Black Panther Breakout Letitia Wright Smashes Disney Princess Expectations

Photo by Nichol Biesek

By Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair

An Africa-set tale, and the first Marvel Studios effort to star anyone but a white man, Black Panther is set to upend expectations as well as box-office records.

The film’s biggest surprise, however, is still lying in wait. In a cast brimming with multiple Oscar winners and nominees, it’s 24-year-old newcomer Letitia Wright as Black Panther’s younger sister, Shuri, who walks away with the show. Shuri is a tech-savvy teenage princess who is Peter Parker, Tony Stark, and Q from Bond all rolled into one. Black Panther producer Nate Moore called T’Challa’s science-minded little sister the “smartest person in the world”—smarter even than Tony Stark and Peter Parker. But for all her exceptional brilliance Shuri, as Wright plays her, is also shockingly normal. As an otherworldly Wakandan war wages around her, Shuri is recognizable as a teasing little sister there to keep her big brother both safe and in check.
As the rare young star whose social-media messages are bursting with praise for a God she credits for her success, Wright says she’s not “going to hide” her religious beliefs from the world. “Everybody has their thing that they’re truthful about. My thing is just a love of God . . . so that’s what I’m going to do.” When asked how she prepares for any given scene, be it comedy or tragedy, Wright simply says, “I pray.”

Wright came to Christianity after attending a London actors’ Bible study with fellow Identity graduate Malachi Kirby (Roots, Black Mirror) at the height of her depression. Her immersion in her newfound religion was so strong that Wright walked away from a role in a Nicole KidmanElle Fanning film, most likely How to Talk to Girls at Parties, in order to focus on her relationship with God. When it came time to tackle her career with newfound commitment in 2015, she ran to it full tilt—and hasn’t stopped since.

To read entire article, click HERE. Hat tip to Leo Partible!

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Movie set at “Black Panther” was “almost like church”

Sope Aluko is the Nigerian-born actor playing the role of ‘Shaman’ in the much-acclaimed “Black Panther” movie. In an interview with Okay Africa, she said the set was “almost like church.”

Okay Africa had asked her was working alongside such heavy hitters like Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, and Forest Whitaker?

Aluko’s response: “It felt very familiar and like home. We had early call times but I didn’t even feel the long set hours because it was such a good time. I didn’t feel like I was amongst stars, everyone was so down to earth and normal. During breaks we shared our testimony of how we got to where did and most of the people were testifying to God’s miracles, it was almost like church.”

Read entire article HERE.

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‘Ash Valentine’s Day’: True Love Dies

Design by Sister Putri Magdalena #MediaNuns

By Tish Harrison Warren

Today, on Valentine’s Day, while the world is bedecked with schmaltzy red and pink hearts, I will stand before kneeling members of my congregation and tell them that they are going to die. This, without a doubt, is among the most punk rock things I have ever done.

For the first time in 45 years, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, a liturgical feast day commemorating not one but two martyrdoms. The holiday—in old English, hāligdæg, or “holy day”—has been scrubbed of its bloody beginnings and now finds its chief significance in market share and revenue generation. (Houston Asset Management tracked 2017’s Valentine sales as just over $18 billion in their yearly “Cost of Loving” index.)

With its declaration of human finitude and mortality, Ash Wednesday is always counter-cultural, but when it falls on the very day that chalky candy hearts proclaim “Be Mine,” “Wink Wink,” and (my favorite) “U R A 10,” the contrast is particularly stark.

Read her Tish Harrison Warren’s entire column HERE.


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An introduction to Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul

By Ann Powers

In 1947, a white Southern musical entrepreneur named Lee Roy Abernathy made a move that shook up churchgoing America – and the sound of popular music. That winter, the Georgia-born pianist and songwriter went into an Atlanta studio with his group the Homeland Harmony Quartet to record his latest composition, “Gospel Boogie.” Abernathy was a musical entrepreneur, selling sheet music for his compositions at fifty cents a pop, and he kept his ears open to the hottest trends among the both the pious and the profane. “Gospel Boogie” is all about the wonder of heaven, as is made clear by its alternate title, “Everybody’s Gonna Have a Wonderful Time Up There.” But it’s full of earthly pleasures: a propulsive piano line evocative of Chicago keyboard masters like Albert Ammons, busy harmonies that anticipate doo wop, and a distinct twang that makes a connection to country barn-burners like the Delmore Brothers’ 1946 stomper “Freight Train Boogie”. From the dreamy falsetto that wafts through the background to the spoken word verses that almost sound like an early version of rap, “Gospel Boogie” is a mind-boggling example of mid-century popular musical elements colliding within one song.

