Christology and the Close-up: God is in the details

I have discussed in previous posts the religious value that film holds. When most audiences strike up conversations about religion and film, our discussions usually begin with recent films like God’s Not Dead, Son of God, or Exodus.  Or, we might also talk about films that are seemingly void of religious content in order to point out the moral and spiritual degradation of our society—The Wolf of Wall Street or Fifty Shades of Grey come to mind.

Yet, these conversations do no justice to the religious potential that film has. Film does not offer viewers a religious experience based primarily on content—moral, religious, or otherwise. The spiritual depth of film lies primarily in the subtle power of the language and conventions of film, the close-up for example.

Let’s take as our case study two Christ-figure characters on nearly opposite ends of the Christological spectrum: Willem Defoe’s Jesus from Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Brandon Routh’s Superman from Brian Singer’s Superman Returns (2006).  Of course, one character represents an adaptation of the New Testament Jesus Christ, while the other is a comic book adaptation of a messianic hero. Both are textbook examples of cinematic Christ-figures. And, as cinematic Christ-figures, Jesus and Superman contribute to the dialogue on Christology. How we depict our messiahs in media speaks volumes about how we view the Christ of our theology.  I argue that the Christological depth of these two characters is found in the subtlety of the films’ close-ups. If we take a quick look at a couple of shots from both films, we will see an important Christological distinction between the two characters that illustrates the true power of film.

First, in the opening sequence of Last Temptation, the film introduces the character of Jesus with a bird’s-eye shot of him lying in a fetal position in the dirt followed by a close-up of his face as he wakes from his disturbing dreams.


The camera takes the perspective of someone looking down at Jesus. He is wearing earth-tones and literally wallowing in the dust.  The fetal position suggests he is born not from heaven, but from the earth. His hair is disheveled and his face is unshaven. And, the voice-over speaks of torturous visions and self-loathing.

In contrast is one of the early sequences of Superman Returns in which the audience is allowed a peak at Superman’s personal musings, his own thoughts of what it means to be a savior. The camera begins from a perspective of someone looking up at Superman as he floats above the earth. When the camera moves to a close-up of his face it maintains this low-angled perspective. Superman is depicted as the perfect specimen of heroic humanity with his perfectly coiffed hair, his piercing blue-eyes, and his clean-shaven face.



vlcsnap-2015-03-06-09h22m32s83In these two sequences from two different Christ-figure adaptations the audience is invited to embrace either of two sides of the dual-natured Christ. The Last Temptation invites the spectator to identify with the humanity of Jesus in a way that no other film has done before or since. We are asked to not just assume that Jesus is human because he takes human form, but we are invited to relate to the sniveling, self-loathing, tortured soul of Jesus as he writhes in the dirt. This fact is probably the real reason why the film is so controversial. For, while the dream sequence depicts Jesus getting married and having children, it is the film’s constant and subtle reminder of Jesus’s unabashed humanity that sits so awkwardly with Christians who hold Jesus high as an object of worship and reverence.

Yet, it is the “secular” film of Superman Returns that depicts a Christ-figure that Christians feel more comfortable with. He is a Christ who hovers above us, eagerly waiting to come to our aid because he has the supernatural power to do so. He is good and perfect and above us, both morally and literally.

Last Temptation depicts the humanity of Jesus. Superman Returns depicts the divinity of Christ. And, both films do so, not just in the grandeur of moving-making magic—the sets, the costumes, the lighting, the makeup—or in the totality of the plot, but in the simple and subtle use of the close-up.

This is what endows movies with such potential for providing powerful religious and spiritual experiences: the cinematic progression of images that are able to express things that simple words cannot.

The renowned film critic, Andre Bazin states in one of his early essays that, “The cinema has always been interested in God.” For Bazin, that means that the most successful depiction of religious matter in cinema are films that do not overtly attempt to represent the divine, but those that deal with the psychological and moral aspects of faith instead. In other words, it is not the direct and manifest depiction of divinity that resonates favorably with audiences, but the more indirect and metaphorical approach of simple film conventions, like the close-up.

So, next time you are watching a movie and feel your heart tugging you into a moment of religious reverie, take a close look to notice the subtlety, the small things on the screen and revel in the real magic of movies.



