Monday, August 31, 2015

God's Not Dead - Propaganda or Art?

Last night I finally watched God's Not Dead. It was on Netflix and I had surprisingly heard some decent things about it from friends, so I thought, why not give it a try. My husband entered onto the scene not long after it started. He initially walked away after a few minutes, however, overhearing the movie from his office he stepped back into the room to stay. He was intrigued. We both were. 

We were intrigued because we could not believe our eyes and ears. I've known and experienced Christian, low-budget movies before. I was already prepared for the cheese, and to be honest, I can handle cheese, even get moved by it, but it wasn't the cheese that offended me. It was the very nature of the film. The whole movie was dripping with propaganda and insensitivity. As soon as I finished watching the movie, I went online to read reviews to see if I was alone in my impressions of the film. Review after review from Christians, pastors, agnostics alike, all wrote reviews that echoed my heart cry. They were deeply offended. 

I quote one agnostic, 
“By the end of this movie I was almost in tears at how offended and upset I was… I’m not some hurt atheist, in fact, I am not really sure what I believe at this point in time but I can guarantee you this movie only made me angry at the Christians who made it. Growing up in a church I have met many intelligent and insightful Christians who I love dearly. This movie was so disgusting in it’s execution that I almost asked the theater for a refund…”
The main synopsis of the film is this:

An atheist professor makes his class declare that "God Is Dead" (which is extremely unbelievable, setting the tone for the rest of the film), and the lone Christian student in his class spends the entire film convincing him that God exists. Along the way, our lead character faces obstacles but determined to win over his class and his professor, he pushes on. Throughout the movie we are introduced to several side characters, each with their own seemingly unrelated story, who in the end all become loosely tied together in that they attend a Christian rock concert in the movie's final scenes.

The atheist Philosophy Professor Radisson taunts our freshman lead character, Josh, for his beliefs and challenges him to prove that God exists in a series of in-class presentations. Josh accepts the challenge, and woven in-between several other stories, are Josh's presentations complete with studio-quality power-point presentation productions. Perhaps Radisson had been baiting his class to see if anyone would rise to the challenge the way Josh does. Maybe Josh, by standing up to Radisson, would turn out to be just the kind of student Radisson was really looking for. Radisson clearly never could have lacked a Christian student in his class before this day, perhaps this was part of his curriculum. I started to look forward to some lively, intellectual debate. Josh's first presentation was about the Big Bang theory and how since scientists don't know how the universe came from nothing, it proves that God exists. I suppose it’s a sign of progress that a movie so popular with evangelicals is okay with the idea that the universe is billions of years old. Josh finishes his presentation, Radisson offers a ridiculous rebuttal and class is dismissed. This is where the movie comes completely off it's hinges. After Josh’s first in-class presentation, Radisson catches him in the hall, grabs him aggressively from behind, and makes various angry threats if Josh dares to go on “humiliating” him in front of the class. 

One reviewer writes, 
"I simply could not believe that a philosophy professor would expose his insecurities so nakedly to one of his students like that. I couldn't help but laugh despite the obvious attempt at creating a menacing tone. It was a shocking scene but for all the wrong reasons. Radisson's behavior sets a pattern that we start to see a myriad of random characters start to follow."
Josh has two more presentations to make and when he does, Radisson never offers any of the obvious rebuttals to some of Josh’s typical first-year arguments. This is frustrating because the movie misses out on debating Christianity against points that an actual atheist would make. Instead we are presented with several straw man fallacies that attempt to present the Christian's perspective as obvious and the supposed atheist's perspective as foolish. 

In the third and final in-class presentation, Josh suddenly exhibits a confidence that he never had before, and he decides to get Radisson riled up in a way that will force him to blow his temper in front of the class. It is in this scene that it is revealed that Radisson is in-fact not an atheist at all, but rather a former Christian who lost his faith due to his mother dying. 

One reviewer writes:
"An atheist does not carry the debate if the Christian God is alive or dead; ... To suppose that the atheist believes that there was a god, alive, dead or just really drunk is just insulting. If you're going to try to offend atheists, please be semi-accurate in representing the MAIN character as one rather than falsely labeling your own 'brother' as one. I love a good propaganda movie like any other good 'Murican but come on."
And note, here, that Josh wins the argument not through logic, but by swaying the class and its perception of their teacher, emotionally. Radisson is wrong not because he has worse arguments, but because he has messed-up motivations for his beliefs.

