Thimblerig’s Film Review • Christian Mingle

christian-mingle-poster01Last night Mrs. Thimblerig and I sat down to watch Corbin Bernsen’s 2014 romantic comedy, Christian Mingle.  We thought it was fun, entertaining for a romcom (admittedly not my favorite genre), and good for a date night for a Christian couple.  And while it was not perfect, I turned it off thinking Christian Mingle might even be one of the few Christian-made movies that could play well with a non-Christian audience.

Movie synopsis:  Gwyneth Hayden (Lacey Chabert) is a frustrated executive at an ad agency.  She’s frustrated because she can’t find a decent man and she feels like her life is at a standstill.  Inspired by the happy looking couples on a late-night commercial for Christian dating site christianmingle.com, Gwyneth pulls a desperation move and joins the site, even though she is not really a Christian.  This forces her to begin a crash course of studying the Christianity so that she can make her “faith” appear to be believable. When her first date from the site, Paul Wood (Jonathan Patrick Moore) turns out to be a keeper, she works harder and harder to become a believable Christian so that she can keep him.  Will she ever find true love?

The goal of Thimblerig’s Film Reviews is to see how well movies made by Christians (or with Christian involvement) accomplish the five challenges I set forth in my blog post, What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking.  

Let’s see how Christian Mingle did.

spoilers

1.  Take more risks

315824When I consider this category, I think in terms of the risks a film takes with the core audience, which in the case of Christian Mingle, means Christians.  And considering the film’s similarities to Sex and the City, probably more specifically Christian women.  However, the film’s protagonist is a non-Christian (or a nominal Christian at best) pretending to be a committed Christian, and so her journey isn’t necessarily risky to that target audience.

The film took more risks with Paul, by actually having a somewhat wishy-washy male lead who allows himself to be manipulated and controlled by the women in his life.  His character raises the question – do we have the personal strength and integrity to do what we think is right, even if it goes against the plans others may have for us?  Are we willing to step out and do something uncertain and even dangerous with our lives?  The best part of the film is when Gwyneth confronts Paul with the truth of his passivity.

The film is definitely risky for a non-Christian viewer.  If that viewer identified with Gwyneth at all, then they would be forced to confront their own preconceived notions and prejudices against Christians, and to take stock of their own life choices.  The problem is, I don’t know how many people who aren’t Christians would be willing to sit down and watch a movie that takes its name from a Christian dating website.

1/2 a golden groundhog

2.  Challenge your audience

Once again, this movie is primarily aimed at the faith-based audience, and as a member of that demographic, I didn’t find it very challenging.

The one big exception might be Gwyneth’s co-worker, Pam.  At the end we find out that she is also a Christian, but she never said anything.  Gwyneth even calls her on this, but she replied, “it’s not my style”.

How often do we find people in our circle who are in obvious need of spiritual guidance, but we avoid having those conversations because “It’s not my style”?

1/2 a golden groundhog

3.  Recognize that art is art and the pulpit is the pulpit

For a movie that dealt with explicitly Christian themes, including a protagonist who is wrestling with her faith, this movie was surprisingly not preachy.  While Gwyneth comes to Jesus, it’s a process, not an “aha!” moment.  Nobody lying in the streets after being hit by a car, getting served the prayer of salvation by a random passerby.

In fact, the film has some nice moments of Gwyneth wrestling with God after Paul finds out the truth about her deception.  This led to some nice un-preachy moments in a film that could have been very didactic.

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4.  Provoke your audience by raising questions without necessarily giving the answers

This is the challenge where Christian Mingle let me down.

christianmingle2Five minutes before the end of the film, I was surprised and excited that it seemed like we were going to see a resolution of Gwyneth finding contentment in her singleness.  What a completely counter-culture way that would have been to end a romantic comedy!  The girl NOT getting the boy, but getting something of much greater worth.

Imagine if Gwyneth made her way to Mexico to teach, and Paul showed up on another mission trip with Kelly and the others.  He sees Gwyneth, and we see the question in his eye about the choice that he made, and we’re left with the idea that he might just do the right thing and go with the girl he was supposed to go with.  But he doesn’t do it.

And we see that Gwyneth, while impacted by seeing her old flame, is going to be just fine.

That would have been spot on brilliant.  But instead, the film took the easy Hollywood route, and ended with the girl getting the boy after all.  Ah, what a missed opportunity!

But I suppose with a romcom, it has to happen.

