Nine Things I Learned from 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media. Yes, it’s over.

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

On March 12, I made the decision to consume nothing but Christian media for forty days and to document the experience.  I wasn’t angling for a book deal, or trying to increase revenue by upping clicks on my blog (I make no money off of this blog).  I just wanted to see what would happen if I restricted myself to a steady diet of media created by Christians, for Christians, the kind you could only buy from a Christian bookstore.

Would I grow in some way?  Spiritually?  Physically?  Mentally?  Would it somehow make me into a more sincere and effective Christian?  Would I snap and throw my laptop from my 16th floor balcony?

Well, as of today (due to some international travel that messed up the days a bit) those forty days are finally over, and while I did have to get a new laptop, it was because of catastrophic systems failure in the old one, and not because of a Christian-media-induced mental breakdown.

And that sound you hear is me, breathing.

Deep breaths.

Deep, cleansing, cautious breaths.

My first official non-Christian-made media as I’m coming off the forty days?  Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar soundtrack.

Man, I missed me some Hans Zimmer.

Yesterday, my wife asked me if I’d learned anything over the past forty days, and I’d like to answer her question here, for anyone to see.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE 40 DAYS (AND NIGHTS) OF CHRISTIAN MEDIA CHALLENGE

Over the past 40 days…

1.  You take the good, you take the bad…

I have learned that, like with regular media, there are some really good bits of Christian media and there are some incredibly horrid bits.  The incredibly horrid bits are typically the ones that get the most attention and marketing money, and get sold by Christian retailers.  The really good bits are typically harder to find, but it’s worth the effort.

Balaam and the angel, painting from Gustav Jaeger, 1836.

Balaam and the angel, painting from Gustav Jaeger, 1836.

2.  The Balaam’s Donkey Effect

I have learned to my surprise that God even uses the incredibly horrid bits of Christian media to encourage people.  I have no idea why He does this, but I call it The Balaam’s Donkey Effect.

As Rich said, you never know who God is gonna use.

3.  Misuse of The Balaam’s Donkey Effect

I have learned that some Christian media producers take the Balaam’s Donkey Effect to mean that you can produce media with good intentions alone and God will bless it because of those good intentions.

They seem to forget that the Bible has a lot to say about excellence.

4.  The True Salt and Lighters

I have learned that there are Christian producers of media, true “salt and lighters”, working very hard within traditional media companies to produce great work that is not necessarily obviously Christian.

I’ve also learned that these people don’t get near the attention from within the church as do the obvious Christian media producers.

And this is going to be hard to hear, but I think that it needs to be said:  I have concluded that this is really stupid and short-sighted on the part of the church.

Church, pay special attention to the following statement, because it is a message for you: Support Christians working in non-Christian media companies like they are missionaries, because that’s what they are.  

“But my denomination doesn’t send out missionaries to Hollywood or Nashville.  How do we know who they are?”

Easy.  Do some research.  They’re not hard to find.

And once you do find them, support them with prayers and finances.  Have a Sunday School class adopt them, and send them Amazon gift cards.  Remember their kid’s birthdays.  If they live close, invite them out to dinner and let them talk about their projects.  Creatives love talking about the things they are trying to do.  In short, treat them the way you do your missionaries to Africa and Asia and Latin America.  They are in a mission field that is just as challenging in many ways.

And lastly on this point, don’t just find and support the people working in the more visible fields of Christian media (the authors, the singers, the directors, and such), but also the ones who work behind the scenes (the sound engineers, the DPs, the editors, the key grips, and so on).  It’s just as hard to be a Christ-following techie in media as it is to be a celebrity.  Maybe harder.

5.  The Dreaded Christian Bubble

I have learned that our Christian sub-culture bubble is arguably un-Biblical.  We weren’t called to be hermits living in caves.  How can we show we’re not of the culture unless we’re engaged with the culture?

Recently I was involved in a discussion with a somewhat well-known Christian filmmaker, who stunned me when he said that he’d not actually watched any non-Christian movies in his life.

In. His. Life.

Not even the “safe” non-Christian movies.  He didn’t see any need to expose himself to the films of the world, and didn’t think that it affected his own filmmaking abilities.

