace of those complicated childhood memories. It would seem, given that this was his final film, and a majestic one at that, that Bergmans desire was to capture the trajectory of his career, writing this story through the lingering presence of his own formative experiences and shaping that against a career of deeply expressed longing, exploration, questioning and curiousity. Where the darker edges still seem to haunt him here spiritual imagination takes over bringing to life visions of a world that is able to move effortlessly between this earthly reality and transcendent truths. The film weaves together the supernatural and the natural tightly until they cannot exist above or apart. Similar with the fluidity of the life and the dream which Bergman Directs with expert attention to the cinematic transitions. Certain key images, the puppets being a highly visible one, anchor is in a sense of belonging functioning as both comfort and fear.

The films epic runtime takes its time and immerses us in its story, allowing us thd chsncd go get to know the characters before deconstructing their grace filled life with the intrusion of a legitimate horror, eventually putting it back together by way of this persistent grip on hope and innocence.

It’s a profound film built around a grand vision and told with an intimate and personal touch.

My Top Animated Films of 2022

I feel like this year has a little bit of an odd one when it comes to animated films. For me personally there hasn’t really been a stand out entry, and the ones that are populating the larger conversation are a pair of less traditional choices (the stop motion Marcel the Shell With Shoes On and Del Toro’s Pinocchio).

However, I also don’t see this as a bad thing. Typically the stand outs overshadow the small joys of smaller, imperfect fare that deserve attention in their own right, and this is a great space and opportunity to do this. Here are my top 5 animated films of 2022 ranked in decending order with two honorable mentions:

Honorable Mention: Puss in Boots The Last Wish (Directed by Joel Crawford), Strange World (Directed by Don Hall)

I’m fairly fresh off a viewing, but as a considerate fan of this character and the original film this film deserves mention for its attention to the craft. I have some quibbles with the story, especially where it depicts the subject of death, but the characters themselves are well fleshed out, the journey they go on invested and entertaining, and the way it uses different aspects of the animation style is creatively utilized. It’s a reminder of why this character is beloved.

On the flip side is a welcome Disney original that went largely unseen, which us unfortunate because it is a fresh tale with a fun, adventurous vibe and a nice peal to honestly drawn characters and a natural appeal to diversity and ethical concern,

Del Toro’s Pinocchio (Directed by Guillermo Del Toro)

I like to think of myself as the biggest Del Toro fan out there. Doesn’t matter what he puts out there, for me it always has something worthwhile to offer and something important to say, and it always reflects the voice of someone who treats filmmaking with the imagination and delight of a child. In truth, it doesn’t take long for him to make a strong case for why Pinocchio is an adaptation he needed to make, and with its shortcomings it nevertheless remains a true expression of his voice and style. I do think the film feels scattered, as though he had too many great ideas and nobody to help whittle them down. And thematically the film ends up feeling a bit uncertain and less than fleshed out. I even feel like the animation style struggles under the weight of its scope, feeling clunky when it comes to the more intimate details. But within the different sequences and working parts of the story there are real stand out moments that speak to the films potential towards capturing the darker edges of the classic tale and bridging the humanist portraits with an appeal to the transcendent.

INU-OH (Directed by Masaaki Yuasa)

One of the more unique animated films to release this year. Unlike anything else I’ve seen actually with its fusion of myth, folktale, history, music and rock musical set in an older period context. It’s a barrage of sensibilities that plays on the senses using elongated musical performances and a defintie shift in the second half into something tonally different from the first. It’s very visual, the first half relying on symbolism and the abstract and the second half playing things in a more literal and concrete fashion. Whether audiences find this to reflect a disconnect or whether it plays as complimentary could have varying degrees of response. I found it mostly fascinating as it weaves this all into a message about the nature of conflict and survival, the masks we wear to guard ourselves from the implications of this nature, and the reality of isolation, fear and struggle that binds ourselves to this nature both past and present.

One of the great surprises of 2022. Ridiculously entertaining and quite meaningful in terms of theme and message. Quite clever as well.

