Category: News & Trends

Pope Francis’ Surprise TED Talk Emphasizes Solidarity, Tenderness — and Christ

TED-Vancouver-Pope-Francis-VaticanOn Tuesday, April 25, Pope Francis managed to surprise the world and do something entirely new, by delivering a prerecorded TED talk in Vancouver, Canada.

The event was the TED2017 conference, whose 1,800 attendees include many top tech CEOs. Here’s how TED describes itself:

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.

Most TED talkers stalk a stage, wearing a headset mike, with a huge colorful presentation behind them. In contrast, the pontiff sat at a desk, his speech on paper in front of him (although he didn’t look at it), evidently using a teleprompter but managing to speak directly and emotively to the camera — and the audience beyond.

The theme of the conference is “The Future You,” and that’s something the pope addressed directly, saying:

I very much like its title – “The Future You” – because, while looking at tomorrow, it invites us to open a dialogue today, to look at the future through a “you.” “The Future You:” the future is made of yous, it is made of encounters, because life flows through our relations with others. Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.

The 18-minute talk, called “Why the only future worth building includes everyone,” was the result of more than a year of negotiations between TED and the Vatican.

According to a post at TED’s blog, a camera crew from the Vatican Television Center filmed Pope Francis in a small, book-lined room at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the guest house that has been the pope’s home in Vatican City. Once the recording was done, TED video editors prepared the final version.

The pope spoke in Italian, but 40 TED translators provided subtitles in 20 languages (including English), with more to come. You can also click here for a full English transcript of the talk.

Even with all these people working on it, TED and the Vatican managed to keep it secret until it was unveiled at TED2017.

Essentially, it was not so much a normal TED talk as a homily, focusing on themes of compassion, solidarity, mutual aid and love — with mentions of Jesus, Mother Teresa, the Good Samaritan and Catholic teaching about the irreplaceable value of each human to God.

Here are some highlights:

First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent “I,” separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone. We don’t think about it often, but everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state.

How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.

To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope.

Take a look:

Image: Courtesy TED

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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on Hulu: What Should Catholics Think?

Hulu-Handmaids-Tale-Offred-Elisabeth-Moss-FFBOn Wednesday, April 26, Hulu premieres a 10-episode adaptation of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Many secular critics are in a lather, fretting that the series somehow represents the near future. The story is set in an alternate present (Uber is even mentioned) when environmental pollution has devastated female fertility, and a war has caused Gilead, an oppressive theocratic dictatorship, to break off from the United States.

Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) stars as Offred, who is captured into this regime because she was proven to be fertile. Her husband was shot, and her daughter taken. Now she’s given over to a wealthy man and his barren wife as a “handmaid” — inspired by the story of Leah and Rachel in the Book of Genesis. Offred and her wealthy master (Joseph Fiennes) go through highly ritualized sex in hopes of producing offspring (which obviously does not please the wife, played by Yvonne Strahovski).

While the regime has Old Testament overtones (but no New Testament ones), it is emphatically not Catholic. True to Atwood’s novel — in which Quakers, Jews and Catholics are enemies of Gilead — a Catholic priest is seen hung in the first episode, along with others, including a gay man.

At a press event last summer, I asked executive producer Bruce Miller how faith was handled in the show. Here’s the exchange:

QUESTION: In the book Gilead is run under the auspices of a very specific form of biblical fundamentalism, and Quakers, Jews, Catholics are not welcome, not considered our friends at all. So, how do you deal with the religious aspects in the series?

BRUCE MILLER: Well, interestingly, in the book they’re dealt with in a very specific way. I mean, I don’t think they ever go to church once in the book. You know, it’s a society that’s based kind of in a perversion misreading of Old Testament laws and codes, but I don’t think — even Margaret Atwood said it isn’t — they aren’t Christians, the people who are running Gilead. You know, I think that we deal with it the same way they deal with it in the book. You know, in the pilot, in the next few episodes, they’re tearing churches down that are not — that are anything besides their sect. I think there are a lot of parallels between the book and certainly the TV show and life in Puritan times. And I would say that we use that as — or the writing staff has been using that as a big parallel. You know, this country gets a reputation for being a place where people came from religious freedom. The Puritans who came liked their religious freedom, but not anybody else’s. So, certainly, there were no other churches besides the Puritan church. And, so, the way that they dealt with outsiders is, I think, slightly nicer or slightly meaner than the people in Gilead. I think they branded Quakers on the forehead — didn’t they — with Qs and stuff like that, and sent them out of the state. So, I think we’re trying to harken back to that origin story for the — that Margaret used as the beginning for this book.

So, if any religious group gets a black eye in this, one supposes it’s the Puritans, and they’re not really around to complain.

Seems to me that the world has plenty of horrors these days perpetuated against women and girls about which high-profile Hulu series could be made — if one had the courage to risk upsetting political correctness.

Perhaps, it’s much easier to panic at imagined dangers than to portray real ones.

As Megan McArdle of Bloomberg.com sagely observes:

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is becoming less plausible a future with each passing year, no matter how hard feminists insist that there is only a brief and slippery slope between overturning Roe v. Wade and forcing women into state-sanctioned breeding programs.