Romans 14 tells me that I have to respect this man’s convictions on watching films, and so I do, from a brother-in-Christ point of view.  From a filmmaking point of view, I will be really surprised if he ever actually makes an all-around decent movie.  The odds are stacked against him, since he’s cut himself off from the professional influence of people who really know how to make films.

And we see Christians encasing themselves in bubbles all over the place.  We need to pop those bubbles.

6.  The Need for Christian Media for Christians

I have learned to respect the need for Christian-made media that is made specifically for Christians.  It’s quite nice that we can watch television and surf the internet and listen to music, just like non-Christians do, and grow in the faith.

But I do wish a couple of things would happen with this media:

First, I wish that the ones making media for the Christian subculture would just acknowledge they are making media for Christians rather than pretending that their work is making any substantial positive impact on the wider culture.  The Balaam’s Donkey Effect notwithstanding, I’m talking about being honest and open about the demographics you honestly think you will reach.  The majority of non-Christians in the world have a very low opinion of our music, our movies, and our books.  We need to face that fact.

Second, I wish the ones making media for the Christian subculture would challenge the Christian subculture more, and not just hit all the right beats to make it suitably digestible.  Doesn’t 2 Timothy say something about itching ears?

family7.  Family Friendly ≠ Faith Based

I have learned that we should – for once and for all – draw a big fat line between “family-friendly” and “faith-based”.  I’ve made this point on the blog before, but over the last forty days I found myself longing for a faith-based film that was willing to plumb the depths of the human condition as well as explore the heights, and only found it with The Song.  Faith-based films should be allowed to go mature and dark in order to truly show the light.

Where is the Christian-made Calvary?  Where is the Christian-made Shawshank Redemption?  Unforgiven?  Schindler’s List?  For that matter, why did we need Angelina Jolie to make a decent (if incomplete) version of Unbroken?

The problem is that we’ve shackled family-friendly and faith-based together, and in the process we’ve cut ourselves off from being able to make really good drama.  Only a non-Christian can really tell our stories well, and then we get upset when they don’t tell them the way we want them to be told.

8.  Fear Not

If I can judge the state of the 21st American Christian church by the state of her media, I’ve learned that we Christians seem to be afraid.  Of all sorts of things.

We’re afraid of homosexuals, Muslim radicals, bad parenting, Hollywood, video games, illegal immigrants, the dark side of the internet, atheist filmmakers making Bible epics, the other side of the political aisle gaining political power, magic, public education, higher education, and losing our American freedoms and rights.  To name just a few things.

6a00d8341bffb053ef0133ed1fe566970b-450wiDon’t get me wrong.  Of course we should be concerned about the issues.  Of course we should learn what’s going on so that we can pray about things.

But we shouldn’t be afraid.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

If we truly believe that God is sovereign, then we should live with hopeful anticipation about what He is doing in the world, not in fear that He’s somehow losing control.

9.  The Heart of the Matter

Finally, the most important thing I’ve learned over the past forty days is the importance of starting the day in God’s Word.  I’ve mentioned a couple of times over these past 40 days that I’ve been utilizing the daily devotional written by Skye Jethani, and I highly recommend it.

If you are a Christian who – like me – loves secular media, I strongly urge you to make it a point to start your day in the presence of your heavenly Father.  This will better enable you to meet the challenges found in trying to swim in the tsunami of secular media, and will infuse you with the grace to step into the stream of Christian-made media with understanding and patience.

There are plenty of Christians around the world for whom the Bible is literally the only Christian media they have exposure to, and guess what?

They survive.

And in my opinion, they’re probably a lot better off than the rest of us.

Thanks to all who joined me in this forty day adventure in odyssey.  Come back for my next challenge, The 40 Days (and Nights) of Star Wars Media Challenge.

screen-shot-2014-08-25-at-12-30-30-pm

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

Day 24 • 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Filmmaking

24-Logo.svgIt’s been a very interesting day 24.

First, I started the day by wading into the American culture wars, and losing a Facebook friend over the gay wedding cake baking issue.  My point?  As Christians, we should consider responding to people the way Jesus responded to people, with more concern about the people we’re interacting with than our rights as Americans.  I was disappointed that my Facebook friend – who identified as a conservative Christian – was so adamant, obstinate, and even insulting (which is what ultimately led to his de-friending me).

