Thimblerig’s Three Interesting Things of the Day • November 12, 2014

First of all, NaNoWriMo continues, and we’re nearing the middle of the month.  The middle of the month in NaNoWriMo is typically the time where we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the dogs from the cats.  It’s the time when we find out who is really serious about finishing 50,000 words in thirty days, come hell or high water.   I wish I could say it’s the time when one’s writing becomes really spectacular, but unfortunately, it’s when the quality of the writing starts to become sacrificed on the alter of word count.

In honor of the middle of the month, I give you Gandalf the Grey, and his experience with NaNoWriMo.

NanoGandalf

I do have to say that if I make it to the finish line, I am going to have a very precocious eleven year old girl to thank.  I teach 6th grade here in China, and my class is doing the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program.  We spent the month of October in intense preparation, and part of that was allowing the students to choose their own writing goals.  Most students chose around 15,000 words in the month, but one ambitious student chose 30,000.  When NaNoWriMo began, she made it her new goal to beat me, and so while I’m writing close to 2,000 words a day, so is she.  Currently, she has about two hundred words more than I do, so I’ve convinced her to up her final goal to the adult level of 50,000, and she has agreed.

This has worked out really well for me, because now I base whether or not I will quit for the day on her word count, rather than if I’ve reached my daily goal, so I’m being pushed forward.  50,000 words, here I come!

Speaking of young people, my own eleven year old daughter took an extremely cute picture of her seventeen month old brother, Noah, who has just discovered how to make duck lips.   The picture she took was so cute because Noah is standing much like an adult might, if they were striking a heroic pose.  I absolutely love this picture.

noah duckface

And of course, the more I looked at this picture, the more it reminded me of one of the promotional posters that Darren Aronofsky put out for Noah.   And since our Noah shares the name, I thought it might improve the poster a bit to get rid of the sour looking Russell Crowe, and give Noah a more upbeat expression.

The Real NoahNow that would have been a spectacular movie.

And finally, I give you John Oliver, and the Salmon Cannon.

Now, considering that I’ve used several hundred words here that should have been on my NaNoWriMo novel, I’m going to go ahead and close it up.

See you next week, with the next three interesting things I can find!

P.S. On principal, I refuse to include Too Many Cooks in my list.  I just refuse to do it.

 

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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¢…

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Replying to Some “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking” Questions

Over on faithwriters.com, someone linked to the article, “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking”.  A poster there named Lillian raised some issues with my blog, and I thought I would address them here, in case anyone is interested.

My original points are in italics, Lillian’s responses are in bold, and my replies are using a normal font.

1) We need to permit our artists (writers, actors, musicians, filmmakers) to take more risks. And artists, whether you are permitted or not, take more risks. Did you really get into your artistic field because you liked playing it safe? Why play it safe with the most important thing you have to say?

Some artists need no permission to “play it safe.” They prefer it that way. Every Christian artist should feel free to create as per their convictions. To imply that one is less of an artist or flawed in some way because they don’t take “risks” according to this author’s belief is troublesome to me. 

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in my article.  My intention wasn’t that we should require all artists of faith to take risks.  Rather, I was attempting to challenge the church to allow her artists to take risks – as per their convictions.

2) We need to encourage our artists to challenge rather than stroke our sensibilities. A pearl is made when dirt is irritated inside the oyster, after all. And so artists, don’t wait for permission. Start challenging your audience. They will undoubtedly resist you, but we need to be challenged or we’ll stagnate and fade away into irrelevance.

And yet, among the most sold books world wide last year and on the Times bestseller books for months was “Killing Jesus.” Irrelevance? Not as long as God has something to say about it.

First, God is sovereign, and just like He used Balaam’s donkey, He can and will use our attempts to create art in surprising ways.   But you have to admit that if we will stagnate if we only expose ourselves to things with which we agree.  Nobody outside our little subculture will care what we do as artists, because we’ll be so out of touch.

