These are the ten most-read, most-shared blog posts I've written in 2015 on JoelMayward.com. Whether or not they're indicative of my best writing, they're the posts that resonated with the most people. My most-read film review was about Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, a film I didn't really enjoy, but apparently struck a chord with movie-goers. My #1 shared post had a brief "viral" moment via Facebook, sparking a bit of controversy as folks debated and defended the merits of faith-based films.
Some of the most honest and best-written posts I've crafted haven't been read or shared as much, like this post about being a theological mutt, or this reflection on the risks of authenticity in ministry, or my critique of the funnel of youth ministry. It's always fascinating to see what connects with people and what doesn't. I'm simply grateful for this space to write and the people like you who continue to read. Thanks for reading over the past year! Enjoy this look in the rearview mirror:
10. About Elly.
"About Elly is a strikingly simple premise and story, but don't let its simplicity make you think this is an easy film to watch. Morally complex and devastating emotionally, About Elly at first feels like a Western romantic dramedy, until a pivotal moment reveals the underlying motivations and cultural values permeating the film. It may feel familiar at times, but this is still an Iranian film, through and through, and cultural context matters in a big way. This phenomenal film from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past) only affirms that he is a formidable and impressive filmmaker, capable of making ordinary dramas turn into moral parables of emotional and intellectual weight. While the film debuted in 2009, it only made its theatrical release to the U.S. this year, and if it counts as a 2015 film, it's my favorite film of the year thus far."
9. 12 Things that Matter in Searching for a Church.
"What's the criteria for finding a church? How can you tell if a church is the right fit based on one or two visits? I'm realizing that finding a great church is like discerning compatibility within a romantic relationship--there needs to be an alignment of values and ethos, a sense of mutual benefit and joy, a movement in the same direction in life, and a healthy dose of the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We need to be able to do this following Jesus thing together, as partners in the gospel."
8. My Upcoming Book: Jesus Goes to the Movies.
"Part One of the book offers a theological grid and framework for watching movies with wisdom and discernment. This section is the meat of the book, helping us to foster spiritual conversations with young people. There are chapters on a theology of culture, the history of the church and Hollywood, various worldviews presented in films, the history of youth culture, various theological approaches to movie-watching, and seeing Christ figures in films, as well as a practical chapter on how to incorporate movies into your ministry.
Part Two is a compilation of 50 films and spiritual discussion guides meant for small groups, families, or one-on-one conversations. The cool part: an ongoing supply of these discussion guides will be downloadable as new films are released. Imagine a new movie is coming out, and you'd like to take your small group to see it and talk about it. You download the super-inexpensive-yet-awesome guide, keep it on your phone or print it off, and use it to foster a spiritual discussion."
7. Unplanned Parenthood: On the Hopeful Choice for Life.
"The false dichotomy created by the labels of “pro-life’ and “pro-choice” seems unhelpful in the abortion debate. The pro-life folks are not anti-choice in every respect, nor do I imagine the pro-choice advocates being anti-life. In fact, I would consider myself “pro-choice” in the sense that I believe in human freedom and flourishing, and I have genuine hope regarding the human heart and its potential for making good choices in our world. While I recognize the brokenness and depravity human beings are capable of inflicting, I also have an optimism about people."
6. American Sniper.
"An Americanized Christianity is evident in American Sniper, particularly through Chris's good luck charm--a pew Bible he took from a church in his boyhood, which he keeps tucked beneath his body armor. This type of Christianity is a moralistic therapeutic deism, a God intended to make us feel good when we really need Him, but is mostly absent and unnecessary for our daily tasks. A fellow SEAL, Marc Lee, is a man of faith and a former seminary student who serves as an embodied conscience for Chris. Marc asks Chris about his Bible, if he ever opens it. He doesn't. Marc is clearly troubled about the direction of the Iraq war, wondering about its purpose and his involvement. Chris essentially shuts him down, asking "you're not going to get all soft on me, are you?" Marc wonders about Chris's obsession with his task, asking Chris if he may have a savior complex. But when Marc is killed in an ambush, his mother reads aloud a letter at his funeral sharing his doubts about the American military and the Iraqi conflict. Driving away from the funeral, Chris is unflinching. "That letter killed him," he tells Taya brusquely. Then, a tense silence."
5. 8 Questions to Ask Before Leaving a Ministry.
"If you choose to enter full-time ministry as your vocation, you'll eventually have to face this question: should I stay or should I go?
It could be due to all sorts of factors--a new job offer, a family crisis, lack of chemistry in the current ministry, serious conflicts with boss or co-workers, or it just feels like "it's time."
How do you know when to leave a ministry position and when to stick it through? Do you need to move on to something else, or should you remain faithful where you are? It can be difficult to discern what you need to do and what questions to ask."
4. New: A Mayward Life Update.
"So much has happened in my life and with our family over the past few months, it's hard to even keep up with it all. The emotional ups and downs of recent days have been significant, and I am trying to keep up with Jesus as we follow him into new territory. I am discovering that the horizon looks different than it did a year ago. Things have changed.
All things are new.
Fresh. Different. Recent. Revived.
With so much newness, I want to give you a glimpse into what God has been up to in our lives, some snapshots of the new."
3. 12 Great Films About Christianity.
"Thankfully, there are films that do live up to the moniker of "Christian movie" in that they exhibit the truth and beauty of Christ. These films wonderfully communicate the nature of what it means to be a Christian, the theology of Christian spirituality, and the ups and downs of true discipleship, all in a well-crafted cinematic experience. If someone was investigating or exploring Christianity, and they wanted to watch a movie about the Christian faith, these are some of the films I'd watch with them. Or, if a disciple of Jesus wanted to watch an artistic portrayal of the faith as a source of encouragement and inspiration in their pursuit of Christ, these films would certainly fit the bill."
2. 8 Cliche Youth Ministry Phrases.
"This is all tongue-in-cheek, of course, because I love (or love on) the youth ministry tribe. As you smirk and giggle at the above phrases, remember this: our language matters. We need to have self-awareness about the words we speak and the tone we use when sharing about matters of faith, love, and Jesus. We have to be mindful of using insider language that could be easily misunderstood or even harmful to relationships with young people. When we speak youth ministry-ese, let's be alert to how our words shape our actions and relationships."
1. The "Faith" of Faith-Based Films: On Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in Christian Movies.
"In true Christianity, there is room for difference and grace. I am not saying that we cannot have differing opinions on films, or that the subculture of evangelical Christianity cannot have its own art and stories to celebrate. This is not the cynical rant of someone who believes Christians incapable of making good art, but as someone who believes we can--and should--make art that resonates with the truth and beauty found in Christ. I am concerned as a pastor and a film critic because it's not just that these films aren't that good, it's that they seem to advocate for a less-than-true form of Christianity. And audiences are buying it, both literally and spiritually."
Thanks for reading! You can continue to read my musings on life, youth ministry, theology, and culture here at JoelMayward.com Check out more of my film-related writing at Cinemayward.