Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast Episode 6 • The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

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In the sixth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, we look at 2017’s The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, directed by Dallas Jenkins (What If?), written by Andrea Gyertson Nasfell, and starring Brett Dalton (Agents of SHIELD), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (Bon Qui Qui), Neil Flynn (Scrubs), D.B. Sweeney (Taken 2), and former WWF celebrity Shawn Michaels.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a comedy about a washed-up former child star who is forced to do community service at a local megachurch, and pretends to be a Christian to land the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play, only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood.

In this episode, we review the film (how many golden groundhogs did it get?) as well as look at the state of comedy in faith based filmmaking. Also, we uncover a brilliant metaphor for the state of faith based filmmaking hidden in the scenes of Gavin Stone. 

You can listen to this episode as well as other great podcasts by visiting the More Than One Lesson website.

And oh! You can also read an interview I conducted with screenwriter Andrea Gyertson Nasfall after her last big comedy, Mom’s Night Out by clicking here.

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Thimblerig’s Ark Podcast • Episode 5

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In the fifth episode of the Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast, we look at 2016’s Wildflower. Directed by Nicholas DiBella, and starring Nathalia Ramos and Cory Longo (among others), Wildflower is an unusual film in that it’s a Christian-made thriller that doesn’t have anything to do with the Rapture. I was especially excited to have a nice long conversation via Skype with Mr. Dibella and his partner, producer Jim Pavone.

The Thimblerig’s Ark Film Review Podcast is a part of the More Than One Lesson podcasting family. Check out this and other episodes as well as other great podcasts at morethanonelesson.com.

Pitch for the Christian Version of “Stranger Things”

 

The Christian media response to secular rap music was DC Talk.

The Christian media response to secular horror novels was Frank Perretti.

The Christian media response to YouTube was GodTube.

It was only a matter of time before there was a Christian media response to the summer hit, Stranger Things.

Gospileaks, the Christian media version of Wikileaks, has released this secret memo that was just sent to Moses Wesley, the CEO of the Koinonia Faith and Family Media Entertainment Group. Apparently, Peculiarer People (the Christian version of Stranger Things) has been greenlit and currently in preproduction.

Read the details below.

Title:

PECULIARER PEOPLE

Premise:

A one-hour thriller/drama concerned with life in the small town of Moriah, New York and the unusual things that happen there.

Logline:

When a young boy disappears, his widowed mother, a pastor, and his homeschool friends must confront frightening spiritual forces in order to get him back.

Synopsis:

Chapter 1: The Rapturing of Mark Falwell

1984, the Moody family basement. Four homeschooled boys are sitting in the basement, listening to Petra’s “More Power To Ya” [note: there are so many opportunities to take advantage of nostalgia for early 1980’s paraphernalia with this show idea – need to schedule a meeting with Lifeway and Family Christian bookstores to figure out how to cross-promote], while playing DragonRaid. [note: A Christian role-playing game that was popular in the 1980’s. They’ll be happy to bring it back, I’m sure]

The boys, all about age 10, are MATTHEW MOODY, MARK FALWELL, LUKE WHITEFIELD, and JOHN MCGEE. They are typical 10-year-old homeschooled children: respectful to parents, polite to each other, bright but not proud. In the game, they are using Scripture memorization in adventure campaigns, and in this scene, they are encountering the wicked dragon Abaddon, which they are fighting by quoting Scripture passages.

Their game is interrupted by Matt’s mother calling him to dinner. The boys are disappointed, but immediately obey the mother and pack up the game, putting everything away nicely. The boys go to leave, and in the process, we meet Matt’s sweet and friendly sister, HOPE, who – sitting on her bed cross-stitching, waves to them as they pass her room. The boys thank Mrs. Moody for her hospitality and then get on their bikes to ride home. [note: lots of good opportunities to model appropriate behavior and healthy family life here. Cross-promotion with Focus on the Family?]

echo-bikesThe boys are laughing joyfully and singing songs together as they ride home. First, Luke peels away as he reaches home, then John, until Mark is riding by himself in the darkness. The lights on his bike start to flicker, and then suddenly a menacing, dark figure stands on the road in front of him. Shocked, Mark crashes his bike in the forest and takes off for home on foot. When Mark arrives home, he opens the door to find the house empty. He locks the door, and then glances at a note on the refrigerator to see that his mother and older brother are at a Bible study.

