Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.

The Story of God Season 2 with Morgan Freeman premieres tonight (1/16) at 9:00 PM (ET) on  NatGeo.

The highest-rated series in the network’s history continues to explore humankind’s search to understand and relate to the Creator in a three-episode second season.

Each of the three episodes in the new season will explore a different major theme: “The Chosen One?” “Proof of God” and “Heaven and Hell.” In each episode Freeman meets with individuals, faith leaders, scientists and archaeologists to help him understand these big topics, including the following:

  • A 9-year-old boy in Minnesota who Tibetan monks believe is the reincarnation of a lama, a Buddhist spiritual teacher
  • Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the keeper of the sacred pipe of the Nakota, Lakota and Dakota tribes
  • Kenneth Bae, the American Christian missionary held captive for two years in North Korea
  • A woman whose heart stopped for more than eight minutes, who describes in great detail the feeling of heaven she had in that time
  • Theoretical physicist Ard Louis, who believes that you can find God in scientific knowledge. The deeper he goes into his studies, the more he sees signs of the divine.
  • A visit to a New Mexico church where followers worship by speaking in tongues
  • An archaeological excursion to the Dunbar caves in Tennessee to see recently discovered depictions of heaven and hell from ancient ancestors of the Cherokee

I had the opportunity to speak with Freeman who told me that while all religions are different, it’s also remarkable how similar they are though also radically different– virtually of them, for instance, offer some sort of representation of what happens after death (the subject of next week’s episode). Freeman says last season’s episodes (as evidenced by the ratings) were overwhelmingly well-received by the audience.

Season two episodes are the following:

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman: The Chosen One

Premieres Monday, Jan. 16, at 9/8c

Almost every faith has a figure its followers think was chosen by God. Muslims have Muhammad. Christians have Jesus. Jews have Abraham and Moses. Why do we rally around these chosen ones and how do they guide our faith? Morgan Freeman goes in search of the chosen people walking the earth today, including an American boy from the suburbs who is believed to be the reincarnation of a Buddhist lama who has been returning in different bodies for almost five hundred years.

 The Story of God with Morgan Freeman: Heaven and Hell

Premieres Monday, Jan. 23, at 9/8c

What are heaven and hell? Do they await us in the afterlife or are they here and now? People of all faiths and backgrounds have contemplated these conundrums for thousands of years. Morgan Freeman sets out to learn how these unseen places have changed the way we live, by descending into the ancient Native American underworld, investigating the phenomena of exorcisms and the gift of tongues, and meeting a woman who believes she has seen heaven.

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman: Proof of God

Premieres Monday, Jan. 30, at 9/8c

Have we cut God out of our modern lives or are there still special moments when the divine breaks through and makes its presence known? Morgan Freeman meets a man who felt God’s presence on Sept. 11, learns how Muslims hear God’s voice in the Quran, comes across a tribe whose members believe they can channel the healing power of the divine and encounters a physicist who has faith that science will lead him to God.

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman is produced by Revelations Entertainment for National Geographic. For Revelations Entertainment, Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary and James Younger are executive producers. For National Geographic, Michael J. Miller is executive producer; Kevin Tao Mohs is vice president, production and development; and Tim Pastore is president, original programming and production.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman  Season 1 on DVD January 10, 2017 and Season 2 premiers on National Geographic, January 16th.

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.

Three faith-themed films have hit the home video market just in time for Christmas. 

 Hillsong – Let Hope Rise  follows the very popular Australian worship band Hillsong UNITED as they perform such inspirational hits as Oceans,  Mighty To Save and Hosanna. It just came out yesterday (12/20) and is available via Digital HD, On Demand, DVD and in a Blu-ray combo pack.

Talking about the film during the taping of the upcoming New Year’s Day edition of In The Arena, a Catholic radio/TV show, Hillsong guitarist Dylan Thomas reflected on his own humble beginnings as a working class child of divorce in Australia to becoming a member of an internationally known worship group that is having a positive impact on people around the world.

He says he hopes the film helps people to realize that God has a plan for everyone, telling host Msgr. Kieran Harrington “No one’s more special than anyone else. We’re just kids who grew up on Australia and were part of our youth ministry. There’s nothing extremely glamorous about what we did. We just put God first. We’ve always done that. As long as God’s in it, we’ll keep doing it but, truly, God can use anyone.”

The movie follows the group’s journey from a tiny church in the Sydney suburbs to an influential international ministry whose songs are sung every Sunday by more than 50 million people across the globe. Their songs have been translated into 90 languages and the band has sold more than 20 million albums.  The group has built on its success to partner with and assist international organizations committed to feeding and educating children in the slums of India, building housing for those living with AIDS in Africa and rescuing victims of human trafficking around the globe.
The film, which was released in theaters across the country this past summer, received positive reviews and feedback from audiences including a high “A” grade from Cinemascore.  It also scored high among Christian film critics and received endorsements from leaders such as Bishop T.D. Jakes (The Potter’s House), Pastor Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church), Rev. Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Christian Leadership), and Pastor Ken Foreman (Cathedral Of Faith).

