Monday, September 12, 2016

The Good Muslim (Updated!)

(This is a paraphrase of Luke 10:25-37 as I imagine it in America in 2016)

On one occasion a biblical scholar stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What does the Bible say?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was traveling from Manhattan to Brooklyn, when he was attacked and mugged. They stripped him of his clothes, took his wallet and phone, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  
A local pastor happened to be going down the same street, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 
Also, a seminarian when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side of the road. 
But a Muslim man, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pulling him out of harm's way. Then he put the man in his own car, brought him to a hotel and took care of him, cleaning up the blood and buying him a new set of clothes. The next day he took out $100 and gave it to the hotel manager. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I get back I will reimburse you for any extra expenses you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of criminals?”

The biblical scholar replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Food for thought, you guys. 

Do we only love those who look like us? 
            Who believe like us? 
                        Who share our faith, our sexuality, our skin color? 

The scandal of this story is that Jesus could easily have told a story about a rabbi or a priest whose actions matched up with their beliefs.... yet in so many of these stories, the religious are the bad guys...

We already know this, but it really doesn't matter what you say, or what you project your life to look like, if you don't have LOVE for others. On one occasion, Jesus called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs, "which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean" (Matthew 23:27). 

1 Corinthians 13 has been a beautiful platitude for weddings for years, yet we often look right over the glaring indictment against our kind of Christianity. "IF I DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I AM NOTHING."

How can we show a person the God of grace when we fail to show them the grace of God?

I am baffled by the calloused and cold response I see on a daily basis by so many who claim Jesus. Suicide, war, homelessness, grief, death, destruction - it is all around us... yet for some reason it does not MOVE us. 

Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept, because he was so overcome by the brokenness (Luke 19:41). 
I am also struck by Jesus' response in Matthew 9:36. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Back to the story:
The shocking twist ending of this is that neither of the religious leaders or moral leaders in the story were lauded by Jesus. Instead, the "neighbor" to be loved "as oneself" was someone who was reviled and unclean according to Jewish custom - a Samaritan. And yes, a Samaritan in the ancient middle-east was viewed the same way that Muslim refugees are viewed in America today. 

So I come back to my earlier question:

Do we only love those who look like us? 
            Who believe like us? 
                        Who share our faith, our sexuality, our skin color? 

The Muslim refugee is my neighbor.
The transsexual person is my neighbor. 
The Black Lives Matter activist is my neighbor. 

And I am to love them all as myself. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Journey to Anthem: Raindrops

Last Wednesday night I attended the final meeting of my Christ City Church community group. We call them "parishes," which often confuses people, but whatever you call it, it is a Godsend.

As I pulled into the south Memphis bowling alley parking lot, the rain fell steadily - blanketing everything with a soft gray haze. To my melodramatic soul, it felt a fitting forecast.

In the back of my mind I thought that this would be the last time I dealt with rain for a while. (although any monsoon-enduring Phoenix dweller will tell you this isn't true)

I think I sighed heavily as I hustled inside... away from the rain, and away from the gray blanket of security. Now I had to face my friends - no - my family. We prided ourselves on our vulnerability and love for one another, but now I was finding that vulnerability to be uncomfortable.

How in the world could I tell these people how much they mean to me?

I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to, and instead focused on being present with them for the rest of the evening.

Since I can't bowl (wrist issues) I was the unofficial photographer of the evening. My goal was to capture the spirit and joy of community we had by just being together. This was the beauty of my time in a Christ City parish - no matter where we were or what we were doing, we were bound together by the blood of Jesus and our love for one another.

I loved to notice the sideways glances from other bowlers in our general direction. They weren't annoyed at us, but curious... we were just so happy.

As I interacted with each of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I realized that this really wasn't the end. My life was changed dramatically by the testimony and actions of these Christians, and there was NO way that our relationship would just cease to exist.

Sure it will be hard. Skype and FaceTime are not the same as a coffee conversation with a friend, but the whole point of my time with this beautiful and grace-filled church was this:

I am meant to take this West.