Lightyear (Angus MacLane)

Lightyear is, at its most basic, simple fun touched with some nice emotional notes. It reminded me of watching Saturday morning cartoons, only with its obvious cinematic presence. Perhaps reminiscent of something like the Iron Giant (although not quite as good). The story is a play on the subtext of the popular Toy Story figure, presenting Buzz not as the familiar character but the scripted character the toy is based on. It’s not so much that we get his backstory, although this film can certainly accent some of the story beats from the Toy Story franchise. What we get is something entirely its own thing. And that gives this film a lot of freedom to carve its own path. I never felt like I was watching something necessarily tied or bound to its previously marketable material. Will that hurt or help this film? Time will tell. I suspect it could lead to some confusion over what this is, so getting viewers out to see it could be a challenge. For those who do see it i think it has the chance to surprise.

Mad God (Directed by Phil Tippett)

This is madness on a whole other level. The metaphors are rich, and it’s hard not to see our present reality in the chaos. The animation, done using intricate and detailed stop motion, is simply otherworldly, which helps to transport us into its depraved world. Cycles loom large here, leaving one wondering whether there is any way to escape, any promise of liberation. Maps, bombs, surgeons and drones, they all intersect in the decent into the shadow world underneath.

A film that will merit multiple watches to scratch the surface of its ideas, to be sure.

Turning Red (Directed by Domee Shi)

I love how thus film anchors the developmental stage of its young woman coming of age in the larger world of family and friendship and a gradual process of becoming in the face of two worlds and cultures colliding. As it says, “We’ve all got a messy, loud, weird part of oursleves hidden away. And a lot of us never let it out.”

If there is a pure animated feature that deserves to be considered fas a standout pick for 2022 it would be this undersold and quietly persistent animated gem. It’s a but unconventional when it comes to the kind of films we have become used to from Pixar, but that’s what makes it so special and unique.

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On (Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp)

I’ve written elsewhere about my love for this film and it’s themes, but the films use of space and size to create these contrasts of perspective and to bring out the full emotion of Marcels pursuit and struggle is profound and revealing. One of its most spectacular accomplishments is using this to make full use of the big screen experience while making the simplicity of its story profoundly fitted for a more intimate viewing at home. This is a character that imprints a very real heart and soul into one’s imagination, and does so in a completely disarming and unassuming fashion,

It’s a talking shell of course. With shoes and other human qualities that help us feel what it’s like to feel alone this world and what it’s like to find community and belonging. Perhaps the most notable part of his story is a point where he is sitting there watching himself on YouTube and wondering whether all these people online might be a community. He quickly discovers it’s not real. A shell with shoes on gets this more then most real life people.

My Top Horror Films of 2022- Outliers and Rankings

If I had to sum up horror in 2022 I might narrow it to down to two basic observations- an interest in telling women’s stories featuring compelling women characters and strong leads, and second an examination of parental/generational relationships.

We can see this in early releases like Alex Garlands Men, a film that grapples with a woman, played to perfection by Jessie Buckley, who is striving to find healing from a past relationship within a world still governed by a long standing patriarchy. Equally so in the excellent Resurrection, which features a woman (Rebecca Hall) wrestling with the patriarchy in light of pieces from her past. Or the character of Nevena, played with a rough hued empathy by Sara Kilmoska in the brooding You Won’t Be Alone, finding her way in a foreign world that has seemingly rejected her for who she is (a witch). This is a film that works to see the world from Nevenas perspective, who herself is learning to see the world from the perspective of the others that surround her. You Are Not My Mother features Hazel Doupe as the lead in a memorable film about familial secrets and mother-daugher relationships, Nanny explores familial dynamics from the perspective of an illegal immigrant from Senegal, separated from her son and facing the horrors of the present, Bones and All paints a hard hitting character study of a young woman coming of age uncovering the mystery of her own relationship with her estranged mother, while The Innocents sees a world of distanced and distracted adults from the child’s point of view, Smile features Doctor Rose Carter ( Sosie Bacon) confronting her own storied past, and Lullaby is a striking story about mothers and children. Hellbender features a coming of age story centered around mother and daughter relationships.

And then of course we have memorable turns from Mia Goth in Pearl, Georgina Campbell in Barbarian, closure for Jamie Lee Curtis’ iconic Laurie Strode in Halloween Ends, a stunning portrait of a mother-daughter relationship in Joanna Hoggs The Eternal Daughter, Anya Taylor-Joy stealing the ensemble cast in The Menu, and perhaps the most triggering film of 2022 for parents with children Speak No Evil.

