Friday, February 29, 2008
The Oscar Best Picture list for generations has been a fairly reliable bell-weather of movies that were excellent in craft and universal in theme, and so caught the attention of the mass, global audience, giving them delight and something to go back to time and time again. A Best Picture film has generally meant something that holds up over time and can be watched and savored over and over again. I've seen Casablanca probably twenty times, for example, and I will never get to the point when I will say, "I'm done with it.". It's just too good. I've seen The Sound of Music until I know every line. And then, A Man for All Seasons and Amadeus, Ben Hur, On The Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, Gone With the Wind, My Fair Lady - just off the top of my head. People will be watching these movies forever. And even the Best Pictures that aren't seen a lot these days, like Rebecca, The Best Years of Our Lives, Marty and Gentlemen's Agreement still hold up for the most part.
The question is, who will be watching Crash over and over and over in years to come? Who is even watching it now? [Dry voice] Memorizing every word is much easier in Crash's case as the F-word makes up probably a quarter of the script.
Who today is delighting with warm satisfaction over A Beautiful Mind? Will families ever gather around the TV after dinner to catch a rerun of The Departed or now, No Country for Old Men? Does anybody even remember the name of the main character in Million Dollar Baby?
No, the Academy Awards have almost completed their journey to being as irrelevant to everyday moviegoers as Cannes and the Berlin Film Festival. Even when there are populist movies again, I wonder if in squandering the Oscar brand, by giving the award to tedious, pretentious, or rooted in political zeitgeist movies, people will be able to care about the Oscars again some day.
Anyway, I really don't have much more to add to my impressions of the ceremony than Jan's adept analysis here.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Dana Gioia is the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, a Catholic, a poet, and one of the most impressive men I have ever met. I remember the first time I met him in his office in Washington, his staff had clearly given him a copy of my bio and he saw that I had written a script about Emily Dickinson. So when he shook my hand he quoted from memory one of Emily's poems. Way to win me over real fast. A year or so later, Dana gave the closing address to our Washington, DC Act One program. As part of his noteless talk, he recited from memory about 30 lines of the "All the World's a Stage" speech from Shakespeare's, As You Like It. I remember thinking at the time, "Just sign me up and tell me what to do." When the Chairman gave his blessing to Act One, and then we got an NEA grant, I knew we were on the right track.
I'd never met Cardinal Schonborn, but had heard that he is "papabili." That's Catholic for, he's one of those men in the Church who kind of reeks "Could be Pope." After having heard him speak for thirty minutes or so, I tend to agree. A very impressive man. Definitely smart. But also had the aura of Christ about him.
The event was put on by The Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project, basically to announce the upcoming translation of that great philosophers' Aesthetics into English. As someone who is always trying to put together a life-framework that brings together the arts and faith, I can't wait for this book to be available in English. Von Hildebrand was the dominant philosophical influence of my undergraduate life. And his Transformation in Christ was the dominant challenge in shaping my spiritual life and subsequent choices. If you haven't heard of von Hildebrand, you're missing a big piece of the 'coping with modernity as a disciple puzzle."
Called a philosophical genius by Edmund Husserl, (no small potatoes himself), von Hildebrand was also designated "enemy number one" by the Ambasador of Hitler's Third Reich in Austria. When our present Pope was Cardinal Ratzinger he noted on one occasion, "I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the 20th century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time."
The work of translating von Hildebrand's thoughts on beauty and art into English is being funded largely through the generosity of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson. I was very impressed to see all the non-Catholic Christians who came to be part of the lunch, to celebrate this the paradigm Catholic philosopher. We have come a long way since the Reformation, I am thinking, and we will go very much farther in the next decade. You can quote me.
Here's a blurb from von Hildebrand's Aesthetics that touches directly on a theme that has been a principal part of my schtick these last ten years. It really meant a lot to find myself in synch here with this man's thought.
"...let me affirm unambiguously that beauty does in fact have an ennobling effect. Contact with an environment permeated by beauty not only offers a real protection against every kind of impurity and baseness, brutality, and untruthfulness; it also has the positive effect of elevating us in an ethical sense. It does not draw us into a self-centered pleasure where we only wish to indulge ourselves. On the contrary, it opens our hearts, inviting us to transcendence and leading us before the face of God...(Beauty) frees us from captivity in our egoistic interests and undoes the fetters of our hearts, releasing us (even if only for a short time) from the wild passions that constrain them."
