Director Elia Kazan talks about his films

Kazan on Kazan
By Michel Ciment
Cinema One Series #26
Secker & Warburg Limited Publishing, 1973, 199 pages

I felt the need for some light reading material recently so I purchased a used copy of this book from Amazon. “Kazan on Kazan” may have been the first book I ever read about director, Elia Kazan, after having borrowed a copy from our local library way back in the 80s or early-90s. I enjoyed re-reading Kazan’s personal insights into his nineteen films. This is a short book, but there are many others available that cover the director and his films in far greater detail.

I’ve previously mentioned that I became interested in Kazan back when I was a young teen after watching the very unconventional ending of his 1961 film, “Splendor in the Grass.” Over the years, I became very familiar with all of Kazan’s work and even reviewed his nineteen films here at WordPress over the course of 2017 (see here). I haven’t I posted anything about Kazan since then because I needed a break following that marathon.

Kazan (1909-2003) was a remarkable fellow. At the high point of his career in the mid-1950s, he was considered America’s finest director, both in Hollywood and on Broadway. He revolutionized film and the theater by popularizing Konstantin Stanislavski’s method of training actors (i.e., “The Method”) and brought a level of realism to his productions that was unlike anything seen in America at the time.

Kazan quit the American Communist party in 1936, but remained a Marxist and atheist the remainder of his life. However, he would earn the unceasing ire of the American Left for his friendly testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Kazan had been brought up in the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, but ultimately rejected the ritualism and legalism of institutional religion.

Why do I continue to value Kazan’s films? There was no such thing as the “good guys” versus the “bad guys” in Kazan’s later movies. The most notable characteristic of Kazan’s later work was the ambivalence of the main characters. They were motivated by both “good” and “bad” ideals, unlike the other American films of the time, which always portrayed the main character as a stereotypical “good guy.” Kazan’s characters were deeply flawed and that mirrored the reality that I knew. The director had fantastic insights into humankind and American society and wasn’t afraid to rub his audience’s noses in it, even as his films drew smaller and smaller box office.

So, Kazan stated the problem correctly; people are flawed, people are sinners. However, as an atheist, he could offer no solutions to man’s dilemma. He had no Gospel, no Good News to present to his audience.

“Kazan on Kazan” is strictly for Kazan aficionados.

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Gordon’s Bible and a low-budget horror film

I never met my father-in-law (photo left, in 1941 at age 27). He died in 1961 at the age of 47 when my wife was only six-years-old. My wife grew up missing her father terribly.

Gordon was raised in a small, country town about 35 miles southeast of Rochester. He was an athletic kid and loved sports, especially baseball. He used to worship on Sundays with his large family at the small Methodist church in town. Curly, as his friends called him, entered the Army as an infantryman during World War II and served in Europe and the Pacific. But when he returned from the war, he found out his wife had been unfaithful, leading to a divorce.

Somehow, the country kid purchased a Red and White store in Rochester’s upscale East Avenue neighborhood, specializing in fine steaks and chops for his “discriminating” clientele. He soon met up with my mother-in-law. They married in Las Vegas and had a little girl, my wife. Gordon eventually developed heart trouble and had a heart attack. Back in those days, there wasn’t much they could do for heart patients besides prescribe bed rest. Against his doctor’s orders, Gordon went out on a hot day in September 1961 to play a round of golf, but wouldn’t return home to his wife and daughter.

Gordon lovingly doted on his daughter. She has many pleasant memories of her father even though she was so young when he died. The shock and sorrow of losing a parent at such a young, vulnerable age never leaves a person. The only keepsakes my wife had of her father were his Army dog tags and the worn Bible he carried with him throughout the war with its dog-eared pages marked with tiny notes.

