All posts from “other”

May 1, 2012

'Broadway Is Having Its First Faith Moment'

With 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' 'Godspell,' and more, marketing ramps up for people of faith

"Jesus is cracking jokes, sharing parables and dying for our sins in three Broadway musicals this spring, while another six shows feature religious themes that are woven through dialogue and lyrics."

So reads the first paragraph of an interesting story in the New York Times about the unusually high number of Broadway productions that might appeal to a faith-based audience. Faith shows up overtly in such shows as “Leap of Faith,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Sister Act” and “Godspell,” and less so in shows like “Memphis,” “The Lion King,” “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.” And yes, even the controversial “Book of Mormon,” with all of its profanity, has a "faith element."

The article quotes Tom Allen of the marketing firm Allied Faith & Family, which targets the faith audience. Allen says that "Broadway is having its first faith moment," and that his firm -- and others -- are looking for effective ways to measure just how much people of faith are turning out for these productions. He has proposed a “faith-based discount” in order to track such sales, but so far, no production has taken him up on it. (The Chicago arm of Allied Faith & Family is testing the same idea, with a "faith discount" to Million Dollar Quartet, a show that includes some nods to faith, now playing at the Apollo Theater. Readers can save up to 35 percent on tickets by clicking here and then typing “FAITH” into the field marked “Promotions and Special Offers.”)

Is it working? Hard to tell . . . yet. Thomas Viertel, a producer on “Leap of Faith,” said the jury's still out, but he likes the idea. "Producers have never really tried to reach audiences of faith beyond the traditional sales to groups from synagogues and churches,” he told the Times. “I think there’s a whole new market out there. It can be risky to take the time to find it, though, because commercial productions need to bring in money fairly quickly to survive.” He added, “And not all religious shows will have wide appeal.”

February 15, 2012

'Amazing Grace' Musical Eyes Broadway

A musical stage play of John Newton's story is picked up by a Tony-winning company

Amazing Grace, a new musical based on the life of John Newton, has been picked up by Goodspeed Musicals, sort of a Broadway "training ground" in Connecticut. The show will run May 17-June 10 at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.

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Nineteen Goodspeed productions have transferred to Broadway, receiving more than a dozen Tony Awards. The company is billing Amazing Grace like this: "Storms. Slavery. Romance. Redemption. Prepare to be swept away by this epic musical saga about John Newton, a rebellious slave trader, and the woman who never lost faith in him. While fighting the raging seas and his own despair, Newton's life is suddenly transformed -- igniting a quest to end the scourge of slavery. Based on a true story of the man who penned the world's most recognizable song, it's a powerful musical you will never forget."

Christopher Smith, who came up with the concept and wrote the music and lyrics for the production, says, "We have a chance to impact the culture in a very relevant and positive way, and the Broadway establishment has definitely taken notice of our piece. We have raised over $3 million from business people and individuals who want to see this story on Broadway."

Smith, who has no musical training and is entirely self-taught, was a church youth director and police officer when he came up with the idea of a musical about Newton. He says the process "has been quite a journey with surprising turns of fate, setbacks and victories."

January 19, 2012

Tea Party Jesus: 'Blessed Are the Mean'

Scathing video depicts 'Sermon on the Mall' as if Christ were speaking for Tea Party

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So, there's a new animated video online, picturing Jesus giving a speech to thousands in Washington, D.C., as if he had based his teachings on the sayings of the Tea Party.

In what the creators are calling the "Sermon on the Mall," Jesus begins his famous talk by saying, "Blessed are the mean in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven." Behind him, cheering him on, are his "disciples," including Gingrich, Perry, Romney, Santorum, Bachmann, Limbaugh, and Beck.

Jesus goes on: "Blessed are the pure in ideology, for they can demonize any who disagree." And the zingers continue:

"Blessed are you when you revile and persecute and utter all kinds of evil falsely. Rejoice and be glad. Great is your reward, for in the same way the prophets Beck and Limbaugh have persecuted others before you."