So here we have a film that pretends to be about philosophy, but really has no idea what philosophy is all about — and it’s being pitched to Christian audiences as some sort of grand statement about the validity of their belief. What it really is of course, is a lot of tribal chest-thumping. And it’s remarkable, in that light, to see how “the tribe” is defined within this film. This 'us vs. them' mentality is thrust upon us throughout the entire movie. It is through this agenda that we see how offensive this movie actually is. 

All of the "thems", (the people who are non-Christians), all have something in common. And what is that? Lets take a look at some our atheist characters.

Professor Raddison: a tyrant in the classroom and in his personal life; he mocks and threatens his students and publicly humiliates his girlfriend. 

The Journalist: a career-driven and rude woman; ambushes her Christian interview subjects (Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson and his wife Korie in one encounter, and the band Newsboys, in another) to ask them offensive questions. For example, she asks, “Why aren’t you barefoot and pregnant?” in the first interview.

The Businessman: portrayed as the most self-centered and callous person imaginable. He does not visit his mother because she is suffering from dementia, and he breaks up with his girlfriend when she reveals she is suffering from a fatal cancer.

The Abusive muslim father (Need I say more), but I will later.

Father of Chinese student:  shows no interest in his son’s life, and when his son starts talking about God, he gets angry and shuts him down.

What has the audience gathered about all "non-Christians" at this point? All atheists are mean, self-centered, angry or abusive., says this: 
"The Character portrayals of atheists and other religions will generally be found to be unbelievable by viewers, whether Christian or not. And worse still, for a professing Christian movie to portray them so unreasonably is very uncharitable. Weaker brethren may even find these portrayals believable and if so, it will do nothing to engender Christian love to those who are outside of Christ. We (Christians) do not like to be caricatured in this way, and certainly believers should apply the admonition to “do unto others”.
God's Not Dead acts like a huge warning for Christians; a "look out!", or "beware!" of these types of people that will get in your way or come against you.

In one completely out-of-place scene, we see reality TV star Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty walk into church with his wife. They are both ambushed by a the atheist journalist who wants to interview the TV star and ridicule him for his beliefs and support of guns. Willie Robertson defend's himself against this liberal by sporting his American flag bandana and quoting scripture. says this,
“God’s Not Dead” wants us to know that Christianity is under attack in the old U.S. of A. — attack from the liberal, “Duck Dynasty”-hating media ...."
When Josh's girlfriend dumps him after 6 years (they were dating since they were 12), the movie is suggesting, "Beware of that non-supportive Christian". 

Through the character of Raddison who verbally abuses his students and his Christian live-in girlfriend, we see "Beware of the world of academia, with its self-important evolutionary scientists and atheistic philosophies."

And perhaps the most offensive "beware" in this film, is the "Beware of non-Christian faiths"

The portrayal of the one and only muslim family was by far the most offensive aspect of this film, at least to me anyways.

Ayisha, an attractive girl who while waiting to be picked up from school, puts on not just a head-covering, but a face-covering right before her ride home arrives to satisfy her father. Here we have the conservative Muslim father who is oppressing his daughter who just wants to be a Christian and wear "normal" clothes. It isn't long before her Muslim father finds out that she has been listening to Franklin Graham's sermons and begins to beat her, all while a Christian radio pop song plays in the background as the soundtrack. Perhaps it is ironically fitting that we are treated to an anti-Muslim, abuse scene revolving around the discovery of a sermon by Franklin Graham since he is sadly known for creating fear-mongering against Muslims. Further credibility this movie had as a movie, or a theological thought piece is lost.

I quote one reviewer, 

"This will probably cause any Muslim watching the movie to immediately step out in disgust. Sure, this may happen a lot in other countries and maybe even sometimes in the U.S., but they shouldn't have shown the only Muslim family in the entire movie as being abusive and dysfunctional. That alienates any Muslim in the audience as being dysfunctional."

Eventually, all the movie’s various threads - and there are a lot of them, several of which the film doesn’t even try to tie together until maybe an hour into the story - come together at the aforementioned Newsboys concert. And this, it seems, is how the film understands evangelical community: a bunch of people going by themselves to a rock concert, basking collectively in the glow of pop-culture celebrities. If Willie Robertson from the hit reality TV show Duck Dynasty didn't seem like product placement, the Christian radio pop band the "Newsboys" playing themselves will. While we enjoy them performing a couple of their songs, we see Radisson at home reading a letter from his late mother where she spells out her hopes and dreams for him. After he reads this letter he phones his ex-girlfriend (who is currently enjoying the concert). When she doesn't pick up, he notices a newspaper on his desk with the headline detailing that the Newsboys are playing in town. Upon this revelation, he rushes out and starts walking downtown to find her.

