God & Country – Presenting Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom

On this day 240 years ago the Declaration of Independence was adopted after long weeks of deliberation within Continental Congress. On such an historic occasion I bet you thought I might look at something that honors the history of the United States. But that’s not what I am going to be looking at that today. Instead I will looking at the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he was presented in Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s production, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom.

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Revised Cover circa 2007

Now I know what some might be thinking, why am I talking about a German theologian on America’s Independence Day. Why I am not talking about George Washington, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson? That will be revealed in time, but first a little personal history of how I was introduced to this audio drama.

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Original Cover circa 1999

My family had purchased audios from Focus on the Family  before, mainly The Chronicles of Narnia which were being produced around the same time and I remember listening to The Cost of Freedom was when very young. I say that because I recall listening to it on cassette tapes, and that was a long…long…long time ago (sarcasm is hard to express via text). I don’t remember exactly how old was anymore, but looking at the release dates of the productions I was younger than 10. While it was not the norm for children our age and generation to be listening to audio drama, my brother and I were the exception. And it was thanks to the people at Focus on the Family that I was able to learn about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For those don’t know Bonhoeffer was German theologian and pastor, known for his resistance against Hitler and the Nazis regime. He paid the ultimate price and being executed only a month before Germany’s surrender to the Allies. The Cost of Freedom starts off with the allusion of the theologian’s death in which a military officer is heard stating the charges of Bonhoeffer’s treason and that the penalty for such an offense was death by hanging. After the pounding of a gavel, the sound the rope straining against the weight of suspended body can be heard. It is a sobering mental image to start off, and this knowledge remains in the back of the mind of the listener as they learn about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how the events and influences of his life, both as boy and as an adult made him into the man he would become. All in all Focus on Family demonstrated excellent storytelling and the Peabody Award it received for this audio drama was well deserved.

One thing that remained with me till this day was conversation that occurred within the story between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the fictional character Philippe who was based off of French pacifist pastor Jean Lasserre whom Bonhoeffer interacted with in 1930-31 while he was at Union Theological Seminary in New York. It starts when Philippe calls into question Dietrich’s view of following both Christ and his Country, asking what he would do if his government were to condone something that would be contrary to Christianity.

“Imagine a situation where you have to choose between your government or your faith? Which do you choose? Are you a German first, or a Christian?”

Later after experiencing racial prejudice through being refused service at diner because his African American companion, he and Philippe continue their discussion. In this conversation Bonhoeffer expresses that if the situation he witnessed happened in Germany with blessing of the government, he as follower of Christ would have to speak out against such actions. He goes on to say,

“Our allegiance must be to the eternal, to Christ himself over and above all things. I am a Christian first and foremost, a German second. And I can only hope to God that the two will never oppose each other.”

While the conversation itself fictional, it does reflect events that took place as well as the beliefs of Bonhoeffer that can be found in his writings as well as actions.

Two days after Adolf Hilter was elected as Chancellor of Germany, Bonhoeffer gave a radio address entitled “The Young Generation’s Altered Concept of Leadership.” In it he introduced the idea of the Führer Principle which described the younger generation’s desire for a leader who could provide the authority to solve the problems their country was facing in the aftermath of the Great War aka WWI. But the authority was not derived by God but rather was derived from the leader which made him a messianic-like figure. As a result Bonhoeffer explains,

Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stand alone before him, and must perish. (Metaxas p. 142)

It can be said the Führer Principle is around even today, although it would have to be renamed the President Principle. Many in the U.S. look to the individual and the office of President to be the savior of the country’s problems. However no can fully put their faith into one person, because they have the potential to lead people astray. The people of Germany put their faith in Hitler and it led to the greatest atrocities the world had ever seen up until that time. As Christians we should respect authority, but we should also remember there is a heavenly authority that takes precedence. The greatest service anyone can do for one’s country is stand up for what’s right even if their country opposes them.

