Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Henry Poole is Here

I always enjoy movies that explore challenging subject material, especially matters of faith, doubts and unbelief. One such film is from 2008, Henry Poole is Here, starring Luke Wilson. I’m sure you will recognize him because he is the current pitch man for AT&T’s ongoing television advertising campaign.

The story centers around Henry Poole, played by Luke Wilson, who has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Poole purchases a house in his old working-class neighborhood where he had a difficult and painful childhood. All he wants to do is to be left alone to live out his remaining days in quiet desperation. His plans also call for the consumption of mass quantities of vodka. Poole feels that life has dealt him an unfavorable hand, and there is little to do but to accept the reality of his situation.

Contrary to Poole’s plans, his peaceful solitude is soon interrupted by his next door neighbor, Esperanza Martinez (Adriana Barraza), who believes that she sees the face of Christ embedded on the exterior wall of Poole’s home. She is convinced that it is a miracle because drops of blood are exuding from the wall.

Soon Esperanza is organizing pilgrimages to see the miracle in Poole’s back yard. Obviously, this does not set well for Henry’s peaceful existence. Henry is an unbeliever as well as an atheist and rejects the notion of any type of miracle. He only wises to die in peace. Complicating matters is Poole’s other next door neighbor who has a small child that seems to be attracted to Poole. As the plot unfolds, there is a question of what is actually happening to the people who touch the image. Some believe they are being healed. Do miracles really happen? Can Henry Poole be touched even if he doesn’t believe in the power of faith? And how do we choose to believe in things that we do not understand?

These are some of the questions that Henry Poole is Here poses. Any time you combine the subject of faith and miracles, you’re sure to open yourself up to criticism. And with that said, most film critics had a field day condemning Henry Poole is Here as nothing more than a complete waste of time.

Was it the subject material or the technical or artistic merits of the film that bothered the critics? I would agree that Henry Poole is Here may not be Oscar-worthy material, but it is a solid effort that, for the most part, hits the mark. This is one of Luke Wilson’s better efforts to date. And the supporting cast is clearly on target.

Henry Poole is Here is a very spiritual movie and has the capability to touch not only believers but agnostics and atheists as well. This film is authentic and real, and everyone can respect that. Few mainstream Hollywood films offer a positive view on faith. Henry Poole is Here avoids the usual pitfalls by not painting believers in a stereotypical manner—as narrow-minded, right wing religious zealots. The main Christian character, Esperanza, is seen as loving and exerts kindness and caring toward Henry. She has only his interests at heart.

Two of the key scenes in the movie illustrate the power of God at work in film. The first scene evolves around Poole confronting Esperanza on why she wants Poole to believe that a miracle is taking place and why it is necessary for her faith. Poole expresses his unbelief, resentment and doubt concerning the existence of God. The second scene is when Patience played by Rachel Seiferth expresses her desire to choose to believe in her miracle. This scene is a quiet example of how to share our faith in the small, meaningful moments, which most of us don’t recognize.

If you are looking for a film that is strange, thoughtful and unusual, then Henry Poole is Here is a good choice. Perhaps the real miracle of Henry Poole is Here is believing in something bigger than ourselves and the willingness to accept it. Maybe just discovering the joy of life once again, in and of itself, is a real miracle. For film goers, Henry Poole is Here is truly a miracle because we do not see films that are willing to explore matters of faith, belief, doubt and the healing power of God from mainstream Hollywood. That is truly a miracle.

Discussion Questions

1. Have you ever experienced a miracle in your life?
2. Why is it so difficult to believe that miracles can happen?
3. How do we choose to believe in things we cannot see or understand?
4. Did Henry Poole come to believe in faith at the conclusion of the film?
5. How was Henry transformed?
6. Have you ever been in a place in your life where you wanted to give up on life?
7. Which character did you identify with?
8. Why did Esperanza want Henry to believe?
9. Does believing lead to healing, or can those who don’t believe still be healed?
10. Was Millie healed from touching the image or from Henry’s presence?
11. What is a miracle?
12. Is it possible not to believe in God’s power even when his presence is undeniable?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Heart of God in Hollywood - part 3

Now that we have a better understand of the heart of God for hollywood, than what kind of movies should we make that will offer the type of impact that represents the heart of God at work?

Social Conscious Media

There is no question that God has a heart for people. When Jesus was asked which were the greatest commandments he responded by saying to first love God with all your heart, mind and soul and then to love your neighbor as yourself. He didn’t say “thou shalt not” because love is the fulfillment of the law. Media that expresses this concept is embracing the heart of God.

We are called to take care of people’s needs. Matthew 25:34-40 says, “Then the king will say to those on the right, come, you who are blessed by my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me; I was in prison and you visited me. Then those righteous ones will reply, Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and showed you hospitality? Or naked and gave you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you? And the king will tell them, I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” The New Living Bible. Films that express social injustice, prejudice, intolerance, hunger, or poverty are examples of how God can work to fulfill his desire for us to embrace Matthew 25:34-40.

Are we doing everything to make this world a better place? Are we expressing God’s love and mercy through our actions. These are many of the themes that today’s filmmakers can explore through socially conscious media.

Universal Themes

Universal themes speak to a broad audience on issues we can all relate to. They include hope, family, sacrifice, love, forgiveness, courage, determination, overcoming obstacles, the underdog, etc. These are central themes we can all find some level of agreement and common ground. They are perfect subject material for filmmakers and media makers to express God’s heart in these matters. They are essentially the building blocks of the Bible. Recent films include Slumdog Millionaire, Pursuit of Happiness, Freedom Writers, Great Debaters, and Sweetland.

