“It is finished” But unlike the finished work of Christ, I’m only done with the first draft of Useless… And there’s a lot more work to do. But this lifts a big weight off my shoulders.
Thank you for your prayers over the last month. They were truly answered. I’ve been praying for The Lord to be glorified throughout this process. One of the ways he answers that is to remind me that I can’t do this work of myself, but only through Him.
This was my office for the last week:
The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, that “in the midst of life we are in death.”
…Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life. It should provide us with a language that allows us to praise the God of resurrection while lamenting the suffering and agony that is our lot in a world alienated from its creator, and it should thereby sharpen our longing for the only answer to the one great challenge we must all face sooner or later.
…Yet tragedy is a vital part of entertainment. Aristotle in his Poetics famously argued for the personal and social benefits of tragic drama. The audience, swept up into the vertiginous moral crises, the magnificent flaws, and the catastrophic falls of the heroes, enjoyed the experience of catharsis—running the gamut of relevant emotions—without being agents in the events depicted on the stage. They left the theater cleansed by the experience and knowing more deeply what it means to be human. They were wiser, more thoughtful, and better prepared to face the reality of their own lives.
Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection.
It is therefore an irony of the most perverse kind that churches have become places where Pascalian distraction and a notion of entertainment that eschews the tragic seem to dominate just as comprehensively as they do in the wider world. I am sure that the separation of church buildings from graveyards was not the intentional start of this process, but it certainly helped to lessen the presence of death. The present generation does not have the inconvenience of passing by the graves of loved ones as it gathers for worship. Nowadays, death has all but vanished from the inside of churches as well.
The phrase “good Christian art” is redundant. Good Christian art is simply good art – art that explores and expresses our deepest and truest humanity, art that speaks to us, prods us, inspires us. This does not demean art that is created with deliberate theological themes or purposes. On the contrary, theological reflection is part of what it means to be human… If you want to glorify God with your work, I don’t recommend trying to be a “Christian artist.” Instead, be a good Christian. And be a good artist.
Here is a fun satire of source criticism. Biblical source criticism is the theory that the Bible is a collection of multiple different stories from different time periods that have been edited into a single collection and changed to fit (for example, the multiple times that Abraham lies to foreigners about his wife must mean the stories came from different sources and have been heavily edited). Anyways, enjoy:
A Source Critic Looks at Downton Abbey
(For a good summary and critique of source theory, take a look at A Biblical History of Israel)
Just read an article at Salon.com called Why Are Christian Movies So Awful? It’s a review of the new movie Soul Surfer, which is based on the true story of a young Christian surfer who lost her arm, but was gutted of any theology by the producers.
One line from the review stuck out to me:
At the risk of offending many people in many different directions, Christian cinema reminds me of gay cinema. If, that is, gay cinema were permanently stuck in 1986, with a self-ghettoizing mandate to present positive role models for youth and tell an anodyne but uplifting story that sends a message of hope.
On the face of it, this is a curious turn of events. Whatever you want to say about Christianity as a system of thought or a force in history, you’ll have to admit that it has a pretty impressive record as a source of inspiration for artists and writers. But when we use the buzzword “Christian” in contemporary American society, we’re talking about a distinctively modern cultural and demographic phenomenon that has almost no connection to the spiritual and intellectual tradition that fueled Dante and Milton and Leonardo and Bach.
Christian movies will continue to be awful so long as Christian theology continues to be awful and shallow, as it has become in contemporary American Christianity. If Christians continue to be obsessed with “culture war” and are content with “a self-ghettoizing mandate to present positive role models and tell an anodyne but uplifting story that sends a message of hope” as a means of getting a leg up in that war, rather than making art that proclaims our multi-faceted God as He is revealed in Scripture, then we will never see great art like Bach’s on the big screen.