Before anyone suggests that I’m suggesting that we watch hard R-rated films for the sake of exposure.  That’s not at all what I mean.  Let me use the Noah film to help clarify my point.

I read testimonies by many Christians who said that they would not see the movie for a variety of reasons, based on what they’d heard:

•  The director is an atheist.

•  It’s a pro-environment movie.

•  The film has rock people.

•  The animals didn’t enter the ark two by two.

•  Noah has a mental breakdown on the ark.

•  Noah gets drunk.

Basically, these people were choosing to avoid having their interpretations of the Noah story challenged.  To be honest, I have a great deal more respect for the Christians who saw the film and hated it, and complained about it afterward, because they were at least open to seeing another point of view.

This brings me back to my point.  If we don’t like the way people outside the church challenge us, then we should take the reins and challenge each other with the art we produce, à la Proverbs 27:17.  Most Christian films don’t do this because the people who make those films are too busy trying to please their core audience (understandably), who largely wish to be stroked and not challenged.  It is my contention that filmmakers/storytellers should be freed up to say things that make us uncomfortable, and if the church doesn’t give them permission, they need to be say those things anyway.

Like a prophet.

This makes me think of a favorite story about Rich Mullins speaking to the chapel service at Wheaton College, as told by Shane Claiborne in his book, The Irresistible Revolution.  Shane reports that Rich said:

“You guys are all into that born again thing, which is great. We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemus. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, I can tell you that you just have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too…[And he paused in the awkward silence.] But I guess that’s why God invented highlighters, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest.”

3) We need to recognize that art is art, the pulpit is the pulpit, and while the two might cross paths from time to time, they are completely different animals.

They are as per the secular world, but for the Christian artist, should they be? What happened to being “light,” “salt,” “being in not of,” and “examples” not “carbon copies,” leading not following.

Yes, yes, yes!  A thousand times yes!  Of course they should be different!   After all…

The pulpit is the place where Scripture should be explained and the Message delivered clearly, without ambiguity.

Art is inevitably ambiguous, depending on the eyes or ears of the beholder to discover the meaning for him or herself.

The pulpit is the embodiment of “tell, don’t show.”

Art is the embodiment of “show, don’t tell.”

In the pulpit, the personality of the preacher shouldn’t matter, because the message is paramount.  In fact, if people are more excited about the messenger than the message, then that group may have a problem.

In art, the personality of the artist might be sole the reason for the excitement for the art, and this doesn’t need to detract from the art.

In my original article, I conceded that the two may cross paths from time to time, but that should be the exception, not the rule.  I might want to see that guy who paints upside down pictures of Christ on a special Sunday morning, but I don’t want him up front every week (this is a problem I have with some modern worship – but that’s the subject of another article).  At the same time, maybe a piece of art will sometimes be on the nose for effect, but if it is a regular occurrence, it will get shut down by those who aren’t into the message being proclaimed.

So, yes.  They should be different.

As to Christians setting the example, I would say that is the job of every Christian in every situation.  Sometimes we set the example by explicitly sharing our faith; sometimes we set the example by quietly helping someone in need.

This goes for everyone. Does everyone truly understand this? With all the recent criticisms of Noah because it “is unbiblical”, I have to think that lots of people don’t.

Why would an admitted atheist want to take a biblical story and turn it into a non-biblical film? Could it be that Hollywood has discovered a new way to make money by exploiting the Bible without embracing it? 

I have to admit before responding to this that I have still been unable to see Noah, because I live in China, and it’s not showing here because it is a film based on a Bible story.   That being said, I’d love to know why you consider the film to be “non-biblical”?

Meanwhile, I’ll ask – are these randomly Googled other examples of Noah biblical?

http://www.daniellesplace.com/html/bible_themes_noah.html

http://www.artistichandsoffaith.com/?p=917

http://www.dltk-bible.com/arks.htm

http://www.freehomeschooldeals.com/free-printables-for-kids-noahs-ark-coloring-pages/

4) We need to be okay with movies that don’t give all the answers. 

