Within the Christian community we acknowledge and oftentimes grumble about the disconnect between the church and Hollywood. We talk about building a bridge to secular media – and for the past 30 years, this has certainly been the primary mission of Mastermedia International. But in truth we are RE-building a bridge back to Hollywood. In film’s seminal years, when the motion picture industry was a mere celluloid infant, the church was considered the movie world’s determining audience. And initially a good percentage of Christians saw film as a remarkable opportunity to express Christian stories and values to a wider, national audience
The film industry got its start in the late 1800’s on the east coast, establishing the first motion picture studio in West Orange, New Jersey. But by 1910, with director D.W. Griffith leading the way, film production began under the sunny skies of So. California in the little village of Hollywood… an industry and culture was launched!
During these turn of the century days of film, the Christian worldview and the Biblical story was deeply ingrained in Western Culture. In fact, in the first century of film making, in addition to the countless Biblical epics, over 100 films were made solely focused on the life of Christ… that’s more than 1 per year.
It was sometimes said that Jewish moguls, hired Catholic Directors to make movies for the Protestant Audience. This wasn’t entirely true (Cecil B DeMille was an Episcopal lay minister), but the point was made that people of faith were well represented in the highest echelons of the studio system.
1927 brought the advent of the “talky” and on into the 30’s film transitioned from the silent era into this new audio phenomenon. In large part, the Christian audience followed along, remaining the focused audience of the studios. But as the 30’s brought an increase in provocative subject matter on-screen and sex and drug scandals off-screen, church leaders grew concerned of the dangers of worldly cinematic amusements. In light of this moral descent of film, the Church shifted their focus from embracing and producing movies to censoring, critiquing and policing them. The film industry established the Hays Commission, led by its namesake Will Hays, a Presbyterian elder. The Catholic hierarchy began the Legion of Decency.
As World War II ended, the mid-40’s brought a change in the cultural wind. As American soldiers returned home from Europe and the Pacific, and foreign films entered the US marketplace, new ideologies began to take root. Seeds of secularism were planted, often times blooming on the screens of local theaters.
Our response? Some panicked! Some pulled out! Some stopped going to the movies – “what business does a Christian have being in a dark theater?” And perhaps the most detrimental outgrowth of our response, a generation of talented young Christian creatives were discouraged by many, condemned by some, from entering the media business. As the church relinquished the task of providing or supporting positive, life-affirming films, the secular film culture filled the void!
The Good News? Christian filmmakers, media ministries (such as Mastermedia) and the Christian audience is returning… and in an impactful way. Faith-filled films are being produced in record numbers, some being embraced by mainstream audiences and strong box office receipts.
Through it all, our hope and prayer is to play our role in re-building that bridge back to the most important, influential, cultural defining mission field and people group on the planet!
Chapter: “Silent Cinema and Religion” by Terry Lindvall
The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film, edited by John Lyden, published by Routledge, 2011
Last summer my wife and I had a wonderful opportunity to visit China, a country rich in artistic expressions and inspiring theatrical, musical and cinematic presentations of their cultural stories. Our trip began in Beijing at the Chinese Film Museum, a treasure of China’s rich cinematic history.
We came to a long row of statues representing China’s most famous actors and actresses. Encased in glass, each statue wore the original costume of the film star’s most iconic role. At the statue of a young actress, our tour guide proudly proclaimed, “This is our Shirley Temple.” Next to “Shirley” was a male figure which prompted our guide to say, “And this is our Humphrey Bogart.” Seeking legitimacy, our guide wanted to connect what China has been doing or is currently doing to its Hollywood counterpart.
As we continued our guide, a passionate young man with a master’s degree in Chinese Operatic Films (How’s that for a genre?), began to ask about how to “make it” in Hollywood. Like many aspiring American film makers, he believed that the only true film career was one centered in Hollywood. To quote Frank Sinatra’s theme song, “. . . if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”
Later, I was at a crowded mall in Xian, sporting my L.A. Dodgers baseball cap. A young man rushed up to me and said, “Hello, my name is Richard. I want to go to USC film school, but I need a sponsor. Will you sponsor me?” He assumed that I, being from L.A. must be connected to the film industry.
