The Winners of the 25th Annual MovieGuide® Awards

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Each year for the past 25 years, MovieGuide® has held an awards show where they award films and television shows using a completely different set of criteria than most awards shows. While shows like the Oscars and the Golden Globes highlight films and television programs based on their artistic merit, MovieGuide® looks at the “moral and spiritual principles as well as… production values… movies that tell a story that is both redemptive and inspiring to their audiences.

I’m pleased to announce the winners of the 25th Annual MovieGuide® Faith & Falues Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry (gasp) which was held this past weekend at the Hilton Los Angeles / Universal City.

Once again, the results have not been easy to track down, and have been pieced together by scouring the social media accounts of people who were in attendance.

The 2016 MOVIEGUIDE® Awards Winners

Lifetime Achievement Award

Pat Robertson

The Epiphany Prize for Inspiring Movies & TV

The Epiphany Prize for Inspiring Movies & TV is awarded to popular, entertaining movies and television programs that are wholesome, spiritually uplifting, inspirational, redemptive and moral.

The Most Inspiring Movie of 2016

The Young Messiah

The Most Inspiring Television Program of 2016

Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors

Bradley Foundation Faith & Freedom Award

The Faith & Freedom Awards for Promoting Positive American Values are awarded for entertainment value, for craftsmanship, and for creating programming that is uplifting, moral, insightful, compassionate, and that shows America and its people in a positive light.

For Movies:

Hacksaw Ridge

For Television:

Operation Christmas

Best Movie for Families

Miracles from Heaven

Best Movie for Mature Audiences

God’s Not Dead 2

Grace Award for Most Inspiring Performance for Movies

Awarded annually to an actor or actress in a motion picture or television program who exemplifies God’s grace and mercy toward us as human beings through their outstanding performance.

Actress:

Melissa Joan Hart, God’s Not Dead 2

Actor:

Adam Greaves-Neal, The Young Messiah

Grace Award for Most Inspiring Performance for TV

Actress:

Faith Ford, The Bridge

Actor:

Devielle Johnson, A Time to Dance

And if I can take a moment to editorialize just a bit…

I feel like it’s important to note that while it’s not publicized on the MovieGuide® website, apparently box office also has something to do with the nomination process. Watch this video to hear MovieGuide® founder Ted Baehr say that there were so many worthy films this year that poor box office results might have kept some films from receiving a nomination. I find this odd considering that Ben-Hur, which only made about $26 million domestic, was nominated.

But this just highlights an issue I have with this awards show. While it’s certainly fine that MovieGuide® chooses to look at entertainment through a different lens than typical awards shows, their process for deciding nominees and winners is pretty opaque.

And so I’ll end this post by asking the three big questions:

Dear MovieGuide®:

Who decides the nominees?

Who decides who wins?

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, is it just a coincidence that your award statue is a crystal teddy bear and the founder of MovieGuide®’s name is Ted Baehr?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Thimblerig out.

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The 2017 Oscar Nominees

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The 2017 Oscar Nominees are in! What do you think about these nominations? Any big surprises? Any disappointing shutouts? Will La La Land make another sweep like they did at the Golden Globes, or will someone else step up and take a surprise victory?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. But meanwhile, here are your nominees…

Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel, Lion

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Cinematography

Arrival

La La Land

Lion

Moonlight

Silence

Documentary Feature

Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life Animated

OJ Made in America

13th

Best Documentary Short Subject

Extremis

4.1 mile

Joe’s Violin

Watami My Homeland

The White Helmets

Best Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Lead Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortenson, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Live Action Short Film

Enenemis Interieurs

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

Sound Mixing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

13 hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production Design

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Hail, Caesar!

La La Land

Passengers

Visual FX

Deep Water Horizon

Dr. Strange

Jungle Book

Kubo And The Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Costume Design

Allied

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Florence Foster Jenkins

Jackie

La La Land

Makeup and Hair

A Man Called Ove

Star Trek: Beyond

Suicide Squad

Original Score

Jackie, Mica Levi

La La Land, Justin Herwitz

Lion, Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

Moonlight, Nicolas Britell

Passengers, Thomas Newman

Original Song

“Audition” La La Land

“Can’t Stop The Feeling” Trolls

“City of Stars” La La Land

“The Empty Chair” Jim: The James Foley Story

“How Far I’ll Go” Moana

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

Manchester by the Sea

20th Century Women

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival

Fences

Hidden Figures

Lion

Moonlight

Animated Feature

Kubo And The Two Strings

Moana

My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Animated Short

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomi Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Film Editing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

La La Land

Moonlight

Lead Actress

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Ruth Negga, Loving

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Directing

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve

Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson

La La Land, Damien Chazelle

Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan

Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

Lala Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

 

 

 

 

 

American Cultural Christianity Roundup • the film edition • January 11, 2017

There have been several notable stories in the world of Christian-made film these past few days, and I wanted to summarize a few of them (and comment, of course) for my faithful readers.

1. The Case for Christ

Deadline ran a story this week about the upcoming PureFlix film, The Case for Christ, based on the successful apologetics book by Lee Strobel. The website ran the story with the provocative title, “‘The Case For Christ’ Teaser: Athiest Vs. Believers, From ‘God’s Not Dead’ Filmmakers

Three interesting points about this story.

First, the teaser trailer was actually released several months ago, but Deadline presented it as if it happened in the past week.

Second, while the title of the story is essentially correct, it does seem like Deadline’s editors are trying to stoke some sort of fires through the headline.

