Thimblerig’s Three Interesting Things of the Day • November 27, 2014

1.  NaNoWriMo’s End

kslukfzfpi0iqqg8bumeThe end of November is here, which means that NaNoWriMo’s end is in sight.  For me, working on the second book in my Thimblerig’s Ark series, this has been one of my most positive NaNoWriMo experiences.  I’m hoping to actually win early, which I’ve never done before!  Heck, I’ve only ever even won NaNoWriMo once, so this is doubly a good year for me.

What’s made this year different?  One thing:  writing in community.

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 1.27.40 PMThis year I’ve been writing in several communities:  First, there’s my class of 6th graders at QSI International School of Shenzhen.  Second, there are the handful of teachers at my school who are also writing.  Third, there’s my online community through the NaNoWriMo forums.  And fourth, surprisingly to me, there are the new friends I’ve made on Twitter by using #NaNoWriMo and #amwriting in some of my tweets.  What a difference it has made to be writing with others!

I especially want to acknowledge Jessica, one of my 6th grade students, who made it a goal from November 1 to keep up with me.  As of this posting, Jessica has written 46,168 words!  She’s 11 years old, folks, and she’s writing at the adult level – and it’s pretty good writing, to boot!  Jessica has spent many days ahead of me, and when she’s behind me she’s caught up quickly.  But the most important thing to me is that Jessica has kept me on my toes, which I needed.   Thinking about Jessica, the QSI teachers who are also pushing me to finish, and the new friends I made last weekend writing in Hong Kong, led me to create this Tolkien-inspired ode to NaNoWriMo community and friendship.

Nano Carry

It’s with great pleasure that I acknowledge that I will reach the top of Mt. Doom because of the efforts of these various communities, and the encouragement of others who are also making the climb.  Sometimes they’ve carried me, and sometimes I’ve carried them, but the best news is that we will reach the top and accomplish our goals.  Happy end of November, my NaNoWriMo communities!

2.  Benjamin Watson’s Response to Ferguson

14041417-standardLiving in China, I couldn’t be much farther away from the recent events in Ferguson, but I have been watching and paying attention.  I even gave up social media for a day when I realized how polarized my beloved home country had become because of the decision of the grand jury, and I’d grown weary of all the fighting.

And then this morning I came upon a viral Facebook post by Benjamin Watson, who plays tight end for the New Orleans Saints, and I thought it had to be one of the most reasonable and reasoned responses to those events that I’ve read anywhere.  I’m going to post his comments in their entirety, but you can read it here.

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I’M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I’M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I’M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I’m a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a “threat” to those who don’t know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I’M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I’M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I’M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I’M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I’ve seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I’M CONFUSED, because I don’t know why it’s so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don’t know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

What a fantastic post, full of common sense and fairness.  And God bless Mr. Watson for that last paragraph, because that’s where he gets to the heart of the matter.  Well said, Mr. Watson!

3.  Jurassic Parks and Recreation Trailer

Like a lot of people my age, Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park and the Spielberg movie were both seminal pop culture experiences for me.  I remember reading the book on an airplane, and I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough.  And then Spielberg came along and made an amazingly satisfying film adaptation of Crichton’s fantastic novel.

When I heard that we were going to get a chance to return to Isla Nublar, I was hesitantly excited.  As is often the case with sequels, Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3: No Clever Subtitle were exponentially less interesting than the original, and so I had a hard time being fully on board with Jurassic World.

However, having now watched the trailer, I can admit that I’ve had a change of heart.  This movie looks like it will actually be pretty good!  And it has some things going for it. First of all, the movie stars current Nicest Guy In Hollywood, Chris Pratt, and I’ve never NOT enjoyed something that Chris has done.  Second, Mr. Spielberg is executive producing, and so he’ll 1384423664_chris_pratt_jurassic_parkhopefully help shepherd the film in the right direction (although he did also executive produce 3, so that’s not necessarily a plus).  Third, it appears that director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) has decided to mirror the feel of the original, which will hopefully mean we’ll have a fun ride in store for us when the film opens on June 15.

So, I hope you all have a fantastic Thanksgiving!  And Thimblerig’s Interesting Things will be back again next week.

T.Hanksgiving

 

Beware of Christians – Thimblerig’s Review

The other day, I came across the trailer for an upcoming film called Believe Me, which has this logline: “Desperate, broke, and out of ideas, four college seniors start a fake charity to embezzle money for tuition.”

official-movie-poster-for-believe-me-in-theaters-and-on-demand-starting-sept-26-2014

This film caught my eye because it is being marketed as the anti-faith-based film – a movie made by Christians that tells the kind of story most faith-based filmmakers aren’t willing to tell.  It is a movie that the filmmakers aren’t interested in labeling a “Christian movie”.   In an interview with The Christian Post, director Will Bakke said emphatically, “to be clear, ‘Believe Me’ is not a Christian movie. Christianity is the backdrop to the story, but there’s no hidden agenda or altar call at the end of it.”

When I read this interview, part of me was intrigued.  After all, it sounded like these guys were trying to do exactly what I’ve been challenging the readers of this blog that Christians needed to be doing – making good films that don’t necessarily have “a family-friendly, faith-based, Dove Foundation approved” label slapped onto it.  A film that might actually attract people from outside of the church, and plant a few seeds through excellent storytelling rather than bashing them on the head with didactic on-the-nose preaching.