Relevant and Timeless Themes

Movies and media that are both relevant and timeless speak to contemporary audiences about current affairs and issues and are also capable of being relevant to future audiences. The Best Years of our Lives from 1946 is a classic example of a story that was relevant after World War II and very capable of speaking to current generations. It is a story about returning World War II veterans attempting to readjust to civilian life. The issues expressed in this film are just as relevant today because many soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan facing similar difficulties. This is great filmmaking when you can be relevant to your age and speak to future audiences.

An example of a film that I believe is currently relevant and will also be timeless is Up in the Air. The film’s main theme strikes a nerve with today’s audiences because it highlights our current economic climate. With high unemployment being an issue on people’s minds, audiences can relate to this film because they can see themselves adrift wondering who they could count on or lean on in uncertain times. Up in the Air examines our lives in an impersonal culture that is becoming increasingly isolated from human contact. In some sense, we all feel like we are living up in the air as the characters in this film who are physically, emotionally, and professionally adrift.

The human condition can be very fragile. Life is always unpredictable. How do we handle these types of issues in uncertain times? Where is God in all of this? There are no better themes more relevant than the human condition. This is where people live. It’s how they feel. As media missionaries, these are timeless ideas worth exploring.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Heart of God in Hollywood - part 2

Now that we have a better understand of the heart of God for hollywood, than what kind of movies should we be making that will offer the type of impact that represents the heart of God at work?

Redemptive or Transformational Stories

The Redemptive story is a classic example of how God works in the lives of his creation. The Bible is basically a redemptive story about man’s fall and God’s ability to transform us. Man rebels against God and commit acts of inappropriate behavior or sin and goes his own way. But, in the end, we are capable of change because God has put within us the ability to recognize the truth and be transformed if we are willing to embrace the truth.

Redemptive stories require a significant character arc to complete the journey and must have a catalyst to initiate the process or journey. It can be a personal awareness within or an outside force. The outside force can be spiritual in nature, such as God, or it can be a force that can be identified as destiny or a grand plan of design. A subcategory of redemptive stories is transformational stories, which are similar, but often the catalyst for change is either an event, a crisis, or a person. Recent examples are Last Chance Harvey, Michael Clayton, Grande Tornio, Signs, Walk the Line, and Bruce Almighty.

Cautionary Tales

Cautionary tales have been around as long as Hollywood has been producing films. These stories sound a warning and show us the results of our current pathway or lifestyle if we continue on our current path. One of the most famous examples is A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is given an opportunity to see the truth about his life and where his choices are taking him. Cautionary Tales are also about political decisions, social issues and our impact on the environment or nature. They challenge and provoked the viewer to consider other choices in light of what he/she has seen and the likely outcome of our current decisions. These are object lessons in the realities and the bad decisions that we make in life. Current examples include Juno, The Truman Show, Family Man, The Wrestler, and Seven Pounds.

Biblical Values

Many Biblical values are never expressed in today’s media but provide some of the best stories. Patience, dignity to all, tradition, smallness, poverty of spirit, fruitfulness, ordinariness, conservation, cherishability, respect for nature, simplicity and contemplation are all Biblical values that need to be explored. In fact, for each Biblical or Gospel value, you can find a counterpart that is often expressed in media. They include immediacy, youth, newness, bigness, wealth, success, glamour, consumerism, disposability, ability to conquer nature, complexity, and constant activity. By embracing Biblical values, we are expressing the heart of God in Hollywood. People need to see the comparison in order to see the truth. Making a movie that celebrates ordinariness as opposed to glamour would be an honest and refreshing change for today’s current media. Some good examples would be Green Mile, To End All Wars, Lars and the Real Girl, Places in the Heart and Up.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What is the Heart of God in Hollywood?

Over the years, people have asked me what is God’s heart for Hollywood and is he at work there. Maybe the question should be why would he not be at work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. I’m convinced that God is at work in every area of human activity. So let’s examine the heart of God in Hollywood.

There are three things I believe that God desires for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. First, he wants the people of Hollywood to know him. Is there any question that God desires all of mankind to be redeemed? And that would include Hollywood and the entertainment industry. That will only happen if the Body of Christ changes its current view of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. We must stop condemning them and see Hollywood as a mission field. They are no different than us. The people of Hollywood need a savior. Most of the people who work in Hollywood are hardworking people who have families and they don't live lifestyles of the rich and famous. Let’s stop blaming them for all of societies ills.

The Body of Christ must commit to prayer. We need to pray for the people of Hollywood to come to know Christ as Lord and Savior. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of the Body of Christ has not committed to praying for Hollywood. And some may believe it is a complete waist of time. And if we are going to reach Hollywood, we must take the next bold step of sending media missionaries. How will they know Him if someone does not tell them about Christ.

Depending on which study you read or who you talk to, only 4 percent of Hollywood and the entertainment industry attend church. Hollywood is a vast mission field. It’s obvious that we need media missionaries to create art that reflects Biblical values. But it is just as important that we need media missionaries working in Hollywood so that they can be a witness and testimony to their fellow peers. Who is going to reach them unless we send people into the mission field of Hollywood and the entertainment industry?

