Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Grey - Guys and God in the Wild

The Grey

The Grey is a manly movie that goes far beyond the today's typical film portrayal of men behaving like boys or men reveling in murder and mayhem. Its a cross between those great Jack London adventures, the vintage Moby Dick, and the modern classic Jaws that pit men against anything nature throws at them. With these sagas as foreground it explores the Dark Night of the Soul wherein a man plunges into a spiritual crisis and must wrestle with the questions of God, life, death and faith. Of all the challenges they face in this isolated, hostile and dangerous wilderness, perhaps the most formidable is to learn what it means to be strong and courageous, and to act like men.

With action superstar Liam Neeson in the lead role, The Grey is indeed a chilling adventure about ordinary men stranded in the wilderness and pitted against impossible conditions and even more nightmarish predators. Set in the frozen mountains of Alaska, a pack of angry, snarling wolves doggedly pursue their human prey while the men work out their relationships and issues with each other – and with God. This movie goes to heart of manhood crisis in our culture.
Check it out in the theaters or keep in mind when its released in DVD. Below is a longer review by David Roak, Christianity Today.

"Midpoint in The Grey, while trying to survive a pack of wolves in Alaska's wilderness, a group of men sit around a fire reflecting on their lives while literally staring death in face. One of them insists on the pertinence of faith and the existence of God in the midst of their suffering, while two others refute the claim and call his belief a "fairy tale," claiming there's no life after death. These opposing ideologies stand front and center of this chilling new adventure by writer-director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team). He puts the two ideas to the test in his grey and desolate wasteland, looking to see which prevails."

[If you're interested in a discussion guide that explores the movie's spiritual themes, click "film companion"]

"Liam Neeson stars as Ottway, an Irish hunter and one of the two men without faith. After surviving a plane crash in the freezing conditions of Alaska, he and a few members of an oil drilling team, including Diaz, an arrogant womanizer (Frank Grillo), and Talget, a passive family man (Dermot Mulroney), find themselves being hunted by a pack of wolves. Hopeless with nowhere to go, they do all they can to escape into a wooded area, which may or may not be a safe haven, but the wolves begin to take their lives, one by one"

"Within these bleak circumstances, Ottway voluntarily becomes the leader because of his experience killing wolves. But even though he may be a trained hunter, he secretly faces problems of his own. In the opening sequence, we see him walk outside a bar and proceed to attempt suicide, with a rifle placed in his mouth, only to be distracted by the howl of a wolf in the distance. We learn that his inner struggles stem from his wife leaving him—and now he's got hungry wolves circling for the kill. Much to fret about."

"The film, adapted from the short story Ghost Walkers by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, weaves Ottway's struggles together in redemptive fashion. Forced to be the leader and give hope to the rest of the men, despite his own feelings of hopelessness, Ottway faces his internal demons because of the external, fang-baring ones. Ironically, the dire circumstances act as a catalyst for his personal redemption."

"Such optimism doesn't extend to every character or the entire situation, so The Grey is hardly a morality tale. As the title implies an underlying moral ambiguity, the film often settles into a cynical outlook void of redemption and God. In many ways, these darker aspects actually trump the small, personal thread of Ottway finally coming to terms with the absence of his wife and, even more so, with his life."

"This nihilistic worldview and unbelief in God emerges first and foremost visually. Working with few colors, a range of grays and a fixed graininess, Carnahan gives his film dark and lifeless imagery that, in turn, creates a prevalently melancholic tone. He takes the same approach with the scenery. The cold, dreary climate, with no hope in sight and an enemy in the middle of it, further establishes it."

"But the bleakest component of all is the wolves and their relentless attacks. In the course of all the blood, guts, and death, the question surfaces: Where is God and meaning in all of it? Like the wolves themselves, this rhetorical question runs rampantly throughout the story as the group becomes smaller and smaller, death after death, until a moment in which Ottway cries out to God, pleading for help. Desperate and facing death, he admits his need for a savior only to remark, "Fine, I'll do it myself." The scene epitomizes the moral haziness of The Grey, but it also leads the film into its gripping finale. Seamlessly paced with suspense and anticipation throughout—thanks in part to a vigorous score—the whole story points to this intense moment, putting Ottway face to face with the wolves and the alpha of the pack."

