Friday, December 31, 2010

Can Christianity Find It’s Way in the New Roman Empire? - Part 2

The writers argue that this cul-de-sac mentality is a direct result of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the two aftershocks that followed. The first aftershock is a backlash or reaction to the counterculture which led to the rise of religious conservatism and political action. The second aftershock that we are now living through is an backlash to the first backlash, which is a revolt against the association between Christian faith and conservative politics. Puttman and Campbell argue that millions of younger Americans may be abandoning organized Christianity altogether. These are painful conclusions, but the facts would indicate they are correct.

But, once again, the column fails to completely understand the situation. I’m amazed that no one seems to understand or not willing to recognize the role that media has played in shaping culture as well as how it has influenced organized Christianity. First, let’s go back to the cultural revolution and counterculture of the 1960s that so many people believe is the source of today’s problems.

The parents of baby boomers in the late 1940s and 1950s embraced a new form of consumerism which led to a new level of materialism not seen before in America. I argue that it was influenced and controlled by the new emerging media culture fed by the new technology of television. Instead of addressing issues such as racism and poverty, America entered into a self-serving society. Baby boomers by the 1960s were looking for meaning and purpose, especially the children of privilege. There had to be something more to life than just material things. They found hope in the new young president, John F. Kennedy, who talked about service and a call to action to serve mankind.

Two events clearly opened the door to the coming social revolution. And what the writers did not take into account was that the television and the media culture played a significant role. The first was the loss of hope when John F. Kennedy was assonated. His presidency played out on television from the start to the very end. Those events viewed on televison had an enormous influence on the psyche of America’s young people.

A second catalyst was the Vietnam war which, once again, was played out each night in the living rooms of America. My contention is that these events made the social revolution of the 1960s possible.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Can Christianity Find It’s Way in the New Roman Empire? - Part 1

Ross Douthat is a columnist and blogger for the New York Times. His articles appear in newspapers across the country. I find him insightful, and I make a point to read his daily column. One of his recent columns peeked my attention. It’s titled, “Christianity Struggles with a Changing Culture”. The article is based on two recently published books. The first is American Grace written by Harvard’s Robert Puttnam and Notre Dame’s David Campbell. The other book, To Change the World, is from a University of Virginia sociologist, James Davison Hunter, who coined the term, cultural war.

The conclusions of the two books is something that most committed Christians who take their faith seriously would probably agree with—that Christianity is not doing a very good job competing in an ever-changing culture. The column points to Christianity in general has been a good thing for the advancement of society as a whole. But, in recent years, the winds of change have led to a decrease in the influence of Christianity. Some argue that Christianity is no longer relevant or capable of impacting modern society. In other words, Christianity is under siege.

These events have led Christianity into what Hunter calls a cul-de-sac mentality or what others might call a bunker mentality. I would have to agree because I have seen it firsthand. A significant part of the body of Christ now lives in what I call a Christian subculture. We now have Christian schools, clubs, movies, music, books, and theme parks. And a significant part of the homeschool movement is also Christian-based. What the article fails to understand is that Christians have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Christian young people who are raised up in this environment lack the ability to interact or communicate with, understand, and influence today’s society and culture. They have lost their missional focus and, with that, dies the ability to spread the Gospel. We have gotten off the boat and have become fearful of the mainstream culture that we feel will overwhelm our young people and turn them away from Christ.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Inception is the rarest of all Hollywood movies—a truly original idea or concept. In an increasing age of remakes, retreads and sequels, Inception is indeed a breath of fresh air. It was released this past summer and was a shock to most industry insiders. Inception does not fit the profile of the typical summer blockbuster, which often offers nonstop action, explosions, and special effects. Don’t get me wrong. This film does contain it’s share of these elements; however, what separates Inception from most typical Hollywood formula movies is that it is smart, intelligent and though-provoking. Yes, it will require you pay attention and to think, a lot.