We all know about the robust Chinese box office and recognize the popularity of American films in China. But I didn’t realize how deeply the Chinese want to emulate Hollywood. A global generation is emerging that sees Hollywood as the gold standard, the epitome of movie excellence.
Our final stop was the largest film production studio in the world—Hengdian World Studios in Dongyang (“Chinawood”). In addition to film production, the studio is filled with tourists enjoying attractions offered throughout the massive grounds. As an American in the midst of a film studio, once again my association with Hollywood was assumed. It was embarrassing—people followed us around, and a few waited in line to take a picture with us.
I will forever be impacted by the extraordinary lens through which the Chinese people view Hollywood. I have a fresh understanding of how deeply American films connect with the Chinese audience, affecting their culture, inspiring their dreams, and shaping their beliefs as they adopt the values emanating from these films—films that are creating a whole new generation of filmmakers who aspire to “make it in Hollywood.”
If I wasn’t sure before, I am convinced now that America’s most influential export is American films . . . and that the influence organization’s like Mastermedia International has in Hollywood can have significant impact throughout the world.
Over the past decade, the world has witnessed a seismic cultural shift … the digital revolution. And no business was affected more than the media industry.
As digital platforms exploded onto the scene, the world became an interactive “screened” culture – populated, in part, by a generation with a film studio in their pocket and a global megaphone gifted to them courtesy of the Internet. This democratization of the media has created countless messengers and storytellers and has transformed Hollywood from a geographical location to a global concept.
“Those who tell the stories rule society.” – Plato
Today’s media influencers are not only found behind conference tables in boardrooms, but also behind laptops in Starbucks and sitting with fingers crossed at international film festivals.
In response to this digital shift, Traditional Hollywood has given birth to what I call, Indie Hollywood (film festivals, privately funded productions), Digital Hollywood (You Tube channels, gaming, bloggers), and Global Hollywood (represented by China periodically surpassing the U.S. box office).
As “Hollywood” expands onto an omnipresent global stage, each of these conceptual Hollywood’s spawn countless new media voices. This sudden influx of cinematic creatives opens up an unprecedented opportunity to relationally invest in these newfound power brokers and to thoughtfully engage in today’s cultural conversation.
As a Christian, how do I connect with them? The answer lies in the manner in which Jesus engaged with the two men walking on the road to Emmaus:
While they were talking and discussing together,
Jesus himself drew near and went with them. Luke 24:15
These two men are walking along, deep in conversation, trying to make sense of the events of the day. Jesus joins them on their seven-mile hike and asks them a simple question, “What are you talking about?” Entering into their dialogue, Jesus brings clarity to their confusion and answers to their questions.
They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn
within us while he talked to us on the road,
while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke 24:32
In this digital world of interactivity, today’s generation is often asking the right questions and welcomes thoughtful conversation. Let our response be one of joining these new “Hollywood” communities on their journey. Then in a spirit of humility and respect, seek to engage in thoughtful, caring dialogue.
A few weeks back I was speaking to 25 Christian university film students during their visit to Hollywood. One young man asked me the all too familiar question, “How do I get into the business?” My standard answer, as recently as a dozen years ago, was get yourself to Hollywood or New York, build as many relationships as you can, then begin the arduous task of knocking on the doors of the 5 or 6 studios, the 4 TV networks, and visit as many of the production companies as will let you into their lobbies. All part of making the rounds to the Hollywood powerbrokers – the men and women who create and control what the world will and won’t see on our screens. And if there weren’t any openings, you had few alternatives. They were the only game in town!
Still a good strategy. These traditional media companies continue to yield a powerful sword of influence. But no longer are they the only game in town… not by a long shot!
The digital explosion has flung the doors of opportunity wide open. With the flood of new digital platforms, independent film festivals increasingly dotting the map and international audiences racing to the box office, the possibilities are limitless for the next talented Spielberg “wannabe.”
Supply and Demand!
What created all of these new opportunities? Innumerable channels, websites, streaming companies, digital platforms and expanded global audiences; sparked an insatiable demand for content to fill the world’s screens in our new “screen dependent” culture.