My wife and I were both raised in Roman Catholicism and didn’t know Jesus Christ as our Savior. We were married very young and didn’t have two nickels to rub together for many years. I don’t remember who babysat for our son, who was one-year-old at the time, but in the summer of 1976 my wife and I went to see “The Omen” starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. It was a film about the coming of the anti-Christ and was actually very well-done despite its low budget. Well, that movie REALLY unnerved my wife and I with its references to the anti-Christ and his number being 666 as mentioned in Revelation 13:18. Neither of us had ever read the Bible before. We rushed home from the theater and my wife dug up her Dad’s old Bible, it was the only one we had, and we fumbled through it until we were able to locate the reference to 666. There was something about that event that gave us a new perspective on the Bible. I had previously dismissed it as a dusty collection of semi-myths and parables irrelevant to “real life.” But these references to Satan and the anti-Christ in Revelation triggered my curiosity. Although my wife had never read the Bible, she respected it because her father had carried it with him and read it throughout his extremely perilous stint in the Army.

Providence? A Christian can look back at their life before they accepted Christ and identify some of the people and things the Holy Spirit used to draw them to the Savior. It would be another seven years after seeing “The Omen” before we accepted Christ, but that movie and Dad’s Bible played a part.

Convent horrors: From the frying pan into the fire

While searching our county library’s database for items listed under “Roman Catholicism,” I stumbled across this very interesting French film:

The Nun (La religieuse)

  • Directed by Guillaume Nicloux
  • Based on Denis Diderot’s popular 18th-century novel, “The Nun (La religieuse),” and adapted to the screen by Guillaume Nicloux and Jérôme Beaujour
  • Featuring Pauline Etienne as Suzanne Simonin, Isabelle Huppert as Supérieure Saint-Eutrope, and Louise Bourgoin as Supérieure Christine
  • Distributed by Le Pacte (France), 2013, Running Time: 100 minutes

Plot

In mid-17th-century France, a 17-year-old girl, Suzanne, is placed in a convent by her parents for supposedly only a limited period of time. Suzanne subsequently learns from the friendly mother superior (Francois Lebrun) that her parents intend for her to remain in the convent and become a nun. The girl rebels against the rigidity of convent life, refusing to take her “final vows” at the last second, and is sent back to her parents.

Suzanne’s mother reveals to the girl that she is her illegitimate child and that she will not be sharing in the family’s dwindling estate. Suzanne is sent back to the convent, much to her displeasure, but sadness turns to terror when the friendly mother superior dies and is replaced by the harsh Supérieure Christine, who is determined to crush the girl’s rebellious spirit. Suzanne manages to smuggle out a plea for help to sympathetic parties, and Supérieure Christine retaliates by relentlessly punishing the girl to the brink of death.

Suzanne’s outside benefactors are able to arrange her transfer to a different convent, which initially appears to be much less harsh. However, it’s soon revealed that the nun in charge, Supérieure Saint-Eutrope, is a lesbian who preys upon her younger charges. Saint-Eutrope makes several advances upon Suzanne, but the girl is able to rebuff her. Suzanne reveals the sordid goings on within the convent to a visiting priest confessor, who then works in league with her benefactors to stage her escape.

After traveling all night, Suzanne awakes inside a sprawling estate. She learns her wealthy benefactor, who had saved her from the horrors of the convent, was her biological father, who had died during the night. She can look forward to a secure future on the estate with her half-brother.

Commentary

It’s disturbing to follow Suzanne’s horrific experiences within the two convent hell-holes. However, this fictional story is an excellent portrayal of the real abuse that routinely took place within Catholic convents, rectories, seminaries, and the palaces of prelates century after century. Suzanne’s character represents the millions of women and men, girls and boys who were physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused over the course of a millennia by the “celibate” Catholic clergy. Sadder still are all of the Roman Catholic souls who have been misled by their church’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit.

Actress Pauline Etienne does an excellent job in her portrayal of a young woman caught in her religion’s legalism, ritualism, and extreme asceticism, which all veiled the unspeakable corruption at its core.

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Supérieure Christine devises another “discipline” for the rebellious Suzanne.

The Byrds and the “Ballad of Easy Rider” – Resurgence or Hype?

