Beauty and the Church

No, I’m not quite dead yet.

(May have felt close recently, but that’s nothing y’all want to hear about…)

Between being busy, having *ahem* issues, and having the first two items here sap my inspiration, I haven’t had the chance to post. Don’t give up on me though. There’s still some new stuff rattling around my cranium.

For instance, in reading Christianity Today from May 2010, I cam across a little segment they have at the end of the magazine entitled “Who’s Next: People You Should Know.” This month talked about W. David O. Taylor, an arts pastor in Austin, Texas, who has his first book entitled For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts just released.

Now, I’ve talked a lot about creativity and the Christian artist, and the importance of encouraging this as a form of worship and expression that the church needs. I’ve also promoted letting a Christian artist have freedom to produce what they have in mind without expectations. (Here’s a selection of posts of mine on the topic). I’ve usually gone to Francis Schaeffer as an authority on this, and how his book Art and the Bible shows that there is beauty created in the Bible for beauty’s sake, not for an evangelistic purpose.

In reading the short interview with David Taylor, I realized a bit of corrective needed to be applied to my argument. He makes this profound statement:

We shouldn’t stop with classical ideas about beauty; we also need to think about beauty Christologically. The moment we sever beauty from the death and resurrection of Christ, we risk sliding toward idealism or petty-ism.

I thought that was very important, and a point I have not made well enough in the past. Now, I still believe that art can be made for art’s sake, for beauty’s sake. But for the Christian artist, if we are truly walking in a redeemed mindset and a new life, then Christ needs to inform our work. The work of the cross affects what we do. I still don’t believe it has to be blantantly Christian, but a Christian is not free to do “whatever.” Not if we’re true to the One who gave us our gift and redeems it.

So add Mr. Taylor’s great statement to my previous positions about Christianity and the arts.

“Mass”-ive Storytelling

In my last post I gave a couple of highlights from a podcast featuring author Dick Staub and film producer Ralph Winter. They talked about a world shown in film (but applicable to novels) that draws in the viewer so much that they would want to live in and explore it. That was a quality of a great movie.

Storytelling has evolved from fire-side epics, to the written word, to immersive 3-D visual films. But what if you could watch AND interact in the story?

An example of a new possibility in storytelling is in the world of video games. I don’t think Pong had much of a backstory, but all games nowadays do. However, few offer the type of experience that comes from Mass Effect 2, from BioWare.

Obviously video games have an aspect of interactivity, since the gamer controls the main character. There are also limitations, as the gamer can only do things that are within the parameters of programming.

BioWare has been known for producing some of the highest quality role-playing games (RPG’s) in the last decade, including the award-winning Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR). They have been able to evolve the storytelling mechanism to new heights with Mass Effect 2.

The game is a science fiction story where humanity has just recently joined the galactic community by discovering old technology called Mass Relays created by an ancient race. You control Commander Shepard, a human (either male or female) who is Earth’s finest soldier, and the first human inductee into the special unit of Spectres, a group that is the Galactic Council’s personal force to deal with situations.

The storyline through the first two games is epic, and isn’t necessarily the scope of this post. I also don’t intend this as a review. The game is listed as Mature, and it definitely has areas that people need to use discernment concerning violence, morality, and how it is played.

My point is the excellent use of storytelling to elevate the game from an exciting action-based shooter (which it is) or a standard RPG where one builds a character up throughout the game (which it is as well, perhaps more so in ME1 compared to the second). The point is that the developers have enabled the gamer to feel like they fully own what Shepard does throughout the series.

BioWare has long tried to explore choices and their consequences, back to KotOR where a player’s choices would push the main Jedi character either to the Light or Dark Side of the Force. They’ve managed a new level in Mass Effect. The gamer can choose to have their Shepard to be a Paragon of virtue, a Renegade willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal, or somewhere in between.

In the midst of these choices, it drives how the story unfolds. The supporting characters, especially in ME2, are well-written and rounded personalities with their own strengths and hang-ups. Shepard’s interactions drive how they respond, whether they are loyal to the player or not. If a character dies, there are consequences. If you were kind or mean to a secondary character, that can come back to haunt or help. The plot of the game can be altered, up to a certain framework, depending on choices made.

Overall, the settings, missions, and characters make it a unique universe that is immersive and very enjoyable. The alien scientist Mordin became my favorite. He was involved with a very questionable moral decision in his past, and Shepard has to work with him to deal with it. As Shepard I can support it or condemn it, and Mordin wrestles with his decision in such a way that I felt it. He didn’t make a giant, easy flip to my point of view, but there was nuance in how he reacted.

