A Dreamer Walking

God’s Not Dead – Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 10, 2014

God's Not Dead Poster #2God’s not dead, but why is it I felt I attended his funeral?

From the last sentence you might already be getting the idea my experience watching God’s Not Dead wasn’t the happiest. In fact, I was visibly angry by the time the film ended. I feel sorry for my poor mother and sister who needed to hear me rant about my problems with the film the whole way back from the theater and then during the walk with the dogs afterword. To get to the core of my problem with the film I am going to need to go into some spoilers. So those who still might be wanting to go to the movie might want to check this out afterword.

As I explained in my last post I was not looking forward to this movie. From seeing both the title and the film’s trailers I had an overwhelming feeling this movie was more interested in telling us what to think then giving us something to think about. I chose to go because I didn’t want to judge the film on preconceived ideas. To the best of my ability I tried to be open to the movie being different from it’s advertisements. As the old saying goes you shouldn’t always judge a book by it’s cover. I wanted this movie to impact me like any other movie. I was interested in the basic concept of a student standing up for what he believes in even when it might mean he would be condemned. And trailers have a hard time expressing depth. They only have a few seconds to introduce characters and concepts. A two hour movie however obviously has much more time to get into character motivations and express more nuanced ideas.

This movie however left nuance at the door. All the characters were created to represent stereotypes, both of Christians and the secular world. None of them showed any depth. People who did not believe in the Christian God were all portrayed as evil; whether it be the Muslim father who beats and kicks his daughter out of the house after she claims to love Jesus or the mean boyfriend who gets angry at his girlfriend for bringing up her cancer after he tells her about his promotion. All the Christians the film concentrated on were true servants of God. Sure, there was the pastor who kept getting frustrated about his car not starting. But none of them really faltered when it came to choosing to do the right thing in the end. The character most representative of the “selfless man of God” was the main protagonist of the story Josh Wheaton.

It was clear Josh’s character particularly represented the Christian industries expectation for a good Christian youth. He did everything right in the eyes of the Christian base. He isn’t willing to put down on paper, “God is dead”. He goes to his elders for instruction. He reads the Bible and stands up to his God hating professor in class. I mean this guy doesn’t miss a beat. There is no attempt to allow the audience to understand Josh’s unwavering faith in God. There is no insight to when he became a Christian or why he feels the need to stand up for his faith except for the generic comment of, “I think God wants me to”. I call the comment generic because it is the same excuse Muslim extremists use to blow things up and kill innocent woman and children. Josh is a shell with no real personality or meaning outside his mission to convert the unbeliever. There are tones of opportunities for him to actually interact with the world around him yet he is too focused on his mission to convert to give a crap about anything else. The best example of Josh’s ignorance comes when interacting with a fellow student Martin Yip. Martin is actually the one who reaches out to Josh by asking him about why he is speaking up in class. Josh takes this as a opportunity to preach and tells Martin about how he believes in Jesus and doesn’t want to disappoint Him. I almost yelled at Josh in the theater to ask a question about who Martin was. Start up a actual conversation and maybe ask Martin what he believes. But no luck. As soon as Josh was done with his preaching he left Martin sitting at the table. The only time Josh really becomes interested in Martin is after Martin turns to Jesus at the end of the movie.

There were so many missed opportunities. This could have been an authentic look at the secular world and why at times it seems so against Christianity. Yet, after watching the movie you get an overwhelming feeling the only thing Christian media thinks they do wrong is stay quiet. The only open Christian in the movie who was portrayed in a negative light was Josh’s girlfriend who adamantly encouraged Josh not to speak up in class. Christians might point to this character as daring, but I thought of her as just shallow. The writers did everything but put a sign on her spelling out, “This is not a real Christian”. She never talks about God and always spoke about how Josh fighting his professor in class would make her look bad. She finally broke up with him because he wouldn’t sign the paper that God was dead or leave the class. Why do I or anyone else in the audience care she she left Josh? I mean there was nothing about her that was interesting or made me care. I couldn’t figure out how the morally unshakable Josh Wheaton would have hooked up with someone like his girlfriend in the first place?

