Tag Archives: Brad Pitt

Oscars 2020 teach the virtue of being the best supporting

In SNL’s Weekend Update the guest commentators have traditionally stolen the show ever since Roseanne Roseannadanna. It was no different last Saturday when Chloe Fineman got us ready for the Oscars with her unhinged impressions.

The Oscars always have a lot to teach us Jesus followers

As Roseanne Roseannadanna might say, “You can always learn SOMEthin.” And the Oscar broadcast was full of lessons. The Cadillac commercials appealed to predators and the Rolex commercials disguised themselves as tenderhearted. I flipped to TCM when the breaks got too long and Judy Garland was hamming it up with Mickey Rooney in Busby Berkeley’s Strike Up the Band — later in the show Judy won another Oscar! It was a year for impressions. Janelle Monae lit up the stage as a queer, black, woman Mr. Rogers — then lit up the front row with her crystal gown.

My biggest lesson came from the first award given: for Best Supporting Actor. On the one hand, it resembled the presidential race: old men and Pete Butigieg, or rich people and the rest of us: Tom Hanks (63) worth $350 million, Anthony Hopkins (83) $160 million, Al Pacino (79) $165 million, Joe Pesci (77) only $50 million, and Brad Pitt (only 56) $300 million.

On the other hand, it was an amazing collection of great actors doing what they do. The first three did amazing impressions of famous people. Joe Pesci did not act like a crazy gangster. And Brad Pitt still looks like Achilles in middle age. There were lessons in all of that. You can always learn something.

Image result for best supporting actor 2020 nominees

We need good supporters to put on a good show

My favorite lesson came when I looked at the line-up for Best Supporting Actor and thought, “The lead actors might have been afraid to be upstaged by these guys.” Except for The Two Popes (which I recommend), I think they were all upstaged.

I think all these actors relished the juicy parts they got in relation to the players who got top billing. Like some of us noted during the Second Half of Life retreat last Saturday,  playing a great part for which we are well suited can be quite satisfying — maybe even more satisfying than trying to survive the leading roles we’ve been handed in the family or on the job. Brad Pitt had never won an Oscar for acting so this was a nice frosting on his cake. But Hanks won two in the 90’s, Hopkins has one, Pacino has one, Pesci has one, all from the 90’s. I think they were probably happy to get a juicy part whether it resulted in praise or not. Who else could have played Pope Benedict better than Anthony Hopkins?

One of the participants in the retreat reminisced at how he had sort of wandered into his starring roles that made him such a great supporter of the church. He had never followed the “best practices” career counselors pass out.  Instead, he had always taken positions that would allow him to stay planted in Philadelphia and stay connected to Circle of Hope. That worked out well for his career, contrary to what passes for common sense, and worked out very well for Circle of Hope. Just like a movie needs good supporting actors (and the 500+ people on the credits) to tell a good story, the church needs good supporters to show Jesus to the world.

We all need support and we should feel good about giving it.

When Eugene Peterson rendered Matthew 6 in The Message paraphrase of the Bible he used an acting metaphor:

The World Is Not a Stage

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.

“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

Perhaps the old guys acting and running for president just can’t get off the stage. But it is at least possible that they have reached the age or maturity when they just like the craft for the craft itself and not the applause.  Jesus is calling us to let the inner connection with God sustain us no matter whether we are recognized for our prayerfulness, or not.

We will be rewarded for our often-unobserved, supporting roles. Like Paul teaches the Colossians:

Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.

Paul may have been the “star” apostle who became immortalized in the Bible. but he would not have gotten very far without Barnabas. And Barnabas would never have been there for Paul if not for the unknown person who brought the good new of Jesus to Antioch. In the age to come, that unknown person might be rewarded with a greater chunk of our common inheritance than all of us. But just like Joe Pesci is probably not feeling too bad about his paltry $50 million fortune, we probably won’t regret our part of eternal glory we get to share after we play our supporting roles in the unfinished work of Jesus.

Can we feel good about our parts?

Some of us feel terrified we might be called upon to lead or to be too noticeably necessary. Some of us feel terrified we will end up looking useless or less-important than some shiny newcomer. We all have a lot to learn. But wouldn’t it be great if we all felt good about the parts we are given to play in the body of Christ? That wonder is certainly a place where we need a lot of supporting roles filled by players eager to do their best for the joy of the work.

We need good leaders and it is a blessing to have them. But we only need enough of them. We mostly need people in supporting roles: making and sharing the money like my career-blessed friend, figuring out how to put up the South Broad sign (eventually) and make Circle Kids viable (as was also happening yesterday). We need a lot of people who feel good about praying because praying is good and serving because our Master is good. Even the narcissists who end up getting Oscars are usually quick to point out that they would not be getting an award unless a whole dedicated team loved making movies. A church feels flat and proves useless unless it has a lot of people who just love Jesus and his people and can’t resist doing good whether anyone cares about whether they did it or not.