The second key point for God’s heart in Hollywood is that he desires art that reflects his truth. God will do whatever it takes to tell his message. And that includes using nonbelievers. The facts speak for themselves. Over the years, some of the best Christian movies with Biblical truth have been made by nonbelievers. It is quite a list from Truman, the Matrix, Juno, American Beauty and Magnolia. There have been countless testimonies of people’s lives being impacted by mainstream movies created by nonbelievers. God will use and inspire anyone to reflect his truth and glory. If Christians aren’t willing to go to Hollywood, this will not stop God from completing his mission. He is at work in Hollywood, whether we realize it or not. But he is inviting us to join him in his work.

And finally, God wants to impact the audience. The reason that God has inspired artists to create art that reflects his truth is to impact the viewers. All of these efforts would mean nothing unless the art that filmmakers and media makers create can challenge the audience to consider what truth is. It must be thought-provoking and lead viewers to explore the decisions and lifestyles they are currently living. Art should draw the audience closer to God and not further away. It should encourage us to start a dialogue and ask questions about the meaning and origin of what we have encountered at the movies or in the media.

But what kind of movies should we be making that will offer the type of impact that best represents the heart of God at work in media? Part two is coming on Monday.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To End All Wars

Directed by David L. Cunningham
Actors: Robert Carlyle and Keifer Sutherland
Written by Brian Godawa
MPAA: R for some language and war violence

To End All Wars takes us to places where other war films have no interest in exploring. What is the just response for the just man who must endure wrongdoing and crucifixion? Obviously, To End All Wars is no ordinary movie. It will challenge you and make you ask the question—what would I do if I had a second chance in life?

The film was written by Brian Godawa and may be his best work to-date. It is one of the best examples of a truly redemptive film that has come out in the past few years. In fact, it could serve as the ‘poster child” for the type of films that Christians and media missionaries should be making. It offers a profound message without being overtly preachy. Powerful doesn’t even begin to describe its impact. The screen play is based on the autobiography of Ernest Gordan and recounts his story as a prisoner of war in Thailand during World War II.

But the story is really not a war movie. Most of us are familiar with the historical details of the construction of the Burma railroad and the cruelties of the Japanese captors as told in the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, but this is the part of the story that you don’t know.

The story centers around Ernest Gordan, played by Ciaran McMenamin, who is recovering from a near fatal disease. He begins to teach his fellow prisoners philosophy from Plato and Shakespeare, along with teachings from the Bible. Gordan’s superior officer, Major Ian Campbell, played by Robert Carlye, is critical of the increasing pacifist teachings of Gordan. Also skeptical is Jim Reardon, the lone American, played by Keifer Sutherland. Reardon also runs a black market on the side and is interested only in self-preservation.

How do we remain human under such inhuman conditions? Is it possible to keep our faith? To End All Wars explores these questions as well as other difficult philosophic and moral issues. These prisoners are caught in the trap of hate and vengeance toward the Japanese. Do they find a way out? Are we truly our brother’s keeper? Under the relentless conditions of brutality in the camp, can the soldiers learn to survive and find the meaning and purpose from Gordan’s teachings?

Yes, there is brutality and, at times, it can be difficult to watch. However, it offers a positive and hopeful message that somehow humans are capable of finding their humanity, even under the most brutal conditions. This film should be required viewing for all future media missionaries. It is impossible to watch and not be moved through great feelings of pain as well as joy. The acting is superb and authentic. Although the budget was relatively small compared to most Hollywood productions, the filmmakers did a magnificent job in recreating the jungles of Burma during World War II.

Released in 2001 by 20th Century Fox, To End All Wars deserved a larger audience. Screened at the Toronto Film Festival as an official selection, the film received positive reviews. It is currently available on DVD.

Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to be human?
2. How do we forgive those who hate us and want to destroy us?
3. Why were the Allied troops treated so harshly by the Japanese?
4. How did Gordon’s sickness help transform him?
5. What Christian concepts and principles are represented in this film?
6. Does this film offer an answer for why we must suffer?
7. How does Keifer Sutherland’s character represent the “every man for himself” approach to life?
8. What is justice?
9. Why do we need hope in order to survive life?
10. How does the just man vs. the just response differ in how Campbell and Gordon deal with their imprisonment?
11. Is there a just response for what the just man must endure?
12. What is the Bushido code?
13. Why does Campbell make a deal with the Japanese?
14. Why do the prisoners eventually get their books back?
15. Why is it important to understand other cultures?
16. Why did the American admit to taking the shovel?
17. Why is Campbell determined to escape?
18. How can we be truly free?
19. Why did Dusty offer himself as a sacrifice for Campbell, and what does the sacrifice represent?
20. What is the power of forgiveness?
21. What is the definitive moment in this film as it relates to the Bushido Code?
22. At the end of the film, how are the prisoners transformed?
23. Why is Campbell upset at his fellow prisoners?
24. Is killing ever the answer for justice?
25. Is Campbell transformed at the end of the film or has he learned something that will help him in his life?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Rise of the Media Missionary Part 2

God is moving and pouring out his Spirit on Hollywood and the entertainment industry. But here’s the question. Is this movement continuing to expand and grow or has it reached its pinnacle? I don’t believe there is any clear indication either way. But I am convinced there are five key points that will determine the future of the movement.

