The Quarterly Newsletter - August 2020
Cedar Ridge Community Church
Mom Camp and Movies:
Summertime Fun During a Pandemic
By Rachel Tonkin
Every year my best friend, whom I met in middle school, and her children join us at the family log home in a Pennsylvania state forest for a few days. This year we were both feeling fatigued by four months of full-time telework with our kids orbiting around us, and being in our homes ALL. THE. TIME. We decided to take an unheard-of full week away. We are pretty stringent on “staying at home protocols”, so it seemed low risk to expand our pandemic bubble.
Welcome to Camp Mom. We collaborated on a list of our usual “at the cabin” activities, adding some new ones plus off-campus field trips. Camp Mom for our combined six children was full of fun daytime activities. We painted pictures, tie dyed shirts, ate many s’mores, played in the creek, picked blueberries, played backyard bingo, learned archery, picnicked in a local park, toured a museum (outdoors only), made ice cream, enjoyed nature, and ignited a July 4th fireworks display. Camp Mom for moms were the evenings of sitting by the campfire until midnight or later. The kids really needed the time to play with other kids, and we had some much-needed girlfriend time. Joe, who has been going to the office throughout the pandemic, joined us for the long holiday weekend.
I spent my summers from 2nd grade through college at a sleepaway camp in the Adirondacks. My boys, drawn by the allure of archery, agreed to try sleepaway camp this year. It was cancelled. While Camp Mom can’t replicate the sleepaway camp experience of my youth, it got us all out of our pandemic routine. The kids were excited by the prospect of archery.
Archery is hard. You have to stand the right way, pull back on a heavy bow, place your fingers just right on the string, hold the arrow just the right way, and finally let go of the bow string and arrow after aiming. If you send the arrow on its way and miss the target, then you have to go find your arrow (not always easy). The kids were all confident in their skills until they actually picked up the bow. After a few tries and lots of arrow dropping they were ready to quit. We had to keep cheering them on. “This is hard.” “You are trying to do a bunch of things all at the same time.” “You have to keep doing it, so you can get the hang of it.” “You will get better the more you practice.” They exercised perseverance, and the moms exercised patience (not always successfully).
Life right now is a lot like that. Everything is hard at home (staying home, full-time telework, remote school, no camps) and in the wider world (pandemic, politics, racial justice). How do I persevere? Will I ever get it? Will I ever be able to do it? Will it get better? On most days I want to throw down the bow and arrow, and sulk off to the cabin. I need to keep showing up, and keep working at it. Whatever “it” might be today. I need to cheer on and encourage others, as much as I need others to encourage me.
Movie: Ruby Bridges
By Maryn Herlein
What I learned is just simply watching a video can open your eyes. The video let me see that I am lucky to be white. That is utterly wrong to be lucky for how I look. You can’t base things on how they look. You have to dig deep inside of their soul and find who they truly are. Then you can say whether they are good or not.
I can’t think of how terrible it would be to walk into school with people screaming, “she is not good enough, don’t let her in!!!!!” I was scared to go to school the first day. They wanted me there. But when thinking about how she experienced her first day, and knowing no one wants her there is horrific. Imagine all the hard pressure falling onto you.
You can change big problems in the world like racism by taking little steps. Some things are…putting a black lives matter poster on your house, talk to a black friend who is struggling, and recognize bad thoughts in your head and fix them.
This is what I was thinking about after the Ruby Bridges movie.
Movie: Groundhog Day
Photo: Paige Shelburne (far right) with her family.
Everyone should experience the comedy of the film Groundhog Day (1993) starring Bill Murray, but also the life lesson of seizing the day. Phil Connors, a cynical TV weatherman finds himself reliving the same day over and over again when he goes on location to the small town of Punxsutawney to film a report about their annual Groundhog Day. His predicament drives him to distraction, until he sees a way of turning the situation to his advantage.
I have been watching this movie since I was a child but I have never related more to Phil Conners until now. This movie truly does represent what many of us are experiencing during this pandemic; it seems that every day is the same and there is no way of escaping. Groundhog Day has shown me that in a dark time in life, the best thing we can do is seize the day: learn an instrument, pick up a new hobby, focus on self-love. Take this time to do something that you never had the time to do before.
Seize the day and make the best out of the situation you are in!
Futurama: A Different Approach to Theological Discussion
By Joe Tonkin
I‘m a big fan of the show Futurama, an animated TV series. It is very heavy with science fiction and pop-culture references and commentary on society. One of the big reasons I love it is that it has lots of nerdy science humor. (Be ye forewarned: It’s not really a kid’s cartoon as it does contain some adult humor and language.) The show was created by Matt Groening—the same guy who brought us The Simpsons. It premiered in 1999, and ran on-and-off for 7 rather convoluted seasons until 2013. Re-runs can still be found on Comedy Central. The basic premise is that a slacker pizza delivery guy, Fry, gets cryogenically frozen on New Year’s Eve 1999 and wakes up in the year 3000. He ends up working as a delivery boy for Planet Express, an interplanetary delivery company, with an odd collection of co-workers.
