Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Perfect Storm - Part 5

The Third Media Age started in 1981 with the arrival of MTV. This Cable Age and MTV would clearly define the Third Media Age. MTV became the first of many networks who would embrace the new concept of narrowcasting. In the past, broadcast networks such as ABC and NBC aimed to capture a broad-based audience. MTV on the other hand was interested in only ages 12 to 24. Their primary focus was the youth culture.

Robert Pittman, Founder and Chairman of MTV, stated the following concerning MTV’s philosophy, “We are dealing with a culture of TV babies. They can watch, do their home work, and listen to music all at the same time. And at MTV we don’t shoot for 14 year olds, we own them. And the strongest appeal you can make is emotionally. If you can get their emotions going, they forget their logic. Then you’ve got them. They will accept almost anything over the screen. The only people that understand the new way to use that television set are the people who grew up with it.”

Pittman summed up the entire Third Media Age in the above statement. First, there was a total commitment to reaching the youth culture. And second, there was an understanding and knowledge of the use of the television medium to captivate and hold audiences. Only those who grew up with television could fully understand how to use it effectively to reach audiences during the early days of cable television. MTV realized the power and the promise that television offered. If you understood how to use television effectively, you could control what the audience thought was important. And, by doing so, you could control their buying decisions.

Through very sophisticated marketing concepts, MTV learned how to eliminate the space that existed between entertainment, advertising, programming, branding, news, and marketing. These became indistinguishable from each other. MTV helped to establish the idea that marketing was more important than the program you were producing. Hollywood embraced this concept thoroughly at the beginning of the third media age. The marketing of a film became more important than the film itself. Thanks to MTV, every form of media soon realized that the best way to maximize market share and to increase profit margin was to focus attention and resources on the marketing and selling of what a show or film represented rather than to concentrate on the programming itself or quality of the programming.

They learned the power of images and mythology as well as belief systems. Picture images can evoke deep emotions. They understood how to call up these deep emotions and memories that are buried deep inside of us. Today’s image makers are using images to take on “new meanings” and have created new myths that are shrouded, often deliberately, by those deeper memories. They understood how to manipulate viewers to be good consumers. Their methods were psychologically driven and often very subtle. It’s then that the viewer ends up buying the “idea” being sold by the image makers.


Monday, November 29, 2010

The Perfect Storm - Part 4

The Second Media Age or the Age of Television started in the late 1940s with the dawn of television and clearly had the greatest, single impact on our culture than any other technological development in the 20th Century. Its development helped to create today’s modern media culture. At the beginning of 1950, few Americans owned a television set. They were relatively expensive, and the prices would not significantly drop for at least a decade. But by 1954, 56% of Americans had a television set, and by 1962 that number reached 90%. Why did television grow so rapidly? It came along at the right time and found the perfect companion in the form of consumerism in the 1950s.

Just like a dam, the development of television and consumerism had been delayed for years thanks to a worldwide depression and World War II. By the late 1940s, Americans had put there lives on hold (in some cases for two decades). They had delayed marriage, starting a family and, in most cases, just living life. There was a pent-up desire to live life to its fullest. There was perhaps a sense of entitlement, which is easy to understand considering what America had just gone through--depression, war, death and destruction.

Many people reasoned that “if I survived all this, there must be a reason--perhaps a better life for myself and my family”. They wanted to believe in the American Dream. But what is the American Dream? Is it based on freedom, justice and the pursuit of happiness? Or did the new emerging media have a different view of the American Dream and was more than willing to sell it to us. It now had the perfect delivery system, television.

So who would pay for the development of programming? The answer was advertisers within the programming itself as well as paid ads. Commercial television led to the beginning of the modern development of media. It created a relationship between business, media and culture. It is based on a triangular relationship with business and media at the bottom and culture at the top of the pyramid. Business needed a demand to fuel consumerism. Media, such as television, needed financial resources to develop programming. The two formed a relationship which served each other’s interests.

Television had the ability to influence culture (shared beliefs and behavior patterns or general consciousness), particularly how we spend our money.