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5.  Tell good stories

Ultimately, even with the disappointedly predictable ending, this was a good story.  There aren’t many Christian romcoms out there, and Bernsen and company did a good job.  The movie had a few welcome surprises, as it played around with traditional movie structures.  For example, the protagonist’s dark night of the soul doesn’t occur when her deceit is uncovered, but when she is wrestling with God afterwards.  And while she does get the boy at the end, that is just the icing on the cake.  She’s already found true love in her very real Christian faith.

And really – how often do you see a female protagonist fighting to win a man’s love by embracing his religious beliefs?

1 golden groundhog

Final Score:  3/5 Golden Groundhogs

Final thoughts:

1.  I don’t think Mrs. Thimblerig would mind my saying that the best thing about this film was Lacey Chambert.  I wasn’t a Party of Five fan, or a Mean Girls fan, or even a Lost in Space fan, but I’m now a fan of Lacey Chambert.  She did a great job carrying this role, and was adorable to boot.

2.  I wish filmmakers would give the “…for Dummies” trope a rest.  It’s just not that funny anymore.

3.  I’m fascinated by the way former Hollywood names and recognizable faces are showing up more and more in Christian-made films.

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What’s Wrong with Christian Media?

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Media cloud, VLADGRIN / Shutterstock.com

Lifeway Research recently released a study that examined the use of Christian media.  The results showed that the vast majority of Christian media is consumed by – hold onto your hats for this, folks – Christians.

Christian Media Barely Reaching Beyond the Faithful

This doesn’t come as a surprise.  Media will typically be consumed by the target audience, and in this case, why would a person who is not a Christian care to listen to a Christian podcast?  Why would they be interested in reading a book about Christianity?  Why would they spend their time watching Christian television programs?

It seems like the logical thing to do here is to circle the wagons.  After all, if the Christian family is consuming most Christian media, then we should just keep creating media for the family!  This is how business works, isn’t it?  You identify your target audience, and then push your product for that audience.

Given, the study does show that some of our media is being consumed by people outside the church – like a positive form of collateral damage –  but we should count those people as frosting on the cake and keep on doing what we do when we do what we do.

But hold on, hit the brakes, stop the engines, turn off the lights… there’s a slight problem with all that.

Did Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 28:19 to “go back into the church, close the doors, and make disciples”?

No.  Of course not.  He said “Go into all the world…”  Go.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Stop naval gazing and get out into the world where people need the message of hope that we find in the story of Jesus.

Christian media should deal with finding the lost, and not just massaging the found.   What are the “Christianese” words for this?  Witnessing?  Sharing?  Evangelizing?  We’re supposed to be engaging with the world outside of the church, not just circling our wagons to protect the women and children.

Look at it this way.  Imagine your church supports a missionary family living in some foreign country.  The missionary family comes home on furlough, and visits your church to share about the progress of their work in this foreign country.

The missionary husband sets up a powerpoint presentation in the fellowship hall after the pot-luck dinner, and starts showing slides of the family’s work.

“We’re so grateful to be serving in our host country, and blessed to be able to share our work with you today.”

The missionary smiles and turns to the screen.

“In this picture, we’re having some missionary neighbors over for dinner.  We like to have other missionaries over for dinner regularly.  This next picture shows us at our bi-weekly Bible study with some other missionary families.  Oh, you’ll love this one – it’s a picture of us worshipping on Sunday morning at our church, which is only for missionaries.   Hmm….  this is our neighbor who isn’t a missionary… I’m not sure how that picture got in there.   Ah, here!  This next picture is better – it’s our missionary office, where we work with other missionaries.  Finally, here’s a picture of our kids going to their missionary-kid school.  It’s missionary run, taught, and attended.  They just love it there.”

That missionary probably wouldn’t be supported by the church for much longer.

So, we want our missionaries to engage with the culture around them, but for some reason, we seem to be perfectly comfortable that Christian media is only reaching other Christians.

And Christian media isn’t even doing that very well!

RNS-CHRISTIAN-MEDIA bTake Christian movies for example – one of the categories where the results were considered the most encouraging.  The Lifeway study shows that four out of ten people said that they watched a Christian movie in the last year.

Four out of ten?  That’s pretty amazing!

Well, it seems like an encouraging number until you remember that eighty-three percent of the American population identifies as Christian.

Eight out of ten people consider themselves Christian, and four out of ten people watched a Christian movie last year.

Let that sink in.  Less than half the Christian population of America watched at least one Christian movie last year.

So, what does this all mean?  Should we shutter all the Christian bookstores?  Boycott Chris Tomlin concerts?  Send Phil Vischer snarky letters for hosting a podcast with a Christian point of view?