With sexual content, violence and language, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is emphatically NOT for children, and if parents want to let high-schoolers watch it, I’d advise watching with them. It offers few new lessons beyond the power of mother love and the resilience of the human spirit — and you can get that without all the post-apocalyptic trappings and political messages.

Just look at Mary, the true handmaid of the Lord.

virgin_mary

Image: Courtesy Hulu; Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

David Henrie and Maria Cahill’s Big Catholic Wedding

David-Henrie-Maria-Cahill

Instagram/DavidHenrie

Star of hit TV series marries former pageant queen. It’s not an unusual story … or is it?

On Friday, April 21, “Wizards of Waverly Place” star David Henrie married Miss Delaware 2011 Maria Cahill … in a Solemn High Mass at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Wilmington, California. It’s very pretty.

Peter and Paul Church

The bride and groom looked pretty good too (from David Henrie’s Facebook page):

David-Henrie-Maria-Cahill-Wedding

I couldn’t be happier :) marriage is the most beautiful thing. DEO GRATIAS! Link in bio for the story via @people

His “Wizards of Waverly Place” castmates showed up, including Selena Gomez (also from David Henrie’s Facebook page):

David-Henrie-Maria-Cahill-Wizards-Waverly-Place-Selena-Gomez-David-DeLuise

It was truly and honor to have my whole cast come to my big day! Could be more blessed and appreciative of all that we did together… Many memories I’ll never forget and always cherish. @selenagomez @jaketaustin @comeagainjen14 @daviddeluise and Maria! @christineskariphotography

Contacted for comment, “Wizards of Waverly Place” executive producer Peter Murietta said exclusively to the Faith & Family Media Blog:

So proud to be part of a show that fostered the kinds of relationships that kept them so close after all these years.

All amazing people and such an amazing time.

People magazine had the whole story — well, almost. Henrie said to People:

“You always hear you should marry your best friend, and I actually get to do it,” Henrie, 27, told PEOPLE exclusively before their Old Hollywood-inspired wedding in Southern California on Friday. “You don’t meet girls like her every day.” Added Cahill, 26: “One of my favorite things about him is how funny he is and how we just get each other. Being married is going to be just that much better.”

People didn’t mention this was a Catholic wedding at a Catholic church — it just said the couple exchanged “traditional vows” — nor did it mention the strong beliefs of the happy couple.

Mezzo-soprano Clara Chung, who sang at the wedding as part of the de Angelis Vocal Ensemble, told the Faith & Family Media Blog:

It was a really beautiful and reverent Solemn High Mass, and they did well in choosing music that would properly adorn the liturgy. It was clear that the beauty of the Sacrament was of utmost importance to them.

Henrie reconnected to his Catholic faith while filming the 2015 film “Little Boy,” saying in an interview quoted at WorldReligionNews.com:

He added that the cast had helped him “to find the greater good and awaken the little boy in my heart, and led me back to my faith, led me back to my beliefs, and it has completely changed my life.”

Since then, he’s become a devout Catholic and a common visitor at Masses around the Los Angeles area.

As for Cahill, People entirely omits that the cradle Catholic, one of seven children, is a speaker (book her here) on the issues of pro-life, chastity (which Henrie has publicly addressed as well) and modesty, which got her in some trouble during her pageant years. From her speaker bio:

After winning Miss Delaware less than six months later, that talk was released to Youtube, starting controversy, especially in the pageant community. During her year as Miss Delaware, she was instructed to remain silent on her pro-life views, being told that speaking about this issue would hinder her chances of becoming Miss America. Maria continued to speak and spread the love of Life, Liberty, and Happiness for every single one of God’s children.

Here are a couple of videos from 2016 in which Ms. Cahill, now Mrs. Henrie, talks to Catholic high-school students and then sits down for a post-speech chat:

It’s a rare day that a young Hollywood wedding is also a big Catholic wedding. We hope the witness of David and Maria impacted everyone there, along with young people across the country and around the world.

Images: David Henrie Instagram; Wikimedia Commons; David Henrie Facebook Page

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

 

‘The Promise': A Long Road Paved With Good Intentions

The-promise-christian-bale-armenian-genocide
“The Promise,” releasing on Friday, April 21, has worthy intentions, but a slow pace and many extraneous scenes of traversing landscapes and climbing mountains, along with a morally questionable love triangle, hamper the telling of an important story — the Armenian Genocide in Turkey (a charge the Turks vehemently deny).

The story places three fictional characters — two Armenian Christians: an apothecary/medical student (Oscar Isaac) named Mikael, and a French-accented expatriate (Charlotte Le Bon) named Ana — and American reporter Chris Myers (Christian Bale). against the backdrop of the horrific events during World War I.

Myers and Ana are an unmarried romantic couple, and Mikael is betrothed to a girl back home, whose family is bankrolling his medical studies in Constantinople (now Istanbul).

