Welcome to Yankee Gospel Girl! You can call me Esther O’Reilly. I’m an old soul with many interests, and these are a few of my favorite things: great art (including music, film and literature), conservative politics, and stuff that’s been around since before I was born. If you’re a first-time visitor, thanks for reading! Check out my “About” page, follow me on Youtube, and browse around in the filing cabinet for my musings on all genres of music, movies, faith and culture, and old stuff. I hope you like what you find! God bless.
As you might have noticed, I haven’t even tried to keep up with the latest crop of Christian films, the most recent being God’s Not Dead 2. (Alas, if you were waiting with bated breath for my review of that one, y’all are on your own.) But it has gotten me to thinking: If I were to create a list of five films every Christian should see, what would it look like? Apparently, Summit Ministries was interested to know what it would look like as well, and you can read what I came up with here. The list I finally narrowed it down to was
It’s a Wonderful Life
Fiddler On the Roof
A Man For All Seasons
On the Waterfront
Chariots of Fire
This wasn’t planned, but I noticed that there’s a nice balance of film eras represented here. Each movie on the list represents a different decade. Also, all of them either won or were nominated for Oscars, including Best Picture: proof positive that there are natural, artistically excellent ways to meld faith and film-making.
Naturally, there are many other films I could have put on the shortlist that would also be well worthwhile for the Christian viewer. However, I wanted to keep it restricted to films that I knew would not pose any kind of problem for viewers with tight standards for language, violence and the like. (Hence the “every” in “every Christian.”) This includes films like Schindler’s List, which are certainly powerful but difficult for some people to watch. Far it be from me to guilt-trip anyone for not forcing themselves to see something they feel a check about. However, I can confidently say that all five of the films that did make the cut will reward the patience and interest of any Christian viewer. I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts on them over at Summit. So, what would your list look like?
Greetings, dear readers. This little blog hiatus turned out to be longer than I intended, but as it happens, the timing of this post seems rather apt when juxtaposed with the last one. As I write this, Ted Cruz has just suspended his presidential campaign, essentially guaranteeing Donald Trump the Republican nomination. Even a pessimist like myself must confess that as bad as I thought tonight would be, I didn’t think it would be this bad.
I could say that a lot has changed since my last post, and in one sense that would be accurate. But there is another sense in which nothing has changed. This night marks the end of many things. But for principled conservatives, it is only the beginning of the long, last battle.
It was one thing to say “Never Trump” when there was a slender but definite chance that Trump would actually fail. It’s another thing to keep saying it when half the people who were standing with you a second ago are now urging you to give in. When politicians you thought you could trust cross, one by one, to the other side. When firebrands you thought you could count on to speak the truth begin speaking for Trump instead. When perhaps some of your own friends and family scream at you for “dividing the party.” When they accuse you of handing the election to Hillary Clinton, even though they have only themselves to blame for finding the one candidate in history’s brightest Republican field that could give her a run for her money… as the worst candidate for President ever.
When all this happens, as it was already beginning to happen, it is not the time to concede. It is the time to stand. For what good is a declaration of principle when it is abandoned at the first sign of defeat? What good is a flag planted one minute only to be uprooted the next?
The Bible assures us that just when things seem to be at their darkest and most bleak, we can be certain of one thing: that it will get even darker and even bleaker. That doesn’t make a very good bumper sticker, but it’s the truth we must face in the coming days.
And yet, though the republic may fall, and our country be plunged into an abyss of corruption and despair, there is a remnant. There will always be a remnant. There will always be children to raise up, and gardens to tend, and flocks to feed. There will always be vows of holy love to take, and innocent lovers to take them. There will always be ageless saints with wrinkled hands folded in prayer, rocking wordlessly in the day’s last light.