No. Of course not.  (Although sending Vischer snarky letters about his ukelele might be warranted…)  There’s nothing wrong with producing media for ourselves.  There’s nothing wrong with producing media for small segments of ourselves.  People do that every day, all over the world, in all walks of life.

But as Christians, we shouldn’t be content with that.

So, if you are a person interested in Christian media and interested in changing those statistics reported by Lifeway Research, here are 6 (+2) things that Christian media must do better to catch the attention of those people who normally wouldn’t care.

1.  Be Professional.

If something is good in media, it’s not because it is good by accident, or because someone prayed for it to be good and God miraculously made it so.  Things are good in media because professionals have been hired to make them good.  Christian film producers have finally started to realize this, raising enough money to enable them to hire pros to help shoot their films, and the result?  Christian films are finally starting to look like well-shot films.  People in the world outside the church respect professionalism.

2.  Be Excellent.

Maybe this is a part of being professional, but if you’re involved in Christian media, then you shouldn’t cut corners.  If you’re a self-published writer, then revise, revise, revise.  Give yourself time to do the best you can possibly do with your efforts.  Want to be a filmmaker?  Cut your teeth on shorts before moving to features.  Watch a LOT of movies – and not only Christian made movies.  Read scripts.  No matter what area of media you feel drawn to, take the time to become excellent.  Say what you will about the world, but the world appreciates and is drawn to excellence.

3.  Be Creative.

This is where we often drop the ball with Christian media.  In our rush to get our message out, we tell sloppy stories.  We create one-dimensional characters.  We allow our faith to handcuff us, which is not why we have our faith.  “It was for freedom you were set free…”  Remember?  That includes the freedom to be creative.  Try to look at the world in a different way, in a real and authentic way.  Especially when you consider those people who believe differently than you do.  We call God the Creator, not just because he created everything, but because He is also so incredibly creative.  Go, and do likewise, because people outside the church are attracted to true creativity.

4.  Be Intelligent.

We’ve all seen the near-constant parade of apparently unintelligent Christians in media.  People hosting programs who have trouble putting together intelligible sentences; faith-based scripts that seem not well thought-through or properly edited; embarrassingly discourteous or rude commenters on the internet; self-published novels that are so plotless and pointless that they make one wish that self-publishing were as hard and expensive as it used to be.

Our reputation for being unintelligent has been well earned by these things and much more.  Write intelligently, direct intelligently, comment intelligently, create intelligently.  God may use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, but that doesn’t mean we should aim to be fools.  Christians in media are the front lines for changing the intelligence perception with the media they create.

5.  Be Ingenious.

Christian media is known for trying to take something the world has done and recreate it in a faith-friendly way.  The world gives us 50 Shades of Grey, Christian media reacts with Old Fashioned.   There’s a good article about this on Vox, written by Brandon Ambrosino.  I’d also recommend the article he cites by Alissa Wilkinson.

The point is that Christians in media need to be ingenious.  We should lead rather than follow, set the standard rather than chasing after the latest fad or trend.  We should aim to take the world by surprise with our ingenious and unique creations.

6.  Be Honest.

Finally, one of the best weapons we have at our disposal as Christians in media is honesty.  As we interact with people who aren’t in the faith, they should see this about us – as we interact with the media, they should notice this about us.  As we write, direct, act, talk, sing, produce, film, record, edit, draw, or whatever it is we do, people should recognize it in us.

They should talk about it behind our backs.

And if they do?  That’s okay.  We should have nothing to hide, and no reason to hide.  We don’t have to pretend to have it all together, because we know that we don’t.  We don’t have to act like our families are perfect, because we know that they aren’t.  We don’t have to act like we have all the answers, because we know that we don’t.  And that’s okay.

What we do have is Jesus.

And if you’ll pardon my brief use of Christainese, we have his forgiveness, his mercy, and his grace.   And He gives us the ability to live openly, transparently, and honestly – in life and in the media we create.

And that is how we will impact the world.

And now the (bonus +2).

1.  Drop the Secret Language.

Christianese – the secret language of Christianity.  The moment you fall into using the secret language, you lose potential interest from people who don’t speak it.  If your Christian media is inundated with Christianese, you need to make some changes, or you might as well just create your media in Klingon for all the good it will do you.

To find out more about Christianese, go to the Dictionary of Christianese, or read a good article about it here.  And then cut it out.

2.  Give the End Times a Rest.

What do we know?  Jesus will return.  How?  When?  We have no real idea – just theories and interpretations.   That means that our Rapture books and movies are just the Christian versions of The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Road, or any of the other dystopsian end-of-the-world stories you want to pick.   And they’re not nearly as compelling, well told, or well made.