My time at Christ City Church healed me from bitterness, it set me free from my own doubt and standards, but it more than anything gave me a seed to plant in my own ministry.

This seed of love, of mercy, of grace, of justice is going to be crucial as I relocate in Arizona. How else can I see the lives of those around me impacted? I myself must love, must show mercy, must be gracious, fighting for justice.

So in the midst of the raindrops I find the beauty - I see this precious gift in front of me, and I know what I am to do now.

Thank you parish family for everything you've meant to me! Thanks for accepting me, showing me love, and rejuvenating my spirit as I head west into a new season of ministry!

This is not the end.

"No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us." - 1 John 4:12

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Journey to Anthem: The Faith Factor

"We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers."

It is now less than 2 months until I move to Anthem, Arizona. I am overwhelmingly excited to be starting a new chapter in my life out west, and am eager to see how God uses Crosslife Church to bring hope and restoration to our city through Christ. 

When the discussion first began over a year ago, there were certainly many doubts in my mind regarding the whole process. Where would I live? What kind of a job would I have with the church? Would I be able to find new violin students in Anthem? 

The list goes on....

In a surprising twist though, these doubts are still in my mind. I still don't have an apartment lined up, my job situation is up in the air, I have not been approached yet about any sort of music work.

But somehow, none of these questions keep me up at night. I have NO answers, yet I have never been more certain of anything in my life as I am of the fact that God wants me to go West.

For a while I thought that this meant that my faith was growing... and of course in my pride I would pat myself on the back and marvel at how much I was maturing as a Christian.

But no no no no no. This is NOT at all what was going on in my Spirit. In fact, those moments of seemingly great faith NEVER correlated with a "God moment."

I started to notice a pattern. When I had the biggest moments of doubt, THAT was when God chose to show Himself. It was never when I felt like my faith was the strongest, but in the moments of weakness that God provided. 

This is a pattern I have noticed throughout scripture. 

In Matthew 17 we read an account where the disciples were attempting to drive out a demon from a boy, but were unsuccessful. (Jesus of course did so with no problem.)

"Then the disciples approached Jesus privately and said, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” “Because of your little faith,” He told them. “For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." - Matthew 17:19-20

Notice what Jesus NOT saying. 

He is NOT telling them that they were not trying hard enough, or that they weren't doing enough, or concentrating enough. 

He IS telling them that their faith is misplaced. Even the TINIEST amount of faith in Jesus comes with GREAT power, because Jesus has INFINITE power at his disposal. Colossians 1:15-20 describes the Jesus this way:

"He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him. 
He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together. 
He is also the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning,
the firstborn from the dead,
so that He might come to have
first place in everything.
For God was pleased to have
all His fullness dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile
everything to Himself
by making peace
through the blood of His cross- 
whether things on earth or things in heaven."

Do you follow the point here? When I was young I just assumed that Jesus wanted me to have more faith in Him - and so I tried to build that up, somehow, which is really hard for a man to do on his own (impossible, even). 

Imagine the relief I feel now, knowing that the amount of faith that I have is not the question, it is the Object of my faith - Christ! Even if my faith is small, He remains mighty. The same One that created all things and has redeemed all things by his death and resurrection is asking me to TRUST HIM. 

Jesus just wants me. He wants me to stop striving, stop worrying, stop trying to prove myself, stop trying to provide for myself apart from Him. 

The Object of our faith is FAR more important than the amount of faith that we possess. 

I always got frustrated how the characters on the tv program LOST would always talk about "You just have to have faith, Jack" or "I'm just going to have faith that this works" without ever mentioning what their faith was in. Having faith for the sake of itself is pointless. BUT, if we are placing our faith in a GOOD God who knows every detail of our lives and desires to be in a relationship with him, then we truly can have assurance of our faith. 

"Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen." 
- Hebrews 11:1

Imagine how pointless it would be to have a great amount of faith in my own ability to work things out for my own good, or how fruitless it would be to have faith that things were going to work out simply because I thought it... No matter how awesome a person I may be, I will NEVER have that kind of power. 

