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Hollywood, Jesus, and Superman

****This post contains major spoilers for Batman vs. Superman. If you have not seen the movie and wish to be surprised, DO NOT read this post!!****

My husband and I are huge super hero fans. We’ve watched pretty much every super hero movie that Hollywood has produced in the last ten years – Spiderman, X-Men, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, even Ant Man. You name it, and we’ve either seen it or intend to see it.

When we heard about the Batman vs. Superman movie, we made plans to attend. We were even able to watch it on opening weekend. Both of us were excited.

I knew from the previews that Batman and Superman were going to spend much of the movie fighting against each other. When I saw the first trailer, I was shocked that they didn’t like each other. My patient husband explained that they didn’t start out as friends.

Though between the two, I like Batman more, you spend most of the movie rooting for Superman, who hasn’t really done anything wrong beyond showing up and trying to save people. A lot of people want to destroy him, and a lot of buildings are destroyed while he’s trying to fight bad guys. The movie focuses on Bruce Wayne trying to save the people who were in a Wayne building that collapsed in the middle of a Superman fight against the Kryptonians.

I am a patient moviegoer. I waited through some weird dreams that Bruce had, endured an absolutely pointless bathtub scene with Lois Lane, and watched as Lex Luthor proved he was just a little cuckoo. Oh, I finally thought. They’ll come together to take down Lex.

No, Lex decides to manipulate them into fighting each other. Batman steals the Kryptonite that Lex smuggled into the country, and makes weapons out of them in order to take down Superman. Just in case he’s going to end up being a bad guy. That’s not the super-smart Batman I grew up with, that’s a guy with too many toys focused on revenge and blind to all reason. However, it fit with the Batman character, so I went with it.

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In the middle of the fight between Batman and Superman, they realize they have to work together to defeat a common enemy. Batman throws away his Kryptonite spear, and the two take off to save their cities from destruction. Enter other villain that was created to kill Superman. Even the appearance of Wonder Woman doesn’t stop the villain. The three work together to stop the creature, while Lois dives for the spear, which she threw into the water.

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I personally loved Wonder Woman in the movie.

Superman stops fighting long enough to save her from drowning, then dives back into the water to get the spear – knowing it’s poison to him – because it’s the only thing that can kill the monster.

Superman is able to use the spear to kill the villain. But it costs him his life.

The movie theater was rather silent as the characters gathered around their dead hero. It switches to an elaborate funeral for Superman, and a much simpler one for Clark Kent. Everyone is mourning the loss of Superman.

I knew enough about the comic books to know that Superman did die at least once, and he came back. I kept watching, knowing that any moment the sun would restore him. The funeral kept going. My husband (and others) kept whispering, “you can get up now.”

Finally, Lois Lane sprinkles a handful of dirt over Clark’s coffin. She walks away, and the scene cuts to the dirt on top of the coffin.

I knew, without a doubt, that Clark was coming back. But as the dirt moved of its own accord, shaken by something beneath it (very awesome ending), a rather depressing thought hit, ruining the movie ending for me. That’s why they released it Easter weekend. He doesn’t stay dead.

I enjoy movies. I love good storytelling. Hollywood, for all its faults, tells a pretty good story. They keep you coming back, wanting more. But if growing up watching movies has taught me anything, it’s that Hollywood doesn’t understand my faith. According to Hollywood, I’m either a hypocrite that hates everyone who’s different than me and doesn’t attend my type of church, or I’m a backwoods Christian who isn’t educated enough to know better than to believe what the Bible says. If I’m really lucky, they’ll show a devout Catholic, who actually attends church every week, but the devout person usually don’t apply that faith to their life outside of church. That’s it.

People who believe what the Bible says, in Hollywood’s eyes, are idiots. We either don’t know any better or are worse than they are. There are no other good representations of Christianity available on a consistent basis. That’s why I am so hard on Christian movies – while they show our faith and regular life, they lack the storytelling needed to make Hollywood notice much of anything.