Dr. Karl-Hermann Muehlhaus summed it up best in his paper “True Patriotism- Aspects of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life and Theology” saying,

…(Dietrich Bonhoeffer) was truly German and loved his country very much, but even more he was a Christian, and his love to his country was qualified by his even greater love to God who has revealed himself in Christ, and by his belonging to the universal church, the body of Christ, which comprises all nations, peoples and races. (p. 1)

Know that that true hope of those who profess faith in Christ is not found in political leaders, but in the God of the universe.

“This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” (I Timothy 4:9-10)

Sources:

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

“Patriotism and the Führer Principle” by Walker Wright

http://presentdaypatriot.blogspot.com/2012/01/patriotism-and-fuhrer-principle.html

“True Patriotism- Aspects of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life and Theology” by Dr. Karl-Hermann Muehlhaus

https://www.academia.edu/13105152/True_Patriotism_-_Aspects_of_Dietrich_Bonhoeffer_s_Life_and_Theology

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Life Worth Living – Me Before You Missed the Point

I was not even sure I was even going to discuss this film, because I had not seen it or even read the book it is based on. But I felt it was important to express my thoughts due to the recent attention it has been getting on the internet lately. Before I go any further I realize that some who read this will disagree with what I have to say, but I feel that this debate is important because awareness is better than ignorance even if it seems easier.

First a little background; I saw trailers for Me Before You a few months ago back in 2015 and at that time I thought that it was would be a nice romantic film that tackles what it is like coming to terms with the loss of mobility and how unconditional love triumphs. When I discovered it was based off of a book, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to read the summary on Wikipedia. When I read how it ended, it broke my heart. I am not kidding when I say this.

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Characters Louisa Clark and Will Traynor from Me Before You.

After reading the summary, I debated whether or not I go to see the movie. I thought if I watched it in context maybe it would at the very least help me to understand it better. But the more I thought about it and the more I researched a number of disabled individuals’ views of the book as well as the movie, the more I realized that going to the theaters would only support the misguided belief that a disabled life is not worth living.

Also it appears I am not alone in this view, for a lot of people especially those with disabilities criticize the film for implying that who suffer from a loss of mobility can never live life to the fullest. While there are those who defend that physician-assisted is a private decision by calling it “death with dignity,” Breakpoint commentator John Stonestreet explains,

An individual’s decision to commit suicide in the midst of an illness or disability – whether that individual is real or on the silver screen – shapes how our culture treats others in the same situation.

Despite the romanticization of physician-assisted suicide in Me Before You, its marketing campaign proclaims #LiveBoldly to which one Twitter user with a disability retorted “Do you really want us to #LiveBoldly, or…just…#DieQuickly?”

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Francesco Clark, author of Walking Papers and founder of Clark Botanicals.

Franceso Clark whose book Walking Papers chronicles his life after suffering an accident as young man that left him paralyzed, criticizes the film especially since they referred to his book without his knowledge,

I was never asked if my book could be included in the movie, nor was I ever told that it would be included…While I understand that this movie is based on a work of fiction, my book – and my life – is not.

I’ve worked tirelessly to show people that being quadriplegic isn’t the end of your life, it’s another beginning…While I am by no means taking a stance on the issue of assisted suicide, I feel compelled to express that I am angry to be unwittingly associated with a storyline that suggests the only option for those who sustain injuries like me is death.

Life for  Francesco Clark has not been easy, but he chose to move forward and is making strides to regain some of his mobility back, all the while running his skincare company Clark Botanicals.

In the movie and the book, the quadriplegic character Will says to his love interest and main character Lou, “I don’t want you to miss all things someone else can give you.” However by taking his own life he in essence took away what she wanted most…himself.

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Joni Eareckson Tada with her husband Ken.

