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Captain America: Civil War: a movie review

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War TrailerCaptain America: Civil War is probably my favorite Marvel movie to date (though some of that may be due to the fact that I just watched it). The action sequences are incredible with the airport scene from the preview more than meeting expectations. However, it also contained quite a few genuinely funny moments inserted at the perfect times to prevent the rather heavy and, at times, morose plot from becoming overbearing. As a result, the film was able to deal with some weighty issues and ideological conflict without losing sight of the fact that people ultimately go to superhero movies to have fun (a goal that Batman vs Superman unfortunately forgot a bit too frequently).

Most of that conflict revolves around the world's response to the collateral damage caused by the various Avengers in their previous films (this article has a good recap of what you need to know from those films before seeing this movie). The destruction of Sokovia at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron is perhaps the most important example of such damage. Consequently, a group of world leaders from the United Nations decided that greater oversight of the team was needed and have formed a council to regulate when and where these superheroes are able to intervene.

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An Overview of Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak

Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing (Credit: Andy Crouch)In his book Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing, Andy Crouch offers a nuanced view of flourishing and how to lead others to flourish in today's world. It doesn't come from simply being strong and prosperous, or completely transparent. Rather, according to the executive editor of Christianity Today, flourishing comes from a paradoxical combination of being both strong and weak in equal measure.

Crouch crafts a 2x2 chart formed by two axes—authority and vulnerability. The vertical axis is authority, defined as meaningful action that allows one to exercise a measure of dominion in the world in order to make a difference as image bearers. The horizontal axis is vulnerability. "The vulnerability that leads to flourishing," Crouch says, "requires risk, which is the possibility of loss—the chance that when we act, we will lose something we value."

These two axes divide the chart into four quadrants. A flourishing life leads up and to the right. But the road to flourishing is not straight and the idea of flourishing is not simple. Crouch's understanding of flourishing is less health and wealth, and more of "how it cares for the most vulnerable."

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The Jungle Book: a movie review

Disney's The Jungle Book TrailerDisney's latest adaptation of The Jungle Book opens with young Mowgli (Neel Sethi) racing through the jungle with his adopted family of wolves as they and Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), the black panther that rescued him as an infant, continue their attempts to teach him how to survive as a wolf. Mowgli has an understandably difficult time fitting in with his the rest of the pack, but he is loved and cared for nonetheless. That begins to change, however, when the dry season brings Shere Khan (Idris Elba) into the wolves' land where he encounters the young "man cub." Shere Kahn is a tiger with a profound hatred for men after being partially blinded by the torch of one who ventured too far into the jungle, so it's not difficult to see why Mowgli's presence would upset him.

In response to the threat Shere Khan poses to young Mowgli and the pack dedicated to protecting him, the man cub volunteers to leave in order to save them from the tiger's wrath. The rest of the story loosely follows that of Disney's original animated version, complete with excellent performances by Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie, while incorporating elements from author Rudyard Kipling's classic tales as well.

Director Jon Favreau and his team weren't afraid to add a few new twists to the story, however. The end result is a film that contains enough allusions to the original to, as Robert Ebert wrote, "satisfy nostalgia buffs, but not so many that the film becomes a glorified rehash." It was an enjoyable experience, but also contained more than a few tense moments that might be a bit much for young children.

Still though, I don't think I had as much fun with it as many of the critics, who almost universally hail it as an excellent film. I can't quite put my finger on why that is, and it's possible that a second viewing would yield a different result. I think the main issue stems from a disconnect between what I expected the movie to be and what it actually was. I went into the theater expecting a light, entertaining film akin to the animated original. In this iteration, however, there was a constant sense of gravity that even the moments of levity could not quite remove. The end result was a fine and truly enjoyable film that still managed to leave me somewhat dissatisfied.

I fear people often leave their encounters with Christians with a similar feeling. Most believers become well-versed in the art of putting up a Christian façade to mask our, at times, faltering faith. We know what it being a good Christian should look like—what to say, how to act, which churchy phrases to insert in conversation, etc.—so it's not hard to play the part in most circumstances. Often times though, the only people we are truly fooling are ourselves, and those with whom we interact come away thinking that there is just something a bit off about us.

Perhaps that's why we so often get labeled as hypocrites—it's an easy accusation that has some basis in truth. While I have yet to meet a person who was not a hypocrite in some regard, when our outward witness is not powered by a vibrant relationship with God we tend to fit the description in the worst ways.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus had the most problems with people like the Pharisees who knew how to act righteous but didn't have the faith to back it up (Matthew 23). One reason so many were drawn to him is that he had an authenticity that their religious leaders lacked. When he spoke, he did so with authority because he had a constant connection to the Father (Matthew 7:29). When he loved people, they saw a genuine care for them that exceeded any sense of religious obligation (Matthew 9:36). And when he disciplined those that acted wrongly, he did so out of a righteous rather than a personal anger (John 2:17).

In short, Jesus' life was the natural manifestation of a strong, vibrant relationship with the Father. Granted, he did have the whole being God in the flesh thing working for him. However, as the adopted sons and daughters of God, we have each been given the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives for the purpose of enabling us to know the Father in a personal, constant, and life-altering way. When our lives don't authentically manifest that relationship, other people can tell. They might not know exactly why, but they'll walk away from us feeling dissatisfied and our usefulness to the kingdom will suffer immeasurably as a result.

It doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be that way. God longs to help our lives demonstrate an authentically vibrant relationship with him. Will yours?

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The Divergent Series: Allegiant – a movie review

The Divergent Series: Allegiant Official Trailer – Allegiant, the third installment in The Divergent Series based on Veronica Roth's books of the same title, finds its hero Tris (Shailene Woodley) stuck in an ever-devolving society that seems intent on destroying itself. While there was some hope for improvement after the civil war in the second film, the new leadership has done little to better the conditions in the story's dystopian version of Chicago, as the struggle for power and competing visions continue to yield the same poor results.

In response, Tris and her allies decide to escape the wall that has separated them from the outside world in an attempt to find a better life. When they finally reach the other side, they find a society that welcomes them with open arms, assuring them that they are finally safe. The remainder of the film focuses on peeling back the layers of deceit to reveal that, despite their technological progress and high-minded ideals, fallen people are still fallen people no matter where they may live.

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Zootopia: a movie review

Disney's Zootopia 2016 official trailerZootopia, Disney's latest animated offering, takes place in a world where animals have evolved beyond the confines of predator and prey to live in relative harmony with one another. The story centers on Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit who grows up on a rural carrot farm. However, rather than join her parents (and her 225 brothers and sisters) in the family business, she longs to be the first of her species to become a cop. But even after succeeding and graduating first in her class, she is overlooked by her fellow officers. Despite an important investigation into the mysterious disappearance of fourteen local residents, Police Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to traffic duty instead of letting her take part in the case.

While on traffic duty, Hopps meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con artist fox whom she eventually persuades to help her find the missing locals. If all of that sounds relatively contrived, it's because the basic "whodunit" plot is something you've probably seen several times before. What really sets Zootopia apart though, and what makes it one of Disney's best films in quite some time, is the way that plot is delivered.

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