According to an Internet Analyst at Morgan Stanley, in 2015 Americans spent 7 hrs. 44 minutes a day gazing into a screen. Assuming you sleep for 6.8 hours a night (the national average), almost ½ (43%) of our waking life – we are engaged in the virtual world and disengaged (at least partially) from the real world.
Today the influence of this expanded media landscape has soared to an all time high. To apply a digital age paraphrase to Plato’s statement regarding the influence of storytellers – “Whoever controls the screens, controls culture!”
Greater opportunity, limitless possibility and increased importance reveal a crucial need! Today’s wild, media frontier often finds itself stumbling in the dark, trying to make sense of a fallen world, as they search for answers to the big questions in life… answers that can only be found in the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE.
Growing up in the shadows of Disneyland, throughout my childhood I visited the Magic Kingdom two or three times every year. The absolute wonder engendered by my first visits, filled my imagination for months afterwards. My amazement faded over time as the magic became familiar and predictable. Twenty some years later, I became a father. As I anxiously took my own kids through those colorful gates and raced towards “Pirates of the Caribbean” the excitement of my own childhood returned. Seeing Disneyland afresh through my kids’ eyes, suddenly I was reminded of the wonder that captivated me as a child. I even welcomed with gladness that insidious, repetitive song of “It’s a Small World…afterall!” As the boat turned the corner into each new land, the charm of the tune crept back into my head, resulting in my unbridled, at-the-top-of-my-lungs, vocal stylings.
Another twenty some years later, I returned once again with my grandkids. A whole new generation of wonder was launched. Wonder is a precious gift from the God of all creativity.
But in this age of information, where the answer to every question we ponder is just a click away, is wonder doomed to extinction? After all if I wonder when in a mosquitos head-first flight towards his feast, does he turn his body to land his rear-end stinger deep into my arm? Google’s answer is displayed immediately on my omnipresent smart phone. If I wonder who was the first person to think it was a good idea to drink whatever came out of a cow’s utter? Wikipedia doesn’t leave time for the milk to sour, before I know that it was the Central Europeans approximately 7,500 years ago (although I believe that the Bible would suggest that the “land of milk and honey” knew about milk much earlier).
The kick off question that sparks the story of most writers is “What if…?” That question is interchangeable with “I wonder what would happen if…?” Wonder ignites imagination, which finds its expression in creativity. We must pause every now and then to look to creation with wonder. Wonder about the answers to the big questions in life. Let’s never loose the WONDERment of our childhood.
The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalms 19:1)
When one thinks of faith-based films, more often than not, we think of one of two types of films: Biblical films or evangelistic films. The history of Biblical films is relatively long, the spectrum wide and the challenges of successfully presenting this profound, rich, well-known story are many.
Biblical Films had their beginnings with short films in 1897s, only one year after the advent of film. Films such as France’s Lear’s Passion (1897) and America’s The Horitz Passion Play (1897), were the forerunners to one of the first feature-length Jesus films, the silent 1912 film From the Manger to the Cross. From those early days, the genre quickly splintered into many different expressions of Biblical stories or Christian faith, with the best well known being the Cecil B. DeMille Biblical epics (10 Commandments -1923, King of Kings -1927) and the more recent Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and The Passion of the Christ (2004).
Evangelistic films, often highly didactic with explicit Gospel messaging, have their origin in churches, Christian organizations and/or Christian filmmakers. Beginning with the silent Passion films, to Rev. James Friedrich’s The Great Commandment (1939) to 1972’s Thief in the Night and the most viewed film of all time The Jesus Film (1979), through to the Kendrick Brothers films such as Fireproof (2008) or Courageous (2011); Christians have long used film to share their faith. These overtly Christian films benefit the Body of Christ, by supporting Christian’s beliefs and providing an opportunity for believers to invite their unchurched friends to hear the Gospel presented in a “neutral” environment. However, often the offerings of many evangelistic films are narrow, with little theological depth; proving to be quite anemic as a cultural change-agent.
The question arises, are these films merely evangelistic vehicles or religious art? Michael Bird wrote in the Cambridge Journals, “Within the discussion of religious art there arises the fascinating question of how art can engender the awareness of those special, hierophanous moments in culture where the sacred dimension breaks through into an otherwise profane experience. How does the artist render visible that which is inherently invisible?” In the Book of Matthew, Jesus rebukes the “sign-seeking” hypocritical leaders by saying, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16.1-3). Jesus’ criticism stems from their seeking heavenly signs merely from the obvious visible sights. If they truly desired a fuller revelation from the Spirit of God, they should seek a glimpse into the spiritual realm. How often do we in the Christian community want things laid out for us very clearly, looking for understanding solely from the tangible, earthly plain?