Advertisers used this to create the desire for goods and services. Americans came to believe that what they saw on television through advertising and entertainment programs was a lifestyle that they believed was achievable. This was a version of the American Dream presented by Wall Street and the entertainment industry. Television and consumerism were the perfect companions.

Television shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, Make Room for Daddy, and Ozzie and Harriet depicted a nice home in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a back yard, a car in the driveway, new and shiny appliances and a lifestyle of comfort and convenience. You can only imagine, after watching this night after night, the type of impact it would have on our collective consciousness as a society. Television would help to commercialize the way we viewed life.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Perfect Storm - Part 3

The perfect storm has created a world where media and culture are now indistinguishable from each other. To understand where the media culture will take us in the future requires an understanding of how it all came together.
Let’s start with an understanding of the four modern media ages. The First Media Age or The Golden Age of Hollywood started at the beginning of the 20th Century. It was the beginning of mass communication and entertainment as we know it today. New technologies such as radio and film ushered in the age of modernism and served as a melting pot of ideas and philosophies.

Much of America had changed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Most people lived on farms in rural areas isolated from outside influences. As a result, family and the immediate community had the biggest impact on world views, religious beliefs, values and morals. Before The Golden Age of Hollywood, most people rarely traveled more than 20 miles from their homes. All of that changed in the latter part of the 19th Century as people moved from the countryside into cities due to the availability of jobs.

There were new influences to be found around every corner. The First Media Age with its emphasis on technology proved to be one of those influences. Modernism was one of the most significant philosophies that prevailed in the First Media Age. Modernism offered a changing society, a new future. It championed that science and reason could explain the mysteries of the universe, the origins of life itself. We were told that science and reason could unlock the answers to life’s questions.

During this time, people were fascinated and infatuated with anything modern. They had a desire for knowledge, understanding and enlightenment. Modernism provided a framework that helped to explain life’s mysteries. Radio and film developed during this period and offered a conduit where these ideas could be shared. There were also plenty of subtle philosophies floating around that found a home in the new, emerging media age such as Marxism, Darwinism and evolution.

Radio offered people an opportunity to hear information and news as it happened and also provided the first home entertainment experience where the family could gather around an electronic media device. It caused the world to become smaller, practically overnight.

Perhaps the most influential institution in the First Media Age was the creation and development of the motion picture industry which today we call Hollywood. The industry was established by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Looking for new opportunities, they established the first film industry on the East Coast. The industry got its start in 1891 when Thomas Edison applied for a patent on his new camera called the kinetoscope. Jewish immigrants embraced this new industry by opening Nickelodeons, nickel theaters dedicated solely to film exhibition.

By the early 1920s, men like Carl Laemmle, William Fox, and Louis B. Meyer came to control and dominate Hollywood for decades to come. Amazingly a few individuals would now have the power and influence to create movies for the entire American population and the world. They would decide which films would be made and which ones would not, which ideas would be expressed and which ones would be discarded. They would decide what was important and what was not. Never had so much power been placed in the hands of so few men.

The 1930s was a time when many Americans stood in bread lines. America was in the middle of a great depression. One-third of the work force was unemployed. The great dust bowls in the Midwest were in the process of turning America into a wasteland. But Hollywood was offering up glamour and a lifestyle that seemed to be from a different world, one that was out of reach for the average American.

It was a version of the American Dream based on wealth and materialism. The ideas that fueled the American Dream are complex. These ideas were powerful and capable of shaping the destiny of our nation, including our spiritual direction.

In the years to come, the battle will rage on. What is the American Dream? Who will define it and for what purpose?

The First Media Age laid the foundation on which all future media ages would be built. Worldviews and various philosophies may have been subtle by today’s standards but, nevertheless, the seeds had been sown.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Perfect Storm - Part 2

“Having it better” is a subjective concept. Who is going to define what that means? I’m convinced that powerful interests which “control the media” have used the American Dream to their advantage by creating a culture where materialism and consumerism have become the primary force in our lives. “Having it better” for some means a bigger house, more cars, a better school, and more money than the previous generation. We believe that we fail to achieve the American Dream if we don’t achieve these goals. But how can the American Dream continue to expand for each future generation if it continues to be based on the accumulation of material things? Is there a limit to how much we own? At what point is enough, enough?