So, at the end of the day, my faith is growing yes, but not because I have done anything - but because the reality of what I hope for is found in Christ - and I have PROOF through his resurrection that He is who He says He is, and His power is limitless. 

That is something we can rest in. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Reflections on the Seminary Years

I am currently less than 19 hours away from having a Master of Divinity degree from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. This moment has been 4 and a half years in the making, and as I sit in my room past my bedtime, I can't help but think back on how much has changed since January of 2012, when I first began my preparation for ministry.

First off, 23 year old me was much more insecure in his faith. I remember those early days, when I was so bound to my service to the church and my seminary preparation that I bought into the lie that my identity was somehow defined by my performance.

What a dangerous thought that ended up being...

I nearly worked myself to death, trying desperately to prove that "I'm worthy to go!" or "I'm worthy to serve." In reality, none of us are worthy.

I also found myself facing a new enemy - Depression. This foe sought to take my joy and purpose in living. I'm not gonna lie, those days were very dark - despite my 4.0 GPA and smiling face on Sundays and Wednesdays.

This depression stayed with me for 2 years at least, and rears its ugly head from time to time even now.

But I have changed - in my final year of seminary, no less.

After wearing my spirit out, buying into the lie that I had to keep DOING in order to be a good Christian, and seeing door after door slammed in my face in the church, I thought I had made a HUGE mistake. After all, if I was called to ministry, wasn't I supposed to constantly be leading, and shouldn't I feel JOY in my soul? At times I honestly didn't.

I was reminded though of something my friend Matt Cureton had warned me about before I began my studies. "It is going to be very hard to keep your personal walk with Christ going" he had said. "You are going to get so wrapped up in your studies that it will want to take the place of Jesus, but it can't."

It felt like I was so busy working FOR Jesus that I had ceased to even talk to Him anymore... and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I ended up through a long series of events at Christ City Church in Memphis, where I am now a member, and being prepared in more ways than I could have dreamed for church planting. The people there for the FIRST TIME refused to allow me to find my identity in what I did. That is not ministry, they said. YOU need to just spend time with God, spend time with His people - LOVE HIM, LOVE HIS PEOPLE... and then follow what He says.

I tried so hard to find something to do - something to validate myself, something to scratch that itch of action... but Jesus wouldn't let me.

Something crazy happened in the past year. I was forced to be still for a second and actually listen. And it was THEN that I heard it.... Through God's Word, through his people... my identity or value as a person (or a minister) has nothing to do with anything I possibly can do, but who I am loved by. I realized anew that I was loved DEEPLY by God, and that before ANY other responsibility, He just wanted me to want HIM.

It was a rude awakening, and something that seems to be a given in seminary life, but it really is so hard to keep in mind - Jesus loves me.

Seems almost silly, right?

That's what I thought. But then it hit me... this identity was freeing me to tell my story, freeing me to no longer fear my imperfections or my past. The fast that JESUS actually loves me gives me the proper motivation for doing all of the ministry that I had been training for over this past 4 years... I am just a guy, who has nothing to offer, who has been saved by God because of nothing that I did or will do...

God's just good like that.

So as I prepare to walk in a few hours, I feel almost juvenile in the way I feel about my faith with Jesus... but at the same time I realize that this is my ammunition to combat injustice, wickedness, depression, hate. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8.

Why was it so hard for me to really GET that? I don't truly know.

I have a heck of a lot of head knowledge now, and I am thankful for that. I know how to evangelize, how to teach, how to parse Greek and Hebrew, how to lead worship - but at the end of the day, the question really is this:

Do I really REST in what Jesus has done for me?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


In Western musical theory, a cadence (Latin cadentia, "a falling") is "a melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of resolution."

In the process of moving forward, many things must be left behind. I'm currently in the process of sorting through the vast amounts of things that I have and sorting them into keep, donate, or garbage piles. 

Seems easy right? Not for me. Everything seems to carry some sort of sentimental weight, and I cannot let go easily. Before you know it, the box for items that I plan on keeping is already full, and there are just a few small items in the trash bag or Goodwill donations.

