christianity

This image shows a crowd of people in a movie theater watching a movie.

I’m Tired of Bashing Christian Movies

I like bashing Christians movies. It makes me feel like I’m actually doing something good when tell others what I honestly think about them, with no grace in my heart at all. I want to “save” people from having a bad experience like I did, so I do whatever I can to win others from seeing such films.

It started back in the late winter of 2014 with the release of the cut-copied-and-pasted-from-the-History-Channel Son of God. Then the Spring of 2014 with the release of the landmark God’s Not Dead. Later in that very same Spring saw the release of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah as well as Heaven Is For Real (although some would argue that the former of those two is not a Christian film…an arguable sentiment, but valid).

After a summer of phenomenal blockbusters came the gem that is known as Believe Me (which you need to see right now if you haven’t already). The Year of the Christian Film at last closed out with Ridley Scott’s so-so interpretation of the Exodus account entitled Exodus: Gods and Kings.

2015 looked promising with the release of Old Fashioned,  but that hope quickly fizzled out with Do You Believe?Since another summer full of high-octane action and adventure has come to a close, War Room has come out, and I tried showing a little grace in withholding what I really thought about it and sharing only the positive side.

But after hearing that God’s Not Dead 2 is now in the works and is slated for release in Spring 2016, I am preparing for another opportunity to bash it and rip it to shreds. Because I know what’s going to be. It’s going to be the same old plot line of someone who believes in God coming face to face with someone who doesn’t.

It’ll be the same old storytellers telling the same old story of “perseverance in trials” and “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” and the protagonist will come out on top after having defeated the angry atheist.

Then the epilogue will be at the same old concert, and the same old celebrity cameo will urge the audience of the concert (and, by the transitive property, the audience of the film, too) to text their friends that “God’s not dead” (except this time, they’ll have to do it twice…because it’s a sequel…eh? eh?).

Gather ’round, kids; Uncle Brenden’s gonna learn ya something about Art:

  • Art is one part Content and one part Form.
  • The Content is the Message that the Artist is trying to communicate to an Audience.
  • The Form is the Medium by which that Content is delivered to that Audience.

My discontent with Christian films, then, is not with their Content but with their Form. Because I can and most often do agree with the Message of such films – that is, I agree with the Content – but that Message is unfortunately tainted by the Medium by which it is communicated to the Audience.

That Form could be a weak character development – like a one-sided college professor – or a cliché plot narrative – like making all the main characters of a film come together in only one, too brief moment; whatever the case, I find it unsettling and a waste of my time.

But I need to face the reality that some other people actually like these films. Some other people are actually encouraged by the Message of these films no matter how diluted by the Medium they may or may not be. Some people can actually look past the Forms of this Art and see and understand the Content for what it really is.

That this outlook on films is so indicative of how I should be as a Christian astounds me. If I can’t support a film or any other piece of Art because I only focused on the outward Form as opposed to considering the inward Content, what does that say about how I deal with people? That I’m too alienated by the Form of a fellow brother or sister to even be bothered with considering their inward Content? That’s definitely not how I want God to judge me.

Next Spring, I’ll the opportunity to bash another same old Christian movie; or, next Spring, I’ll have the opportunity to exhibit a little grace in expressing my subjective opinions and withholding my condemnations, find something good in that film (even if I have to dig and stretch), and be a little more like Christ when it comes to engaging the culture.

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This photo was taken by Michael Hull and is available through Unsplash.com.

Driving in the Moonlight (a poem)

my generation drives in the moonlight
of faith filtered by fallacious fear
of hope held down by hollowed histrionics
of love lost in the limbo of legality

illumination without demonstration
memorization without externalization
catechism without asceticism
reading a heap without feeding the sheep
knowing a need without sowing the seed
faith without works – and it hurts

we cry because nothing grows in the moonlight
we have just enough sight to see the path
and just enough height to hit the gas
but we can’t commit to letting God drive

we have to check our headlights and our tail lights
our engine light between every stop light
to provide new cars for our future security
never minding how hot the radiator runs
never minding the thought that rarely ever comes
works without faith – and it isn’t safe

my generation drives in the moonlight
we think we have to go somewhere nice
and we think we have to do something good
but we don’t want to wait for the Son.

