Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Glittering New Frontier

By the early 1920s, men like Carl Laemmle, William Fox, and Louis B. Meyer came to control and dominate Hollywood and movie making 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.

In the 1930s, Louis B. Meyer, President of MGM, viewed America as a glittering new frontier, decent but tough-minded, full of God-fearing but gun-slinging Americans who were shrewd, unpredictable and unbeatable but also open-hearted and family loving. And he depicted this view in the movies he produced.

Meyer and his fellow movie moguls offered a vision of America that people wanted to believe and were willing to accept. It made us feel good about ourselves. Meyer understood that it was good for business. The majority of studio heads had no political or social agenda. They were interested in one thing and one thing only—making money. Was their view of American life realistic? It offered no racism, prejudice or social injustice. It defined America as a land of opportunity, champion of individuals, and defender of the poor. It offered no insight into how Americans really lived their daily lives.

The moviegoer saw no instances of alcoholism or domestic abuse in family lives. In Meyer‘s world, good always triumphed, and evil was punished. Every family embraced moral values and practiced faith and patriotism. The cowboys were good, and the Indians were bad. This view of America has perpetuated itself to this very day. We think of the 1930s through the 1950s as the ―good old days. In some ways, Hollywood had no choice but to reflect these views because that‘s what Americans wanted to believe. This was reinforced by a production code, which was imposed on filmmakers by both Protestant and Catholic churches.

We came to view ourselves by what we saw in the movies in the 1930s and 1940s and television programs from the 1950s, including shows such as Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best, as a representation of the real America. But in reality it is a mythology created by Meyer and his fellow studio heads that created a version of America that only existed in the movies. This is evidence of the power of media—that we are willing to accept a lie over the truth because the lie makes us feel better about ourselves. It raises the question of what else are we willing to accept as the truth.

Are You Ready to Go Blu?

Now that you’ve bought that new hi-tech, high-definition television, are you ready to upgrade your current DVD player to a new Blu-ray disc unit? It’s a question that many people are thinking about. But, is now the right time? I’m sure you can notice a big difference between high-definition and standard definition television. There’s no question about it that after watching high-def, you will have no interest going back to regular television. You’re hooked.

Now that Blu-ray players have dropped dramatically in price over the last year, perhaps you are ready to make your move. Before you rush out to the store, here’s a few things you might want to consider. Yes, Blu-ray discs are amazing. But they come at a price. New releases are typically priced anywhere from $25 to $35. Catalogue titles, which are movies five years and older, will run you somewhere between $20 and $25. Ouch! That’s expensive. So when does it make sense to buy Blu-ray vs. standard definition DVDs?

Here are five buying tips you should think about before making your next purchase.

1. Does the movie you are planning to buy have repeatability? Let’s face it. Most movies are a one and done deal. You’ve seen it once, and you have no interest in taking another look at it even if it was a good movie. But there are some films that demand repeatability. Obviously, this is subjective to the viewer. For example, I can’t wait for Star Wars to be released on Blu-ray. I’ll be there on the first day of release. Do you have personal favorites that you watch on an annual basis? Then purchasing a Blu-ray disc would make sense.

2. Is the film you are considering visually interesting? Obviously films heavy on special effects and CGI (computer generated images) are always good candidates for a Blu-ray purchase. Science fiction, action-adventure, and movies shot in exotic locations are the perfect reason for you to upgrade to Blu-ray. All of these films are classic examples of eye candy. Avatar, Up, 2012 and Out of Africa make perfect sense for Blu-ray compared to small-budget, independent dramas that offer little in visuals.

3. Is the film you’re considering purchasing epic in scope? Movies that span time and distance and operate on a huge canvas were made for Blu-ray. Any movie over 150 minutes in length and tells a big story requires a big screen, high-definition television and a Blu-ray player to do it justice. Most of these kinds of movies were made in the heyday of Hollywood, and they are just starting to make their way to Blu-ray. If you are going to buy Doctor Zhivago, North by Northwest, Gone with the Wind, Godfather or Patton, why would you buy it on anything other than Blu-ray?

4. What is the quality of the video transfer? Here’s a dirty little secret about Blu-ray. Not all Blu-ray discs are created equally. In fact, some are only slightly better than their DVD counterparts. It all depends on the quality of the video transfer and the compression rate of the video file to create a master. Some studios, for example, will not create a new master for catalogue releases. They will use the same DVD master, which may or may not be a high-definition transfer. That’s a rip-off to the consumer because they are charging you $25 to $35 for a slightly better DVD. The reason they do it is because it is expensive to commission a new video transfer master. The good news is that most new movies do offer an excellent video transfer and compression which leads to an outstanding image and resolution.

To date, there have been about 1,600 movies released on Blu-ray. Only 100 movies have scored a perfect five-star rating from Hi-Def Digest, the rating which is considered to be reference quality. If Blu-ray is done right, it will offer a 3-D pop. In other words, it has a three-dimensional look and feel. I recommend that before you spend your money you check out the films rating on Hi-Def Digest. Anything less than four stars may be questionable. Why spend your money if you’re not getting the resolution and detail you expect?

5. What about the artistic intentions of the director? Frankly, some movies will look no better on Blu-ray than they will look on DVD. If the director intended the film to have a dark, dim or dingy look, that’s exactly what it will look like on Blu-ray. Bright colors, well-lit scenes and outdoor shots look great on Blu-ray. But some films just don’t offer that type of content. There’s no question that there’s better resolution on movies like The Road and The Book of Eli, but they have a toned-down color palette and an over-all bleak appearance due to the director’s intention of creating a post-apocalyptic world. You might want to consider saving yourself some money and stick to the DVD version.

