Why can’t Christians make good films?

When I was growing up I had a friend who was into, what I can only describe as “death metal Christian band” either that or a “screamo” Christian band. To this day I have no idea what that was, all I remember thinking: “boy that is odd”. Years later I remember talking to an evangelical friend and telling him how odd is to have a “death metal” Christian band singing songs of worship. Just imagine someone shouting from the top of his lungs with a deep ghastly voice: “Jesus Saves You” over and over against the backdrop of screams and dissonant guitar riffs… odd, isn’t? My friend said: if that leads them to Christ then he was fine with it. I quickly agree with him and move on…

Years later, I am confronted with a slightly different question: why modern Christian art is so bad? Let me make some distinctions before you stop reading. When I say bad I mean humdrum, preachy and uninspiring. For example, movies with a Christian themes tend to be long protracted sermons aimed at having someone to accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior right on the spot but are devoid of the great drama of human life. They only have one audience in mind: churchgoing Christians. Another example is praise and worship music. I don’t listen to it. I rather think most of it is just plain bad. I am sorry but it is just an opinion. I find myself closer to God listening to Sigur Ros, an admittedly pagan band with a homosexual front man, than anything I hear on your garden variety of praise and worship station.

This is a generalization. On one hand, there are movies like The Kid with a Bike or the Son, by the Belgian filmmakers Dardenne brothers, that have profound but subtle Christian themes, the detrimental effects of an absent father on the former and forgiveness on the latter.  On the other hand, you have movies like Mel Gibson’s masterpiece the Passion of the Christ. Which challenges you in almost every single frame because it conveys the story of the greatest love that ever was and does so superbly.

The art of subtlety, for the most part, has been lost in Christian art. Subtlety is powerful because it bypasses your own biases and hits you, like a clever joke that conveys some truth. The beauty and the sense of wonder about our faith are often lost because we are so close to it and the filmmakers don’t know how to translate it into the screen. Also, we are guilty of forgetting that before the resurrection there was the passion, that without the Cross, there is no Easter. That, in the drama of life, sin and redemption are powerful. Yet we often don’t really see that in most Christian films. The characters are fixed from beginning till end. No real danger of a precipice to fall and thereby no payoff, no growth and no dramatic event, such as in God is not Dead movie. Alternatively, movies like Joe managed to convey this tight rope dance between sin and redemption, between the ugliness and the beauty of life. I can’t really recommend this movie to everyone, but it tells the story of a very sinful man searching for redemption and making a difference in the life of a kid.

I think this is why we are losing the so-called culture war. We are afraid of engaging the culture where it is and if we do, we can’t resist the urge to preach and succumbing to all temptations and pitfalls of a bore.

The answer is that we should not conform to the “isn’t that nice” attitude. Why not offer the best we can offer? Why not stride to make the best art we can make and not just pay lip service to something that we believe? Why not build cathedrals whose stain glasses are a living gospel that evangelizes the illiterate? Why not be passionate about the gift that God as given you and share them with the world?

St. Paul says in Romans 12:6: “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them…” If you are a blogger, a musician, an aspiring filmmaker or a photographer just make the best blog, the best music, the best film and the best picture that you can make… after all any frame can be a Cathedral stain glass that can evangelize the unbeliever.

God Bless.

If you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend the essay: Why Heathen makes the best Christian Films or Peter Kreef’s talk about Beauty from which I took a lot of inspiration writting this post. Tell me what think in the comments below.

One more note:

Funny thing, I started writing this post wanting to write about Sleeping at Last recently completed a yearlong music album “Atlas”. They are one of my favorite bands that embody the spirit that I wrote about. I guess I will save that post for later.

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A brief thought about miracles

Sometimes I feel that as Christians, we are indifferent to the miracles that happen around us. Indifference is not a kind word. It is the anti-thesis of being alive; it is a recipe for boredom that leads to spiritual death. Miracles are mighty, unexpected and mysterious. They are mighty because they turn upside down the laws of nature. They are unexpected because we often don’t look for them and when they happen, we explain them away as coincidences. They are mysterious because we cannot explain them but they are real.