That kind of lesson is especially a good one for me, since I have just been given a supporting role to play. I doubt that I will ever feel like Al Pacino about it, but some people have suggested I might feel my way into some Mr. Rogers rather easily. Mostly, I am just glad I get to be in the process because I like giving my gifts for the work of God’s people in this crazy era. For Christ’s sake we need to get together and make a difference about climate change and the ongoing mass incarceration of African Americans — not to mention the ruin of the church under the thumb of Trump! Some people wonder if I miss my leading role. Sometimes I do — two months won’t undo 20 years.  But mostly I relish the juicy part I get to play supporting the wonders we continue to work. Circle of Hope is like a beautiful, odd woman in a shiny gown in the front row of the Kingdom — I find her irresistible.

The end of the world 2013 — and why you matter.

Next Sunday night I will once again enjoy a guilty pleasure as I indulge in my tivo’d copy of the 86th Academy Awards show. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is 94% white, 77% male, 14% under the age of 50, with a median age of 62, which explains why only one of the movies I am about to talk about received a nomination (Star Trek for best visual effects). But in honor of of our society’s inventive and stimulating visual literature, I want to point out how the movies in 2013 had a very interesting theme that Christians have a lot to say about: the end.

The end of the world as we know it

I suppose that Christians should take some of the blame for how moviemakers were a bit obsessed about the end of the world last year. We Jesus followers have a great capacity to receive the goodness of each moment, but we also have an eye on the end of time when Jesus completes the graces of this age and returns to inaugurate the age to come. As we will see in a minute, Paul teaches us to assess each action for how it will endure the fire that is coming to test it! Over the years, the church has contributed in good ways and bad to how our culture views the end of the world. But if the moviemakers are channeling the zeitgeist well (and that is what makes them money!), then the general population must be very interested in the end — and afraid! The following six end-of-the-world, post-life-as-we-know-it movies grossed $739 million domestically and $1.75 billion worldwide in just 2013 – and there were more of their ilk.

So, what does this interest in the end mean? As any movie fan (or sci-fi aficionado) knows, this isn’t new. After the dawn of the atomic age, end-of-the-world B-movies proliferated like mushroom clouds across American drive-in screens. As Cold War paranoia grew, higher-profile films like Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe charted the same bleak territory, continuing on into the 80s with a slew of it-could-happen-here dramas like Red Dawn (remade in 2012 with Thor in the lead) and Miracle Mile.

That said, though, there’s even more of it now. More than 20 years after the official end of the Cold War, film makers seem focused on the mess we have made of things or the mess we are about to be made by things. We’re a dozen years after 9/11 and sort of emerging from a ten-year war and a lingering economic crisis. Hollywood seems to think that cinematic destruction — as well as the accompanying hope, heroism and homegrown humanity — will act as a kind of balm for the beleaguered public.

Who are the real doombusters?


In 2013 the doombusters had some regular themes.

  • They have a melancholy for bygone days, especially in Oblivion and Elysium: in an age of increased technology, the simpler pleasures of 20th-century life are already haunting us.
  • They are frightened about unknown predators that might pop up at any time: the crew of Star Trek is battling an unleashed evil from the darkness; in The World’s End and Oblivion they meet aliens; in World War Z it is Zombies; in Elysium it is the one-percent and their machines; in This is the End it is God.
  • They think we have the weaponry to fight the battle: Pine, Pitt, Damon and Cruise are quite serious about it all, teaching us that one person can make all the difference against the powers that oppress us; Franco and Pegg periodically wink at the camera and pretend their mockery of the subject will solve the problem.

Jesus followers who live as the body of Christ have so much to offer in the atmosphere created by the filmmakers! There is always the danger that a saved person will forget that they mean something. Now is not the time to do that. Sometimes we see our freedom from fear as a freedom from reverence; so we just live in our moment with our great community and neglect our larger importance. The Bible writers are always quick to point out that we dare not do that. If anything, our freedom from fear of condemnation for what we do makes us even more responsible for what we do. Our freedom demonstrates that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that we have what people need as their end draws near. The rest of creation is locked in time, but Jesus has opened us up to eternity, now. We live in the beginning of the End. Jesus is the dawn of the Day. Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-20.

What Paul teaches us from his wonderful awareness of his undeserved importance is very relevant in a year when people all look like the actors above, facing the crazy, scary things that are happening to them. He makes sure we remember that Jesus is a sure foundation whether times seem shaky or the whole world is afraid. We should build on that foundation with the best stuff we’ve got. Because the world and its film makers are right about one thing: the end of the world as we know it is near. One way or another, our time will end and the life we lived and the things we built that were fit for eternity will be rewarded. In such a time, we people of God, who are the home of the Holy Spirit, need to take ourselves seriously. The standards of our age have some powerful, cinematic ways of teaching us their crafty futility. But we must not be deceived by them. If they think we are fools and James Franco makes fun of us, that just proves even more that we are truly on to something.