What I figured I would do is offer 5 outliers- films that did not make my ranked list but which I feel deserve attention, and then offer my top 10 ranked list of 2022 in decending order:

The Outliers

Nanny (Directed by Nikyatu Jusu)

Captures the struggles of immigrants, and in this case immigrant mothers with the broad brush strokes of an intimately drawn horror. The performances, the vibe, the visuals, it’s all decidedly effective here, especially where it uses this to form a well crafted immersive and emotional experience.

The Domestic (Directed by Bradley Katzen)

A strong script helps steady a sprawling story about the horror that emerges from within social economic divide after a wealthy couple hires the daughter of a deceased housekeeper. It’s atmospheric and is really good at building a gradual sense of dread. A good choice for exploring horror from South Africa

No Exit (Directed by Damien Power)

I thought about including Barbarian (spoiler alert) here as an example of a tight, taught entertaining thriller. I went with No Exit because it released early and I think it’s worth a watch. It is extremely accessible while also being a nice choice for the early January days of winter. Good tension, a little bit of mystery and a fair amount of fun

All Eyes (Directed by Todd Greenlee)

A hidden gem that presents a decidedly astute character study fleshed out between two strangers hidden with a fusion of monster film meets home alone with adults.

What Josiah Saw (Directed by Vincent Grashaw)

A decidedly fresh take on family stories set in an isolated farmhouse. It’s all about dysfunctional families and past sins emerging, but where that feels familiar it fleshes it out here in some unexpected ways when it comes to the characters and its commitment to the slow build mystery.

Top Ten Ranked (Decending Order)

Smile (Directed by Parker Finn)

A stellar debut. I don’t rattle easy when it comes to horror, but dang, this film did exactly what it set out to do and genuinely got in to my head. It earned every jump scare, featuring strong performances and interesting thematic ideas. A well executed and entertaining horror film that deserves to be experienced with a crowd, as it is bound to generate discussion.

Lullaby (Directed by Alauda Ruiz de Azua)

A late addition to the 2022 horror line up given that it just released before Christmas. It’s rare that a film hits on such a level that I feel compelled to rewatch it almost immediately. That’s precisely what happened The premise, which revolves around the legend and lore of Lilith, uncovers a well crafted horror, one of the best of 2022 to be sure, which manages to play around with a few familiar tropes in ways that are bound to unsettle (warning for any with newborns, this will be a difficult watch).

You Won’t Be Alone (Directed By Goran Stolevski)

“It’s a burning, breaking thing, this world. A biting, wretching thing.”

It’s only once the fullness of this story comes to fruition, conflicted as it is by the great tension of what it means to be human in a largely uncaring and unconscious universe, that the horrific and the holy (to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite podcasts, the Fear of God) seem to finally come together in a way that gives rise to something rather profound and quite beautiful. In following the character of a young witch named Nevena who, after being isolated from the world as a child finally emerges looking to both understand it and find her place in it, we find the horror and the beauty present in this world set in tension. Its a slow burn, and I’m not sure everyone will appreciate the meditative quality in the same way, especially in its more brutal moments. And yet for those willing to see the world from the perspective of the outsider I do think there is something powerful to experience here, something that can teach us important truths about our world and our place in it.

I Was a Simple Man/The Eternal Daughter (Directed by Christopher Makoto Yogi/Joanna Hogg

I paired these two films together because they both qualify as unconventional horror. They are both ghost stories, but of the dramatic type.

I Was A Simple Man tells a haunting ghost story that, as it follows the sobering process of a man facing declining health and an inevitable death, we find him facing the ghosts of his past while the film also explores the larger cultural history of Hawaii. It’s quiet, patient and quite powerful in terms of the visuals, which ebb and flow with the dark framing of the night sky and the surreal beauty of the day. Somehow it feels both grounded and transcendent.

The Eternal Daughter is the most recent film from the Director of Souvenir and Souvenir 2, continuing to prove that Hogg is one of the most interesting Directors working today. Here she paints a compelling portrait, supposedly part autobiographical, of a daughter returning to her family home (now a hotel) in order to come to grips with pieces of her past, including her relationship with her mother. Its brilliantly structured making good use of its setting, both which play into an astute character study built on the strengths of Swinton in a dual role,

The Menu (Directed by Mark Mylod)

Difficult to speak of this film without spoilers, but suffice to say it’s a delicious concoction of a brilliant idea, strong themes and memorable performances. There is lots here, thematically speaking, and it manages to establish a compelling metaphor that speaks in a meaningful way to questions of legacy, art and story amidst social divide and realities of class. One of the more intelligently drawn horror features of 2022