Have we turned the American Dream from opportunity and freedom to our ability to use and maximize our credit cards? Can we spend our way to the American Dream as individuals or as a nation? The media culture must convince us that having it all is the American Dream and without it we cannot be happy.

Is achieving the American Dream and building the Kingdom of God the same goal? Or are they different? Some would suggest that Christianity reflects a value system that is more consistent with media culture values than Biblical values. If achieving the American Dream as defined by today’s media culture has become the new primary goal for Christians, it would certainly suggest that serving God and placing Him first in our lives is no longer our primary goal. If all of this is true, it helps to explain why Christianity has lost its influence within our society. Shouldn’t faith be the primary influence on culture rather than the media?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Perfect Storm - Part 1

Wikipedia’s encyclopedia says that a perfect storm is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically.
When a series of events came together at the right time and place in our nation’s history, we created a perfect storm, which caused media to be transformed into a force capable of creating a media culture. What rare combination of circumstances has made the media a significant and powerful force in our culture? When did television, movies and other forms of media stop being entertainment and become a media culture capable of shaping our beliefs, attitudes and behaviors?

The modern media culture developed over four distinct time periods starting with the development of the film industry in the early part of the 20th Century continuing to the creation of the digital age in the late 1990s. The story behind the perfect storm is also interwoven with the so-called mythical American Dream. To understand the perfect storm and how we are influenced by today’s media, we must understand how the American Dream has been manipulated.

The U.S. Attitudes on the American Dream, a recent survey by the Xavier University Institute for Politics, states that 60% of Americans believe it will be more difficult for them to achieve the American Dream than for their parents. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say it will be even more difficult for their children to achieve the American Dream.

So what is the American Dream and how is it tied to the media culture? More importantly, how has it changed the face of Christianity over the past few years? According to this survey, most white, middle class Americans see the American Dream in terms of financial security. African Americans tend to see it as wealth. Only 8% of those surveyed viewed it as a sense of happiness. Mike Ford, founding director of Xavier University Institute, says the American Dream “is a time-honored core belief that we have for ourselves as Americans--that the next generation will have it better than we did.” If Ford is right, that means the American Dream is always a moving target. It will continue to grow and expand

Monday, November 22, 2010

Today’s Rant – Why are we not Changing the World?

If you’ve been in ministry for any length of time, you’ve probably asked yourself this question. Why isn’t the Body of Christ changing our culture and the world? If anything, it would appear that the culture is changing the Church. It’s a frustrating situation. No matter what you are trying to do in the Kingdom, including being a pastor, small group leader, youth worker, outreach leader or Sunday School teacher, there has never been a more challenging time to spread the Gospel. Why is this?

Why is it that most people three hours after leaving church cannot remember the pastor’s sermon, much less three days later? Obviously, the Bible says when we preach the Gospel, the Word never returns void. So there is always going to be some impact. But it is as if we are running against the wind in an ever ending battle with little or no results. It’s not as if I’m trying to make this worse or that I’m trying to ruin your day, but sometimes you just have to face the truth and ask the tough questions. Of course we want to be effective and reach people with the saving knowledge of our Lord. That’s what it’s all about.

So what is our main obstacle? The issue most people have failed to see or what I call the 800 pound gorilla in the room is today’s mass media culture? It is relentless. It is like a hurricane wind that continues to blow. The media culture never takes a day off. It surrounds us and engulfs us. No wonder we can’t remember what the sermon was about.