I think this volume will go a long way to realizing that "renewal of the fruitful dialog that used to exist between the Church and the arts," that was called for by John Paul II in his Letter to Artists.
I jotted down a few quotes from the remarks of Dana Gioia and the Cardinal at the luncheon. Here they are:
"Dante and Mozart have brought more souls to God than any preacher." Dana Gioia
"(The problem in culture today) is that we have de-spiritualized art, and dehumanized religion." Dana Gioia
"Catholic musicians at Mass do not perform. They participate." Cardinal Schonborn
"We are living in a world in which ugliness has become a general invasion. Loss of proportion. Loss of harmony. Loss of tradition. Modern art is itself the deliberate deconstruction of secular traditions." Cardinal Schonborn
There was lots more good stuff said, but those were some of the notes I jotted down because they served me where I am at right now. I must say, I am very glad to see the Church starting to wake up over this art and culture thing. God willing, the Church will one day be patron of the Arts again.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
For two hours, The Other Boleyn Girl is about nothing but sex. And I think I am going to recommend it. I found it to be a horrifying (in a good way) morality tale. (Karen - your kind of cinematic romp?) Because of it's subject matter, it's for grownups, although with a PG-13 rating, it doesn't have nudity or graphic sex.
Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory, the movie tells a mostly unknown story of the family of Henry the VIII's infamous second queen, Anne Boleyn, and how her father's ambition, and her mother's paralysis, ends up leading the whole family into every kind of tragedy.
Contrary to the Cate Blanchett Elizabethan movies that demonize the Catholic Church, The Other Boleyn Girl is a scathing indictment of the Tudor court, painting Henry in leotard-wearing Bill Clintonesque - narcissistic, deceitful, and willing to destroy his kingdom to satisfy his sexual appetites. His Queen, Catherine of Aragon, on the other hand, comes across as completely noble and really kind of wonderful - a devout woman trapped in a power-mad, licentious hell. On another level, the movie really, really made me glad that as a female, I was born in the mid-20th Century and not the mid-16th Century. Now, THAT was a damn tough time to be a woman.
I don't know how much of the story here is truly factual, but it is compelling and kept my attention for the full two hours. The movie absolutely knows what it is about - basically a slow spiral into hell and death as the Boleyn family sinks deeper and deeper into insane choices to preserve their status and fortunes. At moments, the movie becomes so horrible that the audience we screened it with kept bursting into laughs that were really groans. People had to laugh because the characters' choices had become so painfully, horribly absurd.
The cinematogroaphy was a bit annoying. Again, my kingdom for some wide shots! Somebody put up a billboard on Sunset somewhere - "To Directors: Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Must." I'm really tired of the unmotivated tight closeup. It seems to me a disrespectful attempt by the director to control the audience's eye just a bit too much.
The performances here were mostly good. Scarlet Johansson completely steals the movie from Natalie Portman. Portman was badly miscast here as Anne Boleyn. She doesn't have the sexual seductress thing going on, but comes off as more an all-American girl next door. I never bought that Henry would be so besotted with her. Eric Bana as Henry does a very good job, as does Kristin Scott Thomas as the mother of the three ill-fated Boleyn children.
There's no real lyrical imagery or cool cinema grammar, but the movie is basically a well told story that leaves the audience believing profoundly that it is much better to be obscure and middle-class than rich, powerful, and without all honor.
So, how was your day?
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Here is an announcement for an event coming up from the Magis Institute, of which I am a Board member. Our mission is "Healing the Culture Through Spirituality," and we will be holding a lot of retreats and conferences and one-off events, particularly to deepen Catholic artists in the entertainment industry. Eric Hansen, the speaker for this event, knows more about sacred art than any body I have ever come across. I always learn from him.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Happy to add to the buzz for Tom's work....
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Sunday, February 24, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
We go to the San Diego Zoo. And we stroll in the soft sunlight, and inhale the lush flora...and be really, really glad we get to live here especially at this time of year. (To all my Northeast friends: I know it's obnoxious, but despite all your grumblings about "the left Coast" and "liberal bastion," and "how L.A. has way more than a fair share of New Age wackos," Southern California really is paradise! It's indisputable.)