Let us pray as they pray, as we are taught to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Despite the fact that Donald Trump is poised to sweep his home state of New York and plausibly several other New England states in its wake, the surge of Texas senator Ted Cruz has given actual conservatives reason to be cautiously optimistic. His well-oiled delegate collection machine has been cleaning Trump’s clock in recent non-primary states like Colorado and North Dakota. Furthermore, if Trump fails to clinch the nomination outright, Cruz’s team has loaded The Donald’s delegate slate with double agents who will turn on him in a contested convention once they are unbound. That Cruz, he has a very good brain. Meanwhile, Trump’s response has been the usual: Trumpertantrums and more Trumpertantrums.
Riding this wave of hope, some are daring to wonder out loud if Cruz might pull off not only the Republican nomination, but a general election victory as well. With an increasingly unpopular Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee, the Democrat party could be in for an upset. Is it possible? Could Cruz usher in a new golden age of conservatism?
As usual, in typical Puddleglum fashion, I feel compelled to throw a wet blanket on things and remind everyone that most recent polls still show Hillary beating Cruz, sometimes outside the margin of error. Moreover, this is not a bad reflection of the country’s electoral and demographic makeup, which is becoming bluer by the year. That’s just a fact. And the liberal media is already projecting their image of Cruz to the public: a creepy, crazy guy with a weird face that nobody likes. The nastiness will only intensify if he becomes the nominee. And, sad but true, it will sway far more people than any policy position.
But it doesn’t matter, because this election is not about beating Hillary Clinton. It never was.
A couple of months ago, I was inspired to dig into Ronald Reagan’s personal diary, which he kept almost daily during all eight years of his presidency. It’s a fascinating chronicle of the great and small, dull and momentous moments that make up the life of a president. It also gives real insight into Reagan’s character and personality. We get a vivid sense of his quick wit, his canniness, and his utterly sincere love for the American people. We also get a sense of his faith, sometimes in quiet, small ways that would never make it onto a Wikipedia page.
By coincidence, Summit Ministries told me they were thinking about putting together some profiles of Christian leaders. So, I’ve kicked it off with this article, which you can now read here. In it, I share some stories about Reagan’s faith and character that you might not have heard before. I hope you enjoy it!
…[A]nd then, suddenly, we come down to the resurrection of Jesus. It’s so petty, it’s so trivial, it’s so local, it’s so earth-bound, it’s so unworthy of the universe. — Richard Dawkins
Easter Sunday is the Christian’s yearly reminder that our faith is unlike any other. Where other religions traffic in the elusive and the intangible, Christianity is planted firmly in the concrete. No other religion places the stakes so high. The Apostle Paul wrote that if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith is vain. If this physical event did not take place at this physical moment in time, when Caiaphas was the high priest, Pilate was the governor, and Tiberius was the emperor, then we are of all men most miserable.
The mundane particularity of it all must not be lost. It marks the place where our faith is anchored. We trust not in a comforting notion or a platitude, but in the most real and solid of occurrences: a man dead, and that same man alive again.
We human beings are creatures of the tangible. We invest ourselves emotionally in what we can see, touch, and embrace. When those bonds are broken, whether through betrayal, loss, or simple loneliness, maintaining faith in things beyond our grasp does not come easily to us. This is why it’s not enough to encourage a doubting friend by saying, “You just need to believe harder.” We must be prepared to answer the question, “Why should I?” Yet we have the answer. Indeed, we have the best possible answer. The gospel is a record of a real moment in real time, preserved and handed down from generation to generation. On some days we feel like believing it. Other days, we may not. It doesn’t matter. The record remains, an ever-fixed mark.
Christian, ask yourself not what you feel, but what you know. Perhaps your pastor had a profound moral failing, and perhaps the church board turned a blind eye. You feel betrayed, but what do you know? Perhaps you are caught in a vicious cycle of temptation. You feel despairing, but what do you know? Perhaps you simply can’t sense God’s presence like you used to. You feel isolated, but what do you know?
This is where our hope is found: It is found in the still-empty tomb of the One who who did not leave himself without witness. In the words of the Apostle John, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
This Easter week, let us encourage ourselves and each other with this great good news: that while in this world we will have trouble, Christ has overcome the world.