Can we just give it a rest for a while?

Please?

(Actually, having said that, a Christian dystopsian story that absolutely nothing to do with the Rapture or the anti-Christ could be a really interesting read.)

 

 

The Depressingly Low Expectations Of Christian Filmgoers

This morning Darren Doane, the director of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, posted the following tweet:

https://twitter.com/TheDoane/status/535594602338983937

What’s happening for Doane and Cameron’s movie at Rotten Tomatoes is similar to what you’ll find if you look at many of the recently released so-called faith-based films: extremely low critic ratings and unreasonably high audience ratings. Let’s look at some of the results of other Christian-made films:

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 8.58.23 AM Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 8.59.35 AM Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 9.00.03 AM Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 9.00.42 AM Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 9.02.17 AM

What exactly is going on?

Is there a secular critic bias out there that says if a film is released with a hint of “faith-based”, it will be treated differently than a movie of a different genre?

Even if the movie is brilliant, it will not get a fair shake?

Is there a faith-based audience bias out there that says if a film is released with a hint of “faith-based”, the quality of the movie will be given a free pass as long as it portrays Christians in a good light, talks positively about Jesus, or has Scripture passages used in a semi-appropriate fashion?

Even if the movie is terrible, it will be received positively if it meets the criteria?

Personally, I think there is a bit of both going on.  Yes, there are secular critics who will not approach a Christian film without adding the caveat, “…for a Christian film”.   But one hopes that a critic will be able to separate that particular bias from what they experience on the screen and write a candid review that explores the positives and the negatives of the film.

And yes, there are plenty of Christians who will gladly support anything as long as what they are seeing on the screen reinforces or promotes what they already believe.  Thus you have hundreds of positive reviews on the Left Behind website from ordinary people who make the movie sound like the best film ever made, rather than the enormous cinematic shamble that it was.

But critic bias is by far the less alarming and less surprising issue of the two on the table.  I’m much more disturbed by the way so many Christians will line up around the block to embrace any movie that builds up their worldview – regardless of the film’s quality.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that many Christians have become so needy to see their points of view on the screen that they’ve become blind to what makes for a quality film at all.  At least that seems to be the case, considering the way we rally behind so many poor filmmaking efforts, treating them like the best thing since the last poor filmmaking effort.

Yep.  Our expectations have grown depressingly low.

There has been a two-pronged effect on Christian-made films that I see as a direct result of the low expectations of the target audience.

First, the low expectations force the filmmakers to sacrifice good storytelling on the alter of hitting all the right beats to please the Christian audience.  I’ve discussed this point before, in my article What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking, so I will move on to the second point.

Second, the low expectations damage our potential to be taken seriously by people outside the church, as they see us vehemently defending films that are so badly produced.

Our films are not taken seriously.  

What did George Costanza say about Christian rock on Seinfeld?  “I like Christian rock. It’s very positive. It’s not like those real musicians who think they’re so cool and hip.”

If George were still around today, he might also say, “I like Christian films.  They’re positive.  They’re not like those real films…”

We did it to ourselves with a Christian music industry supported exclusively by the Christian sub-culture, we did it to ourselves with a Christian publishing industry supported exclusively by the Christian sub-culture, and now we’re trying to do it to ourselves again by building a Christian filmmaking industry supported exclusively by the Christian sub-culture.

And it’s a huge mistake.

This “circle the wagons” mentality does little to help with building the kingdom of God, but does much for building up walls between the church and the greater culture.

In his Salon article entitled, Christian right’s vile PR sham: why their bizarre films are backfiring on them, writer Edwin Lyngar says some pretty damning things about what is happening in American culture as a result of this past year’s Christian filmmaking efforts.  Lyngar says:

The people who create and consume Christian film are neither mature nor reflective. They are at their core superstitious, afraid and tribal. They self-identify overwhelmingly Republican and shout about “moochers” while vilifying the poor. They violate the teachings and very essence of their own “savior” while deriving almost sexual pleasure from the fictional suffering of atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Hindus, and even liberal Christians. To top it all off, the stories they tell themselves are borderline psychotic.

Is this what it means to be salt and light to a dying world, that the followers of Christ come off as ‘neither mature nor reflective’?  That we’re seen as ‘superstitious, afraid and tribal’?  That our stories are viewed as ‘borderine psychotic’?  I realize that this is just one man’s opinion, but I don’t think we Christians can afford to dismiss opinions like his, because I don’t believe that his opinion is so uncommon.