Resurrection (Directed by Andrew Semans)

So many thoughts, and so little I can say without spoiling the full force of the films daring and audacious ending. Yet another film about a woman trapped in a mans world and given to its abuses and patriarchal demands. And yet I wouldn’t exactly call this Men 2.0. The metaphorical force of that film is much more aggressive and on the nose. Resurrection is definitely not subtle, especially once we hit the back half of the films runtime, but it does have a subtle commitment to the headspace of its titular characters that frames this more as an introspective character study as opposed to the parable like story that informs Men’s go for broke linear approach. And Hall gives one of the most memorable monologues of the year.

Bones and All (Directed by Luca Guadagnino)

You’d be forgiven for thinking this might be just another run of the mill YA vampire film, an overly dramatic love story and all the rest. But this is both not that and so much more than that at the same time. Its a coming of age film about growing up into an uncertain world. It’s about learning how to face the parts of ourselves we don’t like without allowing the world to define us as one who cannot be otherwise. And it explores this through some well defined portraits of family and community

Nope

You can’t speak about horror in 2022 without inevitably being forced to engage Jordan Peele’s Nope. One of the big questions on the table going into this one was whether or not he had the ability to reinvent and push the boundaries of his well known tendencies and style. There is little doubt that he succeeds, creating a story that juggles multiple themes and ideas whike leaving them all up for interpretation. Here he plays with everything from the history of cinema to the human-creature relationship to the human penchant for cannibalizing itself when it comes to culture. It’s brilliant, even if certain themes do remain somewhat veiled.

Pearl (Directed by Ti West)

You also can’t speak of horror in 2022 without mentioning the jaw dropping performance of Mia Goth. It’s equally awe inspiring to consider that both X and this prequel released this year. I loved X. I’m pretty sure I loved this more. Completely different kind of film. Pure aesthetic and straight up nostalgia piece. It’s as if they threw together Pleasantville, Wizard of Oz and X.

The Northman (Directed by Robert Eggers)

I’ve written quite a bit regarding my affection for this film elsewhere, but suffice to say it landed for me in a big way. There is powerful clarity here lingering underneath the surface that points to a natural beauty, the power of new life, the inner longings for peace and restoration, the pain of injustice leading to deeper relationship with one another. But it also leaves no question about a world still enslaved to the same cycles of eye for an eye means of justice that we find embedded in Eggers real commitment to mythic history, something we as viewers today would do well not to relegate to some relic of unenlightened history or fantastical superstions. It’s this dedication, not just to recreating the history but in affording the mythic qualities of this history a degree of humility, that makes this film so powerful. It challenges our perceptions of reality and grounds the human experience in both a common struggle and a shared need for the transcendent, for something redemptive.

The Innocents

A brilliantly crafted and mesmerizing story told from the perspective of this diverse collection of children with super human powers (with incredible child performances empowering the characters). This film challenges our ability to boil things down to simple black and white terms. These children are unique, something that plays into their relationship to the adults in their lives. The adults failure to see these kids and to be present with them forces the children to have to navigate the complicated reality of the world they see and the world they know in a world the adults don’t and cannot share. And yet their worlds and perspectives still overlap and the children’s actions have real world consequences both good and bad.

This is the kind of film that lets the questions it raises linger in the recesses of our mind. It’s a slow burn drama about kids with powers, and it’s also a horror, but both of these aspects play a role in telling a deeply committed human story about what it means to be a child in a world where being a child means also being misunderstood and not always seen by the adults in our lives. It is the strength of community that emerges within this group of children then, amidst their diversity, that might embody the films most profound revelation. This provides the context for the moral tension that arises in the films complex arc and its unsettling conclusion.

The Fullness of Time and The Beauty of the Incarnation: Reflections on Galatians 4:1-7

“What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

  • Galatians 4:1-7

I had this passage pop up in my feed as one that speaks about the coming of the Christ child, and I was reminded of some recent discussion regarding verses 4 and 5 I had had with some others.

The phrasing “when the set time had come” often gets misapplied and misunderstood. To understand this phrase one needs to consider verse 5:
“to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

This answers the question of why “God sent his Son”. This also answers the question of why his son was “born of a woman, born under the law”- to redeem those under the Law according to the expectation of those under the law (meaning: the Jewish promise of the womans seed which will crush the head of the serpent).

