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Occasionally a heartwarming story will pop up in the news about a house of worship being damaged some way or another and their neighbors who support their rebuilding efforts. Recall the story from March 2017 where Jewish community members donated to the post-arson rebuilding fund of a Florida mosque, for example. As it so happens, July 2018 was a month of particular togetherness where communities nationwide quietly worked together to support churches in disrepair.
Months ago in southern Dallas, Texas, a pipe in the First Fellowship Baptist Church burst and flooded much of the worship area. Carpets were ruined, floors warped, walls stained. Perhaps saddest of all, the church’s pews were destroyed. For reference, church pews come in various materials and styles, from cushioned fabrics to simple wood. First Fellowship’s benches were unfortunately made of particle board which was easily destroyed by the water.
It’s fair to say that money was already a bit tight for First Fellowship, as is the case for many American churches today. Church staff are so busy simply keeping up with their congregation that there’s often limited time for upkeep. The water damage here could have been preventable with an inspection, as about 93% of all water damage is, but what small church has the time and funds for inspections? Dedicated First Fellowship Pastor George Gregory was already personally putting in around 60 hours a week in repairs, his daughter estimated. Six months later, restoration was slow going. With the help of the North Dallas Temple Shalom synagogue, a newly beautified First Fellowship may be just around the corner.
Temple Shalom recently received a large donation from a couple of long-time congregants, so they were already planning on buying new pews for their worship space and donating their original pews. When Rabbi Andrew Paley and Temple Shalom president Rodney Schlosser heard about the fundraising efforts of First Fellowship, they realized the perfect new home for their original pews would be with the church. Both men agreed that different faiths of God supporting one another is “very biblical” and part of their responsibility as leaders.
Over in Ashton, Idaho, the United Methodist Community Church has been in desperate need of a new roof. Issues with the roof leaking were noticed by a church chairwoman Sandi Bowersox last fall — and it did not hold up well over the heavy winter that followed. Roofs as a general rule of thumb should undergo inspections at least twice a year, but as stated above, local churches often don’t have the kind of time and money to invest into something like a roof inspection. Luckily, the chairwoman who noticed the issue jumped into action to propose a solution through fundraising.
The surprising co-organizers of this fundraiser? Zion Lutheran Church, Ashton Christian Fellowship Church, and all of the LDS wards in the Ashton area. Each sect is covering a portion of food, drink, or entertainment, and advertising the large “Raise the Roof” fundraiser to their own congregations. Bowersox pointed out the community value of the Methodist Church, which hosts non-denominational groups such as an afterschool program and 4-H events. “It’s a community building to use, you don’t have to be a member of the church to use that,” she says, a sentiment echoed by the support of all area denominations.
With church attendance down in America overall, it’s heartening for many religious leaders to see communities rallying around churches in need as gathering places and valued neighbors.
In our current world where accepting people for their differences might seem like something that’s a little bit difficult, a new off-Broadway show is trying to help people understand.
The new show, called Addy and Uno, opens the eyes of the viewers to characters struggling with disabilities. The family-friendly show encourages playgoers to be friendly, patient, and accepting of others no matter what they are dealing with. According to LOHUD, the 50-minute puppet show is set in a school and shines a light on the lives of students struggling with multiple disabilities. The disabilities include learning disabilities and other conditions like cerebral palsy.
Uno is the play’s lead character. He is a math genius who has autism. Uno decides to enter the school’s mathematics contest with his friend’s support. One of his friends, Addy, struggles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. His other friends include characters who are hearing and visually impaired. He also has a classmate who uses a wheelchair.
Tom D’Angora is the show’s producer. He spoke to LOHUD about the play and about disabilities.
“About one in six American children are born with a developmental disability: ADHD, autism, Cerebral Palsy, learning or intellectual disability, or hearing loss or vision impairment,” D’Angora said. “A big part of our show’s success is that it highlights some of the ways people with and without developmental disabilities can come together to form strong, diverse communities,”
The show opened back in December of 2017 and is running through early March of this year. If you’re interested in seeing the show, head to The Kirk at Theater Row in Manhattan. Shows are at noon on Saturdays and Sundays with no intermission. Tickets cost $42.25 individually or can be purchased at a group rate.
About 45% of parents of children with learning disabilities say that their child has been bullied at some point. The show’s creative team hopes to bring some understanding and light to different challenges many people are unaware of. They created the show to prove that even if someone struggles with a learning disability, that doesn’t make them any different from anyone else.
In the wake of the defacing of the recently unveiled Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds, executive producers from the Christian movie series God’s Not Dead have donated $25,000 for restorations.
