A Review of “The Saratov Approach”

the-saratov-approach-20Arguably the most successful Mormon made and oriented movie, The Saratov Approach is like no other missionary themed movie made to date. There are the usual tropes and scenes found in other movies, Like God’s Army and The Best Two Years, but the mold is often broken. Audiences and critics alike have come away having positive reviews. It can now be bought and watched at home.

It goes almost without saying that the movie is based on a true story about two missionaries kidnapped in Russia. The abductors had hoped a large and wealthy American church would pay a $300,000 ransom for their safe return. Things ended up very differently than expected for everyone involved. That is all the story synopsis that needs told. It might be part of history what happened, but that outcome will be passed over to avoid unnecessary spoilers.

One of the obvious questions that Mormons almost always ask is if the movie is safe to watch with the family. Despite the PG-13 rating for subject matter and bouts of violence, there is probably not much to be concerned with viewing. The rating system, that has been argued over since its start, dropped the ball yet again. It seems more like a “hard” PG rating that two decades ago would have been slapped on to any similar film. Why anyone bothers paying attention to what the rating board decides (for someone who thinks such a system is still important) is questionable, but that can be a discussion for another day. With individual discretion there is no reason the whole family can’t sit down and enjoy this cinematic production. Continue reading

Jesus, The Miracle Worker

JesusWalksOnWaterWhen contemplating the life and teachings of Jesus, there is no way to ignore the many miracles he performed – even if his death and resurrection are put aside. Each Sunday the Communion/Sacrament commemorates the glorious miracle of the Atonement in our faith. Perhaps because Jesus is already seen as the Savior not as much attention is paid to the miracles during his ministry. Yet, the gospel writers all included several illustrations of his power over Satan, Nature, and even Death long before his glorious act of salvation for the human race. They were included because the miracles demonstrated more than simple awe inspiring spiritual strength. Each of them pointed to his identity and mission.

His Reputation

Before the meaning of the miracles can be discussed, it is important to note that Jesus was perhaps best known as a miracle worker almost as much as a teacher. In fact, his first notable introduction as something special came during a family wedding party where he turned water into wine. His critics pointedly questioned when and to whom he did his miracles, without denying he did them. John, independent of the other Gospels, even implied that it was the miracle of raising Lazarus that angered the Jewish leadership enough to plot against his life. A contested reference to Jesus by Josephus includes the fact of his miracles even in a stripped down “non-Christianized” version:

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The Noah of Scriptures











Everyone is talking about the new Noah movie, wondering if its better described as anti-Christian or pure entertainment. The movie collector of critical ratings Rotten Tomatoes has it in the mid 70 percent for critics and in the 40 percent for viewers. The box office has mixed audience result with a respectable showing of over $40 million during the opening weekend. Movies might give promise with such high earnings, but they live or die in the second and following runs. If word of mouth continues to be negative among the most interested possible viewers (Christians), then curiosity and lack of competition gave it the first boost of money. There is far from any guarantee it won’t turn out a bomb. Muslim nations have already given it the banned treatment.

What is supposed to be so bad about the Noah movie for those who don’t like it? For starters, it is considered way too off story from the Bible. Noah is in it, an ark with animals is present, and a flood happens. Besides that, according to negative critics, nothing else is close to correct or even the spirit of the account. He ends up a jumble of crazy, environmentalist, near abortionist, murdering anti-hero. Not even believers would protest an intervention to have him committed. The bad guys are morally questionable, but mostly a bunch of industrialists who like to hunt and eat meat. A critic from the science fiction blog io9 tried to make a case for its spiritual pedigree, but made things unintentionally worse for those Christians who would be the most unconvinced. They would see too much para-Biblical references over the very short Bible narrative.