1. When the Body of Christ tries to take control of what God is doing, then the move of God will end. This is a fundamental truth. Every major move of God or revival has ended when man has tried to take control. The movement then becomes more about what we want than what God is doing in the world. In other words, it becomes man driven rather then Holy Spirit driven. Why do we feel the need to institutionalize movements or turn it into a programs? Instead of trusting God, we turn our focus to logic, reason and understanding.

History teaches us that God uses the most unlikely people to start his revivals and movements. But as the move of God matures, we decide we must legitimize it by taking control and bringing in the PhD’s and others that we think are qualified to manage what God is doing. It happens every day in churches and ministries throughout the world. And it can and will happen to what God is currently doing in Hollywood and the entertainment industry if we don’t guard our actions and motives.

2. This movement is not about projects but about people. We must invest our time, energy and resources into developing people as media missionaries. The movement stops when it becomes about projects. A film or television show may have a very short shelf life or lasting impact. But a media missionary’s career could span thirty to forty years. Imagine the influence one person could have over a lifetime of work. If the movement has any lasting impact, it will be in the form of the people who emerge from the movement.

3. This movement requires a commitment to education and training. What will be the story of these future media missionaries? Do they have the ability to express God’s glory and truth in their work? Without training, it would be like sending a fireman to a fire without a hose. What would be the point? It’s not enough to teach future media missionaries how to direct, shoot or edit. They must understand their role and purpose. Hollywood and the entertainment industry can be a harsh environment. They also must understand how to survive in this industry. The entire point of our ministry here at Media Missionary School is to help raise up, equip, train and support future media missionaries.

4. This movement will not reach its full potential until the local church becomes involved. So far, there is no evidence that suggests the local church is actively involved in what God is doing in the entertainment industry. That must change. Without boots on the ground or the local media missionary actively working in the local church, the movement will eventually come to a standstill. Their work is essential. The local media missionary does not have to be a media professional but can be someone who has a burden for the media culture crisis and has a calling to reach his or her church so that the Church can be engaged in what God is doing in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

In my new book, A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, I have laid out practical solutions for the local media missionary so they can empower the local church to become actively involved in this movement. By creating film nights, prayer groups, film camps and mentoring programs, the local media missionary will provide the resources which will allow this movement to grow and expand.

5. Christians working in Hollywood and the entertainment industry must recognize their responsibility to this movement in order for it to grow and expand. Currently, Christians who are working in Hollywood have many different views about their role and purpose. We need a clear direction that allows us to mobilize and commit to a common goal and strategy. Some estimate that over 5,000 Christians are working in Hollywood. But only a few hundred are functioning as media missionaries. How do we reach the others who go to work every day but are not connected to the community of believers working in the industry? Or how do we get everyone on board with a common goal and strategy? This movement will grow only if current Christians who work in this industry decide to give up their personal agendas and commit to what God is doing and mentor the next generation of media missionaries.

That’s why we need Media Missionary School as a base training ground where future media missionaries can be equipped and trained in all aspects concerning how they can join God in what he is doing in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

God is moving and at work right now. Are we ready to get prepared to join God in what he is doing or to provide support for those who are called by God to go into this mission field? The future of this movement depends on the answer to these questions.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Rise of the Media Missionary

Something happened in the early 1990s. It’s not easy to define or to put into words. God was moving and pouring out his Spirit on the entertainment industry. Some say that it started with Bob Briner book, Roaring Lambs , in which Briner called for a new generation of Christian youth to rise up and enter into cultural shaping professions like television, film and media. He believed that if we were going to change the world, it would not happen unless we were involved in the arts. Unfortunately, most of the Body of Christ seemed uninterested or unaware of what God was doing. But, no question about it, something was happening. God was at work, and he wanted us to join him.

I know for myself during this time something changed in my life. I started to talk about media missionaries to anyone who would listen. I, too, was convinced that if we were going to change the world we were going to have to tackle the issue of the ever-expanding media culture. I believe the key is to train, equip, and develop media missionaries who will enter into mainstream media to create art that reflects God’s glory and truth.

As I started to talk to people, most were convinced I had lost my mind. Why would we want to send our young people into such an ungodly environment? What good would come of it, and how could God use entertainment for any good whatsoever? But, again, God was doing something. He has his plan regardless of whether or not we agree with it. In fact, I hadn’t even read Bob Briner’s book and would not discover it for another five years.

Looking back now, you can clearly see the hand of God at work. The evidence is overwhelming. Not only was God moving to call Christians to Hollywood, but he was also moving on the hearts of nonbelievers to produce material that reflected Biblical values. In 1999 alone, more films were being produced that related Gods’ truth than in the entire decade. Was this by accident? Or was it a move of God’s Spirit? Something was happening.

Also during this time, several Christian ministries like Act One and Hollywood Prayer Network opened their doors. And more Christians felt the tug to enter into the mainstream arena of entertainment and media. They may not have clearly understood what a media missionary was supposed to do, but they knew God was moving in some fashion.

Maybe you are part of this new movement. Believe me. You are part of something big. It is perhaps our last best hope. Nothing happens by accident. I’m convinced God has a plan for media, and it is part of the next great revival to sweep our culture. In fact, I’m not sure revival will come without a response to our current media culture crisis.

So here’s my advice. If you believe you are a media missionary, or if you are already working in the industry and trying to understand what your purpose is, don’t let anyone talk you out of your determination to be a media missionary or to try and change your direction. Don’t compromise. Stand firm and be determined to follow God’s plan. After all, his plan is the best plan. Trust me. There will always be somebody who will come along and try to convince you that you are on the wrong path or that’s it’s impossible to serve God while working in Hollywood or the mainstream entertainment industry. Don’t take the bait.

