Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture.

May this post plant positive seeds that yield eternal seasons of hope and redemption for those struggling with religious OCD and others. It represents what I believe for me and what I believe for everyone. We are all beloved children of God a who loves us and will never let us be snatched from Him.

What is Religious Obsession? Religious Obsession is an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder covers a multitude of symptoms, including obsessive thoughts or fears of being unworthy of salvation and of so-called “unforgivable sins” (a term not actually in the Bible) and an over reliance on people to provide constant reassurances.  Religious obsession attacks our foundational trust in God which leads to all kinds of negative consequences, including severe strains on relationships, dark imaginings and undue pain caused by deferred (let’s not say lost) opportunities to express God’s love through our lives. Thankfully, the foundation can be repaired. While medication may help some with the OCD symptoms, the real cure is shifting one’s faith paradigm from one rooted in fear of an angry, unforgiving (false) god to one rooted in trust in an infinitely-merciful God who disciplines and corrects us but whose love is everlasting.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. – 1 Kings 9:11-12 / “Cease striving and know that I am God” – Psalms 46:10

You are not alone. In fact, if you go online (or get someone to go for you because going online yourself looking for reassurance can actually feed the problem), you’ll find a tragic number of people posting their fears that they are eternally separated from God because of something they thought, said or did. It’s so sad because God will never turn anyone away but the irrational fear (fed by a letter-of-the-law legalistic perception of religion) blocks the experience of the blessings He always wants to send us. But, you can know, that as alone as you may feel – and as much as you may think you’ve thought, said or did something that no-one else ever thought, said or did, that there is someone else out there who thinks he or she has that unwanted distinction. The truth is no-one does. The fears you have, many have shared in one way for another through the millennia. But they amount to false gods who we imagine are bigger and more powerful than the Infinite Love and Power of the One who created and loves us.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

My story…At this point, suffice it to say, if God can lift me up again, he can lift anyone up – including you. The secret is to trust in God and not our own fear-filled thoughts and reactions.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6  Yes, He will heal your past and untie your mental knots.

So, here’s what I have learned in the form of Ten Steps for Moving Beyond Religious Obsession and Imaginings, plus Five Tips for Getting Through a Religiously-Obsessive Crisis (those times when you are literally at the breaking point and feel out of control). These principles are not new to the world. Many people sort of get them without having to see them written down, or having cracked open a Bible. They don’t need all the affirmations. Some, because of revulsion to toxic forms of religion, use words like the Universe to describe God but they still, essentially, get it.  They trust God. These concepts are in the Bible (and other writings) though by sheer length, apparent contradictions, multiple translations and interpretations and use of archaic guilt-inducing trigger words, the Good Book can be awfully confusing. If you’re given to religious obsession, the core messages (that God is love, that He created us and declared us as His children whom He finds to be good, that his His mercy endures forever and, yes, that we can trust Him over our own fears) can be literally (not spiritually) lost in translation.

Some of us (perhaps scarred by toxic religion and, maybe, a bit slow to really learn another paradigm) need something more concise and simple to refer to. I hope this helps. These are all truths I have learned and, in many cases, tripped over again and again.  If you struggle with religious obsession, guilt and dark imaginings, I suggest reading the entire list then taking each step one day at a time and repeating until it sinks in. In case of an emotional crisis, apply the five tips below the Ten Steps. Print them and keep them with you, if it helps. Bottom line: Turn your thoughts storms over to God. Then trust Him, be calm and be patient. Things will clear.