Grrrr. Darn my sentimentality.

This seems to be a problem in every area of life for me - I cannot easily let go.

Whether it is a gift from a friend from my college years, or a photo from a camping trip in 2012, or a friendship itself... I try to hold on to everything.

One might say I have become a spiritual hoarder.

As if my own baggage wasn't enough, I try to gather and carry the baggage of every person I know too. The weight often forces me to break... I can't move forward and I can't move backwards, I'm just stuck.

It is one of the beautiful privileges of life to get to move on, but it is also source of some of the deepest sorrow. In most cases the people and places we leave behind in life aren't bad for us necessarily, or bad in themselves - they just are not what God has in store for us in this particular chapter in life.

As I prepare to move west, my heart is torn in two. On one hand I am eager to meet new people, see new places, and experience the richness of life that can be found in following God's calling. On the other, I am deeply saddened by the many people that I am leaving behind in Memphis. The relationships (good AND bad, I might add) that I have had in the 901 have truly shaped me into the man I am today. The good ones pushed me to be a better man, the bad ones pushed me to trust God more. 

I can honestly say that in the past few years, God has been preparing my heart to let go of a city and a people that I love. When my family moved to Nashville, I could tell that my life was not going to play out exactly how I expected... 

I can tell that this current segment of my life is coming to an end - and it's a beautiful ending! At first I viewed this as losing something... but honestly, I think it is far better to leave something of great value behind. Else, I would just be an escapist - running from my problems, rather than trying to share the beauty of fellowship with a new audience.

At first I was fearful, but the amazing thing about the God I serve is that when He calls me to do something, He provides all that I need to do it out of his abundant grace. 

Lord knows I have trouble letting go - and He isn't forcing me to move without a proper sense of closure. In just the past few months I have seen God bring people from my past back into my life in exciting ways - as a sort of celebration of my life here in Memphis. It's as if He is saying "I know this is hard for you, so I am going to allow you to say goodbye to the people who matter the most to you."

Me and Tim, after my Senior Recital at the University of Memphis, Spring 2010

Just this week I was able to reconnect with my violin professor from the University of Memphis. I had not seen him in 5 years, yet everything I do in music today can be credited to his life-impacting influence on me. Tim had spent the last couple of years in New York on sabbatical, so I was pessimistic about my chances at seeing him again before I move. 

On Monday morning though, I found out that he had returned to Memphis and was giving a Bach concert on campus (THAT NIGHT)- so naturally, I jumped at the chance to see him.

There Tim was on stage, still the same man, but with a noticeably different sound. Yes, he was playing on a Baroque violin, but there was something deeper than the instrument itself that was affecting him - the time away from Memphis had seasoned him as a performer, given him more to share, enhanced the beauty of his music perhaps - it was more pure and raw.

As I listened to the Chaconne from the Bach Partita in D minor, I could not help but feel like God gave me that moment - in that concert hall - on that beautiful evening, just to remind me that He was doing the same exact thing with me.

It is now my turn to go away for a while. 
But through that experience, He is going to strengthen my song. The melody that my life plays will be more pure, more raw, and deeper because of this change.

I'm at the cadence of this movement of my life, but once it resolves - who knows where the melody will go?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Go West, Young Man

I have always enjoyed adventure.

I love the thrill of new locations, sweeping vistas found only by going off the beaten path, the inspiration of new people and their stories.

There is something in me that has always known I would get to live an adventure. I never really knew what form this adventure would take, but I hoped in the deepest places of my soul that I would get to travel the world and live in some exotic locale.

To a degree, my music career has afforded me the opportunities to see the world and experience new cultures. In my journeys to Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, Germany, France, and Czech Republic; music has played some part in my experience.

There is something inherently beautiful about the way that music transcends culture, language, religion, and age. It has always been a part of my ministry, and will remain so as long as I have the use of my two hands.

