Keep At It

I don’t have anything profound to say today.

Just… keep at it, y’all.

Keep at it.

Life in China is returning to normal

Took the family for a walk to the grocery store. Got some Subway for Noah and some tofu soup for Koolyash. My daughter went on a dinner date with a boy. She’s still out now, and I’m readying my shotgun.

And social distancing seems to be a thing of the past, if this restaurant we passed on our walk is any indication.

Maybe it’s some form of PTSD, but I still can’t compute that things could be returning to an actual normal, but that does seem to be what’s going on here. If not for the ever-present masks and the constant temperature checks, nothing would be out of the ordinary on the streets of Shenzhen.

And I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I do want to remind you that it took us two months of strict social distancing, staying at home, and quarantine to get us to this point.

We did it. You can do it.

Onward!IMG_7090

Netflix and Chill

Here’s a big difference between living in China during COVID19 and seeing the virus running amok in a place like America:

Actually hearing about the people who are dying.

I never heard a thing in China. I never knew anyone with the virus, I never heard about people who had the virus, I never knew anyone who knew anyone whose lives was impacted by the virus in a direct way. I saw the numbers, but I didn’t see one social media response from anyone who was experiencing the loss of a loved one to the virus.

Now, I’m hearing about it.

Now, I know someone who has lost someone to the virus.

Now, I’m seeing on social media where people are losing family to the virus.

Now, I know people who are working the front lines, people who are working with people who may potentially have the virus.

Now, suddenly, after two months, it’s become a real thing.

People are dying, and we’re going to be hearing more and more about it. More messages about uncles and aunts and grandparents.

And it sucks.

And it makes what the rest of us are doing that much more important:

Staying at home.

Such a simple thing, staying at home. We watch some movies, we do some internet learning, we make some cookies.

But it will have such a profound effect.

It will literally save lives.

Who would have thought that binging Netflix would actually be a socially responsible thing to do?

But that is what 2020 has brought us. Netflix and chill. Netflix and chill and chill and chill and chill.

And after we’ve chilled enough, maybe this thing will have passed. We will lose people along the way, but maybe not near as many as would have lost otherwise.

Netflix and chill.

Podcasts and COVID19 and living in an outbreak

For the last few weeks, before COVID19 made its grand appearance on the American shores, I’d spend my days on the streets of Shenzhen, walking (to boost my immunity) and listening to podcasts. The hosts would talk about the mundane things that podcast hosts talk about, and it was such a relief. It took me out of the world of COVID19 and into the world of the mundane. It was one of the things that kept me sane.

Today I went for a walk, listening to the latest editions of my favorite podcasts. They were all podcasting about being in the heart of the outbreak.

Every. Single. One.

It transported me back to several weeks ago when I was feeling what they are talking about now. What you are experiencing now.

I didn’t like that feeling.

Things are getting better here. They’re talking about schools reopening. The streets are crowded. Crowded with masked people, but they are crowded. I went to the grocery today and rode the bus home. The entire busride home I had to cough, but I suppressed it, because everyone still has the virus in the backs of their minds. But there were lots of people on the bus. That wasn’t the case a few weeks ago.

And the whole time, the podcasts in my headphones were talking about just entering the just-stay-home lifestyle and keeping six feet distance and a lack of toilet paper.

A few weeks ago I talked about things being surreal. We’ve just entered Surreal 2.0.

It’s like I’m a time traveller. I’m from the future. I’m experiencing your present while living in the future, which is your future if you play your cards the right way.

I’m really not sure where this post is going, except to tell you to stay the course. If you stay the course, you’ll be emerging from this thing a few weeks from now, just like we are. You’ll see life returning to normal, just like we are. The only difference is that the podcasts you listen to will be returning to normal at the same time and not be on some time-travel delay.

Trust me. That will be a good day.

Stay the course.

Just stay the course.