Jesus, Africa, Refugees, and a Retelling of the Christmas Narrative

As you reflect on the Christmas story do you celebrate and affirm its connection to Africa and refugees?

Photo Credit: withrow via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: withrow via Compfight cc

Each semester in “Introduction to the New Testament” I ask students to corporately retell the Christmas story.  Working together students generally note many of the more commonly known elements: the inn and its lack of room, angels, shepherds, wise men and a brilliant star.

Most semesters, however, students neglect the tyrannical attack unleashed on the town of Bethlehem by Herod that would rightly be labeled today as genocide or more accurately – infanticide.  This seems to speak to a collective desire in many western cultures to minimize atrocity.  This is unsurprising given the response of many to the recent influx of 50,000 Central American unaccompanied minors to the United States who are primarily fleeing a context filled with gangs, drugs, rape and violence.  This further corresponds to a general lack of media attention to the more than 1 million Syrian child refugees fleeing from war who even now face the onset of winter.  It is perhaps easier and safer to avoid drawing a direct connection between one of the most celebrated biblical narratives to these and other similar realities.

Most semesters students also fail to include the journey to Egypt.  Matthew 2:13-15:

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Throughout the Old and New Testament the Jewish people looked to Egypt as a place of safety and refuge.  Africa has long played an important, though often undervalued, role in the broader history and development of biblical faith.

How long did the “holy family” stay in Egypt?  The Bible is unclear but it is safe to assume that the first few years of Jesus’ life were spent in Africa.

Where did they go when they arrived in Egypt?  The text is unclear but there was a sizable Jewish immigrant population in Alexandria so perhaps they relocated to northern Egypt.

How did Joseph and Mary feed Jesus and reconstitute their home in a new country?  Again, the text is unclear but two assumptions are probable.  First, there were surely individuals who helped them along the way and so entertained unaware the Son of God.  Second, it is possible that Joseph and Mary used the gifts from the Magi to help them in this difficult process.

What is clear is that the holy family had to flee for their lives from a deranged governmental system and they found safety and security in the arms of Africa.

It is not possible to know the kinds of interactions, if any, Jesus had with people around him while an infant in Egypt.  But it is reasonable to assume that Alexandria was filled with business interactions and cultural exchanges between the immigrant Jewish population, local Egyptians, people from the broader Roman world and Sub-Saharan Africans navigating the Nile, the life blood of the region.  Certainly this impacted the development of Joseph and Mary who may have later recounted to Jesus how they were saved and lived at that time.  We cannot know the influence of Africa on Joseph, Mary and Jesus but it is reasonable to assume that it significantly impacted this family.

Moreover, part of the reason why this text is compelling is because it so clearly states that Jesus was at one point a refugee.  At Christmas we celebrate many titles for Jesus – Messiah, Immanuel, Christ, Prince of Peace, Son of God – and these are all powerful and true names.  But Jesus is also the refugee, the one forced to flee his home, the politically betrayed and abandoned one, scared and fleeing in the night, nervous at the border, wondering how life will go on.  Jesus, Joseph and Mary were all refugees.

We do not often celebrate Jesus the refugee.  What would it mean this Christmas for churches to affirm that Jesus was a refugee protected by Africa?

Reflecting on this passage the Africa Bible Commentary notes:

The fact that Jesus was a refugee on African soil should teach us many lessons.  God was not ashamed to let his son become a refugee.  By sharing the plight of stateless refugees, Jesus honoured all those who suffer homelessness on account of war, famine, persecution or some other disaster.  There are millions of refugees on the African continent and many of them have a terrible life…  The sad thing is that far too many Christians are either unconcerned or believe the lie that every refugee is a troublemaker.  Yet the Bible is full of men and women who knew what it meant to be refugee.

Jesus as refugee is good news to many this Christmas season.  We can turn to those experiencing true difficulty and say, “God has not abandoned you.”  Jesus is one who understands as one without home, without wealth, at one point even without a country.  The Gospel is good news to the broken and the suffering in this world.