Ten Steps for Healing Fear and Religious Obsession

  • Step 1/Love God by trusting in His goodness and power. He created you out of Himself and has good plans for you. He forgives your wrong choices and begins correcting your path as soon as you let Him. His Spirit will never leave you. Your soul belongs to Him and is securely in His hands. The world is in His hands, not yours and that is all Good News. This is your foundation. Ask God to help you believe it and everything else will fall into place. You will become more and more unshakable as you learn to master your mind and emotions and not be mastered by them. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
  • Step 2/Reject the demons of fear, dark imaginings, destructive obsessions and addictions, religiosity, bigotry, prideful perfectionism, greed, jealousy, self-absorption, confused thinking,arrogance, crippling doubt, unforgiveness of self and others and unbalance of all kinds. They are not you and do not define you. They are false gods that attack the bliss that is your guide to the One True God’s positive plan for your life. Your bliss is your blessing. It leads to Christ within you. Follow it.
  • Step 3/Understand that if a thought or religious interpretation doesn’t nurture and grow the Spirit’s fruits of faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, mercy, faithfulness, gentleness, empowerment, positive purpose, wholesome discipline and a sound, rational mind, it is not from God. Cruelty, arrogance and condemnation are not from God. Hopelessness is not from God.  Don’t test God by engaging in destructive thoughts, words and actions because they cause very real pain and have consequences that are truly unpleasant. Ask God for a soft and understanding heart so that you see and hear His love all around you. He will answer you. Never believe that you have drifted too far or relapsed too much to be redeemed by God. Gratefully accept God’s encouragement and imperishable grace as it comes but do not aggressively look for signs. Doing so will only confuse you.
  • Step 4/In thought, word and action, communicate your hopes and gratitude to God. Be patient and have confidence that, through Him, your positive God-given goals are already being accomplished in God’s way and in God’s time. Pray as if you have already received. Remember that “Thank You” is the greatest prayer.
  • Step 5/Honor, forgive and learn from the past. Make rational, positive and hopeful plans for the future. Live in the eternal and sacred present. Don’t take on undue burdens that stem from neurotic guilt. Give all your cares to God. Don’t worry.
  • Step 6/You forever belong to God. Your salvation is assured. Now, mastering the self-focused fear that once consumed you, turn outward and proceed confidently into a mature life. Develop, grow and joyfully share your gifts. When appropriate, share also your scars. Be real. Let your mess be your message, your test be your testimony, your healing wounds become healing words and entry points for empathy. Your weakness can become your strength.  In good times and hard times maintain faith. Always see God in yourself, others and in all creation. Gratefully and joyfully accept and build on the love of family and friends. Love and wish no harm to your enemies.
  • Step 7/Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be honest, kind, faithful and trustworthy in all your relationships. Don’t abuse or be abused, physically or emotionally. Defend and strengthen the weak. Stand up for what is right. As much as is humanly possible, avoid violence.
  • Step 8/Seek not so much to be consoled as to console. Without guilt, receive God’s abundance so that you may avoid burdening others and may give abundantly. It is more spiritually and emotionally rewarding to give than to receive. At the same time, receive love and consolation as graciously as you give it. We need each other.
  • Step 9/Take care of your body and mind. Exercise and eat well. Focus on positive ideas. Choose and use words that build one another up.
  • Step 10/Let go of ego forever. Beware of an unwholesome form of pride.  You are not the center of the universe (more Good News!). Hopefully, you have gained wisdom but do not be impressed with yourself. Do not act as if you are God or idolize others as if they are. God is God, we are his beloved creation. That is the reassuring baseline from which these principles flow. Beyond that, we are not responsible for knowing and understanding everything. Our religions, theologies and politics are less important than we think, except that they should be rooted in a Creator whose very essence is Love. God is Everlasting Love. His justice is not eternal punishment but eternal mercy, healing and restoration for all because we all belong to Him and He loves us. God sent His Son not to condemn the world but, through Him, to save the world (John 3:17). That is the truth that sets up free. We are not called to convert or control people. Our job is only to express the goodness and power of God by being kind and forgiving to everyone, by using our gifts and experiences for the good of all, and (full circle) by trusting our Source.
    Finally, when you are healed, avoid thinking you got to this good place by yourself. God and many people helped you. You still are not perfect. That’s okay. Just beware. Demons, whatever their form, often return and distract us just when we are realizing we are free. Resist them by engaging in life and resting in Christ. Let Jesus fight for you. He’s already won. When you think you have broken free, you may stumble and fall but don’t let your confidence by shaken. God is still with you. Get up and keep going. Doing so praises God.

 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. –  1 Peter 5:10-11

Hopefully, these Ten Steps work for you on an ongoing basis. As a fellow struggler (aka sinner), I am learning that the only way forward is through an acceptance and trust in God’s eternal love and grace. However, if you’re going through a religiously-obsessive crisis now, you may need some extra help in keeping your focus where it belongs — on God’s goodness and power.


    Note Step 3: If a thought or religious interpretation doesn’t nurture and grow the Spirit’s fruits of faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, mercy, faithfulness, gentleness, personal empowerment, positive purpose, wholesome discipline and a sound, rational mind, it is not from God. Cruelty, arrogance and condemnation are not from God. Hopelessness is not from God.
  3. STAY AWAY FROM RELIGIOUS WEBSITES AND ESPECIALLY DON’T ENGAGE THE COMMENTS SECTION. (If this post helps, as I hope it does, good – but don’t keep looking for further reassurance. You’ll only confuse yourself.)
  1. TRY TO KEEP YOUR THOUGHTS BETWEEN YOU AND GOD. IF YOU MUST, ENLIST ONE PERSON YOU TRUST (WHO IS NEITHER HOSTILE TO FAITH NOR GIVEN TO RELIGIOSITY) TO HELP YOU MAINTAIN BALANCE BUT DON’T BURDEN YOUR CONFIDANTE WITH AN ENDLESS LOOP OF YOUR WORRIES. Remember, your confidante can help you stabilize and see the broad picture more clearly but that person is only human. Don’t expect the person to do anything more than help you to quiet your mind while you connect to God’s loving voice within you.