Going back to the movie, I left the theater unsettled. I recalled when Man of Steel came out a few years ago. One of my friends shared that Hollywood had purposely created their Superman character to parallel Jesus. Clark goes to a church and talks to a pastor. You can see a window of Jesus praying in the background behind him. He makes a statement that he’s 33 years old. Hollywood went beyond that and reached out to churches, offering them clips of the movie to use as devotionals, gave them topics to discuss, and so on. On the surface, that’s great. But as one who doesn’t trust Hollywood to deliver a faithful message, I was a bit leery that the movie giant had decided to make connections from their movie to our faith for us. It’s fine when Christians do that, because we know the material. We understand it. More importantly, fellow Christians will give a faithful interpretation of the Bible when relating it to the silver screen. As I’ve just explained, Hollywood doesn’t understand my faith. Should I trust that what they try to give the Church is going to be a good representation of our faith?

I felt like Hollywood had spent half the movie trying to demean my faith, and I was gullible enough to pay to see it.

Let me be clear – the movie didn’t do that. It presented a good and evil battle, and you were constantly rooting for the good guys. Evil fell. Justice was administered. The plot was left open for the next chapter of movies. It was a good movie. It was a great ending.

But my husband and I left the theater disturbed. We’re unsure what Hollywood will try to do next with Superman, who they’re trying at every opportunity to compare to Jesus. While Superman is a great character, he is not Jesus, and they need to stop trying to make him seem like he is. Superman has faults and is not perfect.

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Will I see the next movie? Yes. But am I leery of what Hollywood will do next concerning their greatest super hero? Absolutely. Hollywood has yet to understand my faith, so I am left to believe they are going to do something to ruin Superman’s character – defaming Jesus in the process. And that, my friends, is exactly why I left the theater upset. The next chapter might not be pleasant for Christians. And that ruins super hero movies for me, my husband, and other Christians who enjoy them. I hope I’m wrong…but I’m pretty sure that I’m not.

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God’s Not Dead Review

I’ve previously addressed the sad state of Christian movies. Those people who are attempting to bring a film to the general public either try to cram the entire Gospel message into an hour and a half, or just try to do too much. I was considering my feelings regarding God’s Not Dead recently, and decided to write about it.

Gods Not Dead

The Good

First off, the movie did a beautiful job showing the grace of God. As you follow the bitter reporter who gets difficult news, she starts searching for the Truth. The interview that was supposed to be an expose on “the real Christians” turned into a time of prayer for her. That was a good moment, it was real, and it definitely belonged within the plot.

The major point of the movie was the student was defending his faith (and the existence of God) before his classroom. The apologetic arguments were absolutely fantastic and are undoubtedly a great resource for any young adult who wants to defend their beliefs. There was good information, good facts, and great quotes from atheists.

There is another point of this movie that was really good, but I’ll address that in another section.

The concert to end the movie was pretty cool – with a great rendition of the movie’s title – also a popular song. There were other parts of the ending that I had issues with, but the concert was great.

The movie also did a splendid job showing that a pastor’s work is never done. Pastors can often feel discouraged and as if they are having no impact upon anyone. The film did an excellent job of showing that pastors are human, too. They have issues just like the rest of us, and they can benefit from having friends with whom they can be real with.

I will list this under the good as well, since Christian films generally pretend the rest of the world’s morals don’t exist unless they’re portraying a villain. One of the main characters was living with a man who was not her husband. This was an attempt to show the real world, and showing that they need Jesus, too. It was a brave move, and I applaud the effort. I had issues with the relationship portrayed, but I will acknowledge that the movie makers were trying to make a valid point and make this character “real.” They did a good job with that aspect, and I respect their artistic decision.

The Disjointed

I believe this falls into its own category, so I created a different section to describe it. The entire movie was pretty disjointed. I spent half an hour watching about seven different characters, waiting for them all to be connected. They were, mind you, but it was a pretty long wait to find out how the reporter and the corporate jerk were related to the woman living with the professor, and what any of that had to do with a pastor.

The plot felt crammed together. Not only do we have a student defending his faith while adjusting to college, we also have an overworked pastor who desperately needs a vacation, a girl who only wears a Muslim headpiece around her father, and a woman in a relationship who is hurting. None of it made sense for quite a while, and I as a moviegoer got impatient waiting for it all to come together.

The Bad

How I wish I could write a review of this movie and not have to detail the parts where they failed horribly. I’m pretty lenient on the reality of some plot lines, because the writers made me believe that whatever was done was possible. That did not happen in this case, so I am compelled to point out the things where the movie could have done better.