Conversely, I’ve been encouraged by the numbers of Christian friends who have chimed in since, recognizing that living as Christians in 21st Century America is not simple, and acknowledging that our role as followers of Jesus might take us to some uncomfortable places.

We 21st century American Christians have a really hard time divorcing our Christian faith – which should be paramount – from our American citizenship.  Over the past few years, it seems like God may have been working pretty hard to demonstrate to us that our hope should not be in our wealth, in our security, in our political party, in the president that we would prefer to win, or even being the dominant cultural force.  At the end of the day, most faithful Christians in history have lived under difficult circumstances, and we shouldn’t be surprised if our experience is anything else.

In fact, we might even find that we’re growing stronger in our faith when our lives are watered with difficulties, rather than stagnating in the pools of comfort and ease, which is what most of us really want, at the end of day.

MV5BMTc1NDU0MzgyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjQ3MDg1MzE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Second, I ended the day by watching the first episode of A.D. The Bible Continues, the brainchild of Roma Downey (how did she ever go from playing an angel to being the Mother of Christian Filmmaking?) and Mark Burnett (and how did he go from Survivor to being the Papa?).

I have mixed feelings about the start of this mini-series.  On the one hand, I’m glad to see that someone with some clout in Hollywood has the courage and the vision to tackle this project.  Nobody has really ever done what the dynamic duo is doing, and so kudos to them for the ambition.  I’m really curious to see where they take this series, and what they do with the early church.

On the other hand, the first episode didn’t really grab me.  It seemed rushed, in a hurry to get through the crucifixion, which hit me as odd.  Also, I disliked the way that it was written, as if everyone really knew who Jesus really was.  Nearly every line seemed to be filled with the truth of Jesus’ importance, even though it hadn’t been proven yet, which made me feel like many of the lines weren’t earned.

For example, when Pontious Pilate questioned the guard who was responsible for expediting Jesus’ death, it seemed especially pointed that the filmmakers were trying to prove to the audience that Jesus was dead.  It was – as they say – a lot of telling, rather than showing.

It seems like we Christians just really have trouble with writing with subtlety, don’t we?

I am going to stick with the mini-series, because I am curious where they’re heading and how they’ll get there.  I’m expecting a lot of on-the-nose dialogue (which should please the majority of my Christian brothers and sisters, unfortunately), and I don’t expect many surprises, and at the end of the day, I’m guessing that the mini-series will just be alright, but nothing special.

But it does give me something to watch, and for that I’m grateful.

But why – again – do people in the Bible have to speak with British accents?  I just don’t get it.  But at least they had some diversity in the casting!

Day 24 in the bag.

By the way… a Christian-made film I’m looking forward to?

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Day 20 • The 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge

Half-a-DonutI stand at the midway point of the challenge, with as much lying behind me as lies ahead.  The “donut of misery”, as they say.  And yet, I’ve settled into a comfortable routine, enjoying certain aspects of the process, and disliking others. 

The Pleasures

I’ve enjoyed finding some wonderful Christian-produced media, much that I probably wouldn’t have discovered without the challenge. 

Reel World Theology Podcast – Entertainment is not mindless

More Than One Lesson Podcast – Movie talk for the discerning Christian (which I actually discovered before the challenge, but I’ve been enjoying listening to the back episodes)

Say Goodnight Kevin – youtube channel (watch the reviews for Fireproof and Left Behind)

bored-again-christianThe Bored-Again Christian Podcast – Christian music for people who are tired of Christian music (update: I just realized that this podcast appears to be dead –  not updated for a couple of years, sadly.  Still, the back episodes are worthy of listening)

Skye Jethani’s daily devotions

Rocket Pack Jack – a fun short film for kids

Christiancinema.com – a great source of films

World Magazine – a news magazine I used to enjoy in print form, but have been glad to rediscover online.

Sufjan Stevens – an extremely innovative musician with a Jesus underpinning to his music.

And, as a person who really disliked God’s Not Dead, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find some Pure Flix movies that I’ve enjoyed.  Not to sound snarky, but this has been a big surprise to me, but again – a pleasant one.

Finally, I’m also excited about the growing list of things I want to read/listen to/watch when the challenge is complete.  It will be nice to have choice back again.