Third, I’m quite fascinated by the current trend in Christian-made filmmaking to take a popular book (even a nonfiction, largely non-narrative one like The Case for Christ) or song (see the other stories discussed in this post) and turn them into narrative movies. This seems like a studio mindset sort of thing to do, because it’s safe. Existing properties and familiar names are always the safer bet for box office returns, but doing this with songs seems to be a throwback to the 70’s and 80’s when it was done with some frequency in secular films (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Convoy, Take This Job And Shove It, Harper Valley PTA, Ode To Billy Jo, etc). But it’s something that has fallen out of fashion in recent years.

And while turning narrative books into movies is nothing new, examples of non-narrative books (like A Case For Christ) being turned into narrative movies are a bit harder to find. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying did it in the late 1960’s, Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* (But Were Afraid to Ask) in the early 70’s, and more recently, He’s Just Not That Into You.

The Case for Christ is a bit different in that the book does contain narrative elements, but the bulk of the book examines the arguments for and against the Christian faith. It’ll be interesting to see how this material is handled in a narrative film.

Meanwhile, if it is successful, maybe we’ll see faith-based filmmaking pick up this trend and make narrative films for other hit non-narrative books like The Prayer of Jabez or Mere Christianity.

2. I Can Only Imagine

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Speaking of turning songs into movies, the über-successful Christian song I Can Only Imagine is being turned into a motion picture starring Dennis Quaid, Trace Atkins, and Cloris Leachman.

 

For those who live on Mars, or outside the Christian bubble, I Can Only Imagine is a song that was originally released by the Christian supergroup MercyMe in 2001. The song imagines a person encountering heaven for the first time and being overwhelmed by the reality of being with God and loved ones for eternity. While I’ve enjoyed the song from time to time (even if it is arguably one of the most over-played songs in Christian music) I never dreamed that anyone would consider turning the song into a major motion picture.

I Can Only Imagine has a shelf life that other songs can only dream of. Here we are, over fifteen years after the song was initially released, and it remains in the iTunes top 10 Gospel and Christian song list.  The song has also been named the most played single in Christian radio history.

No wonder someone decided to make it into a movie.

To get an idea of where they will be taking this film (which apparently will tell the story of the writing of the song) you can read this article from Christian Post. That article details Bart Millard’s journey to write the song, and the film will undoubtedly explore that time of his life.

While I’m not terribly keen on the idea of turning a hit Christian song into a film, I’ve generally liked the work of the Erwin brothers in the past. So, I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve seen the final product, which is due to hit theaters in Spring 2018.

Now I just need to start working on that treatment for Lord, I Lift Your Name On High: The Film

[By the way, if any of my readers are in Oklahoma City, they are filming the last scene of the movie this Friday at the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall, and they’re looking for extras. Read more here.]

3. God Bless The Broken Road

The Hollywood Reporter recently posted a story about former NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson taking a role in another upcoming movie based on a popular song.

God Bless The Broken Road is also an interesting song-to-movie project, maybe even moreso than I Can Only Imagine, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the song is not a “Christian song”, but a country music song that is being turned into a film that falls into the “faith-based” genre.

Second, the original song (first recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt band, and more recently by Rascall Flatts) was called “Bless the Broken Road”, but the filmmakers added “God” to the title. A small adjustment to increase the appeal to the Big Christian Audience or a more complete title, considering the song lyric is “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you”?

Third, the film is being brought to us by various members of the God’s Not Dead team – director Harold Cronk, actress Robin Givens, producers Troy Duhon and Dustin Solomon, distributed by PureFlix. A filmgoer’s anticipation for this film might be directly impacted by that knowledge – in a good or a bad way – depending on their opinion of the GND movies. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what this team does with a non-GND property.

Fourth, the description of the film in IMDB ends by saying “…the film combines elements of faith, country music, and stock car racing while paying tribute to those who serve in the United States Military.”

Do these categories represent the new four quadrants in American Christian-targeted filmmaking?

4. The Ark Encounter

Finally, in a non-film related note, this past summer I was able to attend the grand opening of The Ark Encounter in Kentucky. I detailed that visit in a review of my experience which you can read here.

However, the folks at the Ark Encounter recently tweeted an announcement about a new display which will be opening soon.

Yes, it is a viscious dinosaur being released into an arena filled with excited fans, like Gladiator meets Jurassic Park. See my review of The Dinosaur Kingdom II for similar displays.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Sleep Isn’t Coming Easily This Christmas Eve

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It starts with Mohammed, the Somali refugee who drives for Uber to make ends meet. Mohammed, a father of four, drove us to our big fancy downtown Seattle hotel after the Christmas Eve worship service we attended at the fancy urban contemporary church. Mohammed, we discovered as we rode, has trouble getting work because of his status, and his wife also works to help support the family. He talked about living for eleven years in a refugee camp in Kenya before being shipped off to America, which he never asked to happen. And now, he drives Uber for eight to ten hours a day. It gets tiring, he says. And he looks tired, resting his head on the driving wheel when we get to a stop light.

After Mohammed dropped us off, we took a family photo by the Christmas tree in the fancy downtown Seattle hotel’s lobby and then went up to our room to watch A Christmas Carol and get the kids ready for bed.

And then there’s the fancy urban contemporary church we visited. This church is running a textbook operation. They had a flawless contemporary Christmas eve production with an extremely talented worship band and a funny and inspiring message from a hip young pastor.

But here’s the thing: nobody said anything to our family as we entered the church. No one said anything to us as we found a seat, and no one said anything to us as we put on our coats, made our way through the lobby, and then stood outside the church waiting to be picked up by Mohammed the Uber driver.

It was like we were never there. Like we were not a part of the production.