I have experienced numerous “aha” moments of spiritual insight while engaged in a compelling cinematic story. In my experience the most powerful theological understanding in film comes, not from the obvious “religious-centric” sources, but from different, unexpected, frequently non-Christian film moments. My friend Dr. Craig Detweiler writes, “General revelation is a term created by theologians to describe the experience of God available to all people. Such revelations may arrive as a word, a thought, a vision, a touch, or a feeling. These divine breakthroughs wake us, surprise us, reassure us that we are not alone. The power of general revelation often resides in God’s ability to sneak up on us, to speak through unlikely people or unexpected situations.”
FOX News declared 2014 the year of the Christian film. But what is a Christian film? Is a Biblical film always a Christian film? What does the term faith-based film mean? Are faith-based films synonymous with family films? Can God speak to us through a secular, “non-Christian” film? Over the next weeks I will explore all of these issues as I set out “Looking for God in faith-based films.” But first let’s go back a bit and lay some ground work.
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. (Acts 17.16-7)
As the Apostle Paul arrives in the City of Athens, he looks for the center of the cultural conversation. The Jews and devout, “God fearing” people are meeting in a religious forum within the synagogue. But those who didn’t embrace theism, as well as the shapers of the ideology of the day, were gathered in the Athenian Starbucks of yesteryear, the marketplace. Here Paul places himself in the midst of public discourse, first listening, then reasoning from a position of his Christian faith. Looking for a link between their cultural beliefs and his Christian beliefs, Paul finds it in the line of statutes to their numerous gods. Paul used their story of a statute to an unknown god as the foundation of God’s story. Where are today’s culture’s stories being told?
Plato once said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.” The most powerful and influential forum for expressing our viewpoints are the stories told through medias such as film, television and digital media. Hollywood’s influence on our culture can hardly be overestimated, the movie industry’s products, for better or worse, influence the way people perceive the world and their place in it. The stories contained in cinema capture our imaginations, inspire and encourage us, help us deal with our fears in an unthreatening way, show us how to laugh at our human fragilities and insecurities. We emphasize with stories, because stories humanize a truth.
How did Jesus give us truths of the Kingdom of God or convey important theological truth? “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable” (Matthew 13.34). A parable is an earthly story that relates a spiritual truth. Just as Jesus enter mankind’s world physically – “became flesh and dwelled among us” – Jesus also entered our world contextually. Jesus would set up a world and invite us in to experience His truth. Professor Rob Johnston writes, “Parables provide stories drawn from everyday life that capture the attention of their viewers/hearers by focusing on what is not usually seen, teasing their recipients into an active engagement with them through their open-endedness. In this way, Jesus’ parables caused those present to see life in a new way. So, too, do movies.”
One of my greatest comedy influences and certainly the primary inspiration for the comedy style of my comedy team Isaac Air Freight was Stan Freberg. I first began listening to his records when I was about 10 years old. Soon I had every sketch, every record memorized. Freberg’s most popular sketch was his 1953 Dragnet parody, St. George and the Dragonet. Freberg’s irreverent take on the series produced the fastest-selling single in history — more than 1 million copies in three weeks and earned its mastermind a gold record. Later his sketch became the template for the Isaac Air Freight sketch Jerusalem Dragnet. Freberg was also the voice of Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent on the Beany and Cecil Show…which I watched daily as a kid.
Freberg’s satiric vision made him an idol to fans as diverse as the Beatles, Anthony Hopkins, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Barry Hansen, the radio host and musicologist known as Dr. Demento (who our comedy team performed with in our early days), said that Freberg’s spoofs “were the true forerunners of the satirical style of National Lampoon and ‘Saturday Night Live.'”
In 1988, I had the pleasure of having Stan Freberg as a guest on the radio show I hosted with my life-long friend, Bob Bennett. He was a great guest and wonderful Christian man. Stan Freberg passed away on Tuesday April 6th at the age of 88.