Dealing with Anxiety during the COVID19 Outbreak

90566155_10219262275605877_6682479335980400640_nIt’s interesting to see how different people respond differently to a situation like this. Over the course of the two months we’ve been living with the outbreak here in China, each member of my family responded differently.

My wife has been relatively unfazed and upbeat, cleaning and re-cleaning the house and going to climb the local mountain with friends (all while maintaining the proper distance). My teenage daughter wrapped herself in a cocoon of keeping up with online schoolwork, chatting with friends on WeChat, and watching and rewatching The Office (comfort tv for her). My six-year-old has been in heaven. Getting to stay in his pajamas while doing his online schoolwork? Spending more time with family? Getting to play a lot of Minecraft? It’s a dream come true for the little guy.

And me? I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with my old friend, anxiety.

So, I know that this post will be hitting each of you in a different place. Some of you are handling it well, some of you have good days and bad days, some of you are not are not handling it well at all.

Looking back, I know I have not handled it well. So I’m talking to you as a person who frequently was unable to do the things I’m suggesting, but now wish that I had.

First of all, understand that it’s okay.

It’s okay if you are feeling anxiety or stress or an ongoing sense of panic. You’re sailing uncharted waters, with sharks off your bow, and storm clouds on the horizon. The fact that you are anxious is coming to you direct from your lizard brain, and your lizard brain wants to protect your lizard body at all costs. It’s okay.

You just need to get aquatinted with your anxiety.

81-xAaqioELWe have a children’s book called Anh’s Anger, about a boy who gets irrationally angry at his grandfather, who tells him to go to his room and sit with his anger. The boy goes to his room and his anger manifests itself as a wild looking creature. Over the course of the book, the boy comes to terms with his anger, which grows smaller and smaller and finally disappears as the boy comes to accept it.

So be okay with your anxiety. Come to terms with it. Accept it. Understand what’s going on with your body and why it’s responding with anxiety. Knowledge is power, right? To this end, I would highly encourage you to listen to The Happiness Lab podcast (https://www.happinesslab.fm/), which explores the science behind well-being.

But give yourself room to be anxious.

Second, and closely connected to the first, soak yourself in grace.

Grace for those staying home with you, grace for yourself, grace for everyone.

There have been times over the past two months that I wanted to toss each member of my family out of the window, and it was usually for something really minor and inconsequential. Spending so much time in a house together when you’re not used to spending that much time together in these uncertain times can lead to irrationality and short tempers. So be intentional about giving each other a break.

But again, this is about you dealing with your anxiety, so give yourself a break.

For example, forgive yourself if you indulge from time to time. You’re in uncharted waters, and if something will bring you a little comfort, give yourself a break. Just don’t learn to depend on that thing.

Because there’s a good chance you’re going to be tempted to depend on poor choices to help get you through this time. Comfort foods, comfort routines, comfort adult beverages, comfort smokes… be aware of what you’re doing, and ask yourself if these choices are helping your anxiety go away or just numbing it for a while, leaving it to come back even stronger.

I say this knowing how poorly I’ve fared in the poor choice department. I’m not going to go into all the skeletons I’ve installed in my closets these last two months, but I will confess this. Prior to the outbreak, I had been working really hard to avoid certain foods as a way to lose weight and work on my blood pressure. I don’t know how many times during this thing I’ve been at the store, seem an item I really shouldn’t be eating, and said to myself, “Hey! I deserve this! I stayed in China during the outbreak!”

Just be aware that “the you when this thing is over” will want to be proud of the way “the you experiencing this thing” handled it. Eating a whole bag of tortilla chips in one sitting (which I have done) will not make the future you proud.

But, give yourself a break if you do. Move on. Nothing to see here.

Third, be intentional on the way you spend time with your anxiety.

