I’ve noticed on my social media feeds a renewed sense to understand racism in America after the acts of terrorism in Charleston. I wanted to put together a list of questions that I think every white Christian needs to be considering in the wake of this.

1. Where was this outrage before now? I know, some of you were outraged long before now. Good on you. But many others either silently took in the killings of unarmed black men and children over the past couple of years or actively spoke out against those who were voicing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. I honestly think that this outrage is healthy and warranted, but why did it take an attack on a church to spur so many Christians to outrage? Will the outrage continue the next time a racial tragedy occurs?

2. What voices am I listening to? Are the voices that are most influencing your views on race coming from people of color or from whites? Russ Moore is certainly helpful, and his article on the confederate flag was a good article, but ultimately Russ Moore is another white guy telling you what to think about race (I realize the irony of this statement). Jon Stewart’s monologue was great, and I even shared it on my social media, but he is not a person of color. Is your Twitter feed dominated by whites talking about this? Are you retweeting and sharing white or black thoughts after an event like Charleston (or Ferguson, or McKinney, or Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice, or….)? Are you reading black thinkers, theologians, and novelists/poets? Are you listening to black sermons? I would say that the white voices need to outweighed by the voices of people of color.

3. Who am I spending time with? This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I’m firmly committed to standing in solidarity with my black brothers and sisters, but my theological convictions have placed me in a denomination that, at least in America, is dominated by rich whites (I heard recently that the average person in my denomination is an African woman, but that doesn’t do me much good in my own context of being surrounded by rich whites). There are almost no non-white people in my congregation. How do I deal with this? Are your friends all white? Do you ever communicate with non-whites in day to day life? I think being intentional is important in understanding racism. If you’re living in a white bubble, non-whites will seem monolithic and abstract. This is one of the greatest critiques leveled at whiteness by black philosophers and theologians: the tendency to speak only in abstractions and to lump all races together into stereotypes. One of the best ways to fight this is to live life together with people of color.

4. Am I talking too much? I’m very guilty of this. I’ve done a lot of reading, thinking, and writing about race and I’m quick to speak in the wake of events like Charleston. It’s hard for me to stay quiet. But the fact is that I need to listen more. I need to hear and read from my brothers and sisters who are impacted by this in a much more visceral way than I am. I need to listen to their pain and take it in before I say anything. Are you willing to sit back and listen before speaking? Are you willing to give your voice up in order to listen?

5. Do I understand the complex factors that have led to such an atrocity? One thing that frustrated me was seeing the Charleston massacre be called a “senseless” act over and over again. The act makes perfect sense in a society shaped by colonialism and white supremacy. It was horrific and tragic, but not senseless, not if you understand the complex and colonialist factors that have ingrained a fear and hatred of the black body into white consciousness. There are so many resources out there that can help illuminate this, but I most recommend The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings in helping to understand the disease of colonialistic thinking.

These are important questions to be asking ourselves right now, and they are questions I’ve been asking myself. But it’s also important that we don’t stop at these questions. My hope is that these questions will lead you to other questions and hopefully some difficult conversations with people of color. The fact is that if we are to stand in solidarity with our oppressed brothers and sisters, we have a lot of learning to do first. We have to be guided by empathy and assisted by the Holy Spirit.

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For the past year or so I’ve been reading and researching for my master’s thesis on black theology. It’s been an eye opening year of reading, one that has challenged me in a way that I have never actually been challenged before. I had spent a good amount of time before starting this thesis talking about racism and racial reconciliation, but I didn’t realize just how deeply rooted racism is in American society until I actually started reading and listening to non-white thinkers. In the wake of the shooting of Mike Brown and the insanity in Ferguson, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it is I had to say to such a situation. The reality is that I live a very comfortable and privileged life and because of that I didn’t feel like I could really say anything worthwhile, especially when thinkers like Brian Bantum have been posting amazing blogs like this. Then a friend of mine from divinity school posted a link to a Matt Chandler post about white privilege and I realized what exactly it is that needs to be said, especially to conservative white evangelicals.