Finally, currently only 16% of the home video market belongs to Blu-ray. That means that 84% of all discs sold are still good ole DVDs. In fact, DVDs are the most successful electronic product ever produced. I don’t see DVD going away any time soon. DVDs offer consumers good quality and, for most people, the picture and resolution still work. I’m convinced if Blu-ray discs are going to be universally accepted, the prices will have to fall. The studios are waiting for the consumers to change their minds, but most people are not willing to upgrade to Blu-ray.

Here’s a secret that works for most people. You can up-convert your standard DVDs to near high-definition resolution with an HDMI output from your DVD player to your high-definition television. No, it will not be Blu-ray quality; nevertheless, for most people the picture quality is more than enough. DVDs in some ways are their own worst enemy. Most of today’s high-def televisions have built-in scalers which are capable of upgrading DVD to 1080p or 720p high-definition resolution. So you have to decide. Stick to standard DVD or pay the extra cost to go to Blu-ray.

My bottom line recommendation is to buy a new Blu-ray player because the costs have dramatically decreased. You can pick one up for about $100. But don’t buy everything on Blu-ray. Use my guidelines to help you decide when it makes sense to spend your money on Blu-ray. You might also want to consider looking into the used market. Any store that sells used CDs will probably sell used DVDs and Blu-rays. You can save a bundle of money. For example, I recently purchased Avatar for only $12 compared to $30 new at Best Buy and $25 new at Wal-Mart. It pays to look around for alternatives such as the used market.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Way Back

Peter Weir’s newest film, The Way Back, is everything that we love about movies. It is portrayed on a large canvas that’s cinematic, breathtaking, and visually stunning. The story is powerful and compelling. This film is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit and the will to live. It reaffirms our desire for freedom at any cost. But what I found most encouraging about The Way Back is that even under the worst circumstances our ability for compassion and our humanity can not only survive but thrive.

The Way Back is based on the book, The Long Walk, by Slawormir Rawicz, who was a Polish POW in the Soviet Gulag during World War II. The film is based on his experiences when he escaped from prison and journeyed a 4,000 mile trek to freedom.

The movie takes place in 1940 as Janusz, (Jim Sturgess), a Polish POW  is  interrogated by a Soviet officer. He is accused of being a spy and sentenced to 20 years in a Siberian Gulag. In prison he meets a ragtag group of prisoners, including Voss (Gustaf Skarsgärd) a Latvian priest, Tomasz (Alexandru Potecean), a Russian artist, Zoran (Dragos Bucur), a Yugoslav accountant, Vaka (Colin Farrell), a hardened Russian criminal, Khabarov (Mark Strong), a Russian actor, and the lone American in the group, Mr. Smith (Ed Harris). Together they decide to escape and embark on a journey that will test the limits of human endurance. The real danger is not the prison dogs, the guards, or the barbed wired fences but 5 million square miles of Siberian wilderness. Can they overcome the harshness of the weather to survive?

Along the way, they encounter, Irena (Saoirse Ronan), a Polish girl who escaped from a forced farm collective and joins their trek to freedom. Her presence adds a touch of humanity that will be necessary to finish the journey. Without giving away too much of the story, the original destination was Mongolia, but circumstances forced the group to track south across deserts and the heights of the Himalayans to seek refuge in British controlled India.

The Way Back is the ultimate adventure story. It’s almost impossible to believe that anyone could survive such a journey covering 4,000 miles. The film is magnificently directed by Peter Weir. He has been one of my favorite directors since the time I saw one of his first movies, Picnic at Hanging Rock, in 1975. The Australian director has only gotten better throughout the years.

But what really drives The Way Back is the portrayal of Mr. Smith by Ed Harris. Why is an American in a Soviet Gulag in Siberia? Mr. Smith is a man tormented by his past and must overcome his own demons to find his humanity. What is his story? Ed Harris is sensational. He always finds a way to lose himself in the character. Harris always puts everything into his acting, and it clearly shows. The film features an international cast of actors who also bring their A game, including Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan from Ireland, Gustof Skarsgärd from Germany, Alexandru Potecean and Dragos Bucur from Bulgaria. The acting creates an authentic feel and presence of what Soviet Russia would have felt like in the 1940s. Director Peter Weir went the extra mile for authenticity by erecting a full-scale prison camp. The actors were required to endure harsh conditions to add to the realism of the story.

We can learn a great deal about history by watching movies. The Way Back should be required viewing for all high school students. It’s no secret that we have fast become a society that knows little about our own history much less events that are portrayed in The Way Back. Most people probably have some knowledge of Nazi concentration camps. But I would guess most of us would be hard pressed to talk about the Soviet Gulag camps that operated for decades. In fact, the Soviet Union could give Nazi Germany a run for their cruelty and imprisonment of millions of innocent people. It’s a part of history we should know. The Way Back is dedicated to the many millions of people who suffered under the totalitarian rule of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Russia.

The Way Back is an excellent movie. It was exquisitely done and is an inspiration to the human spirit. We might all think we have incredible obstacles and difficulties to face. but The Way Back has a way of putting things in perspective. After viewing this movie, we will all be thankful for the freedom we enjoy.

The Way Back is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Flag of My Father" Memorial Day gala on TBN, Legacy TV

By Cheryl Wicker Christian Movies Examiner.