This is in complete contrast to Christian author and radio host, Joni Eareckson Tada who herself is a quadriplegic and a married woman. In her statement she released addressing the movie she said,

As a quadriplegic who’s been married for nearly 34 years, I can say for certain that my husband and I have a deep and satisfying relationship, mostly because of – not in spite of my severe disability. It teaches us both patience and self-sacrifice; endurance, respect and joy, even when – especially when – times are hard. The Bible says God’s power shows up best in weakness, so any marriage that has a disability can potentially be a powerful blessing to both spouses.

The difference between Will and Joni is that despite the difficulties Joni’s strength lies with God.

Instead of reading or watching Me Before You, I recommend you read instead Joni: An Unforgettable Story (1976) or watch the movie Joni (1979) if you want to see the true story about her struggle with her lifelong disability and how she started down the path of living a fulfilled life in the midst of it.

Sources:

“‘Me Before You’ People with Disabilities Aren’t Better Off Dead” by Jon Stonestreet

http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/29399

“Quadriplegic author ‘angry to be associated’ with Me Before You” by Henry Barnes

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jun/15/quadriplegic-author-francesco-clark-angry-associated-me-before-you

“Joni’s Statement on the Glamorization of Physician-Assisted Suicide in the New Film Me Before You” by Joni Eareckson Tada

http://www.joniandfriends.org/blog/me-before-you/

Schedule for Upcoming Posts

I have been working out a schedule of how to upload a post once a week and here is what I have decided. Every 1st and 3rd Monday of the month I will upload my main category of posts under the title of “What’s in a Story.” On the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month I will do a second category of post entitled “A Few of My Favorite Things” in which I will discuss my favorite movies, shows, characters, scenes, etc. This will hopefully give me to ability to create new content every week and at a pace that I can manage.

Blast from the Past – Looking Back at Quo Vadis

When I searching through some forgotten folders on my computer, I found a series of Word documents that I had written almost 10 years ago. It was the very short lived series of newsletters that I wrote in the summer of 2007 entitled History Plus Literature Monthly; in each issue dating from July to September, I would focus particular historical fiction novel where I researched the historical period it took place as well as review/summarize the novel itself. Since I have discussed topics relating to more recent movies in my past two blogs, I thought I switch up and take a look at the book in my first issue of my newsletter: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz…don’t ask me how to pronounce it.

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An Altemus Edition of Quo Vadis from 1897.

As I looked back at my amateur newsletter, besides thinking how scary it is that this document was written close to 10 years ago I noticed thought how simplistic it was. It consists of three pages: the first page I gave the historical background in which the novel was set, the second I summarized the novel itself, and the final page I complied a Works Cited or bibliography if you will. Having reread it again I then decided to research additional information that I might have left out.

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“Quo vadis?” “Romam eo iterum crucifigi.”

Title of the book comes from the Latin phrase which means, “Where are you going?” The phrase has significance within the Christian tradition as being the words that Apostle Peter asks when he encounters Christ as he was fleeing from Rome to escape the coming persecution. In response Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” This then gives Peter the courage to return to the city and to continue his ministry until he is martyred by upside-down crucifixion. This story found within apocryphal resource known as Acts of Peter (Actus Petri cum Simone) was among the many resources that Sienkiewicz used as he wrote his novel.

It was because of Quo Vadis that Henryk Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize for Literature ten years after it was published. Not only that but the book was a bestseller, and was adapted into other forms of media throughout the years. First a stage play in 1900, then it was adapted into film 4 times in 1901, 1912, 1924, and 1951, and it was also made into 2 miniseries in 1985 and 2001. The 1951 film adaption was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in the same year for Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor twice (Leo Genn & Peter Ustinov), Best Dramatic Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. This demonstrates the quality of the story; while there are elements that are fictional the main focus on development of early Christianity is pretty accurate.

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Poster for 1951 film adaption of Quo Vadis.

To close I will give a brief summarization Quo Vadis. It takes place during around the time of the Roman persecution of Christians by Roman Emperor Nero, following the unfolding love story between Roman commander Marcus Vinicius and a Christian woman named Lygia. Through Vinicius, the readers are guided through the worlds of Roman society and as well as the early Christian community. Unlike my previous reviews I will not spoil any further, because I would recommend you read or watch the story for yourself. It actually has been awhile since I read the book myself. Perhaps I might refresh my memory and enjoy the experience all over again.