First of all, Chandler should be given kudos for even attempting to speak to white privilege and the situation in Ferguson. He’s the first “celebrity” white evangelical pastor that I’ve seen actually engage with it (that’s not to say no one else is, I just don’t really follow the evangelical blogosphere). However, he demonstrates a weakness that I’ve noticed in white thinking: racism, for conservative white evangelicals, tends to be defined as blatant or conscious acts/thoughts/etc. For example, Chandler says, “What is so deceptive about white privilege is that it is different from blatant racism or bias. A privileged person’s heart may be free from racist thoughts or biased attitudes, but may still fail to see how the very privilege afforded to him or her shapes how he or she interprets and understands the situations and circumstances of people without privilege.” This is a common theme I see any time evangelicals talk about racism: It’s a problem of the heart. Part of this surely stems from evangelicals’ fascination with the “disposition of the heart” and a focus on individual spirituality, both symptoms of a stunted theology that fails to take into account the social implications of Christianity. But I think it also stems from the fact that these conservative evangelicals simply do not engage with thinkers who are not white.

As I’ve immersed myself in black theology and other theologies of race, what has become abundantly clear to me is that racism is a much deeper infection than most evangelical theologians acknowledge. White privilege may not be conscious, sure, but racism is so much deeper than conscious hatred of those different from yourself. Racism applies to structures, to society, to aesthetics, and on and on. It is these racist structures of society that have bred white privilege, so white privilege is absolutely a result of “blatant” racism. To not acknowledge as much is to actually give in to and perpetuate a racist system which continues to belittle the struggles of non-white folks by deeming our society a “post-racial” society.

The reality is that racism is far more subtle than KKK robes and a burning cross. White normativity is promulgated in the ways that we as a society continue to define the ideal. Let’s take a look at film, for example. Whites are far and away the largest represented race on film. A study from the University of Southern California reveals that in the 100 most popular films released in 2012, “only 10.8% of speaking characters are Black, 4.2% are Hispanic, 5% are Asian, and 3.6% are from other (or mixed race) ethnicities. Just over three-quarters of all speaking characters are White (76.3%). These trends are relatively stable, as little deviation is observed across the 5-year sample.” The same study also found that women of color were portrayed as significantly more hypersexual than white women. This creates a problem in that we continue to insist that white is normative and good, while non-white bodies are less important, less moral, and less intelligent than their white counterparts. It is this sort of thing that I mean when I talk about a “structural problem of racism.” We are probably not conscious of the attitudes that we carry that are racist, the attitudes that continue to belittle the black body in favor of white normativity. Racism isn’t simply a problem of the heart, it’s not an act or an attitude, it’s an issue that has deeply infected American society, and one that will take much more drastic measures than simply acknowledging that it exists and demanding reconciliation.

So yes, let’s continue acknowledging the fact that white privilege is a very real problem in America. But don’t stop there. White privilege is only a symptom of the greater structural racism infecting our society. Until we begin to take the hard steps of actually attempting to engage with other races, we can’t move forward. Until we start taking non-white thinkers just as seriously as we take white thinkers, our theology and practice will be stunted. Until whites take the step of acknowledging our role in perpetuating white normativity and a racist society instead of demanding that non-whites reconcile with us, true reconciliation will absolutely not be attained. The problem isn’t just the heart, it’s society in general. The answer isn’t better quiet times and overcoming our own racist attitudes, it’s stepping into the political sphere and actually starting to work toward the common good.

Further reading:
The following books have been incredibly helpful to me as I’ve dealt with issues of race:

Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings. This book in particular has helped me see the ways in which white normativity has infected even Christian theology. Jennings here draws a genealogy of white normativity from colonialism onward.
Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity by Brian Bantum
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
Here is a link to the full article from the University of Southern California re: film and race. It’s a short study, and an incredibly important read in understanding white normativity. CLICK HERE

For some reason this week the idea of manhood has crept up again and again in things that I have read and listened to. It all sort of came to a head yesterday while I was working out. The owner of the gym had a talk radio show on that was discussing Alabama football, because apparently no one told the hosts that the football season is over. During the course of the conversation, somehow the idea of the “wussification” of American men came up. At one point, the host who brought up the topic said, “If you have to ask what it means to be a man, what you have to do to be a man, then you are already a wuss.”

This is highly problematic for a number of reasons. I tend to believe that Socrates (via Plato’s Apology) had it right when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I also tend to believe that it’s only by asking questions that we can really ever learn anything about ourselves or about the nature of reality. So I disagree with that statement on a fundamental, philosophical level. But that’s not the level at which I was bothered. I was bothered on a personal level.