The media culture is more than movies or TV programs. It defines our culture, our society and our institutions. It creates its own reality, and it informs us what we should be thinking about. In fact, if we don’t find an answer to the influence of today’s mass media culture, we will continue to struggle in our ministries. Every Christian has a responsibility in solving this crisis. Unfortunately, most of us don’t recognize this. Let me put it this way. Have you ever worked outside on a hot summer day of maybe 100 degrees. It’s challenging and difficult, and you most likely get little work accomplished. What happens if you can turn the temperature down to 85 degrees or 80 degrees? Your productivity would increase dramatically. The mass media culture, just like a hot summer day, has the same impact on the effectiveness of the Body of Christ to proclaim the Gospel.

We will start to dramatically change the culture and the world when we recognize the issue we are facing is the mass media culture, and when we realize we all have a part in solving this solvable problem. What drives me crazy and what is at the core of today’s rant is when we continue to do the same things and expect a different result. Don’t you think it’s time to come up with a new game plan now that we know what we are facing?

Friday, November 19, 2010

God , Art and Truth Part 5

God Desires Art That Reflects His Truth. How does God inspire filmmakers to reflect his glory and truth, especially nonbelievers? How does this process play out?

(6) God can speak to us through the storytelling process. Theology is primarily a story which starts in Genesis during the creation process and ends in Revelation with God’s ultimate destiny for mankind. Therefore, storytelling must be important to God. He has used it as his primary means to communicate to his creation.

Storytelling was Jesus’ primary means of relating to people during his ministry. Matthew 13:34, says, “Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. This fulfilled the prophecy that said I will speak to you in parables. I will explain mysteries hidden since the creation of the world.” NLT

Jesus understood the power of stories. Throughout the history of mankind, we have been telling each other stories. Today’s film industry is just a reflection of the story-telling process that Jesus embraced. Jesus spoke stories and parables that were saturated with vivid, visual imagery. Everyone wants to hear and see a good story.

So how did Jesus use parables to reveal the hidden mysteries of God? First, he always had a point. All good stories are about something.

Jesus used symbolism and metaphors.  Symbolism and metaphors help to forge a connection between dissimilar objects and themes.

Jesus told familiar stories that were tied to everyday activities. He didn’t talk about things that the average person wouldn’t understand. He wanted to connect to his audience. In fact, Jesus was culturally relevant.

If we want to tell compelling stories and relate to the general audience, we can learn a thing or two from Jesus. Jesus is presenting to us, the Body of Christ, the ultimate storytelling concepts.

Jesus told interesting stories full of drama, conflict and personal struggles. You do not have a story unless you have some form of conflict. Jesus embraced four story concepts, which are the only concepts in the storytelling process--man vs. man, man vs. himself, man vs. nature and man vs. the supernatural. In each one of these story concepts, conflict is essential.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

God , Art and Truth Part 4

God Desires Art That Reflects His Truth.  How does God inspire filmmakers to reflect his glory and truth, especially nonbelievers?  How does this process play out?

(5) God can speak through the divine. God can speak to all of us in everyday circumstances. Because God is present in the world, he can use all things to fulfill his purpose. Therefore, he can speak through people. He can speak through nature. He can speak through objects. He can speak through creation. We can receive inspiration from God at any place and at any time. God does not limit himself but uses everything to speak to us. That means both Christians and nonbelievers can find their inspiration to create art that reflects his glory and truth in the ordinary things that exist in this world.

In Romans 1:18, Paul says, “God’s anger is shown from heaven against all the evil and wrong things people do. By their own evil lives, they hide the truth. God shows his anger because some knowledge of him has been made clear to them. Yes, God has shown himself to them.” NCV The scripture is clear that God’s presence can be found in the earth and all that God made. His divine nature can inspire all media makers and artists to create media that reflects his truth. Because his truth is known to all mankind, and we are capable of seeing it in his creation.

Paul goes on to say that even though they knew God, they would not worship him. So they created idols to worship that looked like people, birds, animals and snakes. God wants to reveal himself through his creation. That includes everything in the world. There is nothing wrong with artists who create art or images that reflect God’s glory as long as we do not put it above worshiping God. Creating images in itself is not necessarily sinful as long as they express God’s love and his truth. If we love the image more than God it becomes sinful. Although some media and film makers, may reject God's truth, and create images and idols, it is entirely possible that at some level God's truth will be reflected and be completely capable of impacting it's intended audience. Why is this possible ? Romans 8:28 says...."And we know in all things God works for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose" NIV

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

God , Art and Truth Part 3

God Desires Art That Reflects His Truth. How does God inspire filmmakers to reflect his glory and truth, especially nonbelievers? How does this process play out?