Here’s what I think God is saying to us. Make sure that you have been called to be a media missionary. The calling is essential and is a necessary requirement if you plan to work professionally in the entertainment industry. Here’s what a media missionary is not about. It’s not about a genre. Whether you make a comedy, a drama or even positive value or family-friendly programming isn’t important. Don’t get caught in this trap. It’s also not about a rating. It’s not important if the project you are working on is rated G or R. That’s not the issue. It’s also not about whether or not the project contains Christian content or not. You can make a film that is more Christian in nature than most “Christian” films which contain overt Christian themes and content.

A media missionary sees no division between the sacred or secular. It does not exist. All forms of entertainment and media are capable of reflecting God’s truth and glory. That’s what God is trying to get across to us if we are willing to listen. In fact it’s very Biblical.

For the media missionary, everything therefore becomes an act of worship to God. This is a revolutionary concept that will transform your life if you will truly understand it and embrace it. The entire idea of a media missionary starts with this concept.

Here’s where we get off course. When we fail to allow the Holy Spirit to control and direct our lives, we start to focus on what we want instead of what God is doing. As a result, we become ineffective as media missionaries. That’s not what God wants. Sure, we might create media that’s positive or uplifting, but is that really going to make a difference? God is moving, and something is happening in the entertainment industry. We need art that reflects God’s truth. In order to do that, we must come to the place where we see God at work in the entertainment industry. He’s already there at work. All we need to do is to adjust our lives to fit his plan and join him in what he is dong. It is never the other way around. When we do this, we are functioning as media missionaries. It’s not about what we want or what we think will be successful or commercially viable. We must leave that up to God.

His Spirit has been pouring out for nearly 20 years. He is looking for a generation of committed Christians who are not concerned with their agendas but only with what God is doing in the world. Media is the battleground for the 21st Century. It more likely will be the determining factor for what the Body of Christ will look like in this century. You are part of something huge. Be encouraged and determined to follow this pathway even though there will be challenges and obstacles. Something is happening in our culture, and it is the rise of the media missionary.

If you feel this is talking to you, let me know. That’s why we are here at media missionary school—to help you in your journey. Contact me at

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sweet Land

Small movies are often the best stories because they represent a filmmaker’s personal journey and experiences in life. One of these films is from 2006 called Sweet Land. You have probably never heard of it. It’s usually one of those unknown titles that you see on critics’ top ten film lists. You ask yourself, how did I miss this one? Sweet Land was named one of the best films in 2006 in both Entertainment Weekly and Los Angeles Times top ten lists. Most films like Sweet Land never receive wide distribution because they are independently produced and have limited and inadequate resources for distribution. That is a shame because Sweet Land is one film that is worth the effort to find.

The film is set in the early 1920s in rural Minnesota and is based on Will Weber’s 1989 short story, A Gravestone Made of Wheat. Sweet Land is basically an old-fashioned, romance story, the kind of movie Hollywood used to make. Inge Atenberg played by Elizabeth Reaser is an independent, feisty German mail-order bride who travels to Minnesota to marry Olaf Torvik played by Tim Geinee, a young Norwegian immigrant farmer. The people of the Minnesota farming community are openly hostile toward Inge because of her German heritage. Making matters worse, the local minister refused to marry the couple because they did not have the proper papers. There is also further complications because the town’s banker is trying to foreclose on Olaf’s farm. With no support or help from the community, what will the couple do?

Sweet Land offers an interesting and historical look at an often forgotten part of our history. What does it truly mean to be an American? How do we overcome our prejudice? The film is a labor of love. First time filmmaker, Ali Selim, spent over 15 years trying to get this film made. Nobody in Hollywood was interested in making the film. In fact, he raised over a million dollars to produce the film himself, mostly from private investors in Minnesota.

Sweet Land is also a very spiritual film. You won’t find a better example of two scenes that illustrate the difference between the indifference of religion and what a relationship with God really looks like. It is a refreshing change of pace when the town’s local Lutheran minister realizes that true belief can be expressed in a multitude of ways.

Sweet Land was also honored with an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. What also makes the film stand out is the beauty and simplicity of its cinematography. In fact, the Minnesota countryside is as much a character in the film as Inge and Olaf. It’s rare that independent films have the ability to adequately recreate an authentic, historical representation of the past.

Sweet Land also offers a strong sense of purpose. Our characters are destined and determined to build a life and a place for their children and descendents. They played a part in building our nation. Sweet Land is a celebration of the immigrant spirit and determination to overcome and to endure. If you are looking for something different than the usual mainstream, Hollywood fare, then Sweet Land offers a detour into a time and place that will reenergize your passion for life. It’s an opportunity to reconnect to our heritage and our land.

Discussion Questions

1. Why is there so much hostility and prejudice towards the Germans? And even today why is it that we have to have someone to focus our dislike towards?