At least those were the thoughts kicking around in my head during the awards ceremony for 168
I echo O’Hehir’s closing line:
If I really had any faith in American pluralism and in my fellow human beings, I guess I would predict that someday soon Christian filmmakers will ramp up their craft and make much better movies than “Soul Surfer.” Does the Lord really want to be glorified by way of something that looks like an especially tame episode of “Baywatch”?
But digging a little deeper into why specifically Soul Surfer failed to inspire, it’s important to note that “Soul Surfer” was not a strictly Christian film. It was produced and written by unbelievers (actual Baywatch TV writers, btw) with the goal of reaching a mainstream as well as a Christian market. And there are seven credited writers. Of course, if you have unbelievers writing a movie about someone’s faith in their Savior, it’s going to be shallow. The problem with Soul Surfer is that any faith element was seen as obligatory, not as integrated necessity. Screenwriting Chairman at UCLA, Richard Walter explains:
Integration is an essential, elusive quality informing all creative expression. Integration transcends mere parts: tale, character, dialogue, and all the rest. Instead it embraces the whole picture… Integrate your whole picture and you can write anything at all. Indeed, if from beginning to end a screenplay is genuinely integrated, the writer can successfully do even nothing at all. (Essentials of Screenwriting, 14)
He gives several examples of how seemingly mundane scenes like drinking coffee can be engaging and essential if they are properly integrated. So the opening scene in Soul Surfer with the family happy-clappy at a church service on the beach, and all the other “faith” scenes, failed to entertain because they failed to integrate. But why did they fail to integrate?
Decades spent writing and teaching have taught me that writers’ own personal stories are the only story they should write. Principle 8: Whenever writers sit down before blank paper or glowing pixels, they should write their own personal story. Even if a writer attempts vigorously to do otherwise, even if he works on an assignment writing a script for hire based on someone else’s idea, even an idea totally alien to his experience, he will nonetheless end up telling nothing other than his own personal tale… If a writer fails to personalize her story, if she fails to make it her own unique tale, regardless of how well turned it may be it will nonetheless also be flat, hollow, heartless, pale, frail, upholstered, laminated, and not wholly human. Each and every movie explores only one and the same theme. Whatever else writers may think they’re writing about, in fact we all treat but a single subject: ourselves… Principle 13: Even if you do not know that you are writing your own personal story, that is what you are writing. Your own heart and your own hand make every script you write only that: your own.
Weave a crafty tale that is thoroughly integrated and personal; you’ll win audiences regardless of the picture’s context.
Soul Surfer failed to win audiences in the way it intended because it was not integrated and personal. The writers simply didn’t know what to do with this “faith” thing that was part of Bethany Hamilton. The Hamilton family made sure it was in the film, because it defines who they are, but the writers couldn’t integrate it because it was not their own story. Thus Soul Surfer presents “a positive role models for youth that tells an anodyne but uplifting story that sends a message of hope” but it fails to captivate.
Principle 9: Screenwriters must embrace authentic self-disclosure, no matter how painful, as the organizing principle of their movies.
The ‘Best Short Film’ Award was given to Useless, an 11-minute film based on Philemon 1:10–11. Written and directed by Brandon Adams, the film short previously won ‘Best Film’ at the 168 Project.
In winning ‘Best Short Film’ at the SAICFF, the film’s director automatically received a $250,000 opportunity to produce a feature film with Echolight Studios who sponsored this Jubilee Award category.
Bobby Downes, President of Echolight, explained their vision in partnering with the SAICFF for this commendation.
“Storytellers have shaped our society in the way that we think for all of recorded history. . . . Stories are used for teaching, for entertainment, for passing on old knowledge and wisdom,” noted Downes.
“Tonight, Echolight is going to do something about encouraging storytellers. We believe that supporting this generation of Christians making movies will have a significant impact on lives in the years to come, so we are planting a seed here tonight by awarding the winner of the Jubilee Award for Short Film with $250,000 as an opportunity to make a movie with Echolight Studios and get worldwide distribution.
“The message is this: Those who are faithful in the little things will be better equipped to pursue bigger projects.”