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
— T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”
How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth? — Sherlock Holmes
After hearing good things about the new Christian film Risen, I finally got the chance to see it for myself this week. Offering a fresh twist on the Easter story, it walks through the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection from the perspective of a Roman tribune named Clavius. Clavius is tasked by Pilate to find Jesus’ missing corpse and quash pesky resurrection rumors, preferably before Tiberius Caesar arrives for a check-up. The result feels like a 1st century crime procedural, as Clavius examines the scene, collects witness testimony, and weighs multiple explanations of the evidence he gathers. The closer he gets to unraveling the mystery, the more uneasy he becomes.
Before diving into what I thought of Risen, I want to say a few words about Christian movies in general. As the market for Christian films has grown, my attitude towards them has run the gamut from *CRINGE* to “Hey, this is actually okay.” I am reluctant to bash the Christian film industry writ large, because I am reluctant to come off as a snide, self-important critic of Christian culture writ large. (But that’s a topic for another day. I think I’ll call it “How I Somehow Avoided Becoming a Christian Culture Snob.”) I even challenged John Mark Reynolds when he put out a scathing critique of the Kendrick Brothers’ War Room, despite the fact that I didn’t see the film and frankly still don’t have a burning desire to do so. I did it because I want to be fair, and I want to give Christian filmmakers their due.
And yet… I still love movies. And the movie-lover in me can’t deny that too many Christian films are simply not that well put together, by any objective standard of film-making.
So, it gives me great pleasure to report that Risen is not just a good Christian movie. It’s a good movie, full stop.
One’s too many, and a hundred’s not enough.
When The Lost Weekend first came out in 1945, nobody had predicted that it would be a hit. It was based on a novel that had sold well, but the book market was one thing. The film market was another. And Charles Jackson’s semi-autobiographical tale of an alcoholic loser who deliberately rejects love, hope and sobriety to go on a three-day bender was not exactly an easy sell.
Yet somehow, against all odds, the film swept the Oscars and the box office alike. Perhaps it was because in The Lost Weekend, people finally saw something that reflected the painful truth of alcoholism, as opposed to the Hollywood fictions that had glamorized it or laughed it off. Perhaps when they looked in the lost eyes of Don Birnam, they saw their own prodigal brothers, lovers and sons.
But I would be short-changing this film if I described it as merely a message movie about alcoholism. Don Birnam’s story is not merely the story of an alcoholic. It is the story of a sinner and the grace that pursues him even when he pushes it away. It is the story of a soul with life and death set before him, as they are set before every soul. And it stands as a haunting reminder that, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “There are only two kinds of people, in the end: those who say to God, Thy will be done, and those to whom God says, in the end, Thy will be done.”
Imagine, if you will, a parallel universe where instead of running for president, our 2016 contenders had competed in American Idol instead. (While meanwhile, in another parallel universe, TV personalities were running for president. Oh wait, that’s our universe, never mind.) What might the contest look like? I decided to draw on my vast knowledge of American Idol’s last few seasons and imagine it for you. Here is how I picture most of the candidates who ran this year as American Idol contestants. I say “most,” because I couldn’t think of something clever for everyone. Sorry, George Pataki, whoever you were.
GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio has had a rough weekend. Even before his dismal showing in Saturday’s polls, he had to slog through a taxing debate on Friday while battling a very hoarse, sore throat. After the debate, he broke tradition by giving the other candidates a fist bump instead of a handshake, to avoid spreading his cold. (Though it’s debatable that anybody would have minded had he given Donald Trump a handful of cold germs.)
It just so happened that the next day, I was chatting with my good friend Michael Booth before going to see a Booth Brothers concert. Michael told me that he had almost canceled the trio’s weekend dates, because he, too, had come down with the flu.
This coincidence led me to reflect on some of the ways that the business of politics can resemble the business of singing gospel music. Before I get attacked by ardent gospel music fans, rest assured that the comparison is not meant cynically! These are just my observations of the enormous physical and mental demands that are made on politicians and gospel music singers alike, and of how people of good will in both professions can rise to the occasion.