Sources:

24th Academy Awards

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/24th_Academy_Awards

Acts of Peter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Peter

Quo vadis?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quo_vadis%3F

Quo Vadis (1951 film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quo_Vadis_(1951_film)

Free of the Cycle – Captain America: Civil War Review

I have recently watched Captain America: Civil War after the insistence of some friends this past weekend. For those who have missed my last blog post about my view about the lack of originality in movie industry in these days, than you can probably guess I was reluctant to see it. But I gave in for the sake of my friends, and it was better than I expected. Don’t get me wrong I still believe that more original movies should be made and more people should give them a chance, but I am not going to downplay a sequel or a reboot movie if does well and Civil War did well. So well in fact that it is the first movie I went to see it in theaters for a second time.

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As I was thinking about what I watched, I noticed something not many people talk about in their reviews of the movie and that is the cycles and consequences of vengeance as well the importance of forgiveness. Now there is discussion about accountability, “with great power comes with great responsibility” and all that jazz; however while I believe that this topic was well presented in this movie I found that it also has a lot to say about vengeance and forgiveness. Needless to say spoiler alert if you have not watched the Civil War and want to go see it…you have been warned.

As we take a closer look at the movie, we need to understand what defines vengeance as well as forgiveness. Thanks to Google Books I was able to find book by Martha Minow entitled Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence which (if you can’t tell by the title) addresses these topics. First up is vengeance, which Minow describes as “the impulse to retaliate when wrongs are done” (p. 10) and states that it has the potential to cross the line in respect to the rule of law. She goes further explaining that…

“The danger is that precisely the same vengeful motive often leads people to exact more than necessary, to be maliciously spiteful or dangerously aggressive, or to become hateful themselves by committing the reciprocal act of violence…Vengeance thus can set in motion a downward spiral of violence, or an unquenchable desire that traps people in cycles of revenge, recrimination, and escalation.” (p. 10)

These downward spirals of violence can be seen as the movie progresses exemplifying themselves within three characters: Helmut Zemo, T’Challa (Black Panther), and Tony Stark (Iron Man). Helmut Zemo, the main driving force in the movie, is enacting revenge upon the Avengers for the events in the Age of Ultron which led to the death of his family. T’Challa seeks vengeance upon Barnes because he holds him responsible for his father’s death that takes place in the movie. Finally Tony goes down the path of retribution upon the revelation that Bucky as Winter Solider murdered his parents.

While all these characters at one point or another decided to enact vengeance, the outcomes for each of these characters by the end of the movie are different. Helmut Zemo who is a departure from his comic book counterpart (instead of a German Baron, he is colonel of a Sokovian tactical unit) is better described as an antagonist than a villain. He still in the mentality of vengeance both before and after the events of the movie and also perpetuated the cycle of violence by inciting conflict between the Avengers, especially at end of the movie where he reveals the circumstances behind the deaths of Tony’s parents with the full intention of provoking Iron Man. All Zemo cared about was that the Avengers pay for the death of his family and he would not let anyone or anything get in his way of his vendetta (seriously he killed two men in the course of the movie). This is best exemplified using his own words:

“I admit it. This war is my doing. The Avengers destroyed my home. They stole my family from me. So what better revenge than to have them fight each other, and tear themselves apart?”