I wonder if the real reason why we are indifferent to miracles is because, if we really believe in them, we are forced to reckon with what they reveal to us: that there is something more than mere materialism and that something is God. Miracles force us to confront that reality and perhaps we are fearful because of what that reality may demand from us.

Another explanation might be that as Christians we refuse to ground our faith in external signs. After all Jesus said in John 20:29: “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” but if we already believe why not rejoice when the creator of the universe shows us a glimpse of his power from time to time?

The fact that many so-called miracles can be explained by science or are simply fraud should not stop us from testing everything and hold on to what is true (1 Thessalonians 5:21). An open heart will open your eyes, perhaps one day you will realize that your very existence is a miracle in itself because without God’s will we would simply cease to exist.

Amateur

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

GK Chesterton
What’s Wrong with the World

This should be the motto of every amateur in the world! I subscribe to the idea that passion should always come first and “perfection” will follow.

Here is a great article about this often misquoted quote by Chesterton: A Thing Worth Doing

5 things to know about cancer

I have been greatly touched by friends who have battled cancer over the years. Some are still fighting the good fight others have won it and sadly others lost it. In their memory I hope that this post serves as a general introduction to cancer origin and progression.

1. Cancer is not a single disease.

Cancer is a collection of diseases that are characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and invasion of other tissues. There are more than 100 types of cancer with different levels of aggression and responsiveness to treatment. Thereby there is not a single silver bullet to treat all cancers.

The American Cancer Society

2. Cancer is caused by accumulation of mutations.

The underlying cause of cancer is the accumulation of multiple changes to our genetic code (DNA) referred as mutations. The accumulation of these mutations causes cells to become unresponsive to cell growth-governing functions thus allowing for uncontrolled growth.   Uncontrolled cell growth, in turn, further facilitates the accumulation of other mutations that may cause cancer to develop into more aggressive forms. 

3. Family history and environmental factors can increase risk of cancer.

Family history of cancer and environmental factors such as smoking, heavy drinking and STDs can predispose/cause someone to develop cancer.

Family History

Family history of cancer may be due to a genetic predisposition.  Genetic predisposition refers to an inherited mutation(s) that may predispose someone to develop a disease.

Breast cancer is a classic example of genetic predisposition.  Studies show that in the general population about 12% of women will develop breast cancer at some point, however, it is estimated that between 45% to 65% of woman with a pre-existing mutation will develop breast cancer.  The culprits are the breast cancer related genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Both of these genes are involved in DNA damage repair. Mutations in these genes may adversely affect the normal function of these genes allowing for the accumulation of additional mutations that may lead to cancer. Men and woman with mutations in these genes have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

For more information about BRCA1 and BRCA2 visit:

National Cancer Institude

Environment

Environmental factors may increase the risk of cancer.  Substances that cause mutation that may lead to cancer are called carcinogens.  Exposure to such substance can lead to cancer. A great example is cigarettes smoke. According to the CDC cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 70 are carcinogens. Over time, the constant exposure to these carcinogens causes the accumulation of mutations that eventually will lead to lung cancer. That is why a smoker is 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker.

4. Cancer formation is a multi-stage process that can take decades to develop.

Cancer develops in a multi-step process that can take decades to complete. Thereby most cancers affect people later in life. For example, in order for a cell to become cancerous, it must overcome biological safeguards such as growth control checkpoints and cell-death inducing signals that prevent cancer formation. In addition to these biological safeguards cancer cells must also cope with environmental challenges such as nutrient deprivation and lack of oxygen that restrict their growth and ability to invade other tissues. Moreover, cancer like infectious disease has to evade the immune response.

