Atheist George Perdikis, co-founder of Newsboys – A Cautionary Tale against Christian Celebrity

This morning while I was having my coffee, this headline came across my Facebook page:

I Co-Founded One of the Most Popular Christian Rock Bands Ever… and I’m Now An Atheist

173880Curious, I clicked it, and read a testimonial from George Perdikis, one of the co-founders of Christian mega-group, The Newsboys.

As I read this article, a few things that Perdikis said popped out at me.

I always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules imposed by Christianity. All I wanted to do was create and play rock and roll… and yet most of the attention I received was focused on how well I maintained the impossible standards of religion. I wanted my life to be measured by my music, not by my ability to resist temptation.

And this…

The Christian music scene is populated by many people who act as though they have a direct hotline to a God who supplies them with the answers to the Universe. There seems to be more ego and narcissism amongst Christian musicians than their secular counterparts.

And this…

The truth is — from someone who knows what went on then and what goes on now — the Newsboys aren’t as holy as they profess. Instead of wearing a mask of “righteousness,” they should acknowledge that they are struggling as much as everyone else.

Now that’s a movie I’d like to see.

It’s one of the unfortunate truths of life that we Christians love having Christian celebrities as much as the world loves having theirs.  Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-15 and you’ll see that even in the early church Christians had the bad habit of idolizing other Christians.  But unlike the world, Christians typically add unrealistic expectations to our idol worship: holding our idols to perfect standards that they – and we – simply cannot keep.

This is true with Christian singers and musicians, church pastors, academics, athletes, writers, and many other high-profile occupations.  These are our Christian idols, and while they may desire to point people towards God, we quite often nod in agreement about their proclamations about God and then spend the bulk of our time dwelling on them – the idols themselves.

blog-concert-02In their defense, I know that many inadvertent Christian idols hate this.  They work hard to be accessible and to spend time with the people who come to their concerts or lectures, to be real people.  But as hard as they might work towards pointing people to Him, we still adulate them and hold up as super-spiritual superstar role models.  It’s as if their ability to play chords on a guitar, write catchy or poetic lyrics, write a compelling novel, or put together an effective Bible study somehow makes them extra-special to God, gives them unique knowledge about God, and designates them especially worthy of our praise.

And then, when it turns out that they are just as messed up as the rest of us – when, for example, their sin becomes public – we toss them to the curb for not living up to the standards we – the Christian audience – have set up for them.

And then we move on to the next Christian celebrity to idolize.

Actually, I feel somewhat sorry for our Christian idols, because they have to deal with our adulation.  As funny as it might sound to our fame-craving culture, I can’t imagine anything more difficult for a Christian than actually making it in a field that exposes them to celebrityism.  Unless you are truly grounded, with a team of non-celebrity friends close by who will warn you when you’re starting to wander off the ranch, you will live in constant danger of believing that you are as wonderful as everyone around you tells you that you are.

holywoodA few weeks ago, I wrote a post called 3 Reasons Why a Christian Film Industry is a Really, Really Bad Idea, and I would make this my fourth reason.  As we stand on the edge of a new Christian Film Industry thanks to the successes of 2014:  do we really want to do the same thing for Christian filmmakers?  Do we really want to create a new cadre of Christian film actor idols?  Christian film director idols?  Christian film producer idols?

We have an opportunity in filmmaking by Christians – a relatively new animal – to do things differently than we did with music and publishing, and I believe part of that comes from not creating an industry around Christian film, but building up professionals from within the existing industry – as missionaries.  Not celebrities.

We have the fresh possibility of intentionally seeing our filmmaking artists – no matter their level of success – as children of God, who are constantly battling their own flesh-driven thorns just like we are, who are the same as we are in God’s eyes, even though they may be able to turn a phrase in a special way, look good on camera, or have a unique eye behind the lens.

Christian filmmakers, part of this fall on you, too.  As you begin to achieve success in Hollywood, stay firmly grounded in the truth that God isn’t impressed that you wrote a feature length script that has been picked up to be made into a film.  He isn’t impressed that the film you worked on for five years was the surprise of the season and brought in a surprisingly high box office.  He isn’t impressed that you made it onto the cover of Variety or Hollywood Reporter.  He isn’t even impressed that you won an Academy Award.