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Moving on to T’Challa we see early in the movie his determination to kill Bucky, as exemplified in his question to Captain America during their police escort: “So I ask you as both warrior and king, how long do you think you can keep your friend safe from me?” But he has a change of heart when Zemo’s intentions are revealed. After seeing the consequences in the wake of one bitter man’s actions, T’Challa decides to end it before he does something he would live to regret. In his own words to Zemo, “Vengeance has consumed you. It’s consuming them (Avengers). I am done letting it consume me.” This where forgiveness comes in, which Minow states that…

“The victim should not seek revenge and become a new victimizer but instead should forgive the offender and end the cycle of offense…Through forgiveness, we can renounce resentment, and avoid the self-destructive effects of holding on to pain, grudges, and victimhood. The act of forgiving can reconnect the offender and the victim and establish or renew a relationship; it can heal grief; forge new, constructive alliances; and break cycles of violence.” (p. 14)

In USA Today interview, one of the directors Anthony Russo reflects on T’Challa’s journey throughout the course of the film…

“Black Panther’s arc is one of our favorite things about the movie: He’s driven so powerfully by vengeance and he gets to a point at the end of the film where he realizes what that drive has done and is doing to other people and he’s able to set it down and move forward. This idea that he would offer refuge to Cap, this guy he’s been fighting the whole movie, and Bucky, this guy who he’s been trying to kill the whole movie … is just a really cool arc for him to go through and it’s inspiring.”

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“Your friend and my father, they were both victims. If I can help one of them find peace.”

Through his actions towards Captain America and Bucky in the end credit scene, T’Challa is demonstrating forgiveness. By the end of the movie he is able to see Barnes in different light than he ever could under the veil of vengeance.

We finally come to Tony Stark who was incited into conflict after being exposed the recording of his parents’ death at the hands of Barnes as the Winter Soldier. Now Stark as we see earlier in the film was reflecting on the grief at the loss of his parents as well the emotions over the division among the Avengers due to the Sokovia Accords. Seeing that Bucky was behind his father and mother’s deaths made him lose whatever patience he had. His mind went immediately to vengeance and not even Cap could talk him out of it.

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Captain America: “This isn’t going to change what happened.” Iron Man: “I don’t care. He killed my mom.”

As the movie ends the Avengers are torn apart, beaten and bloodied by a conflict that could have been avoided. But despite the dark shadow that vengeance casts, forgiveness shines a ray of hope in Steve’s letter at the end of the movie where he asks Tony for forgiveness for not being honest about what happened to his family. We however have to wait and see if Iron Man and Captain America fully reconcile in the movies that are to come (but more than likely they will).

The lessons that this movie teaches is important especially for Christians who are called to demonstrate forgiveness, since Christ displayed the ultimate act of forgiveness through the giving of his own life so we might be saved by the shadow of sin. We rebelled against the God of the universe so we deserve any and all vengeance and retribution for our defiance against Him, but He chose to save and forgive. All we have to do in return is accept that free gift. Closing out will be a passage from Romans where I believe the Apostle Paul summed it up best about how living in grace and forgiveness should be the goal of the Christian life.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

(Romans 12:17-21)

Sources:

Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence by Martha Minow

“Spoilers: Why those ‘Captain America: Civil War’ end-credits scenes matter” by Brian Truitt

Keeping it Fresh? Reflection on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As I was debating what should write about for my first blog post, my mind went Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens which I went to see the movie in theaters with my brother and another friend in early January. I was not as hyped to see it (I was keeping my expectations low) but I still was curious whether or not J..J. Abrams could move the Star Wars Saga forward. Now I have to admit when I was watching the movie I was elated and upon leaving the theater I was excited about what I saw. But as time past and my rush was gone and I began to think about what I watched, my perception of Episode 7 changed.

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When I realized that a lot of the characters, locations and plots from the Original Trilogy were used beat for beat in The Force Awakens with very little difference, any respect I had for the movie vanished. People bash the prequels for being among the worst Star Wars movies, but I would argue that they at least incorporated new characters, locations and plots. Sure a few of these elements…a lot of these elements that were not executed well but at least they tried.

The Force Awakens unfortunately decided to play it safe doing the same story of A New Hope with an underdog ragtag group of main characters going up against an evil and mean galaxy conquering war-machine with tweaks here and there so that the similarities would not be so easy to notice upon the first viewing. Star Wars Episode 7 is a reboot passing off a sequel and considering J..J. Abrams the director of the successful rebooted Star Trek series was involved just makes it all the more disappointing.