He’s home alone.

Mark picks up the phone as is about to call the Bible study when the barking dog draws his attention back to the door. The shadowy figure can be seen through the fogged glass window, and it uses some sort of diabolical supernatural dark magic to open the lock from the outside. [note: will have to figure out how to film this so it’s not too scary for our family audience] This sends Mark scurrying out the back door and into a little shed. He looks around desperately for anything to help him. The only things are an old dusty Bible and an old Psalty toy. He grabs them both and then falls to his knees and begins to pray. The lights start to flicker in the shed, and then with one final flicker off and then back on, the shed is empty.

Mark is gone.

[Cue Title Card]

peculiarer-people

 

The next morning, the scene opens with our first view of PASTOR ZECHARIAH TAYLOR. He’s brushing his teeth, looking at himself in the mirror, humming “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” To establish that he is the pastor, he should be shown putting on a pastor’s collar.

Next, we are back in the Falwell house, where we meet Mark’s mother, ELISABETH FALWELL, who is talking to her son, AARON FALWELL. Turns out that when they’d returned home from Bible Study, they’d both assumed the other had checked on Mark. And now, he’s not in his room. Considering that Mark never disobeys, Elisabeth calls Mrs. Moody to see if Mark had been invited for a sleepover.

article-2120538-12578041000005DC-949_634x422The Moody’s are having a nice breakfast together [none of that frustrating Spielbergian dysfunctional family going on here – the children are listening and respecting the parents, the mother is preparing a lovely breakfast, the father is leading the children in morning devotionals] and Mrs. Moody tells Elisabeth that Mark had left promptly at 6:30 as had been agreed. Elisabeth’s concern grows. She prays.

The next scene shows the homeschool boys arriving at the public library to study together. As they lock their bikes, they are approached by two young bullies, LOT and JUDAS, who start to make fun of the boys’ faith – as evidenced by their “The Lord’s Gym” t-shirts [note: check and see what sort of Christian t-shirts were sold in the mid-1980’s. We want to be accurate here]. The boys – struggling with meekness and confidence issues – are too timid to stand up for themselves, and so they let the boys bully them. Having won, the bullies finally leave.

Cut to the public school, where we find Hope (who, being older, has started attending a public school part time) walking down the school hall with her accountability partner, DORCAS. Hope is confessing to Dorcas that a boy named Ace Temptor has been talking to her, and had even asked her on a date to help her study for her Christian history test. Dorcas is righteously angry, since Ace is a well-known womanizer who doesn’t attend church, and she and Hope had taken an abstinence pledge together. Hope is defensive and denies that anything bad will happen. Dorcas knows better, but Hope has changed since starting public school. As Hope walks away, Dorcas prays for her.

TheApostleNow we see the steeple for Mt. Moriah Community Church, where Pastor Taylor is the minister. As he enters his office, his secretary hands him a cup of coffee and tells him that Elisabeth Falwell is waiting for him in his office. Pastor Taylor goes to her (leaving the door to the office open, of course) and listens to her story. Elisabeth is concerned that Mark is gone, and Pastor Taylor suggests that perhaps he is at the Christian bookstore reading or listening to the latest CCM cassettes. Elisabeth wonders if Mark could have been raptured, but since no clothes were left behind, the pastor says he doubts it. They pray together.

We go to The National Institute for Atheist Science Research, where the atheist scientists are putting on protective suits and descending down some dark stairs. The leader of the atheist scientists is STEPHEN DAWKINS, a serious and humorless man, and right now he is especially upset. There is no prayer here, only hard and cold science. The scientists enter into the darkness of a big room and find their worst nightmare, a giant squishy gross demonic-looking substance. [note: we’ll definitely need some money for SFX]

Drew-Barrymore-in-Firesta-010This brings us to the introduction of another very important character, a mysterious girl who doesn’t talk. She is walking through the woods getting hungry [note: symbolizing spiritual hunger? I’ll talk to my nephew] when she comes upon “Ten Boom’s General Store and Bible Wholesaler”. When she goes into the store, she is tempted to steal some food, but upon seeing a Bible, changes her mind and approaches the sweet old lady working the cash register. The old lady, FANNY TEN BOOM, has pity on her and gives her some food.