When I was trying to come to terms with my anxiety last fall, a good friend recommended meditation. As a Christian, I’d grown up knowing about prayer, but meditation? It’s not something most Christians do, although it is mentioned in Scripture several times.

meditationvFor me, it came down to breathing. Sitting in a quiet place and breathing. My least anxious moments of the day are when I’m doing this, and sometimes it can last for an hour or more (that’s the thing – we have time these days, don’t we?). If you are a Christian you can incorporate reading scripture and prayer into this practice, and it can really be helpful physiologically and spiritually.

I had an interesting experience last night. I had been unusually anxious for the latter half of the day, and when I went to bed, anxiety went to bed with me. Anxiety kept waking me up over the course of the night. I would sleep for an hour or two and then wake up being anxious about everything going on, and anxiety wouldn’t let me go back to sleep.

I breathed. I prayed.

I prayed a simple prayer over and over until anxiety and I both finally drifted off back to sleep: “Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over and over. This simple practice was all I needed to loosen anxiety’s hold on me.

Fourth, take care of yourself.

What can you to do improve the mood of the place where you are isolating? For me, it’s lighting. I’m a lamp guy, and so we have lamps set strategically all over the house. Also, candles. I have a candle burning by my work station constantly, and the flickering flame brings me quiet joy.

But not just inside, get outside (all while practicing responsible social distancing, of course)! Go for walks. Ride your bike. Don’t just hunker down in your house with your lamps and candles as if there were a giant rampaging dinosaur destroying the city outside or the zombie apocalypse had happened and they’re trying to figure out how to eat your brains. The good thing about this virus is that you can go out! Take advantage of what exercise, fresh air, and sunlight can do to help keep anxiety manageable. It’s also good for boosting your immune system, which ain’t a bad thing to do these days.

Fifth, stick with facts.

Don’t allow yourself to go down rabbit holes of conspiracy or conjecture or sensationalism. Understand the science behind what is happening with this virus, making sure you’re getting that science from reliable sources. Understand the reality of this situation in your community and how you can best respond to your specific context and situation. Understand what you can do to be proactive in not getting the virus and not accidentally passing it on to a host of others. Stay home. Social distance. Flatten the curve.

You can still go to the store and shop, but understand the precautions you need to take when you do.

Knowledge is power, and it’s amazing what good knowledge can do to help fight irrational (or even rational) anxiety.

9781250231987-usI would also recommend “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling. I read this book when the outbreak first began, and it really helped me get a grip on the anxiety I was feeling at that tense time. About where you are now, as a matter of fact.

Ya’ll, we are going through something unprecedented, something that our grandchildren will read about in their history books. Anxiety has every right to come for a visit.

But you have the right to tell anxiety when it’s time to go.

I hope this post has helped some of you do that a little bit better.

Onward!
Nate

PS – I am no anxiety expert, and so I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this subject.

Also, I know that some people have clinical depression and anxiety, and simply lighting a few candles and taking a jog won’t do the job. But still, I think some of these ideas could help. I hope they do!

 

Credo: The Birth and Graduation of Mr. Peanut

WechatIMG2887My son Joshua graduated from high school yesterday.

Even as I write those words, I feel equal parts pride and devastation. It seems like only yesterday that we were going camping with his Boy Scout troupe in the mountains outside of Chengdu. It seems only yesterday that I was watching him play on the playground with his little sister. It seems like only yesterday that he was laying beside me at bedtime reading Dr. Seuss.

But time works that way, doesn’t it? The more you want it to slow down, the faster it goes. And now time has delivered me a high school graduate, who is about to embark on his own life, largely independent of the rest of us. I know he’s ready for it. I know that I’m not. And I know it doesn’t make a hill’s bit of difference that I’m not, because that’s the way time works.

In honor of this change in our lives, I want to post something I wrote shortly after he became our first born. Eighteen years ago everything changed for us much like everything is about to change for us again. Eighteen years ago we welcomed Josh into our world, and soon we’ll be hugging him goodbye as he makes his way into the wider world.

As I said, proud and devastated.

