Justice League

The Snyder Cut has been released and I for one am rejoicing!

Now for those of you who aren’t superhero nerds and have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a quick summary of why this is an incredible moment in film history.

Zack Snyder had previously helmed two major superhero films 2013’s Man of Steel and 2016’s Batman v Superman and was busy filming the superhero team-up movie Justice League when tragedy struck. In early 2017 Zack Snyder took the difficult decision to step down from directing duties on Justice League after his adopted daughter, Autumn, took her own life.

Snyder had already put together a rough cut of the film but Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to make major changes to the film after the reception of Batman v Superman which critics and audiences found too dark. I personally really enjoyed Batman v Superman as a deconstruction of superheroes and found the theological questions it posed fascinating.

If God is all good then he cannot be all powerful and if He is all powerful then he cannot be all good – Lex Luthor

All of this to say, that the theatrical release of Justice League was a Frankenstein’s monster of a film with two very different directors. Joss Whedon injected a lot more humour which frankly did not fit in with the interpretation of the characters we had previously seen from Zack Snyder. The plot was simplified and made to fit under 2 hours. Bare in mind this film had six main characters, three of which made their on screen debut in the film, and you can imagine how poorly handled the film was.

I for one lost several nights of sleep wondering how on earth they could have messed up a film based on some of the most iconic characters in fictional history – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash!

It turns out, I wasn’t the only one. Fans began picking apart early trailers for the film which included footage not seen in the theatrical cut. A petition was formed to release Zack Snyder’s early cut of the film.

Fans rallied together to raise money to fund for billboards in Time Square, New York and at San Diego Comic Con as well as paying for an aeroplane to fly over the Warner Bros. Headquarters with a message which read #releasethesnydercut. But for every dollar they raised for a publicity stunt, they matched it with a donation to AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) in memory of Autumn Snyder.

After three years of fans campaigning to see Zack Snyder’s original vision, with some help from Mr Snyder himself, and on the 18th March 2021 Zack Snyder’s Justice League was finally released to be streamed on demand.

I watched it the day it came out, all four hours of it, and I cried as the movie ended with a tribute to Autumn in the form of the end credit song being a powerfully moving rendition of ‘Hallelujah’, her favourite song.

This film was more than a superhero film, it was a victory lap for those who had worked so hard to get it released and a redemption story for Zack Snyder whose last movie in the DC Universe would have been a film he didn’t really direct if it had not been for the efforts of his fans.

So, what on earth does this have to do with anything to do with young people or churches?

Well, I would argue that we can learn a lot from this movement – almost as much as we can learn from the film itself.

A few years ago, at the National Youth Ministry Weekend, Kenda Creasy Dean – a professor at Princeton Theological College – spoke about the school students campaigning against the gun laws as a result of the mass school shootings that had taken place that year. She talked about the students’ efforts to change the laws and posed the question as to how long they’d be able to keep up the momentum, the energy, the fight. She summed it up in one question:

But is their god big enough?

In the Snyder Cut’s case you might think, yes. They succeeded in what they’d set out to do. But now there’s a new hashtag circulating the world wide web:

#restorethesnyderverse

Fans want more. I want more.

And if we got more, guess what, we’d want even more.

But, as Christians, is our God big enough? Is he bigger than the Kryptonian? Or the Amazonian? Or the Gothamite?

And if superhero geeks can get together to change the minds of the powers that be, why couldn’t the church?

There will always be injustice until the Kingdom of God fully comes, that we know. But shouldn’t we be fighting against injustice all the same in the meantime?

And here’s where we have the upper hand, we can be satisfied. We live in the knowledge that Jesus Christ has already won. We know that this isn’t forever, the pain and suffering of this world will cease.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand up for the oppressed or fight for the vulnerable, Christ calls us to bring the Kingdom ever closer and to be ambassadors for his kingdom. He asks us to join his league. To bring justice to the world.

Young people know this, they fight for it on social media and in their conversations between friends. But how can we help them to make it mean something, to give a reason behind the cause? How can we help give them a foundation strong enough to stand upon when everything else crumbles away? How do we enable to take the fight beyond the walls of technology?

We need to lead by example as the church and not remain silent when we witness tragedy or an abuse of power.

We need to…

#restorethekingdom

Watch our Christmas Journey Trailer video below for insight into what our Christmas Journey is all about:

I’ve recently had the pleasure of heading up a Growing Faith project in a local primary school and Harriet asked me whether I’d be up for sharing my experience. I said yes.