One episode, titled Godfellas (season 4, episode 8), in particular really makes for a good candidate for our God In the Movies discussions. Based on what I have seen from Groening’s work, he occasionally takes a brief look at religion, but usually more from a secular perspective. I find this episode more significant for us in that the whole thing is a blatant theological discussion. And I think that it being a science fiction comedy makes it all the more interesting. The story revolves around Bender (voiced by John Dimaggio), the narcissistic, self-absorbed, obnoxious robot. Other significant characters are Fry (Billy West), the slacker and not very bright delivery boy who has a heart of gold, and Lela (Katie Sagal), the strong and determined ship captain and team leader (just don’t stare at her eye).
Long story short: Bender gets launched out of the ship’s torpedo tube and is doomed to eternally float through space. An asteroid containing a race of tiny people called Shrimpkins crashes into him. The people create a civilization on Bender and he becomes a god to them. Eventually the Shrimpkins annihilate each other. Bender then tries to make sense of both his fate of floating through space, and how he failed at being a god. Finally, Bender meets an entity with whom we can only identify as God. The two of them have a fairly deep theological discussion.
Meanwhile, back on earth, Fry and Lela try to figure how to get Bender back. They end up heading to a monastery in the Himalayas where the monks are using a radio telescope to find God. (Remember, this is the future where we rely on technology for everything.) They try to convince the monks to let them use the telescope to look for Bender, unaware that he has himself found God. At the same time the monks end up having a quick theological argument about the nature of looking for God and how that may reveal itself. As Fry and Lela leave the monastery the monks become trapped inside. In the end, Bender is returned to Earth. When they go back to free the monks, we, the audience, are left wondering whether or not saving them is truly an act of God.
A number of aspects really stick out for me. I find it interesting how the story illustrates, both figuratively and literally, theology and the idea of being God in a variety of ways—how we look to God to help us and take care of us, but at the same time, run around doing our own things and God has to keep up with us. Or how we have the sincerest intentions of doing the right thing, only to be completely unaware of how totally mistaken we really are. Or even doing the right things, not realizing God is working in the background.
The various exchanges between the characters are not only amusing but also gave me a better understanding, or at least a new perspective. I highly recommend seeing this episode, even if it’s something you would not normally view. If this really strikes your fancy, I have it on DVD and would be happy to loan it to you. Enjoy!
Movie: Fast & Furious 4
By Lead-foot Lee (a.k.a. Margy Constable)
My first car was a stick shift. My mom didn’t want me to buy it because she said if I broke one limb and it didn’t matter which one, I wouldn’t be able to drive. Why are moms never wrong? But I was a young 23 year old and wanted to save $1,000 over an automatic. Ruby was her name and she was a little red, two-door Honda Civic Coupe. When I worked in DC and had to park Ruby in a garage in Friendship Heights, I would be terrified of taking her up this very steep ramp to exit. There was always a backup, and someone would always be too close behind me. But I never stalled putting it into first on that ramp, and I don’t believe I ever rolled. My favorite thing about that car was switching up the gears and throwing it into fifth when I was on the highway. Maybe that’s why I love all the Fast & Furious movies.
Fast & Furious is a series of action movies that involve illegal street racing and big time heists. Since being in lockdown, I’ve been rewatching these movies. The first film came out in 2001 and there have been nine movies released. Dominic “Dom” Toretto (played by Vin Diesel) is a religious, family man who keeps the cross close to him. He loves his family which consists of his sister Mia and a rag tag group of underground street racers and thieves. He upholds his father’s tradition of Sunday barbeques and saying grace at meals. Family, honor, and loyalty are the things that mean the most to him. By day, he is an auto mechanic. By night, he is a big time thief.
Brian O’Connor (played by Paul Walker) is an undercover cop working with the FBI to infiltrate Dom’s hijacking operations. In the first movie, he fell in love with Mia Toretto but left her after he let Dom escape authorities. Fast & Furious 4 picks up with Brian being reinstated with the FBI. The FBI continues to look for Dom and a Mexican drug trafficker Arturo Braga. Dom sneaks back into California after he hears of his girlfriend’s death by execution style after a drug run. Brian sees Mia being questioned by the FBI about Dom’s whereabouts, and apologizes for lying to her and Dom. Mia asks if he was just lying to himself and whether he was always the bad guy pretending to be a good guy.