Unlike most popcorn movies, Inception is about something. That something will be up to each viewer to discover and decipher. Frankly, it’s quite surprising that a film of this nature would ever be released during the summer months. Warner Brothers Pictures took a huge gamble with a budget approaching $160 million in play. Having Leonardo DiCaprio and director Christopher Nolan on board probably helped to ease the anxiety of the executives over at Warner. The end result was a smash hit. To date, Inception has grossed over $290 million domestically in North America. Let’s hope other studios will take Warner Brothers lead in offering more original content.

Without giving too much of the story away, Inception takes place in a world where technology makes it possible to access the subconscious and invade an individual’s dreams. Dominick Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, has been hired by Mr. Saito, a Japanese businessman played by Ken Watanabe. Cobb engages in corporate espionage for a fee. Cobb and his team are contracted to implant a thought into the subconscious mind of Saito’s competitor, Robert Fischer, without his knowledge. The catch is Fischer must believe the thought originated in his own mind.

The only way this can be accomplished is by accessing a dream within a dream that is within a dream. It involves going down several levels of the subconscious to access the hidden parts of the mind. Along the way, Cobb and his team will face an array of obstacles because within our dreams are also our fears and painful memories that get in our way and must be reconciled. As I said, this is complicated stuff.

Some critics have argued that Inception isn’t really that original—that it’s all been done before in other movies. I think they have missed the point completely. Inception contains truth that is applicable to our present reality. Whether the filmmakers intended to say this or not, it is a reflection of the modern society in which we live. First, it suggests that we are all controllable. Second, there are forces or individuals that for their own means and purposes wish to control us. Third, for the most part, we are unaware of this. And, finally, as the title, Inception, suggests, an idea or concept can be planted into the subconscious and influence us. And on another level, the movie suggests what we have buried deep in our subconscious ultimately will control our actions, and we are unaware of it. On a spiritual level, I’m convinced that a case can be made that today’s media is engaging in the same activity that’s portrayed in the film.

Inception proves that there is an audience for intelligent films. Inception will challenge you to question what you really think is true about what you believe and which reality is true. The bottom line is that if you are looking for a highly entertaining and visually striking film that will keep you guessing, you will do no better than this film. It is currently available both on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia : The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader

Like most people, I read movie reviews, especially about movies I want to see. Sometimes this can be good or bad. Often, reviews give away too much of the plot. And if the reviews are negative, are you still ready to plop down $10 of your hard-earned money? After reading several reviews of the latest Narnia installment, The Dawn Treader, I had mixed feelings. Most film critics said that it was mediocre at best, lacking character development as well as offering nothing more than a weak, tired story. They did give a positive nod to better overall visual elements and cinematography.

This raises an interesting question. Are the critics being fair or is there some form of bias at work? It’s no secret that the Narnia series is based on Christian concepts. Walden Media directed a significant part of their promotional campaign toward a Christian audience. Are the critics reacting to their own bias toward Christian-themed films? In the case of Narnia, I would say yes. Also a case can be made for the fact that anyone who has not received Christ as his/her personal Savior would have a difficult time understanding or evaluating Christian or spiritual concepts. Therefore, nonChristian critics would undoubtedly have a difficult time of evaluating the merits of any of the Narnia films.

The bottom line is The Dawn Treader is a solid film that offers good entertainment value with a strong but not overpowering message. It is a major step up from Prince Caspian but not on the same level as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The story goes something like this: Lucy, played by Georgie Henley, and Edward, played by Skandar Keynes, travel back to Narnia once again to assist King Caspian, who is searching for the seven lost Lords of Narnia. Joining them along the journey is newcomer, Eustace, who is their younger cousin. The older siblings, Peter and Susan, who are now grown up can no longer venture to Narnia because only children can enter this magical kingdom.

The Dawn Treader is the ship on which they embark upon the journey to the ends of the world in search of the Dark Isle where the seven Lords may be found. To make matters worse, an evil spell seems to be emulating from the island and spreading throughout the world.