The Challenges

At the same time, I have not enjoyed some of the Christian-produced things I’ve encountered, although I have found a growing appreciation for the Christians who are creating media, regardless of what I think of the finished product.  Producing media is extremely difficult, and for a person to take an idea to the finish line is admirable in any situation.  

I just wish I could affect change on much of that finished product…

Speaking of choice, one thing I’ve really disliked is not having any real choices of credible news sources.  Typically, when not doing this challenge, I like my sources to be varied, because I think that is how I can come closest to getting the true story.  Limiting my news to only Christian media outlets has severely limited my ability to get an unbiased perspective on world events.

exodus-gods-and-kings-poster-final-405x600Exodus: Gods and Kings • Thimblerig’s Mini-review

Last night my family sat down to watch Exodus: Gods and Kings.  It seemed appropriate to watch a film about The Passover on Good Friday, and I was all prepared to not like it because of the way so many Christians responded negatively to the film.

But I really, really liked it.

People said the film was boring, but I was completely engaged from start to finish.  I often fall asleep watching movies at night (yeah, I’m that guy), but I stayed awake to the very end.

People didn’t like the film’s representation of God as an 11 year old boy.  I was intrigued by the filmmaker’s choice to do this, and it made me pay attention in a way I might not have if God had simply been a disembodied voice.  By the way, did people get upset that Val Kilmer, the voice of Moses in Prince of Egypt, also provided the disembodied voice of God?

People didn’t like the naturalistic portrayal of the plagues.  This criticism makes me want to pull my beard out.  The plagues, while natural in execution, were obviously supernatural in origin.  That was the whole point of the advisor to Ramses who tried to explain them away as natural, but who ultimately wound up swinging in the gallows, because there was no way they were natural!

Of course, if people have a genuine conviction to not watch a film like Exodus: Gods and Kings, then they should not watch the film.  I do, however, think that many of the critiques I read were simply incorrect.

Here are a couple of good reads about the Christian response to Exodus.

Movieguide – I was very impressed by the five suggestions that the Movieguide people made.  Make sure to read the comments below the article, by the way.

Karen Marya – I’ve linked this article before, but it’s so good I want to link it again.  Karen is a part of the Sacred Arts Revolution, by the way.

Chip Hardy (Ph.D., University of Chicago), Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Southeastern – a fantastic perspective from an expert in the subject matter.   Thanks to Wesley at the Sacred Arts Revolution for the heads up on this.

I’d like to conclude my 20 day wrap-up with this little nugget that occurred to me after watching Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Christian filmmaking apologists will often defend the low quality of Christian-made film by saying that God uses the weak things of the world to shame the wise, and that God can even use a poorly made Christian film to impact the world.  And then, in the same breath, they lambast non-Christian-made Bible films as being heretical and unbiblical, saying that Christians should not see such films.

Isn’t it interesting that these Christians defend the Christian-made material so strongly, but often don’t extend this same courtesy to non-Christian-made films like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings?

Can’t God use non-Christian-made films to bring people to Himself, and shouldn’t we (as Christians) look for ways to be a part of that happening?

A little bonus cultural tidbit for your reading pleasure.

qing-ming2We’re celebrating the Qingming Festival in China this weekend.  It’s a lunar-based festival where people traditionally go to the tombs of their ancestors and pay respect to the dead.

Family members clear weeds from around the tomb and add fresh soil to show care for the dead.  They also bring the dead person’s favorite food and wine, and burn money (or paper resembling money) so that the dead will have plenty.

This year, it just so happens that the Qingming Festival falls on the same weekend as Easter, when the women went to the tomb to take care of the dead and found that the tomb was empty.

I think that’s pretty cool.

Unbroken: The Alternate Ending

unbroken_ver4_xlg[Read to the bottom to find my faith-based alternate ending to Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken.]

The 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge is on Day 7, and I’ve been pleased by some aspects of this journey (starting a daily devotional habit, discovering some interesting music, connecting with lots of fun people), and disappointed in others (that Christians have this weird fascination with copying the world’s fads, that the big players in Christian media like perpetuating a pretty myopic view of the world, that if our stories don’t have specific “come to Jesus” moments, the Christian media marketers won’t touch them).