Photo Credit: 10b travelling via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: 10b travelling via Compfight cc

Jesus as refugee is also a challenge to Christians this Christmas season.  If Jesus was a refugee today would the church welcome him or miss him altogether?  If was Jesus was a refugee, might we find the Spirit of God still at work in refugees today?  If Jesus was a refugee, might we also have a responsibility to help others who find themselves in such a situation?

If the church is unwilling to help refugees then who will?  If the church is unwilling to step into this difficult kind of situation and offer the love of Jesus then where is the hope of the Christmas season?  The church must be willing to step into the most difficult, most broken, most challenging spaces because the light of Jesus shines brightest in the darkest of contexts.  We must train and mobilize our churches to be politically and consciously aware of this biblical mandate.

According to recent statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees there are approximately 43.3 million refugees worldwide today.  Jesus was a refugee.

41% of the refugees are children.  Jesus was a refugee child.

26% of all refugees are in Africa.  Jesus was a refugee in Africa.

There are also likely refugees in your community some who may be recently resettled.  Would you consider searching out a resettlement agency in your area and partnering with them this Christmas season?

Each Christmas we worship, though we may not always state it clearly, the refugee Jesus.  This season let us acknowledge and affirm the special connection shared between Jesus and our brothers and sisters from Africa.  This season let us also pray, minister and befriend those with whom Jesus specifically identified: refugees.


WWJT: What Would Jesus Tweet?

Last week,  Dr. Holloway asked me to join in a discussion about Christianity and social media. There are so many questions to consider on this topic!

  • How can we, as Christians, most effectively make use of this new technology?
  • Why should we devote time to this stuff?
  • What are Christians supposed to say on Twitter… or Facebook… or Vine… or LinkedIn… or Google+… or YouTube… ?
  • How can I authentically share Christ online without seeming phony?
  • What if I’m not talking to the person I think I’m talking to?

This is just a very brief list of some of the things I considered talking about. And when we met, I realized I hadn’t even scratched the surface!

Drs. Holloway, Bashaw, Brown, and I met with a group of 7-10 students to discuss last Thursday.

As a communication studies scholar, I was planning to talk about the Internet’s power to reach an infinite number of people whom we would otherwise not have access to, and dispel some of the nasty rumors about talk online.

So that’s what I did.

I pointed out that online, you can find someone who shares your interest no matter how weird or random. You can even sometimes meet up with them to do your hobby together!

Photo Credit: dfarrell07 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: dfarrell07 via Compfight cc

I also mentioned that even though we have a stereotype of people sitting in their parents’ basement, in the dark, with no hope of a future, chatting online, it’s hardly ever like that.

Yes, there are scary people online, and sometimes they will stalk and/or hurt you, but not usually.

A darker side-effect of our online communication was something that Dr. Bashaw brought up: Our tenancy to be the meanest, least compromising parts of ourselves online.

Photo Credit: SpeakingJargon via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SpeakingJargon via Compfight cc

This is truly scary, and certainly not a Christian way of going about things, but we all fall into the trap now and again.

Mainly, it’s because you are anonymous online. In Communication Studies, we call this depersonalization – a fancy way to say that you don’t feel like the people you are talking to online are actually people with feelings, and you don’t think you will ever be confronted about saying something mean.

Obviously, in the time that Jesus was walking the Earth, they did not have to worry about tweets, or Facebook posts, or online comments. But I can’t help but think of the Pharisees here…

People who rarely got called out for their hypocrisy, and didn’t really care if they did? People who thought they were ALWAYS right, and didn’t worry about offending others?

…I’m sensing a parallel…

In Matthew 12, we learn of God’s teachings in regards to being careful about what you say.

How can you say good things when you are sinful? The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man will speak good things because of the good in him. A bad man will speak bad things because of the sin in him. 36 I say to you, on the day men stand before God, they will have to give an answer for every word they have spoken that was not important. 37 For it is by your words that you will not be guilty and it is by your words that you will be guilty.”

Can’t we think of online words like this too? Just because you can’t see a person on the other side of your screen does not mean that they aren’t there, or that they aren’t comparing all of your comments to that one time you mentioned that you are a Christian!

Sometimes it is hard to remember if you come from a Christian family and attend a Christian school, but there are people out there just waiting to catch a “self-proclaimed Christian” in a moment of weakness, frustration, hypocrisy, sin, etc.

