It's the heart of winter in northwest Ohio, a perfect time to stay indoors and catch up on the latest spiritual movies, music, and books.
Last weekend, I went to the theater to see The Book of Eli. I didn't know much about this movie beforehand, which turned out to be a good thing because I might have been deterred by all the negative reviews I read afterward.
The post-apocalyptic flick starring Denzel Washington, still playing locally, has been blasted by critics as little more than a string of cliches, absurd and preachy at times, with little redeeming value except for Washington's stellar (as usual) performance.
I read The Book of Eli quite differently.
To my surprise, and contrary to most film critics' reactions, I was profoundly and positively impacted by this movie.
When the screen faded to black and the credits began to roll, I sat frozen in my seat. My mind was reeling from the one-two punch of the movie's spiritual theme and a stunning plot twist delivered just before the finish.
The story is set in the future against a bleak, monochromatic backdrop — not unlike northwest Ohio this time of year. Lawless bands of scavengers roam the land where might makes right and justice is administered at the sharp edge of a machete.
Such a setting leads to some intensely violent showdowns between good-guy Eli (Washington) and the hordes of villains with tattered clothes and shredded morals.
It has been 30 years since the “flash,” and Eli has been walking westward the whole time carrying little more than a Bible, an iPod, a pair of battered sunglasses, a small arsenal — machete, sawed-off shotgun, automatic pistol, bow and arrows — and a peace that surpasses all understanding.
When we meet Eli, he is crossing the desolate landscape on a mission to deliver a Bible. He doesn't know exactly where he's taking it, but he's certain he'll know the place when he finds it.
Meanwhile, he reads his precious Bible every day and is determined to keep it safe from marauders and thieves.
Some critics said The Book of Eli requires a giant leap of faith and a stretch of logic. That may be true, but the leaps and stretches are no further than the gravity-defying fight scenes of The Matrix, the bodily indwelling of Avatar, or the skeletons sailing through Pirates of the Caribbean.
There is tremendous spiritual depth to The Book of Eli, with metaphors and allegories that allude to Saul's conversion on the Road to Damascus, the power of the Holy Spirit, hearing God's voice, the purpose of a prophet, and the nature of scripture.
Although the violence gives the movie a well-deserved R rating, it's not nearly as bloody as The Passion of The Christ, and Eli uses his Kill Bill skills only defensively after warning foes not to attack.
Washington is superb as the ninja-prophet on a mission, but The Book of Eli is not a one-dimensional movie hinging solely only his marquee name. For me, the movie was shockingly effective in how it delivered deep theological messages in such an unlikely way.
There are more spiritual and religious elements to take home from The Book of Eli than are found in most movies that are marketed or labeled as religious.
New Sanctus CD
Christian rock band Sanctus Real is getting ready to release its fifth studio album, “Pieces of a Real Heart,” on the Sparrow Records label on March 9.
The first single off the Toledo band's new disc, “Forgiven,” was released late last year and topped the Christian Hit Radio chart and made the Top 10 in the Adult Contemporary genre.
Sanctus Real will start a tour March 4 in Phoenix, but no Toledo dates are scheduled yet.
‘Fireflight' powers up
One of the leaders of the new generation of Christian rock bands, Fireflight, has just released its third album, “For Those Who Wait,” on Flicker Records.
The five-person band from Florida delivers a heavy, guitar-powered sound and a message that is relevant to teens and young adults. The title track is a reminder to appreciate every moment, and not to get “bogged down thinking about things that we're waiting for,” lead singer Dawn Michele said.
Bibles for moms
Is the term “busy mom” a redundancy? Christian publishing firm Zondervan is coming out with a new Bible for mothers who are pressed for time.
The Busy Mom's Bible is a thin-line edition of the New International Version that's easy to carry and “packed with one-minute thought starters,” or mini-devotionals.
It will be published next month in an array of color-coordinated covers for a list price of $24.99.
To promote the new edition, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Zondervan will give free Busy Mom's Bibles to the first 5,000 “mommy bloggers” who sign up at busymomsbible.com. In exchange, the company is asking the mothers to write reviews and post a “trackback” on the Web site.
Funky, folksy gospel
Another up-and-coming band is Newworldson, which will release its self-titled sophomore disc Tuesday on Inpop Records.
The Canadian band has stayed true to its roots that defied genres on its impressive 2008 debut, “Salvation Station,” blending folk, jazz, blues, pop, and even a splash of reggae into the spiritually solid but musically diverse mix.
David Yonke is The Blade's religion editor. Contact him at email@example.com.