It also answers the question of why redeem those under the law”- so that “we” might receive adoption to sonship.

Now here is the crucial thing. Notice how Paul keeps moving between the use of “we” and the use of “you”. When he uses we he is speaking of those under the law, meaning the Jews (Israel), which he includes himself among. Paul sees Jesus freeing his people from slavery within the Jewish story and the jewish expectation. Adoption to sonship for the Jews therefore means the fulfillment of the promise to the Jews in light of the Jewish story. This is what it means then to say “when the set time had come”. There are two words used to refer to time in the Greek, one of which connotes chronological time, the other which means a breaking into time. In this verse it is chronoligical and can best be understood to mean “the time had been fulfilled’, or that the new age had begun (since they measured time according to the current age and the age to come).

Further yet, the phrasing “adoption to sonship” is not some statement about the process of salvation within an individual as this verse is so often used to say. The phrase flows from the analogy in verse 1 where it says “as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.” The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture. In this analogy it is applied to Israel. Israel is the we. Paul’s point here, which he also fleshes out in Romans with even more robustness, is that this is how Israel is saved, by which he means this is how the covenant promise is fulfilled in Jesus, therefore “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” The you being his audience of Gentile Christans divided over whether one needs to become a Jew (be circumcised) in order to follow Christ. As Paul says, “the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith”, for which the best interpretation is faithfulness or allegiance. They had the Law so that they might be formed by it, and this Law was not a set of rules but a story in which they find the revealed name of God. In the same way then, “you are all children of God through faith(fullness)”, the you being his gentile audience, meaning that circumcision is not the point, faithfulness to God is the point.

What Paul means is this: “The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”

This means the promise that we find in the covenant to crush the head of the serpent, rise to the throne and usher in the new creation has come to fruition and been realized in Jesus. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Thus when “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law”, this is in fact good news for the world as the Gentiles are called to participate in the new reality this brings about in and for the whole world . In Jesus’ arrival under the law (meaning within the Jewish story) we find that God has in fact been faithful to the covenant promise. This is why we speak of the child born to Mary and Joseph as good news and a promise of peace and joy to all the world.

The Miracle of Christmas and a Classic Christmas Memory

“This is the imagination. It’s a wonderful place.”

  • Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

Perhaps the most vivid memories of Christmas’ past belong to the early morning hours of Christmas morning. This is where I would get up alone, organize the presents in the lights of the Christmas tree, and watch a Christmas movie as I waited for the rest of the house to awaken.

Once upon a time a choice pick would be the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street. Its affectionate spirit and message about the relationship between the imagination and the ability to believe in sonething greater than merely that which we can observe, especially when it comes to reconciling the way things are with the way we hope things to be, has always been an important part of my own christmas reflections. Following the remake in 1994, a film that sometimes gets unfairly maligned but went on to leave it’s own mark on the cinematic landscape, I have watched one of these versions every Christmas morning without fail.

One thing this 75th anniversary deep dive special edition from Time uncovered for me is the real world connection between the story in the film and the real world story of the late 1940s. Christmas had turned into a dreadful time of year for workers and Christmas itself had been taken over by an invigorated post war capitalist landscape. There was perhaps no greater example of this reality than the Gimbels-Macy rivalry, which the Director set out to give a redemptive spin. The hope was to inspire a kind of reenchantment at a time when American society seemed to have lost the ability to imagine. The 1994 remake, which actually marks my graduating year, set out to do something similar in its time.

The film’s continued appeal to the promise of the imagination shines through in the contrasting portraits of childhood innocence and the cynicism of a world the adults have built for themselves. Part of what makes this film so daring in it’s time, aside from the well drawn portrait of a strong, independent single divorced woman, is the way it is able to uphold the spirit of the gift giving season while critiquing its commercialization. Making the giant conglomerates subservient to the power of the imagination to believe in something greater might not parallel the late 1940s reality, but it did offer us a story that gave a generation permission to challenge the status quo. As the 1994 adaptation’s appeal goes, the more the world changes the more it stays the same, making the message of this film timeless

John O’ Donohue and The Beauty of Colour

“Colour is not a cloak worn by an object; each colour is generated and shows the vulnerability of an object: Its being-seen-ness.”

“One of the great illusions of human vision is that there is stillness, yet what seems still to our eyes is in fact never still. The whole physical world is in a state of permanent vibration and change.”

