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Reviews of Books & Movies

Movie Review: Ben-Hur

A Timeless Classic with Eternal Implications

Ben-Hur (2016) is a story of Jewish Prince Judah Ben-Hur who seeks to avoid scrutiny in the first century Jerusalem as he navigates the tricky ground between Jewish zealots and the Roman occupiers, all while doing what is right.

When an act of generosity brings about his ultimate betrayal, Judah ends up a slave. He survives and works his way back to Jerusalem, using his knowledge of horses to do so. He searches for his family and lost love, while seeking reconciliation with his estranged stepbrother.

There is, of course, an epic chariot race at the pinnacle of this action-adventure movie. The story also provides intrigue, interesting personal dynamics, and romantic elements, offering something for everyone.

We see Jesus in a minor recurring role throughout the movie’s overall arc, but his climatic crucifixion toward the end and what happens afterward is the major point of the movie and a most rewarding conclusion.

If you’ve not seen this 2016 version of Ben-Hur, check it out. Or watch it again.

Ben-Hur Background and Other Versions

A big reason why I put off watching the 2016 version, was that I had been underwhelmed by the 1959 version, despite it starring Charlton Heston. Though critically acclaimed and award-winning—winning eleven Oscars—the long-run time of 3:32 minutes was enough to deter my appreciation or discourage additional contemplation. That was a mistake.

In addition to the well-known 2016 and 1959 versions of the movie, IMDb notes additional productions of Ben-Hur. Major ones include the original 1907 silent short, lasting fifteen minutes; the longer 1925 silent movie, lasting 2:23 and which was later dubbed with music and sound effects for re-release in 1931, and a Ben Hur miniseries in 2010, which interestingly was only three hours long.

The story originates from an 1880 book Ben-Hur: The Tale of Christ written by Louis Wallace. The best-selling book was called the most influential Christian book of nineteenth century.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Movie Review: Silence

A Thought-Provoking Look at Faith, Persecution, and Navigating Right and Wrong

Reviewed by Peter DeHaan

The movie Silence is a fictional account of two Jesuit priests from Portugal who seek permission to travel to Japan in 1639. They desire to investigate what happened to their mentor. His written communication had stopped, and a rumor circulated that he had turned his back on his faith and his missionary work, having committed apostasy.

The story takes place in seventeenth century Japan, one with open, state-sponsored hostility to Christians and their faith. Seeking to end conversions to Catholicism and wipe away the church, an inquisitor is tasked with finding believers and forcing them to commit apostasy. He resorts to extreme measures—including torture and executions—to do so.

The inquisitor, however, makes a startling discovery and changes his tactics.

Silence is a can’t-miss movie that every Christian should consider watching. Click To Tweet

Silence is a riveting portrayal of extreme religious persecution and torture. It is faith-friendly and thought-provoking. It’s a can’t-miss movie that every follower of Jesus should see.

Though critically acclaimed, the movie Silence was not a financial success. This may be in part to its long two hour and forty-minute runtime. It’s also rated R for its graphic portrayal of persecution, torture, and execution—though not excessive nor gratuitous.

The movie Silence is based on the 1966 acclaimed novel by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō and took Martin Scorsese nearly three decades to complete.  It stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Thoughts We Should Avoid

We Must Take Care What We put in Our Minds for They Drive Our Attitudes and Actions

We talked about why we need to be careful with what we say. Then we shared some biblical tips to guard our thoughts, since what we think about often flows out of our mouth. Let’s consider some thoughts we should avoid.

Paul writes to the Philippian church, sharing with them eight things to give their attention to. They are to focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). So much of our present society doesn’t align with this.

Considering the opposite of Paul’s list, we can look at our world today to determine areas where we might want to control or at least limit our exposure to. Here are some things to contemplate that encourages to dwell on thoughts we should avoid:

News

I stopped listening to the news on June 15, 2020. Every broadcast specialized in negativity and was only partially correct. Yes, each news story began with an element of truth, but the coverage soon diverged into biases and falsehoods, many of which confronted the Word of God.

