Which Is the Better Story @Image Journal’s Good Letters blog

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox Studios.

“There’s a scene early in Ang Lee’s majestic Life of Pi film in which the main character watches everything he loves die. Pi is floating in a vast, murky sea as the ship carrying his family and their zoo animals recedes into the distance and sinks. His arms are stretched out wide and his whole body seems to reach for them as they slip away.

This is the moment when I forgot I was wearing 3-D glasses and felt as if I was in the water with Pi, losing everything I love. I’m not sure I would have reacted as viscerally as I did to the scene if it had not been produced in 3-D. As it was, I sat in my seat and wept.”

Read my whole [spoiler alert!] review at Good Letters. It’s my first appearance at the Image blog and I’m honored to see my byline there.

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Recapturing Innocence With Ang Lee @TheHighCalling

NYC Life of Pi Press Junket

Director Ang Lee in New York City, courtesy Explorations Media, L.L.C.

The sound of a baby’s laughter. A six year old’s wide-eyed wonder on Christmas morning. The moment you first believed. Who doesn’t want to relive innocence like that?
For Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee, recapturing innocence in life, in filmmaking, in the cinematic experience is at the heart of his film adaptation of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, Life of Pi. Speaking to a group of journalists in New York City last month, Lee said the film is about what happens to a young boy’s innocence after the ship carrying his zoo-keeping family sinks and he’s set adrift on a lifeboat with a dangerous tiger.

The ocean becomes like a desert, Lee said. “It’s a test of his faith, his strength.” …

Read the whole thing at The High Calling.

A Funky Retirement: Celebrating Cornel West @UrbanFaith

Cornel West enjoying his retirement party

In this audio clip, Lupe Fiasco dedicates a song to the well educated women of Princeton and talks about West’s influence. And, in these videos he, George Clinton & P-Funk jam.

In this audio clip, comedian Bill Maher talks about how he’ll use Cornel West to get into heaven if there is one.

In this audio clip, actor Harry Belefonte talks about how Cornel West inspires him.

Princeton University Gospel Ensemble

In this audio clip, the Princeton University Gospel Ensemble, who opened the show, gives praise to Jesus.

Terence Blanchard

In this audio clip, jazz musician Terrence Blanchard talks about Cornel West’s influence on him and then he and his band jam.

13the Cornel West Theory

In these two audio clips, you’ll hear the Cornel West Theory perform. You have to see them live though. Really you do.

Video Tribute to Cornel West

Finally, in this audio clip, Dr. Cornel West gives thanks.

To read my reflections on Cornel West, go to UrbanFaith.com.

You’ll find my full photo set at Flickr.

Who knew the Ivy League gem offered a wealth of free public religion events?

As a girl growing up in Point Pleasant Beach, I didn’t give much thought to Princeton University. It was the 1970s and I was, shall we say, distracted. If I thought about our state’s Ivy League jewel at all, I saw it as an inaccessable, dusty treasure chest full of academic stuffiness and snobbery.

If we’re lucky, we grow up and find out the world’s gems are much more accessable than we ever imagined. What a delight it was then, a few years ago, to learn that Princeton has a thriving faith community and offers a bounty of free public religion events.

It’s a pleasant 45 minute drive west on Route 33 and across Route 1 to the university from coastal Monmouth County and a great way to spend an afternoon or evening while enriching one’s understanding of the religious landscape. …

Read about some upcoming events here. Plus, where to park, eat, and shop in Princeton.

Thinking about Religion, Belief & Politics @ Princeton

The inaugural Danforth Lecture at Princeton University was a lucky little feast for the brain Thursday afternoon. CUNY anthropologist Talal Asad gave a breathtaking talk on “Thinking About Religion, Belief and Politics.” I hadn’t expected Charles Taylor to be the subject of Asad’s elegant dissection, but there it was: A Secular Age fileted and served on ice. 

This eminent scholar/author said Taylor’s seminal work deals with personal crisis of belief that are insufficient to the global crisis of our time. He argued that beliefs formed through external acts of devotion and training are not inherently coercive, but can lead to authentic faith and the formation of a moral personality. Asad appeared to be making a case for non-Judeo-Christian, or, at least non-Protestant, religious influence in the public square. He spent precious little time talking directly about politics, but instead drew an entertaining connection between the development of public ventilation systems and narcissistic notions of belief.

Asad objected to an audience member’s suggestion that he dismiss religion outright as a dangerous force that wants to control other people’s bodies. He said the secular/religious debate is tired and suggested that market forces can be at least as coercive as religion. He cited coercion of women’s bodies as an insightful example. 

Although the lecturer expressed faith in liberal democratic values, he has comparatively little faith that states can effectively implement those values. He concluded by confessing doubt that mankind will see the next century. With such apocolyptic vision, one wonders where he gets off saying personal faith is insufficient to the times. Perhaps he thinks no other kind will hold sway in coming decades.

Ah well. My momentary USC advisor Diane Winston tipped me off to Princeton Religion Department public offerings. I had been lamenting the loss of such local events at USC and UCI, but found this first lecture a more than adequate substitute. Thanks to Ed Gilbreath, I’ve also been reading the blog of two Princeton professors lately. Check it out; it’s called The Kitchen Table.

The Princeton University Art Museum is likewise a lovely place to spend an afternoon. The museum is free and contains a good deal of compelling Christian art and iconography. There are also a couple witty architectural exhibits right now and a nice collection of ancient art, including Roman floor and wall mosaics. Strolling the campus, parts of which date back to 1756, is itself an exercise in art appreciation.

My husband’s handicapped tag came in handy on this trip. A quick phone call to the PU parking office and we were waved in to park on campus. Between the museum and the lecture, I dragged him to the Whole Earth Natural Grocery, which has been selling bulk health foods on Nassau Street since the 1970s. The last time I was there, it was a warm, earthy place. A low VOC renovation has left the store feeling sterile, cold and utterly suburban. Still, I stocked up on brown rice, Kombu seaweed (which is supposed to reduce the gassiness of beans when a couple 1-inch chunks are thrown in the pot) and other vegan staples. 

On the drive to Princeton, I was struck once again by the subtle beauty of my state. We passed quaint farms, small towns and mile after mile of hearty pine. A gas station on Rte. 33 was simultaneously selling Chicken Parmesan sandwiches and gas for under $2-a-gallon. Can’t beat that.

At dinner on the same road in Hightstown (half way between home and Princeton), a high school classmate of my husband’s was working as a waitress. Dinner was lousy. We should have eaten down the road at Jack Baker’s Lobster Shanty instead. Baker’s original Lobster Shanty is a landmark in my home town of Point Pleasant Beach. I went to high school with his children, one of whom is a longtime friend.

We were at a delightful party together last night. There was plenty of good wine, lots of laughter and a passionate debate amongst old friends the likes of which I imagine taking place in Republican living rooms from coast to heretical coast. The topic? What does it mean to be a Conservative? What went wrong in ’08? And since when did disagreement mean one’s conservative and/or spiritual credentials are suspect?

Have I mentioned lately how glad I am to be home?

I have a job interview Tuesday. Send up a prayer for me if you’re so inclined. I’ve been told to prepare for a two-hour introduction.