Says who? Why should we have to be “okay” with it? The overriding stamp of approval is whether we feel God is “okay” with it. I’m still a proponent of God’s opinion rather than man’s. 

Re-read my quote and tell me where I said that God’s opinion is not important.  Then re-read your quote and see where you wrote that it’s based on what we feel.  I would – rather – posit that our okayness with ambiguity should be based on what Scripture teaches.  Specifically, look at the teaching style of Jesus.  To the masses, he often told stories that the people didn’t get, and they would walk away scratching their heads.  Even the disciples, his closest mates, would come up to him afterwards and ask him to explain himself.  As Eugene Peterson wrote, Christ was often subversive in the things that he taught.  A lost coin?  Virgins waiting at the gate?  A man beat up on the road?  What do these things have to do with God?

And still today, life is often filled with unanswered questions.  Why did five-year-old Ben Sauer just die from a rare form of cancer?  Why did nearly three hundred miners just get killed in an accident in Turkey?  Why did the job I was counting on for next year get suddenly taken away from me?

God has given us lives filled with ambiguity.  Maybe, just maybe he has done this so that we will turn to Him for an explanation, like the disciples did.  And if no explanation is offered, maybe he is helping us learn to trust His goodness in the face of the ambiguity.

If they succeed in asking some good, deep questions, they might actually open the doors to conversations where answers can be explored.

The Bible is not only to be explored, as if it’s in some artistic laboratory, but accepted. Anything that doesn’t lead to that end is mere entertainment. Entertainment is fine, but let’s not confuse it with trying to communicate truth. 

First, how can you accept what the Bible teaches if you don’t explore it?

Second, are you suggesting that the only satisfactory end to truthful art made by Christians is that the Bible be accepted?  This is confusing to me, because I’m not really even sure what it means to “accept the Bible.”

If – by that phrase – you mean accept that the Bible is God’s word, then I would say that art can help bring a person to this place, but it will typically not do it by itself.

If – by that phrase – you mean accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then I would say that the phrase is not a biblical phrase anyway, so it would be irrelevant.

If – by that phrase – you mean accept the core message of the Bible – the Gospel – that God made us and loves us; that our sin has condemned us; that we are separated from Him; that Jesus came and died on the cross to pay our debt and restore the relationship between humanity and God; that we must believe that Jesus was who he said he was, repent of our sins, and receive Jesus’s forgiveness and salvation… so you’re suggesting that all art made by Christians has to end with a call to salvation?  Or is it possible that an artist can communicate this message in a subtle way so that a non-believer is willing to be exposed to it, and when they watch/read/hear the story, the Holy Spirit has some room to start pricking the heart?

See, to me, this is the power of art made by people of faith – when well crafted, it has the power to slip past defenses and lay out the truth behind enemy lines.  And the art might just need to be entertaining to accomplish this.  It might not have a clear gospel call as a part of the entertaining, but it doesn’t change the fact that can still impact, just like the stories of Jesus did.

Artists, isn’t part of our job to provoke questions? Don’t feel you have to end every sentence with a period.

No, but we need be tolerant of everyone’s point of view and preferences. And in spite of my comments, I respect this author’s right to express his opinion. 

I appreciate that, and right back at you.

5) Jesus wasn’t known for telling mediocre stories that ticked off all the correct religious boxes. He was known for telling compelling stories that challenged his listeners while communicating God’s truth. Aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus?

Yes, we’re suppose to “communicate God’s truth, not that of a secularist/atheist. I haven’t seen it, but I was wondering, should I decide to see it, will I find any of “God’s truth” there?

Considering that all truth is God’s truth, I believe that you will.   And again, if God used Balaam’s donkey, why can’t he use Aronofsky’s filmmaking skills?  Of course, I believe it would be helpful to leave your own traditions and personal interpretations of the Noah story at the door before you walk into the theater to watch.  Christians don’t own the story of Noah, after all.

I just hope we can figure out how to tell The Story – truly the Greatest Story Ever Told – in the manner in which it deserves, and in such an excellent way that people outside the Christian subculture will receive it.