God bless Stan Freberg.
A new book from Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration is fascinating in its portrayal of Pixar’s history of successes and failures, and insightful in its boiling down of Pixar experience into transferable principles.
From the book, here are 18 lessons we can learn from the culture of Pixar:
This summer marks the 50th Anniversary of the release of A Hard Day’s Night, the first film with the Beatles. From the first time I saw it as a kid, it has remained one of my favorite films. It’s also perhaps the film I’ve watched the most times, as well as had the biggest impact upon my childhood. Produced at the dawn of Beatlemania, A Hard Day’s Night had a profound effect upon the film world, as well as the culture in general. Up until this time (1964) rock-n-roll movies consisted of either studio lip-syncing by various one hit wonders strung together with a crazy host introducing the next act. Or, as in the case of all of the Elvis’ movies, producers would give the singer, an occupation and a simple situation that would justify the performance of their latest songs. Hard Day’s Night comes along and changed the formula completely. Screenwriter Alun Owen, prior to putting pen to paper, spent ample time with the Fab Four, discovering their personas, idioms and their world of sudden, unprecedented stardom. The movie, shot in black and white, comes about as close to a documentary as a scripted piece has ever come before or since.
Up until this film, the world had only known the Beatles by their recordings and TV performances. Now being cast as themselves, with carefully constructed dialog, peppered with improvisation and actual quotes, the world was able to discover who were these lads from Liverpool. The production was ground breaking also. Handheld cameras and many actual locations added to the realism of the film. The quick cut editing and inventive camera placement set the template for music videos to be later enjoyed by the MTV generation.
When John Lennon is asked in the movie, “How did you find America?” his reply (echoing what he said at a press conference upon arrival at JFK Airport), was “Turned left at Greenland.” This quip solidified a change that had been brewing in comedy. Pioneered primarily by British comedians such as The Goons (directed by Hard Day’s Night director Richard Lester), Peter Sellers, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, there was a playful rebellion in the humor of Hard Day’s Night. The Beatles acknowledged an “us vs. them” generation gap, but it wasn’t a hostile divide like audiences found in James Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause or the standup of Lenny Bruce. Their cordial playfulness made a statement that we all are pretty silly, but each generation merely possesses a different flavor of silly. Throughout the film, the Beatles show that even though the world was going crazy around them, they could maintain their sanity and sense of humor.
By: Dan Rupple
1) What is Christian Comedy?
This is a question that, no matter how many times you define it, it continually comes up. Personally, my definition is always changing, so it might be a good thing that it remains fluid.
So often we get stuck when we try to define Christian comedy in terms of how many times we say “Jesus”? How clean we work? Where we perform?
Or how explicitly we present Christian Content?
From my perspective:
A Christian Comedian is someone who works in the craft of comedy
and is walking in relationship with God.
Why do I say that?
Great comedy is always based in the truth of human experience,
if not, it won’t connect with the audience.
And that truth usually struggles with what it means to be human.
As a Christian we have a unique perspective on that truth.
God’s presence is in our lives, shapes our values, our behavior, our character, our worldview, our purpose and our motivation of why we do what we do.
And the closer we walk with Christ, Christian truth, either explicitly or implicitly, permeates all we say or do, and that’s what marks us as a Christian Comedian.
2) Comedy Matters
In the book of Exodus, God is calling the Children of Israel to build the tabernacle. And He tells Moses to gather the carpenters, the stoneworkers/masonry and the skilled craftsmen… the artists.
Because if something is going to represent the presence of God,
it needs to be a great work of art.
God places a high call on the Artist. And comedy is amongst the most important callings. Drama will oftentimes look at man’s strengths and helps us dream about what we can be. But comedy operates secure in the knowledge of man’s imperfections: our insecurity, awkwardness, cowardness, uncertainty, pride, jealousy, fear – all the core attributes of comedy.
Comedy helps us live with who we are.
Jesus said, “We will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Comedy is the art of telling the truth about what it’s like to be human.
And we get to do it from a perspective of the Creator Himself.
3) Put in the Work
Great sports legends: Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretsky, Peyton Manning, Greg Maddox, Tony Gwynn… there is a reason they are iconic legends. It’s not ONLY because of exceptional skills. But they practice the most, work the hardest.