And then I think about the little country Methodist church we attended last weekend. This little mountain church was filled with so much blue hair that sitting in the sanctuary was almost like being blinded by the sky. The little church was the definition of unhip, with a definitively unslick musical production, an excruciatingly dull message about something blah-blah-Old Testament-blah from a 60-something pastor in 90’s era khakis, and a group of people who embraced us as if we were a part of the community.

Our kids were the only children in the church, but the childcare lady loved on all three of our children from the moment she saw us until the moment we dragged them away from her. Another family invited us to sled on their hill and eat some dinner, and a retired dentist/pilot invited us for a single-engine airplane ride the next day. Why? Because he loves showing people the area.

We were strangers, but not to these folks.

Finally, this Christmas Eve, I’m thinking about the manger. It always seems to come back to the manger, doesn’t it?

This started yesterday as I walked through the lobby of our fancy hotel, looking at all the elegant decorations, listening to the classic Christmas music, and considering all of the well-dressed shiny happy people sitting in lounge and lobby ordering $35 hors d’oeuvres and $100 bottles of Didier Dagueneau Silex.

As I looked at all of the comfort, wealth, and contentment, I couldn’t help but think about that blasted manger. Why couldn’t I just focus on “White Christmas” and “Santa Baby”? But I kept returning to that wandering Jewish family just looking for a place to shelter. Probably hungry, possibly thirsty, undoubtedly wondering where they could rest, and where they could have their baby.

They had to settle on a barn.

Suddenly, I’m back to thinking about that body of simple believers in the mountains who were more warm and welcoming than they should have been to a wandering family of strangers. They would have given us the clothes from their backs if we’d asked.

But I’m also back to thinking about that body of well-coifed and professionally prolific believers in the city, who were undoubtedly well-intentioned, but who didn’t seem to notice or care that they had a wandering family in their midst, even as they sang “Away in a Manger”.

I’m back to thinking about my family, taking a picture by the well-decked Christmas tree in the lobby of our fancy hotel. I think of my three children who are – even now – nestled sound asleep in their beds, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.

And I’m back to thinking about Mohammad, the refugee Uber driver, busting his butt to make ends meet and provide bread for his wife and four children. A man who wishes more than anything that he could just go back home where life made some sense.

Yes, this Christmas Eve, I can’t stop thinking.

And sleep isn’t coming easily.

Embracing Beauty • Day 28 • Appalachian Spring

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We’re getting to the end of my little experiment of embracing beauty, and it’s had its ups and downs. The main up has been the experience of being purposeful in seeking out beauty each day. As I wrote when I began this project, things had just become overwhelmingly ugly online – in large part thanks to the elections – and I had grown weary.

“Do not grow weary in well doing,” the Scriptures say, and so I decided to busy myself with some well-doing in the hopes that it would combat that weariness. And for the most part, it worked.

However, if there was a downer to this experience, it was that so few people joined me on it. I have quite a number of social media friends, and still, only a handful visited the blog over the course of the month. This is a bit of a bummer, not because I was hoping to become a viral sensation, but because I wanted to expose lots of people to beauty. Oh well, I can only hope that over time, people will find this series on their own, and that it will encourage and uplift the ones it is meant to encourage and uplift.

And if you are actually reading these words, then perhaps you will be encouraged and uplifted if you go back through these past few weeks and let the journey take you where it will.

And that brings us to today’s look at beauty. I decided to return to music today, as music plays such an important role in our lives, and a melody or lyric can have the unique power of transporting us across time and space. The piece of music that has that power over me, which I’m embracing today, is Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.

martha_graham_erich_hawkins_ppalachian_springA little history – Copeland wrote Appalachian Spring in the mid 1940’s for Martha Graham’s dance company. It premiered as a ballet in 1944 at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. as a piece for a smaller chamber orchestra. Copeland went on to expand the piece for full orchestra the next year. In 1945, Copeland won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for the piece.

I first discovered Appalachian Spring when studying for a music degree at King College in Bristol, Tennessee – in the heart of the Appalachian mountains – and the music wound up serving as a soundtrack for many of those days and nights. Even now, when I listen to it, I’m carried back to the rolling hills of north-west Tennessee and some of the best years of my life.

And so, I’m pleased and feeling a bit nostalgic as I present today’s example of beauty. Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring, played by the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Leonard Bernstein.

Stay tuned for more examples of embracing beauty, and please share this post with your friends! Let’s help spread beauty all over the internet.

Also, if you have an example of beauty that you want to share, drop me a line at info@thimblerigsark.com and I’ll be happy to include it!

Embracing Beauty • The First Week & Some New

Embracing Beauty • The Second Week & Some New

Embracing Beauty • Day 21 • The Third Week in Review

Embracing Beauty • Day 26 • Star Trek

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Embracing Beauty • Day 21 • The Third Week in Review

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This week brought us our final debate, which means that the end of the 2016 season is upon us. That is good news, except that the next two weeks are liable to be the ugliest of the last year and a half, if that’s possible. This is the time when we really need to be intentional in balancing the cynicism, the propagated fear, the muck-raking, the uncloseting of skeletons, and the overall general nastiness one thing that has the ability to overcome it all – beauty.

Last week, we explored and embraced a diverse sampling of beauty. If this is your first visit to the blog, enjoy a snapshot of the last week.

Embracing Beauty • Day 15 • The Bus Scene from Swiss Army Man

I first heard about The Daniel’s Swiss Army Man this summer when I was in Beverly Hills for the Variety Faith and Family Film Summit. I took a Lyft from my hotel to a nearby cinema to watch the new Star Trek movie, and the driver – a hopeful actor named Joe – shared that one of the benefits to living in Los Angeles is that you get exposure to all sorts of unique indy film experiences as well as the big blockbusters.