It’s the first day of the month, so once again we take a break from theological discussions (for the most part) to review the next Byrds album…

Ballad of Easy Rider
The Byrds
Produced by Terry Melcher, Columbia Records, Released November 10, 1969, Length 33:55

The Byrds’ prospects appeared to be rather dismal after the very disappointing “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” album, but help was soon on the way from LA-scene hipsters and friends, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Their counterculture film, “Easy Rider,” hit the screens in July, 1969 and quickly became a national sensation. The Byrds were featured prominently on the soundtrack with “Wasn’t Born to Follow” from “The Notorious Byrds Brothers” album, along with Roger McGuinn’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” and the closing tune, “The Ballad of Easy Rider” (see the YouTube video at bottom), written mainly by McGuinn with a little help from Dylan. Unbeknownst to the film audience, the music wasn’t the only Byrds connection. Fonda and Hopper later revealed they had based their characters, Wyatt and Billy, on McGuinn and ex-Byrd, David Crosby.

McGuinn and his faux-Byrds hired hands – Clarence White, Gene Parsons, and John York – had already begun recording the eighth “Byrds” album on June 17, 1969 and sessions would continue through August 26 under the direction of Terry Melcher, the producer of the Byrds’ first two albums.

Columbia Records and the Byrds were eager to exploit the band’s connection to the popular movie. The album cover featured a clumsy photo of Parsons’ father astride a vintage Harley clutching a rifle along with rambling liner notes from Fonda declaring “whoever the Byrds are is just alright. OH YEAH!” The marketing promo declared, “The movie gives you the facts, the Ballad interprets them.” Despite the hype, the album had absolutely no connection to the film outside of the title song. Due to the misleading marketing, many consumers would purchase the album thinking they were buying the film soundtrack.

“Ballad of Easy Rider” was released on November 10 and peaked at a respectable #36 on the album charts thanks in large part to the publicity connecting it to the popular film. The single, “Ballad of Easy Rider”/”Oil in My Lamp,” was released on October 1 and peaked at #65. The second single, “Jesus is Just Alright”/”It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was released December 15 and peaked at #97.

Surprisingly, McGuinn contributed only the title song. York and Parsons each wrote one song apiece while the rest are covers. Bassist York would be fired from the band shortly after the sessions concluded. Clarence’s pickin’ is both brilliant and annoying at the same time with too much emphasis on the B-bender. Parsons’ drumming is distractingly subpar. Melcher’s production certainly resulted in a crisper sound than “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde,” but the material is no better and may even have been a step down. Most of the songs are very slow and melancholy.

Over the years, many Byrds fans have bought into Columbia’s original hype, hailing “Ballad of Easy Rider” as the band’s return to respectability. However, objective Byrds enthusiasts eagerly disagree with Fonda; the band and the music were not “just alright.” Regarding the post-Sweetheart recordings, McGuinn stated in a 2013 interview, “When we did studio albums, I think I was too democratic. I allowed too many of the guys (hired hands Clarence White, Gene Parsons, John York, and later, Skip Battin) to have their own songs on there.”

Side One:

  • Ballad of Easy Rider (McGuinn, Dylan) – One of the better songs on the album although the orchestration is a bit overdone.
  • Fido (York) – Yech. Parsons is sometimes noticeably behind the beat.
  • Oil In My Lamp (traditional arranged by Parsons and White) – The Byrds follow up Fido with another dog. Clarence demonstrates his unique, nasally singing style.
  • Tulsa County (Polland) – York brought this song to the Byrds. Ho-hum.
  • Jack Tarr The Sailor (traditional arranged by McGuinn) – McGuinn would feature sea shanties throughout his career. Somewhat entertaining.

Side Two:

  • Jesus Is Just Alright (Reynolds) – A catchy number suggested by Parsons. Listen to the Art Reynolds Singers’ original 1966 version here. This song would be a hit for the Doobie Brothers three years later in 1972. This song is a good example of how Jesus gets His digs in through some amazingly unconventional means. In addition to many other contributing factors, the Holy Spirit used this song and the other Gospel-themed songs in the Byrds’ repertoire to help me start thinking about Jesus Christ and eventually motivating me to read God’s Word.
  • It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Dylan) – The original Byrds attempted this tune during their sessions for “Turn! Turn! Turn!” McGuinn tries again in slo-mo.
  • There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn To) (Gosdin, Gosdin, Gosdin) – I kind of like this slow, sad song with Parsons singing lead. McGuinn was absent for the recording of this tune as well as for “Gunga Din.”
  • Gunga Din (Parsons) – Nonsense lyrics but a very nice melody.
  • Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos) (Guthrie, Hoffman) – Zzzzzzzzzz.
  • Armstrong, Aldrin And Collins (Manners, Seely) – McGuinn continues his fascination with space travel.