Over the past few years, I have felt a pull at my heart to go west. This made no sense in any of the contexts I was in, but it was a deep-seeded feeling of adventure and longing to seek what is new.

In the moment I had no clue whether this desire was of God, or my own childhood longings come to fruition.

Could I go wrong either way, though?
After all, if God's will for my life is more of a state of mind or being than an actual series of decisions, technically I could go or stay and still be fulfilled in what I do.

At this point I realize that if I don't use my music to reach people, THEN I am missing the whole point of my life.

So I am excited. In a mere 5 months I will be living in Anthem, Arizona; where I will be using my gifts and abilities to invest in the next generation of musicians. I'll get to take my whole philosophy of faith and art and bring them to a new community.

I'll be living an adventure with people I care about, doing something I love, in one of the most beautiful and vast places I know.

Is there fear? Yes, but also excitement

Any decision worth making is going to wreck us a just little bit on the inside.

If the path was not difficult, it wouldn't be an adventure.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Top 10 Films of 2015

It has become something of a tradition for me to release an annual year-end recap to my favorite films. As my cinematic eye and knowledge grow, I sense my taste in films being refined. A few flicks will inevitably show up that are blockbuster hits, but each one of my selections are artistic expressions, and were somehow able to delight and move me. Each of the following films listed did exactly that for me in 2015. I believe these films to be the highest examples of art in their respective fields. Artistically these films are stellar, and emotionally they grabbed me at the core. They appeal to nostalgia in some cases, but stand on their own as fantastic films.

After reading my list I would love to hear your thoughts! What films delighted and moved you this year?

10. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation/ Kingsman: The Secret Service
Tied for 10th place are two remarkable action flicks. While both are spy movies, they could not be more different.

MI5 is the best film in the Tom Cruise anchored franchise. Directed by his Jack Reacher collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, MI5 is sleek and stylish, accomplishing what Spectre failed to do for the 007 franchise. Mission Impossible has always seemed larger than life, but McQuarrie brings a real-world grittiness to the franchise. While Cruise is still impressive with his over-the-top stunt acting, it was Rebecca Ferguson who stole the show. Her leading lady stunts and acting were enough to get her an invite to return for the next installment of the Mission Impossible franchise.

Kingman: The Secret Service was one of the year's best surprises. Directed by British director Guy Ritchie, Kingsman does not hold back on the blood and gore. Starring some of Britain's finest actors, as well as a fantastic breakout performance from Taron Egerton, Kingsman is edgy, shocking, and refreshing in a market packed with cliche, unremarkable action movies. The camera seemingly revels in the carnage, and at times Ritchie allows the scenes to play out in changing frame rates and camera angles a'la 300. Although I loved it, this film is NOT for children.

9. While We're Young
Noah Baumbach is perhaps the one filmmaker who has his finger on the pulse of the millennial generation. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are brilliant as an aging couple struggling with their identity in a rapidly changing world, but it's Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried who had the biggest impact on me as a young hipster couple. Comically serious about their anti-technological views, this young couple challenges not only Stiller and Watts, but the viewer, to evaluate the roles that communication and relationships play in their lives in a predominately digital world.

8. The Martian
The ad campaign for director Ridley Scott's NASA rescue film was surprisingly deceptive. What was presented as a Matt Damon anchored drama ended up being a smart, witty film full of strong performances from the supporting cast, featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, and Donald Glover, just to name a few. I responded even more strongly to the optimistic nature of the film, adapted from Andy Weir's book by Drew Goddard. The dialogue was hopeful, lighthearted, and was devoid of cynicism - which is a rare treat for filmgoers these days. After a handful of misfires, it is good to see an iconic filmmaker like Scott back in business.

7. Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are always a winning combination in cinema. At this point Spielberg's filmmaking is fluid and understated. Even a lesser Spielberg flick is still better than 95% of what is showing at your local cinema. In this case, Spielberg has crafted another historical masterpiece. Bridge of Spies features fantastic dialogue, wonderfully set up shots, and beautiful period production design. Hanks is brilliant as always, but Mark Rylance is the surprise in this film, an acting revelation as the Russian spy captured by U.S. authorities. Not only one of the best films of the year, this is one of Spielberg's best films, period.

