Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 7 • Shadowlands

Shadowlands

In the seventh episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, I start a new series where I examine Hollywood’s attempts to tell “our” stories, or stories that are important to Christians. To that end, this week I took a look at 1993’s Oscar nominated Shadowlands, directed by Richard Attenborough (Ghandi, Elizabeth), written by William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Misérables), and starring Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs and bunches of other movies) and Debra Winger (Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment)

Shadowlands tells the mostly true story of the unlikely relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham. Lewis, as most people know, was the writer of the Narnia Chronicles, the Space Trilogy, and dozens of other books dealing with everything from writing to Renaissance literature to Christian theology.

I chose to review this film because Lewis is the unofficial patron saint of Evangelical Christianity and I wondered how his life story would be handled by people with no faith-based agenda. The film is a masterpiece of biographical filmmaking, widely considered to be Attenborough’s finest work, with high praise for the acting of both Hopkins and Winger. But even still, it’s been criticized by Lewis devotees for not being entirely factual. I look and respond to these criticisms in the podcast.

Also, I’m very interested in what the Christian audience wants from Hollywood if they are making our films, and why the Christian audience should want Hollywood to tell our stories in the first place, and so I discuss these ideas as well.

I would be curious to know what people think of this subject, and so I’d invite you to comment after you’ve taken a listen.

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson family of podcasts, and you can listen to it as well as other great film podcasts by visiting the More Than One Lesson website.

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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.

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I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

Thimblerig’s Ark • FREE Christmas Download!

As a special Christmas gift to you, Thimblerig’s Ark will be available as a FREE Kindle download from December 24 to December 28, 2014 (PST)!  Please help spread the cheer by passing on the good news!  Share this exciting info on all your social media platforms.

If you tweet, you can just copy this onto your Twitter feed starting on Christmas Eve:

You know about , but not the animal’s story. It’s not what you’re expecting. Thimblerig’s Ark, FREE DOWNLOAD!

4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon!

“Thimblerig’s Ark is a really fun book with lots of action and lovable characters.” 4-LAN

“a great read, it kept me interested and I was completely invested in the story!” Lena K.

“Quirky characters set up a gentle tale with a solid message behind it.” Mark L.

“I’d recommend this book to animal lovers who like adventure stories with a touch of comedy.” stansby

“It has been a real pleasure to read this book full of adventure, humor, vivid and well developed characters…” Andrey

Thimblerig's Ark Cover ArtThimblerig is a little groundhog with big problems.

He’s a loner con-artist who’s losing his mojo; the wild dogs who run the forest harass him at every turn; he’s having vivid nightmares of apocalyptic floods; and worst of all, he believes he sees unicorns when everyone knows unicorns are only the stuff of legend.

But what one animal might call a problem, Thimblerig calls an opportunity.

In a moment of inspiration, he comes up with the ultimate con: persuade as many suckers as he can that a world-ending flood is coming; the fabled unicorns have told him where the only safe place will be; and only he can lead them to safety.

All for a reasonable price, of course.

When the flood really does come, Thimblerig has a choice: either save the ones who trusted him, or lose everything.

And that’s when he discovers that his problems have only just begun.

Inspired by an Irish pub song about why the unicorn missed out on Noah’s Ark, Thimblerig’s Ark is a Narnian-style fantasy novel that looks at how the animals all made it there in the first place, focusing on a con-artist groundhog named Thimblerig.

Coming soon:  Thimblerig’s Ark Book Two: Forty Days and Nights

 

You think you know the story of the ark? Think again.

You already know about Noah.

Just wait until you read the animal’s story.

“I found the pages flying by…”

“a breath of fresh air…”

“not just for children…”

4stars

Four and a half stars on Amazon!

Thimblerig is a little groundhog with big problems.

He’s a loner con-artist who’s losing his mojo; the wild dogs who run the forest harass him at every turn; he’s having vivid nightmares of apocalyptic floods; and worst of all, he believes he sees unicorns when everyone knows unicorns are only the stuff of legend.

But what one animal might call a problem, Thimblerig calls an opportunity.Thimblerig's Arc_3 (1) copy

In a moment of inspiration, he comes up with the ultimate con: persuade as many suckers as he can that a world-ending flood is coming; the fabled unicorns have told him where the only safe place will be; and only he can lead them to safety.

All for a reasonable price, of course.