1997 Reissue Bonus Tracks:

  • Way Beyond The Sun (traditional arranged by McGuinn) – York sings lead on this mediocre bluesy number.
  • Mae Jean Goes To Hollywood (Browne) – Jackson Browne is a brilliant songwriter but this tune disappoints. Almost sounds like one of the later Battin/Fowley novelty numbers.
  • Oil In My Lamp (traditional arranged by Parsons and White) – Alternate version. Parsons’ vocals are given more emphasis on this one.
  • Tulsa County (Polland) – Alternate version. York sings lead on this one.
  • Fiddler A Dram (Moog Experiment) (traditional arranged by McGuinn) – Country meets 60s technology. Mildly entertaining.
  • Ballad of Easy Rider (McGuinn, Dylan) – Long version. Clarence’s solo is included in this take.
  • Build It Up (White, Parsons) – Instrumental.

 

Would the ersatz Byrds be able to continue their positive momentum after unabashedly cashing in on their connection to the popular “Easy Rider” movie? Find out next month when we review the Byrds’ ninth album, “Untitled.”

“The Shack” author continues to push Universalism, but don’t object or you will be labeled a “book burner”

Anyone remember “The Shack,” both the book (2007) and the film adaptation (2017)? Of course you do! Many evangelicals were smitten with the story of (g)od’s love and “redemption.” I didn’t read the book or see the movie, but I had read quite a bit about them and wasn’t pleased. The biggest problem with “The Shack” wasn’t the portrayals of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, although they were certainly objectionable. No, the most outrageous problem with “The Shack” was that it pushed author William Paul Young’s Universalist heresy.

Below are some quotes from the book with comments from Albert Mohler from the article below:

Jesus tells Mack that he is “the best way any human can relate to Papa (God the Father) or Sarayu (the Holy Spirit).” Not the only way, but merely the best way.

In another chapter, “Papa” corrects Mack’s theology by asserting, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” Without doubt, God’s joy is in the atonement accomplished by the Son. Nevertheless, the Bible consistently reveals God to be the holy and righteous Judge, who will indeed punish sinners. The idea that sin is merely “its own punishment” fits the Eastern concept of karma, but not the Christian Gospel.

The most controversial aspects of The Shack‘s message have revolved around questions of universalism, universal redemption, and ultimate reconciliation. Jesus tells Mack: “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” Jesus adds, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”

Mack then asks the obvious question — do all roads lead to Christ? Jesus responds, “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”

Given the context, it is impossible not to draw essentially universalistic or inclusivistic conclusions about Young’s meaning. “Papa” chides Mack that he is now reconciled to the whole world. Mack retorts, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” “Papa” responds, “The whole world, Mack.”

The Shack — The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment
https://albertmohler.com/2017/03/06/shack-missing-art-evangelical-discernment/

Those who objected to The Shack and its message of Universal redemption were labeled by many undiscerning evangelical Christians as sectarian book burners.

Like spots on a leopard, William Paul Young continues to promote Universalism as per the recent article below, but you may not want to object because you will be labeled a “book burner” in today’s evangelicalism.


‘The Shack’ Author Disputes Christian View That Those Who Die Without Jesus Can’t Achieve Salvation
https://www.christianpost.com/news/the-shack-author-disputes-christian-view-that-those-who-die-without-jesus-cant-achieve-salvation-225191/

Remember convents? Catholic girls were once attracted to the “discipline” of religious orders.

Novitiate
Written and directed by Maggie Betts and featuring Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, and Dianna Agron.
Sony Pictures Classics, 2017, 123 minutes

You have to be around sixty-years-old or older to remember pre-Vatican II, militant Catholicism. This film brought back memories.

Plot (spoiler alert!)