You know, kind of like Jesus used to do.

Radical idea, eh?

But then my cynical nature popped up, and the warning lights started flashing.  After all, what if these guys were playing some sort of game?  What if they were conning us, just like the characters in their film?  What if they were just a group of guys who really weren’t interested in the Christian faith, but who were savvy enough to recognize that there were a LOT of Christians out there who haven’t jumped on the sub-par faith-based film bandwagon?  That there were lots of us looking for an “anti-faith-based” film made by Christians?

What if they just saw that there was money to be made by saying all the right things, but not really believing them?

So, being the good blogger journalist I’m endeavoring to be, I decided to do some research.  I scoured their website, where I saw that these guys were pretty creative and seemed to be a bit on the hipster side with their retro Mad Men suits, but what I didn’t see was anything that confirmed or denied what they were saying in the interviews.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 1.04.35 PM

I realized I would have to go a step further, and check out one of their previous films in the hope that I might get some confirmation, one way or the other, which led me to download Riot Studio’s 2010 provocatively-titled documentary, Beware of Christians.

Beware of Christians is a film made by four young college-aged Christians who decide to spend five weeks backpacking across Europe, talking to people and each other about their thoughts on God and the following seven topics: identity, materialism sex/relationships, church, wealth/poverty, media/entertainment, and alcohol.  The film opened with one of my favorite quotes from Brennan Manning, which caught my attention and started me wondering if the Riot Studios boys might be Ragamuffins, too:

“The single greatest cause of atheism today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and deny him with their lifestyle.”

It was a good sign, and so I pressed on.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 1.16.42 PMFilmed as if the viewer had just walked up on a conversation in progress, we’re introduced to the four affable young men: Alex, Will, Michael, and Matt, sitting around a table surrounded by darkness, but bathed in a single light.  They are typical early 20-somethings, talking alot, often about nothing at all, but surprisingly sometimes about much, much deeper things.

Through a series of quick shots, they share the reason for this documentary – to get away from all of the influences and distractions of their American Christian lives to try and figure out what Jesus wants from them.

And so they fly off to Europe for five weeks to try and wrangle this out.

This thought came to me pretty early on in the viewing:  When I was in college, why the heck didn’t I think of flying off to Europe with my friends and making it into a documentary?

But I digress.

On the one hand, I appreciated that these four guys were earnestly asking questions, and I appreciated that they seemed willing to dig deeper into the things they’d been taught growing up in the Bible belt.  Too many Christians never take that step, blindly believing what they’re taught.  This makes for flabby, sheep-like Christians who typically end up following a charismatic pastor rather the Good Shepherd.  These misguided sheep also don’t have a problem flocking to poorly made “faith-based” films because the films hit all the right beats that reaffirm their place in the flock.  In Beware, I was impressed both by the questions these four asked, and the fact that they were willing to search – not for something to replace their faith, but for how to be authentic Christians.

On the other hand, it was obvious from the get-go that I was not a part of the intended demographic for this film.  The filmmakers plainly made this film for their peers – churched kids in their late teens or early twenties – not married dads in their mid-forties.  This meant that as I watched the film, I had an increasing awareness that I’m years away from the stage of life of the intended audience, and while I don’t claim to understand everything about the Christian faith, I have already been through much of the same soul-searching, but it’s been a while.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 1.31.06 PMThe result?  Half the time I wanted to pat these guys on the back in support of the spiritual journey they were documenting, and the other half the time I wanted to smack them upside the head for their goofiness and general immaturity.  Really?  Dressing like gladiators and fighting with toy swords at The Coliseum?  Stealing your friend’s postcards and lying about it?  Does twenty years of life really make that much of a difference?  I suppose it does.

Perhaps an unintended consequence of watching Beware of Christians was a renewed respect for the folks who are called to minister in campus organizations like Intervarsity, Crusade, or FCA, or those called to teach on university campuses.

To speak to the quality of the film…

This is the second film that Riot Studios produced, and so while the film was reasonably well-cut, and the pacing was fairly brisk, the finished product was still a bit rough and I felt like it could have done with some trimming.  For example, it seemed like they tried to create a little conflict between a couple of the guys with the previously mentioned stolen postcards running gag, but in my opinion, this was a darling that should have been killed.  It didn’t add to the film, and just made Alex and Will look a bit like jerks.  Just let the guy send his postcards!

Overall, I would recommend the film for youth groups or university ministries, as those demographics would probably appreciate the antics of the leads, but more importantly, the film could be a great launching point for discussion about God, life, and the Christian faith.  The quartet does a good job of raising questions, and I was gratified to see that they consistently look for answers in the right place.

And the best part for me is that now I won’t go into Believe Me with any reservations about the spiritual foundation undergirding the filmmakers.  I feel reassured that they will probably be doing their best to produce a well-made film that will contain an important nugget or two of truth, even without a hidden agenda or alter call.  And I hope beyond hope that it will be the anti-faith-based Christian film that I’ve been waiting for.

And considering that Believe Me has Nick Offerman in a supporting role, I think there’s a pretty good chance that it will be just that.

nic