(4) God can speak to us in dreams and visions. What about speaking to nonbelievers? Can this be a form of inspiration for filmmakers and media makers? What does the Bible have to say?

Joel 33:14-17 says, “God does speak--sometimes one way and sometimes another--even though people do not understand it. He speaks in a dream, in a vision of the night when people are in a deep sleep, lying on their beds. He speaks in their ears and frightens them with warnings to turn away from dong wrong and to keep them from being proud. He does this to save people from death, to keep them from dying”. NCV

In Daniel Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream and asked all his fortune-tellers, magicians, wizards and wise men to not only interpret the dream but to tell him what he dreamed. They could not. Daniel asked his friends to pray that the God of heaven would have mercy and show Daniel the dream and the understanding of the dream. God gave Daniel a vision during the night that showed the dream and its interpretation.

Could some of today’s modern filmmakers be experiencing dreams just like Nebuchadnezzar but are also unaware of the source or the meaning of the dream? However, they are telling their stories in movies. Because the message is from God, people are responding because it is touching them at the deepest emotional level.

What they require, just like Nebuchadnezzar, is an interpreter. The heart of God for Hollywood is for Christians to get involved in the discussion that people are engaged in. Viewers are asking, “What is the meaning of this movie and how does it impact my life.” That discussion can take place internally as well as externally.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God , Art and Truth Part 2

God Desires Art That Reflects His Truth. How does God inspire filmmakers to reflect his glory and truth, especially nonbelievers? How does this process play out?

(1) God can use our gifts and talents to inspire us. We did not create our gifts or talents. They are a gift from God. Because we are made in the image of God, he can inspire us to use them for his glory.

(2) God can inspire us through the creation process. Filmmaking and media making is a creative endeavor. When we create, we are mirroring God’s creative process. God’s nature is to create. He reveals himself every day through his creation. It would make sense that anything we create could contain God’s truth as well, including our art.

(3) Whether you are a Christian or nonbeliever, the Word of God is true. At some level, we are able to recognize this whether we are familiar with God’s Word or not because his Word has gone forth and exists everywhere in the world. The Bible is a story about man without God and man’s efforts to find something greater than himself. That story has been reflected in much of our art throughout history. That includes films and modern media. Hollywood cannot create anything new.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 says, “History merely repeats itself. It’s all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.” NLT In other words, Hollywood cannot find any new stories. They are in the Bible. Whether they realize it or not, their movies reflect Biblical stories.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says, “There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season. There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to plant and a time to pull up plants. There is a time to kill and a time to heal. There is a time to destroy and a time to build. There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. There is a time to be sad and a time to dance. There is a time to throw away stones and a time to gather them. There is a time to hug and a time not to hug. There is a time to look for something and a time to stop looking for it. There is a time to keep things and a time to throw things away. There is a time to tear apart and a time to sew together. There is a time to be quiet and a time to speak. There is a time to love and a time to hate. There is a time for war and a time for peace. NLT

Is there any film, TV show or other form of media that Hollywood has ever produced that does not reflect these themes from Ecclesiastes? This helps to explain why God is at work in entertainment. Much of what Hollywood creates is a reflection at some level of stories from the Word of God. We are all interested in finding the truth. That’s why secular filmmakers are often drawn to Biblical themes. Whether they realize it or not, they recognize truth.

Monday, November 15, 2010

God , Art and Truth Part 1

How does God inspire filmmakers to reflect his glory and truth, especially nonbelievers? First, most Christian media makers embrace a platonic story concept. Their stories can be seen as a model for behavior to guide us to morals. Platonic stories tend to be more about ideas than reality. Good is represented by a protagonist while evil is represented by an antagonist. In the platonic world concept, there are no gray areas. Everything is either black or white.