"Flag of My Father," a film produced by Louisiana's R-Squared Productions that pays tribute to our soldiers, will be aired on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in time for Memorial Day on May 30 at 12:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., as well as on July 2 at 11 p.m., Central Time. It will also be shown on Legacy TV on Memorial Day at 8 p.m., Central Time.

Memorial Day provides a great backdrop for watching a patriotic movie and "Flag of My Father" is just such a movie. Veterans and those with family members serving in the military will especially relate to the story as army nurse heroine Judith (GiGi Erneta) returns from the Iraq War with haunting memories that put her in a new battlefield on the homefront which is compounded by friction within her family.

"Flag of My Father" was recently awarded the Best Narrative Feature and the Choice Award for actor William Devane at the 2011 GI Film Festival in Washington DC on May 15, 2011. It stars John Schneider, GiGi Erneta, Andrew Sensenig and William Devane. The film was written and directed by executive producer Rodney Ray.

Continue reading on Examiner.com "Flag of My Father" Memorial Day gala on TBN, Legacy TV - National Christian Movies
Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/christian-movies-in-national/memorial-day-airing-of-flag-of-my-father-on-tbn#ixzz1NfvOhuMt
Cheryl Ariaz Wicker is a media professional residing in Louisiana, the state known as "Hollywood South." Wicker is a film producer and media personality and the owner of Premier1 Studios, a Christian entertainment marketing company. She most recently produced the award-winning feature film "Flag of My Father," with John Schneider, GiGi Erneta and William Devane. Wicker's passion is to promote entertainment that impacts the culture positively with a Christian worldview. You can reach Cheryl Ariaz Wicker by visiting her website: cherylwicker.com.
View all of Cheryl's articles : ttp://www.examiner.com/christian-movies-in-national/cheryl-wicker

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fenced Off - Loving your neighbor can be complicated

Josh and Anne just moved into their first house. George and Tia live next door. George is retired and ready for life to slow down a little. Josh is a young, idealistic social worker ready to be welcomed to the neighborhood. Much to Tia’s chagrin, George has little interest giving Josh a warm welcome. What starts off as a day of yard work and random to-dos for the new neighbors turns into a series of misunderstandings and confrontation. Based on a true story, Fenced Off explores the reality that loving your neighbor can be complicated.

Back Story

That’s me (Brad) on the left, and Isaac on the right. Fenced Off started with Isaac walking into my office and telling me a story about his first week living in his new house. He wondered if there was something film-worthy to his story; a young white couple moving into a predominantly African American neighborhood and discovering he had some racial prejudices and assumptions he wasn’t previously aware of. Over a few months this idea would come up in conversations and we’d go back and forth crafting a “movie we should make someday.”
At that time we were working on a romantic comedy that was going to shoot September of 2010. We realized in July, however, that we were going to have to delay that production until the next year. Our conversations about Fenced Off changed from nonchalant dreaming to serious consideration. “Could we actually do this?” we asked each other.

So I started writing a script. The writing process was basically a series of asking each other, “What if…?” Every plot point came from that question. Isaac then broke down the script and figured out (in theory) how we could do it for $15,000 in 12 days. We then pitched it to our bosses at Vineyard Cincinnati. They gave us a green light. Then we had to go out and find/convince a crew that we could do it. That was harder than we anticipated. And not to mention we had our day jobs to take care of.

Even though on paper we were under-resourced in every way possible, in October of 2010 a ragtag collection of storytellers made a little movie together. For me, it felt like building a childhood fort in the woods. It was hard work full of challenges, missteps, hurdles and conflict, but every day I woke up excited to march out through the wet grass and keep building. We had a mission with a deadline. Which meant there were goals to hit hour by hour. But it didn’t feel like work. It felt like a group of friends, collaborators and builders all pooling their talents and resources to create something together. And honestly, our motivation was purely that. Sure we hope the movie will be good and find its way into theaters or DVD players. But the real reason we spent 12 hours a day working our tails off was because it is a magical thing to collaborate. For a couple weeks in October, we were a band of misfits building a fort in the middle of a tall forest, completely and happily lost in the process. by Brad Wise

For more info check out http://fencedoff.com/

Thursday, May 26, 2011


What I’m gong to tell you is probably no great revelation about the state of today’s movies. Since the days of The Wild Bunch and Bonnie and Clyde, Hollywood has been offering an ever-increasing stream of violent films. What’s different today is violent movies have become more stylistic. Action films are more about high body count that glorifies violence. Most movies today have made violence fun. Filmmakers are finding more creative and interesting ways to torment and kill their victims.

I don’t write lot of reviews on violent movies or on action movies for that matter. But I believe Faster, which was recently released on DVD, has a different tone and a different view. Note of warning: Although Faster is not your typical shoot’em up movie, it does contain graphic violence. This movie may not be for you if you are sensitive to potential violent acts.

Faster stars Dwayne Johnson as The Driver, a man who has spent the last ten years incarcerated, where he lived by his own rules and refused to join any gangs. The Driver is a man on a mission, who has thought about one thing and one thing only for ten years. He is determined to find and kill those responsible for the death of his brother. The Driver is a man consumed by hatred and revenge, and it doesn’t take long before he ruthlessly and systematically starts his killing spree.

Next, enter The Killer, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. The Killer has been hired by an unknown client as a means to stop The Driver. Just like The Driver, The Killer is consumed with the task of killing. As a source of pride, The Killer always completes his assignments as a test of his abilities.