This is an image of an outdoor archery range in a wooded area.

Searching for Better Ways: A Reflection on Eugene O’Neill and Hitting the Mark

While working backstage for the Fly Arts Center’s most recent play Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got The Will, I was aptly reminded of how creatively taxing and draining being in a production on either side of the curtain is.

For the actors on stage, they were telling the story by creatively blending the playwright’s words, the director’s blocking instructions, and their own vivifying actions. They were actively listening to and watching each other to ensure everything that needed to be said and done was in fact and indeed said and done. (If anything, this is another image of how engaging live theatre is for the players as well as the audience.) The story on the spectrum of “light” and “dark” spanned all the way from comical levity and lightheartedness to antagonistic gravitas. And it takes a deep well of creativity for an ensemble cast that can constantly vary and navigate its position on that spectrum, especially while maintaining that energy in front of an audience.

I was in a wholly different world backstage. My job wasn’t to entertain and divert the audience; instead, it was my duty to help the actors fulfill that role by providing them the property – simply, the props – with which to continue to tell the story realistically. I had cues just like everyone else, except my reactions to those cues weren’t spoken; instead, my response was handing from a cup of coffee to a full pot roast dinner to an actress so she could “act” like her character has just prepared it as if she were real person bringing these food items from a real kitchen. Very engaging stuff.

We closed the show Sunday. If you got a chance to see the show, I honestly hope you enjoyed yourself. For myself, the cast, and the rest of the crew, we are worn tired and are spending this week in recovery mode.


It’s here that I want to draw attention to the words of one of modern theatre’s founding fathers Eugene O’Neill.

A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself. I certainly haven’t any such delusion. And so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work he is fairly safe.

Eugene O’Neill was an Irish American playwright in the Golden Age of Broadway (late 1890’s to late 1930’s) who focused his work on the gritty fringes of society as opposed to the “high life” that the rest of the Golden Agers were highlighting in their plays.

O’Neill’s words here should resonate with Christians on several levels (unfortunately including the brief blip of braggadocio). I want to focus on emboldened phrase “searching for better ways.”

The phrase alludes to a true Standard that we – not just as people in general – will often fall short while trying to meet, even though we hope to meet it with every attempt.

Imagine an archery range. You’ve got the tools you need – simply the bow and the arrow – with you on your side and the target on the other. You know that you at least have to load the arrow in the bow, but from there everything is a technique. employed to hit the bullseye. How far back “should” you pull? How high “should” you tilt your bow? How much “should” I allot my actions for undetermined gusts of wind that may or may not affect my shot?

Finally you shoot, and you either hit the mark or miss the mark. Any more shooting after this point is then determined by either the hitting or the missing. When we miss, we subsequently strive to hit, and when we hit, we subsequently strive to keep hitting. Welcome to being human: the constant struggle between hitting the mark and missing the mark.


So let me encourage you here.

Remember all the times when you have missed the mark. Remember how bad it felt to miss and how guilty you felt for missing it. Bring that to God, and let him carry it.

Now remember all the times when you have hit the mark. Remember how good it felt to hit and how fulfilled you felt for hitting it. Bring that to God, and let him increase it.

This is an image of a roadside billboard that memorializes Robin Williams after his death.

When A Celebrity Dies

Yes, we will die, too.

One of the elemental truths God has established in this created world is that man will die. It used to not be like that; in fact, I sometimes wonder how long Adam and Eve would have lived had they not succumbed.

The truth remains that we die, and it is always a sad event.

Death’s sting is never too far. Just this week, I’ve been affected by two deaths in my own community. One was of a man who lived right up the road from me. He was a lover of humankind, and he showed that love by leading countless Habitat for Humanity projects and helping homeless people build their own houses. The other, though I didn’t know personally, was the father of one of the most knowledgeable and prestigious history professors this area has been blessed to have.

My generation here at home has also experienced numerous deaths this year. Numerous car crashes and vehicular accidents have claimed the lives of people with whom I’ve shared some school life, whether in the classroom or in extracurricular activities. It’s harrowing to read the names of contemporaries in the obituaries (a sentiment that transcends my own generation, I’m sure) when we shared the same high school hallways just a few years ago.