As an example, he told me about an indy film that he’d just seen, Swiss Army Man. Joe shared the unlikely premise, insisted that Daniel Radcliffe (famous for playing Harry Potter) demonstrated that he had acting chops like we wouldn’t have expected, and said that it was the most original and unique film that he’d seen in ages.

swiss-army-manConsidering that I was in town to discuss a genre that is not known for originality and uniqueness, my interest was piqued. I made a mental note to see the film when the opportunity presented itself.

That opportunity came last Friday, on my birthday. I had invited some friends over to watch the film, and while the film disappointed in some ways, in most ways it was a big success. I found myself both moved and confused, and all in a good way. I also agreed with Joe’s assessment all the way. It was absolutely unique, and Radcliffe was amazing.

It seems a bit obvious to say that the film is not for everyone, because that’s true of all films. In this case, I would say if you demand typical film fare, don’t have the stomach for discussions of bodily functions, and need your films to make immediate sense, this film is probably not for you.

Otherwise, I’d highly recommend it to mature audiences.

On Day 15, I shared a scene from Swiss Army Man that I found to be one of the most beautiful examples of effective filmmaking. I also found it worthy of note that this scene is the six minutes of filmmaking that Daniel Radcliffe is the most proud.

If you didn’t watch the bus scene on Day 15, give it a look now.

Embracing Beauty • Day 17 • “For the Beauty of the Earth” John Rutter

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about the past two weeks is when someone has made suggestions of beauty, suggestions that I otherwise would never have considered.

On Day 17, I featured one of those suggestions, from Lyndall Cave of Lacombe, Alberta, Canada. Lyndall actually wrote with two suggestions, and so you’ll be seeing that name again over the next two weeks. But the first suggestion that I took from Lyndall was for the choral work of composer John Rutter.

I was a music major in college, and I directed the student choir at my small Presbyterian college. And so I was very familiar with the work of John Rutter. But having lived overseas for the past fifteen years, and attending church in less traditional and formal settings for most of that time, I hadn’t thought about Rutter in years. It was nice to revisit his work, and to share one of his most famous compositions, For The Beauty of the Earth.

Embracing Beauty • Day 18 • Animated Short, Borrowed Time

I don’t have a lot to say about this day, except that you need to go and watch this short video if you haven’t. It’s a brilliant piece of animation.

Embracing Beauty • Day 19 • Unplug Part 2

You know, this is one of those things that we know we should do, but we’re just so hooked on looking at that screen. I know I am. I want to make a concentrated effort to not be looking on a screen as often as I can, and to notice the world right in front of me.

At first, I thought this was quite possibly the most beautiful idea I’d had this month so far.

But then I realized that it was only the second most beautiful idea.

Embracing Beauty • Day 20 • The Café

Unplugging in a nice little cafe, nursing a hot cup of coffee, nibbling on a homemade chocolate chip cookie, all while writing in an actual paper notebook or reading an actual paper book… this is the most beautiful idea to me right now.

As my friend Scarlett reminded me, having the ability to do this used to be mundane; a part of the daily grind if you will. But now that I have a family, the idea of relaxing anywhere in solitude warms the cockles of my introverted heart.

But in a cafe? Yeah, that would pretty much be the summit.

As a final example of the kind of cafe I’m talking about, I present the Vintage Emporium Cafe in London. These images were found in a Messy Nessy article, “10 Inspiring Cafés Around the World“.

Stay tuned for more examples of embracing beauty, and please share this post with your friends! Let’s help spread beauty all over the internet.

Also, if you have an example of beauty that you want to share, drop me a line at info@thimblerigsark.com and I’ll be happy to include it!

Embracing Beauty • The First Week & Some New

Embracing Beauty • The Second Week & Some New

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Embracing Beauty • Day 14 • The Second Week in Review

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We’ve hit the two week mark in our month of beauty, and so as I did at the end of the first week, I want to take a moment to reflect on the last seven days.

Day 8 • More Examples of Beauty in Music

My friend Karina has fantastic taste in music, and so when I asked her to share some of her examples of beautiful songs, it wasn’t a disappointment. On Day 8, we were able to enjoy some wonderful music, as well as a lovely perspective of France.

Her are a few other examples she sent.

Day 9 • Beauty goes Interstellar

On Day 9, we turned our attention to the heavens, and to the wonder and beauty that exists beyond the skies above, courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope. We saw some amazing images along with a beautiful score by Hans Zimmer from one of my favorite films of 2014, Interstellar.

Along those lines, I think this is a fitting companion piece: video footage from orbit, looking back at our beautiful world, along with the music of Brian Emo.

Day 10 • Unplug

When I realized that all of my examples of beauty were digital, or at least digital representations of real things, I concluded that I needed to encourage some independent unplugged searching for beauty. My challenge on this day was for everyone to put the devices down, take a walk in nature, have a cup of coffee with a friend where you don’t check your messages once.

I’ll extend that challenge again. Turn off your phone or your computer, get up, and go find beauty.

Day 11 • The Beauty of Family

This was one of my favorite days of the month so far. I put out the call to friends to send me favorite pictures of people who either are family by blood or by life experience, and I received dozens of beautiful photos of all kinds of different families. It was fun for me to see the extended relations of my friends, but also a good reminder of one of the most important things we’ve been given in life: community.

Head over to Day 11 and experience the beauty of family.

And since Day 14 of this challenge is actually my birthday, I want to celebrate with one more look at my beautiful family. So, if you will indulge me…

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Day 12 • Monet

On this day, we explored the works of one of the masters. And since Monet loved painting flowers, we also saw some beautiful flower photographs from Heim Studio in Russia. It’s too bad you can’t digitize scents, because flowers – while lovely to look at – are even more beautiful when you can smell them.