Ultimately, I’m finding that I don’t like or appreciate the various machines that exist in Christian media, but I don’t doubt that each machine represents lots of people who are doing their best to live faithful lives for Jesus.

One happy surprise I found was that Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken is sold by Christian retailers.  This surprised me, because it was a film made by a filmmaker who doesn’t appear to be a Christian, and (spoiler alert) it lacks a conversion sequence.  My family sat down to watch the film last night, and like so many, we were touched by Louie Zamperini’s amazing life experiences, and the strength that he exhibited time and time again.  The film handles issues of faith carefully and respectfully, which throws a bit of cold water on the idea that the movers and shakers in Hollywood have it out for Christians.

After the past week, I’d say that it’s more likely that the movers and shakers in Hollywood have it out for the corporate, industrialized, politicized Christianity that is so prevalent in America these days.  And with good reason.  Corporate Christianity can be irritating, holier-than-thou, out-of-touch, unintentionally and imminently mockable.  Corporate Christianity (like it’s secular brothers and sisters) loves to stir up controversy, to sensationalize for profit, and they love that the vast bulk of the faithful will eagerly swallow whatever pills they ship out to the neighborhood Christian bookstores.

The problem I have with the corporate side of my faith is that it runs so counter to the faith we’re called to in the Scriptures.  Christianity is supposed to be relational, but Corporate Christianity is driven by profit – not people.  Christianity is supposed to be about humility, but Corporate Christianity is about putting our stars up on pedestals to be loved and admired.  Christianity is about loving your enemies, but Corporate Christianity is about building bubbles so that we don’t have to interact with those who believe differently than we do.

Keep in mind, once again, I’m talking about the machine, not most of the people behind the machine.  My interaction this past week with some of the people behind the machine is that they are doing their best to follow Jesus.  Many of them are incredibly creative, and are just looking for ways to express that creativity.  They are intelligent, passionate, and concerned for those people outside of the Christian faith in a sincere and loving way.

But back to Unbroken… watching Jolie’s film got me thinking, what if some film company that produces films for the typical Christian audience had gotten their hands on Louie Zamperini’s story?  A version that would have pleased the machine?

Just for kicks and giggles, I decided to imagine how that faith-based version of Unbroken might have ended.

In case the PDF doesn’t show up on your screen, you can also click this link:

Unbroken Alternate Ending

Day 5 of the 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge

5-hand_woodelywonderworksI decided from the beginning of this challenge to be honest in my daily reports.  Whatever I was experiencing, I was going to record, for better or worse.

So, yesterday was on the worse side.  Sorry about the downer.   Today was much better.

Five observations for day five:

1)  The tiny little men who live in the internet really do pay attention to what you do when you’re online.  If you spend your time looking at a lot of Christian media, the tiny little men will notice and start shifting the adverts around until you get more and more adverts for Bibles and Chris Tomlin music, and fewer ads for Budweiser and Viagra.  Thanks, tiny little internet men!

2)  Watching streaming television or movies in China is more frustrating than sleeping on a bed with scratchy sheets and a couple of hungry mosquitos buzzing around in the room, while someone sits nearby in a squeaky rocking chair softly humming “Baby, Baby, Baby” slightly off key.

I wish I could download more Christian-made movies.

3)  I’ve been spending a lot of time perusing online Christian bookstores these past five days, and I’ve decided that Christian consumerism is a funny animal.  On the one hand, there are many wonderful products that are created and sold to build up and encourage followers of Jesus to be better followers of Jesus.  On the other hand, they say that over half a billion dollars in Bibles alone are sold every year.  Half a billion dollars.  Just for Bibles.  So, that would mean in my 12 year old daughter’s lifetime, over $6,000,000,000 of revenue has been generated in Bible sales alone.

The big business side of Christianity makes me feel just a bit icky, and this challenge is exasperating that feeling.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 10.41.22 PM4)  I mentioned in my first post that I’m a big-time movie soundtrack guy, so these past five days I’ve really been missing my Thomas Newman, Hans Zimmer, and Christophe Beck.  But, I’ve actually found a Christian film composer whose work I like!  His name is Ben Botkins, and you can hear some of his compositions on soundcloud.  I found him because of his work on a recent indy Christian film about the life of Polycarp, called – wait for it – Polycarp.