But something strange happens when a celebrity dies; in fact, several strange things happen.

Maybe the most poignant phenomenon that revolves around a celebrity’s death is the communal sting that everyone feels.

A sting is present just the same as when someone within your family, sphere of friends, or community dies, but it’s different in its scale of how far it reaches. It’s one thing when you can join in with people you know and mourn the loss of a communal figure; it’s another thing for a world full of strangers to collectively mourn the death of a solitary figure who, in a way, uniquely touched and affected each person individually.

An odd occurrence that stems from the first is that social and political enemies can become friends and sojourners as they both try to figure how to live in a world without their mutual celebrity friend (and unfortunately they will probably turn it into a sympathy vote, but whatevs).

Certain celebrity deaths bring attention to certain problems…with the unspoken hope that these problems will no longer remain problems.

Just three hours ago (1:30 PM), news broke about the death of Joan Rivers, and the social media trending began. How weird that five days ago, CBS Sunday Morning syndicated this clip of Rivers from 2002 in which she speaks of getting older and being okay with it.

This year has also seen the passing of Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney, two celebrities that were the face of the generations that preceded my own. Their deaths brought on hordes of Tweets and Statuses with nostalgia dripping like honey.

Other celebrity deaths served as tinder to reignite discussions should never but always somehow manage to slip down to everyone’s back-burners.

Most recently, the death of Robin Williams reminded us all of how deep and true the cords of depression ring. Because of his death, several social media figures took to the browser to talk about their own bouts with suicide, as NBC’s Susan Donaldson James points out in this article.

Before that was the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman who struggled many years with drug abuse. In this aftermath, many celebrities came out and confessed to their own struggles with drugs, as The Wrap’s Greg Gilman reports.

All of this serves as a giant signpost that points back to God.

For one thing, it points to the fact that humanity is scary. Sure, we can think of monsters, demons, natural disasters, conspiracy theories, religious beheadings, and global terrorism all we want; we’re at a somewhat safe distance from such morbid grandiosity.

But when a celebrity dies – especially one that affects us – it’s a more staunch reminder of how mortal we really are, and, if the right seeds have been planted, it will remind people of how another famous and infamous Figure died not at the hands of suicide, drugs, old age, or natural causes, but because He had to die so as to rescue the members of the human race who fall short of God’s glory, whoever that is.

This is an image from the music video of the song SAVE ME by Gotye.

Christian Salvation in Gotye’s “Save Me”

In 2012, musical artist Gotye released his third studio album Making Mirrors.

This album was catapulted to international fame because of its third track “Somebody That I Used To Know” (click the link if you want to add to the over-500-million-and-ever-increasing YouTube views); however, I believe the best song on the album is the eleventh track, “Save Me.”

For this post, we’ll look at this song at how it can serve as a signpost that can point people back home to God.

But first, if you haven’t already (or if you want to again, like I do), listen to the song.


These convicting lyrics, though.

Something like a story exists in the lyrics of this song because they feature a conflict that is resolved in the end.

The persona of the poetry starts out by showing us how he was once in a state of hopelessness:

In the mornings, I was anxious,
was better just to stay in bed;
didn’t want to fail myself again.

Running through all the options, and the endings
were rolling out in front of me;
but I couldn’t choose a thread to begin.

Before the change, he was in a constant state of worry and anxiety so heavy and burdensome that he didn’t even want to get out of bed because a step out of bed would be a step toward recurring failure.

And even though he wanted to alleviate his distress, he was so overwhelmed by all the ways to do it that he became metaphorically paralyzed.

In the first chorus, he shows us how far down he really is in his despair because he can’t love:

And I could not love
’cause I could not love myself;
“never good enough, no”
that was all I’d tell myself.

And I was not well,
but I could not help myself;
I was givin’ up on livin’.

His deepest and scariest realization wasn’t that he’s hurting but that he couldn’t help himself; he needed something or someone stronger than himself to pull him out of this pit. And he needed this helping hand fast because he was on the verge of suicide.

In the second verse, however, the persona turns and introduces us to another figure into the narrative:

In the morning, you were leaving,
travelling south again,
and you said you were not unprepared.

And all the dead ends and disappointments
were fading from your memory;
ready for that lonely life to end.