Photo Credit: yewenyi via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: yewenyi via Compfight cc

It only takes one time, and the Internet is forever – put something online today, and it can come back to haunt you in 10 days or 10 years!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Internet is an awesome power that can be used for good or evil.

Monitor your posts of all kinds, and just maybe one or one million people will learn about Jesus through what you put online.

You don’t want to be thought of like this guy!


Jesus and The Duck Commander

Please allow me to clear the air… of gun smoke and duck feathers…

It would be hard to exaggerate the success of A&E’s Duck Dynasty and the seemingly boundless merchandising blitz which has followed the cable TV show as it soared to fame on riparian wings. All that DD regalia, posters, and plastic-ware making its way to the suburbs–to be snatched up by yuppies?

Phil Robertson couldn’t have dreamed it, wouldn’t have.

However, along the way Bible-waving and back pew-warming Christians alike have gotten caught up in a flock of heated discussions among themselves and with non-believers about whether Duck Commander Phil is a good role model and whether we should applaud or boo his direct-to-the-solar plexus, down-homey style of wit and simple life lessons, both on and off screen.

Don’t get your feathers ruffled, Jack, but… nobody’s perfect, including Papa Phil and the boys. best duck

Let’s not make them out to be more than men. If you’re looking for a paragon of human living, you have it… in our Lord Jesus Christ and the four gospel accounts of his model physical and spiritual life. And if you still want a TV show to further inspire you, watch that other Robertson’s The 700 Club (nonfiction).

Moreover, here are some things I don’t think Jesus would have done, even if he’d had his own reality TV program.

  1. He wouldn’t have lied (a staple in numerous DD storylines).
  2. He wouldn’t have broken the law (put in some DD episodes, just for laughs?).
  3. He wouldn’t have been contentious just for kicks (a dietary staple on DD, along with beef jerfy and black coffee).

Still… some ecstatically tout Willie’s dad and his counter-social homilies (Notice, I didn’t say anti-social) as what TV ‘art to be’ and give the show far too much credibility than sanity should justify, while others bemoan the right-wing conservative voices of a few multimillionaire duck hunters who just want to have fun and spread the gospel message on the second cable tier via A&E.  Have we no room left now for some down-home preaching and cooking, after enduring the Kardashian dynasty for so long?

Why have some Christians gotten more than a little quacked up over this?

front duck

After waiting so long for anything wholesome to watch on TV and eager to talk to somebody at church about what you saw last night, it’s hard not to get enthusiastic about this generally good hearted, G-rated TV show.

But it is just a show, right?  C’mon, say it with me… It is just a TV show.  Now that was easy, right?

So… shouldn’t I be saying something all pithy and academic about now?

I’m glad you asked! (I’ll take a quack at it.)

In their intriguing study, Nabi and Clark (2008) found that “negatively reinforced behaviors on TV may be modeled anyway” (p. 407), that is, despite, and perhaps even because they are negatively modeled. And a plethora of mass communication research on everything from sitcoms to movies to TV ads and even the so-called reality of news violence has bolstered our understanding over the decades that there is something inherently attractive and, unfortunately, more memorable about negative portrayals than positive ones (be it strong/suggestive dialogue, anti-social behavior, immoral lifestyles, physical conflict/injury, and even damage to property).

Pointing to Social Cognitive theory (SCT), Nabi and Clark remind us that “vicarious learning” (p. 409) is indeed prevalent among TV audiences. Echoing Kellner’s (1980) work, in which he warns that “[TV’s] imagery is. . . prescriptive as well as descriptive,” (p. 5),  Nabi and Clark’s research help us understand that what we view may ultimately become a guide for our own behavior thereafter. They point to Bandura (2002)  whose seminal work with children and violent behavior goes back to the 1960s (see “Bobo doll study“). In more recent studies, Bandura has explained in detail that four process guide how one’s “observational learning” and subsequent behavior are linked. And here I’ll succinctly apply it to DD fandom:

Bandura’s (2002) four processes are, in order:

  1. attention (watching the TV show with your undivided)
  2. retention (sharing it with friends and watching the reruns)
  3. production (doing as they do)
  4. motivational (why you like them)

By now you’ve surely convinced yourselves of some things I’ll need to clear up. No harm, no… foul. But let me get them off my bill :

  • So you’re anti-Phil Robertson? On the contrary, I sincerely admire his pluck in standing up for Biblical principles and against unrighteousness. I’m grateful for his mealtime prayer at each show’s conclusion, invoking the name of our Dear Lord Jesus. He is not, however, my idol.
  • So you hate Duck Dynasty? No, I’m not down on the Duck Commanders. Several episodes I’ve seen multiple times, and I look forward to more this year! But as a mass media academic, I enjoy taking some shots at it!
  • So you think merchandising is un-American? (Do you even know me? I’m thinking about getting someone a Valentine’s candy box with the Duck Commander and crews’ pictures on it. It don’t get more redneck, southern, all-American, Walmart than that, Jack!)

    left to right duck


Frank and Ace

It’s been an honor to share with you this semester.  Thanks for reading.  I wanted to leave you with a Christmas thought for this final entry.  Blessings to you all.  Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!


I’d just marked Thanksgiving off the calendar when suddenly Santa Clause and reindeer and wise men and shepherds marched into my neighborhood.  A plastic Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus even showed up across the street. But on this particular morning, none of the good cheer or “peace on earth, good will toward men” could penetrate my Scrooge-like armor.  This may have been because I’d just finished teaching Sunday school, and my wife was dragging me to Target to buy a gift for a bridal shower she was attending later in the afternoon.

I was hungry.  But Sharon was ready to shop. I feared lunch was going to be a long time away.

We entered the store and headed to the gift registry computer where Sharon typed in the bride’s name.  The machine spit out seven pages of possible gifts.  In situations like this, my buying strategy is simple. Get the list.  Locate the cheapest gift.  Buy it.

My wife’s approach is, of course, profoundly different.  First, Sharon examines the list and comments on the various items—“Oooh look, she wants sterling silver flat ware.  And steak knives with cherry wood handles.  Oh, and look at this, a Hamilton Beach blender . . . and she wants a red one!”

After commenting on each possible purchase, the browsing begins.  “We’re shopping,” she explains, “not hunting.”

I picture myself hunting.  I picture myself in the great outdoors cooking lunch over a campfire.

My wife’s voice pulls me back to reality.  “We’re looking for the perfect gift,” she reminds me.  Then she asks if I can hold the seven page printout and mark off the items we’ve examined so far.

About an hour into our excursion, my Sunday morning just-taught-Sunday-school smile was beginning to fade.  And when we finally approached the check-out line with our gift selection, I had only two thoughts left in my head: How much is this going to cost me and where are we going to eat?

We left the store and headed for a cafeteria down the street. We entered the restaurant only to confront a line winding around the aisle dividers reaching all the way to the front entrance.  I was not in a good mood.  A family near the front couldn’t make up their minds whether they wanted their fish baked, grilled or lightly breaded.  My stress level was escalating.  And then I heard a voice behind me.  I turned around and saw an older gentleman wearing a powder blue jump suit.  “I was trying to beat the church crowd,” he explained, “but I don’t think I made it.”  I acknowledged his comment by mumbling something indecipherable and then refocused my attention on the slow-moving line.  My plan was to ignore the man in the jump suit.  My wife, however, had other ideas.  Sharon turned around and struck up a conversation.

I listened half-heartedly.  And after about five minutes, Sharon asked the question.  She voiced it suddenly and without warning.  And it went something like, “Would you care to join us for lunch?”  Those eight words lined up like the box cars of a swiftly moving freight train, and before I could derail them, they rumbled over the tracks right past me.  But then something extraordinary happened.  I watched as the man in the powder blue jump suit grabbed each one of Sharon’s words and held onto them tightly.  The invitation was a treasure to him—a precious gift.

His name was Frank.  He’d been married twice.  He lost his first wife to cancer after 25 years of marriage.  And his second wife of 34 years had just passed away.  Her death had left him reeling.  I asked him if he went to church, and he said that he didn’t anymore.  He was having a rough time making sense of the loss.  And he was having a rough time making sense of God.  Then he said quietly, “You know, my boy—my only son—he told me the other day, ‘Dad, you just seem mad at the world.’”