This is not the first time the film series has played a role in the spiritual life of Arkansas. In fact, the second movie in the series, God’s Not Dead 2 was shot in Little Rock back in 2015. That was the same year state Sen. Jason Rapert introduced the bill to have the Ten Commandments installed.
This past Thursday, Rapert was joined by representatives from PureFlix Entertainment and GND Media Group in a news conference to present the donation. Rapert was also joined by executive producer Troy Duhon.
In a brief statement, Duhon postulated, “Tell me what America would look like if Americans honored the Ten Commandments,” and noted that his own son had asked him why rebuilding the monument was important. The monument, which was made of a six-foot-tall stone and inscribed with the namesake religious laws, was erected on June 27, only to be destroyed the very next day when a man drove his car into the statue. The man, Michael Tate Reed, is being held in lieu of bail for destroying the monument.
A post detailing his rationale for the destruction that has since been deleted from Facebook, but according to the Washington Post, Reed said, “I’m a firm believer that for our salvation we not only have faith in Jesus Christ, but we also obey the commands of God and that we confess Jesus as Lord. But one thing I do not support is the violation of our constitutional right to have the freedom that’s guaranteed to us, that guarantees us the separation of church and state, because no one religion should the government represent.”
The loss of the monument represents a significant financial loss, however. With religious tourism contributing a large part of the state’s revenue, the destruction of the statute means a real loss for many in the state. Businesses ranging from nearby restaurants to motorcoach tours (50.2% of their client base being seniors and students, prime demographics for tourism) will likely miss out on a boost of new capital.
Fortunately, efforts to replace the statue are already underway. With the addition of the gift from the God’s Not Dead producers, the total amount of money raised climbed to roughly $55,000, eclipsing the cost of the original monument, $26,000. The original monument was paid for by private funds raised by the American History and Heritage Foundation. According to Rapert, excess funds will be funneled into projects approved by the AHHF.
Michigan-based Family Christian Stores — the largest chain of Christian book and merchandise stores in the U.S. — has announced that it will be closing all 240 of its locations after a long 85 years in business.
The company’s February 23 announcement didn’t include a timeline for the closures, which will impact more than 3,000 employees from its 240 locations across 36 states. The announcement comes after a trying financial time for the company, which has stayed in business long after other national booksellers went out of business.
Family Christian Stores paid approximately $127 million in debt to its suppliers, creditors, and consignment vendors in 2015. The company limped on for two more years, but the financial struggle put the company through bankruptcy. Soon, the 3,000 employees still working for the Christian bookstore will be back on the job market. While that’s a drop in the bucket compared to some industries — there are about estimated value of $145.5 billion 7.8 million construction workers in the United States, for instance — it represents a major loss for thousands of families around the country.
When Family Christian Stores originally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it sold for an estimated $55 million. Company president Chuck Bengochea claimed that the company had “two very difficult years post bankruptcy” in a press release where he also blamed the closures on “changing consumer habits and declining sales.”
“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization, and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse,” he added.
Family Christian’s history began in 1931 when brothers Pat and Bernie Zondervan started a publishing house in their family’s old farmhouse. Over time, Zondervan Corp became the nation’s largest Christian publishing company. HarperCollins purchased the publishing house in the 1990s and the small bookstores evolved into the well known Family Christian Stores.
The company converted from a for-profit company to a non-profit organization in 2012 after a group founded by a wealthy Atlanta businessman bought the chain. Since then, all of the company’s profits have gone to Family Christian Ministries.
Steve Biondo, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development, said in a statement that the heart of the company was always in service to others.
“There is no question we have transformed lives now and for eternity,” he said.
The most frequently searched prices for used vehicles are under $5,000, but price isn’t the reason the homeless population of Rome is looking into cars. The Vatican has taken action to help the homeless people of the city during the cold winter months in an unusual way.
Vehicles are being left, unlocked, outside the walls of Vatican city so that the homeless may take shelter in the warmth. In addition to this act of kindness, thermal sleeping bags have been handed out to many homeless citizens in Rome and shelters run by the Vatican are being kept open for 24 hours a day.
The Pope recently encouraged people of the Church to offer their prayers to the homeless. He urged citizens to pray for “people who live on the streets, struck by the cold and, many times, by indifference.”
Pope Francis has continually focused his efforts on the homeless during his papacy. In addition to the thermal sleeping bags and cars, he had public showers built just outside of St. Peter’s Square and has repeatedly performed acts of charity for them in mass and outside of the Vatican.