Now I know many people, young and older, like this new Star Wars movie but I respectfully have to disagree. Best way I can describe my view is that I feel cheated out of what could have been an amazing new story. This became more apparent when I heard about some the ideas that were dropped from The Force Awakens. While it is entitled “10 Crazy Ideas Dropped From THE FORCE AWAKENS” some of them were not that crazy; some were actually really cool. It would have been amazing if these ideas had been incorporated into the movie and it would have made the story more unique.

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Click image to watch the video.

I really wanted to like this movie, unfortunately I feel the originality that characterized with the earlier movies in Star Wars franchise took a backseat in order to cater to people’s nostalgia of them so that more money could be made for those who produced it. And Star Wars is not only franchise that film companies are capitalizing on. Of the top 10 grossing movies of 2015 only 2 were original stories. The remaining 80% consisted of sequels, reboots or spinoffs of previously existing franchises with The Force Awakens at the top of the list. From sequels like Avengers: Age of Ultron to reboots like Cinderella to spinoffs like Minions and everything in between nostalgia seems to dominating the box office and looking at the line up of movies for this year that is not about to change anytime soon. And to be honest despite my enjoyment of Star Wars and some other franchises like it, I desire to see filmmaker come along with movie based on an original idea.

Box Office 2015- Top 10 Movies
Original movies like Inside Out and The Martian did not even make it into the top 3 of the Box Office in 2015.

So the question becomes why are people afraid of trying something new? In a paper entitled “The Art of Originality,” it’s author Timothy Ryan attempts to answer this question using art of Vincent van Gogh as an example:

“It is also van Gogh’s originality that prevented him from being successful among the masses initially…It would appear that this often goes hand in hand with originality. The lack of acceptance, severe criticism, and the failure of the masses to understand original works because they do break with established and accepted traditional forms….So when something original comes along or something that departs from tradition is presented, it doesn’t always get the appreciation initially that it may garner later once people have had time to adjust and absorb what is really being placed before them.”

Producers at the time of its release viewed A New Hope much the same way. It was so different from the norm and many believed it wouldn’t do well. Now 40 years later, it is the one of the most well-known sic-fi franchises right alongside Star Trek. But it’s success has also come with a price, because with a large fan base there are both hardcore and causal fans who would be willing pay money to see a sequel series and this demand is catered by film companies because they know now that Star Wars sells. This also explains the prevalence of movies based off of nostalgic films, tv shows and comics because those who grew up with them would be interested in seeing them on the big screen. While this makes it easier for film companies to find something the masses will approve of, it prevents new stories from being created. Samuel James mentioned the same concern in his blog post:

“Nostalgia, if unchecked, runs opposed to creativity, freshness and imagination…making it less likely every year that new storytellers with visions of new worlds, new characters and new adventures will get the financing they need to materialize their talents.”

This cycle must be broken and aspiring filmmakers should be at forefront, especially those who profess to be Christians. God is the original storyteller and the story that He started back at the beginning of time is still continues to this day. He never lacks for creativity and that is a trait He instilled us as humans. Throughout the Bible the phrase “sing a new song to the Lord” is mentioned 9 times, 6 from the book of Psalms alone. Unfortunately with kind of movies Christians are producing they are not reaching out beyond its Christian audience, in fact they are mocked in mainstream media. Eric Metaxas from Breakpoint argues,

“We should be, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, the best storytellers in the world. But lately we’ve earned a reputation for producing corny, preachy, and low-quality art. It’s time to turn that around.”

Maybe filmmakers both Christian and Non-Christian should take the advice from author Herman Mellville: “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”

Sources:

“The Art of Orginality” by Timothy Ryan

“‘The Force Awakens’ and Getting Trapped By Nostalgia” by Samuel D. James