Young Cathleen experiences very little love in her broken home, but she is awarded a scholarship to a Catholic school for girls and is intrigued by the nuns who teach her. To the absolute chagrin of her “freespirited” mother (Nicholson), Cathleen (Qualley) decides to enter the convent of the Sisters of the Blessed Rose in 1964 at the age of seventeen. She is attracted by the nuns’ close-knit community, disciplined lifestyle, and intense “spirituality.” However, Cathleen’s fanciful conception of convent life meets cold reality like a hard slap across the face in the person of Reverend Mother (Leo), who rules the institution with an iron fist. Cathleen and the other novices must endure harsh and humiliating treatment and adhere to a thick catalog of rules and regulations for the opportunity of becoming a full-fledged nun. Many drop away or are deemed unsuitable and dismissed. The remaining young women have a sympathetic ally in one young nun, sister Mary Grace (Agron), who chafes under the boot of Reverend Mother, but the old war horse has her own problems.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) is ushering in many reforms of church practices and rules governing religious orders and Reverend Mother is none too pleased with this threat to her fiefdom. She resists the changes as long as possible while venting her frustration on her charges. Cathleen struggles to endure her training and even starves herself into the infirmary in an attempt to master her spiritual failings. Under orders from the archbishop, Reverend Mother can no longer forestall the Vatican II reforms and reluctantly notifies the sisters of the changes. Horrified by the unsettling news, many nuns leave the convent and return to the secular world. Only a small handful of novices remain, and on the day they take their “final vows” to become full-fledged nuns, Cathleen decides to leave the convent.

Comments

Boy, did this film bring back memories. I attended Catholic parochial school from 1961 to 1970 and personally witnessed the last stages of militant, pre-Vatican II Catholicism and then the dramatic window-dressing changes of Vatican II. I can remember all the nuns who taught me quite vividly. Some were kind and some were very troubled souls who released their anger on us children. Those poor women were attempting to merit their way to Heaven by living ascetic lives according to the strict rules of their order, the Sisters of Mercy. We talk about religious cults, but was there anything more cultish than a group of women living together as the brides of Christ replete with wedding rings and dressed in 11th century garb? As the movie shows, these women had to endure great hardship and humiliation. Many forms of self-mortification were encouraged. This movie alludes to lesbian relationships inside the convent, what real-life nuns termed as “particular friendships.” This is a sensitive topic, but lesbianism was a very real issue in convents, where women, young and old, were deprived of natural affections. As an eighth-grade student, I witnessed signs of a “particular friendship” between my homeroom teacher and another nun.

This was a good film, but a painful one to watch because of the memories. As a child, I witnessed first-hand the type of vicious cruelty doled out by the film’s Reverend Mother. Being the target of a nun’s hissy fit was painful. Melissa Leo is excellent in the role of convent despot.

Additional comments from an ex-Catholic believer

Catholicism changed its window dressing with Vatican II, but it still preaches the same core doctrines and the same false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. All of these poor nuns attempted to earn their salvation through severe asceticism, but Catholics still try to merit their salvation as they are instructed by their church. At the end of the film, it states that, following the changes of Vatican II, “90,000 nuns renounced their vocations and left their convents.” My hope is that some of them eventually trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone. There are relatively very few nuns in the U.S. today; the number dropped from 180,000 in 1965 to 50,000 in 2014 and the majority of those that remain are elderly.

For the testimonies of 20 former nuns who left Catholicism and accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, see here.

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In this scene, the novices meet with Reverend Mother and each confess their sins publicly as a weekly ritual . The other novices are asked to accuse each nun of any sins they have observed.

Warren Jeffs: Fundamentalist Mormon Monster

Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil
A&E Cable Channel, 2018, 120 minutes

The documentary, “Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil,” premiered February 19th on the A&E cable channel and I finally caught up with it via on-demand on Saturday night.

Readers of this blog may remember that I had a strong historical interest in the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (LDS, Mormons) because we live only 23 miles from Palmyra, New York, where the “church” had its beginnings. Mormon apologists say the church’s founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, received divine revelation at some point in the 1830s to revive the Old Testament practice of polygamous/plural marriage and that the “principle” continued within the church until Wilford Woodruff, the fourth prophet, claimed he received divine revelation in 1890, which ended it. My, the Mormon god appears to be quite indecisive. In practical terms, the Mormons ended polygamy due to mounting pressure from the federal government. Although officially banned, Mormons continued polygamy under wraps until it eventually fizzled out within the “official” LDS church. However, several “fundamentalist” Mormon groups split from the church in order to continue the practice.