Any Christian filmmakers out there looking for someone to score your new film?  Give Ben a listen.

5)  Christian filmmakers can make misleadingly good movie posters.  This has caused me to begin watching several movies that I think will be decent based on the professionally produced movie poster, just to find out it was filmed on a hand held camera.

Yeah, Samson, I’m looking at you, bud.

Therefore, I recommend we come up with a new ratings system for faith based films.  Sure, the MPAA will make their own ratings if the film is released theatrically, but I think we need something to help folks like me understand what we’re getting before we put down our hard-earned coconuts.

My suggestions, which I propose should be called the Thimblerig Ratings System:

Rated N (newbies) – the film was made by newbies.  Their hearts were in the right place, but they had no money, no training, and it shows.  Only watch if the filmmakers are your friends or relatives.  Lots of overt Gospel talk.

Rated V (veterans) – the film was made by veterans, who were only just newbies a couple of  years ago.  They made a couple of trainwreck movies, and learned from their mistakes, managed to get some funding, and so they’ve improved.  You still wouldn’t want to watch this film with anyone who isn’t also a die-hard Christian, but it’s a bit more entertaining for the choir.  Still lots of overt Gospel talk.

Rated P (preachy) – the film is pretty good technically, so they must have actually hired some professionals to be behind the camera.  The film is still very preachy, so unless your non-Christian friend really loves you, don’t show them this film.  Still lots of Christianese being spoken, and lots of overt Gospel talk.

Rated A (amazing) – the film is amazing!  The Gospel is there, but as in the parables of Jesus, you might have to work a bit to find it.  The film is well acted, well scripted, well filmed, and well directed.  You can freely take your non-Christian friends to see this film, and it will definitely provoke some good seed-planting conversation afterwards.  There may be some non-family-friendly elements, but it services the story, so get over it.

And a special rating…

Rated HMJ (Help me, Jesus!) – never mind about anything else, the writing in this film is so poor that you want to fill your ears with honey, cotton balls, and centipedes to avoid having to listen to the corny, canned, Christianese dialogue.  I mean, the dialogue is not even as good as the dialogue used by George Lucas in Star Wars Episode 2:  The Attack of the Clones, and that’s saying something.  Buy a copy of this film and then bury it deep in the ground.

That’s it for day 5.  Tomorrow, I’m excited that my family and I get to watch Unbroken for Friday Family Movie Night!  (available in Christian retailers!  Yay!)

Nate is taking part in The 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge.  Read about it here, and follow along for the next 35 days.

Follow Nate on Twitter, too.  @RNFleming

40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media • Day 4

Logo_FFThis is going to be a short report tonight.  To put it lightly, day four was tough.  I’m just ten percent of the way into the 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge, and today I hit a wall.  For the first time, I felt like I couldn’t do this – just limit myself to the things produced by Christians for Christians, because the options were just so limited (especially living overseas) and so often poorly made.

I know that yesterday I was finding the positives in the situation, saying something like “at least there are Christians who are creating,” but today I’m over that.  Today, I’m thinking that just creating isn’t enough.

We need to be creating better and better things.

This is especially an issue for those Christians out there who don’t see the big deal in what I’m doing because they only consume Christian media every day anyway.  There are three problems I see with creating such a bubble for yourself.  First, this isn’t what we were called to do.  “Go out into the world”, remember?  How can we do that if we spend all our time in our Christian sub-culture bubble?  Second, people in the bubble tend to get used to slapping the “Christian” label on everything, thinking that the label alone gives something value.  But slapping a “Christian” or “faith-based” label on something doesn’t automatically make that thing good.  Usually, it just sullies the label.   Third, dealing specifically with filmmakers living in the bubble, I know of a few Christian filmmakers who never watch secular movies.  My question for them is – if you don’t watch good films, how can you hope to create good films?  I just don’t get that.

The thing that saddens me about all of this is that I know that there are so many talented Christian artists who could be making great media, great art, but they’re forced to tailor their work for those Christians living in the bubble, Christians who aren’t interested in being challenged by what they consume.  Their audience wants to grow spiritually, but they only want it to happen by having their beliefs reinforced.  They want to be told that their interpretation of the Bible is the right one, that the idea they have about God is without error, and they’re uncomfortable with the idea of exposing themselves to alternative notions – or even looking at their own ideas in alternative ways.  This means they aren’t necessarily experiencing growth of any kind, but more likely just entrenchment.