The Dawn Treader is unique in one sense in that it does not offer a physical antagonist. There really isn’t a bad guy or creature to contend with. This movie is really an allegory about man versus himself or the inner conflicts that we all deal with. It’s ultimately a showdown between being tempted by our inner desires and fears versus following the will of Aslan, who serves as an analogy representing the will of God.

As any film student will tell you, movies dealing with inner conflict are not the easiest to tackle. Most people want a visible bad guy to direct their anger toward. However, the producers of the Dawn Treader have done a remarkable job finding the right balance between meaningful content and action while, at the same time, dealing with conflict at a personal level.

This isn’t your typical fantasy film. Perhaps that’s why Disney Pictures is no longer on board. Walden Media has made a conscious decision to remain faithful to the original writings of C. S. Lewis. Disney was hoping for the next Harry Potter series based more in action and adventure and less in substance. Most media reports pointed to differences over the overall budget as the reasoning for the breakup. But I’m convinced it was artistically based on the overall vision of the remaining five books.

Thankfully, in the last hour, 20th Century Fox stepped in to save the Narnia series. I think they have made a sound investment and have put the series back on solid ground. My advice is to forget what the critics are telling you about this film. It is well worth your investment of time and money. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Dawn Treader, is a delight. It is visually interesting and a joy to be part of an island-hopping quest for truth and freedom and is a solid adventure for the entire family.

The Dawn Treader is the first of the series to be offered in 3-D. It certainly is not at the level of the 2009 Avatar 3-D, but you will still enjoy this 3-D experience.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Journey – the Downside of Christmas

First, on a personal note, what a year this has been. For those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you know I’ve been on a personal journey to rediscover God and how he is at work in my life as well as in the world. All of that has led me to write a book called A Media Culture, which I recently re-titled, The Red Pill, A Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. I never set out to write a book, but as I have discovered, God has his own plan and purposes. I thank God for giving me the words and inspiration.

I had hoped to have the book published back in September, but the process is much more difficult than I ever could have imagined. However, the delays have been helpful and perhaps even a blessing in disguise. With my wife’s help, the book is now better organized and, frankly, a lot more readable. As this year comes to a close, it appears that the book will soon go to press. With God’s help The Red Pill may be available in early Spring.

What has all of this taught me in light of the Christmas season? It has been a year of ups and downs, valleys and mountains. After losing the ministry that I founded 11 years ago, I have had to learn to make many adjustments in my life. Rediscovering God is one of those adjustments and probably the greatest blessing.

Second, what does the journey have to do with downside of Christmas? After watching several Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel this week, I noticed that in most of the movies, the final shot would be a slow pushback crane shot revealing a happy and content family sharing a bounty of food and gifts, the perfect picture of an old-fashioned Christmas with all of the trimmings. As the shot continued to pull away, it would reveal an exterior wonderland of fresh falling snow. It’s the perfect Christmas with every piece in place. All the problems have been solved and there now is harmony and peace.

Of course, this is the Christmas we want. And somehow we think everybody is living this perfect Christmas except us. It makes us feel depressed and missing out when we look at our situation and realize that’s not the picture of our families. I think the first thing that we need to realize is that there is no perfect situation or family. No matter how perfect you think your neighbors are, trust me, they all have issues that are not noticeable on the surface but nevertheless are present.

Realistically, perhaps you’ve lost a job or a loved one, or you are experiencing financial difficulties or maybe you have no family to celebrate Christmas with. This time of year has a way of emphasizing our loses. Let me put it this way. God never guaranteed us a life that will be comfortable, safe or convenient. However, he did promise to always be with us and be our comfort in grief, our protector and defender in trouble. He is always just a prayer away. Jesus came to earth as a babe, he lived his life here on earth experiencing what we all go through, and He promises there is nothing we experience that he is not able to be a help to us. Dealing with the problems of life help us to grow into the likeness of Christ and move closer to the Savior.