Suggested Prayer: God, my thoughts are in YOUR HANDS, my prayers are in YOUR HANDS, I AM in YOUR HANDS. Totally and completely, now and forever, I belong to You body, mind and soul. I AM so very grateful to be YOURS.  There is nothing that can snatch me from YOUR  HANDS. My positive goals come from YOU and are already being accomplished.  You will fulfill Your purpose in me. THANK YOU.

One more thing: Taking medication for depression and OCD is not a moral issue. If it helps you great. Either way, these Ten Steps and Five Crisis Tips are offered to help. God’s blessing is upon you.

This post is written in eternal gratitude to God and to all the good people (family, friends and others) He has graciously placed in my path.

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

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

Saved by Pluto. I had the opportunity to have lunch with Mitch Davis the producer, director and co-writer (with his son Parker) of The Stray,  the very personal of how a vagabond dog named Pluto helped his family rediscover their values. The film has been screening before test audiences and David is quite happy with the reaction it has been receiving, telling me “We’ve had a lot of people respond very emotionally to the film. We had a woman in a recent screening whose husband passed away shortly before she came to see the movie and she said “This movie is healing. It has the capacity to heal” which I thought was a wonderful compliment. As the momentum starts to build we’re finding it difficult to our word of mouth screenings are bursting to capacity. We had to double the capacity of our theater in the last one we did. We had to run it in a second theater because the word  got out. And so the response has been very enthusiastic.” A sort of faith-themed LassieThe Stray opens nationwide on October 6.

The Power of Mercy. That and, when you get right down to it, we’re all pretty yearning for the same thing, is the theme of Same Kind of Different as Me starring Greg Kinnear, Renee Zelwegger, Djimon Hounsou and Jon Voight.

The movie is based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name and inspirational true story of international art dealer Ron Hall (Kinnear) who befriends homeless Denver Moore (Hounsou) in hopes of saving his struggling marriage to his wife Debbie (Zellweger) whose dreams w lead all three of them on the journey of their lives. Same Kind of Different as Me opens nationwide October 20.

Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, a 2017 dramatic film based on his non-fiction book and one of the better faith-based films I’ve seen, is now out on DVD. It tells the story of Lee’s days  as a hard-driving journalist determined who was determined to disprove the Resurrection. In the end, he had his doubt handed to him on a silver platter. You can read my original review here.
The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) has expanded its popular weekly SuperSoul programming franchise with the network’s first-ever podcast, Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations. The podcast podcast version of the three-time Emmy Award-winning television series SuperSoul Sunday can be found at Like the TV show, they deliver insight and inspiration from renowned thought leaders aimed at awakening viewers to their best selves so they can discover a deeper connection to the world around them.  Each week, the show features previously aired conversations between Oprah and top thinkers, authors and spiritual luminaries. The guest list includes the likes of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington, Actor-comidian Tracy Morgan, author Deepak Chopra, Pastor Joel Osteen, Life coach Tony Robbins and singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette.

Industry veteran TV/literary agent Michael Van Dyck has left Paradigm after 13 years to fulfill his vision of building unique, high quality inspirational brands with broad mainstream appeal through the launch of his management/production shingle Inspired Entertainment.

 Van Dyck takes his extensive mainstream entertainment experience and work in and outside of the faith and family market to launch the new company. Pure Flix, the largest independent faith and family studio, is backing the new entity.

Inspired Entertainment, a management and production company will develop, package, and broker original mainstream and inspirational content to broadcast, cable, and streaming networks. Van Dyck will also continue to represent staff writer and director clients on current network series.

Van Dyck brings to Inspired Entertainment an impressive resume as a TV/Feature Literary agent since the early 90’s. Van Dyck will manage and direct Inspired Entertainment’s operations identifying and representing top accredited writers/ content creators, actors, and directors through long standing relationships with the artists, TV and feature lit agents, managers, and studio/network executives.