Making the plot more complex is Slade Humpheries better know as The Cop portrayed by Billy Bob Thorton. The Cop has been assigned the case to track down The Driver. Again, The Cop is a flawed character dealing with drug addiction. Billy Bob is perfect for this part because he has the look and intensity as a burnt-out cop who’s been on the job way too long.

Ultimately, it’s The Evangelist, portrayed by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who presents The Driver with the moral complexities that drive this film. Now The Driver must think about his actions and contemplate the consequences. What starts out as a typical action movie and revenge flick now takes a sudden 180 as it explores issues of forgiveness and redemption. The Evangelist states that the road of revenge is a dead end.

The major complication of Faster is The Evangelist was responsible for the death of The Driver’s brother. The Evangelist now has a family, has made peace with God and has turned his life around. He seeks to help people who are in the same fallen state as himself and The Driver. Will The Driver seek revenge and kill The Evangelist?

The Killer is given a chance to walk away. Will he walk away or complete his assignment?

Faster received mixed reviews and had a somewhat disappointing run at the box office. I think this was because the audience was expecting the usual kill-high effect of a stylistic, revenge movie with a high body count. That’s not what they got. This a movie that has a moral compass. In some ways, it’s an anti-violent movie. I never feel that it endorsees violence, but it certainly explores the effects of hate and what violence can do to our lives. Although The Driver may be justified in his attempt to seek justice and vengeance, the question is what will the price be.

Although we really never know if The Driver ultimately completely embraces redemption, he does have a great deal to ponder. Perhaps, the heart of the movie can be summed up in a conversation that The Driver has with the son of one of his victims. The voice on the other end of the phone tells The Driver he is planning on hunting him down and killing him for the death of his father. The Driver replies by saying “that’s a long journey down a dark road”. We may never seek that type of justice, but when we fail to forgive and hold on to hate, we also take a journey down a very dark road as well. Maybe that is the lesson we can all take away from this film.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Hot Will It Get ?

Do you know the real message the media culture is communicating? Is there a singular story, a general theme? Whether it’s on a conscious or subconscious level, we are being told, “You, as an individual, are the center of the universe.” You are more important than anything else. Your needs, wants and desires must be met at any cost.

The message comes in the form of instant gratification and the glorification of wealth, power and sex. This helps to explain our obsession with consumerism, which is at the root of most of our problems.

Businesses and corporations want to sell you something. Media outlets need cash to produce programming. In turn, they are able to create content that can influence the culture. Their influence turns into desire. As desire increases in the culture, it creates demand. Demand fuels the cycle, which takes us back to square one.

Craig Detweiler, a professor at Fuller Seminary in California, puts it this way. “The media is a process lived in the marketplace, driven by consumerism, fueled by advertising, and obtained by celebrity.”

The media crisis is everybody’s issue. Every Christian must play a part in finding a workable solution. Our ability to function as a Christian and be effective in our ministry is directly proportionate to our response as the Body of Christ to the media culture crisis. Currently, we have no plan. We have no strategy. No unified effort. I think we need one.

Consider this analogy. Have you ever tried to work outside in the sun on a hot summer day? Let’s say a really hot summer day at 105 degrees. How productive are you? Everything is a challenge. It takes every effort just to stay cool and survive. What would happen if you turned the temperature down to say 90 to 95 degrees? It would still be hot. But it would be a little bit more bearable. Perhaps we would be more effective and productive in our work. What if we could get the temperature down to 80 to 85 degrees? Now the environment would no longer be in the way. We could be fully productive and no longer concerned with just trying to survive. The media culture is like a hot summer day at 105 degrees. It makes us ineffective. Somehow, we have to find a way to turn down the temperature. By doing so, no matter what our ministry, we will be in a better position to further the cause of Christ. The reason that ministries are not successful is because of the environment the media culture has created.

This is every Christian’s issue—yours and mine. No matter what the cause or ministry, from the pro-life movement, outreach, youth ministry, teaching, local church, family counseling, etc., we all can play a part that will make a difference. Our part is to turn down the temperature. Everyone playing their small part equals the whole. The first place to start is by not believing everything the media is trying to sell you. Search for the truth by looking for media choices that supports a different view than the one that is being communicated by today's media culture.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Truman Show – Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Goodnight

I know what you are probably thinking. Why write about a movie from 1998? After all, there are enough new films to talk about. A few nights ago, I watched The Truman Show. I believe there’s value in viewing older movies. In fact, I had forgotten just how good The Truman Show is.

I had not seen it for at least 10 years. In some ways, it felt like I was viewing the movie for the first time. There’s another reason for writing about The Truman Show. Today, there’s an entire generation that probably hasn’t seen it.

I think you would agree that in some ways we live in a throw-away society. At times, this applies to our movies and media choices. If it’s old, why watch it? How could it be relevant? But the truth is, by watching older movies, we can actually learn a great deal about our current situation. For example, The Truman Show is just as relevant today and perhaps even more so than it was in 1998.

If you don’t know the basic story line or are not familiar with the movie, The Truman Show stars Jim Carrey as Truman. Truman lives in the community of Seahaven. He does not realize that his world has been artificially created and is actually a television program that is broadcast 24 hours a day live. Everyone in Truman’s world are actors playing a part and creating the deception of a real world. Thousands of hidden cameras detail every aspect of Truman’s everyday life.