We, the people of Origin Entertainment, decided to spend a weekend together actually enjoying each other, instead of fretting over financing deals and script notes. Hosted by our wise and wonderful CEO, Dick Lyles and his lovely wife, Martha, it was a great time.
There is no culturally or ecclesially significant reason for me to post the following pictures. But I send them out to those of you who are shivering in February horrors, as a sign of hope to you, that somewhere it is summer! (Heh, heh. Wicked chortle of New England expat glee.)
Really big monkey.
Elephant. At dinner.
An obviously bored lion sleeping in a cave really, really far away from the madding throng of gawking humans. My sense was the zoo was being very careful about their big cats not jumping 23 feet and eating any of us. I got a closer shot of the Pope the last time I was in Rome.
Absolutely no idea. But they have a lot of them at the San Diego Zoo. I'm thinking all the other zoos don't want 'em.
Martha and Dick Lyles holding some of the next generation of the Origin Entertainment family.
Origin's Founder and Chairman, James Volk and his lovely family looking very beautifully Southern Californian. Everyone here looks like this. (...ahem....)
Friday, February 15, 2008
Act One Summer Programs - Applications Now Being Accepted!
Summer Screenwriting Program
The Act One Screenwriting Program trains talented Christians for careers as mainstream
film and television writers. The program takes place in the heart of the Hollywood entertainment industry with intensive classroom instruction and mentoring from a world-class faculty of over 50 top-notch TV and movie writers, agents and producers. Among those you will learn from include Hollywood pros like Dean Batali (That 70s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose), Monica Macer (Lost, Prison Break), Bill Marsilii (Déjà Vu) and David McFadzean (Home Improvement, What Women Want).
“Act One helps the Christian writer overcome the temptation to ignore or
oversimplify the arduous task of integrating faith and creativity. It provides
not only a serious investigation into the art and craft of screenwriting, but
also a challenge to think deeply about content.”
- Scott Derrickson, writer/director, The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Act One Summer Screenwriting Program
July 11 - August 4, 2008
Los Angeles, CA
Program Dates and Applications
Applications available at: www.actoneprogram.com
Deadline: March 13, 2008 by 5:00 pm
The Summer Entertainment Executive Program
In partnership with Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business & Management, Act One operates a rigorous 12-week training and internship program to prepare Christian entrepreneurs, attorneys, corporate executives and MBA's for executive careers in mainstream entertainment.
Our elite faculty includes Hollywood professionals from the top networks, studios, agencies and production companies, including: Producers Ralph Winter (Fantastic Four, X-Men), Steve McEveety (The Passion of the Christ, Braveheart) & Howard Kazanjian (Raiders of the Lost Ark); TV Executive Producers Dean Batali (That 70’s Show) & John Tinker (Boston Public, NCIS); Studio, Network and Agency Executives Jocelyn Diaz (Development Exec, ABC) & Terry Botwick (President, Vanguard Animation and Film; former Senior VP at CBS); Chuck Slocum (Assistant Executive Director, WGA West); Exhibitor Michael Pade (Executive VP, Regal Cinemas); Christian scholars Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy) & Larry Poland (Master Media International); and many more.
Act One Executive Program 2008
June 5 - August 22, 2008
Los Angeles, CA
Applications available at: www.actoneprogram.com
Deadline: March 14, 2008 by 12:00 pm
For more information visit www.actoneprogram.com.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Saturday, March 8, 2008
1:30p.m. – 5:00p.m.
Family Theater Productions
7201 Sunset Boulevard
Dr. Daniel McInerny, associate director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, and Dr. Michael P. Foley, assistant professor in the Great Texts Program at Baylor University will be moderating a lively afternoon’s discussion on the promises and the perils of telling stories in the entertainment industry.
In particular, we will be exploring questions such as the following—
· What is the special character of modern culture, and how is it reflected in contemporary cinema and television?
· What does Catholic culture, and Christianity generally, contribute to the craft of movie making? Does it merely warn us against gratuitous sex and violence or attacks against the Church, or does it contribute more substantially to the art of telling cinematic stories?
· What sorts of stories can Catholics and other Christians effectively tell in the modern world? Are we restricted to explicitly “religious” topics?
· Why are some of the best Catholic films made by non-Catholics?
· Do Catholics and other Christians working in the entertainment industry have a special vocation? If so, what is it?
A buffet lunch will be served at 12:00p.m. at Family Theater, so please come early to enjoy some time with colleagues in the industry.