“What we see, we see in light; yet what we see is always partial, a selection from the full spectrum of what is there but not visible to us. There is a real world of invisible light here around us but we cannot see it. Though we feel at home and sure in the visible world, it is in truth a limited place. Visible light comprises only one tenth of the whole light spectrum. When we see the whole flow of visible light together, it is white.”

“The very thereness of a flower or a stone is an act of resistance to light, and colour is the fruit of this resistance. The colours we cannot see are the ones the object absorbs. The colour it rejects is, ironically, the one in which we see it dressed. For instance, a rose aborbs yellow and blue, and it rejects red. So we see a rose as red… While the object resists the light, the object is also penetrated by the light… The beauty of colour is an intricate play of presence and absence.”

  • Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (John O’ Donohue)

I found this whole chapter titled The Colour of Beauty so eye opening. He goes on to say that, “Throughout the history of colour there has always been the suspicion that colours belonged only to the surface. Deep down everything was dark and black… Dwelling constantly in such a world of darkness (as the ancients lived), it is no wonder that sun and moon in their bright journeying would appear to be deities… Darkness is the great canvas against which Beauty becomes visible. Darkness withholds presence; it resists the beam of eye-light and deepens the mystery…. Colours are the deeds and sufferings of light.”

He then goes on to detail the “shadow between the light” and how each colour was given a revelatory meaning that frames much of our common phrasing still today (think of whites association with purity, or the phrases “green with envy” or “out of the blue” or even the notion of “the blues” or “painting the town red”). He speaks of black representing hunger for colour as it is the outer surface “behind which colours secretly dwell.” He speaks of the passions of red as a “threshold colour encompassing beginnings and endings, purification and pollution. Green is associated with growth, hope and relentless desire to live within the threshold of the passions. Yellow is a measure of delight. Blue the measure of the expanse and of distance that hold earth and sky, night and day in its grasp.

As he says, “colour is the clothing of beauty”, reminding us that “no color stands alone” and that “each single colour emerges in a dance where its other sustaining partners are invisible… we are shown just enough to imagine everything else.”

Titus: Locating Relationship Between the Call to Faithfulness and Our Knowledge of Right Doctrine

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Titus 3:4-11

This passage in Titus is an interesting one, especially when it comes to 3:10,

“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.”

The issue with this verse is that it is the very thing used to divide one against the other. If you have two disagreeing sides which one claims this as their right?

What tends to get missed when people cite this verse as a way of protecting their view against those who disagree with them is the way the letter to Titus is collapsing the foundation of division. Even in chapter 3 we see the premise beginning with the notion of submission. Submission to the rulers. Why? Because of what “the kindness and love of God our Savior” means for us. Before we were called out from our former life and set apart to live in the way of the kingdom of God we were once “foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Here we need to be careful not to rush forward and apply this as a universal statement about how indiviual salvation works. This is describing a community who’s story reflects a specific context. This is speaking about a community set apart to image the kingdom of God in the time and place where they find themselves. Thus what we get is a portrait of a divided people. How can they be image bearers if they are fighting with one another?

This is where chapter 2:1 says, “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.” This is connected to chapter 1:9 where it says to hold firmly “to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

So what is this sound doctrine? It is the trustworthy message. What is the trustworthy message? That is outlined in 1:1-4, cited as the hope of Jesus and His work which is anchored in the promise of eternal life (which they would understand as the restoration of the whole creation). This is what is said to be the the knowledge that leads to godliness, or knowledge that invites us to participate in the kingdom of God in Christ as ones who bear the image of God through Christlikeness (based on what Christ has done for us). This is what shapes chapter 2 as the collapsing of these divisions, speaking to older men, older women, younger children, slaves ect and calling all to follow in the way of Christ, to live in relationship to others in the same way that Christ lived in relationship to us- by serving one another. This is the connection between the sound doctrine (the work of Jesus and the hope it represents) and the fact that this doctrine is meant to actually call us to live in the Kingdom not opposed to it.

Which or course is where we come back around to the tension inherent within this idea of a unified community. If the context of this community in Titus is division between the circumcised and uncircumcised (1:10), as is the conflict in most of the NT, then this letter is a call to bring both Jew and Gentile together over and against the question of whether one needs to become Jewish to follow Christ. As Paul says elsewhere, the Law (circumcision) is important to those under it, but not necessary to those not under it because the whole point of the Law is to point to the story of Gods faithfulness (now made known and fulfilled in Christ) which calls us to faithfulness. This circumcision is not the point, living in the kingdom as faithful participants trusting in the promise of Gods faithfulness to the covenant is.