"For any who believe our governments should help the poor show contempt for their Maker and whoever ignores the needy honors God."

"You have heard it said [Matthew 5:33], “Don’t swear falsely,” but I say to you, if uttering falsehoods furthers our cause, it is righteous."

And these are just the tip of the not-so-niceberg. Learn more at TeaPartyJesus.org, and check out the entire "Sermon on the Mall" (just less than seven minutes) here:

October 26, 2011

Un-Comfort-able Video Raises Hackles Online

By comparing abortion to the Holocaust, Ray Comfort has rankled thousands of viewers

Ray Comfort, a New Zealand-born evangelist and founder of Living Waters, an evangelism training ministry, has never been shy about his faith, even to the point of confrontation. He has publicly debated atheists and doubters, and has even challenged Darwinian biologist (and noted atheist) Richard Dawkins to a debate, offering $20,000 for such an event. (Dawkins has declined, reportedly insisting on $100,000.) Comfort is also co-host (with Kirk Cameron) of The Way of the Master television.

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Comfort is accustomed to having his share of critics, but in recent weeks, thousands have opened fire on him after watching his 33-minute film, 180, which compares the tragedy of abortion to the Holocaust -- a comparison that Comfort does not take lightly, as he grew up Jewish. In the video, Comfort does a number of man-on-the-street interviews, asking people about Hitler and the Holocaust before shifting the conversation to abortion, urging his interviewees to see and understand the comparison. Some end up seeing Comfort's point, and even change their views from pro-choice to pro-life during the course of the interview.

The film, embedded below and also available in higher definition here, bills itself as "a shocking, award-winning documentary" that will "rock your world." It even comes with a "Public Advisory: Graphic Content" warning for some of the images included. The video has been viewed more than 1.2 million times on YouTube, prompting an astonishing number of comments -- almost 20,000. Many praise the film for its powerful pro-life message, but many others are livid:

"This is one sided and totally slanted. He's trying to guilt them."

"Nothing but idiotic dribble. Rhetoric made for the purpose of controlling women and their bodies."

"Absolutely ridiculous. The fact that you all have the audacity to compare the murdering of millions of sentient human beings, people who had children, family, and lives to the 'killing' of embryos is just downright insulting to the memories of those who died in the Holocaust. These 'children' can't even function on their own. Get a clue, people."

A recent Huffington Post article quotes Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as saying that those who compare the Holocaust to abortion "prove that they do not know what the Holocaust was."

Comfort begs to differ: "I'm also Jewish, and I spent months researching for a book I wrote called Hitler, God, and the Bible," he says in a press release. "I wept my way through the Holocaust. It was a horror beyond words. But I have to agree in one respect. Nearly 60 million Americans have been slaughtered by abortion, and that’s ten times the amount of Jews who died under the Nazis. So as far as numbers are concerned, there is no comparison.”

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Comfort's powers of persuasion are evident in the documentary, as a number of people patiently field his questions and even end up changing their points of view. It's encouraging to see people changing from pro-choice to pro-life, but I wondered about the smarts of many of Comfort's interviewees. He started his conversations with a simple question: "Who was Adolf Hitler?" But many of his subjects replied, "I dunno," or "Who?" Really? Young adults don't know who Hitler was? And then several other interviewees denied the Holocaust ever occurred.

Comfort interviewed plenty of clearly intelligent, informed people for this film, so why not edit out the clueless ones at the beginning? Unfortunately, that sets up the viewer for an easy criticism: "Well, of course he's changing their minds. They're not very bright and clearly don't have many strongly held beliefs in the first place." So, what's a pretty good documentary could have been even stronger without the fools early on.

But in the end, I think Comfort has a fairly strong argument, and the video's worth watching:

September 28, 2011

Web Series: Tarantino Meets Peretti?