With all of the hustle and activities of Christmas, we often lose sight of the things that are truly important. What’s helped me this year, especially this Christmas season, is to take one day at a time. Remember we’re not promised tomorrow. My goal is just to get through today. Tomorrow will have it’s own issues and problems. What God has also helped me to realize this year is to find joy in the small things. These are the things we often overlook. And it will be different for every person. Perhaps it’s watching the sun rising on a new day and knowing God is with me today. Or, for me, it’s just the joy of having a cup of coffee and reading the paper before the day gets started. The point is to slow down and enjoy what God has put before you. We’re often so consumed with the big issues that we forget to live our lives in the moment.

And, finally, I realize that you know this and have been reminded countless times that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior. He is our only hope for redemption. This life will soon pass, but what we do in it and the decisions we make will have eternal consequences. To truly celebrate Christmas is to embrace what Jesus has taught us and to accept his sacrifice for us so that we may have a future and a hope.

Merry Christmas to you and may you rediscover God on your journey in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Language of Media - Part 5

Today’s media culture is here to stay. It will continue to influence our society for some time to come. If you believe that there is a media culture crisis, then I am sure you would agree that it would be important to learn the language of media and to become media literate. In fact, our media culture influences every level of our society, and that includes our institutions, such as the Church, schools, government and entertainment. No aspect of our culture can escape its grasp.

We cannot simply turn off the television or unplug from society. God is calling us to be good stewards of the media we consume. Our responsibility is to distinguish the truth from the untruth because both are present in our media. God can use both truth and untruth to point us to his love and glory.

Learning media literacy is equivalent to wearing a radiation suit. It allows us to live in our society without being exposed to the negative effects that can harm us. We are influenced by people around us as well as our institutions. Our exposure to the media culture not only comes from our firsthand exposure, such as movies and the television programs we consume but also from secondhand exposure such as family, friends, work associates and society in general.

If we want the world to change, it starts with us. We all have a responsibility to become media literate. By just spending 15 minutes a day, you can start to become media literate. We are currently working on our website,, to be able to offer all of the resources necessary to start your journey. We have developed an extensive media literacy program, which can be taught online or in a classroom setting.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Language of Media - Part 4

So why are we not teaching media literacy? First, for most people, it is simply not on the radar screen. We just don’t understand what media literacy is. Second, there is a lack of instructors. Media literacy is a difficult subject to teach if you don’t have a background in media. Third, we don’t believe there is a media crisis. Media is no big deal. Fourth, we are not sure what our views are on media. So why get into it.

But what does a good media course consist of? First, the program must encourage people to think for themselves. When I teach media literacy, I tell my students that I am not here to tell you what to think but to challenge you to start to think about what you see and hear in the media. You must come to your own conclusions. Second, the program should be designed to not paint Hollywood as the villain. We must be objective. Third, media literacy needs to be interactive through a multimedia presentation.

A media literacy program contains the following: (1) It starts with awareness and education. (2) In order to apply media literacy, you must develop a skill set that utilizes various techniques and strategies. In other words, it offers you a toolbox that you can use to unlock and read the multiple layers of image-based communications. (3) In order for media literacy to be successful, it must be applied daily.

The most important elements of media literacy are common sense tools, such as teaching students how filmmakers use editing to create a reality that doesn’t exist, how colors can create different emotional responses, or how camera movement and angles can affect an audience’s perspective.

And the most critical part is challenging students to take control of how the message is impacting them. Should I accept or reject the message? Does it reinforce my beliefs? Does it ignite my passion to live a life consistent with my Christian principles? Does it challenge me to bring positive change to my life as well as to others? Does it cause me to act on my beliefs? Does it cause me to be more socially conscious? Or do I reject the message because it is not consistent with my Christian beliefs? The more we ask ourselves challenging questions, the closer we are to discovering the truth

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Language of Media - Part 3

In Matthew 10:16, “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” NIV I think a case could be made that today’s wolves represent our media culture. If we are to be shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves, we need to understand media literacy. If we are going to be successful expanding the Kingdom of God, we must know what we believe and why we believe it. I don’t want the media to define my truth and my beliefs.

