Imagination Turns Dangerous

“Is it possible to read a story and not enter into it; to write a story and not become part of the script?”—Ravi Zacharias.

Isn’t it amazing how obsessed we can become with an ‘imaginary’ character?

I enjoy the BBC series Sherlock. I think it’s smart, snappy, suspenseful, and the actors are brilliant. But some people LOVE that show—they make Sherlock memes, Sherlock valentines, go to costumed Sherlock events, and write kinky Sherlock fan fiction. They masquerade as Sherlock and Watson by tweeting in character. Pretend long enough, and it becomes real, right?

Some girls dig Mr. Darcy and wish he was real, and in a moment of weakness I’ve probably done the same. I once cried because there were no men like Aragorn, Faramir and Eomir (from Lord of the Rings) in my neck of the woods.

In hindsight, that is probably for the best—the swords and all, but it’s hard not to fall for that kind of badassery.

Stories, whether on the page or screen, engage our imagination. In our minds, these people can be everything we want them to be. We can rewrite the sad endings, put the broken relationships back together, even insert ourselves into the story. As a novelist, I find I embody my characters and see through their eyes—like an actor, taking on the thoughts and intentions of her role.

But what if this becomes dangerous?

Ravi Zacharias, in his book Why Jesus, gives an extreme example:

In [The Dark Knight], award-winning actor Heath Ledger played the sinister role of the Joker with nearly satanic powers. Once again, you walked away from the movie thinking it was “just a movie.” But was it…?

In the real world, devoid of pretense, when the news of Heath Ledger’s sudden and mysterious drug-related death at the age of twenty-nine hit the news, the question being bandied about was whether his portrayal of the Joker had so overtaken his thinking that he couldn’t break free from the script of Batman. According to his co-actors and friends, Ledger ended up possessed by the Joker and unable to break free from the character, even away from the set… The sinister won the day and the Joker was no longer a phantom character, but was embodied away from the set with dire real-life consequences.

I got a taste of this phenomenon last winter. I was already suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly initialed ‘SAD’) when I began researching Post Traumatic Stress disorder to add depth to a character I was writing. Immersed in the stories of soldiers, whose lives had practically been stolen by this affliction, I began to wonder if I was writing myself deeper into depression. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was me or Liam (the affected character) who was screaming inside my head–a little melodramatic, but scary all the same.

This reminds me of my responsibility as an author: to speak truth, mindful that whatever I weave into my story has the potential to be expanded on the screen of the reader’s imagination. And also, to choose what I read, and what I view carefully—because unlike the ideas that are force-fed in a classroom, statements a movie or novel makes are insidious. They creep in slowly, and stick while we are still saying “it’s just entertainment.”

Is it just entertainment, or is it real? Ask the guy who tweets as Sherlock.

Why I Didn’t Watch “God’s Not Dead”

I didn’t go see the movie God’s Not Dead.  In fact, the idea of it disturbs me.

Perhaps it is hypocritical to call into question a movie which I haven’t seen, but hopefully I can be fair about this.  I’ve attempted to read up on it and get a good idea of what it is about, but I realize that any review will naturally be biased.  This is based on second-hand information.  Feel free to correct me.

That being said, essentially, I see the movie as a Christian pep-rally, propaganda movie–a sort of one-dimensional, thin portrayal that makes Christians feel good about being Christians at the expense of real thought.  Was the intention to be a ‘witnessing tool’?  An aid in apologetics?  I doubt it worked.

My beef with it is twofold.

Stereotyping and one-dimensional portrayal of non-Christians

In their review, Plugged’N (part of Focus on the Family) admits,

Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.

Obviously (the movie implies), if you’re an atheist you’re a jerk.  If you’re a Muslim, you’re going to violently kick your daughter out of the house for converting to Christianity.

That’s not a fair portrayal.

The Christians Win in the End (hurray for the good guys!)

Rembert Browne said:

This is a film in which antagonizers of Christianity are strategically given a platform to speak, just so they can be shut down.

If there’s anything that makes people irate about this movie, it is this one.  The atheist MUST be shut down, and therefore he cannot be given a true chance to speak.  Both sides cannot be argued fairly.  Why?  Is it because the questions he could ask are too hard to answer?

And what if the protagonist did not win the class over?  What if he had given his best defence and was still considered an imbecile?  What if he failed his class?  Would he be less ‘successful’?

And then, as if to make everything better, everyone ‘becomes a Christian’ in the end.

Rembert Browne again:

So yes, this movie is absurd.  It creates a fantasy world in the name of Christianity winning in the end.  It positions a David vs. Goliath scenario with the kid who believes in God and the professor who denounces that belief.  After losing to the student in the eyes of the student body, the professor has a revelation, gets hit by a car, and decides to give his life to Jesus as he lies in the street, probably dying.

And then we end with a rock concert.  What?

Perhaps what disturbs me most about this movie is that as Christians, we could do so much better.  It seems to portray unhealthy ways of engaging with our friends, neighbours, coworkers and professors.  I would rather see these two ideas promoted:

When engaging others, remember they are people.

It is entirely possible that their views are NOT well thought through, and that their religion (or lack thereof) is based on a shaky foundation.  But assume that it isn’t.  For the sake of their dignity as a human and an image-bearer of God, take the time to hear them out.  Get to the root.  What do they really believe, and what led them there?