Back in the library, the boys are interrupted in their diligent study by the friendly librarian, MR. LOGOS. Mr. Logos invites the boys to come back to his office, where he shows them his new ham radio, and they discuss how they can use it to encourage missionaries all over the world. But their excitement is interrupted by the arrival of Pastor Taylor, who says he needs to talk to the boys. The pastor takes them to the librarian’s office, where he asks them questions about Mark’s disappearance. He recommends that it would be better if they didn’t go looking for their missing friend, which puts the boys in a quandary as they balance their respect for authority and their desire to find Mark.

Ten Boom blesses the food the mysterious girl has in front of her, and then as the mysterious girl eats, the old woman tries to get her to talk. She asks the girl’s name, but the girl can’t answer. The old woman notices that the girl has a tattoo of a dove on her arm, and the mysterious girl indicates her that the tattoo is her name. Ten Boom calls a local Christian homeless shelter and tells them about the girl named DOVE.

In a strange dark room full of atheist scientists, they are listening to phone calls over sophisticated scientific equipment. They listen to the old woman’s call and then dial 666 on their inter-office phone. Dawkins picks up the phone, and he smiles wickedly. They’ve found the girl!

1235168795Pastor Taylor comes to Elisabeth’s house and starts to look around, trying to figure out what might have happened to Mark. She shows him the shed where Mark disappeared and finds – under some straw, and under a shaft of light – a small Psalty toy. The lights flicker and the camera shows Pastor Taylor sensing something in his spirit. “I need the church’s help on this one,” he tells Elisabeth, rushing out heroically to make some phone calls.

In the Moody home, the family is eating dinner. The father says that after dinner he will be joining the church search party to help look for Mark, and Matt continues to be bothered by not being able to help. They have a conversation about authority and respect. Hope, meanwhile, is struggling because she likes Ace, but she knows he’s also such a bad influence. She asks a question which leads her father to tell the story of his coming to Christ, a transformative experience that changed him from a hopeless sinner to a responsible family man. Hope makes the decision at that point that she will try to share her faith with Ace, no matter what – that she will save him. And simultaneously Matt makes the decision to help find Mark, no matter what. [note: they are both acts of defiance that will have consequences later on – bad choices that will earn good lessons]

After dinner in his bedroom, Matt uses his walkie-talkies to contact Luke and John. They decide to meet and look for Mark, even though it is disobeying their parents. Over the walkie-talkie, Matt prays for forgiveness, even while feeling that God will understand. Matt takes off on his bike, but as he’s leaving, he sees Ace climbing the frame of the house into Hope’s room. This is bad, but Matt doesn’t have time to counsel his sister. He rides off into the increasing gloom to find his friend.

hqdefaultUp in Hope’s room, she is working on her Christian history homework when there is a tap on the window. She’s shocked (but secretly happy) to see Ace outside, and she lets him in, where he promises to help her study her Christian history homework. It’s a perfect opportunity for Christian witness, she thinks. She doesn’t realize that Ace has other plans. Inappropriate plans. [note: a good lesson about opening the window of your heart to let Satan into your house]

Back at Fanny Ten Boom’s store, there is a knock on the front door. Ten Boom opens the door to find a representative from the Christian homeless shelter, who smiles and asks about the mysterious girl named Dove. But it’s not really a representative from the Christian homeless shelter – it is an evil atheist scientist looking for the mysterious girl. The evil scientist knocks the old woman on the head and she slumps to the ground. The mysterious girl goes running, but is cornered by two more evil scientists. She focuses her energies on them [note: good time for more SFX – “Stranger Things” goes too subtle on this part, we need to have a glorious light shining from above, perhaps the sound of angel voices?] – cries out “No weapon formed against me shall prosper! ISAIAH 54:17!!!” and the two evil scientists fall to the ground, unconscious. Dove runs out into the forest. Dawkins steps out of the general store, looking into the woods, scowling evilly.

Meanwhile, the boys have reached the spot where Mark disappeared, and they start looking for him, while the rain begins to fall.

999git_winona_ryder_059Back at the Falwell house, the phone rings, and Elisabeth picks it up. There are strange sounds, like devils playing ping pong, and there’s also breathing. Suddenly, very weak and quiet, we hear a child’s voice feebly singing the chorus to Petra’s More Power To Ya, followed by a loud screech, an electric shock, and the phone falls to the ground. Elisabeth cries to Aaron that it was Mark, that she knows her son’s voice, and Mark always loved Petra.