And that depresses me on this, the fourth day.

So, with all this in mind, I feel like I’m having to push through this day like I’m ensconsed in some bizarre alien membrane.  I’m trapped, trying to push my way out.

Today, Christian media is not making me feel free, but entrapped.

I’m hoping tomorrow will be a better day.

40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media • Day 3

Anyone get why this picture is here?  20 points to the first person who can tell me in the comment section.

Anyone get why this picture is here? 20 points to the first person who can tell me in the comment section.

Here it is, the end of the third day of my challenge to consume only Christian media, and I’ve survived.

Not only survived, but I’ve actually learned something, I think.

I’m ashamed to say it, but taking part in this challenge has brought home to me the obscene amount of media that I consume on a daily basis, without even realizing it. As if waking up from a dream, I clearly see now that from morning until night, I’ve got somebody else doing their level best to manipulate or influence me in some way.

“Buy this product! Be scared of this threat! Believe this ideology! Curse this leader! Praise this celebrity! Think like I do! Achieve! Agree! Purchase! Comment! Consume!”

watch-tvThe craziest thing about this is that just a few years ago, we were taking in a fraction of the media that we consume now. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, we had four television stations, a morning newspaper, a collection of books, magazines, and records, and on the occasion of something really good to see, an infrequent trip to the cinema.

Now, we carry all of those things around in the device in our pockets.

And we’re constantly staring at the little screen.

And taking in the noise of it all.

Having nothing but Christian media to consume has forced me to turn my back on 95% of the noise, and my subconscious desire to see the vacuum filled has been foiled time and time again these last three days. It’s certainly not been from a lack of trying, but from a lack of much to interest me coming from the world of Christian media.

51VzxrUA+NL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Yes, I have found some things that I like.  I’ve enjoyed listening to a few good podcasts (Steve Brown, etc; More Than One Lesson; Christ and Pop Culture); I’ve started what seems to be an interesting novel (The Green Ember by S.D. Smith); I watched The Song (read my review here); and I began developing the habit of waking up every morning to Skye Jethani‘s daily devotional – which also includes a good reading of Scripture.

I’ve also spent hours wading through all sorts of Christian media that hasn’t interested me in the least.  Some, because of the content, and most others because of the quality, or lack thereof.

But I think this has been a good thing.  Even though there’s not much to interest me, I have been impressed by how many Christians are still out there creating.  This, I believe, is to be celebrated.  Rather than just consuming the noise, they are trying to create something that offers a counterpoint to the noise.

After all, there is the off chance that God will do what He did so often in Scripture, and use our weakness to show his strength, and even our often unimpressive media to draw people to Himself.  Does that mean He desires us to make bad media?  Of course not.  Might it mean that He wants us to do our best, depending on Him along the way?  I think so.

Yes, God uses some pretty foolish things and pretty inadequate people to point others to Himself.  Who knows?  He might even be using this blog!  Wouldn’t that be something?

To celebrate that idea, I leave you today with one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singers (Christian or otherwise). Enjoy, and be about the business of being creative – no matter what you do.

By the way, I’d just like to point out that it’s been about one year since I published my first novel, Thimblerig’s Ark.  My own attempt to create a counterpoint to the noise.  I’d love to hear what folks think about it!

FINAL

40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media – Day One Finished

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 10.29.45 PMThe day started well, with Skye Jethani‘s daily devotional waiting faithfully for me in my e-mail inbox when I awoke.  I read it, and then, since my family has not been doing very well with devotionals lately, I called everyone to the breakfast table.

Together, we read through Jethani’s devotional, which dealt with Luke 23: 27 & 28.  It focused on Jesus’ encounter with the women while he was carrying the cross to Golgatha.  They were weeping for him, but he told them to weep for themselves – and Jethani pointed out that Jesus had the chance to act like a victim, but instead he focused on the true victims, and he challenged his readers to do the same.  It led to a really nice discussion with the kids about times they’d felt like victims.

We went to church, and had a nice service at the international fellowship here in Shekou.  Afterwards, I came home to a quiet house.  My wife and daughter had a girl scout event, my older son was playing at a friend’s house,  and my toddler son had fallen asleep.  I wanted to see what sort of Christian television programming I could find, and went searching.