2. Why does Minister Sorrennsen not marry Olaf and Inge?

3. Why is the issue of dancing in the blackness of coffee a problem for Minister Sorrennsen?

4. How can people who see themselves as Christians also be so indifferent and cruel?

5. Why won’t the church community help Olaf and Inge?

6. Why does Minister Sorrennsen speak out against Olaf and Inge?

7. Why does the church community change their views concerning the relationship of Olaf and Inge?

8. Why does the minister change his view on faith and how it is defined?

9. Why is the banker accepted by the Christian community?

10. What is the importance of land in Sweetland, and what does the land represent?

11. What is the reason that Lars will not sell the land at the end of the movie?

12. How is love represented in this film?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Digital Film Camp

Media Missionary School formerly ZAMA (Zone Academy of Media Arts) will be offering a digital film camp for high school students and young adults. The camp will be a joint effort with the Vineyard Community Church in Springdale, Ohio.

This year’s camp will take place July 5 – 9. If you are interested in filmmaking or considering a career in media, this camp is perfect for you. Students will have access to the latest in digital technology. During the week, you will write, produce, shoot, and edit your own short film. Classes will be lead by industry professionals, including several who are involved in producing and creating motion pictures. This is the chance you have been waiting for, your opportunity to explore your passion for media and filmmaking.

What makes Media Missionary School unique is that all classes are taught from a faith-based perspective. If you believe you may have a calling to be a media missionary, this class is a must. For more information, you can contact Harold Hay at Or go to the Vineyard’s event page at to register.

Space is limited on a first come, first serve basis. No prior experience is necessary.

Biola Media Conference

If you have never heard of the Biola Media Conference, then I’d like to introduce you to one of the most important gatherings of Christian industry professionals who work in the entertainment industry in Hollywood. This year’s conference takes place on May 1 at CBS Studios in Los Angeles and features the theme Worlds Collide, Finding Answers in Today’s Media Chaos. Media Missionary School plans on attending this year’s event and will be conducting video interviews for our website.

The line-up of special speakers and panelists is very impressive. Phil Cooke, Brian Godawa, Mark Zoradi, and Ralph Winter are just a few of the many industry professionals who will be speaking. This an important event to Media Missionary School. I have an immediate need to raise $800 in order to make this trip a reality. Any donations will be appreciated. For your convenience you can give online at our website through PayPal. Also all of your contributions are tax deductible through Flannelgraph Ministries, which is a 501c3 nonprofit corporation.

A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity

If you have been reading my blog, then you know I have just written a book called, A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, The Rise of the Media Missionary. I am in that place on my journey where I have to wait on God. It is a place where I have to live by faith and trust God.

The book is finished and is being currently read by a few trusted advisers. I am waiting on their input and will make revisions according to their directions. I feel this book was inspired by the Holy Spirit. I ask for your prayers and help in getting this book published. Believe me, the odds look overwhelming. But I am totally convinced that A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity is a fresh, innovative look at a critical issue we all face. It is a book of hope that offers practical solutions.

Help me make this book a reality. Feel free to contact me at for any suggestions about publishing or financial support. You may be the next step, and God may be speaking to you to become a part of this project. I am waiting on God, and he may be waiting on you.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Bella is the type of movie I wish more filmmakers would embrace. It is a beautiful story full of life, grace and hope. Bella is a classic example of the power of God at work in film and media. If you are both a Christian and filmmaker, this movie should inspire you to make films that can illustrate how God is at work in the world. Bella accomplishes both goals of revealing God’s glory and truth without being preachy or judgmental. This is an enormous accomplishment, especially for a first-time filmmaker.

Director, Alejándro Gomez Monteverde, illustrates enormous skill in creating a near perfect film. He undoubtedly has a keen sense of how to relate to audiences with material that speaks to the heart. The story is authentic, real and compelling.

The films starts out with one of the most profound and insightful narrations I have ever heard in any film. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Without giving away too much of the basic story elements, Bella tells the stories of José (Eduardo Verástegui), who is a Manhattan chef at an elegant Mexican restaurant and Nina (Tammy Blanchard), who is a waitress facing a difficult crisis. After Nina is fired for being late for work, Jose leaves his job, and they both embark on a journey throughout New York City, which ultimately leads to the home of José’s parents on Long Island.

Nina is forced to make a difficult decision after revealing to Jose that she is pregnant and considering an abortion. Jose has his own past demons to deal with as well. The story structure is told out of sequence so the audience never completely understands what is occurring. But the heart of Bella is about redemption and forgiving ourselves for our past mistakes.

Bella is successful at combining low-budget and independent film concepts and ideas with a strong transformational story arc. The film won the prestigious People’s Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Bella tackles a very touchy subject of abortion and the sanctity of life. As evident to its victory at Toronto, the film found a balance in speaking to a mainstream audience about a difficult subject. It did it in a fashion that was not preachy but offered an honest view of how God views the importance of life. One of the main reasons why I like the film is because it felt real and genuine in its ability to embrace life in it’s fullest.

Bella has a way of transforming the small moments of everyday existence into divine encounters with God’s grace. Bella is a celebration of the joys of family with all of its complications and difficulties. It reminds us that the importance of love is always the unifying and defining element that binds us together. The ending is especially fulfilling. Most writers would have taken the easy way out and offered up the typical Hollywood romantic ending. But we are left with embracing an ending that offers hope but that doesn’t always tie up every loose end. There is an energy and excitement in this film, thanks in part to the depiction of a culture that we normally do not see in the movies.