All filmmakers, including writers, directors and producers, have a point of view (POV). In fact, we all have a POV. Some people refer to this as a worldview. Our POV defines our attitudes and core beliefs. Without a POV, we would not be able to interpret the world around us. Point of view offers a perspective and insight into how we view politics, religion, social issues and personal lifestyle choices.

The POV of Paul Verhoeven, director of Starship Troupers, has been shaped by his life experiences. As a child, he grew up in The Netherlands, his home country, during the German occupation. He was exposed to a totalitarian and fascist regime that routinely used propaganda to proclaim Nazi superiority. It unquestionably has influenced his political and social views, which are evident in his film Starship Troupers. Understanding the POV helps us to unlock the message within a film, television program or media in general. By using the tools of media literacy, we become more effective in identifying the POV.

Ecclesiastes 8:1 says, “How wonderful it is to be wise, to be able to analyze and interpret things. Wisdom lights up a person’s face softening its hardness.” NLV Understanding the language of media is to be wise. Embracing the concepts of media literacy gives us the ability to analyze and interpret everything we see and hear. I think movies especially have the ability to challenge us to examine our life choices and lifestyles. They can be a doorway to the truth. There have been countless examples of where God has used mainstream films to touch people’s lives. Media is neither evil nor good. It is a conduit that carries whatever message we choose to communicate and by whatever manner we choose to use.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Language of Media - Part 2

Most people, including Christians, consume media without processing its purpose, goals, and message. We don’t ask challenging questions about its authenticity. Therefore we become sponges absorbing everything we see and hear.

How do movies or television shows or any media affect my decisions, values, and behaviors? Have you ever thought about it? Have you assumed that they don’t? Do you think it is something we should consider? These questions could be answered in a media literacy program.

What is media literacy? In the past three years, I have taught media literacy to over 100 students. Only five students had ever heard of the subject. Media literacy teaches and unlocks the language of media. It contains five elements. (1) It helps to define the message media communicates. (2) it reveals the purpose behind the message, (3) It identifies how the message impacts the individual. (4) It identifies how the message influences behaviors and shapes perceptions in society. (5) It offers resources on how we can take control of our response to the message.

We should be teaching media literacy in children’s church, junior and senior high school classes, as well as to small groups in every church in America. It is essential curriculum. Most of us have no idea what the real message is in today’s media. For example, I often use Starship Troupers in my media literacy classes because it seems like an innocent sci-fi, action thriller. The film is set in the future with earth battling an alien species of bugs on a faraway planet. Seems harmless. Or is it?

Could the film be communicating a political message that casts doubt on our very way of life. It can even be an anti-American film. Director Paul Verhoeven weaves an interesting tale in which he believes government is misleading and lying to its citizens. They are convinced that war is good and just. But the people are being misled and are unaware of the government’s true intentions. The government is only interested in their agenda. They want the natural resources of the alien planet. Some believe Verhoeven’s real purpose was to criticize America’s political and military objectives not only in the Middle East but globally as well. Is America becoming a new totalitarian and fascist state?

So is this innocent science fiction or political commentary? How do we know? Could this movie have an impact on your beliefs? I’m sure your first answer would be an absolute No! But what about on a deeper, subconscious level?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Language of Media - Part 1

What would it be like if we couldn’t read or write? How would you use the internet? It would be impossible to get a job. In today’s society, reading and writing are essential skills. Or can you imagine living in a foreign country and not knowing the language? Simple things like using the transportation system or ordering from a menu at a restaurant would be challenging.

Knowing the language is essential for navigating through life. Just as we need to be able to read and write, developing media skills is now just as important. Media has its own unique language. It consist of design, structure, meaning, and syntax. For Christians it is absolutely essential that we understand the language of media.