The biggest development can be in how Shepard develops, if the player so chooses (definitely players can be calloused and just be in it for the blasting). It makes the story immersive. It creates an intriguing world. I have always been a Star Wars fan, since my childhood. I think the Mass Effect universe has actually supplanted the galaxy far, far away as my favorite sci-fi destination.

I’m not trying to just blow sunshine and rainbows at BioWare. I have a few issues with how some things are handled. Still, the game is an example of what quality writing can do for any medium, be it film, novels, television, or games.

“Mass”-ive Storytelling

In my last post I gave a couple of highlights from a podcast featuring author Dick Staub and film producer Ralph Winter. They talked about a world shown in film (but applicable to novels) that draws in the viewer so much that they would want to live in and explore it. That was a quality of a great movie.

Storytelling has evolved from fire-side epics, to the written word, to immersive 3-D visual films. But what if you could watch AND interact in the story?

An example of a new possibility in storytelling is in the world of video games. I don’t think Pong had much of a backstory, but all games nowadays do. However, few offer the type of experience that comes from Mass Effect 2, from BioWare.

Obviously video games have an aspect of interactivity, since the gamer controls the main character. There are also limitations, as the gamer can only do things that are within the parameters of programming.

BioWare has been known for producing some of the highest quality role-playing games (RPG’s) in the last decade, including the award-winning Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR). They have been able to evolve the storytelling mechanism to new heights with Mass Effect 2.

The game is a science fiction story where humanity has just recently joined the galactic community by discovering old technology called Mass Relays created by an ancient race. You control Commander Shepard, a human (either male or female) who is Earth’s finest soldier, and the first human inductee into the special unit of Spectres, a group that is the Galactic Council’s personal force to deal with situations.

The storyline through the first two games is epic, and isn’t necessarily the scope of this post. I also don’t intend this as a review. The game is listed as Mature, and it definitely has areas that people need to use discernment concerning violence, morality, and how it is played.

My point is the excellent use of storytelling to elevate the game from an exciting action-based shooter (which it is) or a standard RPG where one builds a character up throughout the game (which it is as well, perhaps more so in ME1 compared to the second). The point is that the developers have enabled the gamer to feel like they fully own what Shepard does throughout the series.

BioWare has long tried to explore choices and their consequences, back to KotOR where a player’s choices would push the main Jedi character either to the Light or Dark Side of the Force. They’ve managed a new level in Mass Effect. The gamer can choose to have their Shepard to be a Paragon of virtue, a Renegade willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal, or somewhere in between.

In the midst of these choices, it drives how the story unfolds. The supporting characters, especially in ME2, are well-written and rounded personalities with their own strengths and hang-ups. Shepard’s interactions drive how they respond, whether they are loyal to the player or not. If a character dies, there are consequences. If you were kind or mean to a secondary character, that can come back to haunt or help. The plot of the game can be altered, up to a certain framework, depending on choices made.

Overall, the settings, missions, and characters make it a unique universe that is immersive and very enjoyable. The alien scientist Mordin became my favorite. He was involved with a very questionable moral decision in his past, and Shepard has to work with him to deal with it. As Shepard I can support it or condemn it, and Mordin wrestles with his decision in such a way that I felt it. He didn’t make a giant, easy flip to my point of view, but there was nuance in how he reacted.

The biggest development can be in how Shepard develops, if the player so chooses (definitely players can be calloused and just be in it for the blasting). It makes the story immersive. It creates an intriguing world. I have always been a Star Wars fan, since my childhood. I think the Mass Effect universe has actually supplanted the galaxy far, far away as my favorite sci-fi destination.

I’m not trying to just blow sunshine and rainbows at BioWare. I have a few issues with how some things are handled. Still, the game is an example of what quality writing can do for any medium, be it film, novels, television, or games.

Art of Storytelling

I’ve mentioned Dick Staub and his podcasts on Kindlings Muse – a discussion of art and faith. He had a recent interview with Ralph Winter, who is a Hollywood producer. He’s worked on several highly successful films, such as X-Men 1 and 2. He is also a Christian who has managed to have a long career in Hollywood though the ups and downs of the “culture war”.

You can listen to the whole interview here. I just wanted to pull out a couple of points they talk about regarding the art of storytelling.

Ralph is talking about screenplays in particular, but he talks about the importance of knowing who the hero is, and how the most powerful moment in the movie is when the main character reveals “something about themselves they didn’t know at the beginning of the journey.” He feels this is when the reader or viewer is going to get emotionally involved.

Staub and Winter go on to discuss C.S. Lewis and his statement about a great book being one you want to read over and over. Winter relates this to movies, and talks about some of his favorites, like Ben Hur and Gladiator. He loves the journey, the choices the leads make, and he ultimately says he wants to live in that world.