Bella reflects the rich culture of the Hispanic community in America. It is a refreshing insight and perspective into the lives of immigrants and their children living as first-generation Americans. The film was shot on location in New York City. The director, Alejándro Gomez Monteverde, was determined to shoot on location because he believed it was essential to the story. The city provided the necessary ambiance to make Bella feel rich with the essence of life. There is no better film that celebrates life so richly as Bella. It is an artistic masterpiece that serves as one of the best examples for Christians who are called to make films as media missionaries.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Journey—Living by Faith Part 6

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you know by now the journey can be very long and full of challenges. Traveling the old road is never easy or convenient and is often full of potholes. As a committed follower of Christ, you will have to make a decision at some point in your journey to trust God and live by faith. It sound easy, right? I’m afraid not. I have reached this place in the road once again. In fact, I have been there several times. Having been in ministry for so many years, I know this place very well. It’s the place in our journey where we have to make a choice. Do we do it God’s way or man’s way? Will we join him in his work and readjust our lives or push on with our plans?

It’s a test that we all face. Without faith it is impossible to please God. I should know because I have failed this test many times. Why is faith so hard for us and so important to God? And why do you think the Word of God forbids the making of idols? Because it violates every principle of faith. Idols are something we can touch, feel and see. Faith requires us to believe in something we cannot see and requires us to trust in the unknown. In other words, we are no longer in control, and we have to place our trust in God. It’s much easier to trust in ourselves or what we can accomplish. Faith requires us to believe in the supernatural. And frankly, for most Christians, this makes us very uneasy. In our logical, modern, 21st Century minds, the supernatural is something we cannot touch, taste, feel or see.

So what does this have to do with my journey? As you know, I have written a book, A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, The Rise of the Media Missionary. And once again I have reached that place where I have to trust God and live by faith in order to allow God to do what He is going to do. In the human sense, the odds are against me. With no funding or resources, it would seem impossible to get this book published.

I know God gave me this book. I was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it was the last thing I planned to do. I had tried my plan by starting a new ministry called Flannelgraph. And after a few months, nothing was working, so I decided to join God in his plan by writing this book. But now what? In the next few weeks, I may not even be able to pay the mortgage or the car payment. That is the reality of the situation. I’m sure you can all relate to what I am going through because you have probably been there too.

This is the part of the journey where we can get off course by wanting to help God out. We can look inside of ourselves for an answer and come up with a plan and even convince ourselves that it is God’s plan. As sure as the sun comes up, there will be somebody who will come into your life and offer you a different plan. And it’s going to look good. But is it God’s plan? Welcome to the test!

We have two choices. Our first choice is to look for a way out of the test and back to the interstate. We can take whatever plan that comes along and apply it. Sure, we might even get some good results. And from a human or man’s perspective, it may appear that our ministry is successful. But it’s NOT God’s way or God’s plan. The success or the notoriety we achieve will only be based on human terms and not on supernatural intervention. We can settle for just another plan, but it is not what God is doing in the world.

Our second option is to live by faith and to trust God. It is where I am living at the moment. This choice requires us to wait. Sometimes it feels as if God is taking us to an abyss—to the very edge. Do we have the faith to believe that we will not fall in and that God will save us. It’s clearly a supernatural thing—waiting for God to move and knowing he does his thing in his time and not ours.

I have to understand that this is not my plan but God’s plan. What he does with the book or for that matter with anything in my life is up to him. I am the one who will always be required to readjust my life to fit into his plan. It’s never the other way around. We fail the test when we take the first choice, even with the best intentions and decide to help God out. Sure, the odds look overwhelming. What I am facing and what you are facing can cause us to doubt our faith and return to the safe comfort of the interstate. But you and I both realize there is no up side to that option. So I will continue my journey and ask God to increase my faith and my ability to trust him. I will stand on the abyss and ask God for his help. I will put my faith in God’s faithfulness. He is never late. He is always right on time.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Journey—Welcome to the Revolution, Part 5

I’m sure you don’t see yourself as a revolutionary, but if you are a committed follower of Christ, that is exactly what you are. You are a dangerous person. Revolution is about change. I’m sure you would agree that our world is in need of a significant change from our current system. I’m not talking about political revolution or even cultural or social revolution. This isn’t about electing the right candidate or banning books or movies or even unplugging the cable box. We need change that will impact people’s hearts and minds and will cause us to reevaluate everything in our lives. If you are like me and are not happy about the current direction of our culture and society, then you are looking for answers.

People today are resistant to Christianity or, at the very least, indifferent. It’s safe to say that Christianity is no longer making a difference. God has lead me to write a book, A Media Culture, Crisis or Opportunity, The Rise of the Media Missionary (A Media Culture), in order to provide answers and resources on how we can change our world. Yes, I said it. I believe we can change our world with God’s help and direction. If you are looking for answers, this is your book.

But real change won’t start with changing the world first but with changing the way we approach the media and our response to it. God wants to do a work in all of us. And I believe the keys to unlock the answers we need will be found in this new book. We need a new, revolutionary way of how we view God at work in the world. This book will provide insights in how he is at work in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

A Media Culture is not a negative book attacking the media but a positive book. The issues we face are more complicated than sexuality, violence, nudity or bad language. This book will be an eye opener and will challenge everything you think you know about today’s media culture. In fact, your response to the media culture crisis will have a direct impact on your effectiveness on your ministry and your personal journey as a Christian.