Here’s a famous Monet that we missed: Bouquet of Sunflowers (1881). Courtesy of The Met.

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Day 13 • Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber

We ended the week with another contribution from my friend Blythe, who sent in her favorite symphony, Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. It is a stirring and emotional piece, and a fitting addition to our examination of beauty.

To add to it, I wanted to share a choral version of the piece recommended to me by my friend Genevieve, performed by the King’s College Choir.

Stay tuned for more examples of embracing beauty, and please share this post with your friends! Let’s help spread beauty all over the internet.

Also, if you have an example of beauty that you want to share, drop me a line at info@thimblerigsark.com and I’ll be happy to include it!

Embracing Beauty • The First Week & Some New

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My Review of Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter Theme Park

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Welcome to The Ark Encounter, the Answers in Genesis Ark Park, located in Williamstown, Kentucky. The centerpiece of the Ark Encounter is the enormous Noah’s Ark replica, built 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, 7 stories tall, and reportedly the largest timber-framed structure in the world. The Ark Encounter is also one of the more controversial theme parks built in the United States in the last several years, largely because it is a government-supported tourist attraction with a decidedly religious focus and an end-of-the-day price tag of $172,000,000.

IMG_6062My family I visited the Ark Encounter on July 7, 2016, the park’s official opening day, with some friends. I wasn’t there as a life-long Answers in Genesis supporter, nor was I there as a life-long anti-AiG protestor. I was there because I love the story of Noah’s Ark, because we happened to be in-country and only seven hours away, and because I frequently write about the state of American Cultural Christianity on this blog. Visiting the new flagship of American Cultural Christianity (see what I did there?) on opening day seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, even at $40 a pop for my family of five (the baby was free).

But surprisingly, as I’ve been thinking about what to write regarding Ken Ham’s big boat built in the bluegrass backwoods, I’ve been struggling. Do I write a simple report of my trip? Do I tell my thoughts about the controversial displays – the dinosaurs in cages, the explanations of Young Earth ideology, the mannequins of Noah and his family?  Do I respond to the protestors who congregated around the exit from I-75, frustrated by AiG’s alleged non-scientific view of the origins of the planet, and who seem to have made it their mission to see the Ark Encounter fail as a theme park?

I decided not to delve into any of those topics, but rather, to give a simple list of the positives and negatives of this theme park as I see them, as I do when I review Christian films.

Positives about the Ark Encounter

1. The ark itself

AiG attempted to build a replica that was the size of Noah’s Ark according to biblical instructions (300 cubits by 50 by 30), and the scope of the project is stunning. It’s actually pretty difficult to describe what it’s like, standing underneath the replica, looking up at that massive stern. The experience really did bring the biblical account to life.

As you can see by the pictures, AiG’s attention to detail with the ark is unarguably impressive. When they could, the builders used very old shipbuilding techniques, a feat that must have been a massive undertaking. One can’t help but admire the craftsmanship and dedication that went into the construction of the replica ark, by people who – in many cases – were doing it as an expression of their Christian faith.

2. The “Fairy Tale Ark” and the living quarters displays

The Fairy Tale Ark display really caught my attention. This was a simple room filled with children’s books about Noah’s Ark. At first, I thought the room was going to be celebrating that the story is taught to children, but I quickly realized that the purpose of the room was actually to condemn the trivializing of the Noah’s Ark story.

I was completely caught off guard by this display, and it really resonated with me. For the longest time, I’ve been amazed that a story about the destruction of the world was often told as a children’s story, and even in Thimblerig’s Ark, my middle grade novel for which this blog is named, I tried to capture the seriousness of the flood and not make it cartoonish. I was glad to see that the AiG people felt the same way.

That being said, seeing what that room represented surprised me, considering how much Ken Ham and AiG disliked Darren Aronofsky’s incredibly mature Noah film, even devoting a two hour video review to critically dissecting the film. It’s been a while since I watched the review, but I think they must have at least appreciated that Aronofsky shared their serious approach to the event.

The second display that impressed me was found on the third deck, and it was the AiG representation of what the living quarters on the ark might have been like for Noah and his family. This was another section where an impressive amount of attention was given to detail, and a great deal of thought given to what life may have been like for people at that time.

Since one of the main complaints about Aronofsky’s Noah was that he took too many liberties with his film, AiG appeared ready to head off any criticism about their own filling in of details with a rather lengthy explanation of their view on taking artistic license with biblical material.

IMG_6217Here are some images of the living quarters, where you can see the craftsmanship and detail that went into the creation of the displays.

3. The tenacity of Ken Ham and AiG

Ken Ham and the AiG people fought doggedly for years to get the funding to build the Ark Encounter: They raised millions through private donations; they were determined to participate in a Kentucky tourism tax rebate program, going so far as to take the fight to court; they were persuasive enough to convince the little town of Williamstown to give them a break on property taxes and a very good deal on the property [edited]; and when the attempts to raise donations didn’t seem to be doing the job, they gave supporters and investors the opportunity to purchase high-risk bonds for thousands of dollars a pop, and supportive investors apparently turned up in droves to do so. atheiststoAiG_zps5c32d784When their detractors were celebrating the project’s demise, Ham and company kept working, and they ended up having the last laugh as the park opened on July 7.

Say what you will about Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (and there’s plenty of people out there saying plenty of things!), but you have to admire their determination and tenacity to tell the story they want to tell in the face of massive opposition (even if they do go too far in response from time to time).