To read her entire article, click HERE.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s high-dollar Christ

Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

By Steve Beard

The art world is in a high-dollar tizzy after a controversial Leonardo da Vinci painting of Jesus sold for nearly half a billion dollars. The mid-November auction “saw a tense 20 minute battle between at least six bidders,” reported Newsweek. “Observers in the room whooped, cheered, and applauded when the sale was finally confirmed.” Now registered as the highest priced piece of art in history, the 26-inch high painting portrays Christ in a flowing blue Renaissance-era robe holding a crystal orb in one hand and making the benediction blessing sign with the other.

The painting’s magnetic draw was not surprising. Remarkably, there are less than 20 Leonardo (1452-1519) paintings known to exist – and all others are displayed in museums. He was a trailblazing inventor, mathematician, and artist who is most well-known for his paintings “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper.”

The final price tag of $450 million for “Salvator Mundi” – Latin for “Savior of the World” – was jaw dropping, especially considering the opening bid was $75 million. The entire transaction puts this piece of art into a stratosphere without peer. Interestingly, there is a fascinating history that accompanies the artwork, as well as some very big unanswered mysteries.

At different stages over the last 500 years the portrait was owned by King Charles I of England (1600-1649), vanished from public viewing for 150 years before it showed up in 1900, sold for $59 in 1958 (believed to be the work of a Leonardo associate), someone painted over Christ’s face and hair, it was restored and sold for less than $10,000 at a Louisiana estate sale, appraised as a Leonardo original in 2011, sold to a Swiss tycoon for $75 million, and purchased by a Russian oligarch for $127 million. The last owner had it auctioned off at Christie’s. Continue reading

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Wayfinding Home

By Steve Beard 

For three years, they were ultimately voyaging back home. Along the way, they circumnavigated the globe – without so much as a compass. The crew of the Hokule’a, a 62-foot-long Polynesian sailing canoe, traversed more than 40,000 nautical miles in its epic journey with no engine or modern navigational instruments. Having set sail in 2014, the crew returned to Hawaii in July 2017. Guided only by their assessment of the sun, moon, stars, wind, swells, and sea life patterns, the Polynesian Voyaging Society accomplished a global trek that most people thought was impossible.

In an era enamored by technological pinnacles, chalk this extraordinary triumph up to the ancient South Pacific ways.

In order to grab hold of the wow-factor behind this feat, forget about touristy ocean cruising. On the Hokule’a (ho-koo-lay-ah, “Star of Gladness” in Hawaiian), there was no midnight buffet, ice sculptures, or cocktails on the lido deck. There was no refrigeration, restroom stalls, or internet café on the catamaran-style vessel. The showers were buckets of seawater and the canvas-covered sleeping quarters were 6 foot segments marked out in the hulls where the 12-member crew slept head-to-foot. Spartan conditions. Spectacular adventure.

Participating in month-long shifts, there were more than 250 different volunteer sailors. “They strapped on safety harnesses to change sails and tighten lines; hauled heavy anchors out of the water; loaded bulky supplies; cooked hearty meals for a dozen people using a camping stove,” Marcel Honoré reported in the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

Once again, the entire trip was conducted without compasses, maps, or GPS. The navigators, reports Richard Shiffman of Scientific American, relied on observing the “position of celestial bodies, the direction of waves and the movement of seabirds to set its course. To accurately maintain their bearing at night, the Hokule’a navigators had to memorize the nightly courses of more than 200 stars, along with their precise rising and setting locations on the horizon.” Shiffman continues: “The crew was also taught to read cloud patterns, sunset colors and the size of halos around stars to learn what such phenomena might portend about approaching weather.” Continue reading

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The “real” St. Valentine was no patron of love

Relics of St. Valentine of Terni at the basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin. Dnalor 01 (Own work) , CC BY-SA

On Feb. 14, sweethearts of all ages will exchange cards, flowers, candy, and more lavish gifts in the name of St. Valentine. But as a historian of Christianity, I can tell you that at the root of our modern holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love.

Valentine’s Day, in fact, originated as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So, how did we get from beheading to betrothing on Valentine’s Day?

Ancient sources reveal that there were several St. Valentines who died on Feb. 14. Two of them were executed during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus in 269-270 A.D., at a time when persecution of Christians was common.

To read Dr. ‘s full article, click HERE

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Remembering John Mahoney (1940–2018)

Most fans will remember John Mahoney as eccentric dad — Martin Crane — from the fabulous television show Frasier. Others will know him from his acting with Chicago’s renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Mahoney died this week.