Van Dyck’s resume includes such hits as James Mano’s Dexter (Showtime), Peter Barsocchini’s High School Musical (Disney Channel), Martha Williamson’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Hallmark), Karen Kingsbury’s The Baxter Series (MGM), A Time to Dance, and The Bridge (Hallmark), Kirk Franklin’s Sunday Best (BET), and John Sakmar and Kerry Lenhart’s Unveiled (NBC), among others.

Crowder‘s American Prodigal has landed four nominations for the 48th Annual GMA Dove Awards, including  “Rock/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year,” “Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year,” “Recorded Music Packaging of the Year” and “Short Form Video of the Year.” The award show will be held at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN on Tuesday, October 17th, 2017. AMERICAN PRODIGAL hit #1 on the Christian & Gospel Album chart, #5 on Billboard’s Top Albums chart, #12 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, #3 on the Digital Albums chart.
RCA Inspiration and Lionsgate have announced the Greenleaf Soundtrack: Volume 2 will be released on September 8, 2017. The soundtrack features music from Season 2 of the acclaimed OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network original series, Greenleaf, which stars Keith David, Lynn Whitfield and Merle Dandridge. The Greenleaf Soundtrack: Volume 2 features both emerging and iconic artists performing original songs such as Won’t He Do It (Koryn Hawthorne), Shine The Light (cast member Deborah Joy Winans) and Rise Up (Roshon Fegan) and previously released music including, 1, 2, 3 Victory (Kirk Franklin), Heaven (Mary Mary) and Better Days (Le’Andria Johnson). The soundtrack also includes a remix to The Root, the show’s title theme, performed by the legendary Mavis Staples.

Finally, Fervent Records recording artist and hit songwriter Francesca Battistelli was recently honored at a small gathering of label, industry partners, family and bandmates for her second RIAA-Certified Gold record for the Grammy-winning and No. 1 single Holy Spirit.

“What a special night! This song has been such an anchor in my own life, and I don’t think we ever expected this, but the Lord’s plans are always better than ours,” shared Francesca. “To watch this song reach so many people has been such a blessing!”

Holy Spirit, from Battistelli’s album If We’re Honest, spent an impressive 15 weeks in the No. 1 slot at Christian radio and was the No. 2 most played song of 2015 at Christian AC Radio.

Francesca is currently off the road as she writes and records for an upcoming project and awaits the arrival of her fourth child.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at

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

“The appetite for significance is at an all time high, yet most people have no idea where or how to identify their gifts and talent—and to connect to their passions. And that’s my love for Halftime. Nothing satisfies more than to help a man or woman say, ‘This is what God has for me to do.’”   — Dean Niewolny, Halftime Institute CEO

The path to contentment and joy. Dean Niewolny spent nearly a quarter of a century as a Wall Street high flyer, capping his career  as market manager for Wells Fargo Advisors in Chicago. It was during his tenure there that he and his wife Lisa traveled several times to Africa where their encounters with poorest of the poor caused them to become involved in the building of an orphanage and a hospice in Durbin, South Africa.

In 2010, Dean left his high-power, high-prestige position to devote more time to helping those in need. That, it turns out, was where his true passion — and heart — is. As a result, he is now CEO of The Halftime Institute where he encourages successful business leaders to  channel the first half of their lives where achievement is the goal  into a second half defined by joy, impact and balance. This philosophy led to his new book “Trade Up: How to Move from Just Making Money to Making a Difference.”

I recently had the opportunity to ask Dean some questions about the book and his philosophy for living a meaningful life.

JWK:  Dean, what led you to write Trade Up?

DEAN NIEWOLNY: I wrote Trade Up because purpose, for most people, is missing in action. And yet it’s what we all crave. In the U.S., more than 60 percent of workers say they have no sense of mission or meaning. And yet purpose makes us healthier. It makes lives and businesses run better. In almost every sense, the game-changer is purpose.