In John 8:32 it says, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We need to know the truth and not just what anybody calls truth. Is what the media communicates to us really the truth? Or is it a distortion of reality? Understanding the tools and language of media will help us to be discerning. By not understanding the language of media, we are held captive to any message which the media wishes to communicate. Our goal as Christians is not to be subject to the control and influence of media.

We now live in a media culture that surrounds and envelopes every element of life. Our best defense is to become media savvy. For the most, part we don’t understand what we are being exposed to. For example, we would consider a G or PG movie to be relatively safe. And we would view most R-rated movies as offensive. But in reality, the G or PG movie today could contain more anti-Christian and anti-Biblical content than the R-rated movie. In fact, the R-rated movie could be a redemptive film which embraces Biblical views. Often we make assumptions that are not based on the facts.

Most people, including Christians, consume media without processing its purpose, goals, and message. We don’t ask challenging questions about its authenticity. Therefore we become sponges absorbing everything we see and hear.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Best of Christmas - Part 2

6. One Magic Christmas

You’ll have a hard time finding this on cable television or at Wal-Mart or Target. It’s probably one of the least known on my list. But it’s worth the effort to find it. One Magic Christmas takes a tough look at the holidays. Not everything is peachy. In fact, I think many people can relate to this film thanks to the tough economic times we are going through. Mary Steenburgen’s character is dealing with lost dreams and disillusionment during the holidays as her husband is laid off from his job. Sometimes we don’t know what real loss is until we are reminded. One Magic Christmas has the wonderment and magic with a sense of realism that It’s a Wonderful Life offers.

7. Miracle on 34th Street

No way can I leave this one off my list. I’m sure everyone has seen this one. There’s at least three versions available. For my money, I would go with the original 1947 edition. What I find interesting about this film and what I think a lot of people miss is that it is a discussion of the issues of the modern family as the lead character is a single mother struggling to balance career and family. Miracle on 34th Street is based in fantasy in one sense but has a realistic view of life in another sense. The question is how do we balance the two while retaining our childlike ability to dream and to use our imagination to believe that anything is possible?

8. White Christmas

This film is a total joy. Shot in beautiful Technicolor, how can you go wrong with the talent of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney? This is a celebration of all things American. I absolutely love the music of Irving Berlin. The musical numbers are sensational. This film has never looked better because there is a restored Blu-ray edition available. White Christmas is a sentimental journey of song and dance. The plot goes something like this. Two army buddies who have hit it big on Broadway decide to help their former army commander who is danger of losing his Vermont Inn. Of course, along the way, there will be a series of complications and romantic escapades.

9. A Christmas Carol

I don’t know where to start with this one. There has been so many versions of Charles Dicken’s classic over the years, including last year’s offering with Jim Carey and Gary Oldman. I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on whether or not it’s any good. But my favorite version is from 1984 starring George C. Scott. He makes the perfect Scrooge. The film is very authentic and the special effects are not over the top. I know you’ve probably seen it a hundred times, but it’s always worth another viewing at Christmas.

10. A Season for Miracles

This film originally aired in 1999 as part of Hallmark’s Hall of Fame. It has developed a rather loyal following over the years perhaps because it’s been difficult to find on television or at your video store. I think it is one of Hallmark’s better offerings. The story is about an aunt who has to take custody of her niece and nephew because their mother is institutionalized after an attempted drug overdose. She’s afraid they will fall into foster care and flees the situation and finds her way to a small town called Bethlehem that offers an opportunity at redemption and a second chance in life. Patty Duke is on hand as the guardian angel. It’s a wonderful story and a very optimistic one at that.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Best of Christmas - Part 1

This past week, I sat down and watched a couple new Christmas movies on television. It got me to thinking what exactly makes a good Christmas film. Without naming names, the ones I watched would not make my list of the best Christmas movies. Here’s what ingredients work best: you need a sense of wonderment, a magical feel, a movie that makes you feel like a child again. I’m looking for something that restores my faith in mankind that we all have the desire and ability to care for each other. A good Christmas film should instill hope for a better tomorrow.