I grew up essentially without a father. My dad worked a couple of jobs, one of which took him away from us at night on a regular basis. Even when he was home he wasn’t exactly a sterling example of how to be a man. There are a lot of times when I honestly wonder what it means to be a man. I didn’t learn any of the “manly” things that a father is supposed to teach a son. I can’t fix things with my hands, any time something goes wrong in our apartment I have to call maintenance. I have no idea how my car works beyond “it turns on and takes me where I  want to go…most of the time.” I don’t hunt. I don’t watch sports. Nor do I think any of those things make you a man.

This was my fundamental problem with what the radio host said. The media isn’t the problem and men aren’t being “wussified,” whatever that even means. The problem is that there are a ton of guys out there who are like me, who grew up without a father figure (or with an abusive/negative one) and are having to try to cobble together a definition of manhood from disparate sources. From what I’ve observed (and this is purely based on guys I know and am friends with, an admittedly narrow pool of research), men who grew up with a father tend to have a much better idea of who they are than men who grew up without a father. The problem, then, isn’t the media or the individual who asks the question, the problem is an epidemic of fatherlessness. What’s needed isn’t a rant about wusses, what’s needed is loving men stepping into mentor roles for fatherless men. I was lucky enough in college to have a number of men mentor me. What’s needed isn’t more macho definitions of what it means to be a man or more tough-guy posturing against feminism and “wussification,” what’s needed is for men to be brave enough to do the hard work of giving a helping hand to other men who are trying to figure out who they are. And what’s needed, perhaps most of all, is a complete redefinition of manhood that takes the complete human person seriously rather than just slapping a bunch of macho cliches together and calling it “manhood.”

So in spite of not doing any of the things I mentioned above, here are some things I do: I love my wife and try to provide for her by working a part time job while being a full time graduate student. I read a lot and attempt to ask questions about the nature of the world. I try to be a good and faithful friend, son, and brother. I try to love other people more than I love myself. I try to serve others. I try to overcome my own privilege as a middle class white male and see the oppression of others around me. I ask myself “What does it mean to be a man” on a weekly, if not daily basis. And I guess that if that makes me a wuss, I’m really okay with it.

Instead of just doing a best of list this year, I decided to tell you about my favorite films of 2013, a few that I enjoyed but wouldn’t call my favorites, and some of the just plain bad films I saw this year.

But first, because I am a full time grad student who also works a part time job, I had neither the time nor the money to see every film this year. There’s also the pesky problem of living in Birmingham, Alabama and not having access to limited releases (we still haven’t gotten Her or Inside Llewyn Davis here yet). Therefore, there are still quite a few films that I’m positive would make my favorites list if I was able to see them. In addition to Her and Inside Llewyn Davis, I haven’t had a chance to see Blue Jasmine12 Years a SlaveSaving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall StreetRushYou’re Next, Short Term 12, Frances HaAin’t Them Bodies Saints, or Fruitvale Station.

Now, on to the lists.

Movies I liked (but didn’t love, apparently)

Now You See Me: Here’s the thing about this movie: It was fun and it had a great cast. Sure it’s not groundbreaking cinema or anything, but I had a blast seeing this one in theaters. I actually forgot about it though until I saw it in Best Buy on Black Friday.

Thor: The Dark World: It was better than the first one, and I loved the story between Thor and Loki. I still am not convinced that Thor is an interesting enough character to hold his own film franchise. He’s great with the other Avengers but I don’t think they’ve found the right writers or directors for his solo series quite yet. All that being said, I’ll be buying it on Blu-ray when it comes out.

The Kings of Summer and The Way, Way Back: I’m lumping these together because they’re both summery coming of age films. I would have absolutely loved them when I was a teen, but as a 20-something they don’t fully resonate with me anymore. However, The Way, Way Back really captured what it felt like for me personally to have gone through being a socially awkward teenage boy. It was definitely the better of the two films.

To the Wonder: There is every possibility that at some point this will become one of my favorite films of this year. I didn’t particularly love Malick’s Tree of Life when I first saw it but now would rank it among my favorite films of all time. I think this is one that I need to see again and let roll around in my mind for a little while.

World War Z: I was really surprised that I liked World War Z. It was a pleasant surprise and fun to watch. A PG-13 zombie movie isn’t ideal, but it’s worth a rental.