And it all comes back to the depressingly low expectations that we have for the art being produced by us, for us, and in our name.

The irony is that Christians would be the first to stand up and say, “High expectations breed high results, and low expectations breed low results!” with regards to most things in life:

Education?  Aren’t Christians known for homeschooling our kids because we have high expectations for their education?

Employment?  Aren’t Christian employers known for holding employees to higher standards?

Ministry?  Aren’t we disappointed when people in positions of ministerial authority don’t live up to our high expectations?

And yet when it comes to filmmaking – as evidenced by the overwhelming support given to many of the not-so-great faith-based films that were released this past year – our expectation for quality Christian art is shockingly low.

And it just doesn’t make sense.

Meanwhile, not only was the director of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas out this morning stumping on the social media platforms for people to speak out at RT, but the man himself, Kirk Cameron, posted this on his Facebook page:

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 2.12.32 PM

I can appreciate the grass roots campaigning of Cameron and Doane, and I haven’t had the chance to see Saving Christmas yet to speak to the movie one way or the other, but what about this…

What if – instead of just flocking to a film’s Rotten Tomato page and putting up happy reviews to support the filmmakers – we showed that we have the capability to use our higher order thinking skills, and write critically honest reviews that discuss both the good and the bad about the film?

What if – instead of just flocking to the Facebook pages of filmmakers who believe the way we believe and gushing about how much we love their movies, or flaming about how much we disliked the movies, as the case may be – we do the same thing and give them constructive feedback so that they can improve the next time out?

What if Christians do the really heavy lifting and raise the bar on our expectations for films made in our name, helping our filmmakers by expecting them to make great movies that even the secular critics would have a hard time dismissing?

Folks, unless we start to adjust our expectations, unless we break the model set for us by the music and publishing industry, unless we start doing our best to pursue excellence in the films we are allowing to be produced in our name, we might very well find Mr. Lyngar’s heartbreaking prophecy coming true.

The fundamentalist community will continue to shrink until they start telling themselves—and those they hope to win over—more honest and humane stories… Christian film with its cardboard characters and heavy-handed messages will only drive an increasingly diverse and media-savvy populace away. Failing a profound change of heart, the best this community can hope for are films so bad no one will bother to watch them.

God’s Not Dead – Thimblerig’s Review – Part One

god is not deadGod’s Not Dead… the movie that started it all for me.

Earlier this year, God’s Not Dead opened wide across America, and made a lot more money than anyone thought it could. This got the attention of lots of folks, including me.

I was in China, and so was unable to see the film. I read a review, and that review lead me to write “What’s Wrong With Christian Filmmaking”, a blog post that has been read over 100,000 times as people have apparently been asking the same question.

Tonight, I was finally able to watch the movie, and I’m extremely bummed to say that things are worse than I thought.

This is the film that American Christendom embraced, buying out countless theaters, taking endless youth groups, and ultimately helping earn the film over $60,000,000?

This is the film that The Dove Foundation calls a “powerful film“, holding it up as a high expression of Christian filmmaking, and awarding it a “faith friendly” seal?

This is the film that won the 2014 Epiphany Prize from Movie Guide and the John Templeton Foundation, a prize that named it the most inspirational movie of the year?  (updated information)

I’m sorry, folks, but if this is the best we can do – if this film is the most inspirational film of the year – then we are in big, big trouble.

On the one hand, I feel bad saying this because I know that the film was made by well-intentioned people of faith, and many of them are highly trained professionals working in the trenches of the entertainment industry, doing the best they can to make a film that will impact the world.  I respect that.  I really do.

I also feel bad saying this because many of my friends who I love and respect as Christian brothers and sisters absolutely loved the film, and I recognize that opinions are like belly buttons.  I don’t think I’m more correct than they are, nor am I coming close to suggesting that they need to change their opinion of the film.

But this film is such a keen example to me of the problem we have in 21st century creative Christianity and the things that we permit to be produced in our name, that I can’t NOT speak my mind.

Noah 1I need to pause here, and step back for a moment. A few weeks ago, I was finally able to watch Aronofsky’s Noah . I still haven’t written my review for Noah, but one of the huge things that I walked away from with that film was that Noah was not made for the church. It was a film made by a critically acclaimed atheist filmmaker – and he made it for himself, and for those people who adore him.

Do you hear that church?  Many of you got all upset over a film that really wasn’t meant for you anyway. This was a film made for the filmmaker and his ilk. It was an auteur expression on a blockbuster budget scale.

And this is why you didn’t like the movie.

