Archives For Woody Allen

grouchoThe sermon for the ordination service 2 years ago included a recurring jeremiad against cynical pastors who mock the church with a capital C.

In my hubris, my first thought was ‘Shit. Is he talking about me?’

My next thought was of Woody Allen.

Woody has a famous joke from Annie Hall about how he’d ‘never want to belong to any organization that would have him as a member.’ I think it’s originally a Groucho joke (wag of the cigar, wag of the eyebrows).

A variant on that line of reasoning is my own struggles with being a pastor; namely, I don’t want to belong to any guild that would have YOU as a member.

Sounds harsh, I know, but what it comes down to in reality is just how incredibly, to-the-bone, reverently unfunny are most pastors.

I remember my first area clergy meeting when I pastored my first church part-time. All the pastors were making obvious churchy jokes, most of which had to do with church potlucks (do churches still do those?) and were no more sophisticated than knock-knock jokes. I mean, what I wouldn’t have done for just one fart joke.

I remember making a sarcastic remark (How in the hell did it take the Israelites so long to get to Canaan from Egypt?) and having everyone stare at me like I’d just expressed impolite concern for the casualties in Palestine.

And then I remember thinking to myself: ‘What am I doing here? I don’t belong here.’

By and large, pastors are hysterically unfunny.

Genuine humor requires openness, surprise, authenticity and a lack of fear over your listener’s reaction.

All of which are qualities required by faith but none of which are qualities encouraged by ministry.

Instead pastors tend to gravitate toward the telegraphed, not-going-to-upset-anyone variety. In addition, most pastors are sinfully over-serious, advocating for social justice or eternal salvation.

Sadly, pastors are just extreme versions of most Christians.

We’re NOT funny, and color me guilty on that score too.

Not funny as Christians.

(And you’re tempted now to cite Jeff Foxworthy or some lame ‘Christian comedian you should just stop reading).

I know plenty of church people who are piss-your-pants funny outside of church but inside church they’re completely different people; or rather, they somehow believe we expect them to be different people.

I don’t say this just to be cheeky. It’s a profound theological problem. After all, we know the end of the Story, of history.

No matter how things look now in the world or in our lives, God wins in the End. Things work out. There’s another version of reality other than the one given to us by the world.

Jesus is King of the whole Earth now- that’s the Gospel.

How could that NOT make us snarky, irreverent and cynical over all the parties, people and powers who think they’re in charge?

Christians are people who know that every King, President, CEO has no (eschatological) clothes.

If that doesn’t lend itself to irony, sarcasm, ridicule, satire and plain old joy I don’t know what does.

Maybe our lack of funny corresponds to having lost sight of our core story. Maybe we’ve substituted good news for legalism- which, by definition, can never be funny.

Maybe this is why Jews and gay people are almost always funnier- they know there’s more going on in the world than meets the eye.

Maybe our lack of funny reveals a lack of faith in that fact.

All of this is prompted by an article in the Huffington Post, Irreverence Is the New Reverent

Here’s the money quote:

It is this fear of irreverence that I believe deprives the Christian community from learning what it really means to be faithful. Irreverence shows the world how to be real, prophetic and passionate.

Irreverence says it like it is. It’s the child who calls out the emperor has no clothes. It’s the uncouth teenager who wears his boredom on the outside. It’s the hippie activist who won’t shower until world peace reigns. Irreverence gives the Church permission to engage in full-blown lament amidst the hardships of life.

Top Ten Theological Films

Jason Micheli —  January 16, 2014 — 6 Comments

exotica-movie-poster-1994-1020210069In case you were trapped under something heavy today, the Oscar Nominations were announced this morning.

In the expected Oscar fashion, most of the nominations were expected along with the expected shocking snubs.

I expect that, as is usually the case, the passage of time will show that the actual ‘Best Picture’ of 2013 will be something other than the film that gets the statuette

(Forrest Gump > Pulp Fiction? Really?)

Nevertheless, I decided to mark the occasion of the Oscar Nominations by nominating my own Top Ten Theological Movies, spanning decades and genres.

Let me know if you think there’s something I missed and why it’s worthy.

Babette’s Feast 

A Danish movie about how a French, Catholic refugee upsets a strict Calvinist village. It’s a great look at incarnation, sacramentality and the eschatological Kingdom.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

My favorite of Woody Allen’s serious films. ‘Does God see?’ asks an eye doctor conspiring to kill his mistress. ‘Yes’ replies the doctor’s rabbi who ironically is going blind.

Groundhog Day

What do you do when you’re trapped in the same day, day after day? Try to improve yourself! This Bill Murray movie, seen by everyone I’m sure, hides an orthodox message of justification by grace alone behind its laughs.


About the grief and loss that often hides behind our obsession. Writer/Director Atom Egoyan’s plots make Quentin Tarantino’s look like paint-by-numbers. I first saw this in a film class in college and it blew me away.

Paris, Texas

I attended a lecture by Roger Ebert where he broke this movie, written by Sam Shepherd, down to its parts. Like Exotica, it’s about grief and loss but also mercy and redemption.

Days of Heaven

People who expected the Passion on this list should Days of Heaven instead. A retelling of the Abram and Sarai story on the turn of the century prairie.

To the Wonder tumblr_inline_mk6g389FTI1qz4rgp

Terrence Malick, a PhD in Philosophy, released this movie in 2013 to scathing reviews. I think it’s a brilliant meditation on what the ancient tradition meant by the word ‘God.’


You Can Count On Me

Laura Linney’s slept with a married man. Confesses to a priest. She wants, she says, condemnation and punishment. He offers only grace. Great little moment.


How do you turn a strange story like the Orchid Thief into a comprehensible, interesting movie? That’s every preacher’s challenge…

Another Year

A small little English film about an ordinary, middle-class, humdrum but beautiful marriage.

As It Is in Heaven

A Swedish film about a gifted orchestral conductor is a great little parable about the power of resurrection.

Battlestar Galactica (Pilot Miniseries) tricia-helfer-cylon-bsg

It’s Exodus in space with Christian Metaphysics thrown in and, uh, her >>>

What If There Is No God?

Jason Micheli —  October 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

Skeptical BelieverWe continue our Skeptical Believer series this weekend with the theme: ‘Questions Don’t Hurt God’s Feelings.’

And here’s Woody Allen asking the biggest question of all:

I know some of you many of you probably don’t like Woody Allen. I do.

After all, no one ever refuses to view a Picasso because he was a messed up perv so why should one throw Woody Allen’s art into the rubbish bin?

One of his funny later movies is Deconstructing Harry, in which Allen plays Harry, a writer who descends to Hell to take back the girlfriend who has left him for a rival author (Billy Crystal), here imagined as Satan.

It’s a funny scene that in a lot of ways matches up with our medieval pictures of hell. Warning: This contains OFFENSIVE and CRUDE humor.