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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Spring Update

Ah, the joys of spring! As a Canadian, there is something magical about seeing everyone emerge from the hibernation of winter (all 8 months of it) and get outside. There are kids running around the common spaces of our townhouse complex. People are barbecuing and lying in the sun. Runners and joggers and walkers are out and looking alive.

As Martin Luther beautifully said, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”

It truly is remarkable, and I couldn’t be happier.

It has been a few weeks since my last post, and I wanted to let you all know what’s been going on and where we’ll be headed over the summer.

First, our Comic Expo adventure was a resounding success. We had over 100 people show up to the screening of Star of Wonder, which filled the room and ended up with people being turned away at the door. Since I was expecting about 20 of my friends to show up and few others, this was stunning. God really wanted people to see our little film! We had another full panel later that evening (despite competing with the cast of Back to the Future during the time slot) where I got to speak on Disney films and being an adult (more on this below). I got to make a few great connections and saw God’s heart for artists of all stripes. Quite an exciting weekend!

From there, we’ve moved into a busy season of training (the Sharpen Music and Tech Conference) and now promotional video creation. This time last year, I was just starting my new job and felt like I was spinning my wheels trying to get a project off the ground. I now have over a dozen projects due in the next two months! The culture at our church is moving to really take advantage of the power of film and testimony. Again, God’s grace and guidance is the only thing I can attribute this to, which is encouraging. Knowing we are following where God is leading really bolsters my faith and keeps me moving when life gets busy.

After the promo season dies down, I’m hoping to film another short (much shorter than Star of Wonder…I learned my lesson) over the summer to screen in the fall. We’re still in the planning stages, so I’ll hopefully be able to let you all in on the secrets and the creative process as they start happening.

Finally, we have our chaplaincy up and running full steam ahead. For those who live in Calgary and haven’t heard the invite, we are hosting a gathering of the Kingdom Artist Network tonight at 7:00PM at RockPointe Church’s Bowridge site. There will be snacks, coffee, and some time with special guest Karla Adolphe. I hope some of you can make it out to connect with likeminded artists.

The Network is growing all the time and we are very excited to see what God has in store for this band of faithful artists.

As for EpicTheology, I am taking the lessons I put together for the Expo panel on Disney films and translating them here. We will spend the next 7 or so weeks exploring what it means to be an adult and what Disney and the Bible teach us about the subject. So, please, stay tuned!

Thank you all for making EpicTheology such a wonderful place to write and discuss art and God. You, my readers, are the reason I put down so many of my thoughts onto digital paper. I look forward to connecting with more of you over the summer.

Blessings

Arts Chaplaincy

Hello readers,

I have so much wonderful news. I have been away for a while, but important things have been happening and I want to share just some of it with you.

Our church and our District have partnered with my wife and I to start a brand new initiative in Calgary. I am now, in addition to heading up our Art and Story ministry, a Chaplain for Calgary’s arts community! 

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I don’t actually wear one of these, though.

For those unfamiliar, chaplains are spiritual guides and counsellors who are usually attached to secular institutions. Chaplains often administer sacraments such as baptism and Eucharist, perform weddings and funerals, and counsel those who have spiritual questions or seek to further their spiritual journey. There are chaplains for the military, hospitals, universities, and prisons. There are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu chaplains (as well as other religious/spiritual flavours, I’m sure).

What we are doing, however, is slightly outside the norm. Instead of being attached to an institution, I am coming alongside our arts community. I will be available to anyone who calls themselves an artist, no matter your discipline or medium. I can talk, advise, or just listen.

And this, this listening, is why I’m excited about this project. We all have stories to tell. Stories of triumph and stories of pain. Of the mundane everyday and the moments that give meaning to our lives. And a big part of my job is to listen to your stories and help you sort through it.

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Now, I am not a certified counsellor. I want to be clear about that. I can give recommendations for those in need of psychiatric help, but my speciality is the soul, not the mind. I am a licensed worker in the Christian Missionary Alliance (as of today, actually!), and my worldview is unashamedly Christian, but my focus is on spirituality as a whole, not proselytization. I just like to discuss the bigger questions in life that we all struggle through, like purpose and meaning and pain.

This is a call to all of my friends and readers. I am here and am excited to walk alongside those artists who want to dig deeper into the idea of something beyond what we can see. I want to help actors and painters and filmmakers along their journey, no matter where they have come from or where they are going.

So, if you have questions or just need to talk about some important things, please let me know. I am here to listen, and if needed, and only if needed, to advise or counsel. And know that, as a member of Calgary’s arts community, I am praying for you. For your joy and peace, providence and artistic excellence.