My favorite films of 2013 (in the order in which I saw them)

Iron Man 3

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I hated Iron Man 3 at first. I didn’t like what they did to The Mandarin because I’m a comic book nerd who has problems separating the source material from the film. But this has steadily grown on me to become probably my second favorite stand-alone superhero film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (my favorite is Captain America: The First Avenger). The story is fantastic, it’s nice to see Tony grow, and it has an incredible finale. It’s smart, funny, emotional, and fun. What more could you ask for in a blockbuster?

The Great Gatsby

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Look, I’m perfectly aware that as someone who minored in English and who loves the original novel I’m supposed to hate this movie. But I’m a big fan of Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio so I was already in love from the start. Luhrmann is one of those directors who you either love or hate and I am firmly on the love side of that equation. I thought Gatsby was brilliant. Luhrmann’s directing captured the party atmosphere of the novel but also did a fantastic job of showing the hollowness of the life Gatsby led. I think this is a brilliant, subversive film that destroys the notion of the American dream. But that’s another post altogether.

Upstream Color

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Beautiful, cerebral, understated, sparse. A transcendent film that makes the best use of sound that I’ve ever experienced. This movie isn’t entertainment, it’s an experience, an emotion, a moment that you can’t look away from. This isn’t a film to think about and dissect. It’s a film to be felt, it’s a film that should wash over your senses and overwhelm you. I think this film is more like a Terrence Malick film than To the Wonder.

Mud

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Man I loved this movie. It was a welcome break this summer just as blockbuster fatigue was starting to set in. Great performances from all of the actors, well-written and beautifully shot. This a coming-of-age film that doesn’t feel like one, which is a good thing. It’s sort of reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn, which is a good thing. It’s been sort of overlooked, which is a bad thing (I haven’t seen it on any year end lists yet). If you missed it, find it and watch it now.

Pacific Rim

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It’s a movie directed by Guillermo del Toro about giant robots beating up giant monsters. What more do you want? Easily my favorite blockbuster of the year.

Gravity

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The visual effects in this movie are stunning. I hate 3D films but this was one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen and if you didn’t see it in 3D you’re really missing out. Luckily, it’s not just pretty to look at, it’s well written and wonderfully (masterfully) paced. Even though it’s big and pretty and scary it’s also deeply personal and intimate. This one is a contender for my favorite movie of the year.

Zero Charisma

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It’s hardly a secret that I’m a nerd. It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite films this year is a film about nerds. I love the celebration of nerds, the critique of hipster nerd culture, and the realistic portrayal of nerdy people. Zero Charisma doesn’t fall into the tropes about Dungeons and Dragons players, it never plays up the cliches nor does it smooth over any of the rough outlines of the characters. All of the characters felt real, and I feel like I know every single one of them in real life.

Much Ado About Nothing

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Joss Whedon made Much Ado while The Avengers was still in post. It’s his little passion project, a way to get away from the hype and hugeness that was The Avengers. The cast is full of former Whedon collaborators (if you’ve ever watched any of his shows you’ll find some of your favorite actors/actresses in this movie) and they all give incredible performances. I always love Shakespeare adaptations that retain the original script and language but update the setting. Even though Whedon retained Shakespeare’s original text, he made the film all his own.

Frozen

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My wife loves Disney princess movies. I really only saw Frozen because I knew she would love it. I had no idea how much I would love it too. It’s funny and smart. It turns all of the Disney princess tropes on their heads. I love that the message is about being a strong, independent female who doesn’t need to be rescued by a male. This is my favorite Disney princess movie, and the first one I want my future daughters to watch.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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I was not a fan of the first Hunger Games film. I can’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t love about it, but something just put me off. A good adaptation transcends the source material to stand on it’s own as a work of art and where there original Hunger Games film didn’t do that, Catching Fire does so with spades. Instead of talking about it here, I’ll point you to three articles that say everything I want to say, but do so better than I could: Here, here, and here.

The World’s End

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I’m a huge fan of Edgar Wright’s films, especially Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, parts one and two of the Cornetto Trilogy (none of these are direct sequels, just a loose grouping of films). I’m willing to say that The World’s End is my favorite of the series. It’s not as laugh out loud funny as Shaun or Hot Fuzz are, but it is still really funny and it’s much more deeply personal. Again, let me point you to an article that is far better than anything I could say: FILM CRIT HULK SMASH.

