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A close-up with the pope
In new documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, the pontiff talks poverty, environment
by Bob Brown
Since taking his place at the Vatican five years ago, Pope Francis has labored to open wide the doors of the Roman Catholic Church. He’s reached out to homosexuals, divorced individuals, and non-Catholic faith groups. In Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, producers Wim Wenders and David Rosier, past Academy Award nominees, document this effort, assembling clips from the pope’s public speeches. Pope Francis also pontificates (fittingly) on important issues for the filmmakers’ camera. The pope’s (subtitled) words often convey love for the outcast and reveal political acumen, but at times might cause viewers confusion, even consternation.
The greatest concerns on the heart of Pope Francis (or Wenders and Rosier, at least) seem to be poverty and the environment.
“As long as the church is placing its hope on wealth, Jesus is not there,” Francis says. “Poverty is at the center of the gospel.” Well, Jesus, who fed the hungry and blessed the poor in spirit, is the center of the gospel, but the pope’s point is well-taken.
Figuring out the pope’s point can sometimes be challenging. He asks, “Who’s the poorest of the poor?” and responds, “Mother Earth.” Throughout the documentary, the pope laments the “culture of waste” that has produced a “sick and polluted earth.” OK. But he calls the Biblical story of Creation “obviously a mythical form of expression.”
The 90-minute film includes Pope Francis’ comments addressing immigration crises and the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal (briefly), though not abortion. Of “gay seekers,” he says, “who am I to judge?” The documentary won’t dissuade critics who charge the pope with relaxing the church’s moral standards. Supporters, however, can maintain he’s merely finding common ground with outsiders who might, thus, be drawn to the church.
Pope Francis does draw a crowd wherever he goes, but it’s disconcerting to watch many practically swoon at his touch. Still, the pope’s remarkable attentiveness to the sick and imprisoned, as segments show, is worthy of emulation.
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Rachel Dolezal Netflix
Life as ‘trans-black’
The Rachel Divide shows an ostracized Rachel Dolezal feeding a media beast
by Laura Finch
Filmmaker Laura Brownson has a theory: Your reaction to Rachel Dolezal, the white woman from Spokane, Wash., who identifies as African-American, is a Rorschach test for issues of race. But if that’s true, Brownson’s documentary strongly suggests everyone is seeing the same thing in this sad ink blot—except Dolezal herself.
The Rachel Divide, available on Netflix, follows Dolezal and her two mortified sons for more than a year. No employer will give her a chance, Dolezal explains, so she’s braiding hair for income. We can only presume she’s also earning money for media appearances and her book deal.
The film, which contains strong foul language, does speculate about how a young Dolezal might have rejected her own identity after watching her white biological family cover up the alleged abuse of her black adopted siblings. But those issues have been well-covered in the media. Brownson instead gives special attention to the reactions of Dolezal’s friends and family (and social media followers) to her newfound fame.
One son comments that Dolezal could make everyone happy by giving up her charade. Instead, she clutches harder after every nasty online comment. Meanwhile, the film’s audience is an omnipresent camera in the home, embodying the watching eye of the internet, while these two poor teens are just trying to survive adolescence. The intrusion is awkward for everyone.
One son groans from under the covers as his mom offers him fruit and eggs for breakfast, in front of the camera. “I’ll have a side of life invasion,” he says. The other chooses to take a gap year in Spain rather than deal with the media attention created by a simple college visit to his dream school, Howard University.
If there are other Dolezals out there, living as “trans-black,” the film doesn’t hint that Dolezal has found them. She’s an island, ostracized by both white and black communities. Yet she continues to feed the two-headed media and social media beast.
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11AM calls churches to take the lead in racial reconciliation
by Megan Basham
With recent events like those in Ferguson and Charlottesville, Christian leaders from Russell Moore to John Piper have encouraged believers to repent of the passivity that has prevented us from being the light we should be in this period of resurgent racial strife. How Christians with different skin colors can do a better job loving one another is the question on which the documentary 11AM: Hope for America’s Most Segregated Hour seeks to shed light.
The film follows a Richmond, Va., ministry called Urban Doxology that brings together a diverse group of college-age musicians so they can blend their musical styles and compose praise songs.
In a refreshingly open tone, its leader, Pastor David Bailey, points out that it’s not surprising for believers of different backgrounds to see the troubling events of our day differently. What we can’t do is shout at, belittle, or foment resentment against one another. We also can’t avoid the uncomfortable issue with an excuse of “It wasn’t my sin” if we wish to obey Christ’s command to bear one another’s burdens.
In contrast to the snark and quick-draw outrage invading social media and cable news, Christians should feel emboldened by the early church’s example to enter into loving if sometimes spirited conversations. Doing otherwise, Bailey says, discredits the gospel in the eyes of a watching world.
The film does such a good job offering a Biblically grounded call for racial reconciliation at a broad level, it sometimes neglects to show how that messy process works at a close one. It would have been instructive to see the students hashing out their different perspectives rather than simply hear them describing them.
Despite that, 11AM effectively reminds us that as believers we stand outside the world, and our ability to ask for and offer forgiveness should seem as alien as our citizenship. Then the world may pause from screaming at each other in the streets to say, as the Greek pagans did of the early church, “Behold, how they love one another.”