I don’t blame those of you who were vocal of your distaste for the movie, because you were purposefully misled by lots and lots of people into going to see this film. The studio lied to you, trying to tell you it was just an interesting take on a biblical tale, and that if you don’t give it a chance, you’re close-minded and not savvy enough. Lots of Christian leaders who had advanced screenings misled you (purposefully?  I don’t know.  I’m not going to accuse anyone of being purposefully misleading), trying to convince you that it was made for you and working up resource materials for pastors, making the claim that the film would be a great way to engage the culture.

They were right in this one thing, that the film was potentially a launching point for engaging the culture, but they were wrong to encourage you that the film was for you. Because it wasn’t at all for you. Not even close.

And here’s the crazy thing – if you approach Noah with the understanding that it wasn’t made for Christians – you can find quite a bit to enjoy and appreciate about the film. This, in such the same way you might from other secular films also not made for you – such as Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, or Chariots of Fire.

Which brings me back to God’s Not Dead.

Christians, this is a movie that was made for you. It had the right language so that you would easily understand it, it had a conflict that would fire you up to just the right level, it had celebrity cameos that you would love, it had a resolution that might have made you weep with joy and relief, and it concluded with a challenge that – if you did it  – would make you think you were actually doing something meaningful.

God’s Not Dead is a classic example of a movie that was made to preach to the choir, and my criticisms of the film will revolve around that point.

Just like I didn’t mind watching Noah when I realized who it was made for, I found that I could enjoy aspects of God’s Not Dead when I realized who it was made for.  I’ll gladly show the film to my family, and we’ll talk about the merits of the film as well as the things that could have been done better.  However, I was also glad to know that I would be very strategic in choosing to show the film to a non-Christian friend because ultimately, it was a film that was not made for them.

I look forward to the day when we Christians give our filmmakers the resources and support that they need to consistently make films that we can be excited to watch with our non-Christian films.

Whew!  That was a heckuva a long intro to my actual review.  For part 2, click here!

An Open Letter to Ann Coulter Regarding that “Idiotic” Ebola Doc

Dear Ms. Coulter,

This afternoon I read your  August 6, 2014 online column, in which you wrote an article entitled, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to Idiotic“.  In this article, you questioned the life choices of Dr. Kent Brantly, the doctor who went to Africa with his family last year to serve a two-year fellowship through Samaratin’s Purse, and by extension, you questioned the life choices of anyone who has made a similar choice.  In this letter, I will respond to some of the things you said in that article, and give you some suggestions for future articles.

Ms. Coulter, you started your article by citing the enormous amount of money (nearly 2 million) spent to bring Dr. Brantly and humanitarian aid worker Nancy Writebol home, saying that any good that he may have done was overwhelmed by Samaratin’s Purse’s decision to spend such an amount on two people.

In principal, I would agree with you.  Samaratin’s Purse raises support for those individuals they send out, and so they have a responsibility to the ones who give – to use that money wisely.  As I thought about this, I started to wonder if perhaps you donate to Samaratin’s Purse, and so your disagreement with the way the money was spent was somewhat personal?  If so, you should take some solace in the knowledge that the organization requires that all people who serve with them have evacuation insurance.  This means that there is a pretty good chance that the tab for evacuating the two two Samaratin’s Purse workers would have been at least partially picked up by insurance.

But at the end of the day, if you disagree with the way any charitable organization uses the funds they raise, you are free to choose another charity or non-profit.  In just a moment I’ll have some suggestions for you about some organizations that might better suit your desires to “care for your own first”.

Next, you lamented that Dr. Brantly chose to go serve the people of Ebola-ridden West Africa rather than staying in his own godless homeland and practicing medicine somewhere like Los Angeles, where he may have been able to share his faith with a successful Hollywood producer, thereby potentially influencing the greater culture by influencing a culture maker.

This is where you started to lose me, Ann (do you mind if I call you Ann?).  Not because I don’t think Christians should be in Hollywood, but because there are already so many Christians in Hollywood right now, toiling (like their brothers and sisters overseas) in near anonymity.  Reading your article in which you put so much emphasis on Dr. Brantley’s potential influence a Hollywood power broker, I wondered why you spend your time tearing down the work of Dr. Brantly rather than building up the ones doing the very thing you wish the Ebola doctor would do?

And as a Christian who has spent a bit of time in Hollywood attempting this, allow me to speak for the others saying that I don’t see Dr. Brantly’s story as a competition or a distraction.  In fact, there’s a pretty good chance some up-and-coming Christian screenwriter may pick up his or her laptop and start coming up with a rough draft of the Ebola Doc’s story, and go on to make a fantastic biopic!  Wouldn’t that be amazing?

