God’s Not Dead

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gods_not_dead_big_2I will admit it: I am not a fan of Christian films. It’s not that I’m the anti-christ and hate anything that Christians try to do…it’s just that I don’t really care for bad acting, poor scripts, and stereotypes. Some people say to me, “but the message is so good!” I can’t always agree with that statement because the means of communicating that message are subpar. The same is true of any film.

So when this movie was released, I had an idea of what it was going to be like. Now sure, I loved Hercules and Lois and Clark as a kid, but even Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain weren’t enough to sell me on this movie. I decided to wait to watch the film until I could be as unbiased as possible. After much thought on it, I decided to see if all the praise for the movie was valid or if it was just the usual, “Christians released a movie in theaters and it rocks!”

After waiting about a week since watching it, I decided to give you some thoughts on it. Hopefully these thoughts can be a jumping off point for how we can converse about Christians in entertainment.

***Spoilers below***

1.) Stereotypes do not make characters.

I think this upset me about as much as anything. Before you say to me, “But Caleb, Hollywood constantly stereotypes Christians and people they don’t like. Why can’t we?” Well, simply put: because it’s inexcusable to use a stereotype as a basis for a character — regardless of whether or not that person is a Christian. I don’t like when Christians are stereotyped in film. Unless you are making a satire where stereotypes are used as a blatant exaggeration of flaws in society, then please don’t use stereotypes. All of the philosophy professors were angry atheists who were trying to destroy Christians. You had the Chinese exchange student who’s father was extremely controlling and hated God. You had the Muslim woman who secretly accepted Christ and was abused by her father for doing so. You had the one black guy in the college classroom who referred to himself as J-something or other. The [expletive] girlfriend who doesn’t want her boyfriend to look like a fool. This problem is not with just Christian films…in fact, it tends to be a problem with a lot of films. But it doesn’t make it right. When looking at characters, we can’t use stereotypes to create the characters. We must begin with the character and move forward from there.

I think much of my problem with the characters in this film was that they sounded like they were straight out of a sermon illustration from a pastor. “A young Chinese student travels to America for an education. His father hates Christians and demands control over his son’s life. The Chinese student finds God because of a Christian’s refusal to step down from what he believes. We’re going to play ‘How Great is Our God,’ and if you no longer want to step down from what you believe, I want to encourage you to come forward and for the first time, truly proclaim that our God is great!” We’ve probably all heard something along those lines. The hardest part in creating a character is to not use stereotypes as the bouncing off point for who that person is.

2.) “God’s Not Dead” text messages really do….nothing.

When this film was released, I was receiving texts left and right telling me God’s Not Dead. I was really confused. I mean, not about whether or not God is dead. I know He isn’t. I was confused about why people would send a mass text message…it wasn’t the typical, “hey I don’t know you, but Merry Christmas,” text. It was a text that had a profound statement but with no follow-up. So to one person, I responded, “prove it.” They never did. My fear is that people who watched this movie became super excited and texted all of their friends but when their friends ask, “how do you know He isn’t dead?” they will probably respond with, “well, there’s this one part in the movie where he is talking about evolution and like it’s…you know…like it…well…it’s hard to explain. You’ll just need to see the movie.” Part of me fears that this text message was part of a free marketing ploy. That doesn’t bother me so much because I’ll text people and tell them if I watched a movie I think they should like. The problem I had with this is that, it was emotionally manipulative. There had been a heart-wrenching scene in the movie and now they were saying, “text all your contacts and proclaim that God is not dead!” It was like the 3rd night of church camp all over again. Would we all be able to truly explain ourselves to someone if they responded back to us? Or would we point them to a movie?

3.) The message is just as important as the means. 

I look back to Scripture to where they would build these beautiful temples with gold, silver, the best of wood, and everything you could ever dream about. I look at pictures of some beautiful cathedrals. And then I see our films. Some of the best architecture, art, and music in history was made by Christians to glorify God. Will this film make AFI’s top 100 movie list? Most likely not. How we communicate the message has to be just as important as the message.


 

I could go on and on about circular reasoning used in the film to combat circular reasoning (although, I don’t think it would ever end). Or I could even talk about how the film used the age-old street preacher saying, “if you were struck by a car right now, where would you go when you died?” Or I could talk about how Jesus was used as a band-aid for unresolved story lines. Or I could even talk about how confused I was at the role of Dean Cain in the movie — like seriously. I’m confused about his character. Maybe I will talk about those things in a later post.

I may have been a bit harsh in this post. Here’s why: because I really do want to see Christians succeed. I want to see our message proclaimed as loudly as possible. And when I see it handled like this, it saddens me. All of those resources could’ve went into something greater. All of that time could’ve been spent for something else. Obviously, God can move through anything. He spoke through a donkey once…so I’m sure He can move through anything.

I long for the day when phrases like, “the message is really good,” or “but they love Jesus,” or “their heart was in it,” no longer describe films made by Christians (I also long for the day when Christian film is no longer a genre). Can we work to make something that has a beautiful message and is delivered beautifully? With characters that are so relatable that it almost feels like it is us? With story lines that don’t feel the need to use Jesus as a band-aid because the unresolved issues add the right amount of discomfort? I hope we can.