Back in the forest, the rain has started pouring. The boys are yelling, shining flashlights, looking for Mark. They are encouraging each other, building each other in the faith, quoting Scripture, even as they look. Suddenly, they hear the crunching sounds of someone coming through the underbrush, they turn their flashlights, and shine their lights into the face of Dove, whose face seems to be glowing from some inward radiance, even as she is soaked in the pouring rain.

FADE OUT

 

 

 

 

.

 

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…

Branding the Christian Faith • 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media • Day 32

Consumer Jesus by Bangsy

Consumer Jesus by Bangsy

Branding Christianity.

As I enter the home stretch of my 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge, I’m struck by the irritating oxymoron that we sell our Christian faith as just another brand on the shelf.

But before I get into that, I want to consider the concept of branding as a practice.

I just returned from a week in Arizona with my Chinese and Korean elementary and middle school students (yeah, I know… the world’s coolest field trip) and seeing my home country through their eyes, I was struck by how intently everyone and everything is branded.

For example, the boys in my group desperately wanted to get to clothing shops like Hollister’s, because the Hollister’s brand is so popular among a segment of youth in China.  They also wanted Gap, Target, Sketchers, Abercrombie and Fitch, and others.  But it wasn’t just clothing, because when we took them out to eat, they wanted to try the branded restaurants – Chipotle, Cracker Barrel, Red Robin, etc.  The one notable exception was the non-franchised generic Chinese restaurant we took them to so that they could experience Americanized Chinese food (which is almost a brand unto itself), and which they loved, to my amazement.

On the one hand, branding makes sense.  You know that you’re going to get the same quality product no matter where you are.  A Starbucks in Phoenix is the same as a Starbucks in Shenzhen.  The Apple computer you buy in Richmond is going to be the same as the Apple computer you buy in Hong Kong.  There’s a comfort in that fact.  There’s security in that fact.

And isn’t that what we’re after in life?  Comfort and security?

[On a side note, this recent exposure to the concept of branding makes me think my next 40 day challenge should be to try and live a brand-free life.  But I digress…]

rebrandingJesusBranding has worldwide power and influence, and so it comes as no surprise that the faithful would seek to take the Christian faith and turn it into another brand on the marketplace.  Want a hamburger?  Go to McDonalds.  Want to be entertained?  Go see the latest Disney movie.  Want spiritual salvation?  Why not try brand Jesus?

The problem is that the practice of branding the faith has led to the less-than-stellar state of Christian media that we experience today.  And yes, after the past 32 days, I can testify that Christian media, even made with the best of intentions, is less-than-stellar.

After all, branding brings comfort and security.

Branding doesn’t encourage risk and asking difficult questions.

And while Christianity does both of those things, most of our media does not.

For a good example of where I’ve seen this, during my week in Arizona I didn’t have time to expose myself to much Christian media.  We were running all day and night (not just shopping, by the way), and the only place I could find Christian media was while driving the van from place to place, in the form of Christian radio “family-friendly” radio stations, stations that are infamous for trying to appeal to the “Becky” demographic archetype.

Not surprisingly, I was completely underwhelmed by what I found there.  But, I’m not a middle-aged soccer mom, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that it didn’t surprise me.

Here’s the rub with my response to Christian family-friendly music:  I personally know a few Christian musicians and songwriters, and they are – without a doubt – talented people.  In fact, the ones I know have more talent in their little toe than I have in my entire body.  And yet, popular Christian family-friendly music, the kind you hear on our radio stations, arguably the most visible (audible?) part of the Christian brand, is just… bland.

Uninteresting.  Predictable.  Over-produced.  Safe.

And those are not words that I would use to describe the Christian faith.

It seems like Christian music makers are limited by the restraints put on them by the Christian Industrial Complex, which tries to please a certain demographic, and that makes me sad.

But then, that’s the whole concept behind branding, isn’t it?

This practice also underscores my argument that the last thing that Christian filmmakers need to do is allow their craft to be pigeon-holed into some sort of Christian filmmaking industry.  Because at the end of the day, you can be the most talented filmmaker of your generation, but if you have suits from the Christian Industrial Complex above you dictating what you have to do and what you can’t do in order to fit the niche audience’s needs, you will never make a movie that rises above the level of bland.

But again, it all comes back to the bad idea of the creation of Christian brands in the first place.