The pastor in the movie meets a friend in the airport, who we eventually learn is a missionary overseas. He’s with the pastor for a week, and all he wants to do is to go to Disney World. Stuff happens, and their plans get delayed indefinitely. The missionary friend was a great character, and a good sounding board for the pastor. However, he was never named. You never even learned where he was ministering overseas.

The evil professor was living with his girlfriend, a girl we followed for a good ten minutes without realizing who she was or why she was important to the story. We learn that she’s frustrated with the relationship, and the evil professor treats her horribly. There’s a twenty year age difference, and you find out halfway through the movie that she was once his student, and they began dating midway through that semester. The relationship between the two of them felt forced and not real. It didn’t make any sense to have this girl living with this professor, except that it showed that the professor was evil and the girl needed love.

The professor character, I know, they tried to make real. They gave him screen time, reasons behind his attitude, and showed his home life. However, he was first and foremost in the writers’ minds as the evil professor, so that is how he was portrayed in all three areas. I don’t care what I’m doing. I’m evil and I’m glad that I don’t need God. Sorry, writers, but you failed. I actually know some atheists, and they don’t give off the “I’m evil” vibe every time you’re in their company. Atheists do live by their own set of morals, they just reject the One that Christians accept the rule book came from.

Sadly, the main part of the movie also falls into list of things that the movie makers messed up.

While the apologetics shared during the meat of the movie were incredibly awesome, the movie stumbled in getting to that crucial point.

The movie begins with the student in the evil professor’s classroom, who teaches philosophy. The evil professor tells his students to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper, sign it, and pass it to the end of the row. If they all do this, they will skip a hard part of the class that most people fail.

The student we are following refuses to sign. The professor eventually challenges him to a debate before the classroom. The class will hear both sides on the God argument, and they will vote on whether or not God is dead. If the professor wins, the student automatically fails his required class.

While a great start to the movie, and a great way to show the main struggle, the movie makers missed a key point. The student had every right to go to his advisor or higher up the chain of command and explain that his religious freedoms were being violated in the classroom. The separation of church and state works two ways, and universities do their best to steer clear of trampling on student rights (the least they can do after taking all their money). Now, if the movie makers were sold on this classroom showdown, then they needed a different scene in the movie that showed the student trying to fight what was happening in the classroom. The person he talked to could have been a friend of the professor, and the issue would be dead in the water there. The student would have to defend his faith in order to pass the class.

But the movie makers ignored the reality they tried so hard to portray and went on with their premise. This made me dislike the classroom scenes (some of the best parts of the movie) because the writers missed what would have been my first move if it had been me. College professors have no right to demand anything of you that will compromise your religious beliefs. It is, perhaps, the only benefit I’ve encountered of having a separated church and state.

The Ending

I am a fan of happy endings. I got exactly what the writers were attempting to do with the ending – spreading their core message in what apparently is a standard practice in the Newsboys concert displayed. But the ending was stupid.

First, the Newsboys have heard about the college kid who defended his faith in the classroom. The movie gave no clue how they knew of that, just that it happened. Considering the climax in the classroom occurred less than a day before, it was pretty unlikely that the band would have learned of it through their channels.

Second, the band encourages the crowd to pull out their cell phones and text everyone in their contacts “God’s Not Dead.” I get they’re trying to send a message, but it wasn’t something I as a concert-goer would have done.

Then you switch back to the evil professor, who wants to reconnect with his girlfriend who has just left him over the God issue. He is running to the concert, where he knows she’ll be. The man is hit by a car. As another set of familiar faces stop and help him, they realize he’s dying and try to win him to Jesus while they wait on the ambulance.

Then the evil professor that the writers have spent so much time with that hates the very idea of God decides to abandon his stance and accept God in his dying moments. Zero believability for me. The die-hard atheist accepts the reality of God with his dying breath. Really? This is the selling point of the movie? Just after this, the girlfriend texts her ex, since she’s at the concert. Those helping the professor look at his phone just as he passes. God’s not dead.

I think the writers were trying to make it look like the professor was communicating from the other side, and telling them that he knew God wasn’t dead. It would have been a halfway decent move if they’d been establishing a connection the entire movie about those who speak from the grave. But since the writers believe what I do and know that dead people don’t speak, it was stupid and made no sense. It’s like they tried to kill the bad guy just because he deserved to die, but were afraid to let him die with his soul in danger of Hell.