Everybody is in on the deception except Truman. A worldwide audience is mesmerized by Truman’s daily activities. Seahaven, a complete community, has actually been constructed under a gigantic dome creating the world’s largest studio. It’s during the 30th year of the Truman Show that Truman begins to discover that things are not what they seem to be. He begins to realize that everything around Seahaven seems to revolve around his life.

That’s quite a setup. But the real force behind The Truman Show is the god-like figure Christof played by Ed Harris. He is the program producer and creator and believes he has created a perfect utopia for Truman. There’s also a romantic interest involved as a former extra on the show made a real connection with Truman. She was quickly ushered away, but the memories begin to haunt Truman.

Much has been written over the years about The Truman Show. It has become a favorite of sorts for college thesis. Is it commentary about the complexities of living in a modern culture? Does it raise questions about our obsession with media and particularly reality shows? Is it possible what we see on television is more interesting than our own lives? It’s pretty obvious that The Truman Show gives us a lot to think about.

Recently, I wrote a book called The Red Pill, The Cure for Today’s Mass Media Culture. Perhaps, I had forgotten just how much I was influenced by this movie because I saw a great deal of it in my book.

I think there are three things that we can all take away from this film. First, you and I, just like Truman, accept the things around us—the world we live in—as normal and routine. What we see we believe to be true. But the question is, is it real or just a deception. Second, when we start asking questions, especially the right questions, we’ll find answers. When Truman became aware that things just weren’t adding up any longer, he started looking for the truth. Christof tried to stop him by telling him that he will find no greater truth than his current reality. But Truman had gone too far to turn back. Just as the old sci-fi television show, The X-files, told us, “the truth is out there”.

And finally, Truman was committed to change—whatever it took. When we encounter the truth, it always has consequences, which ultimately leads to some form of change in our lives. It would seem that Truman lived in a perfect world and had no reason to leave. Perhaps, for me, the great revelation of The Truman Show on a spiritual level is this: we live in a world where we have a deceiver just like Chrisof telling us that it’s perfect, it’s the truth, and there’s no reason to leave it.

Just like Truman, will we have the courage to find the exit door and look for a greater truth?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Did I Miss the End of the World

May 21st 2011 was supposed to be Judgment Day. I guess I missed the rapture. The world today looks no different than the world I saw on May 20th. Life goes on. So why am I writing about it now? In a few days, Harold Camping, who runs something called The Family Radio Worldwide Network we be all but forgotten. He predicted the rapture would start at 2 a.m. on May 21st. He believed Jesus Christ would return and gather the faithful.

I felt pretty certain I could write about it after the fact. So here’s my take on the whole affair. First, I can’t believe how this story spread like wildfire. I’ve been a Christian since 1976, and Camping’s predictions are not something new. There’s been a multitude of people predicting the end of the world and the coming rapture. What’s new today is how fast the media can spread these crazy and ludicrous stories. Thanks to social media and the Internet, this story took on a life of it’s own.

I couldn’t believe it when I read about it in my local newspaper and saw it as a feature story on my nightly news. In fact, it was all over Facebook. One group set up a Facebook page titled, Post-Rapture Looting and offered this invitation: “When everyone is gone and God’s not looking, we need to pick up some sweet stereo equipment and maybe some new furniture for the mansion we’re going to squat in.” This group set up a rapture party and invited people to come. Amazingly, 200,000 people indicated they would be attending the event.

As a Christian, I found all of this troubling as the Scriptures are very clear—no one will know the hour or the day. But what I really find troubling is the underlying issue which supports this type of escapism and delusional thinking. I can’t count the times that I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that the end must be near. How can Jesus not come back with the world in such a state—debauchery of every shape and form, sin rampant and out of control?

Yes, I would agree our society has it’s share of problems. People’s hearts have grown resistant to Christianity. Yes, we have abortions, drug use, alcoholism, suicides, murder, adultery, and the list goes on and on and on. But what many Christians want is sort of a Christian bail-out. Just as the government bailed out Wall Street and the auto industry, we’re looking for a new start. And, of course, there’s no better exit strategy than to go to heaven.

Now, I realize not every Christian is embracing this kind of thinking. But some believe the world is just so evil and so corrupt that there is no hope, so why try? They think all they can do is to bunker down and protect their family. It’s basically a hopeless situation. But, wait a minute, that’s not what the Word of God talks about. We are called as a force to change this world and bring about the Kingdom of God. We’re called to be witnesses and tell people about the things Jesus did. In other words, by living out our lives, we live out His reality in our lives. That’s how we become a witness. I don’t see any instances in the Bible that tells us to stop being a witness for Christ because the world has become too evil. (Have we forgotten the story of Nineveh and God’s direction for Jonah to go there and pronounce judgment—which resulted in Nineveh being converted.

Here’s a news flash. Sinners sin. The world has always been evil since the fall. Today is perhaps no worse than any day in our history. Haven’t we seen it all before, mass murder, the Dark Ages, The Holocaust, wars, rumor of wars, earthquakes, natural disasters of all sorts. It’s all played out sometime in our history.

We just think we’re living in the end times, the worst of the worst. I have no idea when Jesus is coming back, and frankly it doesn’t matter. We just need to be busy doing God’s work. There is still hope, and many need to hear His message.

That’s my spin on this story. It’s probably one you won’t read elsewhere.

Friday, May 20, 2011

So is Hollywood a mission field?