So, how do we create a world that is engrossing enough we want to live there? How do we make our protagonists engaging enought that the reader is taken along the journey and experiences something when the protagonist has their “revelation?”

I think these are good points to ponder, but they also help me segue into the next topic I wanted to talk about…next time…

Art of Storytelling

I’ve mentioned Dick Staub and his podcasts on Kindlings Muse – a discussion of art and faith. He had a recent interview with Ralph Winter, who is a Hollywood producer. He’s worked on several highly successful films, such as X-Men 1 and 2. He is also a Christian who has managed to have a long career in Hollywood though the ups and downs of the “culture war”.

You can listen to the whole interview here. I just wanted to pull out a couple of points they talk about regarding the art of storytelling.

Ralph is talking about screenplays in particular, but he talks about the importance of knowing who the hero is, and how the most powerful moment in the movie is when the main character reveals “something about themselves they didn’t know at the beginning of the journey.” He feels this is when the reader or viewer is going to get emotionally involved.

Staub and Winter go on to discuss C.S. Lewis and his statement about a great book being one you want to read over and over. Winter relates this to movies, and talks about some of his favorites, like Ben Hur and Gladiator. He loves the journey, the choices the leads make, and he ultimately says he wants to live in that world.

So, how do we create a world that is engrossing enough we want to live there? How do we make our protagonists engaging enought that the reader is taken along the journey and experiences something when the protagonist has their “revelation?”

I think these are good points to ponder, but they also help me segue into the next topic I wanted to talk about…next time…

A Depressed “Avatar”

I’ve seen Avatar.

So have approximately 10 billion people.

Or so it seems.

I don’t always make it to the “big” movies, unless there are talking animals or race cars involved. When I first heard about Avatar, I wasn’t all that interested in it either. Over time, the previews and early reviews changed my mind, and once it became a phenomenom, I was ready to go.

I enjoyed the movie a lot. The visuals were striking and immersive. It certainly was memorable. The story in my opinion, as many others, was recycled and preachy in a not so subtle (or accurate) way. Still, I appreciated my time in Pandora.

Apparently not as much as the people in this CNN article. The title for the article is “Audiences Experience ‘Avatar’ Blues.” It quotes people as saying they so longed to live like the Na’vi (the tall blue skinned aliens in the movie, if you weren’t one of the 10 billion) or in a beautiful place like Pandora (their Eden-like planet) that it depressed them.

Some thought there was no reason to go on, since humans have pretty much trashed Earth at this point, and there’s no way to reverse things. A couple of the people contemplated suicide, as everything seemed “meaningless” since watching Avatar. One wanted to “escape reality.” Another thought if he killed himself, he’d be “rebirthed” in a place similar to Pandora.

Thankfully those quoted have seemed to find a little comfort in online fan communities for Avatar. I was surprised by the depth of feeling that people had in the article.

Perhaps according to my friend Becky Miller, I shouldn’t have.

She’s been posting for over a week on the movie. She enjoyed the movie as well, but had concerns that Christians weren’t showing discernment over the worldview espoused in the movie (panentheism, slightly different from pantheism).

I certainly agreed with her over the need for discernment. Nothing comes from a vacuum – James Cameron has a certain worldview, and whether he is actively promoting it or thinks he isn’t, it is still going to come out. Christians (and everyone really) should realize this and use a little analysis when doing anything from voting to watching movies. You won’t convince me that is “is just entertainment.”

Still, she and I debated somewhat in the comments of one post. I suggested that Christians take the movie as a “Mars Hill” moment (the time when Paul, visiting Athens, used the idol to the “Unknown God” to explain Christianity to the pagan philosophers). There are certainly some aspects of the movie that can be used as conversation starters, even if the thrust of the movie is contrary to a Christian world view.

After reading this CNN article, I’m a little more disturbed. I don’t think James Cameron’s intent was having people take his movie quite so seriously, but Holy Unobtanium, Batman!

I think I’ll take up some of these thoughts in the next post or two…

A Depressed “Avatar”

I’ve seen Avatar.

So have approximately 10 billion people.

Or so it seems.

I don’t always make it to the “big” movies, unless there are talking animals or race cars involved. When I first heard about Avatar, I wasn’t all that interested in it either. Over time, the previews and early reviews changed my mind, and once it became a phenomenom, I was ready to go.

I enjoyed the movie a lot. The visuals were striking and immersive. It certainly was memorable. The story in my opinion, as many others, was recycled and preachy in a not so subtle (or accurate) way. Still, I appreciated my time in Pandora.