6. Ex Machina
Alex Garland is a relatively unknown filmmaker, but he is a writer and director to watch. Ex Machina doesn't ask new questions about humanity, but manages to repackage them into a sleek, sexy, modern film. Before they shared the screen in Star Wars, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson appeared in this quiet, unsettling film about what makes us human. Alicia Vikander is the real standout though, playing an advanced robot seeking humanity. The audience begins to feel for her, along with Gleeson's character, making us suddenly realize that perhaps WE are the test subjects. (Note, there is a fair amount of nudity in the film, so viewer discretion is advised).

5. Sicario
Dennis Villaneuve has established himself as a modern film auteur. Similarly to his previous films, "Prisoners" and "Enemy," Villaneuve manages to create tense, taut scenes without resorting to cheap gimmicks. Roger Deakins provides breathtaking cinemtography, with a dusk raid sequence that just might land him an Oscar nomination. Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro deliver awards-worthy performances themselves in this tale of corruption on the U.S./Mexico border.

4. Brooklyn
Brooklyn is probably the smallest and quietist film on my list, yet it is one of the best dramas I have seen in years. Saoirse Ronan is beautiful and wonderful as an Irish immigrant who makes her way to Brooklyn, NY in the mid- 20th century. The story is nothing new, but executed so beautifully and so wonderfully, that it makes Brooklyn a must-see film. The period clothing and sets are immaculate, and the score is hauntingly beautiful. You find yourself aching and laughing with real emotion, which is in part due to Nick Hornby's screenplay, and partially due to the tasteful and tender direction of John Crowley.

3. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
If I only factored in sheer enjoyment and nostalgia, this film might have ended up as my top pick of the year. With a hype level greater than any film in history, the newly reformed and Kathleen Kennedy led Lucasfilm had to deliver a film that appealed to both the generation that grew up with George Lucas' original trilogy, as well as a new generation of kids that knew nothing of the adventures of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.  And boy, did they deliver! Bringing in self-avowed Star Wars fan J.J. Abrams to co-write and direct The Force Awakens was perhaps the best decision Disney could have possibly made. Abrams manages to find a balance between nostalgia and discovery, allowing our old fan favorites to mentor new characters that will carry the franchise into the next decade. The film feels real, magical, and creates a sense of wonder in me that no movie has been able to do in years. You care for Rey (Daisy Ridley's incredible acting debut), Finn (John Boyega from Attack the Block), and Poe (my favorite actor, Oscar Isaac), and find yourself physically affected by the joy and pain they feel in the heart-wrenching script from Lawrence Kasdan. While it is not a PERFECT film, The Force Awakens hits all of the main points that a Star Wars film needs to, and is a very welcome return to a galaxy far, far away.

2. Inside Out
Pixar has long set the standard for animated features, but with a series of subpar entries in their film canon, many wondered if perhaps they had lost their magic. With Inside Out, however, Pixar was able to return to the height of storytelling that we've come to love and cherish. Few animated films have moved me in such profound ways as the Toy Story trilogy, UP, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and now Inside Out. Director Pete Doctor navigates a very difficult world of emotions, introducing complex concepts in understandable and relatable ways. This is one of the rare films that will appeal to children and adults alike. You will find yourself deeply moved, and able to understand others just a little bit better.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
If you are reading this and you have not yet seen Mad Max: Fury Road, stop what you are doing and go watch it right now. Fury Road set a new standard for what action movie can and should be. The cinematography is gorgeous, capturing the post-apocalyptic wasteland and warfare in creative and absolutely impressive ways. The shots in this film are perfectly executed, and must have been unbelievably difficult to capture. In addition to intense and thrilling chases and action sequences, Tom Hardy as Max and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa are wonderful, proving that you don't have to have much dialogue to make a strong impression. Mad Max was a welcome return for the original franchise director George Miller, and I cannot wait to see what he has for us next.