Ravi Zacharias, Christian author and apologist, said that one of the most important qualities of an apologist is humility, and it takes humility to listen, risking that the other may have a good point to make.

Winning is not the point

There is no shame in bowing out gracefully, and there is no shame in being out-gunned. Learn from it. If you can’t win the crowd over, as long as you have spoken the truth and as long as you have conveyed God’s love and character, consider it a job well done.

I recently had a debate with a coworker that dragged on (by email) for almost a month.  A professor of mine, who I turned to for advice, urged me that arguing with him was probably not the best method.  I disregarded him at first, but I eventually realized that we were getting nowhere, and so in order to preserve the relationship, I bowed out.  It felt like caving, honestly, but it was the right thing to do.

Debates, if done well, are extremely useful.  If you keep your mind open, and focus on learning instead of winning, they will force you to reconsider what you hold dear–what is truth, and what is just pet idea of yours.  In the end, you are likely to walk away stronger (or perhaps with a new viewpoint).

If you are interested to learn how to engage people of other faiths, or defend the Christian worldview, I encourage you to listen to podcasts by Ravi Zacharias, read some of his books, or if possible, see one of his apologists in action.  Their simultaneous knowledge and humility is a great example to uphold.

By nature, a movie like this will polarize.  I get that.  Friends of mine who saw it all loved it, but it was no surprise that was full of vitriolic reviews (from Christian and non-Christian alike).

Gods not dead text

I expect there were instances where God’s Not Dead inspired thought.  Perhaps it stiffened the spine of some.  I appreciate the idea: stand up for your faith no matter what.  I just wish the movie-makers used a bit more wisdom in how they did it.  We, as Christians, are already viewed in stereotypes of hypocrites, bigots and intolerant fools.  Let’s not prove them right.







3 Reasons Why I Love Audio Learning

What are you listening to right now? What’s on your phone? What’s in your disk-changer (if you still have one of those dinosaurs)? Is it helping you or hurting you? Is it feeding your brain?

I love listening to music–darn near addicted. But for the past five years I’ve been on a steady diet of audios–podcasts, lectures, sermons and motivational talks. And I love it. Here’s why that’s my favourite way to learn.

1. I can multitask.

As a borderline workaholic, I love to be able to accomplish two things at once. I can prepare dinner while learning about the history of Great Britain—a workaholic nerd’s dream. The kitchen becomes a classroom, the car becomes a university on wheels, and the bathroom becomes a church. Getting preached at while I put on mascara? Oh yes. Unlike reading, which requires having eyes on the page, audio learning just requires having your stereo (or phone) in earshot. This kills the “I don’t have time” excuse.

2. It’s cheap and effective.

Let’s compare, shall we? I subscribe to a fifty-dollar CD and book package that sends me four CD’s a month on various topics. I’ve received this, or something similar, for almost five years. Let’s say I’ve spent three grand on audios over the last five years, give or take. I also get three free podcasts a week. 16 audios a month for around fifty bucks, and I listen to them more than once.

I spent two years in college to receive a diploma. It was a small private school where the tuition is partially subsidized by donations. This cost me about 15,000.

Both were well worth their while, but I learned about the same thing in each–History, economics, politics, leadership, success principles, personal development, time management, financial management, principles for a good marriage, principles for parenting, psychology, theology, communication, philosophy, apologetics, and science.

And the audio learning didn’t require a loan, or quitting my job.

3. It refreshes my mind.

I’m a consummate over-thinker. When I’m worrying or just plain in a funk, I need something to shut me up. I’ve found that if I pop in a CD or put on a podcast, it shuts out my negative self-talk and invigorates my mind. After listening I am ready to take on the next task—and if I’m not, I’ve at least accomplished something. But this only works if it’s a positive audio. If it’s some negative, crass, or ‘brain-candy’ type thing, it probably won’t work.

Where to Start?

Pick stuff that interests you and challenges you. Pick stuff that will help in your area of expertise, or is in a field you’d like to improve in. I also recommend a steady diet of personal development material from sources who have the results that prove they know their stuff.

Here are a few ideas:

The LIFE audio series, by LIFE Leadership:
LIFE produces audios on the themes of the “8 F’s” (Faith, Family, Finance, Fitness, Friends, Freedom, Following and Fun), taught by successful business and social leaders. Relatable, engaging and entertaining. Cost: roughly 50.00 per month for 4 CD’s and one book.

The British History Podcast: Produced by Jamie Jeffers, a former attorney who presents the history of Great Britain with a conversational, witty style and doesn’t hesitate to buck tradition. This is NOT your high school history class. Cost: free podcast, with optional membership for bonus content (5.00 per month).

Ravi Zacharias, “Let My People Think”: Author and apologist, Ravi Zacharias, and guests discuss living and defending a Christian worldview in a hostile environment. Ravi is humble and soft-spoken, but his brilliance shines through. Free podcasts.

Focus on the Family Radio Theatres: Movie-quality sound, original scores and full casts bring classic novels and original stories to life. My personal favorites are the Chronicles of Narnia. Other titles include Ben Hur and Les Miserables. Available through iTunes. Cost: 4.99 to 25.99 per title.

Give it a go. Try one per week. Try a few different audios. I bet it will grow on you.