But the Pope isn’t the only person concerned for the homeless. In fact, across the globe, in a small Oregon town, another man is doing all he can to help the homeless population.
Trinidad Flores didn’t always knit hats to help others. The hobby was originally a form of therapy for his major depression, but Flores said he eventually decided to do some good with a hobby that continues to bring him comfort.
He spends his time knitting hats for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Rogue Regional and for the homeless population of his city. Over the last two years, Flores has produced approximately 1,000 hats to give to those who need them the most. He’s calling his project “Compassion Hats.”
“Really that’s what it is, compassion. Having compassion for all the others,” Flores said in an interview with KVAL News. His goal — like the Pope’s — is to help keep the homeless warm through the winter.
Earlier this month, the Weinstein Company debuted its newest trailer for upcoming film, The Founder, a biopic chronicling a salesman’s efforts to grow a burger business owned by two brothers: Mac and Dick McDonald.
The result, of course, was McDonald’s, the fast food empire which has franchised worldwide since its incorporation in 1961.
Before McDonald’s was essentially bought out by itself, it was a bustling burger joint in Southern California. The McDonald brothers were known for their speedy service and fast preparation of each meal.
Their unexpected success came after Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton, convinced them to sell the business for a few million dollars. By the time Kroc died in 1984, he was worth $8 billion.
McDonald’s has spent the majority of its recent years fending off criticism of business model, namely the contents of its food. Morgan Spurlock’s film Supersize Me drew plenty of attention to the restaurant after its premiere in 2004.
America’s obesity epidemic is almost always tied to the fast food industry, with McDonald’s at the center. Sugary soda and other additives have also been blamed for increasing rates of gum disease, which affects 47.2% of adults over the age of 30.
But this biopic does not place central focus on the number of complaints McDonald’s has seen and resolved in recent history, but the rise of the business as pioneer in international capitalism, despite its humble beginnings.
The film, directed by John Lee Hancock, has been compared to films like The Social Network, about Facebook, as well as There Will Be Blood, a historical drama about the oil boom in Southern California.
John Carroll Lynch, who starred in the 1996 film Fargo, takes on the role of Maurice “Mac” McDonald, and Nick Offerman, well known for his roles in the critically acclaimed FX series Fargo (based on the film) as well as Parks and Recreation, plays Dick McDonald.
Critic Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com said:
“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about The Founder constantly since seeing it…It’s an ad that becomes a warning before circling around and becoming another, darker kind of advertisement, and one of the most intriguing and surprising things about The Founder is that, in the end, it seems vaguely ashamed of itself for letting this happen.”
The film was originally released on Dec. 7, 2016, and hits theaters nationwide on Jan. 20, 2017.
With the rise and success of online streaming, fewer people are going to see films at the theater, and box office revenues are declining.
All it takes is a $50 HDMI cable, and viewers are able to stream even the most recently released films straight to their home entertainment systems. In fact, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Entertainment and Media Outlook 2014-2018 said that by 2017, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu generated $14 billion, which is $1.6 billion more than the box offices.
Because of this, film marketers have started to use more unconventional approaches to bring audiences into the theater. They have been reaching out to religious leaders in hopes of the films’ messages making an impact on the congregation.
Last month, 1,000 ministers gathered in a Marriott ballroom to watch a film.
“Imagine this clip playing to your congregation, perhaps tied to a theological discussion about our sacred lives and our secular lives and how there is really no division,” said Rev. Roderick Dwayne Belin, a senior African Methodist Episcopal Church leader. He was showing the trailer for “Hidden Figures.”
While the film has no religious aspect, talking about religion in conjunction with seeing the film promotes the idea that religion is everywhere, even if it’s not the obvious message or topic.
Despite Hollywood’s notoriously loose lifestyle, studios have found that targeting Christian filmgoers this way will develop deep and meaningful connections between the attendees and the theater, especially as a social event.
Churches, military groups, and right-leaning bloggers, as well as a number of marketing specialists who mainly focus on overtly religious films, are now putting energy towards mainstream films like “Hidden Figures.”
Estimates show that the U.S. may have somewhere near 90 million evangelicals. Despite further efforts to target them, embracing Christianity in Hollywood isn’t particularly new. But the problem is that effectively reaching these audiences prove to be more difficult.
“Most studios, to be honest, have no idea how to market to us,” said Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, a megachurch minister in Baltimore. “They’re still doing the Sammy Davis Jr. tap dance: ‘Look at me! Aren’t you impressed?’ Well, no, not really. But if you bring us into the tent, we are often excited to spread the word.”