So what are my top ten movies that capture the essence and the spirit of Christmas?

1. National Lampoons 
Christmas Vacation

This one is my guilty pleasure. I know it’s crude, but it’s ridiculously funny. And we are all guilty at some point in maybe going a little bit overboard with the holidays like Clark Griswold. He’s a good guy, and all he wants to do is the right thing and provide a great Christmas for his family. But as you can imagine, complications arise just as in real life. No big message in this film, just a lot of entertainment value. I make a point to watch this movie every year. It’s like an old friend. Somehow it just gets better with age.

2. The Santa Clause

This one is definitely an original. Of course, it’s been copied countless times. But forget about all of the counterfeits. The Santa Clause has heart and passion. It offers a look at the modern family and the difficulties it presents during the holidays. Not everything in this film is sunshine and happiness. Tim Allen’s character is an absentee father who is self-absorbed in his work. He’s in desperate need of an attitude readjustment. The film is magical, funny, and has all of the right elements. Absolutely a perfect holiday film.

3. It’s a Wonderful Life

How can you go wrong with Jimmy Stewart. This is absolutely a “must see”. Recently, I talked to someone who has never seen this film. How is that possible? This is a story about a man who thinks his life has been a waste until he gets an opportunity to see what life would have been like had he never been born. Sometimes we never know what kind of impact we make on people’s lives and what a positive influence we can have on the people around us. George Bailey discovers that he really does have a wonderful life. This film offers us a timely message that is still relevant today.

4. The Homecoming, A Christmas Story

You don’t often see this one on television. The Homecoming was the pilot for the successful 1970’s series The Waltons. The Homecoming is a celebration of the joys of family and the struggles that we all must endure. Set in rural Virginia during the height of the depression in the 1930s, The Homecoming feels like a warm memory from our childhood past. At times you feel like you are actually there. It’s amazing considering they shot the exteriors in the Grand Teton National Park and the interiors on a sound stage in Los Angeles. They captured the nuances of this historical period from the 1930’s depression in an authentic manner. There is nothing more universal than the desire to be home with your family at Christmas. I think this is a film everyone can relate to.

5. A Christmas Story

Everybody loves this film except my wife. I don’t understand why she dislikes it so much. I love this movie. Who hasn’t wanted a Christmas gift as a child and schemed on how to get it. Ralphie is determined to get a Red Rider carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle at all costs. Obviously, mayhem ensues as a result. A Christmas Story has been made famous because of TBS who airs it continuously 24 hours starting on Christmas Eve. There’s no way you can miss this one. A Christmas Story was released in 1983 and feels like it could have come from the 1940s.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mission Rise

They say there are over 5,000 Christians working in the entertainment industry today in Hollywood. Whether they are making a difference or living a missional lifestyle is a matter of debate. However, from my own personal experiences, I have met several people who are the real deal. One of those is Kurt Tuffensam, who has been working professionally in the industry for over seven years. He may not be a household name, but Kurt has worked on numerous film and television projects in the roles of producer, editor, post-production supervisor and line producer. One of his recent films was the stylistic and film noir interpretation of The Job, which was shot in Detroit, Michigan.

Tuffensam is very good at what he does. But what he excels at is embracing a lifestyle and a missions approach to his work. He is passionate about sharing Christ with the world and believes filmmaking is the universal language which can impact people throughout the world. That’s why he founded Rise, a nonprofit missions organization made up of Hollywood filmmakers who are using their skills, resources and expertise to bring compelling stories of Gospel transformations to the Body of Christ worldwide through filmmaking and social media.