Who is this book for? It’s for anyone who cares about the current state of Christianity or your personal relationship with Christ. It’s for those who are fed up and frustrated with our inability to bring real change to our society. It’s for anyone who may consider themselves a media missionary. Before you go to Hollywood or work in the media, you need to read this book. It’s also for anybody who wants to make a difference. A Media Culture provides real answers and solutions and not just rhetoric or a rehashing of what’s wrong about today’s media.

This book takes a look at today’s new emerging media church and why so many people are having a deeper and more significant encounter with God at the movies than they do in church. A Media Culture takes a hard look at the status of the Body of Christ and why it must change its current course. We are talking about a different kind of revolution, a blueprint for real change. It is a book of hope for our times.

For the past several years, we have been looking for answers. Many have talked about how bad the media is. Still others say we must embrace Hollywood as a mission field. While still others have called for the Body of Christ to pray for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Until now, no one has put all the pieces together and created a complete mosaic. A Media Culture is the first book that offers a complete and comprehensive look at the forces behind today’s media culture. It is a blueprint for every Christian and a call to action to show where God is at work and how we can join him in his efforts.

Join the revolution by reading this book. It will change the way you see things forever. I’m convinced you will not be the same. A Media Culture will be available in the next few months. You can help by praying for the resources that will be necessary to bring this book to publication. I am looking for someone who can assist in the areas of marketing and promotions. I am also in need of a publicist and a social networker. We want to get the word out about A Media Culture. Feel free to email me at

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Journey—Finding the Old Road Part 4

I’m sure that we are all on some type of journey in our lives. My journey is to rediscover God and to determine where he is at work and how I can join him in that effort. In order to do that, you have to travel down the old road because that’s where you can find God. God is showing me that the old road is a metaphor and a guide for us on how we should live our lives for Christ. But first you have to find where the old road is.

For years I have traveled the back roads across America, especially Route 66. The old road is anything but easy to find. Over 90% of Route 66 still exists, but you won’t find it on any road map. If you do find it, it’s often difficult to follow because you really never know if you’re on Route 66 or some other old pavement. You can purchase special maps, but it’s no guarantee that you will be able to follow it accurately. Route 66 now has many names. Depending on which state you are in, it could be a county, state or local route designation.

It was commissioned in 1926 and continued to be a work in progress for the next 50 years. It went through multiple pavements, bypasses and upgrades throughout its history. What makes it especially difficult to follow Route 66 is there are many abandoned sections and multiple routes. With so many different alignments, it requires the driver to be dedicated and passionate in his or her efforts to adequately follow the road. Our life as a Christian also requires the same effort if we are to stay on course.

So how do we find the old road? First, we have to accept Christ as our personal Savior. We have to believe in our heart that God is real and he sent his son to die for our sins. By accepting that we are saved. That is the basic requirement for entry to the old road. By doing this we can start our journey. As incredible as this sounds, for many Christians this is as far as they will go. In fact, instead of journeying down the old road, they would rather detour back to the interstate.

For those who wish to journey farther requires us to develop a personal relationship with our Savior. We need to know who God is. What does he want? What is his character, his nature and his value system? We can travel the old road by knowing his Word and then putting it into practice. We can also observe our fellow Christians and learn from their experiences. And through prayer we can begin the process of understanding of how God works in our lives.

As we journey down the old highway, we will encounter the next road sign. As we begin to know God personally, we will be faced with a decision that each Christian must face. Will we make him Lord of our life? And how much are we willing to turn over to him? Whether we realize this, each of us will start to negotiate with God. We are ready to make a deal. We tell God, if you give me what I want, I will turn this percentage of my life over to you. We think we can negotiate with God. All I can say, after many years of experience, good luck with that one. God is not in the business of making deals or negotiating. With him it’s all or nothing. But as we travel down the old highway, we will continue to try to offer God a deal.

What we really want is to follow both the old highway and the interstate. That way we can have the best of both worlds. I’m convinced that many Christians are miserable because they try to travel both roads. At some point along the journey, you are going to learn that it’s one road or the other. As we continue on, some of us will start turning over more of our life to God, and we will reach a tipping point where we start to ask the question, What is his will for me and how can I experience his presence in my life? Can we hear his voice? Absolutely! If we are prepared to stay on the old road.

We stay on the old road by diving into the Word of God, and through people, circumstances and prayer we will start to see Him with more focus. God will speak to us in any way he desires and that includes through nature, objects, and everything in his creation. I have never failed to experience God fully in nature. I have some of my most significant encounters climbing mountains and exploring canyons. It will be different for every person. There is no formula you can follow. Remember, the old road has many curves, dips and corners, and they are different on every old highway.

As you look for God out on the old road and hear his voice, you will reach the final mile post. This one will be the key to knowing how God is at work in the world and knowing how to join him. Some people call it a crisis of faith. The very thing you want the most or that part of your life that you’re holding on to, God will place himself in front of you as a barrier. You will have to make a decision. Are you prepared to finally make him Lord of your life? I’m convinced the reason many of us don’t see God at work in the world is because we have failed the crisis of faith. This is the part of our journey on the old highway where we stop negotiating with God. Remember, we’re not buying a car here. God does not negotiate. He offers his deal and his plan and it’s a “take it or leave it” proposition.

After you pass this final mile post, you will start seeing God at work in places you never imagined. The interstate will be a past memory, and you will wonder why you ever spent so much time there. Traveling the old road is about building the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom that God is building will look vastly different than anything we can imagine. Are you ready to take the off ramp? God is out there on the old road looking for you.