Most nonChristians as well as some Christians embrace an Aristotelian story concept where the viewer is faced with a purgation of emotions. These stories will be more subjective and will lead us into our inner conflicts. It’s often a journey into fears and desires that we do not want to confront.

The Aristotelian stories will challenge us to identify with the characters, which often results in the process of discovering our hidden primal feelings. The end result is that they may offer us insight into our lives; however, they do not necessarily offer a clear, moral message. Aristotelian stories require the viewer to be more involved in processing the importance of the story and its impact on your life. They tend to reflect the world as it is compared to platonic stories which reflect the way the writer would like the world to be. God can use both story concepts. Many Christians have problems with the Aristotelian concept because they cannot see God at work in the process. The Aristotelian stories require us to deal with the internal struggle within us, which is a messy endeavor because truth becomes more illusive and intangible.

Aristotelian stories are ambiguous and never paint the world as black and white. They allow you the opportunity to draw your own conclusions and decide what you believe is true and untrue. Although some may suggest that Aristotelian stories support the idea of relevant truth, I believe God can use these stories more effectively than platonic stories because the viewer is more actively engaged in the story process and tends to ask legitimate questions about the nature and purpose of life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Can we find God In Hollywood ? Part 5

So what’s special about movies? First, we see films in a dark environment. It’s a separate world from the outside. The environment allows us the opportunity to enter into a new world and possibly a new reality. Second, we see movies as a community. We are surrounded by other people who want to enter into an experience. We are part of a community of people who share in a love for film. Third, movies offer a dialogue. It’s not just a one-way communication where the movies speak to us. We speak to each other as a community to try to understand its meaning and purpose. What did I just see? What does it mean? How did it affect you emotionally? How did it affect me? Is this important in my life? How do I identify with those in this film? These are some of the questions we ask ourselves and each other.

By asking these questions, it is quite possible that people can encounter God more at the movies than they can in church. We may see our lives portrayed on the screen and realize we are that person with all the consequences that our actions will bring. We are faced with recognizing our need for God or our need to change. Movies also allow us to better understand the human condition with its complex assortment of emotions such as fear, anxiety, love, hate, anger, despair, hope, etc.

Within the story we can see, experience and feel. The experience becomes more real and accessible than what we often encounter on Sunday morning. As we covered earlier, God speaks to us through all aspects of life. His presence can be felt throughout all of human culture because man is made in his image, and the Spirit of God is present in all of mankind. At some level movies can be more than capable of reflecting God’s truth and divine purpose for each of us because they are more tangible expressions of God’s grace and love.

So what is God’s heart for Hollywood or the broader entertainment and media industry? I believe God is interested in three areas. First, God wants the people of Hollywood and the entertainment industry to come to know him as Lord and Savior. Second, God wants to inspire filmmakers and media makers, both Christian and nonbelievers, to make art that reflects his glory and truth. Third, he desires art that will impact the lives of viewers so that they will discover truth and seek him.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can we find God In Hollywood ? Part 4

Lars and the Real Girl from 2009 portrays one of the best examples of Christian community that I have ever seen in any film. The film is a reflection of I John 3:18 which says, “My children, we should love people not only with words and talk but by our actions and true caring.” NCV Lars is a lonely, shy and socially inept young man living in a converted garage behind the house of his brother and sister-in-law. Lars is suffering from some sort of emotional and psychological disorder.

As crazy as the plot sounds, he believes that a life-like doll that he orders online is actually a real person. His family and, more importantly, his Christian community rally around him in love and grace to help him in his recovery. It’s a beautiful story and a perfect example of Christian love at work. What we find in Lars and the Real Girl is a Christian community we all hope for—unconditional love, acceptance, and redemption.