Radisson crosses the street only to get hit by a car. A pastor we'd been introduced to early in the film, and his African American missionary friend see him get hit, and without ever knowing or meeting this character, instead of screaming for help, getting paramedics, calling 911, (anything at all!), they begin talking to him about his faith in Jesus. The Reverend says it's a miracle that the professor wasn't killed instantly! Of course, the professor dies anyway so really he ends up dying painfully and slowly, while also being forced to profess faith in Jesus before his death. Maybe it was just poor acting, but there was no compassion, no genuine concern about this man. It was like no one cared about him. The pastor and his friend seemingly laugh light heartedly about how the professor is in heaven right now anyway, like their mission was accomplished. 

After Radisson closes his eyes, the movie cuts back to the Newsboys concert where one of the Duck Dynasty guys appears on a screen at the concert and tells everyone in the audience to take out their cell phones and spam everyone they know with text messages declaring “God’s not dead.” This, he says, is how “we’re going to tell Jesus we love him.” (And then the film’s closing credits tell people in the theater to go and do likewise.) We are treated to a scene where all the angry atheists (who are still alive) pull out their cell phone and read the text and then go on with their lives. They are impacted about as much as anyone would be after watching this movie.

And that is really where this movie's failures come to a head. Even though the movie has a dozen random plot-lines revolving around Josh's collage debates over the existence of God, they don't really make anyone change their minds in any believable way. Josh's arguments, the movie's central focus, have nothing to do with Jesus. He may as well have been arguing for the existence of Allah. The way both Josh and the film as a whole assume that any proof for the existence of God must necessarily constitute proof for the existence of Jesus and the rest of the Christian belief system is laughable. The fact that there are so many religions — the fact that so many people believe in God without subscribing to Christian beliefs about a certain historical person named Jesus — should tip us off to the fact that there is an entirely separate discussion to be had there, beyond abstract arguments for and against the existence of a Creator.

Instead we are left with Josh winning over his entire class. Each student, one by one, comically stands up and proclaims "God's not dead" in a robotic fashion. Was there a Muslim in the class? Maybe Josh was making a case for Allah. Maybe that is why some of them stood up. Who knows, because otherwise their conversion via three twenty minute presentations certainly couldn't have accomplished that.

Backed by conservative news programs, this movie portrays Atheists as evil beings who "hate god" and are determined to convert Christians. I quote a reviewer, 
"In actually,  atheists do not "hate" god; god is simply something they don't believe exists. As to forcing their way of thinking on anyone, the movie has it backwards. It's Christian zealots who demand that everyone think like them. Most atheists - those that I know anyway - are happy to let others believe as they wish as long as they don't force their "values" on the rest of us."
I'm not trying to bash the writers or producers of this film or sound cynical. I think us Christ-followers can have meaningful discussions, raise valid questions and should think critically. That's my goal with this post, not to bash, but to ask thought provoking questions.  We need to provoke each other to good works (Heb. 10), and I am concerned that some Christians are unable to see how divisive films like this can be, even if the intentions were good, or to be a "witness". If Christians are going to continue to make movies about their faith, they need to reflect the love of Jesus Christ. A non-Christian should be able to watch it and feel attracted to something holy and unexplainable. If Christians make movies that are self-serving, negative, xenophobic, and demeaning to non-Christians then they are doing much more harm than good.

I think this last critic (who stated online that he was a pastor), says something quite challenging and profound so I'll leave you with his words:
Although [this film] may offer Christians some apologetic material, it will fail to engage the larger culture in any meaningful way. The reason for this is simple. Most Christians seem wholly unable to grasp the difference between propaganda and art. Art is a powerful but subtle tool that draws people in and causes them to question their assumptions without even realizing it . Propaganda is a blunt force instrument for communicating dogma in story form. Without any shadow of a doubt this film is more propaganda than art, and thoughtful atheists will see it for what it is even if Christians can’t. Perhaps we need fewer Christians doing art and more artists serving Christ..."

Monday, August 17, 2015

Outdoor Concert & Worship Event

Amy Savin Concert September 11th

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Grace For the Church

As I sit here in my studio office this cozy, rainy Thursday morning (although... as cozy as the rain is, I would not mind some sunshine!!! Been raining like every day here in Michigan!!!), I feel compelled to write an honest reflection about the church.