'Divine' mixes the supernatural with a graphic novel look

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Got an e-mail recently giving us a heads up on Divine: The Series, a still-unfolding, web-only miniseries about a young priest who is dealing with a faith crisis -- and encountering an angel-like, resurrected being named Divine, who roams the streets at night slaying demons.

I thought it sounded cheesy, and my hopes weren't high when I visited the site. But the three episodes (each about 13 minutes) that are up so far kept my attention for their sense of mystery, surprisingly good production values and acting, and keeping me guessing as to where the story would go. The filmmakers -- Maple Blood Productions of Vancouver -- say they will "unlock" more answers with each episode, rolling out a new one every couple of weeks.

It's got a graphic novel feel -- stylized action violence, bright red blood spewing everywhere. It's Quentin Tarantino meets Frank Peretti. The filmmakers are billing themselves as "storytelling for the smartphone generation," and they say they want to "push the frontiers of online entertainment and tell stories that you can watch in bite-sized chunks," that last phrase a rather gruesome choice of words considering some of the gory content here. (It's not rated, but it would certainly get an R-rating for violence and profanity.)

Here's the first episode. Caution: There's cussing, graphic gore, and rear male nudity.

February 18, 2011

Freud, C. S. Lewis Get into an Argument . . .

That's the premise of 'Freud's Last Session,' a play now in an extended run in New York

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C. S. Lewis, Sigmund Freud, and God walk into a bar, and . . .

Well, that's not quite the setting, and it's not quite a joke, but there is humor aplenty to be found in Freud's Last Session, an off-Broadway play in New York that imagines a conversation between the two thinkers -- the Christian Lewis and the atheist Freud -- and their musings on God.

Here's one example of the smart banter between the two:

LEWIS: The wish that God doesn’t exist can be just as powerful as the belief He does. I’d even say choosing to disbelieve may be stronger evidence for His existence, since you have to be aware of what you’re denying.

FREUD: I deny the existence of Unicorns. Therefore, they exist?

Jerry Tallmer of New York's Downtown Express sheds more light on the production, which has also received rave reviews:

“Sharp, lively discourse…The humor is plentiful! Martin Rayner delivers a wise and cranky Freud. Mark H. Dold paints a wonderfully warm portrait of the young C.S. Lewis" (NY Times). "A juicy intellectual debate…Terrific performances!” (NY Post). “Riveting theater!” (Huffington Post)

Click here for some video snippets from the play.

January 26, 2011

A Closer Look at the Immigration Issue

New website combines short, informative film with action points for evangelicals

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It's one thing to read stories about the complex issues surrounding immigration -- including illegal or "undocumented" immigrants in our midst. It's another to meet a family through the medium of film, where you can see their faces, hear their voices, and better feel what they're going through.

That's part of the purpose of UnDocumented.tv, a new website produced by World Relief in partnership with a Chicago-area filmmaker. They describe themselves as a "media-driven, culture-shaping movement seeking to inspire and mobilize young Evangelical Christians towards championing the needs of immigrants. We’re creating provocative, response-oriented short films paired with intentional experiences for groups and individuals. UnDocumented.tv will inspire Evangelicals to better understand and enter the immigration conversation. We will challenge our audience to move beyond any existing personal or media-driven bias and toward active involvement in social change."

It's a well-done, thought-provoking, Scripture-based call to think and act. It's certainly worth the nine and a half minutes to watch this short film.

January 11, 2011

Not for Sale II: Join the Fight Against Trafficking

New 30-minute DVD states the problem, encourages viewers to join the battle

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It's late in the evening on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, in the middle of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so I just spent a half hour watching Not For Sale II, a new documentary about the problem worldwide.

The 30-minute film isn't very slick or high gloss, but then, neither is its topic. Beneath the lipstick, high heels and come-on smiles, many of the world's prostitutes are devastated shells of women who desperately hate their lives and would do anything to get off the streets and out from under the iron fist of their pimps and the sex trade. One of the young women interviewed in this film said she didn't fear death, even if she ended up going to hell, because hell would be better than her current life as a sex slave.