Ultimately, I am here to serve our artists.

Blessings

EpicTheology June Update

Well, my fearless readers, we’re now well into June. Life is going by at breakneck pace these days, so I thought I’d take a moment to let everyone know what’s going on. Depending on how things move continue, we might make this a monthly feature.

I’m now a month and a half into the new job, and it’s still amazing. I have so much freedom to explore where God is leading the new ministry and spend time in His presence. I’ve met with many of our leaders to brainstorm how we are going to go about telling stories. AND, most exciting, I’ve started working on a couple projects. My weeks are flying by and I look forward to going back to the office every day.

God could not have come through in a more awe-inspiring way.

Which brings me to our next point: our new mission. Acts 2:43 tells us, in regards to the newborn church, that “A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.” I feel like, for many of us, we’ve lost that sense of awe. We live in such a constant state of grace that the supernatural grace has become mundane.

So, my mission: Rescue the miraculous from the mundane!

God’s activity in our lives can be awe-inspiring at first, but can quickly become less shiny as we get used to it. However, when we hear about what God is doing in others’ lives (which is usually different from our own), we can again be brought to a place of wonder. It’s my job to harness the stories that we all carry around with us and deploy them in a way that opens doors for awe.

Sound fun? I think so!

In other news, we’re also on our way to starting a new ministry and I’ll have more info for you as soon as some things settle into place.

I hope you are all enjoying the start of your summer (or winter, if you’re south of the equator). Our family has been having a great time hiking out in the mountains as much as we can (including during a rainstorm yesterday!). Please spend some time outdoors. It’s good for the soul.

Blessings,

Drawn into a Story: Boyhood and Jupiter Ascending

Once upon a time…

It was a dark and stormy night…

The sun was just beginning to creep over the horizon of a new day…

Magical, isn’t it? The beginning of a story. You never know what’s coming next, or who will show up first. But you do know that you are about to embark on something new and exciting: a story.

Today, I want to ask what draws us in and keeps us connected to a story? Over the weekend, I was able to watch two VERY different films that relied on VERY different means to keep its audience spellbound.

The first, Boyhood.

The second, Jupiter Ascending.

This afternoon, we will look at these two movies and see how they use character and plot to hook their audience and keep them to the end.I@049431_L

Boyhood is a marvel of modern filmmaking. Shooting over 12 years, we watch a young boy grow up before our eyes without the use of special aging effects or recasting. It was this premise that caught my attention, and I finally sat down to watch it.

Full disclosure: I am a plot person. I love thick, multi-layered storytelling where politics and personal lives come crashing together. I love characters with well-defined goals and antagonists who are opposed to those goals. I like rising action, building tension, a thrilling climax, and a satisfying resolution.

Boyhood is not that film.

Boyhood is about growing up. And if you are like me, your childhood was not a carefully scripted series of obstacles to overcome on the way to a climactic graduation. It was more like a series of mundane bowls of cereal, high moments of passion and hormones, low moments of despair and hormones, with a peppering of fun and adventure.

Boyhood is THAT film.

It’s easy to get lost in these characters because we’ve been there, for at least some of the story moments that Boyhood tells. I’ve gone camping, been excited when my dad comes to pick me up, agonized over the fruitlessness of the world, and gone off to college. I’ve watched my parents divorce and remarry, been passionately absorbed in my art, and mumbled incoherently because I was trying to be cool. Watching Boyhood is a little like going through a photo album of my life. I see myself in the characters, and continue watching because I’m invested in what happens to them (even if it’s nothing).4liSXBZZdURI0c1Id1zLJo6Z3Gu

Jupiter Ascending, on the other hand, is all about its plot. The characters are fairly shallow and generally only have one desire throughout the film. Jupiter (our protagonist) just wants to go home and spends most of the movie being dragged from one end of the solar system to the other.

What we get, in the place of deep character development, is fast-paced action scenes that grip the audience, pull us into the fantasy world of Jupiter Ascending, and drive relentlessly towards the climatic battle sequence. We continue to watch because each scene is either gorgeously painted with CGI or unravels a little more of the mystery of the story. We, like our protagonist want to know more of what’s going on. So we keep watching.

In my opinion, the best films are laden with both deep character development and high stakes plotting. We care about the characters and keep watching because they want something so badly and will go to any lengths to get it. That, my friends, is compelling storytelling.

Think Captain Miller and his platoon in Saving Private Ryan. They are all deeply real people with flaws and heroics. They want to go home, but must first march across Hell to find one lone soldier before they can.