American Hustle

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The last film I saw in 2013 may also be the best film I saw in 2013. American Hustle is far funnier than I expected it to be (Jennifer Lawrence’s character is incredible, and her dance to “Live and Let Die” is pure gold). But it’s also a deadly serious film about excess. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one snatch a few Golden Globes and Oscars (though I doubt it will win Best Picture at either). The cast is basically made up of the stars of the last two David O. Russell films (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) and they all give some of the best performances of their careers (and that is really saying something). I think this may be the single best performance from Amy Adams thus far.

Movies I did not enjoy

The Bling Ring: While The Bling Ring certainly had some amazing performances (Emma Watson in particular did an amazing job) it just didn’t quite connect. This isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just not quite a good one either.

Man of Steel: I really hated this movie. It was long, self-important, and nonsensical. Us comic nerds can argue all day about whether or not Superman kills but what we can’t argue about is whether or not Superman is selfless. That’s part of the core identity of Superman. The Superman of Man of Steel is supremely selfish (although I’m not a huge fan of Devin Faraci, his piece on Man of Steel is perfect, read it here).

Star Trek Into Darkness: Hands down the worst film I saw this year. Self-important, incoherent, and stupid. The ending renders any further sequels useless. Khan is boring and one dimensional. The throwback references to Wrath of Khan are pointless and provide nothing to the story. Side note: This movie also finally broke any confidence I had in Rotten Tomatoes.

If you know me at all you know that I absolutely love Derek Webb. I’ll try not to let this post just become a bit of hagiography.

I hated “Christian” music as a teenager. I guess I should amend that to say that to this very day I hate CCM with a passion. I’d say out of the 15,000 songs on my iPod (I listen to a lot of music, back off) maybe 300 would be labeled “Christian” and of those 300, 123 of those are Derek’s and another 97 are his wife’s. But as a teenager in youth group I heard all about Caedman’s Call and Derek but never gave them a chance because of my bias about the CCM world. It wasn’t until I got to college and heard Mockingbird that I really started getting into his music.

Then Stockholm Syndrome came out.

Some background is really called for here. Derek started a cryptic game on Twitter to get the word out about his controversial album and some of my friends tweeted about it. I’m a sucker for this style of marketing and I ended up spending hours combing over his clues for answers and following him right down the rabbit hole. I ended up heading to a sort of release show for the album with a friend and then ended up at Derek’s house studio that night with a handful of other fans and walked away with a copy of the album before it was officially released. I think it’s safe to say that night was the night that I became obsessed with Derek. I listened to nothing but Stockholm Syndrome for at least a week. That’s really unusual for me as I am typically an album jumper (again, 15,000 songs on my iPod). The album was fascinating to me from a musical standpoint, and infuriating to me from a theological standpoint. I wanted Derek to love homosexuals, but I also wanted him to call them sinners. I wanted Derek to say exactly what I thought and I had no room for disagreement in the way that I saw Christianity at the time. I even wrote a fairly angry blog about it asking him to come out and say what I wanted him to say.

Derek has released two more albums since then: Feedback, an beautiful instrumental meditation on the Lord’s Prayer (an album that is still in heavy rotation as study music for me) and Ctrl/SOLA-MI, his most ambitious work yet, a meditation on the role of technology and the concept of a coming singularity. I think that both of these albums are ambitious and show the extent of Derek’s talent and artistry.

Clearly, I’m a huge fan of Derek’s newer stuff. I am still relatively unfamiliar with a lot of his early material with the exception of a few songs I absolutely love (Wedding Dress, I Repent, and Reputation in particular). For the past few years every time Derek announced that he was recording a new album I got ridiculously excited. When he announced his newest album was a sequel of sorts to his first album I was, admittedly, hesitant to be excited. I’ve given it a few listens and it’s just not my kind of album. That’s not a comment on the quality of the album at all, it’s my wife’s favorite album of his and one of her favorite albums of all time. It’s just not for me. I was afraid that I was losing the ambitious Derek I had fallen in love with. But I still had faith in Derek and I applied to be a member of the launch team for the album.

The title of the new album is I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You. I knew going in that the theme of the album was repentance. I have a lot of things to repent for to Derek, the harshness with which I judged his theology as a sophomore in college, the angry blog post I wrote, the general amount of un-love I had shown. I was accepted and any doubts I had were destroyed in the first launch team video chat about the new album. Derek talked candidly about his struggles with the Church, his desire to rebuild bridges and be edifying rather than just “agitating.” Then at the end he surprised us (well, at least I was surprised) with a copy of the new album. I immediately downloaded it, put it on the iPod, and started listening.