"Neeson carries the film, bringing physical action and human emotion from start to finish. He balances out his tough, grizzly persona with a hurting, vulnerable side. His role, autobiographical in regard to the loss of wife three years ago, keeps the film grounded in humanity and, in the end, stops it from falling into cynicism, despite Ottway's conflicted morality. In one scene, he looks at pictures of the families of men who died, thinking about his own wife. This moment of pure sentiment feels so personal, so transcendent."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Want Men in Church? Give Them Space

“When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place.” Psalm 118:5
Men’s ministry expert Dan Schaeffer says, “Women equate closeness with safety. Men equate personal space with safety.”You see this whenever men gather in an auditorium. They spread out like marbles dropped on a kitchen floor. But women sit in tight little knots, with hardly an open seat between them.

In the church, we often force men to become physically close and touch each other. Many of these rituals are uncomfortable, unbiblical and frankly, unnecessary. But we do them anyway, because that’s what Christians are used to.

Here are four areas where we could give men more space:

Handholding. Years ago, I attended a church where everyone held hands across the aisles while singing a unity hymn. This earnest attempt to model Christian oneness can be uncomfortable for men—especially when they have to hold hands with other guys. It’s a serious manhood violation.

Hugging. One man wrote columnist Judith Martin (Miss Manners) to say he’d stopped attending a church “where everybody seems to have developed a hugging addiction. Before the greeting period, the minister or lay leader stands on the platform and virtually orders everybody to get some hugs. People I hardly know run up to me and say ‘How about a hug?’” He goes on to ask, “Since when isn’t it possible to be friendly without getting so personal?”
I’m not saying churches should outlaw hugging. If two Christians want to enfold, that’s their business. Hugs are absolutely appropriate among close friends or in counseling situations. But it’s tough on men when they’re expected to hug other fellows they do not know. Where else in our society do male strangers lock up in an embrace?

Put yourself in the shoes of a male visitor who finally works up enough courage to come to church. He’s already nervous. Then the pastor orders everyone to hug. Instantly some big, sweaty guy starts hugging on him. The visitor knows little about the church except what he’s read in the media – and much of that involves gay sex scandals. Now he’s cornered by a pack of men who want to wrap their arms around him. What is he supposed to think?

Prayer mushrooms. When we gather around a man and lay hands on him for prayer, we may unknowingly violate his need for space. I call these impromptu gatherings prayer mushrooms. You know what I’m talking about: Brother Vince happens to mention that his back is sore, and before he knows what hit him, a crowd has sprouted around him, heads bowed, eyes closed. Not only has Vince got relative strangers inches from his nose and unfamiliar hands all over his body, but he must remain frozen for ten minutes or more while everyone has a say.

Other men see what happened to Brother Vince, so they keep their prayer needs to themselves, scared to death they might end up underneath a prayer mushroom. But most women love prayer mushrooms because closeness is comforting.

Some men’s groups have created a brilliant alternative to the prayer mushroom. I call it the prayer force. Brother Vince sits or stands while the others stand in front of him in a loose semicircle. As the Spirit prompts, people step forward to lay their hands on Brother Vince one at a time. Others who want to lift up brief prayers simply pray from where they stand.

Men’s meetings. Incredibly, men’s ministry meetings are often the worst offenders. We hug men when they arrive. Then we place them in tight circles, asking them to read aloud, share, and then top it off by holding hands and praying for 10 minutes. Finally everybody gets a hug, and it’s time for cookies. No wonder fewer than 10% of US churches can maintain a men’s ministry – it’s actually women’s ministry for men.

At this point you may be thinking, “Guys just need to get over their personal space issues. They need to break down those walls and trust the other men.” I agree, this would be preferable. But unfortunately we must minister to men as they are, not as we want them to be. If we want to see more men in church we must heed the words of the Psalmist, and “bring men into a spacious place.”

by David Murrow founder Church for Men. David is not a pastor, professor or theologian. He’s just a guy in the pews who noticed a disturbing trend: churches are losing their men and boys. So he wrote a book titled “Why Men Hate Going to Church”, which became an instant Christian bestseller, with more than 100,000 copies in print. His efforts have spawned articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. You may have seen him on PBS, the NBC Nightly News, or the Fox News Channel talking about the gender gap.