While heroically covering the slaughter of Armenians by Turkish troops, Myers is also a long-suffering cuckolded boyfriend, since Ana betrays him with Mikael, who, in turn, betrays his betrothed with her. And, as a cherry on top, Mikael and Ana sit in a Christian cathedral, holding hands while listening to a monk sing sacred music.

The-Promise-Oscar-Isaac-Charlotte-le-Bon-Christian-Bale-patheos

So, in an unforced error, Christianity takes a moral hit. At the same time, though, the brutal excesses of the Ottoman Turks are unflinchingly portrayed — while their Islamic faith is noticeably downplayed. There is also a fourth fictional character, a young Muslim Turk, a friend of Mikael from medical school, who winds up being heroic.

Fortunately, there are also Christian clergy portrayed as heroes, trying to save Armenian orphans from wanton slaughter (and even the French get a big moment at the end).

“The Promise” could have easily been a half-hour shorter, and one wishes the Christian characters took teachings on sexual morality more seriously, but still, this is a overlooked episode of 20th Century history that deserves to be dramatized.

It’s rated PG-13. While there isn’t overt sexual content (it’s implied rather than graphically shown), there is a lot of suffering and wartime violence portrayed, so it’s not necessarily a film for the whole family.

Images: Open Road Films

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Smithsonian’s ‘The Real Jesus of Nazareth’ Has Problems With Faith

Robert-Powell-Real-Jesus-Nazareth-Smithsonian-FFBAnyone who’s watched any number of cable documentaries about Jesus and Christianity knows to take them with a grain of salt. Or a shaker. Or a bowl.

Airing Easter Sunday and Monday, April 16 and 17 (8 p.m. ET/PT, both nights), Smithsonian Channel’s “The Real Jesus of Nazareth” is no different. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Franco Zeffirelli’s outstanding 1977 miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth,” it sends that show’s star, Robert Powell, on a quest to find the historical Jesus.

Like most of these documentaries, scholars rather than clergy discuss Jesus, and here, it’s a mixed bag.

Dr. Candida Moss — also seen in CNN’s well-done “Finding Jesus” — is a Catholic, and one scholar whose general tone does not exhibit overt skepticism, although she keeps her personal beliefs out of her comments. That’s too bad, because a scholar who’s actually a sincere believer is a rare creature in secular documentaries on Christianity.

Other scholars discussing Jesus include Dr. Bart Ehrman, a former Christian who now describes himself as an atheist; and Dr. Helen Bond, whose personal religious beliefs I was unable to verify. But in both cases, there’s a obvious skepticism about Christ’s divinity in their comments, and both are careful to avoid giving credence to any supernatural claims. This may just be a scholarly discipline, but especially in the case of Ehrman, it comes off as dismissal and even disdain.

In contrast, Powell is charming throughout, respectful and curious and kind. He’s a long-married father of two (he wed just before filming “Jesus of Nazareth”) and has continued to work steadily in British TV and film.

In a 1977 interview conducted on the set of the miniseries, Powell said:

Robert, whom American audiences have also seen in the films ‘Mahler’ and ‘Tommy’ explained it to me this way: “There was an aspect of Christianity that always distressed me. The meaning of Christianity is so simple, but its tenets are complicated. This is what put me off. Before I began this film, I had no particular interest in religion and absolutely no opinion of Christ.

“Now, I do believe in Christ and His divinity, even though I do not necessarily go to church. Prior to being cast in the part, my knowledge of Christ was limited to Sunday school teachings and religious stories, all on a rather immature level. I knew this would never be enough for me as an actor, to work with in developing a character. So I read the Bible through thoroughly, which I’d not done before, taking it apart and analyzing it. I also consulted works of reference and commentaries on the Bible because I wanted to obtain other people’s ideas as well.

“An actor has to be objective when interpreting a part. Nonetheless, after playing Christ for all these months, it would be difficult not to really believe in him.” Concluded Robert.

Overall, “The Real Jesus of Nazareth” is no worse than any of these sorts of documentaries, and better than some. But bolstering faith is not its intention, nor will it likely be a result of watching it. But, it is lovely to see Powell, now 72. reminiscing about the role for which he will always be best known.

He’s the best thing about “The Real Jesus of Nazareth,” but if you want to have a faith-filled family experience for Easter, I’d recommend just skipping this and watching “Jesus of Nazareth,” available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes.

It’s also on YouTube:

Images: Courtesy Smithsonian Channel

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Almsgiving for Lent: A TV Ad Nails the Message of Giving Back

State-Farm-Neighborhood-Volunteer-Alms-LentIt’s amazing how a secular ad agency can sometimes nail an essential tenet of Christianity, without necessarily meaning to do so.

We all want to help, and we’re bombarded with messages about helping — and during Lent especially, we’re commanded to give alms — but at what point do we actually reach out a hand to our fellow creatures?

Kudos to State Farm Insurance for summing it up in one short, heartfelt video, set to Joy Williams’ cover version of “Don’t Let Me Down,” by the Chainsmokers.

It’s a great reminder of the power of sound and images to touch the heart and the mind.

We also did a little video about Lent:

Image: Courtesy State Farm Insurance

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.