There are other things I should be doing, but perhaps this is where God wants me this morning. Those of you who know me well, know I've been going to church my whole life... typical pastor's kid life: Dad was/is a well respected pastor, mother was the submissive tender hearted, supportive pastor's wife, and all of us kids lived life somewhat under a microscope. You know, the glass house scenario: there was always this pressure to be the 'perfect role model'. Needless to say, I have some really great memories of Church, and some not so good.

I've always been a TRUTH seeker. I've always questioned everything, especially if it did not make sense to me. As a pastors kid, I spent countless hours at my dad's feet learning about the Bible and the meaning behind certain scriptures. I also questioned certain practices the church had. Some I could fully understand, others I could not. I come from a rare breed of Christians called the "Anabaptists". They are a simple and peaceable people- they do not believe in violence of any kind, including going to war. They take very seriously to heart Jesus' words about loving your enemy. To this day, I still really appreciate and stand in agreement with this view point. But there were other things in the church I grew up in that I could never commit to- view points, practices, traditions that for me, don't line up with where I feel God wants me.

Now I'll say this: there is NO perfect church. If you've found one, you probably don't belong there because you and I are not perfect. No church has perfect theology, perfectly blameless and Godly staff, perfect services/sermons that meet our every needs- It just doesn't exist. Having said that, as I've grown older, and experienced other churches, I feel like I can see a theme in my life: Satan has always tried to attack this idea of "church" in my life. He's always been trying to keep me out of this place- I know this because of wounds I've carried (deep wounds) from "Christians"...from people in the church. In fact, people who have hurt me the most, the deepest, have all been Christians. I know it's completely unfair and illogical to expect that Christians will never hurt you, since after all, we're all just a bunch of sinners saved by Grace, but one would think- if God has done a miracle in someone's heart, that person would be a person of Grace and compassion like our Maker. The truth is- EVERYONE is at a different stage in their relationship with God. Every Christ-follower is on a journey. Some are just baby Christians, others have journeyed with God many many years and have great wisdom and divine understanding. Mind you, there are those people who have been walking with God for years but have never done any major heart work and so they are in fact still BABY Christians. And there are those who get baptized, and within a few months they're casting out demons and prophesying! ;-) Your spirituality can only grow as quickly or as often as you feed it!! Time is often irrelevant in the Christian journey. Anyways, I sort of digress, my point is, claiming the title "Christian" or labeling someone else "Christian" doesn't necessarily mean much. America claims to be a "Christian Nation"... and well, I need not say much more. Christians are still very capable of hurting people. The Church is very capable of hurting you and me. In fact, if you have not been hurt by the church, you probably haven't been going long enough.

I am in NO WAY giving excuses to Christians or the Church to be hurtful. God forbid. It is my prayer that the church ALWAYS be a safe place for others. It is my prayer that us Christ followers really live up to our calling; that we bombard this world with God's radical, unconditional love- and yet, I want to also remind myself and other fellow Christians, we must also have GRACE for ourselves, our brothers and sisters in the Lord who are still on a journey. We are being perfected daily. I suppose what I mean to say through this blog is I've always had a huge heart of compassion for people who do not know the Lord. My grace, as far as I can imagine, is endless for them. And yet, when it comes to fellow brothers and sisters, when it comes to the Church, it's like my brain shuts off. I know they/we who follow Christ are called to a higher standard--- but WHY OH WHY do we struggle (and I know I'm not alone) with forgiving or not judging Christ followers more than any other 'kind' of person? Isn't that crazy?

I've felt so convicted this past while to be woman of God who creates UNITY within the body. As a musician, an artist who has sung in many different Churches, I am reminded all the time of how God wants all of us to be ONE!! I'm pretty sure God doesn't like all the little Church clubs we make. Google tells me there are about 33,000 Christian denominations. That is crazy. Absolutely crazy, haha!!! However, while the term "denomination" can seem synonymous for "devision", it doesn't have to be. I think it's beautiful to see Churches celebrating God in different ways. The problem comes when we look at or treat other Christians or churches like they're NOT a part of us.

God is convicting me to love His people. To LOVE his Church. My journey is not quite over either ;-) Despite my history of wounds from Churches, guess what I do each Sunday? Lead worship at Church, WITH the Church. If you knew me well, you'd say, "I can't believe you still go to Church". But I do. Because I LOVE the body of Christ. No, they/we are not perfect, but I am so thankful for a people that DESIRES to know God. Even if we don't get it right, the DESIRE is there. God's grace extends not only to the "sinner" ...but to the believers too. Brothers and sisters, what are we saying about others? What words do we speak about Church? Did you know it hurts our heavenly Father when we speak negatively about his people and His body? What is this world going to think about us when even God's people don't get a long? It's so easy to focus on the negative. Lets not forget all the works God has done in OUR heart. If you've been hurt before, remember the time(s) that YOU have hurt others. Lets be a people of Grace. Let's esteem others HIGHER than ourselves. John 13:35, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another..."