Warren Jeffs is the president and prophet of one of those groups, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), which was concentrated in the Hidale (UT)-Colorado City (AZ)-Short Creek (AZ) area with around 15,000 members. This documentary traces the rise of Jeffs within the FLDS. He had a penchant for marrying underage girls as plural wives (78 wives total! Oy vey!), which eventually led to his arrest, conviction, and sentencing to life in prison in 2011.

This is a sad, sad story of a religious cult wreacking havoc in the lives of its members. Jeffs was a monster of nightmarish proportions who cloaked his pedophilia in “religious authority.” Ultimately, every false religion is spiritually deadly. I’m mindful that such “respectable” religious institutions as Roman Catholicism dealt in abuses and persecutions that surpassed those of the FLDS. Praise the Lord, Jesus Christ, for His genuine Gospel and His genuine Church! Praise the Lord for His easy yoke and light burden! I think it’s useful for Christians to watch “Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil” to remind us that we should be very wary of placing any leader on a pedestal. In the first Biblical church my wife and I attended after accepting Christ, there were elements of authoritarianism and leadership idolatry. We must follow the Lord rather than any man.

For my previous posts on the fraudulent claims of Joseph Smith and Mormonism see here.

George Harrison: Lost and without a shepherd

George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Directed by Martin Scorsese
HBO, 2011, 208 minutes, available on Netflix

I was driving to work this past week, listening to (c)hristian radio, and Greg Laurie (not recommended) mentioned he had recently watched “Living in the Material World,” a documentary about ex-Beatle, George Harrison, on Netflix. So I set aside some time to watch this 3.5 hour documentary.

My five older sisters were big fans of the Beatles and I grew up with their music playing constantly from the family phonograph from 1964 until 1970 when they disbanded. Harrison (1943-2001) was the shy, quiet Beatle who eventually embraced Hinduism (particularly the Hare Krishna sect) with a passion. See my earlier post on Harrison and his influential Hare Krishna song, “My Sweet Lord,” here.

Scorsese’s documentary is an interesting and entertaining look at Harrison’s journey. He was brought up in a Roman Catholic family (as was fellow-Beatle, Paul McCartney), but finding no fulfillment in that impersonal, ritualistic religion, he got mixed up in Eastern “spirituality” through the music of Ravi Shankar. Of course, he didn’t find any real fulfillment in Krishna Consciousness either and regularly fell back into substance abuse and marital infidelity. After having been run ragged by the Beatles’ celebrity steamroller, Harrison sought “spiritual peace” and meaning in all the wrong places.

I enjoyed the many archived photos and videos of the “Fab Four,” along with the interview clips from Harrison, Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton, George Martin, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, and Ringo Starr, along with many others.* But in the the end, this is a sad story of an unbeliever desperately trying to find spiritual meaning outside of Jesus Christ.

“I was brought up in the kind of Catholic situation up until I was about eleven years old, which was that God is this thing that we’re never going to see, we’re never going to meet, but you still have to believe in what we say. It’s like this blind faith in something that they can’t show you.” – George Harrison

The impersonal and ritualistic religion that Harrison grew up in was/is not Christianity. But you CAN know God through salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3

“When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:36-38

*I learned from this documentary that Harrison was a major financial backer of Monty Python, the British comedy ensemble. There are times when Christians can be overly dour and humorless, but I found the clips of Monty Python’s satire of Jesus’ crucifixion and a mocking reference to His sermon on the mount in this documentary to be repulsive. It’s understandable why ex-Catholic and passionate Hindu, Harrison, would have found this anti-Christian humor attractive. It’s also obvious why Monty Python never filmed a skit goofing on backer Harrison’s Hare Krishnas with their shaved-heads and saffron robes, chanting incessantly and begging for money at airports.

