Last night I watched a very remarkable film, Magnolia. Magnolia came out over the winter of 2000, and I remember seeing it with Christy when we lived in England. It's made by Paul Thomas Anderson, one of my favorite directors. It's one of those stories, like Pulp Fiction or Crash, where the lives of the characters are intertwined: some are obvious connections, like parents and children; others happen by coincidence. Or is it coincidence?

The central theme is one that every responsible parent thinks about: how our actions and beliefs impact the lives of our children. That relationships are all about responsibility, and we should cherish and nourish them. The film is not for kids, nor the faint of heart. There are real consequences at play in how we choose to live our lives. Some of the characters experience redemption. Others, failure. Some experience healing and restoration. Others, loneliness and shame. Such is life.

Throughout the film, images and references to the Bible, particularly the Exodus story, are rampant. I love it when this happens. Usually the stuff Hollywood produces with biblical references are similar to how a childhood friend, a Mormon, spoke about the Book of Mormon: "If nothing else, it's filled with lots of great battle stories." Anderson does not try to to teach us anything new here. What Magnolia shows us, perhaps by accident, is that the Bible is just as relevant to our story today as it ever was. We may say, "Yeah, but God doesn't act in the same way as in the Bible." Well, at the end of the film Anderson shows otherwise.

This Sunday's message will focus on the role of the Bible in our lives, especially as it is shared in groups. One group I will specifically mention is my Disciple Bible Study group, which has met weekly since August of last year. Sure, we've learned much, but more importantly, through a relationship with the Bible we've shared our lives in a very unique way. There is great value in seeing how God's word reveals hidden (coincidental?) connections.

Magnolia has great performances delivered by an ensemble cast of stars: Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, many others. Over three hours, there are great lessons to be learned, opportunities for authentic relationships realized and missed, winners and losers. I recommend it very highly-- as a film on its own, and more importantly as a parable for our life together with others in relationships.

Learning and growing together in small groups: a Disciple class, a Sunday school class, a Bible study, help us grow intellectually-- we become smarter through study. But the most important factor is relationships. Our church has many options available on Sunday morning and evening, as well as Wednesday evening. Visit the website or search the worship bulletin this Sunday to find your place. As United Methodist Bishop Richard Wilke likes to say, "If you're not in Sunday school, who's going to bring you soup when you're sick?" Now do you think that's coincidence?