When I read this prayer below, it makes me weep. It makes me weep because I think of the ways that I've failed to bring unity. I want to be a part of Jesus' kingdom. I want the UNITY that our Saviour has always wanted.

Jesus Prays for All Believers

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Life of an Indie Artist

Dear readers, 

I've been telling myself I need to start blogging more. I'm so out of practice and I think I could benefit from this discipline.

As some of you know, for the past couple years I sort of 'dropped off' the public music scene for a little while. Not entirely, but I pulled back. I got married, moved out of Canada, started worship leading, advocating for A21, but more importantly, I needed time to figure out what my next musical step was. What direction musically was I going to head in? I wrote dozens and dozens of songs, spent countless hours scratching my head trying to figure out what I should say in album number two. The answers came slow and painfully, but (and I can't believe I'm saying this) the hard part is finally over. "Unveiled" the new album, has been birthed. 

As I step forward into raising up the funds for this next project, promoting it, bringing it to the public, I'm remembering all over again all the MANY hats that indie artists need to wear. In today's day and age, a musician does  so much more than do the very thing they feel called to do (make music). Often times they need to be their own booking agent, their own web designer, promoter, sound technician, producer, publicist, financial/business advisor... On top of that there are responsibilities they're already doing like putting together their band, writing & arranging the music, putting together show set-lists, developing their skills as musicians etc. And then there's the whole social media world, where artists recognize how important it is to their career that they interact with as many fans/listeners as possible! It's really sometimes more than a full-time job being an artist with only part-time pay. At least it can feel this way in the beginning stages. 

It's a great time to be doing music and also a bad time to be doing music. The good news is ANYONE can be a musician. The bad news, is ANYONE can be a musician. You say, "Amy, you said the same thing twice". Yes. Because anyone can be a musician, it means that you don't have to wait around for a label until you start creating and showing the public your music perhaps on YouTube or some other medium. The bad news, is the music market is SOOO saturated, people have WAY too many options these days that chances are, someone will gravitate to ONE of your songs but move on from you to the next artist because they simply want to see what else and who else is out there. We all suffer from an A.D.D. approach to music. Gripping listener's full attention is becoming harder and harder. That's why building "personal relationships" if that's even what we should call it, through social media is so important. Fans no longer will be satisfied with a song, they need the story behind the song, they need the journey, the inside scoop. Blogging, Vlogging, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.. it's where people are. Listeners go there to see your story. I've still not mastered these things, in terms of what to post, what not to post. Did I post too much, too little, too random, unrelated, too much promotion... the war goes on inside the artist's head. And can I say this-- NO artist enjoys being their own promoter. In fact, that may be the worst part.

Secretly every artist has pockets of insecurity. Artists constantly throw their hearts out there, sometimes amongst doves, other times amongst wolves. People like it, people hate it. People wish you had done more of this, less of that. And if you're thinking that artists get complimented all the time so they must feel amazing about themselves, I think most artists will agree with me, every time you share something encouraging it goes A LONG way. We get the best and worst of both worlds. It's never easy sharing the deepest parts of your heart (your songs), with others. My songs are my children, what the world thinks of them matters to me, and yet it also doesn't change how I feel about them. 

So this blog goes out to all the independent artists/bands out there. I know there are a lot of you. I'm writing to you because I feel like there have been many times I've needed this encouragement. I want you to take some time to reflect on your life. Your achievements. Your goals. I implore you to continue walking this journey with courage. The world needs artists. It needs beauty, it needs art. Some people think art doesn't matter, hence some schools have cut out the arts from their curriculum. All I can say is this-- nothing tells someone more about culture than the arts. Your voice is important. At the end of the day, I know we all make music because it's what we know to do, and we love it. We don't make music for any other reason. People that do it for fame or money either get what they want or they quit the game early because it's too much work. I know each of us constantly question whether we can continue to make music, for we don't know what the future of the industry holds. People don't even really buy music anymore. And CD's, what are those?! Hah. My answer to you artists is this: the world will always need a new song, an anthem of hope. If not the musicians, who will give it to them?