So is Hollywood a mission field? According to Karen Covell, Director of the Hollywood Prayer Network, only 2% of media professionals go to church or synagogue. She goes on to say that Hollywood is an isolated society ignorant of and often hostile to Christianity. That would certainly qualify them as an unreached people group. People in Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry have often been described as a tribe because they have their own gods, customs, language, culture and belief systems. There are similarities in Hollywood to what we see in unreached people groups with strange customs in faraway places, such as Africa or South America. So why don’t we see Hollywood as a mission field?

Hollywood is like Nineveh. Jonah was commanded by God to announce His judgment. But Jonah had animosity toward these people because they were wicked. And he refused to do what God commanded because he knew God would have mercy on them. Eventually, Jonah accepted God’s will. Jonah 3:10 says, “And when God saw that they had put a stop to their evil ways, He had mercy on them and did not carry out the destruction He had threatened.” Because Jonah responded to God, the people of Nineveh were saved. Jonah 4:2—Jonah said, “This is why I ran away to Tarnish. I knew you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your plans for destroying these people. Jonah 4:11 says, “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city.” (And to this day, Nineveh for the most part is a Christian city.)

We know where God stands on the issue. Why are we acting like Jonah and refusing to go. First, we have been at war with Hollywood for so long, we know nothing else. We have made our views known through boycotts, threats, and protests. Often it has become ugly and, quite frankly, very unchristian. Sure, the content of many of the television shows and movies produced have contained offensive and questionable material, but that doesn’t justify our tactics. The fact is that many Christians simply hate the people in the entertainment industry.

Second, we blame Hollywood for polluting the minds of our youth. We see them as responsible for much of society’s problems, including pornography, drug use, violence, promiscuity and promoting anti-Christian views. For many of us, we just simply cannot forgive them for what they have done or what we think they have done. It also is hard to see Hollywood as a mission field when the people there enjoy a lifestyle of the rich and famous that includes wealth, power and influence.

And, finally, Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry doesn’t look like a third-world country. They don’t fit into our way of thinking. We like to put our Christianity in a nice, convenient box. Hollywood doesn’t fit into that box. In reality, most of the people who work and live in Hollywood and the entertainment industry are decent people much like us. They are not the stars that we think they are but are everyday working people trying to raise a family, pay the mortgage and just get by. They need to be reached just like everybody else. For every director or movie star, there are hundreds of people behind the scenes building the sets, moving the camera gear, setting lights, running the audio, etc. They are the people of Nineveh.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Power of Film

I often talk about the power of film. I’m convinced that movies are the most unique form of all media. There is something remarkably different about the effectiveness and impact of a movie compared to television shows, video games, web content or any other type of electronic image. In fact, film transcends all other forms of media. That means they have a unique place and influence in our society. It’s through films that we can express our wants, fears, hurts and desires. Cinema has a unique ability to shape public perception while educating and enlightening our society. There is no question that movies have changed our perceptions and influenced and impacted the very fabric of culture and our nation. Movies challenge us individually to consider our lifestyle choices as well as the pathway we are currently pursuing.

So why do movies have this unique ability than other media forms? What makes them different? Why are they more capable of communicating powerful messages? Here are five concepts that separate film from all other media experiences.

1 The cinematic experience. There is something very different and profound about entering a dark theater. It is perhaps the last place that we truly shut out the outside world. Where else do drop off of the planet for two hours. No cell phones, beepers or electronic media devices allowed. Think of it, when most of us go on vacation, we check our e-mails. Movies at the theatrical level have our total, undivided attention. If we are spending ten bucks, most of us want to get our money’s worth. We are not in control of the cinematic experience. We cannot hit pause or rewind. We are totally immersed in both sound and image. There is nothing like the big screen because it creates an experience more real in some ways than life itself.

2 Movies are about something. A few years ago, I heard an industry insider say that movies are about something or at least the good ones are. He is absolutely right. Films are not like television shows or web-based content because they are typically anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes in length. In other words, you have to have something of importance to drive two hours of content. Plot will not get it done. Movies require a theme. The characters must need something in order for movies to work on an emotional and psychological level. Movies work best with big ideas such as justice, forgiveness, redemption, freedom, social change, philosophy, or political change. Movies work on a big canvas so they require something important to say in order to hold our attention and interest. Why do films such as Casablanca, Citizen Kane or the Wizard of Oz hold up after all of these years? Because they were all about something. In the case of the Wizard of Oz, it was about finding your way back home and also the thing you seek the most, you always had it within your possession. Those are universal themes that are just as relevant today as they were at the time these movies were produced.

3 The group experience. Where else do we gather with total strangers to share an experience such as viewing a film? We laugh together, cry together and are frightened together. There is something powerful about a group experience. It validates the importance of the message that a film expresses, and most often we see films with friends and family. It always invites a discussion. Afterwards, we may go out to dinner or for coffee, and we often ask each other, “How did the movie impact you. What did you think about this character or that particular scene? Did you understand what the movie was about?” What other forms of media can you think about where we have this kind of profound discussion and dialogue.

4 The journey. Movies most often are about the human condition. What makes us human? Films have the capability of taking us on this journey as we seek answers. We can relate to this because at some level we are all on our own personal journey trying to make sense of the world we live in. All films are part of some journey. It’s expressed through what writers call the “character’s arc”. Films can transcend both space and time. In fact, we can see a character’s entire lifespan in a film. It’s through this process we can see how characters change, whether they are moving toward the truth or away from the truth. We can witness a conflict of values as characters wrestle with their inner demons to move from vice to virtue. Movies are the only form of media that has the ability to present this type of character arc and development. Through this process, we can see our lives played out in the characters portrayed on the big screen.