Credo: The Birth of Mr. Peanut

He looks at me.  He’s only minutes old, so I know that he doesn’t really know what he’s looking at – probably all he sees is a big nose with eyes.  Maybe that’s why he cries.  But, he’s here – in my arms.  I’ve waited for this moment for the eternity of the last nine months, and it’s hard to believe, but he’s here.

Months earlier, we’re home from Kazakhstan, walking down East Main street in Louisville, Kentucky. She wants tomato juice.  Needs tomato juice.  Will go crazy if she doesn’t have tomato juice.  And then, after I’ve run down to the corner market and returned with a bottle of tomato juice, she gulps it down and then vomits.  That’s when I start to suspect that he might be on his way.

The doctor rubs some clear goopy looking substance on her belly.  It takes me a few moments, but I finally see him for the first time, realize that he is actually there, and that he looks like a peanut.  “He looks like a peanut,” I say to the doctor.  “Is that normal?”

Not long after, we’re back in Kazakhstan.  It’s ultrasound time again.  We sit in a dark Kazakh hospital corridor that overflows with women who all have to pee.  Desperately.  By doctor’s orders. I don’t recall having ever felt so empathetically uncomfortable in all of my life. I have to pee, too, but I don’t dare.

Our number is called and we’re ushered into a dark room serviced by two unsmiling ultrasound operators who are so unpleasant that it seems like they also have to pee but cannot. They spread the goop and there he is again. A bit larger, but still a peanut. He’s amazing.

“You have to calm down or you’ll miscarry,” the ultrasound operator says coldly, interrupting our wonder. Miscarry? We’re stunned! everything has been going so well.  She’s eating the right things, exercising, taking care of herself. How is this possible?

“Don’t worry,” our Aussie doctor friend tells us later. “They tell all the women that they’re too uptight, and that they might miscarry.”

“If they let the women pee, they might not be so uptight,” I say, frustrated. That settles it. We have to give birth far away from this place. I start to strategize how.

Meanwhile, we talk, Peanut and I. Actually, I call him Mr. Peanut, even thought I don’t know for certain that he is a he. I tell him how much I look forward to meeting him. He answers back with a series of kicks that demonstrate his brilliance. How many other unborn children have mastered Morse code? I play music for him. He taps out that he is partial to Celtic music, and I gladly oblige.

The email arrives. Our church leaders in America have denied our request to leave Kazakhstan for the birth.

“Did you see that footage of the woman in Africa who had her baby in a tree during a flood?  Women have been giving birth in all kinds of situations since the beginning of time,” they tell me. “Have faith.”

But in Kazakhstan the statistics are horrendous.  Abysmal infancy mortality rates, tragic mother mortality rates. I have faith, but I am not willing to gamble with the lives of my wife and child. I’m resolute. I don’t want us to have a baby here.

“What does she want?” my friend asks.

His wife is also Kazakh. They had their baby there. Everyone is fine.  Others are pressuring her to stay out of some sort of national pride.  She is from Kazakhstan. If she wants to give birth here, I realize, then I need to support that decision.

We’re in the taxi, on the way home from the maternity hospital.  We’ve toured the facilities, met the doctors.  We’ve seen the dark communal recovery room that holds, what? Ten women and ten screaming newborn babies?  We’ve seen the crimson grime on the floor of the delivery room. We’ve witnessed the impatient and unpleasant demeanor of the hospital staff. We’ve been told that under no circumstances are visitors allowed, including the father, for several days after the birth.

But if she wants to stay, I will support that decision.

She’s quiet. Finally, she turns to me.  “I don’t want to have the baby here.” It feels like she’s lost something in the admission. Like a defeat. We get home, and thirty minutes later she realizes that she left her purse in the taxi. We try to track down the taxi, but we never do. She’s sorry, but after all, it’s just a purse that has been left behind and she has other purses. There are more important things in life, she says.