Can you find the “Greatest Story Ever Told” in the film in question? And why do we need to “figure out a way to tell the story? The blueprint has worked ever since Jesus told His disciples what to do and how to do it. I need to be convinced that relevancy is the answer to rebellion and apathy.

Again, I haven’t seen Noah yet, so I can’t say.  As to why we need to “figure out a way to tell the story”?  We need to figure it out because the world needs so desperately to hear it.  There is a time for using the clear language of the pulpit, but God isn’t limited to communicating His truth through that venue.  He can use a novel, a screenplay, a piece of sculpture, a painting, a piano concerto, photography, poetry, 3-D art, and yes… even mime.

And why is relevancy such a dirty word?  Especially in this situation, I would equate relevant with excellence.  An excellently told story will – by virtue of its excellence – be relevant.  And we, as Christian artists, should strive for excellence – and therefore relevance – in every single piece of art that we produce.  Because the goal of what we are creating should be to whisper, sing, cry, laugh, or shout out God’s glory for everyone to see.

Thimblerig’s Ark

There was plenty of controversy connected with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, but that ship has sailed.

Thimblerig’s Ark is still here!

Thimblerig’s Ark is a middle grade novel that tells the animal’s story of Noah’s Ark, and it’s actually been said that Christians will be offended by reading it.  Of course, I found this to be ludicrous, but someone felt that way, so – whatever.

If you haven’t, head on over to Amazon and download Thimblerig’s Ark, and find out what I’m talking about!

Jeffrey Overstreet’s Commentary on Aronofsky’s Noah

As I’ve already mentioned, I have been thinking about writing a critique of the Christian response to Darren Aronofsky’s film, Noah.  Because I’ve been consistently floored by  the responses I’ve seen coming from different quarters about the film, I may still write it.

Meanwhile, writer Jeffrey Overstreet has written a very good commentary on the same subject, and hits some very important points:

First, why Aronofsky was a natural choice as a filmmaker to make the story of Noah:

The story of Noah and the ark is an Old Testament story, cherished by many religious traditions (not just Christianity). It’s about a man who goes to extremes, following God’s instruction in hopes of saving his family and the living things that God has created from the judgment that God promises to bring down upon the earth. When the great flood comes, Noah’s obedience is honored, and he and his family are saved.

But that’s not the end of the story. Things take a terrible turn. Noah becomes a darker, more complicated character, prone to drunkenness, and shaming himself before his family.

It sounded like just the subject for Darren Aronofsky.

Second, when the film arrived:

Some believers did indeed rejoice. They celebrated the film as a powerful interpretation.

Some didn’t rejoice. They were disappointed. The movie didn’t work for them.

Nevertheless, these two groups had civil discussions about the film. They argued respectfully about Aronofsky’s imaginative flourishes. They argued respectfully about his interpretation of the Bible story.

Third, regarding a third group that reacted angrily about the film:

Moreover, these angry people condemned moviegoers who disagreed with them. They said that any Christians who say they like Noah must be one or more of the following:

• They’re lying.

• They’re deceived.

• They’ve been paid off by the studios.

• They’re so embarrassed over being a Christian, so filled with self-loathing, that they’ll cheer for anyone who makes a mockery of the faith.

I would invite you to go read Overstreet’s analysis in it’s entirety, and wait for part two.  It’s the continuation of an interesting conversation.

Update:  You can read part two of Overstreet’s commentary here.  It’s a fascinating discussion of Noah that Overstreet had with film enthusiast, Julie Silander.  It’s a good read, too.

 

I’m So Angry About the Biblical Inaccuracies in Noah!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Noah film, and the livid reactions of so many Christians who are so upset that the film wasn’t more faithful to their interpretation of the Biblical story.  I’m probably going to write about it, but for today, I’m just going to post this picture, and wonder if any Christians get upset by the way this picture strays from the Biblical story.

noahs_ark_find_the_differences_460_1