They are the first ones to arrive and the last ones to leave.
To excel in comedy, we must have the same dedication to our craft.
A comedian must have an audience. It’s probably the only art form that can’t be done alone. Perform wherever they will give you a stage.
Write as often as you can.
Study the greats.
Attend conferences or seminars.
Remain a student. Don’t just think you can rely on talent alone,
There is always someone who is just as talented; who works harder that will pass you by.
4) Build a Life Beyond Comedy
Living in So Cal, I’ve seen so many actors, musicians, comedian who put their whole life and their whole identity into their careers.
Sadly, they are devastated by their first rejection.
In this business you’ll receive a NO, infinitely more times than a YES.
If your life is broader than the narrow label of comedian…
if you’ve built a rich family life, social life, church life, recreational life…
it is easier to weather the inevitable rejection or a bad night.
And, the richer you are as a person, the richer your comedy is.
5) Understand And Accept The Scope Of God’s Call On Your Life As A Comedian.
God had set Moses apart as the leader of the Children of Israel.
The people challenged Moses – “Who do you think you are?
Who put you in charge? I didn’t vote for you.”
“It is God who places people in the Body of Christ according to His will.”
Only Moses could be Moses.
Only Tim Hawkins is called to be Tim Hawkins.
Only Chonda is called to be Chonda.
Only Anita Renfroe is called to be Anita Renfroe.
But only YOU are called to be YOU.
Godliness with contentment is great gain.
6) Recognize The Difference Between Striving And Persistence
We live in a constant tension between:
Being diligent, working hard to build the career God has called you to,
raising awareness that we’re out there.
We didn’t get into this business nor will we survive if we’re the unknown,
anonymous comedian (unless you put a bag over your head).
But the other side of the coin is spending every last drop of energy on self-serving, self- seeking, self promotion.
Striving relentlessly to obtain the career you want for yourself.
Endlessly trying to kick down a door that you’ve knocked on 500 times before
that God never intended to open for you anyway.
I don’t know exactly where this very grey line is,
but I do know when I’m striving for something God doesn’t have for me.
And when I’m walking in God’s favor
and I just need to persevere through obstacles that are in my way.
Now, living in the INFORMATION AGE of Social Media, it’s further complicated,
because you can build, shape and market a career, than has no basis in reality.
But a warning: If we are all about marketing and there is no substance there,
eventually people will find there’s no there there.
You’ll get a reputation real quick as a hack or phony.
Let the excellence of your craft and the heart of a servant build your reputation.
7) What Makes A Great Comedian?
Jesus continually said, “You have heard it said, but I said….”
And the crowds said, “Never has a man spoken like this.”
They marveled at his words and deeds.
A BAD or hack comic is somebody whose tired, obvious material is aimed at totally exhausted targets without any kind of tweak or fresh angle on it.
A great comedian offers a totally relatable, but never thought of from that inventive, creative, funny, unique view of the world.
And because we know the God who sees things in a completely different and compelling way than mankind does, the Christian comedian should be amongst the best of the comedians.
We have been given a gift: A Comedy Mind.
You are wired by God to see life through a comedic lens.
And it’s our job and calling to use comedy to testify to God’s truth.
Have you ever had a backstage pass to a high profile event? That color-coded pass is exclusive permission to mingle with the behind the scenes insiders, the movers and shakers, the power brokers, maybe even the celebrity voices of the event. But even with this right of entry, eventually you will most likely come to a closed door, manned by a refrigerator of a man in a blue and yellow windbreaker. He tells you in an authoritative voice, “Beyond this point you need a yellow pass, bucko.” It’s with dismay that you are look down upon your once revered pass to reveal that it’s a disappointing blue. “The yellow pass gives you TOTAL ACCESS,” the guard informs you. Broken-heartedly you make your way back to the crew craft table of Cheez-Its and M&Ms.
During my time at CBS, I had the opportunity to supervise many high visibility broadcasts – The Price is Right, Letterman, The Prime Time Emmys. My position not only afforded me total access, but I literally held the keys to the studio. I could go anywhere I pleased with complete authority.