Fr. Willy Raymond, C.S.C, National Director of Family Theater Productions, will offer Mass at Family Theater directly following the colloquium, to which everyone is also invited.
Seating at Family Theater is limited, so please respond as soon as possible in order to reserve your place at the colloquium.
You may RSVP and address all questions about the colloquium to Dr. Daniel McInerny, either by email at email@example.com, or by phone at 574-631-3788. We look forward to seeing you on the afternoon of March 8 for what promises to be a stimulating discussion!
Or do you want to get an insider's understanding of the business of The Biz?
Do you have what it takes to make it in Hollywood – as an artist, a professional and as a Christian?
It’s time to find out.
The Act One Seminar: Screenwriting and the Business of Hollywood is coming to Phoenix, Arizona!
Act One, Inc. presents Act One Seminars - intensive, practical workshops for aspiring and professional writers and entrepreneurs who are serious about their Christian faith and who dream of creating culture that respects and enriches a global audience. These two-day seminars offer a fun, fast-paced overview of our renowned Writing and Executive Programs, taught by Hollywood professionals. Topics include -
• Finding Your Story
• Film Structure
• Visual Writing
• The Business of Hollywood/Next Steps
• Christianity and Culture
• Truth in Film
• The Hollywood Mission Field
• Character & Dialogue
• Outlines & Treatments
• Industry Standard Formatting
• Who Does What in Feature and TV Production?: From Best Boy to Executive Producer
• Introduction to the Marketplace & Commercial Creativity
• Optioning a Winning Script or Other Source Material
Friday and Saturday, April 11-12, 2008
Scottsdale Christian Church
7934 E Oak St
Scottsdale, AZ 85257
Scheduled To Appear:
Writer/Executive Producer Dean Batali (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, That 70’s Show)
Writers Chris & Kathy Riley (After The Truth, 25 To Life, The Hollywood Standard)
Producer/Director Monica Jimenez-Grillo(The New Detectives, FBI Files)
Writer Leslie Kreiner Wilson (Frankie Laine, Mississippi Son, Faking It)
$195 – (includes study materials, Saturday lunch and Hollywood Insider Event)
$175 – Early Birds (before March 1st), Students (with ID), and Groups (10 or more)
$10 – Hollywood Insider Event only
Act One, Inc. is proud to partner with our co-sponsors, Scottsdale Christian Church and Pepperdine University
SPACE IS LIMITED – Visit www.actoneprogram.com to register online NOW!
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Leaders of the WGA made the announcement of the finalized deal early Saturday after spending much of Friday meeting with lawyers over the contract language. WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East prexy Michael Winship sent a message to members that stressed the gains made in the new-media sector.
“It is an agreement that protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery,” they said. “It creates formulas for revenue-based residuals in new media, provides access to deals and financial data to help us evaluate and enforce those formulas, and establishes the principle that, ‘When they get paid, we get paid.’ ”
Verrone and Winship said in the message that the time has come to end the strike and cited the “enormous personal toll on our members and countless others.”
“As such, we believe that continuing to strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks and that the time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike,” they said. “Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success.”
I think we'd all have to conclude that this strike really was a strategic and moral success for writers. When it started, the subject of compensation for the Internet was one of the non-negotiables. But the solidarity of the writing community really wonthe day. The studios were shocked, I think, when the TV showrunners refused to work as "producers" arguing that everything they do in casting, editing and show-running, basically is just another form of writing. This action added a tremendous amount of pressure on TV nets and studios.
Then there has been the wonderful solidarity of SAG. The actors, certainly eying their own contract negotiation coming up this summer, but also out of a real sense of appreciation for the long-neglected importance of writers to this business, decided to dig in with us in the strike. Shockingly, the actors refused to countenance a Golden Globes celebration, and then threatened to boycott their annual red-carpet actor glut fest, the Academy Awards. There have only been a few actors who broke the strike, notably Ellen Degeneres, who made a really bad call that I think will haunt her professionally for a long time.