It mattered not which station I listen to or watched: liberal or conservative. I found none that met any of Paul’s eight characteristics.

So that I’m not completely out of touch, however, I’ve settled on one weekly newspaper as my source of current events.

Though I lack knowledge of what’s happening in our world on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis, not subjecting myself to this negativity has lifted a huge weight off my soul. I now move about my day with a lightness instead of the darkness their news sources promote.

Social Media

If the contents on all news broadcasts are negative and misaligned with Scripture, most posts on social media are an even worse source that promote spots we should avoid. Though I have a presence on several social media platforms, I checked them infrequently.

I’ve also disabled all notifications. I check one platform once a day for a few minutes as I wrap up my work. For the others I stop by once-a-week. That’s enough.

I’ve often wondered about shutting them all down and walking away. So far, I haven’t. My once-a-day and once-a-week plan works for me.

Music

I’ve also weaned myself away from most music. Mostly, the styles I like contain lyrics I don’t appreciate.

I’m also prone to earworms, that is, “stuck song syndrome.” I’m okay if it happens to be something I heard at church on Sunday. But I’m frustrated if it’s from a commercial or other secular source.

Entertainment

So much of the content in movies and TV shows directly opposes a biblical worldview.

With most people shoving several hours of visual entertainment into their minds each day compared with a few minutes of Bible study, at best, there’s little doubt about which perspective will win out.

If we continually see people doing things contrary to God’s will, we can easily begin to regard their behavior as acceptable and then to embrace it.

Books

Just as movies and TV shows can pump ungodly content into our minds, so can the written word. Some books are positive and uplifting. Most aren’t. The key is to select with care the books we read and skip the rest.

Other Items

Other areas we might want to limit our exposure to is relationships that are toxic, close friendships with people living immoral lives, and affinity with groups whose purpose misaligns with God’s. We should also be careful with where we go and how we spend our money.

I’m sure there are other things we could add.

We can think of these items as guardrails that help keep us on track with Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we must exercise care to the degree we immerse ourselves into our world. Click To Tweet

Not Isolation

These are sources that promote thoughts we should avoid.

In reviewing these items, we could conclude that we must remove ourselves from the world. Though various people have tried to do so in the past 2,000 years, their well-intended goal is off base.

Yes, Jesus said we are not of this world (John 17:16). And John later added that we are not of the things in the world. If we love the world, God’s love isn’t in us (1 John 2:15-16).

Yet Jesus also told us to go into the world and tell others about him (Matthew 28:18-20). How can we do this if we isolate ourselves from them? We can’t.

Therefore, as followers of Jesus, we must exercise care to the degree we immerse ourselves into our world. We must remain close enough to make a difference, well far enough away to not be pulled from our faith.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Personal Posts

“I Heart You” Day

My wife and I aren’t romantic types. I’m not sure if I’m just bad at the planning and execution or if it’s not all that important to her.  Nevertheless, I do put forth a futile effort from time to time.

Years ago, it all started a couple of weeks before that, she asked for a new printer. Teasingly, I suggested it could be a Valentines’ Day present. She readily agreed—seriously, she did—with the stipulation that it includes spare ink cartridges. So, a plan begins to emerge—a good plan!

Step 1: I ordered the printer and hooked it up the last week; it was an arduous task, but that’s a story for a different time.

Step 2: Then I presented her with a box of her favorite chocolates-Trinidads from Fannie May. Unfortunately, she still had some left from her birthday; maybe she didn’t like them all that well after all.

Step 3: And then, I made a special dinner—chicken stir-fry with sweet and sour sauce. (I wonder, if I always make dinner on Thursdays, do I get bonus points for Valentines Day if I was going to make it anyway?)

My plan was for a candlelight dinner, but it wasn’t really dark enough for candles and she opted for the more convenient invention, called electric lights. The meal was topped off with Valentine’s cupcakes that she made that morning.