I looked at Frank and wondered what it would be like to be 84 years old and suddenly alone, and during the Christmas season, no less.  The sadness that settled in my chest tightened its grip.

But then the conversation brightened.  I looked up and Frank had a smile on his face for the first time.  Sharon had asked him if he had any pets.  He did—he had Ace—a white miniature schnauzer.  “In fact,” Frank explained, “Ace goes everywhere I go.  He’s in my truck right now.  I leave the engine running with the air conditioner on to make sure he stays comfortable.  It eats up all the gas, but it’s worth it.”  The tone of his voice seemed almost cheerful, and his eyes danced a bit as he talked about his little white dog, the only companion he had left.

After lunch, we all walked outside, and Frank invited us to meet Ace.  When we got to the truck, he opened the driver’s side door.  There, with feet planted firmly on the leather seat, stood the little schnauzer.  Sharon reached out to pet him and Ace snapped at her hand.  She screamed and we all laughed.  Frank dared me to try.  I approached Ace with my hand outstretched in a non-threatening manner, the back of it turned toward him.  Ace sniffed my hand.  I felt smug.  But when I attempted to stroke his head, he went for me too, with bared teeth and a gutsy growl.

The little thing was protective.  But it made sense.  After all, Frank needed protecting—he’d been hurt and was suffering deeply.  As we said our goodbyes, Frank climbed into the truck, and Ace settled onto his lap.  Sharon smiled, waved gently, and said, “Merry Christmas, Frank.”  He looked at us one last time, and softly closed the door without saying anything.  I watched Frank back out of the parking space and drive away.  Suddenly I wanted to run after him—I wanted to yell out—“God loves you Frank.  No matter how mad you are.  No matter how far or fast you run, God’s love is running after you.  God’s love wears sneakers Frank, and that love won’t rest until it catches you.”  Sharon and I both stood in the parking lot until Frank’s truck was a distant speck on Loop 281.  Finally, Sharon took my hand and we walked quietly back to the car.

On the drive home, as we passed Christmas lights and nativity scenes, I thought about God—the giver of gifts.  And I pictured God commenting on each item on His gift list—meticulously choosing the best ones for us.  I pictured Him as a shopper, not a hunter. And I thought about that first Christmas 2,000 years ago when God gave us the ultimate gift—not under a tree but in a manger.  Not wrapped in red and silver paper but in swaddling clothes—“good news of great joy for everyone” (Luke 2:10).

So, Frank, if I could see you again, I would tell you, “God is so in love with you.  Accept His gift this Christmas.  Open it.  Embrace it.  A Savior.  The Lamb of God.  The Wonderful Counselor.  The Prince of Peace.  Peace, Frank.  Real peace.”



What is critical thinking?

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving thinking.

I know the definition states that critical thinking is an “art” but it utilizes scientific standards. Or did scientific standards come from critical thinking? Is critical thinking natural or cultivated? Both, I think. There are those who are by their very nature critical thinkers/problem solvers and others who are not. Critical thinking skills can be taught, learned and cultivated.

There are 8 elements to thought:

  • Purpose
  • Questions
  • Information
  • Interpretation and inference
  • Concepts
  • Assumptions
  • Implications and consequences
  • Point of view

Which when coupled with the universal intellectual standards …

  • Clarity
  • Accuracy
  • Relevance
  • Logicalness
  • Breadth
  • Precision
  • Significance
  • Completeness
  • Fairness
  • Depth

…Result in self-directed self improvement. To be a lifelong learner one must be able to evaluate and cultivate traits that promote intellectual humility, autonomy, integrity, courage, perseverance, confidence, reason, empathy, and fair-mindedness.

WAIT! Ummm… don’t those traits remind you of someone special? Someone who taught His pupils about loving God and loving others? Someone who bucked the system because it was leading people away from God? Someone who baffled the intellectual and religious leaders of his day when he was only 12 years old?

This week go through the gospels and read Christ’s teachings (you know the red writing) and look for the elements of thought the intellectual standards. Was Christ a critical thinker?