This isn’t technically a review. It’s more a gushing. I love this album. As has been usual in his recent work, this album marks a noticeable departure in style from any of his other work. Electric guitars are more prominent, there’s a song that sounds straight out of The Beatles discography, U2’s influence on Derek is even more noticeable than usual, and I’m pretty sure I even hear a few riffs that are reminiscent of Leagues (not surprising given Derek’s love for Thad Cockrell). Rather than tell you which songs are my favorite, or review each song individually, I’d rather just say that this is an honest, heartfelt, and beautiful album. It’s an album that encourages reconciliation while enacting reconciliation, that forces listeners to confront the uncomfortable reality that we are forgiven and thus must forgive. Though Derek hates the label “Christian” on his music, I would venture to say that this album embodies the spirit of Christianity and of Christ more so than any other album I’ve ever listened to and is thus the most “Christian” album I own.

But enough gushing. Go buy the album. You can pre-order it now and receive an immediate digital download of the entire album over at www.derekwebb.com. While you’re there be sure to check out the videos of songs from the album as well, they’re all worth it.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babbling about a musician that has had a profound impact on my life. Forgive the terrible writing, I promise I’m usually better than this.

I’m really obnoxious. I don’t like that about myself, but it’s true. I have a lot of opinions when it comes to theology, culture and politics and I tend to be in the minority among the people I’m friends with and around the most. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but I tend to be really loud about my opinions, and my discourse lacks love. I talk a lot about the necessity of unity in the Church and I think I betray that importance with the way I discuss things. I also talk a lot about the importance of reconciliation and repentance, so let me actually follow through. I repent for the way I alienate those who disagree with me, and I repent for the lack of love that has characterized my thought and speech over the past few months.

I’m not going to stop having my opinions and convictions, but I am going to change the way I go about having them. Facebook and Twitter are really terrible places to talk about important things. Blogs aren’t great either, but I think they can be more civilized than social media. I will no longer be posting status updates that I know will cause controversy as that is in direct disobedience to Ephesians 4:29. I will probably still post some controversial things on here, but I will do so out of love and with a respectful tone. I do think, however, that most of my opinions from here on out will be discussed face to face so that there is less misunderstanding. And I’m also committing myself to be quieter in my opinions even in face to face conversation. I don’t want to be known as the contentious guy and I can already feel strain in some friendships that I count most dear to me due to my obnoxiousness.

If the Church is to have any power in this world, it will only have that power through unity in Jesus Christ. Therefore, I promise to begin the process of becoming more charitable in my speech and more loving in my disagreement.

I love you all.

If you know me, you know I really love films. There’s few things I’d rather do than watch a movie with friends either at home or in the theater. The following movies were my favorite movies of the year. I’d planned on doing a top ten list, but 2012 was a ridiculously good year for film so I couldn’t narrow my list down that good. The order reflects how much I enjoyed the film and how likely I am to own/watch it regularly so please remember that this is not an objective “best films” list, but rather my personal favorites. To be fair, I haven’t been able to see the following films and if I had seen them they probably would have been on this list: Amour, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Silver Linings Playbook, Cloud Atlas, Argo, Flight, This is Not a Film, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Master, and Wreck-It Ralph. Now, enough talk. Onto the films!

15. Bernie

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Bernie was a surprise for me. My wife and I decided to rent it from Redbox sort of at the last minute with no idea what it was really about. This movie was hilarious, and a pitch-perfect portrayal of life in the South. The film is told in a documentary style and actually uses people who live in the town that the movie is  set in which adds a layer of authenticity and hilarity. Give it a watch.

14. Indie Game: The Movie

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On the surface, Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary about the making of independent video games versus big studio video games. But really, it’s a documentary about art, obsession, and the human condition. Well made and beautifully shot. Just the right amount of pathos without being overly sentimental. You really want these guys to succeed by the end of the movie. A great film for gamers and non-gamers alike.

13. Coriolanus

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I’m willing to say that this is Gerard Butler’s best role. Unfortunately, this film has been largely overlooked this year. Coriolanus is a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. The film re-imagines the story as set in a modern day Roman republic but retains the original Shakespearean language. Ralph Fiennes delivered a powerful performance and also directed the film. If you haven’t seen this yet (and I bet you haven’t) you really should find a copy to watch. Fantastic.