Apparently not as much as the people in this CNN article. The title for the article is “Audiences Experience ‘Avatar’ Blues.” It quotes people as saying they so longed to live like the Na’vi (the tall blue skinned aliens in the movie, if you weren’t one of the 10 billion) or in a beautiful place like Pandora (their Eden-like planet) that it depressed them.

Some thought there was no reason to go on, since humans have pretty much trashed Earth at this point, and there’s no way to reverse things. A couple of the people contemplated suicide, as everything seemed “meaningless” since watching Avatar. One wanted to “escape reality.” Another thought if he killed himself, he’d be “rebirthed” in a place similar to Pandora.

Thankfully those quoted have seemed to find a little comfort in online fan communities for Avatar. I was surprised by the depth of feeling that people had in the article.

Perhaps according to my friend Becky Miller, I shouldn’t have.

She’s been posting for over a week on the movie. She enjoyed the movie as well, but had concerns that Christians weren’t showing discernment over the worldview espoused in the movie (panentheism, slightly different from pantheism).

I certainly agreed with her over the need for discernment. Nothing comes from a vacuum – James Cameron has a certain worldview, and whether he is actively promoting it or thinks he isn’t, it is still going to come out. Christians (and everyone really) should realize this and use a little analysis when doing anything from voting to watching movies. You won’t convince me that is “is just entertainment.”

Still, she and I debated somewhat in the comments of one post. I suggested that Christians take the movie as a “Mars Hill” moment (the time when Paul, visiting Athens, used the idol to the “Unknown God” to explain Christianity to the pagan philosophers). There are certainly some aspects of the movie that can be used as conversation starters, even if the thrust of the movie is contrary to a Christian world view.

After reading this CNN article, I’m a little more disturbed. I don’t think James Cameron’s intent was having people take his movie quite so seriously, but Holy Unobtanium, Batman!

I think I’ll take up some of these thoughts in the next post or two…

The Body and the World

This quote is from Nigel Goodwin, an actor and commentator on The Kindlings Muse podcast I blogged about last week. The last podcast I listened to was a discussion of Bob Dylan and “the new spirituals,” artists such as Sufjan Stevens and Fleet Foxes.

The context is talking about artists who speak on spiritual issues but don’t operate under the umbrella of “official Christian” music. I think this can apply to any artist, whether acting, writing, music, filmmaking, etc.

“There’s often too much of the world in the body, and not enough of the body in the world. We’re not out there engaging the marketplace, and so…we want these people to be our voices and we squeeze them into boxes and we beat them up and bully them. And even when they come into the sanctuary, we behave…more vulgar than the world out there in some cases…

[Dylan] knew this went on out there…but didn’t really expect it to go on in here. We are bums being redeemed. Now if we stay bums, that’s dumb, but if we’re in process, that’s good news.”

Thoughts?

The Ted Dekker giveaway is coming soon. Keep your eyes out!

The Body and the World

This quote is from Nigel Goodwin, an actor and commentator on The Kindlings Muse podcast I blogged about last week. The last podcast I listened to was a discussion of Bob Dylan and “the new spirituals,” artists such as Sufjan Stevens and Fleet Foxes.

The context is talking about artists who speak on spiritual issues but don’t operate under the umbrella of “official Christian” music. I think this can apply to any artist, whether acting, writing, music, filmmaking, etc.

“There’s often too much of the world in the body, and not enough of the body in the world. We’re not out there engaging the marketplace, and so…we want these people to be our voices and we squeeze them into boxes and we beat them up and bully them. And even when they come into the sanctuary, we behave…more vulgar than the world out there in some cases…

[Dylan] knew this went on out there…but didn’t really expect it to go on in here. We are bums being redeemed. Now if we stay bums, that’s dumb, but if we’re in process, that’s good news.”

Thoughts?

The Ted Dekker giveaway is coming soon. Keep your eyes out!

The Kindlings Muse

I’d like to highlight a resource I’ve been turning to for the past few months. The Kindlings Muse is a ministry of Dick Staub, the author of The Culturally Savvy Christian (required reading for followers of this blog).

Dick has been involved with faith and culture for many years now. He’s a radio host, pastor, author, and champion for the arts. The Kindlings Muse is a weekly podcast from Dick, along with various special guests. I finished listening to a series by Os Guinness this morning (an excellent talk on “You Only Live Once-Calling, the ultimate game plan for life”).

Topics generally focus on faith and creativity in some way. When the Oscars rolled around, there is an annual “theology of the Best Picture nominees” show that was very interesting. Other topics I’ve listened to include theology of the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer and an excellent interview with Anne Rice.

You can subscribe to it for free at iTunes, or just see the site regularly for the updated podcasts. As the tagline for the show states, it is “an intelligent, imaginative, hospitable exploration of ideas that matter in contemporary life.”