What does impress Him?  Among things, this…

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”.   Matthew 18:2-4

And this…

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.  ‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.  “And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:29-31

And this…

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”  John 15:4

Fellow Christians, we must stop idolizing other Christians, no matter what their calling.  They’re people, just like you and me, using their gifts to the glory of God.  When we idolize them, we set them on a path that is potentially destructive for them, that could lead them and us away from Him – the only one who deserves our praise.

So admire our Christian artists, academics, writers, and pastors; appreciate and enjoy their gifts; pray for them, certainly.

But let’s keep the idolizing where it belongs.

In front of this guy.

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Thimblerig’s Interview • Bill Myers

backcoverbill-jpgWith tomorrow being the first day of this year’s National Novel Writing Month, it seemed appropriate that my first Thimblerig’s Interview would be with the very accomplished and successful writer, Bill Myers.

Perhaps best known for McGee and Me!, the popular kids television program and novel series, Bill has also written more than 80 books, both fiction and non-fiction, and he also has experience in film, with credits as an actor, producer, writer and director.

Oh!  And Bill also happens to be a committed Christian.

I recently came across Bill’s work Kickstarter campaign for a film called Forbidden Doors, which you can read about here.  This campaign is raising support for an independent film based on his book series of the same name, Forbidden Doors.

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I was very interested to read about the filmmaker’s plans – that they want to make a film that reaches outside the Christian subculture, a film that entertains as well as shares truth, a film that has “plenty of chills and thrills to keep the audience glued to the screen.”

Curious to know more about the people behind this film project, I wrote Bill and asked if he would be willing to answer a few questions about being a writer who happens to be a Christian in the modern entertainment industry.  He graciously agreed and took the time to answer a few questions.

Please Introduce yourself…

Author/filmmaker, 70 national and international awards including the C.S. Lewis Honor Award. 8 million/books videos sold. And I take none of it seriously, just use it as cred to open some doors. For the most part, I’m the goofy neighbor next door who keeps forgetting to mow his lawn.

How did you get involved in filmmaking?

I saw the power story and parable has to mold and motivate our culture.

Who have been some of your most profound creative influences as an artist?

Sorry for the piety, but I’d have to say the Apostle John. Actually, Scripture in general. There has been no book I’ve found that so accurately captures the heart of God, man, and our world. I’m not talking religion here, but as a work of art, nothing even comes close.

What are your thoughts on the state of filmmaking in the Christian community?

I have very strong opinions which I never make public. I’m happy to sit down with a filmmaker and tell them my opinions and suggestions for improvement of their work (and when asked, do so) but I am loath to discuss their shortcomings publically. That’s like telling the world the flaws about somebody else’s baby. Making a movie is so difficult, we should be required to give standing ovations at the opening credits before we even see the quality.

Considering that most “faith-based” films only play to Christian audiences, what do you think is the key for films made by Christians reaching beyond the Christian subculture?

Stop the propaganda. Stop trying to change your audience. Stop using characters as mouthpieces for your philosophy and make them real with real strengths and weaknesses. Christian films for Christians are mostly to affirm. I get that. With all the tearing down, there’s a much-needed place for encouragement. But if we’re doing projects for those outside the family (and still want those projects to have an eternal impact upon our culture) than be content with simply glorifying God with your art (which is controversial enough in our current climate) and let the Holy Spirit do His part in drawing the audience closer to Him. Exalt God. Let God do the rest.

You are currently raising funds to make a film called Forbidden Doors with a Kickstarter campaign. Please give a synopsis of the film and tell us a bit of the history of the production.

It’s based on my teen book series, Forbidden Doors. A couple teens return to California from the Amazon and discover their classmates, in fact the entire town, is falling under some very evil occult influences. With so much attention toward the paranormal these days and so many misconceptions, it seemed a natural and much-needed project. And since you brought up Kickstarter, here’s our link if you feel like helping out or forwarding it to friends. http://kck.st/1rdb4UI Thanks, we really need it.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced so far in developing the project?

Um, er . . . money.

Forbidden Doors has been described as Christian Horror, which is unusual for a film made by Christian artists. What advice would you give to other filmmakers who want to go down this path in their own stories?

Don’t get carried away with the creep factor. As an old agent once said, “Bad publicity is better than no publicity.” The devil doesn’t care what you say about him just as long as you’re talking about him. Don’t give him too much credit. If kids go to bed at night afraid of him, you’re working for the wrong side. Make sure God not only trumps evil, but does it in a way that we stop fearing that evil and realize we actually have the power to kick its butt.

