Friday, June 27, 2014

Kahlil Joseph and Poetry in Motion

Some movies and short films manage to make me feel what borders on an out-of-body experience. When I finish watching them I feel dizzy, out of place, thrust into a foreign environment. The whole world takes on a vibrancy; it is as if matter trembles under my gaze.

One such movie was Bright Star, a movie about the poet John Keats. I think the otherworldly feeling of that film was due to the cinematography done by Greig Fraser. He was not very well known at that time but Fraser recently won an Oscar for Zero Dark Thirty.

Recently I found a new favorite: filmmaker Kahlil Joseph. Joseph is a master of the short film genre. He does a lot of “music videos” but his films deserve more credit than most music videos. Joseph’s emotional films have a reach-down-into-your-soul-and-pull-you-inside-out kind of feel.

One of his recent shorts, "Until the Quiet Comes" is a short film featuring music by Flying Lotus, a musician from Los Angeles:

The film received an award at last year’s Sundance festival. The piece is a captivating and absorbing commentary on gang-life in Los Angeles. At the same time that Joseph opens up the theme of violence in our urban cities, he also explores the supernatural. He does this in a way that is not in-your-face or obvious. He is subtle but at the same time, it’s just impossible to watch this short film and not think of the supernatural dimension of earthly life.

I spent some time watching several of his short films online. One of my favorites, Wildcat, was set in Oklahoma, (the best state in the US), and explores the all-black rodeo subculture. It’s gorgeous, mysterious and entrancing. He also did a short for W Hotels. After I got over my initial distaste for the commercial aspect of the project, I fell in love with the film’s mystifying feel and the poetry of motion that characterizes Joseph’s films and, as W Hotels probably hoped, I now want to go to the Maldives for vacation.

I think my least favorite video was the collaboration that Kahlil Joseph did with Seu Jorge, the Brazilian musician who did the soundtrack for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with Bill Murray. I really wanted to like it. What could be better than these two getting together? But this is one of the rare shorts that Kahlil has done with dialogue and I was disappointed. The words seemed to steal the subtlety right out of his filmmaking. But it’s ok, Seu Jorge still does the best covers of David Bowie I have ever heard.

Anyway, I digress… You may wonder why a nun is writing about these things. I am convinced that one of the fundamentals in a successful New Evangelization is beauty. Subtle beauty that plunges the modern mind into contemplation. Subtle beauty that gently, quietly points to our Creator.

If you know any artists who fill the world with beauty, please share in the comments!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Redemption in Tragedy: A Reflection on the Death of Father Kenneth Walker

Cristo in croce by Bronzino
You may have heard about the recent, tragic attack in a downtown Phoenix church that left Father Kenneth Walker dead and Father Joseph Terra critically injured. This comes on the heels of the murder of Fr. Eric Freed a beloved pastor in Humboldt, CA at the beginning of this year. After hearing this most recent news, I immediately started trying to figure out God’s plan in an event so senseless. I quickly gave up.

That evening I read the quintessential Gospel verse: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). Immediately, Father Eric and Father Kenneth came to my mind. I also thought of David and Greg Florian, two brothers and faithful Catholics who died recently after being swept away by currents while walking on a sandbar in Florida.

I cannot imagine that God willed the deaths of these men. But he certainly allowed them to happen. We may ask ourselves why, but I am not sure our minds can comprehend such things except in heaven.

But these men, like all of us, were made in the image and likeness of God. They also lived their Christian Baptism and Confirmation to the fullest so their souls possessed the indwelling of the Trinity and the indelible configuration to Christ that these sacraments bring along with them. Father Kenneth and Father Eric were also marked with the character of Christ in a special way through their ordination.

When God looked upon Father Eric, Father Kenneth, David, and Greg he saw his Son.

Any Christian who lives his or her baptismal graces to the fullest, lives a life of constant dying to self. This way of life allows us to participate in the mystery of Christ who continues to redeem the world through us.

These men loved God and lived for God. By living their faith to the fullest, they had already offered their lives for the sake of others. Stepping into the radical nature of the Christian life is a step into martyrdom. The evil and flawed nature of our world hastened these men’s martyrdom.

Even though it was not through a traditional act of martyrdom, Father Eric, Father Kenneth, David, and Greg offered their lives for the world in a unique way. I believe God in his mercy accepts their tragic deaths as a mysterious and exceptional participation in the redemptive action of his Son in the world. Like Jesus, these men offered their lives for the world. 

It is tragic, it is senseless, it is heartrending, but like the death of Jesus on the cross, God sees evil and in his goodness brings greater redemption and grace from it.

Father Eric, Father Kenneth, David, and Greg, pray for us.