The farther into the movie we went the more this movie looked like a carefully planned out propaganda film. Their mission was to keep the Christian base confident in their faith and reinforce a narrow view of the outside world. It reminded me of the countless messages I sat through in Church where in the end I was told to give my heart to Jesus and tell others about the good news. Quite literally the movie told us to tell people, “God’s Not dead”. It wanted me to text all my friends telling them God wasn’t dead as if that was going to do the trick. The frustrating things is there were tons of people who did this. As I explained in my last post I saw tons of status updates declaring God wasn’t dead. Put yourself in the secular world’s shoes. What if one of your friends had text you, “God’s dead”? How would this make you feel? Would it really make you more acceptable to thinking God’s dead? Or would it get you frustrated because you are being told bluntly something you believe is not true. For many the text “God’s Not dead” are fighting words. The text is starting a debate few Christians are interested in or prepared for. Heck, I believe there is no batter proof for how unprepared we are then this very movie.

The premise of this movie revolved around Josh’s debate with his professor about the existence of God. While the atheist professor had a board with a few atheist philosophers and scientists names on it as explanation for why the class did not need to look into the idea of there being a God, Josh had a fully realized video display, he somehow found the time to put together, to help argue his case. Each time Josh made his arguments for God’s existence this display helped guide us into feeling comfortable Josh’s arguments made sense. On the other hand while some of the first arguments the professor makes feel partly thought out it becomes more and more apparent his real problem is a personal grudge against God. There was no attempt to treat the debate fairly. In the end we see the Professor show his true colors and admit his real reasons for not allowing God in his class room was because he was angry at Him for not saving his mother from cancer. For this to be the main argument in the movie for why the secular world denies the Christian God is completely ridiculous. Yet, this philosophy seems to be picked up by more and more Christians. Most Christians I listen to seem convinced the reason the secular world denies God is because they are selfish and have a personal grudge against Him.

Movies like God’s Not Dead are why the secular world isn’t interested in the Christian God. As I said at the beginning of my post I felt I was attending God’s funeral while watching this. I just couldn’t find any substance in the movie. This film claims to be a light. Yet it is a light that holds little warmth and shows no depth. The film was an encouragement for believers to go out into the world and preach with ears plugged and eyes closed. The more Christians take on this kind of instruction the farther they will find themselves from both this world and their God they claim to love so much.

 

 

 

The Chains of Faith

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 10, 2012

I can not create a story without thinking how it reflects my perspective on family, politics, and most importantly God. Many have debated on whether faith in God limits the storyteller or frees him. Because I personally have chosen to devote my life to God my creative decisions always need to be filtered through my faith. There are an extra bundle of questions I need to ask myself when creating a story. Is my story giving God reverence or putting Him down? Am I allowing Him to speak to others or am I turning others away from Him? Does the point of my film justify the immorality I show in the story? I personally believe because the Christian industry is so afraid of the way their films reflect God they limit their creativity. You could justly ask how am I different? How could I possibly create satisfactory entertainment with all these questions interfering with my creative decisions?

Christian films such as the Left Behind series, Fireproof, and Facing the Giants don’t seem to attract much more than the audience who already agrees with their message. I watched christian produced films all through out my childhood. Hardly any of the movies taught me how to think.  All they really tried to do was teach me what to think. The morals of their stories were obvious and often shallow. All of their stories make a big deal about the importance of “choosing Jesus”. It’s the answer to every problem. “With God on our side we can do anything”. The rest of the world is shown to be completely corrupt and evil. Most Christian films talk down to non-believers. They don’t take the time to understand the outside world and thus are not able to bring substance or give insight to the world’s problems.