The persona is now remembering a time when this other person was ready to leave him.

But something changed in the other’s mind, and they decided to not only stay but rescue the persona from his own depression with love:

And you gave me love
when I could not love myself;
and you made me turn
from the way I saw myself.

And you’re patient, love,
and you help me help myself
and you save me.

The glory thus shines for our persona. He is reinvigorated with the love shown by the other, and his sense of self-worth is revived. Ultimately, the other has rescued – yes, saved – our persona.


Just Like How Jesus Saves Us

I can identify and sympathize with the persona of this piece in that I’ve hit some immobilizing low points in my life. They were the kind of troughs that I couldn’t climb out of alone.

Even though I haven’t been diagnosed with clinical depression, it does run in my family, and I have several friends who either have been or still are thus afflicted (some who didn’t come out of their own troughs alive). I’ve been as close to depression as one can get without being there myself, and I can tell you that the sentiment of the first half of the song is accurate.

But when I realized that I couldn’t save myself from my own pit, that’s when I realized that I needed someone else – an “other” – to help me out. Such is the human condition when we realize that we’re not as good as we think we are. From here, we then realize that we deserve nothing more than to be abandoned by the God who we betray and crucify every time we want something more than Him and His love.

This hopelessness and despair is where our Lord and Savior’s hand reaches down and saves us. Whenever we forget how to love, He reminds us by loving us; when we feel like we’re worth nothing and don’t mean anything to anyone, this love restores the value within us.

Jesus is even so patient with us that He is willing to walk with us for the rest of our earthly lives and even throughout our heavenly perpetuity.

All of the above is how He loves us and continually saves us.

This is an image of a modern soldier's helmet.

The Helmet of Salvation

For the helmet of salvation that we don

and the trouble that we have to keep it on,

it’s no wonder that we falter

with the mind of a defaulter

when the hope to rest in Paradise is gone.

This is an image from the film CONSTANTINE that features Constantine walking through hell.

When The World Will End

When the grass is brown and hot and dry
and when the vapor hazes in the air
and when the leaves crunch under feet
because the sun refuses to lay off the heat

When the veneration of childhood
becomes the exaltation of impulse
and when the discipline of impulse
becomes the repression of freedom

When lovers can call each other such
and not even offer each other much
because where love was once a sacrificial action
is now nothing more than a sexual satisfaction

When one would rather lie and save from getting hurt
than tell the truth for what it’s wholly worth
and suspicion makes up in a relationship
for what a surplus of patience used to give

When the means by which one accomplishes
become the end for which one wryly wishes
and when the happiness that once was purely fought for
becomes the complacency that one was surely bought for

When ethics are as empty as whitewash tombs
with no morality to guide them
and no absolutism to back them up:
this is when the world will end.


 

This is an image of King Solomon and three of his concubines.

Modern Solomon

A modern Solomon is what I may
become, my harem on the internet;
my concubines are digitally met
where I can click and double-click away;
I like that I remember every sway
and make my browsing history forget;
I like that I can take what I can get
without commitment getting in my way.

But this is only worship of the self,
and such idolatry is blasphemous;
whene’er I want my fantasies explored,
I turn my back on God to please myself;
how sad that I can feel so scandalous
and think I’m still within my loving Lord.

The Image We’re Made In


What good is a prophet when his words aren’t inspired
by the God that he wants us to know?
He tells us that, one day, we’ll burn in a fire
that roars in the caverns below.

But that’s not the image we’re made in,
the image of suffering and shame
’cause our God, He loves us, and wants us to claim Him
so one day, He’ll call us by name…
and one day, He’ll call us by name.

What good is a watchman when he loses his focus
on enemies approaching the door?
His thoughts are obsessed with the system that broke us
and not on the incoming war.

But that’s not the image we’re made in,
the image of worry and doubt;
our God knows the burden of all of our questions,
and with Him, we’ll figure them out…
and with Him, we’ll figure them out.

What good is a family when everyone only
cares for nobody else but themselves,
when brothers and sisters are cast out and lonely
and all they ever needed was our help?

But that’s not the image we’re made in
the image of being alone;
His death is the binder that brings us together,
and one day, He’ll call us back home…
Hallelujah, we’re going back home.