The Best Part

Even with the ending that I did not enjoy, there was one part of the movie that I absolutely loved. The jerk that I previously mentioned had a sick mother with Alzheimer’s. They show a nurse giving the lady her dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. The lady lights up. “I love chicken and mashed potatoes! I can’t remember the last time I had it!”

The nurse smiles and turns to the daughter. “She has it every day.”

The daughter pleads with her brother, the jerk, in a different scene, urging him to visit their mother. He says he’ll come if she can prove that their mother can remember what day it is.

The jerk does come for a visit. It’s best if you watch the clip yourself.

My final conclusion is that God’s Not Dead could have been way better. It was a good attempt, but it still needed a lot of work. It is, sadly, a standard among Christian movies that needs to change. How will we win the world through our movies if they can’t stand to watch anything we create?

Please, Christians, do better.

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The Secret Grotto

Apologies for my extra long blogging break! I have returned!

Today I’m going to borrow a bit from The Little Mermaid and talk about the Church’s stance when it comes to the arts. Trust me, there is a connection.

As you watch The Little Mermaid, you discover that Ariel loves everything from humans – a world her father has forbidden for very good reasons – they eat fish! Her life is in danger if she is around humans, and he has made a blanket ban on anything relating to humans.

Ariel, though, ignores her father’s orders. She collects human artifacts that she has found within the sea. Knowing her father’s stance on the matter, she stores them all in a secret grotto. Here she can revel in her collection without fear of being scolded, judged, or punished.

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King Triton finds his daughter’s secret grotto, and he does what he thinks is best to protect his daughter from the dangers of the human world – he destroys it. Unbeknownst to him, the enemy is watching the entire showdown, and uses the explosive episode to lure Ariel away from the safety of her father. It lands her into a horrible trap, and the rest of the movie follows Ariel and her family trying to reverse it.

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So, why did I just give you a rundown of a Disney classic? Because it hit me one day that the Church has done the same thing with the arts.

Art, music, dance, drama – there is a place for it within the church. They are powerful tools, and the secular world has embraced them enthusiastically. The arts tend to draw a different crowd, and the majority of them do not embrace the Church. There is unfortunately an ugly side to the arts that can be used by the enemy to draw people away from the Lord. The arts are fascinating and powerful, and can be dangerous and offensive if the artist chooses. As a result of this odd little bundle that the arts represent, the Church chose the same path that King Triton did in the movie – they kicked them out. To protect everyone, it was just best not to do that. Period.

In the years since the Church rejected the arts, it has realized that was a mistake. They have reopened the doors to the arts, set guardians to protect against the ugly side of things, and hoped for the best. But the history is still there, and it is clear that in the majority of churches across America today, that the arts are still not fully trusted. They’re welcomed at certain times of the year, and then they’re bottled back up and not mentioned again.

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I happen to be an individual who has lived in the grotto. It wasn’t a secret, because I was blessed to be in a church home that welcomed my gifts and abilities. But it was still different. And it’s different for anyone who wants to do something in the arts – play a different kind of music, paint for a living, perform in community theater, or be a dancer. Those are all perfectly acceptable things, but they’re not the run-of-the-mill Sunday morning fare. And because of that, it’s either pushed to the side, ignored, or rejected. It’s sad, but true.

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The arts are powerful means of media that can be used to draw people to Jesus. But, first, we have to get the Church to accept that we don’t have to live in the grotto in order to please them. Not everyone will patiently wait for their turn in the Church. Some will decide to leave the safety of the Church forever because the people don’t want them. They will use their gifts wherever they can be accepted – bars, clubs, Hollywood, and Broadway. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of Jesus there.

Don’t exile your secret grotto people, Church. Embrace them, love them, and use them. If you don’t, they’ll find another audience that will. Sadly, the enemy is waiting to steal someone else away. Don’t let anyone else be drawn into an elaborate trap that could be avoided.

 

 

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Christian Movies

Honestly, I want to do more with this blog than take Christians to task for their work in the arts. But since this is my blog, and I’m going to write about things that interest me, issues regarding my faith are bound to come up.