The idea behind the Growing Faith project was to help a group of six Year 6’s to run their own collective worship assembly for the whole school. We were given the theme ‘Forgiveness’ and that was about it.

Once a week for five weeks, the children, the headteacher and myself would discuss how we would put on this ambitious challenge – made all the more tricky, as I wasn’t allowed into school due to the pandemic and so I had to teach from my bedroom via Zoom.

Before we met the first week, I ransacked the Bible for as many stories on ‘Forgiveness’ as I could find. Our first session involved us chatting through what forgiveness was. Myself and the headteacher were very conscious that we wanted everything to be through the children’s voices and therefore it was a lot of asking questions to help them articulate their own thoughts on the subject as well as helping them to explore the theme on a deeper level then perhaps they would have done on their own.

The children went away and read one of the stories each so that they could come back the next week and tell each other the outline and why it fitted into the theme of ‘Forgiveness’.

We set about a structure, the things we knew we needed to include in a collective worship assembly (prayers, teaching, songs) and anything else we thought would make the assembly as engaging as possible – this ended up with them filming an impressive retelling of the story of Jonah, complete with giant cardboard whale and fantastic acting!

As part of structure we discussed that the order in which we do things has an impact on the way people engage. The ideal is to start with high energy stuff and then slowly lose the energy so that it becomes more relaxed and focused.

They did an incredible job on the morning of the assembly, which they also had to do via Zoom to all the classes in the school (not an easy task!). It was great to see them engage with the Bible and to recognise the messages within it have real-life application. I was so impressed with their creativity and their ability to take on some tricky theological ideas with such enthusiasm and intelligence.

I have been asked back to help another group of students next term and I cannot wait!

Over lockdown the world of youth and children’s ministry was thrown into chaos as we had to learn new skills overnight. Our roles transformed from delivering sessions in person to making videos to upload online.

9 months later and some of us are still scratching our heads wondering how we make a good video.

Never fear! I have some tips and wisdom to impart on you, dear reader.

1. Good Camera – These days your phone camera will be more than sufficient to make a good quality video. But a camera alone is not what helps the quality, for that you need…

2. Good Lighting – Lights from the ceiling are okay but you want to make sure you are evenly lit. For a low-cost solution, try placing two lamps with the bulb pointing at your face – one slightly angled to the right, one slightly angled to the left. It’ll be slightly blinding at first but your eyes will adjust. Make sure you are not being backlit by a window.

3. Fancy Graphics – How do you make a PowerPoint slide look good as part of a video? My suggestion is to use canva.com – it’s free and easy to use. You can pay for the pro version which unlocks some more useful goodies at just $12 a month but you don’t need to, there are plenty of free images available to use on the standard account.

4. Look At The Camera – Make sure the camera is slightly above eye level and look at the actual camera lens when talking, it will help you to connect to your audience more. If you have a script put it to the side at eye level, make looking at it part of the emotion of the video as if you’re looking thoughtfully to the distance rather than reading your next line.

5. Good Scripts – Don’t write every word of every sentence. Bullet points are better. Make sure you know what you are going to say to avoid unnecessary ‘urms’…

6. Good Audio – If you have the capacity, record your audio on a separate device that is closer to you and sync the audio in post. Camera audio can be a little dodgy at times but most of the time will be fine if you don’t have another option.

7. Don’t Be Afraid To Cut Out The Gaps –  For an engaging sermon/talk, chop out the spaces between thoughts and sentences. It keeps up the energy without letting it drop. Then, to really emphasise a point, keep a couple of silences in – it will make those points stand out amongst the others. Keep your videos as short as possible. Aim for 5 minutes so if you’re a little bit over it doesn’t make a huge difference.

8. Make A Nice Thumbnail – When you upload a video to YouTube you have the option to create a custom thumbnail. Do it. Otherwise it will choose a still image from your video and you have no control over what your face might be doing in that shot. Create an eye catching image with a title so that people are more likely to click on it. Again, my advice is to use canva.com.

All these tips are things that I’ve picked up over the years of making videos. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everything I wrote about I have learnt through not doing properly myself.

Remember, your youth group aren’t expecting a Hollywood movie but they do want to hear from you and making a short film could be a great way of reaching those who are out of touch.