Frodo is an everyman with likes and dislikes (perhaps not as many as his uncle Bilbo), who also must do the right thing (destroy the Ring) before he is allowed to go home.

Maximus must come to terms with his betrayal and the death of his family before he can defy the emperor and ultimately avenge the deaths of his wife and son.

Compelling.

So, how about you? Are you drawn to one of these more than the other? My wife is far more character oriented, balancing out my plot obsession. Or, are you drawn to something else entirely, like beautiful cinematography or hilarious comedic situations.

As we learn what draws people into stories, we can better craft the stories we want, or need, to tell. Well-told stories will always reach more people, and get your message across clearer, than poorly-told ones.

So go, write, or paint, or dance. Speak or play. Tell stories of love and death and heroics and the mundane. But tell them well.

The world will thank you for it.

God and Fantasy, Part I

This week, I want to start a conversation about two of my favourite things: God and fantasy. I don’t mean the “whatever you want in the whole world” kind of fantasy, but the kind that involves magic and dragons and heroes. I have loved stories like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter since I was a little kid, but I can’t help but notice that there are several Christian groups that boycott such stories. In the spirit of fair conversation, I want to look at the issue over the course of a few posts, and see what we can learn about the connection between our faith and stories of magic.

Fantasy Shelf

As far as I can tell, the main argument that people have against fantasy is the inclusion of magic. The Bible clearly condemns the use of magic in Leviticus 19:26b, “Do not practice divination or sorcery.” The Book of Deuteronomy goes into further detail in chapter 18:9-12:

“When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults with the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.”

It is clear that the use of magic by God’s people is not part of His great plan.

The argument continues that even if reading about magic is not wrong, stories like Harry Potter can draw people into the realm of the occult as they long to know more of this magic. What may begin as simple curiosity can become an unhealthy interest, and perhaps lead to participation in magical rituals. As a devout Christian who has previously explored other forms of spirituality, I acknowledge the danger of an overly enthusiastic interest in the occult, but I’m not sure if avoiding magical stories altogether is the answer.

On the other hand, fantasy stories can be incredible tools to express universal truths. The fantasy I grew up with (such as the Disney stories, or the Chronicles of Narnia) are tales full of adventure, heroism, and good triumphing over evil. Fantasy allows for over-the-top characters that can be representations of ideas and forces.

We all need a safe place to explore the big ideas of our lives. Fantasy stories allow us to delve into the concepts of sacrifice, teamwork, family, and love without becoming overwhelmed by the reality of these things. The stories take place in a world that doesn’t exist, so we are free to learn about self-sacrificial heroism without having to lose someone close to us in real life. Our children can learn the dangers of evil without having to come face to face with a kidnapper. Just as play teaches children practical skills they will need when they are older, reading (or watching) fantasy can equip us with knowledge and wisdom that can really make a difference later in life.

Fantasy makes these concepts easier to learn by giving a world that is black and white. The villain is obviously evil and worthy of judgement (the black cape or red eyes always give it away). The hero is a shining example for us all, who is given his just reward in the end. The actions of both sides are clearly the ones we would make or avoid. The world may not be full of choices that are so easy, but having a base line from which to discern good and evil certainly helps.

We have not specifically addressed the issue of magic, however. Much of what I have said of fantasy could easily be made true in tales without magic. The problem, however, is that magic is an amazingly resonant analogy for power.

In our age of nuclear missiles and war machines, nothing we face is as mysterious and powerful as magic. The villains of our stories often wield magic far more potent than that of our heroes (if they are magical at all). Yet, magic is not always an evil thing in the world of fantasy. Like military or political power in the real world, magic can often be used for good, such as healing or fighting evil. We learn from fantasy that power CAN be corrupting and must be watched, something Christians should be aware of.

One big difference between the world of fantasy and the world of reality is the existence of God. Most fantasy stories do not have an omnipotent God that has declared magic to be against the rules. Magic is just a part of the world, to be accessed by whoever has the ability to do so. Not so in our world. God has spoken and told us that His children are not to dabble in the realm of magic. As long as we can understand that difference, I think we can keep a healthy distance from magical influence.

Finally, I want to end with a few questions: Is magic real? Has God told his people not to become involved with magic because it is real and dangerous? Or is it because it represents the idolatry of the neighbouring nations? Is magic, like the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, a part of our world that God has put off limits, or is it the result of demonic activity in a fallen world?

As for me, it doesn’t really matter what the answer is to these questions, but I’m open to any of the above answers. I just know that there is to be no seances or witchcraft in my house. And I’m okay with that. But let me know what you think! And come back next week, as I will look over some of my favourite fantasy authors and their relationship with faith.

Blessings

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