Santorum also commended the SAICFF and the filmmakers in attendance for their important labors in the culture wars: “You are the ones who shape the culture, and Washington, D.C. is simply a reflection of that. So I just wanted to come here to encourage you and to thank you. . . . This country needs you. . . . [I] think that really great things are going to come in the darkest times and be lit . . . from this festival.”Downes then passed the baton to special guest Sen. Rick Santorum, who presented the award on Echolight’s behalf: “It is my honor to be here with Echolight. I’m excited about them and what they’re doing, trying to nurture and build, to create a real powerful portal for this industry.”
“Thank you for this tremendous honor and opportunity,” wrote Adams. “I have spent the last ten years seeking to learn how to create art that glorifies God, which has included cultivating my craft; but, more importantly, growing in the grace and knowledge of my Redeemer. My hope is to express the work that Christ has done in us and in history through the medium of film, with the prayer that Christ will be exalted over all things. And this award and prize has granted the opportunity to do so.”Boo Arnold, one of the two lead actors in Useless, received the award on behalf of Brandon Adams, who directed the film, but who was unable to attend due to the recent birth of his son who was born five weeks early. Sizemore read a statement Adams texted him when he learned he had won this award.
San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival Announces 2013 Jubilee Award Winners
I would greatly appreciate your prayers for this project as there will be many, many challenges to overcome in order to create a film that truly glorifies God.
See also http://echolight.com/useless/
Also, if you noticed in the above, my son was born a few weeks ago! He surprised a little early, but his big brother, and the rest of us, are adjusting well to the latest addition to our family. God was very merciful in bringing him home safely.
with host Derrick Warfel
StoryLab is fascinating! Watch “168″ scenes and compare to similar big budget scenes to see what it takes to get from here to there.
Your host is indie filmmaker Derrick Warfel, a graduate of USC Film School, Princeton University & Dallas Theological Seminary.
Fri, Oct. 28, 7pm – 10pm
with Writer-Director Brandon Adams
A criminal pleads for mercy from his captor.
Winner Best Film, Best Actor, Kevin Sizemore, Best Cinematography, Brandon Adams
(Part 1 of 9)
I have been interested in reading John C. Lyden’s book “Film as Religion” ever since I read a summary of it several years ago:
The lights dim, the voices hush and the devotees prepare for a sacred, transformative experience. This scenario does not describe a ritual in a cathedral or temple, but one occurring in another religiously charged space: the cinema. Lyden, a professor of religion in Nebraska, argues that if we define “religion” by its function-what the activity does for the people who participate in it-then movie-going is the religion of our time. Movies provide the collective myths to help us deal with our cultural anxieties and hopes, and catharsis in the form of rewarded heroes and punished villains. (Publisher’s Weekly)
I finally checked out a copy at the library and am going to try to blog through the book (hopefully that will get me to finish it – something I have a hard time doing with books!). I hope you find it interesting and more than that I hope it provokes some discussion on the topic – so let me know what you think.