Who do you hope benefit’s from reading Trade Up?  What’s the purpose of this book?
DN: For you to know who Trade Up is for, it helps to understand what I do. I’m CEO of the Halftime Institute, a 20-year-old organization that helps business people shift from just making money to making a difference. It’s not as obvious as it seems because we get bogged down in other parts of life. To make that kind of move, a person needs to know himself, know God, and have a plan. At the Halftime Institute we lay out a time-tested plan that helps people navigate the journey. Trade Up explains those plans for readers at any stage in life to put into practice. It’s the how-to for anyone who says, “I’ve chased a paycheck long enough; what I crave now is significance.”
JWK: How important is it to have a have a sense of personal purpose?
DN: Most of us are just trying to get from day to day, week to week. Then we wake up one day and wonder “why” we are scurrying around and what for. Without pausing to define purpose we take our cues from other people, from society, the culture. We need to know what God created us to do.
JWK: How can a person discover that purpose?
DN: Begin by reading Trade Up and then engaging the Halftime Institute. I advise working with a coach because it is important to have a plan that is proven and time tested. Building a relationship with someone who has been there and understands the journey is essential. Very rarely does one get there on their own.
JWK: In Trade Up, you talk about “smoldering discontent.” What is that?
DN: Smoldering discontent is living with dissonance between your daily situation and a sense that God is calling you to something else or something more.
JWK:  When have you experienced “smoldering discontent”?
DN: Picture a guy in a beautiful office on the 40th floor of the Chicago Mercantile building, he has reached his career goals, but he’s staring out at Lake Michigan knowing that there is more to life than just hitting the next goal. That was me. That was my definition of smoldering discontent. I knew I had to make a change.
JWK: When you talk to groups, you have what you call “the three disruptive questions.” What are the questions, and how do they work? 

DN: The three questions that I give groups basically hold up a mirror to help people know what matters to them. They are found in Chapter 5 of Trade Up:

1) Cost accounting: What is all your winning costing you?

2) Asset protection: What do you have that is priceless, and what are you doing to protect it?

3) Metrics: If you were living a perfect life, two years from now, what would that look like?

JWK:  In Trade Up, you also have another powerful question you call the 80th-birthday question. What is that?

DN: The 80th birthday exercise goes like this . . . Imagine you walk into a restaurant and see 100 of your closest friends, family, and business associates there to celebrate. As the evening progresses, one by one they each take a turn at a microphone to answer a question about you. The question they answer is, “Beyond your family and friends, the greatest impact you have had on humanity and the Kingdom of God is . . .?”

At that 80th birthday toast, what would you hope to hear? If you can do the work to articulate your end, then you can better direct the moments between now and getting to it. What impact would you have had on those you care about most? What impact would you have had on the Kingdom? We must keep the end in mind.

JWK:  Does a life that matters always require a big change? Does everyone have to become a missionary?

DN: A life that matters often amounts to a change of perspective and then a clear action plan to live it out. A renewal. Many people stay in their current work with a renewed sense of purpose and direction. They go from a life of going through the motions to having a clear sense of how they can and want to contribute in their current work, which is fulfilling. Sometimes it’s other kinds of change, but positive, life-giving change doesn’t automatically require you to sell everything and move to Africa.

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

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

Coming attraction:

The trailer for Sony Pictures Animation’s THE STAR was released online this morning, via USA Today.  So, here’s a The a first look at the faith-and-family film telling the story of the first Christmas through the eyes of the animals who witnessed it. Enjoy. 

 THE STAR is executive produced by DeVon Franklin (MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN) and Lisa and Brian Henson (CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS). The star-studded animated feature premieres in theaters nationwide Nov. 10 with a voice cast that includ Steven Yeun (Bo the donkey), Gina Rodriguez (Mary), Zachary Levi (Joseph), Keegan-Michael Key (Dave the dove), Kelly Clarkson (Leah the horse), Anthony Anderson (Zach the goat), Aidy Bryant (Ruth the sheep), Ving Rhames (Thaddeus the dog), Gabriel Iglesias (Rufus the dog), Patricia Heaton (Edith the cow), Kristin Chenoweth (Abby the mouse), national radio personality Delilah Rene (Elizabeth), Christopher Plummer (King Herod), Kris Kristofferson (Old Donkey), and Tracy Morgan (Felix), Tyler Perry (Cyrus), Oprah Winfrey (Deborah) as the three camels. The film will also feature new music from Mariah Carey. THE STAR is directed by  Timothy Reckart (HEAD OVER HEELS) and produced by Jennifer Magee-Cook off a story by Simon Moore and Carlos Kotkin and screenplay by Carlos Kotkin.  Digital animation is by Cinesite StudiosColumbia Pictures and AFFIRM Films will present THE STAR in association with Walden Media, Franklin Entertainment and The Jim Henson Company.   

SYNOPSIS: A small but brave donkey named Bo yearns for a life beyond his daily grind at the village mill. One day he finds the courage to break free, and finally goes on the adventure of his dreams. On his journey, he teams up with Ruth, a loveable sheep who has lost her flock, and Dave, a dove with lofty aspirations. Along with three wisecracking camels and some eccentric stable animals, Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become unlikely heroes in the greatest story ever told – the first Christmas.