5 The suspension of reality. When does a movie stop being fiction and take on the form of reality? If the filmmakers have done their job well, there is a point at which the audience crosses a threshold where they start to believe what they see in a movie is reality. It’s no longer a film but a reflection of the real world. I’m convinced that film is the only form of media that can do this convincingly. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when a movie has the ability to transport us to a different time, age, world, or even a different universe. Can you think of a film that has done that for you? When the experience became so real that you forgot you were watching a movie. When this happens, truth can be communicated on a very deep, personal level. You care very deeply about the characters, their fates and their causes. You can imagine how God can use this experience in our lives to reflect His glory and truth.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Old Road

Welcome to the journey! It’s amazing the older you get, the less you know about how God really works. I’ve been a Christian for 34 years and have been in ministry for over 30 years. I started a media ministry in 1987 and went into full-time ministry 12 years ago. When you think you have nothing new to learn, that’s when you are in real trouble.

God has me on a personal journey to discover his nature, character and personality. It’s time to re-evaluate everything. You would think that after being a Christian for as long as I have there would be nothing new to discover. But you would be wrong. As I go through this process, he wants me to talk about this journey and to be open, honest and transparent. I’m sure this is a journey we can all take. At some point in our lives we are all going to ask who is this God we serve and what is his plan.

I have no plan other than to see where God is at work and join him in that effort. So I ask God each day, what should I be writing about. As I went out on my daily run, he showed me that my passion and love for the open road is a metaphor and a guide for my journey to discover how God works in our lives. I have driven across the country over 20 times. Most people think I’m crazy. I have been on practically every remote or off-the-beaten-path highway you can imagine. I particularly have an interest in Old Route 66. It is the ultimate old highway. It has been called The Mother Road. Amazingly, much of it is still intact, but it is not easy to find or follow. It requires dedication and determination. In many ways it parallels our walk with God. You have to work at it in order to follow the path.

I’m convinced that God can be found out there on the old road. Don’t look for him on the interstate. Why do I like the old road? You never know what’s around the next corner. There’s always something new and different. I find it to be mysterious, magical and often a spiritual journey. Each curve offers a different view. Perhaps the next diner will be the ultimate dining experience. Or what new fascinating roadside attracting could be lurking around the next dip or corner? The open road offers a sense of adventure and excitement. Nothing is more thrilling than getting up early in the morning, checking your map, getting your first cup of coffee and hitting the pavement. As the sun comes up, there is a sense of uncertainty and excitement in the air. Who knows what the day will bring. There is no other experience quite like it.

Perhaps our journey with God should be just like this. So why do I think God is out there on the old road? In life we are always offered a choice. We have free will. If you want to, you can live your life on the interstate, or you can travel the back roads. It’s always our choice. The interstate offers a predictable experience. No matter where you are whether in Florida or Michigan all interstates are basically the same. It’s a very easy place to become complacent and indifferent. If you have been on one interstate, you’ve been on every interstate.

But the old highway is different. There is nothing predictable about it. Each road is different. It has its own course, direction and flow. You have to pay attention because the road has many curves, dips and corners. You cannot put God in a box on the old road. But on the interstate, we are convinced that God is predictable.

The interstate is also convenient. We know exactly when and where the next rest stop, town or interchange will be. It’s also fast and efficient. It allows us to make our plans and meet our goals and objectives. It give us a sense of control.

The old highway is anything but that. Here you have to slow down and take your time. This is always the key to see where God is at work. How do you see God when you’re moving at 70 or 75 miles per hours when you have your own plans and goals to meet? The old road offers no convenience. At any time you can be caught behind slow-moving traffic. Who knows? The next town could be 50 miles ahead with no rest stops.

The interstate is also comfortable. It has smooth pavement. If you have been on the back roads, especially Rt. 66, you know it’s anything but smooth. In fact, the pavement is broken and has been patched up. I think that’s a good representation of our lives as we grow in our faith. God wants us to continue to grow, and it only happens when we encounter life’s bumps and dips. Can you really encounter God on a smooth surface? Did God really call us to a life of convenience?

The old road also follows the contour of the land. It zigzags across the landscapes as if it’s always been there. It fits into the image of the land. The interstate is anything but that. We have recreated the landscape to fit into the needs of the interstate. We have removed mountains, hillsides and valleys and have created elevated bridges to remake the land to fit into our plans. It’s not hard to see God out on the old road where the road flows naturally around rivers, valleys and mountains. On the interstate, we can create God into an image we are comfortable with. On the old road, we have to fit into what God has done and is doing as we flow with the natural landscape of the road.

The interstate is also safe. It is a divided highway with wide lanes. It represents technology and the advancement of man. But you can have a false sense of safety because the interstate has a lot of traffic and people on it moving in the same direction. It becomes easier to convince yourself that this is the right way to go. Because driving the interstate requires little effort, it can also lull you to sleep and you are unaware of danger. The old road is anything but safe. It has oncoming traffic, blind curves and accessible side roads. The old road requires you to be alert and prepared for anything. When driving late at night on a desolate highway in the middle of nowhere with the next town miles ahead, it is just you and God. Is our journey with God supposed to be safe and without dangers? If everything is safe, why would we need God? Are we supposed to be on the edge depending on him to protect us? A journey on the old road requires trusting in God for our protection and provision.

The old highway is connected to the land, people and places that it visits and occupies. It’s a place that you can feel alive and feel the presence of God. You can meet real people with real stories. The interstate offers a disconnected experience. From your window it is as if you can view life without ever experiencing it.