As you read in the summary, Lyden’s thesis is basically that “there is no absolute distinction between religion and other aspects of culture, and that we have a tendency to label certain sorts of activities as “religious” chiefly because they fall into the patterns that we recognize from religion with which we are familiar.” He continues:
As a result, we have a tendency to limit what we view as religion to that which is recognized as such by us in our own culture. The result is that we can find ourselves shortsighted when we encounter a diverse form of religion – as, for example, the European colonists who came to America did. For a long time, they refused to even grant the name “religion” to the activities in the Native American culture that paralleled those undertaken by Europeans under that name. In time, they came to see that the “otherness” of American beliefs did not disqualify them from performing the same functions for Native Americans that Christianity did for most Europeans, and therefore these beliefs might be considered equally “religious.”… It may be that we experience a similar form of shortsightedness when we encounter aspects of our own culture that we view as opposed to religious values or beliefs. We fail to acknowledge the extent to which modern people base their worldviews and ethics upon sources we do not usually label “religious. (2-3)”
Lyden relies upon Clifford Geertz’ functional definition of religion. “This definition includes the three aspects noted in this book’s title: a “myth” or story that conveys a worldview; a set of values that idealize how that world should be; and a ritual expression that unites the two. (4)” “…I will argue for an understanding of [myth] that does not reduce it to a psychological projection or an illogical hegemony-promoting falsehood, but rather views it as a story that expresses the worldview and values of a community. (4)”
In regards to film as ritual, Lyden notes: “Films offer a vision of the way the world should be (in the view of the film) as well as statements about the way it really is; the ritual of film-going unites the two when we become part of the world projected on screen. We often hope and wish for a world like the one we see in the movies even though we must return to a very different world at the end of the show; in this way, films offer an entry into an ideally constructed world. (4)”
Lyden’s thesis is intriguing. Though he may not put it in these terms, he seems to be basically acknowledging that all of life is theological and that we cannot safely divide our “secular” life from our “religious” life. Everything we do is wrapped up in religion, which is why Paul said “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Furthermore, everyone has a religion. Everyone has a worldview and they seek out things in their life that confirm and support that worldview. We cannot neglect the pervasiveness of “religion” in our “secular” affairs.
I also appreciate his willingness to acknowledge the religious power of film. Film-going is absolutely a ritual and every film preaches a message. It is very disturbing to see how many people, Christians especially, watch movies completely uncritically. They willingly turn their brains off and stuff themselves with popcorn, all the while telling themselves “its just for fun.” That may be the case, and there’s nothing wrong with kicking back and enjoying 2 hours of Star Trek. But if you ignore the fact that you’re listening to a sermon and you get sucked into cheering for the emotional thesis of the film (1: rebellion is a virtue, 2: follow your heart, not your head), then you are neglecting your Christian duty to “test all things; hold fast was is good.”
However, I am leery of Lyden’s thesis being “Film as Religion.” That’s like saying “Writing as Religion.” I don’t think we can make the medium the religion. I know that’s not what Lyden intends, but we’ll see how careful he is about it. Perhaps a better title would be “Hollywood as Religion” because that entails film, a specific manner of film-going, and a particular worldview & message. We’ll see how this is worked out throughout the book.
One other area of concern may be Lyden’s definition of religion. Religion is notoriously difficult to define. In his book Religion, Reason, and Revelation Gordon H. Clark concludes that there is no proper and fitting definition of religion other than “God’s creating Adam in his own image and giving him a special revelation…” as well all distortions of that original religion (which includes just about everything). (Clark argues that because distortion of this religion is the result of sin, and sin is irrational, that there cannot be any logical classification of religion).
I think Lyden’s thesis would still qualify under Clark’s definition, but I am content to go along with Lyden’s definition for the purposes of the book. Wikipedia is generally a good measuring stick to gauge what the world thinks about any given topic, and it provides a definition similar to Lyden’s: “in general a set of beliefs explaining the existence of and giving meaning to the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” That definition works for me and it looks like Lyden’s thesis may be true. We’ll see.
In his essay “The Divine Image”, Leo Partible argues that Christians need to move past the verbal and literal to embrace the visual and metaphorical. I’ll be posting some extended thoughts on his essay later, but for now I wanted to briefly comment on one part of his essay. He notes
The comic book has become central to, if not the center of, our pop culture. And Christians should be thrilled.
Comic books and comic-book movies, as well as the sci-fi and fantasy genres, frequently deal with Christian themes and employ Christ figures… comic books often depict a Judeo-Christian worldview in subtle ways… Superheroes characterized essentially biblical values: doing good deeds in secret, a respect for authority, loyalty, patience, kindness, fighting for truth, sacrifice for a friend or a neighbor, rejecting the use of power for personal gain, defending the weak and the powerless, the importance of family, taking a stand for justice… There was an idealistic core to the comic book… We tell stories to help us remember that someday there will be a better tomorrow, no matter how distant it may seem, and that the biggest dream of all, to live in glory with Christ Jesus forever and ever, will be a reality. Let us present our big dreams to the world, and we can start with the world of the comic book.