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Natural selection drives these processes. Natural selection is an evolutionary process in which the fittest individuals are selected; in the case of cancer individuals are cells. Thus, natural selection requires diversity of traits within a population and the selection of those traits that are beneficial. This diversity arises mostly through mutations. Most mutations are either bad or neutral. However, in some rare cases a mutation may give cells an advantage over other non-mutated cells. In cancer, a beneficial mutation translates into the ability to proliferate independently of cell growth inhibitors or the ability to secrete signals that will trigger angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) and allow cells to invade surrounding tissues.

It is thought that early in cancer development cells acquire what is called a “mutator phenotype”. This means that cancer cells acquire new mutations at a faster pace than healthy cells.  This increases the pool of new traits and the chances for a beneficial trait that can enable cancer progression.

5. Cancer treatments are different.

Given that there is not a single type of cancer. Cancers respond differently to cancer therapies. For example, a drug that may be effective treating prostate cancer may not necessarily be effective treating breast cancer or leukemia.

National Cancer Institude
American Cancer Society
MD Anderson Cancer Center

If you have a family history of cancer do not be afraid, talk to your physician. Early detention will greatly improve treatment success. Stop if you are engaging in cancer causing behaviors. Life is worth living to the fullest and cancer is not worth it! If you have been diagnosed with cancer and you are undergoing treatment, please remember the words of Christ:

“Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Mark 9:23

Trust in Jesus! He loves you more than anything in this world and keep the fight!

Please consider supporting cancer research and visit:

Johnny Kicks Cancer Foundation.

God Bless.

About the Big Bang and Fundamentalists

The recent debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, a young earth creationist supporter, reminded me of something that St. Thomas Aquinas said:

“First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable. Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining a Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dares to insist that it still is the definitive sense of the text. Otherwise unbelievers will scorn Sacred Scripture, and the way to faith will be closed to them.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

In other words, some fundamentalist interpretation of scripture contradicts our observation of the universe and their staunch literalistic interpretation of the Bible may be a stumbling block for unbelievers, closing faith to them.

God is truth and cannot be deceived or deceive. As Sir Francis Bacon said: “God wrote two books. One is Holy Scripture and the other is nature”. They cannot contradict each other. One reveals how God created the Universe and the other reveals why God created the Universe. They do not oppose each other, but complement each other in reviling the beauty and power of our Creator. It is amazing that not a hundred years ago, scientists like Fred Hoyle mocked the primordial atom theory, the Big Bang Theory, first proposed by Fr. George Lemeitre, a Jesuit priest, as nothing but religious propaganda.

Einstein thought that Fr. Lemeitre’s theory was the most beautiful explanation of creation once he looked at the evidence that support Fr. Lemeitre theory.

The key here is openness to evidence. On one had it seems to me that staunch atheists refuse to look beyond their biases about religion and look closer to the cosmological and philosophical evidence for the existence of God on the other hand
Fundamentalists who hold a literalistic interpretation of the Bible refuse to see irrefutable evidence about the age of the universe. Making their faith look un-reasonable to non-believers and in the process alienating people who are searching for truth.

The result of such public debate between these opposing views is that it foments a caricatured notion that there is no place for reason in faith and no place for faith in reason. The history of science as it was developed in the West begs to disagree with such ill informed notion.

“But you have disposed all things by measure and number and weight.”

Wisdom 11:20

This verse from the book of Wisdom, often quoted by St. Augustine in the third century, greatly influenced many thinkers during the early and late Middle Ages. It reveals something about creation. The act of creation was not arbitrary but carefully designed “by measure and number and weight” and thus allowed for the investigation of the world because it argues that the world was created by reason and thereby can be understood by reason. This line of thinking led to the creation of the universities, the scientific method and many scientific fields by the Catholic Church, which ultimately led to the scientific revolution.

Fundamentalist creationists staunch advocacy in favor of young earth creation can be a stumbling block for many because it refuses to accept the evidence and change its position. Perhaps St. Thomas anticipated young creationist postures when he caution about rigid Bible interpretation.

Faith properly understood is reasonable and beautiful because it brings us closer to the good, the beautiful and the true.