Time passes. She seems to glow.  I know that they say that about pregnant women, and it’s cliché, but it’s true.  As peanut grows, so does her radiance.  I find her swollen belly to be incredibly attractive.

Kazakhstan is behind us now, at least temporarily, and we’ve settled into my grandmother’s house in Virginia.  We attend Lamaze classes together.  What an unusual mixture of people; new parents, equally anxious couples like us, a couple of couples who have had so many children that you wonder why they bother with the hospital at all.  “Knowledge is power”, the old saying goes.   I’m not sure I feel so powerful.  In fact, the knowledge of what’s coming has left me feeling pretty powerless.  Will she be okay during the delivery?  Will I be ready to do my part?  Will peanut evacuate the premises easily, or come out fighting?

Come out fighting, it turns out.  We’ve been in the hospital now for over a day, trying to coax Peanut out.  In that time, we’ve seen other couples come and go, including one woman who screamed from the room next door, “Lord, just get it out of me!”  My wife and I look at each other. “I don’t think she took a Lamaze class,” she says. I laugh.

We’re exhausted.

She hasn’t slept well, awakened every hour by the nurses and the midwife who want to make sure that she and Peanut are doing okay.  I’ve had a bit more sleep, but every time they come to wake her up, I wake up, too, wondering if it’s time.

I’ve never seen a person as strong as she is during this whole process.  She works so hard to help peanut make his great appearance, but he stubbornly refuses to cooperate.  At one point, she bounces up and down on a big rubber ball, trying to bounce Peanut out.  She is so exhausted, she asks our midwife for help.  “Breathe with me,” she asks.  Our midwife, who knows of our faith, but doesn’t share it, misunderstands, and thinks she has been asked, “Pray with me.”  And so, also exhausted, she prays.  You can feel God’s presence in the room, as if He is saying, “Don’t worry. Just keep bouncing.”

We’re now at twenty-seven hours since the water broke, and just when I’m beginning to think that he will never come, Peanut starts to make his entrance, or exit, depending on your perspective.  The centimeter count starts to go up quickly, and people appear from nowhere, working hard to welcome him into the world.  But everything stops when our midwife says that there is a problem.  Peanut’s head is turned the wrong way. He’s stuck, and they need to get him out quickly, because it’s been so long since the water broke. I barely remember them talking about this in the Lamaze class, and my heart skips a beat as I try to reason out the implications.

When I hear our midwife say that they need to call in the M.D., that they might need to do an emergency c-section, my heart stop beating. I comfort and encourage my wife, feeling helpless to do anything else. I see the concern in my widwife’s eyes, and an unspoken message passes between us. Peanut has started to slip from my hands. But in that moment it occurs to me that he was never really in my hands. I might be his flesh and blood father, but it was time for me to let go and allow him to fall into the hands of his heavenly father.

In that act of letting go, the helplessness fades away. Just keep bouncing.

I stand frozen in the middle of a blur of activity.  The MD has arrived and pulls out something that looks more like an instrument of medieval torture than a device of twenty-first century medicine, and he uses it to turn peanut’s head. Almost immediately, Peanut starts slipping through. I hug my wife as she delivers her final eviction notice push to take Peanut from the familiar into the frightening; from the safe warmth of the womb into the scary brilliance of the world.  I can understand that one of the first things that he does is cry from the shock of it.

They clean him up, and hand him to me.  I take him to her, and pause for the briefest of moments. He’s looking at me. He’s only minutes old, so I know that he doesn’t really know what he’s looking at – probably all he sees is a big nose with eyes.  Maybe that’s why he cries.  But, he’s here – in my arms.  I’ve waited for this moment for the eternity of the last nine months, and it’s hard to believe, but he’s here.

Love you, Josh. Just keep bouncing.

Dad.

 

The Winners of the 25th Annual MovieGuide® Awards

awards

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.

The 2017 Oscar Nominees

2017-oscars-89th-academy-awards

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

dennis-quaid-cloris-leachman

REX/Shutterstock

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.