With some very recent flops, Hollywood producers are becoming much more mindful about the content that they are showing, what their marketing ploys are, as well as adjusting the way that they tell the story. However, not all pious film goers are seeing films for a sermon.
“Nobody wants to feel used, and sometimes the movie business acts like people of faith are there to be turned on and off as the marketers see fit,” said DeVon Franklin, an ordained minister, and film producer who is responsible for films like “Miracles From Heaven.”
Film, in this aspect, is more or less about connection with a story and relating the story to your peers, regardless of religion.
Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Pennsylvania finds religious themes in many movies, whether they were intended or not.
“We see this as a healing movie,” Mitchell said. “At a moment when so many people — right and left, black and white — are arguing over what America is or what America isn’t, here is a chance to come together in a theater and look up, to space quite literally in this case, but metaphorically too.”
Approximately 46.3 million households in the U.S. have dogs, including celebrities. Carrie Underwood’s dog Ace became a celebrity to the world seven years ago when he pranced down the aisle during the christian singer’s wedding to Mike Fisher. Now, Ace doesn’t quite have the same spring in his step.
Just before Christmas, Ace suffered a herniated disc. Underwood shared more details of the situation on Wednesday January 4, in an Instagram post that featured Ace performing one of the exercises prescribed in his physical therapy routine.
The singer shared that after suffering the herniated disc, Ace was paralyzed in his back end for a couple of days and that he had since recovered some mobility in his hind legs. Now, he’s going through physical therapy to help with the healing process.
Underwood’s Instagram video shows Ace walking on a water treadmill as part of a hydrotherapy routine to help him recover. She acknowledged that her four-legged friend has a long way to go before he’s fully recovered, but that he’s “taking his physical therapy like a champ.”
Herniated discs are fairly common in dogs of all sizes, but they tend to have a greater effect on older dogs whose bones may not be as strong as they were in the prime of adulthood. In addition, breeds such as dachshunds, Pekinese, Lhasa apsos, and basset hounds are typically at a higher risk for this issue.
If a dog is showing signs of neck and back pain, it’s likely that a herniated disc is the issue. Symptoms of back pain include reluctance to walk and play, a lack of coordination, and reluctance to turn or lower the head. Any of these symptoms provides a valid reason for a visit to the vet.
The most common treatment option is confinement paired with supplemental medication to ease the dog’s pain. In Ace’s case, his paralysis confined him to a bed for a few days. Now, his physical therapy is helping him get back on his feet. Underwood is sure that he’ll make a full recovery with continued physical therapy.
Although director Martin Scorsese has often explored the Christian religion in his films, his latest project, “Silence,” may be his most successful to date. As well it should, considering the movie took three decades to make. And now, Scorsese has managed to gain approval from one important leader of the faith: Pope Francis.
“Silence” begins as a journey to find one man in a strange land, but the film then morphs into a true test of faith. Set in Japan in the early 1600s, the plot follows the journey of three Jesuit priests as they venture into unknown territory. Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson, was doing his part to spread the word of God throughout Japan. At this time, Christianity was a forbidden religion, and Ferreira is captured by a man known as the Inquisitor. Ten years later, Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe receive word that Ferreira has renounced the faith, so they volunteer to travel to Japan in search of their mentor.
The two priests are smuggled into the country by a Japanese guide and are swiftly overwhelmed by the number of Japanese residents who desire their services. They must give confession only at night so as not to attract attention. Still, the two priests are discovered by the Inquisitor, which causes suffering for the local villagers and eventually leads to their death.
In this film, Scorsese veers away from many of his usual directorial choices. Although he’s no stranger to faith-based films, this newest venture seems decidedly different. He uses no modern music or dazzling cinematography. He simply tells the story — and the result is remarkable.
Scorsese’s films have not always been met with accolades. While 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, many have expressed outcry after viewing some of his other movies (most notably, “The Last Temptation of Christ”). However, Scorsese definitely has one fan in Pope Francis, who recently allowed the filmmaker to screen “Silence” at the Vatican.
The film was shown in the chapel near a large-scale crucifix, an image that the director found to be “quite stunning.” Pope Francis, who was familiar with the film’s source material, hopes the film “bears much fruit” and thanked the director for being there.
Reverend James J. Martin, who worked as a consultant on the film, says that Scorsese “was very engaged and energetic and really impressed the Jesuits in the audience with the depth of his spirituality.” He went on to say that “you could not make a spiritual film like that without being a spiritual person. It would come off as empty.”
“Silence” opens Christmas Day in theaters nationwide.
Since 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, it’s probably safe to say that a number of Christian film enthusiasts have used the Internet to find a new movie to watch. Unfortunately for these spiritual cinephiles, they may have missed the trailer for the newly released film “I’m Not Ashamed.”