And finally, Dogma offers a view of Christianity, especially Catholics, that some may find offensive. Many believe that it mocked and questioned conventional theology about the nature of God. The film was directed by Kevin Smith who is well-known as an edgy filmmaker. Kevin Smith has given many interviews where he has stated that he is a devout Catholic and a believer in God. Although this film offers an irreverent view of the Church and organized religion, it does affirm the existence of God and the importance of faith. It affirms the benevolence of God and the divinity of Christ. For some Christians, it will be impossible to see God at work in this film. However, it spoke to an entire generation of post-modern youth who are trying to understand who God is.

The film presented an opportunity for dialogue and discussion with the Church. Unfortunately, for the most part, we couldn’t get past some of the more disturbing elements of the film to see the truth that Dogma was presenting. Most people in our society want to have an honest and frank discussion about the nature of God. Who is he? How do I find him if he exists? Dogma presents opportunities where we can enter into such dialogues but only if we are willing.

Without question, there is something going on at the movies. I have offered you a small example of films that are presenting truth. God is at work in entertainment and media, especially movies. It’s clear that movies speak to people. And it is quite possible to have a divine encounter with God at the movies, or at least movies can challenge us to consider our lives and the decisions we are making. We can start a journey by discerning truth from untruth which can lead us to God.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Can we find God In Hollywood ? Part 3

1999’s Fight Club spoke to an entire generation of post-modern youth. It is a search for meaning. The film follows the life of Jack, an upward, mobile executive, who wanders through a variety of twelve-step programs, until he meets Tyler Durden, a mysterious stranger. Both embark into a world of underground fight clubs where members enter into brutal and nonstop violence. Fight Club’s rallying call is “I Bleed. Therefore, I am.” This film speaks volumes about youth’s hidden pain. They want to feel something, even if it hurts. Jack cries out “Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers fail, what does that tell you about God? In all probability, he hates you. We’re God’s unwanted children. So be it.” Fight Club is a call for help. It is a desperate appeal for love and God’s intervention. I doubt that many people could look past the violence and bad language to see the true meaning of this film.

Smoke Signals from 1998 and Magnolia from 1999 are redemptive stories about forgiveness. Smoke Signals’ main character, Victor, must deal with his pain and inability to forgive his father, who abandoned the family when Victor was a child. The film poses thought-provoking questions. “How do we forgive our fathers? Do we forgive our fathers in our age or theirs? Saying it to them or not saying it?” What would appear on the surface to be a simple movie about two characters on a road trip, in reality, is a movie that offers us a perspective into our relationships with our fathers. Magnolia is a three-hour film into the very heart of the human condition. I can’t think of one emotion that is not expressed somewhere in the film.

In Magnolia we can all see ourselves in the characters portrayed. The film presents nine different story lines which ultimately merge into one story. What drives the heart of this film is the idea that there is nothing you have done or not done that cannot be forgiven, no matter what your past is or what acts you have committed that you believe are beyond redemption. It’s a powerful statement that embraces the idea that in order for human beings to find peace, they must seek forgiveness.

American Beauty is a film that most Christians found extremely offensive. Lester Burnham is a middle-aged man who has lost the ability to feel anything in life. His existence is defined by the mundane aspects of everyday life until he has an encounter with his teenager daughter’s best friend. Although he never acts on his impulse, he does lust after her. The film offers a hard look at life in America’s suburbia. The story is really about our own self-made imprisonment in cages that we build ourselves. What our character discovers about life is that the mundane things are really the things that we should be most grateful for but are often the things we overlook. It’s the daily experiences of life that define who we are. Beauty therefore can be found in just the process of living. Needless to say, audiences identified with Lester’s character and in his pursuit to find the beauty of life. The movie is a search for purpose and meaning. American Beauty uses the catalyst of an improper relationship, which finally wakes Lester up to realize that fulfillment cannot be found in the lust for flesh . It can only be found in the pursuit of living life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Can we find God In Hollywood ? Part 2

Many today consider movies, television shows, and the media in general to be the “new church” for this generation. This new church defines who we are as a people and what we believe to be true about ourselves and our world. It’s power is undeniable, and God is in it. We must learn how to use it honestly and effectively.