The other day, at a Christian leaders’ meeting, a dear friend of mine posed a thought-provoking question: Is our presence enough? Good question. In terms of impacting lives for the Kingdom or being about our assignment of making disciples of all men, is it enough to just show up? Is it enough to be a silent witness? Is our sheer presence enough to make a difference?
After a lot of contemplation and reflection, I’ve landed upon the belief that our presence isn’t enough, but God’s Presence through us is!
As I began my tenure at CBS, the first year or two, upon God’s direction I was a quiet (differing greatly from a silent) witness. Daily I devoted myself to connecting with my co-laborers, building trust, demonstrating care and concern, and hopefully reflecting the integrity and values of a Christian man. After this season, in short order God opened the doors to talk and sometimes pray with many of my now friends. Sometimes the influence came by what I said, sometimes it was what I did, but I hoped I always reflected God’s heart. And God’s Presence was always in abundance.
What made the difference? As I journeyed to work each day, I would pray “missionally.” I would ask God to govern over my words and actions. I gave Him total access to whatever the day would bring. And I believe that God shows up in direct proportion to the access we give him into our lives. The more we are mindful of God’s presence around us, the more we yield to the leading of His Spirit, the more we ask God to use us to demonstrate His love to those He brings across our path, the more His Presence is revealed around us.
Don’t just show up. See each day as an opportunity to be about the Father’s business. Enter each day with intentionality. And give Him TOTAL ACCESS. My presence can do little, but His Presence can do all things. It is His Presence that empowers me beyond the well-intentioned, kind-hearted humanitarian.
Is my presence enough? NO. Is His? More than enough.
I’ve been approached by a number of people wondering if they should see the new film NOAH or not. The mere asking of the question tells me that the film is already meeting a bit of its purpose…to get people talking. Hopefully those outside of the church will find it as compelling and thought-provoking as those of us inside the church. In addressing this question, I believe that first and foremost, believers should follow their convictions before the Lord. If you feel that this film might be offensive or a compromised approach to the inherent Word of God, I would highly recommend that you avoid this film.
My hope is that this film would provide the Christian community a wonderful opportunity to engage in a cultural conversation about a Biblical account (possibly liberal take) that brings up issues such as the nature of God, judgement, sin and redemption. If family, friends or co-workers are talking about it, shouldn’t the people of God be part of that discussion? Whatever approach you chose to take, I would strongly urge that any criticism be based upon informed (ie. actually seeing the film) opinions.
For those of you who are curious, skeptical or concerned about the film “Noah” might want to watch this film done by my friend Phil Cooke, capsulizing what many Christian leaders (who have actually seen the film) are saying.
Since the birth of digital media in 2005, I’ve had the pleasure of serving numerous church movements and ministry organizations in their various media aspirations. In recent years, as I enter into consultations or speak at their conferences, I find myself talking increasingly less about the usage of technology and media and focusing far more upon understanding the way in which the digital audience engages and consumes media. When we change our gaze away from the “how do” to the “why do” audiences connect with media in the manner in which they do, we are presented fascinating insights into the way contemporary culture wants to “do church.”
I am a Baby Boomer, part of the TV Generation, raised in front of the tube, my picture window to the world. The way in which I engaged with the predominate media of my age was the appointment TV model. At the scheduled time of 8pm on a Thursday night, I would hypnotically walk into my four-walled, living room, sit back on the barca lounger, and passively watch a one way, monologue being broadcasted into my home, by a singular entity, which in this case was a broadcast network. At the conclusion of the program, thirty minutes later, I would compliantly ascend from my comfy chair and commence my departure from the familiar room.
Now, in large part, isn’t that how we do church? We dutifully keep our prescheduled Sunday at 10am appointment at our local church building. We expectantly enter the sanctuary, get settled in our favorite pew, then after an inspiring overture of worship, we passively (with the exception of an occasional “amen”) listen to a one-way monologue, which we call sermons, then politely walk out.
Today’s emerging, millennial generation is a digital generation. How do they engage with the fast developing digital technology? They are not bound to a stationary screen or pre-determined time. They are, throughout their day, whenever and wherever they desire, actively interacting with a multi-sourced, global dialogue on a wide variety of mobile devices.