Step 4: Waiting at her plate was her ink cartridges. She was pleased—at least I think so. Or perhaps she was just amused.

Step 5: To conclude the evening we went and saw the romantic comedy, “PS I Love You.”  I’m okay with chick flicks, but I’ll only give it three stars (out of five). I think my wife was less impressed.

It's the effort that counts. Happy Valentines! Click To Tweet

So, wrapping up. I think it was a good Valentine’s Day—I think.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Personal Posts

Black and White in a Technicolor World

I dream in black and white. I’ve always assumed this was because I grew up watching black and white TV. Occasionally my black and white dream contains one item in color—a more recent cinematic effect that my dreaming has likely emulated. 

A couple of times an entire dream scene is blasted with vibrant, blinding color. It comes as such a surprise that I instantly wake-up.

Since I dream in black and white and grew up watching television in black and white, it shouldn’t be surprising that I enjoy black and white movies. 

(And for the record, I’m not a purest and I don’t object to the colorization of black and white films. A good movie is a good movie, regardless.)

In selecting older movies, I first consider those that are heralded as classics. I also give consideration to the classic films that Netflix suggests, based on my ratings that I’ve given to other films. A third reason why I will opt to partake in cinematic nostalgia is the people associated with a picture.

Since I dream in black and white and grew up watching television in black and white, it shouldn't be surprising that I enjoy black and white movies.  Click To Tweet

As far as directors, I opt for Alfred Hitchcock: North by Northwest, Vertigo, To Catch a Thief, and Rear Window are particular favorites.  Not surprisingly, the main actors in these films also capture my attention. For the males, it is Jimmy Stewart and Carey Grant.

On the female side, it is Grace Kelly, along with Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, and Audrey Hepburn.  Often I gravitate to anything that includes one of these four ladies.

Several years ago, I was again watching “To Catch a Thief” (a triple bonus: directed by Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly). There is a scene with Grace Kelly wearing a stunning white gown and adorned by a sparkling array of diamonds encircling her neck. 

Just then, my son walked into the room.  “What are you watching?” he inquired. I provided more information about this classic tale than he wanted to hear or needed to know. 

I then gushed about Grace Kelly and concluded by saying, “Isn’t she incredible?”

He stood silently for several moments, shook his head, and said, “I just don’t get it.”

How could he get a black and white movie? He probably dreams in color.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Personal Posts

Seeing Life Like a Child

Lessons From a Kid’s Matinée

I’m a bit of a movie buff and most any genre will do. I still remember when my wife and I went to our local theater to watch the children’s movie, The Smurfs 2. It was a matinée no less; we were by far the oldest people there.

I enjoyed the sequel, perhaps even more so than the first one. As a bonus, both stayed true to the original cartoon series, protecting the theme and characters, while smartly extending the storyline. Overall The Smurfs 2 provided us with some charming entertainment.

As we grow older, we risk becoming jaded, cynical, and hard to impress. Click To Tweet

The movie, however, also had some over-the-top, slapstick scenes. The first time this happened, my wife and I snorted a bit and shook our heads with incredulity. “I can’t believe it,” she whispered. She groaned and rolled her eyes in disdain.

Had we been alone, I’d have surely done the same back to her, but before I could, the kid’s laugher overwhelmed me. Theirs wasn’t a pleasant chuckle or even a spontaneous giggle but a deep, unrestrained belly laugh that permeated the theater. Perhaps, it was the most hilarious thing they’d ever seen.

I couldn’t help myself. I laughed, too. Yes, the scene was stupid (by my standards), but the kids delighted in its excessive, exaggerated buffoonery. They we tended to hold back emotion and restrain ourselves, but I delighted in them.

Similar scenes followed. I laughed aloud. Not that it was funny, but I enjoyed it simply because they enjoyed it. Their laughter became my laughter; their glee produced my glee.

As we grow older, we risk becoming jaded, cynical, and hard to impress. We tend to hold back emotion and restrain ourselves. These kids reminded me just how foolish that is.