Next month will be a first for Rise as a group of filmmakers from all over the world will ascend on Tijuana, Baja, Mexico to produce their first motion picture under the Rise label. The film, Los Traficantes, retells the story of Esteban Mendoza Cruz, who was the former chief of drug trafficking for the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico. Cruz committed his life to Christ while serving time in one of Mexico’s most violent and corrupt Federal prisons and has since led thousands of men to Christ and to freedom from drug addiction and their former lives of crime. He has planted more than 40 churches and mentored hundreds of leaders and pastors. It is an amazing story and, needless to say, life changing. The film will be primarily aimed at a Latino audience and will be shot in Spanish.

Kurt Tuffensam and Adam Watson wrote the screenplay. Kurt will be on hand to serve in the role of producer, and Adam Watson will direct the film. It is an enormous undertaking as the film will be shot on some of the rough and tough streets of Tijuana. It will require the cooperation of government officials as well as enormous resources which have to be assembled in Los Angeles and brought to Mexico. The filmmakers can certainly use your prayers and support.

Kurt Tuffensam and his crew are the type of people who put their faith in action. We can all talk about making a difference and perhaps speculate what that would actually look like, but here’s a group of filmmakers who are determined to live the Gospel and put their faith in action in spite of not having an abundance of resources at their disposal. All that is required is a willingness to trust God and see what he will do.

If you want to help, you can contact Kurt at or go to their website,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Sound of the Spirit

Since the early days of the 1920s, Los Angeles and Hollywood have been the undisputed center of filmmaking in the United States. However, a great deal has changed over the last few years. Filmmaking is now occurring all over the country. Thanks to generous tax incentives in states such as Michigan, Louisiana, and South Carolina, producers have discovered it is to their advantage to shoot outside of Los Angeles. Don’t get me wrong, Hollywood will always hold a dominant position in the production of films.

Today filmmaking has become a democracy of sorts. Thanks to the digital age, you no longer need to shoot on film. Digital cameras such as the Red Camera have substantially lowered the cost of production. As a result, this has led to a boom in independent filmmaking. It seems that today everybody has become a producer or a director.

This is especially true of people of faith who see filmmaking as a means to reach a larger audience with the Gospel message. Case in point: last Sunday, I attended a kick-off event here in the Cincinnati area for a new film, The Sound of the Spirit. The movie is about a thirteen year old Jewish girl named Rivka. It tells the story of how she overcomes her grief in the recent death of her father. She must now go and live with her estranged aunt and uncle who attend a traditional Jewish synagogue. Rivka is a Messianic Jew who is forced into a difficult situation where she must reconcile her faith in Christ along with traditions that she does not understand. She faces disappoint and misunderstanding and decides to withdraw from her commitment to complete her Bat Mitzvah.

The Sound of the Spirit marks the first time the story of the Messianic Jewish experience will be told in a full-length, quality motion picture. The screenplay was written by Michael Wolf who is a Rabi at Beth Messiah in Cincinnati, Ohio. Wolf will also serve as Director for the project. Guy Camera with Kingdom Pictures out of Indianapolis, Indiana will produce the film.

Over 40 people attended the event to hear firsthand from the producers of the film. The Sound of the Spirit is set for production in the summer of 2011 in and around the Central Indiana area. Although the budget is limited, the producers feel confident that they can produce a high-end film which can compete in the marketplace. There was a question and answer session with typical questions such as how do you define success and do you have a distribution deal in place. As always, these are difficult questions to answer. Sometimes success can mean just getting your film made. Filmmaking is never a science but is more of an art form. That always means taking risks.

The producers explained that distribution is a tricky matter. The rule of thumb goes something like this: Raise your money, make the film, and then make a deal. There is never a sure thing in this business. But I believe Wolf and Camera have an intriguing and potentially successful project on their hands. The Sound of the Spirit is fresh, innovative and has the potential to touch hearts. I wasn’t the only one with this view. Most of those who attended shared in the enthusiasm.

I will keep you updated as preproduction continues. For more information on the project and how you can get involved, check out their website at