When the flood really does come, Thimblerig has a choice: either save the ones who trusted him, or lose everything.

And that’s when he discovers that his problems have only just begun.

Author Nate Fleming at a book signing at the Bookworm, Chengdu, China - summer 2014

Children’s book author Nate Fleming at a book signing at the Bookworm, Chengdu, China – summer 2014

Author Nate Fleming at a a book signing at the Binding Time Cafe in Virginia, summer 2014

Children’s book author Nate Fleming at a a book signing at the Binding Time Cafe in Virginia, summer 2014

 

Purchase and/or download Thimblerig’s Ark today!

Thimblerig’s Ark Flood Sale!

One of the cool things about publishing your own books on Amazon is that you are able to set your own deals from time to time.  In this case, I’ve decided to offer Thimblerig’s Ark for only 99¢ for a limited amount of time.  In a couple of days, the price will go up to $1.99, and then a couple of days later it will go up to $2.99, before finally returning to the normal price of $3.99 a couple of days later.  So skip over there post haste and get a wonderful novel for the same price as a 99 cent cup of coffee!  Or a 99¢ movie rental!  Or a 99¢ pair of sport socks!  Or a 99¢…

Well, you get the idea.

And remember, you don’t need to own a Kindle to read this book!   You can also download a free Kindle app for any device here, and then you can read Thimblerig’s Ark on your Ipad, or your Android, or your Atari 2600!

What are you waiting for?   Run over there now and download Thimblerig’s Ark for only 99¢!

Oh.  I didn’t realize that you had another tab open.  Sorry.  My bad.  Go on about your business.

That is, if your business includes downloading Thimblerig’s Ark for 99¢!

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C.S. Lewis on Reasoning to Atheism

cs-lewis“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind.  In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking.  It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought.  But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true?  It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London.  But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else.  Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity, p. 32

The Redemption of Eustace Scrubb

Art by Jonathan Mayer

Art by Jonathan Mayer

I just took my fifth grade students for a voyage on the Dawn Treader, and I have to confess something that might be shocking to those who are familiar with what I consider to be the best book in the series.

I love Eustace Scrubb.

Yes, he is irritating, shrill, mean-spirited, spiteful, and if I had I had a student like Scrubb in my fifth grade class, I would likely duct-tape him to the wall even if it cost me my job. He might just be the most infuriating young character in all of children’s literature, but God help me, I love the kid, and have for a long time.

There. I’ve said it, and I feel better.

scan0003kk6There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his masters called Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none. 

C.S. Lewis opens the novel by rapping us on the forehead and firmly saying, “You must not like this boy!” just in case we have any inclination to give Scrubb the benefit of the doubt. Lewis then goes on to paint a picture of just how bloody awful the kid is.

First, Scrubb is horrible to our two favorite Pevensies: the ever-patient Lucy and the just-barely-not-irritating-himself Edmund. He teases them about their talk of Narnia that he believes to be make-believe, and Lewis holds nothing back, telling us that Scrubb “was far too stupid to make anything up himself.” (I love it, Clive! Love it!)

Narnia3-1Second, Scrubb disrespects the ‘cheep. Reepicheep, among the most beloved of all the Narnian characters, one of the last characters you would want to disrespect, and Scrubb thinks it a funny idea to grab the mouse by the tail and swing him about like a rag doll. Of course, Reepicheep quickly and effectively lets the boy know that he is not a mouse to be trifled with, but the damage to his honor was already done.

And the list of irritants grows. Scrubb can’t be given away at a slave market because of his complaining, he constantly grumbles about the lack of a British Consul in Narnia, he keeps the whiniest diary in the history of diaries, he attempts to steal from the ship’s water supplies, and he calls the King of Narnia an idiot.

Despicable. The kid is absolutely despicable. And yet he is one of my favorites. Am I pathetic? Do I just have bad taste in literary characters? Does insanity run in my family?

To understand why I’m so drawn to Eustace Scrubb, you have to understand Narnia. And to understand Narnia, you have to attempt to understand the Creator of Narnia, and I don’t mean Clive Staples. Of course, I’m referring to the lion. The great lion. The King of the Beasts, and the real ruler of Narnia.

narniaaslanlucy

“Aslan and Lucy” by Justin Sweet

Aslan.

Does the name bring out some emotion when you read it? It does for me, which is surprising, because it’s just a name, and a name of a fictional character at that. But the name represents someone so incredibly wonderful that when I read it – it brings out a mixture of hope, joy, and awe.