May that part of me never grow up. May I always delight in seeing life through the eyes of a child.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Book of Job

A few weeks ago, I mused that the Song of Songs might be best understood as a screenplay of sorts. Reading and meditating on it as such gave me new insights and a deeper appreciation of this often-overlooked book.

It seems that the book of Job is not dissimilar in this regard. It, too, could have been an early version of today’s screenplay.

In the book of Job, there are eight characters:

  • Job, the protagonist
  • God, Job’s protector and overseer
  • Satan, Job’s antagonist
  • Job’s unsupportive wife, a bit part, albeit a painful one
  • Job’s three “friends:” Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, (with friends like these, who needs enemies?)
  • Job’s fourth friend, the initially quiet and then verbose, Elihu.

The book of Job opens with a prologue (chapters 1 and 2) that establishes the setting of the story and concludes with an epilogue (chapter 42) that provides for a satisfying ending. In betwixt is all dialogue between Job and his four increasingly critical friends.

Aside from a brief ending summation by Job in the epilogue, the last oration is from God. It is fitting that God has the final word—and that Job listens.

Discover more in Peter’s new book Dear Theophilus Job: 40 Insights About Moving from Despair to Deliverance. In it, we compare the text of Job to a modern screenplay.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Knight and Day

I recently watched the movie Knight and Day, starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

Given that it looked like an over-the-top action flick, I had low expectations for it.

I was pleasantly surprised.

I thoroughly enjoyed Knight and Day. The subtle humor, often delivered with deadpan seriousness, delighted and amused me. I found myself laughing frequently throughout their wild and implausible romp. At times I laughed harder than for any movie I’ve seen in quite some time.

There is just one thing that perplexes me: I’m not sure if Knight and Day was supposed to be a comedy.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Bandslam Rocks

Netflix suggested that I would like the movie Bandslam; they were right.

Bandslam centers around a high school battle of the bands, offering credible musical performances in an interesting story line: misfit Will is recruited by popular Charlotte to “manage” her fledgling band. 

This is what he is uniquely skilled to do, quickly assembling an eclectic group of musicians to round out the sound and smooth their rough edges.  In the process he turns a wannabe rock group into a convincing and competitive act.

The movie stars Alyson Michalka (from the group Aly and AJ) as Charlotte Banks and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) as Sa5m (“the five is silent”) in convincing performances.  Although Sa5m’s connection with Will is expected, Charlotte’s interest in him is perplexing. 

Additionally, Lisa Kudrow (Friends) plays Will’s mom in a small, but interesting supporting role; David Bowie makes a cameo appearance.

Notably, all the actors in this movie do their own singing; there is no lip-syncing or dubbing, allowing viewers to enjoy the performances without the typically constant reminder that the performance is staged. 

Of significance is the band’s impromptu cover of the 70’s mellow pop ballad “Everything I Own,” turning it into a memorable, upbeat rock/ska performance .

If you like good music, or simply enjoy an interesting plot with compelling characters, check out Bandslam.

As for me, I’ll check out the next movie Netflix recommends.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Movie Review: Race to Witch Mountain

Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) is a Vegas cabbie who just wants to do his job and stay out of trouble, but when two teens flash a wad of cash and give a cryptic destination, he reluctantly obliges. 

The teens are actually aliens, sent by their parents to retrieve an experiment to determine earth’s suitability for their race’s inhabitation. 

The results of the test, however, show how their own dying world can be revived, but an opposing faction seeks to suppress this truth and is planning an imminent invasion anyway.

The trio enlists the help of Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), a discredited UFO expert.  Together they race to the top-secret government installation on Witch Mountain to retrieve their spacecraft so that the “kids” can fly home with the evidence to stave off the attack. 

In addition to US military and government opposition, they face a killer robot, sent from their home world, to hunt them down.

Fans of the 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain will enjoy some pleasing and subtle tie-ins, including cameo appearances of the original stars.

This is an action packed movie, with something for everyone, that is sure to please.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.