Can you imagine if the writers and characters of the Bible had been restricted by 21st century evangelical faith-based branding?  If the Christian Industrial Complex had had a hand in what we read today when we open our Bibles?

I think our Scriptures might have been pretty different.  For example…

adameve• Adam and Eve would have been created wearing modest clothing, and the couple would probably also have been wearing complementary Lord’s Gym and His Pain Your Gain t-shirts.

• The story of Noah would have been a nice story about a kindly old man who builds a big boat filled with animals, and saves them from a flood.  There wouldn’t be anything about worldwide devastation, about the death of all other young and old living creatures.  No, it would be something well suited for a Sunday School flannelgraph.

• Forget the whole Noah post-flood-getting-drunk-on-homemade-wine thing.  Welch’s grape juice, maybe, but definitely not homemade wine, and definitely not to the point of getting drunk.

• Abraham would have proudly told Pharaoh that Sarai was his wife, showing the power of his faith, the strength of his convictions, and his respect for the sanctity of marriage.  Then he might have been invited by Pharaoh to speak at the annual Egyptian Men’s Conference.

• The Israelites would have shown much more faith as they wandered in the wilderness.  Making the golden calf?  Out!  Complaining about manna?  Forget it!  Being killed by snakes for their unfaithfulness?  Wouldn’t happen!  They would have been a much more faithful lot, and then Moses would have gotten to go to the promised land, too.

peanut-butter-cup• David dancing naked into the city after the return of the Ark of the Covenant?  Are you kidding me?  First of all, he wouldn’t have danced.  Second, he would have been wearing suitable clothing, including quite possibly the Jesus, Sweet Savior t-shirt along with a respectful pair of dungarees.

• Speaking of David, he wouldn’t have had the whole embarrassing Bathsheba affair.  But if it had to happen, then he would have been excused from his role in leadership until a proper amount of time had passed, and then he would have been allowed back, properly contrite, having learned a valuable lesson, and he would have written a book about his experiences.

• Song of Solomon?  With all that sexual content?  Not a chance.

• And don’t get me started on the prophets.  There would be some serious retooling of those stories needed to make them more palatable to Becky and her friends.

So, what do we do?

Knowing that The Christian Industrial Complex is out there, researching us, trying to figure out what it is that will motivate us to use their services or buy their products, just like Apple, just like Coca-Cola, just like every other branded producer on the marketplace?  What do we do?

It’s really quite simple.  We make a concerted, focused effort to grow in the Christian faith – apart from The Christian Industrial Complex.

9k=

Christian publishers, a Duck Dynasty Bible is too much. Way, way too much. Seriously.

And that means we need to take a page from the Reformation and learn to study God’s word for ourselves.  We don’t need to depend on study Bibles written by the celebrity pastors, famous singers, or even famous duck call salesmen.

Not that the celebrity pastors can’t write worthwhile stuff.  Of course they can.  But we shouldn’t depend upon the celebrity pastors at the cost of not thinking for ourselves.

We must study the Scriptures and learn for ourselves.

The problem is that we’re not doing this.

Last year, Lifeway Research (admittedly part of the CIC) concluded that 19% of American churchgoers read the Bible every day, 26% a few times a week, 14% once a week, 22% once a month, and 18% never read it.

No wonder we’re settling for what The Complex serves us, because we’re not growing in our faith on our own!  We’re expecting others to feed us, and we’re not interested in working for it ourselves.

But here’s the kicker – we’re told very specifically in Philippians that we are to be working out our salvation with fear and trembling!  That doesn’t give the impression that we’re to be concerned with comfort and security, but that we’re supposed to be working!  Yes, it’s work, and it can be scary business, if you’re doing it right.  It’s unsettling!  It’s not at all simple!

And the branding of the Christian faith is just the opposite.

And meanwhile, here I sit, with eight days left on my challenge.  To be honest, I’m really, really looking forward to this challenge being over.  I think I can handle Christian media when I take it in bite-sized chunks, but when I consume nothing else each day, it’s too much.

I long for a Sacred Arts Revolution.

But it’s not all dark, creatively.  There have been some hopeful signs I’ve found in the world of media (specifically music) being made by Christians, but typically outside of the Christian Industrial Complex.

Enjoy Mutemath, Future of Forestry, and Audrey Assad.

 

 

 

 

 

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.