Decent DVD summary of differences between Biblical Christianity and Roman Catholicism

Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome
Eric Barger, DVD, 2015, 53 minutes

Last week, I posted a message about a conversation that I had heard on Southwest Radio Ministries’ daily radio show regarding Mormonism. Out of curiosity, I checked SRM’s website to see if they offered any resources on Roman Catholicism. There weren’t very many (see here), but I did see “Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome” from Eric Barger and Take a Stand Ministries. For some inexplicable reason, I thought this offering was a book and ordered it. Well, it turned out to be a DVD. Argh! No problem. My dumb error.

This DVD presentation is a low-tech-but-decent overview of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity. Barger starts off by discussing the early Reformation and then briefly examines several anti-Biblical Catholic doctrines such as Mariolatry, praying to saints, image idolatry, transubstantiation, purgatory, and works justification.

The revealing centerpiece of the video is breakaway Anglican “bishop” and ecumenist, Tony Palmer’s presentation at a conference for Pentecostal/Charismatic ministers hosted by Kenneth Copeland on January 21, 2014. Copeland is one of the main propagators of the “name it and claim it,” word of faith, prosperity false gospel. In his presentation, Palmer declared that he had come in the spirit of Elijah and John the Baptist to reconcile the children (evangelical Protestants) with their father (pope Francis). He proclaimed that the “protest is over” and it was now time for Protestants to put aside doctrinal disagreements and “unite with” (i.e., submit to) the pope and Catholicism. Palmer then produced a cell phone video of pope Francis making the same appeal. If you have never seen this presentation before, you need to. The compromise and betrayal of the Gospel is stunning and will take your breath away. Of course, a good case could be made that Palmer, Copeland, and many of the “name it and claim it” ministers who were in attendance at this conference were not genuinely saved.

This DVD is a decent introductory overview of the errors of Rome and of the demonic spirit of Scripture-defying ecumenism that’s currently infiltrating the church. Order from Southwest Radio Ministries here.

Large portions of “Reasons to Stand with the Reformation and Not Unite with Rome” are available via the two You Tube videos below. Judas Tony Palmer’s appeal begins at the 6:00 mark on the second video.

 

 

Netflix’s “The Polka King,” an unlikely-but-fact-based dark comedy

The Polka King
Directed by Maya Forbes and featuring Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, and Jackie Weaver
Netflix, 2018, 1h 35m

This dark comedy is based on the tumultuous life of Polka band leader, Jan Lewan(dowski) (photo right).

Plot

Polish immigrant, Jan Lewan (Jack Black), struggles to achieve the American dream. His Pennsylvania-based polka band and Polish gift shop teeter on insolvency, but Lewan has BIG plans and devises a pyramid investment scheme in order to finance them. Many of his polka fans are lured by promises of a 12% return on investment. Lewan’s “empire” appears to be on the rise, but cracks soon appear in the foundation. Try as he might, Lewan can’t seem to satisfy his wife’s (Jenny Slate) insatiable expectations that come with their nouveau riche lifestyle. As some investors begin to cash out, Lewan finds it harder and harder to make ends meet. Federal agents finally topple the house of cards and Lewan is imprisoned for five years. During that period, his throat is slit by his disturbed cellmate and his wife divorces him. Lewan was released from prison in 2005 and is still liable for the $5 million dollars taken from investors.

Commentary

This film is both comical and sad. Director/writer Maya Forbes and writer Wallace Wolodarsky have done a great job of translating this unlikely-but-true slice of Polish-Americana to the small screen. Jack Black’s performance may seem a bit “over the top” to the uninitiated, but those familiar with the Lewan story will agree that he catches the essence of the naively exuberant polka band leader. “The Polka King” premiered on Netflix on January 12th.

Additional thoughts from a believer

Covetousness is a sin we don’t hear too much about, but it drove Lewis into prison and it drives us as well. There may not be a European American ethnic group that’s more Catholic than Poles. This movie is saturated with symbols of Lewan’s and Polish Americans’ ritual Catholicism. As part of his growing financial “empire,” Lewan began conducting tours to European cities and Rome/the Vatican. An example of the band leader’s naiveté is when he arranges his first excursion to the Vatican and pays off a church official with a suitcase full of cash to secure an audience with pope John Paul II for his customers. Maybe he wasn’t so naive after all.