This brings up the question of what the Noah story really is in the Biblical account. At first I was going to do a bunch of quotes and then solemnly explicate the text. That would be the traditional way of writing a blog argument. An equal concern is if there is enough in the Bible to make a story worthy of a two hour night at the movies. This is as much about creativity and imagination as bad exegesis. Those who support the Noah treatment point to The Ten Commandments for an example of making things up that aren’t found in the text. True enough, as I have my own criticisms about how Moses was portrayed in rather white washed fashion after his conversion. There is a difference because much of what is in the text became part of the film. Not so much, apparently, the Noah movie.

I am going to write a story outline using what can be known from the Bible, Book of Moses and other JST, Book of Jubilee, Book of Enoch, and a small amount of commentary. The end of the story will have a reference list for those who want to check sources and decide for themselves. The intended outcome should evidence that there is enough in the text to make a great film without complete distortion. Obviously it will be from what an equally controversial Mormon point of view. Those who have watched the Hollywood version can decide how close this is to what they saw on screen. Continue reading

What I Learned From Bullies

A viral video from the Youtube Mormon Channel called “Bullying – Stop It” has gained a lot of attention in some circles. Having faced some forms of harassment growing up, I just can’t get myself to watch more than the start. The reasons for my hesitation are varied and internal; and not all about relatability. Part of me believes those who are on the bullied end will hopelessly latch on, those who perceive themselves bullied for disagreements will use it as a political bludgeon, and the true bullies will ignore it and think themselves impervious to the message.

A certain fascination with stopping the “bully culture” has crept into the public mouthpiece sections of society. You can’t turn on the television for long without watching the horrifying advertisement showing a bespectacled thin boy getting torchured on a bus. All of these seem to ask students and teenagers to get involved when they see the actions of a bully. For me what comes to mind is the question where are the responsible adults. Without backup from authority figures there is no stopping kids from bothering other kids mercilessly. Its not in most of their nature or power.

Looking back, my experiences weren’t all that bad no matter if not fun. Others had it much worse than I did. Saying that now is no consolation for a young boy going through his own crisis years ago. I did learn a few personal lessons from those experiences that I would like to share. For the record, I admit these are my own ideas gained. Making it personal is the very core of how the bully is successful. Continue reading

Being a Mormon Man

josephPriesthoodNow that women have had a day, its time to explore how patriarchy is not always what its cracked up to be. The responsibility can sometimes put pressures on that exhausts even the strongest individual. All eyes are focused on the carefully choreographed lives set in stone by the time men enter primary.

Yes, there are obstacles that women have to face in the Church as Meg and SilverRain mentioned in the previous post about Mormon women. Finding out how we fit in the Kingdom of God is part of the challenge for every Latter-day Saint. The goal of perfection is hard and confusing for everyone. Mix in the political expectations and its no wonder lives seem to fall apart. The two worlds really can’t co-exist without fissures and hurt feelings. The words of Jesus are still applicable today, no one, “can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24, read the whole chapter). No doubt conservatives are less conflicted than progressives because the former already supports structure and what some negatively define as the status quo. That doesn’t mean shaking things up for them is wrong, because complacency can be spiritually dangerous. On the other hand, its often no use trying to convince the latter that a quiet life is a good one; they are always on the move to somewhere for something no matter if the road leads to destruction.

There is no getting past the idea that the argument of women’s’ role in the Church is political. The unity of Zion transforms into the battle of the sexes. The glass ceiling and not the Kingdom of God a destination. That doesn’t make women’s issues any less real, but the focus put on the subject can harm men. They become the object of scorn, jealousy, and conspiracy. They start walking barefoot on the broken glass rather than boldly doing their Priesthood duty. Should they step up more in helping mothers and children in family life? Yes. Should they be more accommodating and listen to the voice of all women more? Yes, of course. Should they support and encourage women into more spiritual participation and growth? Not doing that is irresponsible. Following the example of Jesus the way he interacts and takes women seriously as part of the fold is a more than commendable, its necessary.

Heaping guilt on top of an already busy life doesn’t foster better leaders. The grass is always greener . . . as the saying goes. Mormon Men’s lives are not a cakewalk full of privileges, even if rewarding. Most active men are honestly trying to be good stewards. They can certainly improve. We all can and must. Continue reading