Filmmaker Robert Marcarelli and his team interviewed sex slaves (current and former) and the leaders of several organizations that are actively fighting the issue globally, including in the United States. The film doesn't take a Christian perspective, though some of the organizations featured, including International Justice Mission, are clearly driven by biblical faith. But the fight worldwide is clearly one of justice and compassion, hallmarks of an active Christian faith.

Click here to watch the trailer, purchase the DVD, or arrange a screening.

December 16, 2010

C. S. Lewis: Animal Advocate

He had 'a passion for the advocacy for the ethical and moral treatment of animals'

The Humane Society of the United States presents an original academic work by C. S. Lewis scholar Gerald Root, “C.S. Lewis as Advocate for Animals,” which touches on the many literary genres Lewis uses to make a case for human responsibility for the animals.

The release of Root’s 26-page piece follows the opening of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third in the Walden Media film series based on Lewis’ Narnia series.

Root, a Wheaton College professor, concludes after thorough examination of Lewis’ literary work that “the matter of the mystery of animals, the matter of sharing life with them on this planet, the matter of animal pain, and the matter of human responsibility for the animals are all topics that call for serious attention, at least Lewis thought so.”

September 28, 2010

Biblical Art that Isn't Biblical. Or Is it?

NY's Museum of Biblical Art features exhibit that only hints at Scripture . . . but it's there

New York’s Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) is about to do something daring: exhibit art with a less-than-obvious connection to the Bible.

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“The Wanderer,” which opens Friday and runs through December 23, features a series of landscapes by Enrique Martínez Celaya, a Miami-based painter who does not profess Christian faith, but is heavily influenced by the Bible-saturated western literary tradition – including Tolstoy, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. (Pictured here: "The Ray of Light," 2008, oil & wax.)

The exhibit’s guest curator is Daniel Siedell, author of God in the Gallery and assistant professor of art history at the University of Nebraska, Omaha.

So, why is a museum of biblical art featuring art that isn’t explicitly biblical? Director Ena Heller, in her foreword to the exhibition catalog, explains that MOBIA hopes to “stretch the definition” of “biblical art” – to challenge “the accepted notion of biblical as narrative or liturgical, as well as anti-modern,” and that Martinez Celaya’s paintings include “indirect quotes” to Scripture as they are influenced by writers who, in turn, were influenced by the Bible.

Siedell, who also directs special projects at Martinez Celaya’s studio, Whale & Star, believes that great art and the Bible are inextricably linked – and that an exhibit such as this one can help Christians discover work that participates in an artistic tradition that takes the Bible seriously, even in an indirect way. “The biblical narratives remain viable as a means to understand the best contemporary art,” he says. “The best art, like the best literature, whether contemporary or traditional, seems to reflect in some way on these narratives, reinvesting them with meaning and significance.”

The paintings are a series of desolate landscapes in which God “may or may not have abandoned mankind,” says the exhibit description. These paintings’ “indirect quotes” could be read as references to biblical stories of exile and expulsion: Adam and Eve made to leave Garden of Eden, Cain sent into exile, the Exodus, Abraham in search of his new home.

Concurrent with the MOBIA exhibit, a series of four large Martinez Celaya paintings will be on view at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan. Siedell hopes that visitors to the cathedral will experience the seriousness and “spiritual resonance of art that doesn’t have to make explicit reference to biblical or religious themes.” As he points out, art that claims to be serious – like Martinez Celaya’s work – faces a unique test in a place like St. John the Divine. “It’s one thing in a museum-gallery context [in which viewers often approach art expecting something cynical or ironic], but it’s another thing entirely to present ‘serious art’ in a space that is itself serious.”

The average viewer in these two settings will likely find his or her assumptions about serious art – and biblical art – challenged and expanded. As Heller points out, Martinez Celaya’s paintings “invite contemplation and going beyond the simple glance, beyond composition and subject matter . . . folding back layers of meaning, digging beyond the surface and understanding the process of discovery.”