12. The Cabin in the Woods

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The fact that such a fantastic film is number 12 on my list should tell you how ridiculous this year was for movies. When a film written by Joss Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard that is as insane, hilarious, and terrifying as Cabin in the Woods doesn’t even make it into the top ten you know you’ve had a good year. This movie deconstructs the horror genre and all of our expectations of what a horror film does. Whedon described it as “a loving hate letter to the horror genre.” Brilliant stuff.

11. The Hobbit

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The Hobbit was one of the films that I was most excited about this year. I was lucky enough to see it in the standard 24 fps rather than the higher 48 fps and I really enjoyed it. Not as good as Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but still a fun film.

10. Beasts of the Southern Wild

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A love letter to post-Katrina New Orleans and a scathing rebuke to the rest of the country. Quvenzhané Wallis was incredible. I never thought that a 6 year old could act like this girl can. She deserves to be the youngest Oscar nominee of all time, and I’m pulling for her to win. Beautifully shot. I loved how the film may be a fantasy or may not be. I like the ambiguity that this film brings. Good performances all around.

9. Les Misérables

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There are films and there are events. Les Mis was an event. I was in awe throughout the whole movie. I just wanted to sit in my seat when it was over and watch it again. Anne Hathaway absolutely blew me away and deserves to win the Oscar for best supporting actress (she will). While there are plenty of things I could nitpick about Les Mis, I’ll just let Peter Travers speak for me, “Damn the imperfections, it’s perfectly marvelous.”

8. Lincoln

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Is anyone actually surprised that Daniel Day-Lewis delivered a stunning performance as Abraham Lincoln? Again, not a perfect film (I’m actually pretty upset that they left out Frederick Douglass’ essential involvement to turn Lincoln against slavery, this smacks of racism and White Savior Syndrome) but I will watch it over and over again just to see such a powerhouse performance.

7. Looper

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I love when a sci-film is well made, smart, witty, and fun. Looper is all of those things. It plays with some big concepts while still delivering solid entertainment.

6. Prometheus

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I’ve seen Prometheus get dumped on more than almost any other film this year. The amount of hatred that screenwriter Damon Lindelof was subjected to on Twitter was pretty astonishing. That said, I know that this could be an unpopular choice to put on this list but I really loved Prometheus. Few other films have made me think as much as this one did. Prometheus deals with big themes of theology, philosophy and science that few other films are willing to wrestle with, and I think it does so in an artful and compelling way.

5. Skyfall

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Remember when Bond was just dumb fun? Those days are gone. Skyfall is hands down my favorite Bond film. Equal parts Dark Knight and Home Alone, Skyfall was a ton of fun to watch and was incredibly well made.

4. Moonrise Kingdom

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I love Wes Anderson films. He can create characters and worlds and atmospheres better than almost any other director out there. His sense of humor is impeccable. I think that Moonrise Kingdom is probably his best film yet.

3. The Avengers

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It is at this point that I would like to remind you that this list reflects my opinions and my personal favorite movies and does not purport to say that The Avengers was a better film than any of the above films. I even debated about whether to put it in my top three (where it actually belongs since I’ve already watched it more than any other movie that came out this year) or to appear more pretentious and sophisticated and put it towards the top. But you know what, I love The Avengers. I love Joss Whedon. This is a fun movie. And Joss Whedon did the impossible, he took 4 franchises with big characters and put them all together in one film and made it entertaining without making one character the central focus. Don’t underestimate how hard it was to pull off what Whedon did with The Avengers.

2. Django Unchained

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I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Tarantino for awhile now. When I was 16, the Kill Bill movies were my favorite thing ever. I went through a period of hating/misunderstanding his films for the past year or so. Django recaptured me for Tarantino. This is such a well-written and superbly directed film. All of the actors give compelling performances. The scene with the racist proto-KKK was the funniest scene in any movie this year. Sure it’s violent and sure it uses a racial slur throughout the whole movie (it wouldn’t have been accurate if it didn’t), but it’s a fantastic film.

1. Zero Dark Thirty

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Kathryn Bigelow has a fantastic talent for making war films that are compelling and respectful. Zero Dark Thirty is, in my opinion, the best written and best directed film that I saw this year. It feels like journalism rather than entertainment. The final scene with the SEAL team going in to take out Bin Laden was tense and paced perfectly. I appreciate that Bigelow treated the death of Bin Laden with dignity and respect rather that portraying the soldiers as exultant over his death. We don’t even see his full dead body except through the blurry screen of a characters digital camera. A really masterful film.