Most of my friends’ faiths stops them from opening up to the outside world.  The stories they create are black and white. They lack the shades of grey that bring depth to good storytelling. In real life the answer is never as simple as “choose Jesus”. The problem is never as simple as “He doesn’t have faith in God”. When a name becomes the most important point of a story you will lose your audience. The Christian industry is stuck on a name. They put the name ahead of the person’s character. The relationship a Muslim, Buddhist, or any other religion seems to have with God means nothing. If you do not call him by the right name, you are screwed. Thus the name trumps any true value represented in the story. If the Christian industry is going to make a movie about friendship it needs to involve introducing one or both of the friends to Jesus Christ. If the story has to do with drug addiction healing only happens through relationship with Jesus. If the film has to do with abortion the value of life is only found through the realization that Jesus loves us. The Church actually frowns upon putting Jesus’ teachings above his name, as if saying “I believe in love” is more important then being loving. If Jesus represented the medicine that would cure the deadly disease in the story the Christian industry would have the story concentrate on the importance of those affected understanding what the medicine was called rather then how it could actually heal them.

Because of the Christian industry’s inability to see God anywhere else than in their religion they end up closing doors to the outside world and themselves. Their faith becomes no more then a hollow name. They create a set of chains which stop them from being creative and exploring the essence of God. The christian God, at least the God I believe in, is infinite. There is no limit to His depth. I observe a different part of Him in everyone I see. Jesus is clearly seen in the story about a child bringing meaning to an old man’s life or the tale of a goblin finding out growing gardens is better than battle and bloodshed. See, Jesus told many stories in his life, hardly ever did he say what faith his characters claimed to follow. Jesus was not interested in giving the world another religion. His stories were about exploring real issues, like what it means to love your brother, neighbor, and enemy. He didn’t want His followers to tell others God loved them, He wanted them to show others God’s love through helping feed, cloth, and heal “the least of these”.

I want all the stories I create to give people more insight to who my God is. The questions I ask myself before embarking on a story are not there to limit my creativity. The questions give me a direction to go and a reason to put my heart into my visions. I have a foundational belief that God gave me the visions I have in my head to show to others. I give God reverence by being true to myself and the stories I create. I allow God to speak to others through getting myself out of the way. The world is full of immorality. Immorality is justified when it is not being used as a form of entertainment, but rather as a way to bring a reality to my stories and show a contrast to my God. As a Christian community we need to have faith God can be seen in our stories even when there is no name attached to Him. We must have faith in who our God is not in what we call Him.

The Responsiblity of the Filmmaker

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 16, 2011

I watched something the other day that pissed me off. It was a “Christmas Special” video created by the Christian youth group I used to attend.  In the video we see a group of college students acting as cliche secret agents whose mission is to hunt down Santa Claus. Watching the video it is obvious these guys are inspired by games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and movies like Man on Fire and the Transformers franchise. In the video we see these guys load up on their share of guns and follow a lead to where Santa might be hiding. They find Santa Claus and like we often see in violent video games and movies, they murder him. There is absolutely no explanation as to why Santa Claus is dangerous and why he needs to be murdered. The guy portraying Santa acts like a stupid monkey. He is nothing like the character we associate with Christmas except he is wearing a similar suit. The driving force behind the film is a bunch of loud music taken from the soundtracks of many big budget movies and a bunch of college kids who don’t look like they know the first thing on how to actually handle a gun. They play around with objects that can KILL people like it’s the “cool” thing to do. They seem completely unaware of the example they are making for the mostly younger audience watching the video at the youth group. What boggles me is that the video was able to be played in an actual youth group (you know, the kind that claims they want to follow God). The youth group is filled with a bunch of middle schoolers and high schoolers, including my younger sister. Leadership didn’t even seem to think twice about it. One of my friends, and one time mentor in film, who works at IHOP (International House Of Prayer) called the filmmakers who created the film “cinematic geniuses”.

I wonder why movies with any kind of sexually explicit material are condemned by the church while movies with mindless violence are  not only accepted but produced by the Church. We all know what words like “frick” and “fricken” are substitutes for, yet for this “Christmas Special” it was perfectly fine to use them. I guess in this instance it was okay to break the spirit of the law as long as they kept to the letter. I stopped really caring about building based Christianity a long time ago.  However, the video I saw the other day is not okay whether you do or do not go to Church or are or are not a Christian.

