Failing Faith by Wade Bearden, Free for CAPC Members
In Failing Faith, Wade Bearden invites us into his life so that we might find a faith that can hold up under the weight of real-world realities.
Reviewing our most-read articles each year gives us a snapshot of the cultural highs and lows from the past 365 days. Our content covers a wide array of topics—film, television, literature, media, internet, politics, music, tech, sports, celebrity culture, and more. The most-read article list is a check of our readership’s pulse, so to speak. And the articles that got our readers’ hearts beating in 2019? There are several covering the #metoo and #ChurchToo movement; a few on key cultural figures; a few on films and games, and a few on politics.
Of course, these are just a sampling of the many, many excellent articles published in 2019. This collection highlights how we at Christ and Pop Culture seek “to edify the Church, glorify God, and witness to the world by encouraging and modeling a biblical presence within culture.” If you are new here, these articles will provide an excellent introduction for our approach to cultural commentary. If you’ve been reading throughout the year, see if your favorite article made the list! Thanks for reading along in 2019. If you’ve benefited from our work, your gift will sustain our efforts in the year to come.
Whether you enjoyed it or not, Us is filled with layered themes of social mobility, comparative economic philosophies, and equity that critique who we are as a nation and people, and from where we’ve come. The most real and dynamic perspective from my viewing is the spiritual reality of God’s judgment on “Us”—the title working as a double entendre for the both the U.S. and me and you (Americans).
For all the show’s gritty realism and historical precision, it’s hard not to see the horror of these scenes in supernatural terms. Of course, no demon has transformed these exposed men into the festering ghouls that are wheeled out on gurneys, sealed in steel coffins, and buried under a layer of concrete. Are these procedures that far removed from a garland of garlic, a pinch of salt, or a stake through the heart? And yet, “in some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish,” they have “known sin,” just as we do when we look on the ills of our world, our towns, our communities, our homes. Some invisible contamination is wreaking havoc. Like radiation, we can’t see it directly, but we can readily see its effects. The damage both harms and implicates us. No matter how seemingly radical or alien, to look on sin is always to gaze at our own reflection. We are simultaneously victims and villains. To deny this is death itself because it amounts to a refusal of aid.
The film offers varying starting points of faith, which I think helps audience members to connect with at least one character on the screen. This strategy from the producers helps with their aim: for this film to start faith conversations.
Our worship songs are formative—the things we repeatedly sing in community become the way we speak, think, and act. These songs are the rhythms that are intended to bleed outside of the sanctuary and influence our whole lives. While many of these songs still proclaim truth and beauty, this individualistic focus is reflective of the way evangelicals often, and sometimes almost exclusively, talk about sin.
The problem is, even with the best of intentions, Ramsey’s sentiments about wealth disparity is an a oversimplification bordering on cruelty. When someone spends years responding to life’s complications with platitudes and proverbs, they tend to think of these teachings as absolutes over time. Particularly when someone has climbed from a state of poverty to one of financial wellness, it’s simple to tell the narrative of the struggles and personal achievement that got us to where we are. By extension, it’s easy to render judgment on those who didn’t do the same.
Tony is a man constantly at odds with his alternate identity. He’s difficult. He makes mistakes (massive ones), and he leans more toward self-ambition than altruism. He teeters on the knife-edge of self-destruction. Is he Iron Man, really? He lives always in the shadow of the man he was—the war-monger, the playboy, the mess. We do doubt that Tony Stark will do the right thing, even in the “endgame,” when all is nearly lost, and many times along the way
And get it is what Nipsey did. He used his influence to encourage black-owned businesses in his low-income neighborhood. He modeled his philosophy, which he also branded “All Money In, No Money Out”—the name of the record label he founded—to foster economic stability for neighborhoods that have been financially ravaged due to years of inequitable financial practices by big banks and local, state, and federal governments. So his ambition to “get it” was never exclusively for himself. He invested his time and money to building a co-working space, a STEM program for low-income students, a fish shop, a barbershop, and a clothing store called the Marathon—also the name of his 2010 mixtape.
Seeing ourselves represented on the screen as action heroes does powerfully impact our psyches—both individually and culturally. But unlike the author, I think it is absolutely crucial for girls and women to see representations of themselves as heroes on the screen—as more than love interests, supporting characters, femme fatales, or damsels in distress. Furthermore, we need to see ourselves headlining our own movies as heroes capable of standing alone against evil when no one else can, no one else is left, or no one else will. Stories that do not reflect real life cannot be called true or good, and in real life women are often alone—whether by choice, circumstance, or abandonment. Not that a woman needs to be alone to stand against evil, but she needs to know she is capable of it.
These things are no laughing matter, but the Joker laughs, and the story invites the audience to laugh, as well. “Why so serious?” Laughter when a hospital blows up. “Let’s put a smile on that face.” Or, perhaps, as the new interpretation of the Joker now promises: “Bring in the clowns.” Maybe the Joker has been misunderstood all along. If the Joker was driven to his madness by circumstance, and thus in his madness does evil things, then he really cannot be blamed for his actions. Such a Joker does not even need a Batman to oppose him. He plays too much on our sympathies for that.
As storytellers, the cast of Critical Role are masters, not because they studied the craft of storytelling or anything like that (though, as actors, they might have), but because they are committed to being honest. Each member of the cast controls one character; characters that have vivid backstories, dynamic personalities, individual goals, and differing abilities. As they play, they are careful to make decisions that are in line with their character and that match the character’s goals, longings, hurts, fears, and so on. In short, they act like real people.
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