And I should say that as a Christian, I can’t argue with the desire of the folks at AiG to expose as many people as possible to Gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus said:

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Creating something like the ark does draw people in (although I question Ken Ham’s claim that 40% of attendees will be non-Christians – most non-Christians I know aren’t the least bit interested, and most of my Christian friends are only moderately interested), and the Ark Encounter might very well result people coming to faith in Christ.

After all, Scripture has story after story of God using unexpected and sometimes even foolish means to accomplish His ends. In this case, even though the secular society sees something like the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum as complete and utter foolishness, and many authentic Christians agree with that assessment, as a Christian I can’t discount the possibility that God can use these things to bring people into a relationship with Himself.

More about that later.

4. The Ark Encounter’s economic potential

I’m not sure if this section should go in the positives or negatives, but I’ll go ahead and add it as my last positive. A segueway into the negatives, if you will.

Kentucky has one of the worst state poverty rates in the country, and Williamstown is among the lowest for any town anywhere. Having a major tourist attraction in this region could potentially help the economy in the long run, and this was one of the big selling points that Ham and AiG used to get the state and the town onboard with the controversial tax rebates and interest-free loans. The Ark Encounter’s sister attraction, The Creation Museum, helps make the case as the attraction has drawn nearly three million visitors in its nine years of operation, and having the two attractions so near to one another is a draw for many people who might not come to Kentucky otherwise.

Furthermore, Ken Ham has stated multiple times that the Ark Encounter could potentially bring a couple of million visitors in its first year alone. Having said that, it should be noted that others claim that those high numbers were purposefully inflated to make the park more attractive to investors. Whether or not it was purposeful, I can’t say. But unfortunately, with only 30,000 people reportedly visiting in the first six days, it doesn’t look like the end result will be anywhere near a couple of million.

That being said, my family must have spent close to $1000 in travel, lodging, food, and the Ark during our four day excursion, and there were hundreds of families at the Ark Encounter on opening day. That’s a lot of money injected into the area. Critics counter this idea by pointing out that the Ark Encounter has taken money away from the state through lost tax revenue and interest payments on that huge loan, and that it will be years before that loss becomes a gain for the local economy. And if the Ark Encounter fails, it will never be a gain.

This is a very complicated issue, and you can read a detailed account of it here, and the Answers in Genesis point of view here, and then you can make the decision for yourself.

Negatives about the Ark Encounter

  1. The displays

Other than the two displays already mentioned, most of the displays were pretty underwhelming. I saw posters explaining the AiG interpretation of Scripture, the AiG explanation of how the earth could be 6,000 years old, supported by a few television-sized video monitors. I also saw a few exhibits demonstrating what life might have been like on the ark for Noah and his family. There were also several fake animals in cages (including the infamous dinosaurs… I didn’t see the unicorns), but they didn’t really do anything, so they weren’t terribly interesting.

Considering that Ken Ham was bragging that the Ark Encounter would compete with Disney and be “beyond Hollywood”, and furthermore that he continually emphasized that the park had been designed by the person who had designed the Jaws and King Kong rides at Universal Studios, I was expecting more bang for my $160 bucks. See, the park is heavy on attempts to proselytize visitors and educate them about Creation theory, but extremely light on entertainment.

I’m assuming that as time goes by, more displays will be added, but they need to be more than just posters on the wall or the odd mannequin. The ark needs to be a dynamic, moving place to visit, and they shouldn’t just rely on visitors being impressed by a big boat, because that wears off quickly and won’t bring people back. I know that AiG has plans for a Tower of Babel, a first century village, a theater, and other things, but right now the Ark Encounter needs to bump up the entertainment factor if they want their numbers to be sustained.

Here are some simple ideas that AiG can use for free: (1) have actors wandering the decks in costume and in character, interacting with visitors. (2) Have much more multi-media, maybe even 4-D films that help you to experience what it would have been like to be in the flood. (3) since AiG loves dinosaurs so much, use Ken Ham’s Aussie connections to get dinosaur puppets from Erth to be a part of the experience.

The bottom line? There are a thousand things AiG could do to make the Ark a “must-see” park for everyone and not just believers, who are currently the only ones interested in visiting. Part of that is to make the place entertaining as well as informative. After all, it’s not the Creation Museum, so loosen it up a little! Make the experience more immersive and interactive and maybe even add some levity and fun, and even I might be convinced to return.

2. The sole focus on apologetics as ministry

As I walked around looking at the displays, I kept my eyes open for anything that would indicate that there was any sort of charitable component to the Ark Encounter, this ministry that was taking so much money to build.

IMG_6235Perhaps a portion of the ticket sales would go to help the poor in Kentucky? Maybe AiG would give you the opportunity to donate to help build schools or hospitals in some developing country as you buy your official Noah’s Ark cubit in the gift shop for $19.99 a pop?

Surely there would be something in this Christian theme park that reflected the charge of a Christian to help the poor?

But I saw nothing, and while it did disappoint me, it also didn’t surprise me. After all, as I said before, the Ark Encounter is for-profit, and after operating costs, every dime that is spent on visiting the Ark Encounter will undoubtedly go to pay back the massive 68 million dollar interest-free loan that was given to AiG by the city of Williamstown (which – interestingly – has a poverty level of 18.3%) and to return the investment given to those who purchased the bonds. This certainly makes business sense.

But does it make ministry sense?

3. The evangelistic component

Along those lines, I’ve said multiple times that I admire that Ken Ham and AiG have placed such a high priority on their projects sharing the Gospel. They have put an impressive amount of time and energy into building what they call “one of the greatest Christian outreaches of this era of history.”