But now, we will have the writers getting back to work after having had a nice long period to think and brood over their next projects. I think we are going to see some great work come out of this solitude. Please join me in praying for this.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
I was there solely and completely for Battlestar and had the chance to talk to the Executive Producer, co-Executive Producer and several cast members (although not Katee Sackhoff as she didn't show up....rats.) I had an interesting exchange with the co-exec producer, Jane Espensen about my little ethical issue with the show. (Ref. a post in mid-January. The whole "What is the difference between humans and cylons thing.) Very interesting. Jane agreed with me that Laura Roslin should have gone ahead and stolen the election because she had enough empirical evidence to know that Baltar was very very bad. Imagine a TV show turning me into a situation ethicist! Anyway, it was great to be able to thank them for the show and tell them how much it has entertained me...and given me a lot to think about.
Anyway, I thought it was very much in keeping with the spirit of Ash Wednesday to go picketing for peace and justice in Hollywood.
Here is a shot of the show-runner of Battlestar, Ron Moore with one of the stars, Michael Trucco, who plays Starbuck's husband, Sam Anders.
Here is Ron Moore with actress Kate Vernon, who plays Ellen Tigh, the wild and weird wife of Colonel Tigh.
Here are a group of female sci-fi writers. There are writers here from most of the Sci-Fi Channel shows, and they were all wearing pink hats for some reason. (I guess if I knew more about sci-fi, I'd get it....) Anyway, there in the middle of them is my friend and Act One TV instructor, Sheryl Anderson.
I was staring right at Sheryl when I first got to the strike, but I didn't recognize her because I was staring at her hat. Suddenly, I heard my name, "Barbara Nicolosi!" It took me a minute because I hadn't seen her for a year and it was out of context, (and then there was the pink hat!) but then it was so nice to give her a big hug and spend the next hour or so tromping back and forth catching up. Sheryl currently writes on Flash Gordon, and we are hoping it will be coming back when the strike is resolved.
Here's Trucco and Kate walking the line. As a writer, I am so grateful to the SAG community for their support in this strike. We won't forget!
Here are photos of some other Sci-Fi stars. I know they are stars because the paparazzi were all over them at different points in the day. If anybody knows who they are, please feel free to let me know.
UPDATE FROM THOM PARHAM, CHRISTIAN SCI-FI GURU OF GURUS: "The guy on the right-hand side is Mark Verheiden, a co-executive producer on BSG. I've known Mark since I moved to LA in '95. He's a great guy and helped me arrange interviews with some of his colleagues for a Popular Culture Association conference paper I wrote a few years ago."
UPDATE FROM D.: "The guy in the red shirt and black jacket holding the strike sign is Jamie Paglia, the writer / co-creator / EP of Eureka."
UPDATE FROM THOM PARHAM: "The guy being interviewed by Space (the Canadian counterpart of Sci Fi Channel) is Ed Quinn, who plays Nathan Stark on Eureka. Don't know if you've seen it yet; Think Northern Exposure in a town full of geniuses. Give it a try sometime.
Blow the trumpet in Zion!
proclaim a fast,
call an assembly;
Gather the people,
notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders,
gather the children
and the infants at the breast;
Let the bridegroom quit his room
and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land
and took pity on his people.
I am a choleric sanguine temperament. And the sanguine part of me just hates Lent. I know I need it. And I know it is a holy time. And I know that the celebration of the Resurrection would be gutted without these forty days of reflection on our sin and the atoning death of Christ. But as a sanguine, the idea of forty seven days of somberness is very hard. And then I am an extrovert, so I get my energy from people. Which means I tend to fall asleep in solitude. So, the very idea of Ash Wednesday fills me with waves of exhaustion. I'm tired already and it has only been Lent for nine hours and fifty seven minutes. "Can't I just go somewhere on the planet where it isn't Lent and sleep for forty seven days?" But my choleric side is all about taking life seriously, so, as much as I dread the dreary season, I embrace it.
I grew up in a family in which my mother used to say, "If you like Lent, you're doing it wrong." We had a whole list of "family penances" that still hover in my consciousness and which I can't evade without guilt even now - no sweets, no alcohol, no having people over for dinner, no anything at all that could be regarded as frivolously enjoyable. There was a sense in our house that anything really fun would be inappropriate during Lent. And then, we had to come up with our own individual penances that had to be approved by the parental units as really nailing whatever it was that God (as mediated by them in persona dei) wanted us to work on.
I'm glad I grew up in such a family. Lent gave a seriousness and purpose to the year. And it made the celebration of all the feasts outside of Lent much more joyous.