In a revealing interview with Cathleen Falsani, Mahoney expressed his deep faith and dependence upon prayer and God’s blessing. “I’m more spiritual than anything else, and Christianity is probably the most important facet of my life,” he told her. “I try to live my life in a way that is definitely spiritually based. I pray a lot. It’s the first thing I do when I get up in the morning, and it’s the last thing I do before I go to bed. I have a little mantra that I say probably twenty or thirty times throughout the day: ‘Dear God, please help me to treat everybody — including myself — with love, respect, and dignity.’ That’s why it’s important for me to be liked.

“If people like me, it means I’m treating them well and it’s sort of proof that I’m doing the right thing,” he says, interrupting himself momentarily to thank the waitress when she brings his cup of chicken soup to the table and to ask her gently when my artichoke ravioli might be arriving. “I try to be charitable. I think that’s the greatest virtue. I was always taught that it is the greatest virtue, and I feel that. I try to be very loving to people, and I try to be very patient with people, which is my biggest failing. I’m a very impatient person. I work constantly on that.”
Falsani continues: “While he can’t put an exact date on it, John believes his mind began to change when his heart did, around the time he had what he describes as an ‘epiphany’ in a Roman Catholic church in downtown Chicago around 1975. “I was in the Loop, and I went into St. Peter’s and went to Mass, and it was just about the most emotional thing that ever happened to me. I don’t know where it came from, I just had a little breakdown of some sort, and after that, made a conscious effort to be a better person, to be a part of the world, and to try to revolve around everyone else in the world instead of expecting them to revolve around me.

“I think maybe it was the intercession of the Holy Ghost,” he continues. “I’ve always prayed to the Holy Ghost for wisdom and for understanding and knowledge. I think he answered my prayers when I stopped in the church that day. My life was totally different from that day on. I saw myself as I was, and I saw into the future and saw what I wanted to be. And I sort of rededicated myself to God and begged him to make me a better person. It wasn’t fear of hell or anything like that. I just somehow knew that to be like this, like what I was, wasn’t the reason I was created. I had to be better. I had to be a better person. And I think I am now. I like myself,” he says, breaking into one of his patented head-back-eyes-closed-mouth-open laughs.

“I’m pretty much in a spiritual state most of the time. Even when I’m out drinking with my friends, and even when I drink too much, God’s never far from my thoughts. I’m not a freak, asking ‘What would Jesus do?’ and stuff like that. I don’t think things like that. I don’t pride myself on being able to do what he did anyway. We don’t really know. I just try to live a good life.”

To read her entire remembrance, click HERE.

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What to Say When You Meet the Angel of Death at a Party

Katie Bowler lives with stage IV cancer. Her essay in the New York Times is elegantly pastoral. It is superb analysis. She was diagnosed as a young mother in her mid-30s.

“EVERY 90 days I lie in a whirling CT machine, dye coursing through my veins, and the doctors look to see whether the tumors in my liver are growing. If they are not, the doctors smile and schedule another scan. The rhythm has been the same since my doctors told me I had stage IV colon cancer two and a half years ago. I live for three months, take a deep breath and hope to start over again. I will probably do this for the rest of my life. Whatever that means,” Dr. Bowler writes. She is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School and the author of “Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved.”

“When my scan is over, I need to make clear to my friends and my family that though I pray to be declared cured, I must be grateful,” she writes. “I have three more months of life. Hallelujah.”

The thrust of her article is the painful awkwardness of having a conversation with, well, someone in Dr. Bowler’s state of health. “What does the suffering person really want? How can you navigate the waters left churning in the wake of tragedy?” she writes. “I find that the people least likely to know the answer to these questions can be lumped into three categories: minimizers, teachers and solvers.” Continue reading

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Alice Cooper to play Herod in live “Jesus Christ Superstar”

By Erik Pederson

“Alice Cooper, whose theatricality is the stuff of legend, is the perfect rock star to play Herod in our live production,” said Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment. “Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote a showstopping musical number for Herod, and we all look forward to the ‘King of Shock Rock’ taking on the King of Judea.”
As the polarizing King Herod might have said 2,000 years ago: No more Mr. Nice Guy. Or, perhaps, welcome to my nightmare. NBC said today that Alice Cooper — yes, that Alice Cooper — will play the ruler of Judea in its Easter Sunday production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live!
Cooper has fronted his eponymous band for five decades and is known for wild, twisted concerts that include snakes, mock beheadings and lots of blood. The group has released more than two dozen studios albums, several of which went platinum  including the 1973 chart-topper Billion Dollar Babies and its 1972 predecessor School’s Out.
As an actor, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Cooper has appeared in numerous films and TV series including a brief but memorable role in Wayne’s World (“We’re not worthy!”) and playing the Sun King in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — in which the band played a decidedly warped take on the Beatles’ “Because.” He also played himself in the 2012 Johnny Depp starrer Dark Shadows.

Click HERE to read entire article

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