You see, Ann, here’s the thing about the many L.A.-based Christians you ignored in your article – many of them are not just trying to engage the ones who are influencing the culture, but they are actually trying to influence the culture themselves!  And they need our help and support as much as those who would go overseas!

ARTICLE SUGGESTION #1

If seeing the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread in Hollywood is truly your goal, let me challenge you to research and write about  those who are trying to accomplish that very task. And since I know you’re a busy lady, let me help you get started.  Here are just a few of the excellent organizations equipping Christians to survive and succeed in Hollywood:

Act One: Writing for Hollywood

The Actor’s Co-op

Christian Film and Television Commission

The Hollywood Prayer Network

And you can find lots more here.

Unfortunately, Ann, I found that your article just went disappointedly downhill from your Hollywood reference.  I would like to respectfully request that you reconsider a couple of very important points.

You concluded mistakenly that Christians go overseas to escape the culture wars – to avoid being called “homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots.”  There are a couple of problems with this.  First, Christians have been leaving their homelands to share the fantastic news of Jesus Christ since Paul and Barnabus went on their first missionary journey in Acts 13.  That’s nearly 2,000 years of Christian missionary history, and while some through the years may have gone to escape an uncomfortable home situation, most were heading to much more difficult conditions and would perhaps have preferred facing the relatively harmless issue of being called names to what they had to endure as they lived as foreigners in unfamiliar cultures.

In fact, this gives me another idea for a future article for you!  Isn’t this fun?

ARTICLE SUGGESTION #2

Rather than spending time accusing folks like Dr. Brantly of going to difficult spots to avoid being called names, why don’t you help bring attention to some of the Christians who are undergoing actual physical persecution and death for their faith, and some Christians who choose to leave the comfort of home to help them?  That would make for a fantastic article!

For example, you may have heard a little story in the news recently about Christians in Iraq being systematically exterminated by Islamist thugs?  Looking through the archives of your blog, I notice that you haven’t written about them (the Christians – not the thugs), and so that would make a great start on a worthwhile article for your website.

Again, to help with your research, here are a few links:

A story about Christian children being beheaded by ISIS

A personal account from a Christian in Mosul

Iraq’s Largest Christian Town Falls

There are many more stories about the atrocities being committed in Iraq, but I expect you have a staff who can help you find them, so I won’t do it here.  I don’t want to take bread out of someone else’s mouth.

But this does bring me to the conclusion of your article, Ann.  This is where you claim that Dr. Brantly (and again – others who make the same kind of life choice he made) have some good old fashioned delusions of grandeur.  You wrote:

“But serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been “heroic.” We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s “unusual drive to help the less fortunate” or his membership in the “Gold Humanism Honor Society.” Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket.”

This is the point where I think you may have skipped a regiment of medication, or had too much red bull, or spent too much time in the sun.  Let me tell you, Ann, international mission work is the last enterprise one goes into for the purposes of being perceived as heroic.

Given, we Christians have our missionary heroes who inspire us to be more faithful and to step out and take risks  – heroes who have paid the ultimate price to go to places like ebola-infested Liberia, or the dangerous jungles of Ecuador, or even the wild woods of New Jersey – but the vast majority of missionaries do not leave the comforts of home because they have dreams of having statues of their martyred selves erected on various seminary campuses.

The dirty little secret is that most missionaries go overseas knowing that they will be serving in virtual anonymity, that they will spend an inordinate amount of time struggling to understand a culture and a language that is not their own, that they are choosing to watch from afar as family members back home are born, others marry, and still others die – while they are absent.  And they do it because it is their calling.

Ann, this concept of a calling may be hard for someone outside the church to comprehend, but since you write so passionately about America’s desperate need for God, I think you must understand.  But for the sake of those others, I’ll just say that Christians believe that God is at work in the world (not just in America – I know, hard to imagine what with Manifest Destiny and all), and He calls His people to certain times and places to do His work.  This includes the doctors who practice with Hollywood bigwigs in Los Angeles as well as those who go to “disease-riddled cesspools” to help people who are unable to find help anywhere else.

Apparently, this calling is a part of the story of Dr. Kent Brantly, as it is with so many others who leave the comforts of home to be the hands and feet of Christ in distant (or near) lands.   You can read a very telling testimonial to Dr. Brantly’s life here, written by one of his university professors, where you can find out just what motivated him to go practice medicine in Africa.

Which leads me to a final suggestion for a future article for you.