…meanwhile the church continues to offer a TV model, Analog Church to a Digital Generation!
Now, before you stop reading, I am not advocating throwing the current worship model out with the proverbial bath water. I’m not preaching a gospel of “Instead of…” but the good news of “In addition to…” In future blogs, we’ll explore the chasm that lies between cyber space, digital connections and same space, human interaction. And I’ll offer some ways in which the church can stand in the gap and, presumptuously, regain a bit of our relevancy. My hope is that we will discover a number of things we can do to give place for “digital model” interactivity within today’s appointment church service, as well as deepen our understanding of why these shifts are crucial.
Let us hear your thoughts….
Producer extraordinaire Mark Burnett – creator of Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice, Shark Tank and The Bible was our honored guest at the closing night of the Windrider Forum at the Sundance Film Festival. Mark previewed his up-coming film, Son of God. Son of God is the first film representation of the full life of Christ to come to the big screen in over 50 years (Passion of the Christ focused solely upon the Jesus’ crucifixion). Following the screening Mark graciously answered questions from the crowd of film and seminary students. Throughout the night I had the privilege of having a few nuggets of time with Mark. During the screening I helped produce a half-hour interview segment with him. Then following the screening, we attended a private reception with Mark at the home of one of our Park City friends. At the reception Mark told the both revealing and oftentimes hysterical stories of how he got some of his iconic programs made.
My take-aways from my time with him made me admire him all the more.
He is a man who deeply loves God. Mark is committed to serving His Kingdom and keeps his family a top priority. God has allowed him to build a reality show empire, one that certainly affords Mark the luxury of just enjoying his success and sail off into the sunset. But he is pushing even harder to make sure that he uses the platforms that God has given him for God’s glory. As we re-entered the auditorium at the conclusion of the film, I stood by Mark, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him lift his hands and silently pray for the film’s impact upon the crowd.
He is a man of passion, diligence and perseverance. You would think that once Survivor took the TV world by storm, that every television door would be wide open to him, and that he could get anything made that he wanted. But Hollywood doesn’t work that way. There is little equity from past successes. Everything has to be earned afresh. As Mark rehearsed the hoops he jumped through to get The Apprentice, The Voice and certainly The Bible green-lit and placed on a network television schedule, you see a man who goes after each new project with the same passion and perseverance he must have had when he was striving to get his first production Eco-Challenge on cable television.
I am thankful for my time with Mark and an impactful glimpse into the character and Christian commitment of one of the most successful producers in television history. As I continue, and many of you as well, upon my journey of media making, let me keep my faith in Jesus Christ at the forefront and remain steadfast in the calling God has place upon my life.
THANKSGIVING 2013: Whether it was serving up a meal and a hug to the lonely or offering a word of encouragement around a family Thanksgiving table, it’s wonderful to see so many extending hope, care and love to others. Made me think of David in 2 Samuel 17 when he is on the run from his enemy and hiding in the wilderness:
When David came to Mahanaim, Shobi… Machir… and Barzillai… brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”
God has created us for and placed us into community. And when we find ourselves in the darkest wilderness, it is the family of faith who come along side to bring us sustenance, rest and renewed strength for the journey.
When I first saw Monty Python back in the early 70’s, I saw comedy in a whole new, absurdist, irreverent light. In many ways, Python brought to comedy, much of what the Beatles brought to music. To this day, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” remains one of my favorite films of all time…certainly one of the most quotable. While I primarily would disagree with their worldviews, in my work with Isaac Air Freight, I often tried to emulate the way they would shine a light on the foolishness and absurdity of some of culture’s values. But not coming from a place of arrogance or superiority, but of inclusiveness; that I’m just a foolish. The only true wisdom comes from above.
Today, my favorite comedy group, announced they’re reuniting…and the people Rejoiced!!! Wonder when asked, why they were getting back together, if they answered, “I’m not dead yet.”
Today in 1975, Saturday Night Live premiered on NBC. It has gone from brilliantly inventive to hysterically funny to horrifically bad, but there is no denying its lasting effect upon American comedy and our culture at large. Not to mention the wealth of comedy talent it launched.
Do you remember who was the host that night 38 years ago?
For bonus points: Who were the musical guests?
Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it. -Harold Kushner