I’m always intrigued when people refer to a “Judeo-Christian worldview”. That’s not the same thing as a “Christian worldview”. Paul argued rather vigorously against a “Judeo worldview” in his letter to the Christians in Galatia. Doing good deeds and having good values is not the gospel. Left by itself, that is moralism. Awash in a sea of relativism and rebellion against objective standards, it’s easy to look to anything presenting objective standards as a safe harbor. But presenting idealized realities to promote “biblical values” devoid of Christ will not teach anyone how to live in glory with Christ Jesus forever and ever. You will drown clinging to the rock of moralism just as surely as drifting in the sea without it.
From Charles Spurgeon:
It has been thought that surely law might make men love holiness, albeit experience and observation prove that it never has that effect.
Very often men have needed nothing more than the knowledge of sin to enamour them of it, and they have loved sin all the better for knowing it to be sin. The apostle Paul tells us that he had not known lust if the law had not said, “Thou shalt not covet.”
There was a citizen of Gaunt who had never been outside the city walls. For some reason or other the magistrate passed an order that he should not go outside. Strange to tell, up to the moment that the command had passed, the man had been perfectly easy, and never thought of passing the line, but as soon as ever he was forbidden to do it, he pined, and sickened, and even died moaning over the restriction. If a man sees a thing to be law, he wants to break that law.
Our nature is so evil, that forbid us to do a thing, and at once we want to do the thing that is forbidden, and in many minds the principle of law instead of leading to purity has even offered opportunities for greater impurity.
Besides, although you may point out the way of uprightness to a man, and tell him what is right and what is wrong with all the wisdom and force of counsel and caution, unless you can give him a heart to choose the right, and a heart to love the true, you have not done much for him.
This is just the province of law. It can write out its precepts on the brazen tablets, and it can brandish its fiery sword, and say, “Do this or else be punished,” but man, carnal man, only wraps himself the more closely in his self-conceit, and perseveres the more doggedly in his obstinate rebellion. He defies God, defers to his own reprobate mind, goes on in sin, and waxes worse and worse, knowing the judgment threatened, yet committing the transgressions prohibited, and taking pleasure in those that do such things, as his boon companions.
Because of the malignity, as well as the infirmity of our flesh, the mere principle of law will never do anything to purify or ennoble our moral nature. It has been tried by eminent teachers and social reformers.
Dr. Chalmers tells us that in his early ministry, he used to preach morality, and nothing but morality, till, he said, he had hardly a sober or an honest man left in the parish. The preaching of morality seemed to lead to immorality.
Something more is wanted than merely to din into men’s ears what they ought to be, and what they ought to do. Something is wanted more effectually to renovate the heart and move the springs of action. The water is nought, and if you make it flow it is bitter. You want an ingredient to be cast into it that will heal its poison springs, and make them sweet and clear.
. . . . . . . . .
God’s great plan was this—that inasmuch as His justice could not overlook sin, and sin must be punished, Jesus Christ should come and take the sin of His people upon Himself, and upon the accursed tree, the Cross of ignominious note, should suffer what was due on our behalf. And that through His sufferings the infinite love of God should stream forth without any contravention of His Infinite Justice. This is what God did.
. . . . . . . . .
But how comes the second necessity to be supplied? How does the sacrifice of Christ tend from now on to make such a man pure in heart, and produce in his very soul an aversion and a total abhorrence of sin?
This is not difficult to apprehend if you will give it a little quiet consideration. When the Holy Spirit comes with power into a man’s heart, and renews his nature (oh, matchless miracle!)—a miracle that has been worked many times in this house—at that moment the unhallowed and the impure are made chaste. The dishonest are made honest, and the ungodly are made to love God—”for if any man is in Christ he is a new creature.”