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Resigning From the Church is the Best Thing I Have Ever Done

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ImageI was a little bit nervous as I handed the senior pastor the letter. It felt like I was walking away from doing what was right. I didn’t want to give up just because I was tired. But I was tired. I was exhausted. As soon as I handed him the letter, I was immediately at peace with my decision. That was a weird feeling. My resignation brought me peace.

Now, almost a week after the decision to resign, I am beginning to see the fulness of what that position had done to me.

It made me cynical toward the Church.

It made me see some of my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.

It made me scan the Bible looking for ways to prove myself right.

It made me wish Johnson would’ve offered Political Science courses.

It made me want to leave the ministry.

It made me see the need for a church in this area.

Most importantly, it made me see what I did not want to become.

During my internship at Central, I remember a leadership talk given (I can’t remember who gave it) that said that sometimes we learn the most out of bad situations because we learn what we don’t want to become. I never thought those words would be so true.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. I enjoyed so much of it. But you can only see the damage when you leave

You can only see the damage done when you leave.

That thought made me think quite a bit. How many of us are in unhealthy situations but do not know it? How many of us are hanging by a thread but do not know it? Is it right to continue in a position that is slowly killing your drive? I fear that many of us are in these unhealthy situations but refuse to walk away because we think we can change things. We cannot change that which is refusing to change.

I tried to change the music. Music is something that causes more problems than it should. But seeing how music directly influences your salvation, we must pay it a great deal of attention. I tried changing something that refused to be changed.

Perhaps you are a minister who is trying to change the mindset of your elders and they refuse to change.

Maybe you are a youth minister who is trying to change the perception of what youth ministry is but people are refusing to accept the new ideas.

Maybe you are a small groups minister who is trying to change the structure but no one wants to do it.

I don’t know your situation, but what I do know is this: one cannot change that which refuses to change.

When I graduated college, I had this idea that I was going to change the world, one church at a time. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realize that I can’t change something that refused to be changed. Whenever we try to change something that refuses to be changed, we destroy ourselves.

I don’t know what to do in these situations. I don’t know if what I did was completely right. But what I do know is this: resigning is the best thing I have ever done.

Perhaps you’re in a similar situation. Remember these 2 things:

1.) You cannot change that which refuses to change.

2.) You can only see the fulness of the damage when you walk away from the situation.

Life: Just a Bunch of Perhaps and What Ifs

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Sometimes I wish that I lived a different life.

That thought makes me feel like a horrible person. Even writing it out makes me cringe a bit.

I would say that many of us think this. It creeps into our minds when we are in a dark place. It whispers to us that there is a better life than the one we are living. It convinces us to stay discontent with our life.

So then you question yourself: What would’ve happened if I chose differently? What would’ve happened if I was raised in a different home? What would’ve happened if I went to this college instead of the other? What would’ve happened if I chose a different internship? What would’ve happened if I hung around this group of friends rather than that group of friends? We give ourself all of these “what if” questions — and deep down we know that they cannot be answered. But they keep gnawing at us. They keep tearing away at any self-confidence we might have had.

I have thought about these things quite a bit the past year. I do not say this so you’ll comment something sympathetic or say something kind to me. In fact, I do not want that at all. I say this because it’s true. I have wrestled with these questions several times. I have thought about what would be different if I didn’t do ministry.

I joked about that once to someone and that person said to me, “But what you’re doing is meaningful. What I’m doing isn’t.” Interesting, isn’t’ it? There is a mindset that we have that says: “I could be more meaningful elsewhere.” It says a lot about human nature. We desire to have meaning somewhere. But, at the same time, we do not feel like we have enough meaning in our current situation. We always think we could be more meaningful elsewhere.

If I had planted a church there…
If I had worked at that church…
If I would have went to that college…
If I would have married that person…
If I was a teacher, doctor, lawyer, musician, actor, manager, etc….

We live our lives longing for something else. We live our lives wishing we would have chosen differently. Yet all the while, we are too afraid to take “that leap of faith.” Perhaps we are living the wrong life. Perhaps we would have more meaning doing something else.

But instead of doing something, we sit there and allow those “what if” questions to gnaw at us. We sit there and regret the life we never lived. We sit there and refuse to live the life we have.

Sometimes I wish I lived a different life. I really do. Sometimes I think that my life could have more meaning. Sometimes I think that the reason I haven’t found a job yet is because God does not want me to do ministry. Sometimes I fear that I made the wrong choice. And if you’re honest with yourself, sometimes you do, too.

I wish there was an easy answer to this. I wish that I could say something sentimental that would tie everything up and leaving you feeling confirmed in your occupational choice. But I can’t.

Here is what I can say: In my life, I have felt affirmed in ministry and at times I haven’t felt affirmed. There are times I wish that I did something else and there are times that I’m happy that I will never do anything else. Perhaps I’m bipolar. Or perhaps I realize that humanity seeks meaning. And humanity always thinks that there is more meaning elsewhere. And by always looking elsewhere rather than where you are now, you miss your life. In longing for a different life, you lose your life.

Don’t get so caught up in longing for a different life that you miss your own life. If you want to do something different, either do it or stop daydreaming about it. Make a change or live your life. But don’t waste it.