So how do we navigate 3:9? Seems to me that the inference there is that those who are taking away the hope of Christs work by denying others the right to free participation in the kingdom is the problem. How can others freely participate in the kingdom of they see a community of christ followers denying their own community the right to free participation. If this is the whole point of the “right doctrine” then it is this sort of division that needs to be left behind

A Fellowship of Differences: McKnight, Acts and Locating the Conflict Beteeen Peter, James and Paul

Acts 15:10-11
10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Referring to this passage Scott McKnight suggests that,
“The quest in the early church was for a “fellowship of differents,” that is, of people who are not the same but who transcend and celebrate differences by fellowship in Christ (McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents).”

He goes on to say that,
“We are looking here at the single most significant point of contention in the first generation of the church: Do gentile believers in Jesus observe the Torah as do the Jewish believers? Their Bible and Paul’s stated explicitly that circumcision was the covenant requirement for all, including gentiles, and it was an “everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:1–14). Furthermore, full converts (proselytes) to Judaism were required to be circumcised, so a clear precedent was already at work. Yet, in neither of the gentile conversion stories told by Luke, the eunuch in Acts 8 and Cornelius in Acts 10, was circumcision required. Think of circumcision as the single act that demonstrated a full commitment. The rite signaled to the Jewish community one’s full commitment to Torah observance and that one had crossed the threshold out of paganism into Judaism.”

This underscores what we find in nearly the entirety of the NT. This is the question that forms the central concerns of its writers and figures. Here he outlines the big 3:

“First, Peter. He reminds them of his experience of being the first to gospel the gentiles with Cornelius where he and those who turned to Jesus received the Spirit and God “purified their hearts by faith” (15:9), which means without circumcision. Peter pushes even harder against the Pharisee Christian position by stating that none of them had been able to bear the requirements to follow the law of Moses, so why ask the gentile converts to attempt it (15:10). I consider this statement one of the most radical statements one can find in the entire New Testament. Salvation, he tells the congress, is “through the grace of our Lord Jesus” (15:11). His answer then to the Pharisee Christians is “No!”

Second, Barnabas and Paul (notice the order) must have made quite an impression because Luke says “the whole assembly became silent,” which is often language used when listening to powerful orators (15:12). In this case, the preeminent troublemakers! They told stories about “signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them” (15:12). Their voice is reduced to one verse.

Third, James, the brother of Jesus and the major leader of the church in Jerusalem. Noticeably, he affirms Simon (Peter), not Barnabas and Paul, whom God used first to gospel the gentiles (15:14). Rhetorically it appears he wants to affirm (1) the gentile mission, (2) Peter as the fountain of that mission, and therefore (3) Paul as simply one who continued that divine initiative. James, too, knows like modern evangelicals that he needs some biblical support, so he appeals to Amos 9:11–12’s explicit prediction that in the future God would save gentiles (Acts 15:15–18).”

He then poses an interesting question regarding Jamss cutting through the middle of disputes between Peter and Paul.
“Two sides are in dispute: Paul claims total freedom from the law, and the Pharisee believers claim the necessity of law observance. James proposes (1) to “not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (15:19) and (2) proposes that they be required to observe what gentiles who lived in the land of Israel were to observe. Either James is appealing here to Leviticus 17:8–14, which is built on Genesis 9:4–6, or he is pushing in various ways against idolatry (Gaventa, Acts, 221–224).”

I have long thought that this is why James’ letter appears so distinct, and perhaps why I was once resisted I history. Part of what opens up James for me is actually seeing his use of the Genesis language, and so it’s interesting to consider his letter in line with the literary structure of leviticus if this theory is correct. I suspect that he is actually using that to speak to the idolatry of their day and that his highly considered jewishness sometimes gets missed in light of later writers seeing him in opposition to Paul.

The Divided Body, the Unified Christ- Finding the Language of At-one-ment

So much division in the church seems to come down to disagreements on the atonement- what it is, how it works, what it says about God, humanity and creation. Which is ironic given that at the heart of atonement is the healing of divisions, the at one withness (or mentness) of God’s work in the created order.