After their first drug run through underground tunnels connecting California and Mexico, Brian and Dom escape Braga’s men with $60 million dollars worth of heroin. Brian convinces the FBI that Dom will help lure Braga out with the drugs in exchange for the authorities clearing Dom’s record. After another car chase and crash with Braga, Brian tells Dom to leave before the police arrive. Dom decides not to run this time. Even with Brian’s plea for clemency at Dom’s sentencing, the court orders Dom to 25 years in prison without a chance of parole.
These F&F movies are more about the action and speed, not so much about the dialogue. But I liked Mia’s comment to Brian that maybe he was just a bad guy pretending to be a good guy. Throughout the movie, I started putting the characters in these categories. Dom was a good guy doing bad things. Braga was a bad guy doing bad things. I find Dom’s character the most fascinating. He valued honor and loyalty. Time and time again, he placed his family and friends over himself. He looked after his team and never left anyone behind. He kept his promises. So is there honor among thieves?
That term, honor among thieves, could mean that criminals do not snitch on other criminals. It’s a kind of professional courtesy. But it also means that some criminals can follow some sort of code of honor, justice, and morals. The Bible certainly has a lot to say about thieves, including Matthew 27:38, “ Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.” The one on the right has been known as the Penitent Thief (or the good thief, grateful thief). The robber said, “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43).
Dom didn’t run from the authorities this time. He was ready to face his crimes.
These days, I’m just happy to drive anywhere. I pretend to shift the gears with my water bottle in the cup holder beside me. You’ll never take the car out of this girl.
Movie: Life Itself
By Nathan & Taylor Peterson
Early on in our relationship, Taylor and I watched the film Life Itself on Amazon Prime. It’s an interesting film that we connected with because it’s realistic – it follows the lives of a number of people and they end up playing a large role in each other’s lives. You get to know each character and their stories, and see how they all lead up to the same event. It’s powerful in its simple messages that remind us about life itself. Every person has a story. When we really take the time to invest in others and get to know their stories it can be beautiful. It’s amazing how our stories intertwine. I’m always inspired whenever I reflect on how individuals end up as a collective – their separate journeys all merging together.
I’m so grateful for the rich community whose stories have aligned in many unpredictable ways. Another big part of this film is the ripple effect – how your actions can impact many other people and their lives. It’s a fun, engaging film that can challenge perspectives and leads you to really think about others. While we weren’t sure what to expect about this movie, it ended up being a great conversation starter about how we view faith, the world and our role in it!
Movie: Steel Magnolias
By Wil Corvey
Casey and I love Steel Magnolias. If you put us on a desert island with one movie on repeat, it would raise our chances of a cheerful survival. Quotes from this thing have infiltrated our daily dialogues and, to a greater extent (for which I’m sure Casey is thankful), my inner monologues. Running late? “Daddy, it’s time.” Particularly bad day? “I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.” Longing for happy hour? “Sammy Wayne Desoto, what is this in my Frigidaire?” I could go on and on. It’s a funny, soulful, and truthful picture that has become a running commentary on our everyday life. (I should note that there are two films drawn from the original 1987 play, one released in 1989 and the other in 2012. While I recommend both, the earlier version is my frame of reference here.)
The film is set in rural Louisiana, in one of the small ornate sorts of towns that have always captured my imagination. We begin with a shot of Annelle, a young beautician, walking into town, solitary, looking for a job and a way to settle in. She eventually makes her way to Truvy’s beauty shop where she lands an interview. She’s awkward and unsure of herself and burdened by her past. In subsequent vignettes where we see Annelle questioned, tested, and finally accepted by Truvy and her friends, I’m reminded of a dynamic we see often among our neighborhood mix of renters and long-time residents. While it’s normal to doubt newcomers, in the end it’s really important to find a way to welcome them into the community. This is especially true in smaller or less-diverse settings where it can be harder for outsiders to feel at home; very often, new additions are how our communities grow and improve.
Over the course of the film, we see Annelle develop as a person and deepen her relationships with the core cast of townsfolk. On a surface level, relationships in the movie often appear strained, peppered with disagreements and catty banter. However, rather than drive the characters apart, their opposing personalities provide needed comic relief and lay pathways for greater fellowship. From the film’s many odd couples, we see that it takes all sorts of people to build community and that peaceably resolved drama can be healthy as well as necessary.
As the characters experience a number of joys and sorrows, the sturdy relationships they build from the everyday work of fellowship provide a foundation to withstand life’s sad surprises. We see that anything can be an opportunity to come together, whether to laugh or cry. The challenge is simply to invite others into the experience and for others to have the habit of accepting that invitation. We ‘re shown that spiritual resiliency is strongest among friends. More than anything, Steel Magnolias reminds us that although life doesn’t always work out the way we’d like, we don’t have to do it all alone.
We invite you to share your creativity with us as we continue to be apart during the pandemic. This can include writing, poetry, artwork, and music that you would like to share as a way to uplift and encourage our community. Contact Sarah Burke for more information.