Do you think it’s possible for Christians to make edgy – even R-rated films? Please explain your thoughts on this question.

The Bible is full of edgy, R-rated scenes . . . but the edginess is never glorified.  I think the reason some Christians don’t make R rated movies falls along the lines of what Paul says regarding stumbling a weaker brother. That’s the tension of being in both worlds…the religious (and I use that term intentionally) and being relevant to a very different culture. Whatever you decide requires careful prayer and expectation of ridicule. I plan to be raked over the coals by secular reviewers who say Forbidden Doors is too tame because it’s too realistic and that there is no gore…and bad-mouthed by the Pharisee element of Christianity that is eager to judge without evaluating my heart and purpose.

What final advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers or novelists, especially those who are approaching filmmaking or writing as a calling or a ministry?

If you sincerely see it as a ministry (and not some way of being famous or being loved by the world) immerse yourself in God’s presence. Take quality time each day to feed your soul, to dwell in His heart. It’s not your ministry, it’s His. Be flexible to His desires. I want to exalt Christ to the nations, and for decades I wore myself out doing it on my own (while begging God to wake up and get with my plan). Only recently have I discovered His real method:

“Be still and know that I am God. And I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10.

Do you want to exalt Him? Then be still in His presence and know Him. If you’re under thirty it’s doubtful you’ll believe me. I wouldn’t. But don’t take my word for it, take His. If you want to exalt God . . . be still and know that He is. It’s totally backwards and upside down thinking from that of the world. But if you’ve hung out with God for any time, you know upside-down is pretty much His style.

I appreciate Bill taking the time to answer my questions, and hope that the readers of Thimblerig’s Ark Blog will be encouraged and energized by Bill’s advice, garnered by years in the industry.

Finally, I encourage my readers to head over to the Kickstarter page and consider being a part of making Forbidden Doors a reality.

Find out more about Bill Myers at his website

Bill on Twitter: @BillMyersauthor

Bill on Facebook: /billmyersauthor

Looking for Readers in Repressive Countries

I just checked my stats page, and discovered that since I published the article, What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking, my blog has been read by people in nearly every country in the world, with close to 100,000 visits.

That’s insane.

I’ve not had visitors from Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Turkmenistan, Myanmar (Burma), Greenland, Madagascar, Mauritania, Yemen, Angola, Gabon, Syria, a few countries in the middle of the African continent, and a scattering of South Pacific Islands.  But pretty much every other country is represented.  That’s maybe 180 countries.

People from 180 countries have visited this blog in the past couple of weeks.

That’s even more insane.

What would really be insane is if by reading that article people in all of those places were encouraged to either (a) step out and take creative risks in their art for the cause of Christ or (b) be mobilizers, encouragers, and financial supporters to those people in group (a).

Can you imagine the impact such a creative revolution could have?

The really wild part of this is that I didn’t write anything particularly original, and I’ve had many people tell me that they had written similar things over the years.  It was just an idea that went out at the right time and hit many, many nerves.  But, I also believe strongly that nothing happens outside of God’s sovereign will, and that He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) – even with a blog post written on an otherwise unknown and inconsequential blog by an otherwise unknown and inconsequential writer.

Think about it for a second… what will He do?   What is He already doing?

At first I thought that perhaps God permitted this to happen so that I could sell hundreds of copies of my novel and jumpstart my writing career, but that hasn’t happened.   Now I’ve started wondering what other reason He may have had for doing what He’s done.  And even though the number of visitors to my blog has dropped off considerably since that first posting, I am curious to know four things from those who are still hanging around and who would be willing to share:

1)  Are you an (a) person or a (b) person from above?  Please tell me about it.

2)  What have you been challenged to do that you weren’t doing before you read the blog?  It could be artistic or supportive, and I’m asking you to self-promote a bit here, so fire away, and feel free to link to sites outside this blog.

3)  Maybe nothing has changed yet, but what are you now planning to do differently in the near future as a result of reading the blog?  What changes have you put into motion?

4)  What steps have you taken to make sure that you don’t just walk away from the challenges that were set before you, and just return to business as usual?

I would love to have some good feedback with this.  So if you have the time, please comment!  And if nothing has changed for you at all, feel free to write about that as well.

Nate

Author of Thimblerig’s Ark

Thimblerig's Ark Cover Art