I am probably not going to get many people who agree with me in this post but I need to express my opinion on this kind of ignorance in filmmaking. Film is a huge source of entertainment, but it is also something else. It’s influential. It is a powerful medium that influences the direction of nations. There are many talented filmmakers out there who create some really crappy stuff. One of the reasons I have not chosen to do a study on a talented filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino is because I so morally disagree with the glamorization of violence in his films. I have heard interviews of Tarantino saying he thinks violence is just a way to entertain. He does not think he is actually harming anyone in his films by “entertaining” people through showing  someone slashing up another mans face or carving a swastika in someones forehead. In my opinion that is like saying children who watch their fathers abuse their mothers every night are not getting harmed because the violence is not being taken out on them. What we see has an impact on us. The sexual stuff we see on television and in the movies has an impact on what the public thinks about sex. The language we hear used in the media influences the way we talk. The same goes for violence.

I have been truly impacted by the violence I have seen in film. Movies like Schindler’s List and Blood Diamond were extremely sobering for me. They allowed me to understand true evils going on in this world and they pushed me to do something about them. However games like Modern Warfare and movies like Transformers and Inglorious Bastards have done the opposite for me. Their purpose is to entertain through showing graphic violence. They have numbed me. They have stopped me from understanding the true consequences of abuse and murder. Abortion is at a all time high, there are millions of people dying from starvation each year, and we still have tens of thousands of people in our own nation committing suicide. Why? Because we have not been taught responsibility, we don’t care about death, and we are not given enough of a reason to live. Film can help change this. Film has the power to teach people about responsibility, to let them understand what it means to kill, and give them a reason to live. Yet with  every Schindler’s List caliber film, there are ten times as many Inglorious Bastard‘s. The new Modern Warfare game just past Avatar as the fastest game/movie to get to the one billion dollar mark, only taking sixteen days.  At least in movies we are just observers of the killing going on, in the game Modern Warfare we are the ones doing the killing.

It is much easier to be ignorant of what violence, vulgar language, and sexually explicit material does to our psyche. This is not a blog telling you never to use that kind of material in film. In film we see all kinds of characters. Many of the characters I see and many I create I don’t agree with. However, my motivation for filmmaking is to make this world a better place. Film can do wondrous things. Film is the art form of the 21st century. The medium gives us understanding of the past and vision for the future. So, my question is what will our future be? As filmmakers will we contribute to the kind of entertainment that numbs us to the evils of this world? Or will we take on responsibility as filmmakers and give our audiences an entertainment that gives them a vision for a better tomorrow?

It breaks my heart when I see media used in such destructive ways from people who claim to be following the same God as I am. The vision and responsibility I have as a filmmaker comes from my Creator. I along with those who made this “Christmas Special” can give the rest of this world vision and hope. We can show others how great our God is. Instead too much of Christian media seems to be full of condemnation, double standards, and lack of vision. It’s time to change. It’s time to take our role as people who claim to know the “truth”, seriously. We can be open to the world while not being a product of it. Let us be the light on top of the hill and give this world visions that reflect the heart of our Creator.

The Inner Moral

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 11, 2010

I am a Christian and I really want to make sure I am staying true to my God in everything I do. I think that many Christians can sometimes take their religion too far and start to not interact with the “world” because they want to stay clean and be true to God. I personally think that if we want to stay true to God we will start to interact with the world.

I have seen Christians who are hesitant in their writing, because they want to “make sure it is coming from God”. This is not a bad thing, I just feel that sometimes my Christian friends have a hard time understanding where God is. I do not think you need to mention God’s name in a Movie, for Him to be present. God moves in all sorts of ways and sometimes a person who is not bound by a religious doctrine and philosophy sees God move in ways some Christians can not.

Sometimes I as a Christian need to rely on faith, that what I feel my heart is saying, is what God is wanting me to say.  I do not think that morals are based on what each individual says they should be, but I do think that we all, deep down, have a sense of what is truly moral. We have become good at avoiding those feelings.

What I think I must do as a writer is listen to those inner morals on what is right and wrong. Good writers follow vision, they find ways to understand those inner feelings/morals and stick to them.

Just something I was thinking about…

P.S. the picture is one of my many ink and watercolor pieces. It represents where I try to be in my faith.