Friday, December 12, 2014

Moses in 3-D -- special effects drown out theology, drama

Over the years, some clergy have confided to me that there are passages of the Bible they find difficult to accept, much less preach about.

To our modern ears, for example, some of what Paul wrote in the letters that became part of the New Testament sound sexist (“Wives, be submissive to your husbands”) or blind to systemic evil (“Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly”).

Then there are the stories in the Hebrew Bible where an angry God decides to punish or destroy, with fanfare, those who sin or stand in the way of God’s will.

You could argue that some evil people deserved to feel God’s wrath. But, as is the case with wars, a lot of innocent people who got in the way suffered, too. In Genesis, the Almighty decides to flood the world and, in Exodus, God inflicts plagues on Egyptians, including death to their firstborn children.

And that brings me to Hollywood, where biblical epics are back in style.

Some of the same passages considered difficult, even troubling, by those in the pulpit are irresistible to filmmakers with millions to spend on expensive actors and eye-popping special effects.

In this year’s “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, director Darren Aronofsky drowns most of humanity, with hair-raising scenes of people crying in terror as the ground below them is rapidly submerged.

And in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” – now in a theater near you – I watched with awe through my 3-D glasses as director Ridley Scott and his CGI team waged apocalyptic war on the Egyptians.

Swarms of locusts rain down on Pharaoh and his subjects; frogs galore hop into their homes, even into their beds; monster-size crocodiles turn the Nile red with blood from all their human food; and, in a climax that’s more visually arresting than suspenseful, the waves of the Red Sea come crashing down on the Egyptian soldiers, sending them, their horses and their chariots into the deep.

Scott, the Brit who gave us the Oscar-winning “Gladiator,” must have felt a little like You-Know-Who as he presided over all this computer-generated doom and destruction.

The film purports to tell the story of how a faithful God sent Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. Actor Christian Bale, who was perfect as Batman, is an OK Moses. And there are some intriguing scenes in which Moses, a reluctant hero, is prodded by a hyper-articulate boy who is supposed to be either God or God’s messenger.

But the drama and most of the theology are, yes, drowned out by the real reason for this 3-D movie: The “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience every time the director commands “Action!”

-- Tim Funk

Friday, December 5, 2014

In increasingly diverse Charlotte, God goes by many names

Two newsy items I came across recently got me wondering: In how many languages do people in Charlotte worship God these days?

I counted at least 20 – not a surprise when you consider how diverse our faith community has become. And I bet some of you could add to my list. (And hopefully will – see below.)

Those two newsy items:

  • At 7 p.m. on Thursday (Dec. 11),  thousands of Spanish-speaking Catholics are expected to converge on Bojangles Coliseum, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., for the annual celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – or “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.”

  • A Polish-language Mass will be celebrated at 3 p.m. on Dec. 21 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

To be sure, most local houses of worship still send their prayers up to “God.”

But, all over town, the Supreme Being is increasingly invoked by other names: “Dios” (in Spanish); “Gott” (German); “Elohim” and “Adonai” (Hebrew); “Allah” (Arabic); “Deus” (Latin); “Bóg” (Polish); “Theos” (Greek); “Dieu” (French); and many others.

I consulted a few folks in town who chart Charlotte’s growing diversity – including historian Tom Hanchett of the Levine Museum of the New South – and came up with a list of the languages of worship in the Charlotte area:

  • The Catholic Diocese has parishes where some or all of the Masses are in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Latin. A few parishes periodically host Masses in other languages, including Polish and Tagalog (from the Philippines).

  • Orthodox Christian churches have services that are partly or totally said in Greek, Russian, Serbian, Armenian and Arabic.

  • The Jewish synagogues include prayers in Hebrew.

  • Muslims attending masjids, or mosques, are led in prayer in Arabic.

  • Various Protestant denominations – Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist – have immigrant congregations that worship in German, Khmer (the language of Cambodia), Korean, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Tagalog.

  • Buddhist temples are the spiritual homes to immigrant communities that speak Chinese, Lao (from Laos), Vietnamese and Khmer.

  • The sacred language at the Hindu temples is Sanskrit.

  • Haitian churches have services in French.

  • Immigrant churches with congregations from African countries worship in such indigenous language groups as Akan (from Ghana) and Amharic (from Ethiopia).

OK, that’s our list. What languages have we left out? Email them (and any related houses of worship) to:

-- Tim Funk