ARTICLE SUGGESTION #3

I know it’s not your style, but I would finally recommend that you consider writing an article where you take back most of the things you said in your August 6th article, and possibly even – shudder – apologize.

I know, I know, but just let me share my final interesting fact about overseas missionaries, especially Americans.  Many are extremely interested in the politics of their home country, and many are politically conservative.  Twenty years ago, they were not able to keep track of what was going on back home, but thanks to the internet, they are more able than ever before to pay attention to what’s going on back home.

By attacking the life choice to which these people have been called you are cutting yourself off from a segment of the population who would ordinarily agree your stance on political issues.  Not only are you cutting yourself off from the missionaries, but also from those folks who don’t feel called overseas but feel passionately supportive of those that do.

I’m not suggesting a boycott or anything, but I want you to see that with that one simple misinformed article, you made lots of conservative Christian folks realize that our more liberal friends may have been correct in their dislike of your opinions.  After all, if you got this one so horribly wrong, what else are you wrong about?

Just a thought, Ann.  Just a thought.

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter, and I’ll look forward to reading some of those articles on some future page of http://www.anncoulter.com!

Sincerely,
Nate Fleming

 

Art is Art, the Pulpit is the Pulpit – Unpacked

“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.” from What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking.

What makes a good sermon?   To answer this question, take a look back to the 1700’s at Reformed preacher Jonathan Edwards, whose preaching helped spark the Great Awakening.  As difficult as it is to believe, Edwards preaching was notably NOT entertaining, and yet thousands were impacted when he preached.

It was not due to theatrics. One observer wrote, “He scarcely gestured or even moved, and he made no attempt by the elegance of his style or the beauty of his pictures to gratify the taste and fascinate the imagination.” Instead he convinced “with overwhelming weight of argument and with such intenseness of feeling.

You see, a potentially powerful sermon preached needs to do one thing – communicate the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If it does so in an artistic, entertaining,  or dramatic manner, that is fine, but the point should never be to simply be artistic, entertaining, or dramatic. If you are a pastor trying to figure out the next best way to entertain your congregation, you are making a big mistake.  If you are a youth minister and you are thinking that you need to entertain the kids in your youth group, then you will probably end up with entertained kids who will remain unsaved.  If you aren’t basing your sermons on the word of God, you’ll find that you’re no better than Dr. Harrison Everett Breen of New York City.

Again – the Message can be delivered in an entertaining way, but entertainment should never be the point.

On the flip side, the primary point of good art should never be the message.  I quoted Frank Capra in my original post, and this quote has also been attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, “If you want to send a message, try Western Union”.  Think about this very carefully.  The best “message” art is the art that doesn’t clearly communicate the message, but it forces the viewer to hunt for it.

I will give some examples from different artists.

RNS-HOMELESS-JESUS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmalz.

Musically, I am a big fan of David Wilcox, a singer/songwriter who sings songs with very deep and contemplative messages, but you often have to search for the messages.

One of the most powerful “message” films I’ve seen is Shawshank Redemption.  A wonderfully challenging film, difficult to watch in parts, with one of the most stirring soundtracks ever.  And the film delivers impacting, layered messages.  (Be forewarned:  there are a couple of swear words in this clip.)

Hopefully, these examples demonstrate effectively that if you are an artist – Christian or otherwise – and you want to clearly communicate a message to an audience who may not be receptive to that message, then it pays to avoid clearly communicating the message.

Isn’t this a method that Jesus employed frequently?  When Jesus was with the masses who came to watch him hoping to see something fantastic, he would tell parables that were often not clear to the hearers, to the point that he had to explain the meaning to his closest friends when the crowds had dispersed.  Eugene Peterson, calls this subversive spirituality in his book, “The Contemplative Pastor”, a book I would recommend to all pastors.  Peterson compares Jesus’ parables to “time bombs that would explode in unprotected hearts…these word-story bombs would go off in the heart of the listener leaving an abyss at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded…

Shouldn’t this also be the role of good art?

To sum up my unpacking:

•  The greatest value in art is when it makes us look closer and ask questions.

•  The greatest value in preaching is when it points us to the answers.  

•  Art can have a message, but usually attracts us because it doesn’t blare that message.

•  Preaching delivers a clear message directly from the word of God.  That message may cause us to ask questions, but will ultimately point to the cross as the ultimate answer.

More unpacking to come.  Meanwhile, make sure you’ve read my other two posts!

What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking?

What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking, Episode 2

And also, please consider downloading my newly released novel, Thimblerig’s Ark.

Cheers!
Nate