And another result of the "Lent is a serious season" in our house was that we all grew up with a special love of St. Joseph. His solemnity, falling on March 19th, invariably interrupted the dismalness of Lent. He was just too great a saint for the family not to step outside of the Lenten misery to have a celebration. I have always loved him for this, he was light and resurrection in many a dark, cold winter of penance.
I always have an intention for someone else for Lent. I find it keeps me much more resolute in keeping my penances, such as they are, and actually gives them a little boost out of their innate patheticness as dumb things that are still annoying sacrifices for me in my spoiled, spiritually lukewarm state. It's a weird dynamic, but if it is just about me, I tend to let myself off the hook easier. But when I know I promised the merits of the sacrifices for someone who is in need, I really seem to be able to summon the energy to talk myself out of talking myself out of not taking it all so seriously. This year, I'm offering Lent for my sister Alison who is expecting her second child in March, and also Dawn Eden, who has some disease that brings together cancer and the thyroid. I don't get the Divine Economy which sends Dawn cancer at this moment in which she has a vital message for our culture. So, I'm doing my part to dissent. Oh, and also sending up sacrifices for the conversion and holiness of Hollywood. You know, that old thing.
As much as I find the tone of Lent temperamentally exhausting, I have grown into welcoming the practice of fasting and almsgiving during the season. Here's what these two aren't: "Here Jesus, here's some more junk."
That is, a fast, is not giving up things creepy and shameful in our lives. We should do that any way. A fast isn't going on a diet or quitting smoking. A real fast is abstaining from something good that is an enjoyable part of human life. And then almsgiving is doing some extra good that builds the Church. As a spiritual director said to me years ago, "The only renunciation that makes any sense, is that which takes the form of a reaching out."
Thinking about that today as I mull over keepable serious penances.
God bless you all -
Monday, February 04, 2008
Provocations, the Journal from something called the Trinity Forum.
I've heard of the writer, John Seel, before, although I can't recall if we have ever met. Apparently he has done consulting for Walden Media, so we very well may have met. I'm wondering, because his peice sounds like he has been taking notes in the back of about twenty rooms I have been in in the last year. In this article, John is trying to provide a Christian sociology (it's not really theology) that would help Christians with money see their way through to investment in culture. This topic of how Christians should try and secure meaningful cultural influence through investment is a hot one, with lots of folks preening and posturing, but with very little strategic action actually developing. John's piece is very thoughtful and potentially helpful, and hopefully will get a wide exposure.
Here's a snip.
Abandoning the wrong approach
Our past efforts at cultural renewal have not been effective in part because the faith perspective is underrepresented in many of the institutions of cultural leadership. Consider geography. There are four main centers of national cultural influence: Boston, New York, San Jose—representing the Silicon Valley—and Los Angeles. Evangelicals are concentrated instead in places like Wheaton, Colorado Springs, and Orlando. Institutional evangelicalism serves institutional evangelicalism, but rarely the wider culture.
Politics reflects culture; it doesn’t direct it.
Culture is shaped by a small number of gatekeepers. Majority perspectives have little bearing on culture formation. Instead, elites dominate. Neuhaus notes: “Even though [these elites] may be a minority of the population, they succeed in presenting themselves as ‘mainstream’ through their control of powerful institutions in the media, in entertainment, in the arbitrations of literary taste, in the great research universities and professional associations, and in the worlds of business and advertisement that seek the approval of those who control the commanding heights of culture.” Increasingly, grassroots political efforts to reverse the current cultural direction are proving futile. Politics reflects culture; it doesn’t direct it.
Moreover, by focusing on mobilizing majorities and legislative coercion, these faith communities have alienated their opponents while squandering their cultural and biblical capital. They have failed because the convictions that underlie culture cannot be coerced. They can be proposed, never imposed. Culture changes when a society’s assumptions and aspirations are captured by new ideas and images that are developed by thinkers and artists, expounded in both scholarly and popular forms, depicted in innumerable works of art, literature and entertainment, and then lived out attractively by communities of people who are committed to them. By narrowly focusing on Washington and state legislatures, faith communities have forgotten how to assert cultural influence. Today, most Christians in America are known for self-serving power politics rather than humble service for the good of others.
That many faith leaders are now viewing “the culture” as a new strategic goal is laudable, but such recognition also needs a deep theological perspective and appropriate cultural discernment to have any renewing effect.