Hillsong Church recently partnered with Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) to launch Hillsong Channel, a ground-breaking 24-hour television network available in over 77 million U.S. households and featuring energetic, cutting-edge worship music from award-winning singers and songwriters.

The Innocents takes place in Warsaw, December 1945. The second World War has ended. Dr. Mathilde (Lou de Laâge) of the French Red Cross is treating French survivors of the German camps when a panicked Benedictine nun shows up at the clinic begging her for help.

Mathilde follows the nun back to her convent and shockingly finds a young sister about to give birth and several more in advanced stages of pregnancy. Her attempt to help them is complicated by  occupying Soviet troops and the strict Rev. Mother (Agata Kulesza, Ida) who fears the shame of exposure. Facing a crisis of faith, the nuns increasingly turn to Mathilde as their beliefs and traditions clash with harsh realities. Directed by Anne Fontaine; Starring Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza.

The movie was recently screened at 2106 Justice Film Festival at New York’s Sheen Center. I just caught the DVD and I can tell you the film is a gripping and intelligent examination of what it means to have faith versus the danger of distorted thinking. Highly recommended.

Greater (also released yesterday) is an inspirational film that follows the true story of Brandon Burlsworth who is perhaps the greatest walk-on in the history of college football. Brandon dreamed of playing for the Arkansas Razorbacks, but was told he wasn’t good enough to play Division I ball. Undeterred, Brandon took a risk and walked on in 1994. Written off by fellow teammates and coaches, Brandon displayed dogged determination in the face of staggering odds. The awkward kid who once was an embarrassment to his teammates and an annoyance to his coaches, ended up becoming the most respected player in the history of the program, changing the lives of all he touched. The PG-Rated film, which ran in theaters earlier this year, stars Neal McDonough (Legends of Tomorrow), Leslie Easterbrook (Laverne & Shirley), MIchael Parks (Django Unchained), Nick Searcy (Justified) and the relatively unknown Christopher Severio (Suit Up) as Bulsworth. You can read my positive review of Greater here.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media.

The Shack releases in theaters nationwide on March 3, 2017.

Based on Paul Young’s amazingly popular book (which I understand is one of the top bestselling 100 novels of all time) stars Sam Worthington (Avatar, Hacksaw Ridge), Octavia Spencer (The Help) and the country music star Tim McGraw. It’s produced by Gil Netter (Life of Pi, The Blindside).

I just saw a first half hour or so of the film and I can tell you that I want to see this movie in its entirety. Worthington’s performance  as a man who spirals into depression  after the violent death of his young daughter at the hands of a killer is quietly compelling. I have a feeling this successful actor is one hit away from major stardom and this movie may be it. We may also be hearing more from Stuart Hazeldine, the relatively unknown but obviously assured and talented director behind the scenes. I didn’t even get to the part where Octavia Spencer arrives on the scene as an incarnation of God. So, I’m thinking I haven’t even seen the best part.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11



Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

This just in. I found this message from Isaac Ryan Brown in my in-box yesterday. He’s the young actor featured in Believe, a small Christmas film that opened last week in just 638 theaters but managed to pull in nearly a half-million dollars at the box office along with some very positive audience reaction. It’s being held over in a number of theaters this weekend.

Cast: Ryan O’Quinn (Alias ), Issac Ryan Brown (Blackish), Shawnee Smith (Anger Management, Grace Unplugged), Danielle Nicolet (The Flash), David DeLuise (Wizards of Waverly Place, 3rd Rock from the Sun) and Kevin Sizemore (Fear The Walking Dead: Flight 462, Woodlawn)
Written and directed by: Billy Dickson (One Tree Hill, Ally McBeal)

Synopsis: For years, the small town of Grundy, Va. has relied on the Peyton family to provide the highlight of the year—the annual Christmas pageant. When Matthew Peyton (Ryan O’Quinn) inherits the family business, the responsibility of the Christmas pageant also falls on his shoulders.  But as financial hardships fall on the town, Matthew finds himself overwhelmed. As his business profits plummet and his workers begin to strike, Matthew is forced to make a decision between selling the family business and cancelling the beloved pageant or sticking out hardships despite his rapidly declining popularity in the community.

Through chance events, Matthew meets Clarence (Issac Ryan Brown), a boy who believes in miracles, and his mother Sharon (Danielle Nicolet). His newfound friends impact Matthew’s life in a way he never thought possible and teach him to believe and give faith a chance.

Talking about the partnership’s premiere project, Smith Global Media owner Harry Smith says “I am delighted to team with Billy Dickson, Ryan O’Quinn, and the passionate team behind Believe…We are extremely excited to bring wholesome family entertainment appealing to every genre, to audiences everywhere, this holiday season.”

“I’m thrilled to be working with the Smith Global Media team to bring Believe to family audiences everywhere,” concurs Ryan O’Quinn, executive producer and star of the film. “With their proven track record in bringing the highest quality of films and entertainment around the globe, I couldn’t be more excited to partner with them and collaborate with a group of extremely talented filmmakers.  Being able to film in my hometown was the ultimate gift.”

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11