But having visited the Ark Encounter, having walked the halls, examined the displays, and seeing what they have to offer, I can’t help but question how much of an impact this outreach will have on non-believers.

I’ve spent the past couple of days scouring the internet for any examples on non-believers visiting the ark, and in that time I’ve seen several reviews from visitors whose views weren’t in line with AiG when they visited. Reading their reviews seemed to indicate that none of them were convinced of anything afterwards, even after they were treated very respectfully by Ark Encounter and AiG employees.

This led me to expand my search for any skeptics who had been convinced by the Creation Museum, since it has been around for nine years. I found plenty of negative reviews by Atheists and Christians alike (here, here, and here – just to show a few), and I did find a couple of anecdotal examples of children from Christian families telling their parents that they wanted to follow Jesus as a result of visiting the museum, but I didn’t find any stories of skeptics or non-believers having any sort of change of heart from their visit to that attraction.

Sadly, if anything, the argument could be made that the typical response of non-believers to the Creation museum was having their skepticism reinforced by the visit. Watch this video for an example (and there is a bit of salty language):

The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter both seem to suffer from the same problem that plagues most of the Christian films I review. They want to be evangelistic, but their impact outside of the faithful appears to be negligible.

Incidentally, I freely admit that I could be wrong about this. There could be scores of people who have come to faith as a result of their experiences with the Creation Museum, and there could be scores who will because of the Ark Encounter. If so, and if someone would like to provide evidence that I’m wrong about the evangelistic impact of the Creation Museum on skeptics, then I’ll gladly retract this point and have my positives outweigh my negatives.

4. The Cost

While I admire the tenacity, determination, and heart for evangelization of the people behind the Ark Encounter, I’ve also struggled with the fact that they are doing an Ark Encounter at all. Such a huge sum of money for building a theme park? My struggle finally came to a head one morning last May when I opened Twitter and found an AiG Tweet touting the benefits of building a Noah’s Ark theme park right next to a Tweet from J.K. Rowling’s charity Lumos, talking about their push to raise money to help orphans.

Seeing the two money-raising efforts side-by-side took my breath away. On the one hand, as a Christian, I respect AiG’s effort to share the Christian faith. On the other hand, as a Christian, I’m horrified that believers have struggled and fought and spent years raising an enormous amount of money to build a for-profit theme park replica of Noah’s Ark.

And it warps a part of my brain that it’s been done in the name of Christian ministry.

At this stage in the project it may be a tired argument (although I wouldn’t call it a stupid argument, as some have), but I can’t help but think what else could have been done with that money that might have had even more of an impact, if not on propagating the Creationist viewpoint, at least in sharing the Gospel and demonstrating a valuable apologetic, by meeting the physical needs of the poor and sick.

For example, over on Twitter, @branthansen wrote this:

Brent’s Tweet represents the heart of my struggle.

But didn’t Jesus command his followers to make disciples and to teach? Isn’t that what the Ark Encounter is doing?

As I said before, Answers in Genesis claims to have obeyed that command by building the Ark Encounter, and they have a point. People visiting the park will be exposed to the biblical teaching that the world is a damaged place, and that Jesus’s life, ministry, and death on the cross is the answer to fixing the damage.

At the same time, Jesus also said this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 8.05.51 AM

So, what do we do with this? First, some counter arguments:

1. Giving to the poor is not AiG’s wheelhouse. After all, AiG’s stated mission is to help people learn how to defend the Christian faith, and building an attraction like the Ark Encounter is one way to go about doing that.
2. God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills”, and $172 million dollars is nothing to Him. As a friend wrote to me, “If Ham spends $100M on a colossal mistake, God is not one dime the poorer, nor are His plans set back by a day.”
3. I don’t personally know the Ark Encounter supporters, investors, or AiG employees, and I don’t know what they do with their private money. For all I know, they give more in a month then I give in a year, and the money given to AiG was on top of their already generous contributing to all sorts of worthy charities.
4. Christians should never endeavour to do big things for large sums of money? What if a Christian filmmaker successfully raised $172,000,000 to make a big blockbuster film? Would that make me “struggle”?

These are all good questions, and all good points. But they don’t change the fact that this sort of money raised in a for-profit ministry venture makes me uncomfortable, especially when there is so much need in the world.

And it leads me to ask the question: Would Jesus build an Ark Park, or would he turn over the tables in the gift shop?

I don’t know the answer. I really don’t know.

My final thought on the Ark Encounter: would I recommend a visit?

Christian or not, the ark itself is magnificent and is really something to be seen. But considering the cost of a ticket, there needs to be more going on to make it worth the expense, especially if you’re bringing a family. Once the park gets the zip lines up and running, once they get a few more (hopefully entertaining) displays in the ark, once they get a few more animals in the petting zoo, I’d say give it a go.

This is true, even if you’re not a Christian, or if you are a Christian but not a young-earth Creationist. Just be prepared to talk to your kids about what they will see, and to talk about why they will be seeing it. It can lead to some really interesting conversations about different belief systems, and different ways of interpreting Scripture. And yes, Bill Nye, it can even lead to discussions about science.

At least it did with my kids!

And if you do decide to go, and you agree with me on the charity/cost issues, then do the job that AiG should be doing and donate a matching amount to the tickets you purchased to a worthy charity of your own choice, preferably one that works in Kentucky.

I’d recommend a charity like the Christian Appalachian Project.

Thimblerig’s Interview • Phil Vischer, Creator of Veggietales

PVP_card_squareThe Phil Vischer Podcast is one of the few podcasts I listen to consistently. I love the thoughtful conversations about important topics, the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere created by hosts Phil Vischer, Skye Jethani, and Christian Taylor, and the humor. There’s a lot of laughter each week, and considering all the difficulty and trouble in the world, a good dose of laughter is a welcome addition.