Producers of the Christian film were furious to learn that YouTube took down their trailer suddenly and with no explanation.
“It’s 11 months we’ve been fighting this battle,” said the movie’s co-writer Bodie Thoene. “They actually took down the trailer and would not permit it to be put up … we’ve lost 11 months of being able to use social media freely. We feel it’s an interference with our freedom of expression.”
The video sharing website did eventually put the trailer back online, saying, “With the massive volume of videos on our platform, sometimes we make the wrong call on content that is flagged by our community. When this is brought to our attention, we review the content and take appropriate action, including restoring videos or channels that were mistakenly removed.”
“I’m Not Ashamed” is now out in theaters, and some critics are saying that it is “what a Christian movie oughtta be.”
“Ashamed” reveals the final days in the life of Rachel Joy Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. It tells the tale of a teenage girl struggling to balance high school life with her Christian values. She’s not popular, but strives to fit in with her small group of friends without compromising her faith. As is the case in most high school dramas, Rachel falls for a boy, but is afraid to be her true self for fear of losing his interest.
Meanwhile, two outcasts plot revenge against classmates they believe have mistreated them.
Everyone knows how the story ends, but it’s Rachel’s journey and how she lives her last days that are so compelling.
The film honors the life of a real girl who made a profound impact in her short lifetime. Because Rachel is such a relatable young woman, and the Columbine story is so well known across the country, critics have noted that the film should speak to Christians and non-Christians alike.
In 2014, 77% of Americans saw at least one film at the theater. If you see just one movie this year, and you’re looking for something powerful with strong Christian values, see “I’m Not Ashamed.”
After this deeply divided election season, employees of an Alabama sheriff’s office came together in prayer for a rebirth of the Christian values, ethics, and morals that have gone by the wayside in the United States.
“It hit very close for us, and some of the important decisions our country faces certainly will be affected by the election,” said Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin. “We’re not talking about who to vote for. We just want everyone to vote an educated vote and encourage the safety of our law enforcement in their choice of candidate. We believe that prayer is an answer to a lot of our problems.”
The group prayer was broadcasted live on Facebook and was lead by Sgt. Blake Robinson.
According to AL.com, Sgt. Robinson asked for a continued blessing on law enforcement officers across the country, following the recent killings of police officers in both Georgia and Utah in early November and the Dallas police shooting in July.
The prayer also blessed a group of horseback riders who were heading to the nation’s capital. The group’s message is that God is the only hope America has.
The public was invited and stood in solidarity during Election Day with the police officers outside the sheriff’s office. Both civilians and officers continued to pray as people cast their votes throughout the country.
Prayers were sent to Alabama citizens as well in an attempt to put an end to serious issues like crime, hate spewing, and drunk driving. On average, drunk drivers get behind the wheel impaired about 80 times before they are arrested for the first time and according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, there were a total of 5,398 alcohol-related crashes in Alabama in 2014.
Texting and driving ads have become more sophisticated and expensive over the years, but none have gone to quite the lengths that Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” has. The movie may just be the most expensive texting and driving ad ever created.
The average driver spends approximately 20 hours every week behind the wheel, and that was no different in “Doctor Strange,” as the story of Dr. Steven Strange truly begins while he’s driving and (spoiler alert!) playing with his phone.
The entire movie follows Strange, a renowned surgeon in one of New York City’s top hospitals. One night while driving and looking through patient x-rays on his phone, he crashes, rendering his hands all but useless in an operating room and in every functional sense.
The movie, while venturing into other areas of theology and mysticism, keeps returning to the fact that Strange’s crash has completely altered his life forever.
Throughout the film, Strange has difficulty completing any task because of his trembling hands, but eventually learns that they’re simply a part of his life at this point.
However, texting and driving isn’t the only issue brought up in Marvel’s newest venture. In fact, it just may be their most theological film to date.
Christian director Scott Derrickson managed to pack the film with nods to theology and Christianity in particular.
Some lines in the film were borrowed straight from scripture, and a particularly Eden-esque apple even makes an appearance in a crucial scene from the movie.
However, perhaps the most Christian message of the film is the idea that “it’s not about you,” as Tilda Swinton’s character suggests time and time again.
While it’s fragmented, Derrickson’s approach to Swinton’s character mimics the journey of Jesus, who came to the world as a servant and put aside his own interests to achieve a greater good.
For some, it may be a stretch to say that “Doctor Strange” offers such a strong Christian message, but it does consistently address the fact that science may not always have the answers.