I quickly realized that watching Christian programming from China was not going to be easy.  Parables.tv – the Christian Netflix, as it bills itself – streams videos, but they are mostly the bottom of the barrel, quality-wise.  I’ll try to give them a go later, but the two that I started watching (some Christian “comedian”, and a really REALLY low budget movie about Samson) weren’t worth pursuing.  I tried Godtube, but again, didn’t find anything.  I perused the Cornerstone Network (home of The 700 Club and similar programming), but wasn’t in the mood for the perfect people in suits who smiled too much and talked too much about people being “anointed”.  I did find something about a Christian sitcom called “Pastor Greg”, but couldn’t find any way to watch it online.  Also, there were rumblings about a sitcom starring Stephen Baldwin, but again, nothing available online.  I checked the religion section on Amazon Prime, and there was absolutely nothing there worth watching.

People producing Christian programming, you guys really need to make your things available online.  Riot Studios, the makers of last year’s Believe Me, were brilliant with this – releasing their film simultaneously in the theaters and as a digital download.

I checked over on Christian Faithbook to see if anyone had acknowledged my new membership, and had a single request for friendship.  I’d even commented on one of the groups, but apparently the faithful Christians of Christian Faithbook rarely visit.

By this time, my toddler son woke up from his nap, and so I had to turn from the Christian media to my son.  My attempts to find decent Christian programming online?

there-is-no-try-only-failOne of the really fascinating things that has happened as a result of my announcing this challenge has been the pity exhibited to me by other Christians who also don’t see much of redeeming quality about the bulk of Christian media.  I received comment after comment from Christians telling me how sorry they are that I’m doing this to myself.

I was also fascinated by the folks who wrote encouraging me to consider all the great artists who are not famous for being Christians, but who were.  Tolkien, Hugo, Christie, etc.  One person even wrote, “there’s no excuse to imbibe bad art when you can have good art at the highest cultural level.”

Truth is, I hope to discover some new good art while wading through all the bad.

Interesting note on the day – I decided to prepare dinner, since I was home alone with the baby, and sat down on the computer to find a specific recipe.  Since I could only look on Christian websites, I discovered there are very few Christian websites that specialize in recipes.  This is ironic, considering how much Christian love to eat.

So, if you are a Christian looking for a niche – there you go.

I ended the day on an extremely positive note – watching Richard Ramsey’s The Song.  Here’s the trailer, if you don’t know it:

This movie is absolutely amazing.  Quite literally one of the best films of 2014, in my opinion.  I’m going to be writing a review on the film tomorrow, but you need to see it.  It was a great way to end the day.

Day 1 down, 39 days to go.

It Almost Begins… 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media

I just posted this on Facebook:

Here I am, 10 minutes away from the start of my 40 days of Christian Media, and I’m starting to feel nervous.

This is going to be a long 40 days.

And after spending Saturday preparing for the next forty days, scouring the internet for Christian media that I think I could consume and not feel physically ill, I’m seriously concerned about what will happen over the next month and 10.

I have subscribed to Christian Faithbook – the Christian equivalent to Facebook.

I have subscribed to Godinterest – the Christian equivalent to Pinterest.

I have subscribed to Parables.tv – the Christian equivalent to Netflix.

I have subscribed to every podcast hosted by Christians that I think sounds the least bit interesting to a person who loves film, creativity, the arts, humor, and culture.

I have cleansed my iPod of all secular music and podcasts.

I spent the last hour before the challenge began watching the last episode of The Flash – one of my favorite television programs currently being broadcast.  I’m seriously bummed that I’m going to miss the premiere of the new season of Community, which starts in just a few days.  I’m not at all sure what I will watch during lunch, since I’m used to watching old episodes of The Office, Community, and Parks and Recreation.

And I’m spending my time leading up to midnight listening to Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score, the soundtrack – the music – that I’m going to miss the most over the next forty days.

I plan to wake up tomorrow and start my day with Skye Jithani’s With God daily devotional, and do so for the next forty days.

And it’s now 12:01 AM (China time).  The 40 Days (and Nights) Christian Media Challenge has begun.

See you on the other side!

Nate