And, finally, the interstate is about a destination—getting somewhere, fulfilling a goal or objective. But the old road is more about the journey. It’s about what you learn and experience along the way and about how you have grown in your faith. It allows you the opportunity to know God better. It’s easy to stay on the interstate. It requires no effort whatsoever. It allows you the opportunity to go with the flow. But if you are like me, you are ready to take the next exit off. Life starts at the off ramp. There is a different road out there—the road less traveled. It offers excitement and adventure. I’m sure if we want to find God, he is more likely to be there on the old road than he is on the interstate.

Trust me. It’s worth the time and the effort to find him out there on the old highway

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Today’s Rant

Where did our time go? I talked to so many people today that seem to have little or no time. Why are we so busy? What’s occupying our time? We have 168 hours in a week. That would seem to be more than enough time to do the things the we need to do with time left over. But, for most of us, every single moment is filled with something. I remember back in the 1970s people were writing about how technology would set us free. We would have all of the leisure time that we needed. We would be able to pursue the important things in life. But has that really happened?

Hey, I love technology. But it seems as if technology has had the opposite effect. So many of us are just trying to figure out how to use it while others use it so much they have no time for anything else. We really don’t have the time to think about the important things in life. When is the last time that you contemplated, defined or gave thought or direction to what your purpose or vision is for your life? Those type of thoughts take time. It requires us to slow down and be attentive to the moment. That’s something that’s not occurring in today’s media culture.

I’m not telling you shouldn’t watch a television program or movie. The media culture is much more complex. Our mass media has now reached a point where it creates and defines culture. And by doing so, it has the capability of distracting and filling our time with the things that often are not important in life.

The media culture also has the ability to make us feel guilty. If we are not filling every moment of our lives with something, then we are not being productive. If the media culture is capable of one thing, it is to convince us that we need and should have everything we want. So in order to have all of these wonderful electronic toys, we need to work every moment of the day. Funny thing is we don’t have time to enjoy them because we are always working. Sometimes I think the life we live today is like running on a treadmill. No matter how fast you turn up the machine, you never get anywhere. You are always in the same place.

Maybe it’s time we get off the treadmill. Slow down and start thinking about our lives and what’s really important. Cut some hours. Learn to live with less and enjoy life. It’s just a thought.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The TV Was Always On

I was born in 1956 smack in the middle of the baby boomer generation. To put it another way, I’m a full-pledged member of the TV generation. In my house, the television was always on. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t on. It started in the morning through game shows into the afternoon when my grandmother watched soap operas and all the way into the evening programming, ending with the 11 o’clock newscast.

For my generation, television was our baby sitter. It was a real bargain. Our parents put us in front of the tube. We were happy, and they were happy. Nobody asked any questions. Nobody thought about whether or not there would be repercussions. It was all clean, wholesome entertainment. Remember, these were the days of Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best.

Recently, I started to think. Did our parents really understand what was going on? Did they realize there were consequences for our society? The TV generation learned well. We grew up with television and wanted to be part of the industry. Later on, we would perfect the use of television by learning how to control and manipulate our audiences. By doing so, we would change the course of culture. Our parents were just looking for a cheap babysitter.

I have a number of friends who work in ministries that are addressing the issues that impact our society from drug use, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, sexual addictions, pornography, and the abortion issue. Most of these issues started to emerge in significant numbers during the 1960s and exploded throughout the 1970s. It kinda makes you wonder. Could there be a connection between television and the rapid increase of social problems?

Stay with me on this one. Think about it. What happened when television came into our homes? I know that if you weren’t there firsthand, this may be a difficult concept to understand. But overnight television became our friend. Our pal. We made it the center attraction in our living rooms. Although a television was expensive to buy, by 1960 practically every American family had one. As I said earlier, in my house the television was always on. Maybe that’s the point I’m trying to make—not that television is either good or evil, but the fact that it became a dominating and controlling factor in our lives. We couldn’t stop watching. We became addicted to the tube. And whatever the tube said was truth and all important.

Furthermore, we stopped interacting with each other. We had less family time. Less time to throw the ball in the back yard. Less time to check in on our daily lives. Less time for help with homework. Less time to be creative. Our lives became separate. In some families, even during the dinner hour, the television would still be on. Do you see a pattern here?

If the family unit doesn’t know what’s happening in each other’s lives, will we be able to see issues that could become problems? Our ability to connect and be united as a family started to disintegrate. Perhaps, this helps to explain why the family today is in critical condition.

If anything, with the acceleration of technology and mobile media devices, we now live a world in which you can access your media any time, any place, any device. What do you think that’s doing to further break down the family unit?

There’s one other point to consider. As baby boomers, our parents bought into the message that television was communicating. They determined to have it all no matter the cost. What they saw on their shiny TVs was The American Dream. A new house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. The finest automobiles Detroit could build. Modern appliances. A swimming pool. Dream vacations. Fashionable clothes and a lifestyle that only their parents could dream about. Who wouldn’t want it? That’s what television was selling. And we were buying.

But what about the cost? How much time would our parents have to spend away from home working long hours and sometimes weekends. In some households both parents had to work to achieve the American Dream. And what was the effect on the children? My generation. The TV generation. Our babysitter taught us well. Perhaps we learned too well. And we have passed it on to our children. And they have mastered it.

It’s never too late to change our course and the course of our children and grandchildren. We still have time. But in this media-saturated culture, we have to learn how to create some space so we can once again connect as a family.