Bernth Uhno Aslan_sings_out_Narnia_1980Aslan created Narnia, as we read about in The Magician’s Nephew, the first book in the series (chronologically), and so everything in the country obeys him, and plays by his rules. Reading the series, you find that his influence doesn’t end at Narnia’s borders, but extends into our own world, where he can choose to bring people to Narnia.

I wonder how many people (children and adults alike) have wished to be transported from our world to Narnia in the 64 years since the first book was published? Millions, I would guess. I know I have. I’ve spent countless hours sitting in front of wardrobes longing for the back to open up and allow me passage. A student at my school painted a picture of a ship at sea and each time I pass the picture, I imagine it flooding the hallways with water and sucking me into the Great Eastern Ocean.

Photo on 5-7-14 at 2.21 PMBut here’s the thing. I can stare all day at the wardrobe, and touch the painting longing for wetness, and it won’t matter. We can wish all we want, but the only way we would ever be brought to Narnia would be if it were Aslan’s will.

And this brings me back to Eustace Scrubb, and the question that is raised when you consider his awfulness. Why in the world would Aslan will for such a beastly boy to be brought into the country that he created? The answer is surprisingly simple.

Aslan brought Eustace into Narnia so that Eustace could come to know him, and in coming to know him in Narnia, he could also come to know him back in our world.

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are -are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” 

 

Comfort Before The Sacrifice by Nicholas Jackson

Comfort Before The Sacrifice by Nicholas Jackson

And as we see time and again in the Chronicles, you can’t know the Great Lion without being changed for the better.  Even the White Witch, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is afraid to be in the same place as Aslan without having him tied down and completely submissive, which could only happen if Aslan permitted it to happen, and even then she fools herself into thinking that she is in control of the situation.

But what about Scrubb?  He’d heard about Aslan while on the Dawn Treader, but had hated the name, as he’d hated everything that was happening to him from the moment he’d been sucked in through the picture on his bedroom wall.

But he had been sucked in for a reason – to know Aslan.

As a boy, Eustace burned people with his words and his bad attitude, and so Aslan permitted him to be transformed into a literal beast, because really, that’s what he was anyway.  What was the purpose?  Because Eustace needed to see himself for what he really was, so that he could see his need for change, and see that he was incapable of changing on his own.

And this is it – the crux of the matter – and why I love the character so much.  Because Eustace is me.  I am him.  We are one and the same.  If you peel away my skin and get a good look at what lies just beneath the surface, you’ll see pure unadulterated ugliness.  Dig in deep and you’ll find that greed, lust, selfishness, drunkenness, ignorance, laziness, unfaithfulness, will all come oozing out from the deepest and darkest parts of my being.

Dig in deep and you’ll see that I am a person in desperate need of Narnia.

Narnia_VerA1I don’t need Narnia because it would be cool to see a faun or a giant.  I don’t need Narnia because it’s a place untouched by modernity and technology.  I don’t need Narnia because it would help me return me to magic and hope, as the movie adverts say.

I need Narnia because I need the one who will look past all of my mistakes and pay more attention to my potential.  I need  Narnia because I need the one who will care enough about me to allow me experience adversity, pain, and conflict so that I will remember that I need him.  I need Narnia because I need the one who is willing to undergo humiliation and suffering to make certain that I don’t have to, and who does it because of his love for me.

In short, like Eustace, I need Aslan.

Like Eustace, like Edmund, like Peter, like Susan, like Diggory, like Jill, like Caspian, like Mr. Tumnus, like the Beavers, like Reepicheep, like Polly, like Tirian, like Trumpkin, like Frank, like Strawberry, like Helen, like Puddleglum, like Prince Rillian, like Puddleglum, like Lucy, and a whole host of others…

I need Aslan.

And so I love Eustace Scrubb.  I love him because I see myself in him so very clearly.  I love him because he represents the hope in me that although I am so very flawed, there is someone who loves me in spite of myself.  There is someone who wants to make certain that I don’t remain flawed, but that I draw closer to him, so that I can become more like him.

And with all due respect to Mr. Liam Neeson, the name of Aslan – the name of the one who C.S. Lewis was hoping that we would find when we returned from our adventures in Narnia with the great lion – that name is not up for grabs.

voyage_of_the_dawn_treader_by_cuttingroom-d3gftuz