August 13, 2010

Religion! Politics! Sex! Murder! Mayhem!

New review site -- books, movies, music, more -- brings lively discussions to the dinner table

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Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief David Neff is a movie buff; he watches several films per week just while working out on his elliptical each morning, and often drops by my office to suggest a gem I either haven't seen or haven't even heard of. He also reads a LOT.

David's wife, LaVonne, is a book editor and, like David, a voracious reader who also likes to talk about what she's been reading (or watching or listening to). Put them both together and, well, you've got a lot of opinions about all sorts of things . . . which sounds like it'd make for a pretty good blog.

And it does. David and LaVonne have recently launched The Neff Review, which has one of the funnest subtitles in the blogosphere: "of books and films on religion, politics, murder, and other congenial topics for polite dinner-table conversation." If you enjoy that description, then head on over to their site and enjoy the conversation, and jump into the discussions as well. May the mayhem ensue.

August 12, 2010

The Day Metallica Came to Church

Author says God speaks through all kinds of pop culture -- including head banging heavy metal

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John Van Sloten, whom some call "Canada's pop-culture pastor," once preached a sermon about Metallica and the band's spiritual connection, never believing anyone outside of his congregation -- Calgary's New Hope Church -- would notice. But word spread, it made international news, and even the heavy-metal band heard about it. That led to a series of sermons on pop culture, covering films like Spider-Man and Grand Torino, bands like Coldplay and Green Day, artists like Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Van Sloten says God is speaking everywhere, through everything.

"The reason I preached on all these topics is because I believe they belong to God," he says. "And when things belong to God, they matter and have something to say."

It's an intriguing but controversial idea, this notion of God speaking through everything. Really? Everything? Through The Hangover? Through gossip rags and celebrity tabloids? Through Lady Gaga? The very idea drove almost half of Van Sloten's members away. But he says of those who remained, they "no longer watch a film just for entertainment; now they constantly find themselves asking, 'What are you saying here, God?' When you acknowledge that God is speaking everywhere, you're forced to engage in seeing and listening more discerningly, and to ask the right questions."

Well, yeah. Sorta. I'm all for discernment and asking the right questions, but sometimes God simply isn't behind it. Sometimes the question isn't, "What are you saying here, God?", but "What are you saying here, Musician/Filmmaker/Artist/Whatever?" It's good to ask what a piece of art or slice of pop culture might be saying, and indeed, we often can find God behind something "secular" -- truth, beauty, and goodness are all manifestations of his glory, whether the humans behind those things are believers or not. But some things are totally devoid of truth, beauty, goodness, and more, and I'm just not convinced that God speaks through those things at all. Maybe he can speak through a donkey, but I don't think he speaks through crap.

(I'm also a bit troubled by New Hope Church's website. The homepage background consists of the cover art for Van Sloten's book, and about half of the promoted content on the homepage is linking to pieces that promote the book. I'm all for self-promotion, but taking up half of your church's homepage for it? Gulp. FWIW, the publisher, Faith Alive, does have a "proper" promotional website for the book as well.)

The previous parenthetical aside, what do you think of the premise of this book? Does God really speak to us through everything?

July 26, 2010

Bully! Pop Culture News Site Gets Makeover

The Bully! Pulpit website, founded by multi-media producer Mark Joseph, is a good source

Mark Joseph, a pop culture watcher and multi-media producer in LA, has his finger on the pulse of the music, TV, and movies scene. His website, Bully! Pulpit, recently had an extreme makeover and is worth checking out for its extensive coverage.

Bully! Pulpit launched in 1999 as an email listserve before expanding into a multimedia website with original commentary and analysis. Contributors to the site include film veterans Scott Derrickson and Ralph Winter, actress Janine Turner, researcher George Barna, musician Bill Mallonee, entertainment writer Lou Carlozo, and more.