Phil is best known for creating Veggietales, as well as for voicing many of the characters on that long-running video series. He has an amazing story, and you can read about it in his fantastic book, Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables. I’ll also link a video from Biola University at the end of the interview, where you can watch Phil talk about the rise and fall of Big Idea Productions. It’s well worth your time. 

I’m so grateful that Phil agreed to take a few minutes to answer some questions so that readers of this blog can get to know him better. I highly recommend that you give his podcast a listen, and also consider joining Phil and the gang in supporting their new Patreon page so Phil can do all sorts of new and fun things!

Phil, most people know your work, even if they might not know your name. Why don’t we start with a little bit about who you. Who are you and where do you come from?

aboutHi, I’m Phil!  I was born in Muscatine, IA, moved to the suburbs of Chicago when my parents split up while I was in junior high, and now live in the vicinity of Wheaton, IL with my wife and two youngest kids.  I make stuff.  Vegetables, puppets, Bible-teaching videos, podcasts and such.  I used to think of myself as a filmmaker, but now I really think of myself as a communicator.

Can you tell us some of the folks who have influenced you the most creatively?

Walt Disney and Jim Henson, obviously.  (Animation and puppets!)  But also Monty Python and the films of Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson, the Coen brothers and Tim Burton.  I tend to favor witty Brits for some reason.  (Terry Gilliam’s bizarre British children’s film Time Bandits was a huge influence on me.)

How about your spiritual or theological influences?

C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton (I tend to favor witty Brits), as well as N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Henry Blackaby and A. W. Tozer.

What are your top three favorite films, and why?

That’s tough.  Three films that I love … Gilliam’s Time Bandits, Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou and The Hudsucker Proxy.

Speaking of films, we talk about Christian films quite a bit on the Thimblerig’s Ark blog. What are your thoughts on the state of the faith-based film industry and where do you see it heading in the future?

We seem to be in the same position as the Christian music industry in the mid-1970s.  Sales were growing and artists started to realize that Christian music was something you could actually do for a living.  Like – for real.  That brought a huge influx of new artists, expanding the industry greatly through the 1980s and into the 1990s.  New record labels, better distribution, higher quality production, more talented artists.  By the late 1990s, Christian music was so good that new artists realized they could sign with secular labels and pursue much broader audiences.  They didn’t need the Christian cocoon to survive, and so Christian labels began to atrophy even as Christian artists made more impact on the world.  This same dynamic could be happening now with Christian film, where suddenly it appears that Christian filmmaking is a viable business.  Right now we’re building the Christian infrastructure (marketers, distributors, financiers).  But ultimate success would be to discover we no longer need distinct Christian infrastructure – that Christian filmmakers are proficient enough that they can move seamlessly in the secular film industry.  That’s a ways out still, but it’s a good goal.

You obviously know your way around family-friendly entertainment, but considering that the Bible is often not very family-friendly, can a Christian artist create content that is not family-friendly without compromising his or her faith? If so, how would you recommend they go about it?

THP3254Sure – there’s a fair amount of non-family-friendly art created by faithful Christians.  I’m thinking of horror films in particular.  Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the two Conjuring films are two examples of Christian filmmakers succeeding in bringing their point-of-view to art that will never get shown in churches.  The fact that horror films are the example shows something very important:  There has to be an audience for the stories you want to tell.  Scott Derrickson in particular made Emily Rose because it represented an intersection between stories of faith and stories that the world was interested in seeing.  Exorcism.  Horror films are easy to market.  Just like Kendrick brothers films are easy to market.  A non-family-friendly faith film in another genre might be much, much harder.

Turning to your podcast, “The Phil Vischer Podcast” has been one of my favorite podcasts for the past couple of years, although I’m still not a fan of the ukulele. What made you decide to start a podcast, and what have been your biggest challenges as you’ve sought to build your audience?

I can’t answer your question until you apologize to my ukulele.  He’s crying in the corner right now.  I was having these interesting conversations in my head (I’m an introvert), and sometimes at Q&A sessions with college kids after speaking.  I thought I should share those conversations with more people.  As for building an audience, we haven’t really done anything.  As a result, our audience isn’t terribly huge!  But it’s still fun.

Recently, you celebrated your 200th podcast episode. Congratulations! Having started my own podcast that lasted all of five episodes, I know that 200 episodes is quite the accomplishment. On that episode you talked about your new Patreon crowd funding account. Can you talk about what led you to creating the Patreon page, and what some of your plans for using the support you raise?

maxresdefaultI got to the point where the podcast probably needed to get more organized if it was going to continue – which meant I needed a little help.  Which meant I needed to pay someone for that help.  Which meant there needed to be a source of income.  We’ve talked about sponsorship before, and may still do that, but Patreon was a better first step.

Do you have any final advice for Christians looking to get involved in the entertainment industry – Christian or otherwise?

Just do it.  Make stuff.  It’s really easy to make stuff, develop a sensibility and a voice.  Use YouTube and Vimeo and iTunes to get your work out there.  The key is to begin making stuff for zero or near zero budget to see if your sensibility can attract an audience.  If the first thing you want to make is a $40 million feature, forget about it.

What are the best ways people can follow you (Twitter, Facebook, etc)?

Yes and yes!  Go to philvischer.com.  Sign up for my emails.  I’ll then follow YOU all around with email!

Twitter:@philvischer
Facebook: /PhilVischer

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Phil!

You’re welcome!  Keep on rigging your thimble!

That we will, Phil. That we will.