Something I have come to be compelled by over the years- atonement theories are simply language, not facts. It is langauge used to help us make sense of something we otherwise cannot understand.

What’s important to understand then about language is that language is rooted in both time and place. Language expresses itself differently in different times and places. This does not mean the absence of Truth, nor that Truth changes and is contradictory. It simply means that language is limited in its expression and that to do the work of hearing and challenging one another, and likewise allowing the other to hear and challenge us, involves a cross cultural movement into a different space and time. This is equally true for approaching the language that we encounter in Scripture- this is a cross cultural movement, a learning to speak a different language and thus allowing this to shed light on our own.

It is when we assume that our language has the power to capture the totality of Truth in our time and place that atonement theories begin to divide, and actually take us further from Truth. In Truth, the goal of Christian formation should follow the same pattern that we find in the book of Deuteronomy, where we find a later generation of people in their time and place looking back at a previous generation in their time and place and calling them to consider the langauge (the story) of the generation previous to them. In Deuteronomy the call is to locate within these different times and places the shared experience of Sinai, the place where God in Spirit, according to the story, came down the mountain and entered human history. Thus we find Deuteronomy calling a people far removed from this moment to place themsleves at Sinai while asking what this means for them in their time and place. This becomes the expectation of the Spirits continued dwelling in their midst, calling them to find a language that is able to express how this Truth speaks to the uniqueness of their experiences.

In Jesus we find much the same. Jesus’ story is patterned after Sinai, where God comes down the mountain to break into human history and dwell with His creation. Through this comes the Spirit that binds us to this shared story across time and place. Thus when it comes to thinking about atonement, we should expect our langauge to be different. It is okay for certain theories to be challenged and for us to employ new langauge in ways that address our present questions and concerns and awareness. What’s important though, and what Christmas is all about, is to learn what it is to know and to remember and to participate in the shared story. To learn how to place oursleves in that story and to allow that story to shape our language in our time and place accordingly. This is what it means to live in the expectation of the Spirits continued dwelling in our midst. This is how Jews understood the role or the Torah. This is how Jesus takes the shape of Torah. This is how we heal the divisions removed as we are from the others story and bound as we are to our own. To be shaped by a story external to our conflicts is precisely where and how the Spirit moves by way of langauge. If God did indeed break into history we should expect that such a God would be expressed in the Finiteness of our language in time and place. We should also expect that this Finiteness is the very thing that calls us to open our eyes to the other, to move across cultures and into the beauty and diversity of the human experience without fear that Truth will somehow be sacrificed along the way. Truth was sacrificed in fact for this very purpose, so that we might be free to participate in this very way.

Happy Thanksgiving: Exploring Phillipians and Art of Gratitude

Philippians 4:4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In Scott McKnight’s transformative book on Paul’s letter to the Romans (Reading Romans Backwards) he makes the case that misreadings of the text flow from misunderstanding the context and that the best way to locate the context is to read I backwards. It’s a fascinating practice that really does reformulate the letters concern as it allows us to gain a better perspective on who Paul is speaking ro and why.

In his new commentary on Philippians he applies the same approach, beginning with chapter 4 before moving forward through chapters 1-3. One of the most oft cited passages in the letter comes from chapter 4 and relates to thanksgiving, or more importantly having a posture of thankfulness.

Right before this passage we find an important section of 2 (or 3) verses that often get bypassed on our way to recontextualixing this passage as a word for us today.

2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Here we find the context for the letters emphasis on unity in Christ. Two women leaders (don’t let this fact run by top quickly either) are at odds and Paul is making a plea to this community. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” (Vs 1) Why? So that they might “help these women”. Doesn’t get more particular, personal and pointed then this.

This frames the ensuing words then regarding thanksgiving not as an inward looking sentiment but rather outwards as a witness which holds the power to heal the divisions in our midst. How easy it is to read this letter as one from Paul to me. How much more power do these words hold when seen as a letter calling a community to live for the sake of another. Thanksgiving is not merely gratitude I express regarding what Christ has done for me but the very real and transformative work of the spirit healing the impossible divides that emerge from our attempts to make sense of this life together with all it messiness and uncertainty. And if Philippians has its way with this ancient community it would find them seeking this first and foremost at the table where Christ’s own witness works to heal the divide in the whole of creation

Happy Thanksgiving. May we find a peace that transcends all understanding in this simple and necessary truth.