I have always loved movies. I was raised to watch movies critically. Yes, my dad is one of those people who points out when the hero is using the wrong type of gun. If someone on screen goes, “Fire at will,” someone in my family will respond, “Which one’s Will?”

I love watching well-crafted stories. Since Hollywood produces a lot of junk, I have to be careful what movies I will devote my time to. I don’t mind action films, but I do mind the amount of cursing that goes along with them.

In recent years, the Church has decided that it might need to tackle the movies, since that is such a big part of our country’s culture. They have produced several attempts at blockbusters, but the movies fell flat to all but the faithful.

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Left Behind became the beginning of a series of novels that resonated not only with the Church, but the world. It hit the bestseller list and stayed there. Eleven other books followed (technically, at least 12, with two more planned, but they weren’t nearly as good as the original series). The world read them all. Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye became best selling authors.

I wasn’t terribly surprised when Left Behind was turned into a movie. I watched it, eager for the amazing story to be portrayed on the big screen. I was disappointed.

Whoever was behind the movie decided to veer considerably off course. The movie was okay, and the scenes they actually got from the book were fantastic. Two more movies followed…but they just got worse. After the third movie, the people behind it gave up. The success in the books was not going to be repeated in the box office.

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Sherwood Pictures has been one of the only serious Church attempts at film making. They bring a compelling story to the screen. They still have Christianeze issues, but by their fourth movie, they actually put the salvation scene in a place where it made sense in the story. While I love their movies, they still have issues with believable plots, predictability, and acting.

It’s sort of sad when my favorite movies out of all the Christian attempts still have major issues. My eldest brother studied film making. We’ve both been watching the industry. When he finally saw Courageous, the last film Sherwood Pictures produced, we had a chat that was something along these lines.

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“It was a good movie,” I said.

“It was predictable,” he lamented.

“Yes, but it did well. It made $35 million in the theaters!”

“That’s nothing in Hollywood standards.”

“Well, for a church, they did really well.”

“If it’s a good movie, it shouldn’t have a disclaimer.”

Try as I might, I wasn’t able to argue that point. If we have to defend the film with “for a church” or “for a Christian movie,” then we’ve already lost part of the fight. The uninitiated aren’t going to go to a church film unless they’re intrigued by the story. If the Church will just learn to tell a good story effectively on camera, we’ll at least do better at the box office. And in that regard, we are still learning.

I was excited to see that Left Behind was being remade. An actual big name actor, Nicholas Cage, was starring in it. I was confused over why they were relaunching a movie series that didn’t do well the first time, but I let that slide. Maybe they could do it better and tell the story.

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I’ve yet to see the movie, but those dreams have already been dashed. Whoever was directing this movie also had storytelling issues. Even Nicholas Cage couldn’t save the movie. That, my friends, is pretty sad.

Dear Christian moviemakers,

Tell a good story. Don’t feel compelled to explain every piece of theology on screen. Let faith be a driving force, but tell a good story.

Sincerely,

A frustrated moviegoer

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There’s No Crying in Baseball!

In A League of Their Own, Tom Hank’s character is a manager for a women’s baseball team. One of his players gets upset and begins to cry. He sees this and replies, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

That may be true of baseball, but writing is a different beast. Whether or not the writer cries when they read or write a piece depends on their mood, their character’s mood, and what’s going on in the story. While I am one who rarely cries over something I read, I have hesitated more than once as I’ve penned my True Love books. Some scenes are rather intense. Others are very sad. Identifying the emotions of your character means putting yourself in their shoes. That also means that if your character breaks down and cries, you may need a moment to compose yourself.

After writing a difficult scene, I’m usually done for the day if a happy scene doesn’t follow it. Tough scenes are important to the story. Without the tough stuff, all you’re left with is your character skipping through flowering meadows who hasn’t learned a blessed thing.

Main characters have to grow. And in order to make them change, we writers have to apply some gentle pressure. Well, some use gentle pressure, and others like to toss the character into a pot of boiling water just to see what will happen. The end result is fun. Changed characters are wonderful creatures. But the journey on them is hard. And as writers, we are the first ones who take them on their path.

Writing is hard. If you tear up during an emotional scene, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably an indication you’re doing something right.

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