June 23, 2010

'The Gang Became My Family'

Mini-documentary shows Central American gang members discussing hunger for belonging

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For almost a year, Christianity Today has partnered with The Lausanne Movement for The Global Conversation, a series of stories meant to spark, well, global conversation as a run-up to the Third Congress on World Evangelization to be held in Cape Town, South Africa, October 16-25. The goal of the conference is to promote unity, humbleness in service, and a call to action for global evangelization.

Part of The Global Conversation includes a series of videos meant to add another layer to the discussion. One recent mini-documentary profiles Central American gang members who have been incarcerated for their crimes. The men all spoke of how they were abandoned or neglected by their families, and rejected by the church, and they turned to gangs to find friendship and love. "The gang became my family," said one. A pastor who ministers to the inmates talked about how only the love of God can reach these men.

Anyway, it's one of several fine short films that Fourth Line Films has produced for The Global Conversation. Check out Family below, and the other Global Conversation videos here.

Family from The Global Conversation on Vimeo.

June 1, 2010

Little Ricky's Dance Troupe Twirls for Jesus

Keith Thibodeaux, who played the son on 'I Love Lucy,' leads Ballet Magnificat! with wife

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Ballet Magnificat!, arguably the world's premier Christian ballet company, is gearing up to celebrate its 25th year with a former child TV star and his wife at the fore.

Keith Thibodeaux, who played Little Ricky on TV's I Love Lucy, and wife Kathy, a professional ballerina, formed Ballet Magnificat! in 1986. Keith had long been a drummer for David and the Giants, a Christian rock band; Kathy had come to Christ at one of their shows.

Today, Keith is the ballet company's executive director, while Kathy is its artistic director. Ballet Magnificat! was recently featured in an excellent story in the Washington Post-.

May 10, 2010

How do Christians Take Back the Beautiful?

Screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi has some thoughts on the topic.

Focus on the Family's CitizenLink recently had an interesting interview with screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi, founder of Act One, a training/mentoring program for young Christians in the entertainment industry.

Nicolosi had some strong words regarding Christians and the arts: "The idea of beautiful as something that we should aspire to every time we sit down to create – that’s gone. I go to the 10 o’clock Mass in my parish watching 1,500 people groaning because it’s such bad music. It’s not that they’re not doing music anymore, it’s just they’re doing it badly.

"A lot of church drama, skits, what passes for literature intended for the Christian audience, is banal at best. That’s because the church has started to see the arts over the last couple generations as means to an end. 'We’re going to use this song to get people to be pro-life or use this skit to make people repent. We’re going to use this book to make people not commit suicide.' Even though they’re good agendas, they’ve attached an agenda on these works of art."

CitizenLink concludes the interview by asking, "How do Christians take back the beautiful?" Nicolosi's revealing answer includes some sound advice: It's very hard work, making something beautiful. You can't cut corners. Check it out.

February 24, 2010

When a Film Practices What It Preaches . . .

The filmmakers of 'As We Forgive' encourage others to help reconciliation efforts in Rwanda

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Laura Waters Hinson's excellent documentary, As We Forgive, examines radical forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda, a nation still healing from the 1994 ethnic genocide that took the lives of as many as 1 million of its citizens. (I heard several amazing stories of forgiveness in my own trip to Rwanda last year.)

For Lent, Hinson and her team have launched a 40 Days of Forgiveness campaign, encouraging people to "join us this Easter season to build a village of reconciliation" in Rwanda -- through hosting a screening of the film, buying the DVD or other merchandise, and/or making a contribution to Living Bricks, a partner with Prison Fellowship in building homes for those Rwandans who have reconciled . . . and encouraging others to do likewise.

They've also launched a 40 Days blog, where various artists and writers are weighing in with their thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation. (So far, myself and musician Sara Groves are the first bloggers, but more are to come in the weeks ahead.)

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