How is God at work? Here are some examples that may challenge the conventional thinking of our time. The Truman Show from 1998 and The Matrix from 1999 depict a world in which man lives in a false reality but is unaware of it. What they see before them, they accept as reality.

In Truman, Jim Carey’s character, Truman Burbank, discovers he is living in a constructed reality soap opera televised 24/7 to the entire world. Everything in his life has been a lie. In the final climatic battle, the executive producer of the show, Christof, tries to convince Truman to stay by announcing, “You will find no more truth in the real world than there is in your own artificial world.” Is that not the same message that satan tries to convince us that the world we live in offers more than the world God promises us?

In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves, plays Neo, a Christ-like Messiah, who attempts to free mankind out of bondage from the matrix. Neo lives in a world created by a computer program that mankind is unaware of. He lives with all mankind in a dream state of reality. Neo is given a choice to take a red pill or a blue pill. One will reveal the truth. Or he can take the other pill and continue to live in the false reality. It is his choice or his “free will”. However, he seeks the truth and soon discovers that everything he believes to be true is a lie. As Neo seeks the truth, others try to convince him that he is wrong or deceived. When he continues his pursuit, immediately the others try to keep him from exposing the truth (because the Truth will set you free) to mankind and ultimately try to destroy him. In many ways, The Matrix is a metaphor for how God is trying to reveal His truth to mankind. We are deceived by satan or the matrix to believe that the world we live in is the real world when, in fact, this life we believe is truth is satan’s matrix for mankind.

The Forgotten from 2004 and Juno from 2007 both embrace the sanctity of life. In The Forgotten, Telly Paretta believes her son, Sam, died in a plane crash. Her family and doctors are trying to convince her that she is suffering from a delusion because Sam never existed. The Forgotten offers a surprising twist in this clever science fiction film where we discover that an alien race is conducting an experiment to determine whether the bonds between a mother and child can be broken. Obviously, they cannot. There is a spiritual connection between mother and child. It goes beyond the physical to the soul. The Forgotten is one of the best examples about the sanctity of life ever produced. I’m sure that’s not what the filmmakers intended; nevertheless, that’s the result.

Juno is a story about a teenager with an unwanted pregnancy. Helen Page plays Juno MacGuff, who contemplates what her choices are. She seeks a family to adopt her child. Diablo Cody wrote the screenplay for the film based on her own high school experiences. Juno is an endorsement for adoption over abortion.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can we find God In Hollywood ? Part 1

Does God have a heart for the entertainment and media industry? Is He at work in Hollywood? Or maybe the right question should be “Why wouldn’t He be at work in Hollywood.” I’m convinced that God is at work in every area of human activity. Based on the Word of God, God is also at work in Hollywood.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 Work (God-given task) is given to man by God in order to exercise himself, but this labor is ultimately controlled not by man the creature, but by God the Creator. Work in itself brings neither contentment nor spiritual satisfaction. Man cannot comprehend the great whole but only the parts. Nevertheless, God is working with the whole universe and mankind, and only in eternity will man discover and understand the divine design. BELIEVER’S STUDY BIBLE

Entertainment is American’s number one export. Throughout the world, Hollywood’s influence can be found in every corner. I consider Hollywood to be the world’s most influential mission field. That’s why it is so important that we discover how God is at work in the entertainment industry. Due to our modern, Western, evangelistic philosophy, we have embraced a platonic separation of the sacred and the secular. We believe that we understand what are and what are not acceptable acts of worship. What if everything we do in our life is an act of worship. The Bible proclaims in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” NLT Therefore everything we do is an act of worship, including making movies or television programs. If we truly believe this scripture, our lives would change and our approach to everything we do would change.

God can use all forms of media including movies to express His glory and power. Almost anything we believe, whether about our culture, our nation, society or about ourselves can be found in our media. And, for many people, how they view God is also found in the movies. Movies express our wants, fears, hurts and desires. Media, particularly films, can shape public perception, educate, and enlighten all of us. They can offer us insight into the human condition and our desire to find truth. They challenge us to consider our life choices as well as the pathway that we are currently pursuing.