The First Step in Engaging Culture
With technology advancing at such an incredible rate lately, one can only imagine how much it’s having an affect on Christianity and culture. One of the many ramifications is the ability to “Go Big!” with anything and everything. No longer are we creating Bible studies for our personal home group, we’re making it so it can be distributed all over the world. No longer is our pastor just preaching to his two hundred person flock, he’s preaching to the world. You get the idea. With hundreds of churches and parachurch organizations doing “Big Things!” the possible assumption among “ordinary” Christians is that they have to do something “Big!” to be a “good Christian,” or just a “regular Christian.” This, obviously, is foolish – but we need to be retold again and again. Writer, actor, and speaker Evan Koons joins us this week on the show to talk about what it looks like to engage culture as an “ordinary” Christian. The conversation also has an incredibly awkward moment when the host (Isaac, who’s writing this) isn’t understanding Evan. You’ll have to listen to find out.
All things “Evan Koons” can be found here.
The film series we were talking about (that you should totally check out) is For the Life of the World.
The movie that Evan is in (which features Gary Busey) is called Camp Manna.
The video that made Evan “famous” is called Church Appropriate Dance Moves.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio.
Well it’s great to have Evan Koons today on the podcast. Evan is a writer, actor, speaker, probably many other things as well, but anyways, great to have you on the show today Evan.
Oh! Thanks for having me.
Before we get into a really chill conversation on Christians in culture, why don’t you first share with us briefly who you are and what you do in a little bit more detail.
Sure! I am a dude. Yeah, I write and act and do voice-over stuff in film and video and television. That’s really about it in terms of professional life. A lot of times I just say, “I’m a professional shower-upper,” like, I don’t show people up, I mean like I show up to things and they’re like, “Hey, will you do this…?” and I go like, “Yeah, I’ll do that!” and then I show up there and they’re like, “Oh, now that you’re here can you do this?” and I’m like, “Yeah sure,” and then that’s sort of the history of my career.
That’s good! And you have a family as well?
I do, I do. I’m married – have been married for almost 15 years I think. I have two kids, six and nine, and yeah, they’re at school right now, I hope.
One more thing before we get into our conversation. Many people have seen your face, or maybe they didn’t know it was you, but that viral video called Church Appropriate Dance Moves – very famous. First of all, it’s hilarious. So listeners listening, you got to check that out.
My question is, was it planned or did you improvise it on the spot?
We planned it out a little bit. I mean, that guy is kind of a character we’ve had around and been doing videos with since 2008. So if you look up Coffee with Jesus you’ll see more.
And then one day we’re doing one of these skits and I was improving in the skit and doing like dance stuff I think, I don’t even remember (it was so long ago). And then, when that was all done we said, “Why don’t we make one of just like 5 minutes straight of dancing through the Bible?” And then we’re like, “Oh yeah we should do that,” and then we started writing down Bible stories we could think of, and then, just going, “That dance would look like this, and this one like that,” and then we were doing it throughout the office, and then we’re like, “Okay, let’s set up a day, a morning, and let’s do this.”
So there was a guy behind the camera, there was a clock, and the guy had cue cards of Bible stories and he would hold it up for ten seconds and I’d do it, and then he’d drop it and then he’d show the next one. Yeah, so we did two takes of that.
That is awesome, that’s great. Well, thank you for that! Because that is a gift to the church. So many people have been really impacted by that video!
Yeah, isn’t that crazy? It’s ridiculous!
It’s just good. You guys did a good job. Anyways, Evan, a few years ago now you hosted a series called For the Life of the World. First question is, what was this series all about?
Ah, well, it was about a lot of things. I mean, when it was first brought to us they said, “We want to make a series on faith and economics,” and we’re like, “Oh, that sounds fascinating.” So Steven Grabel said, “If you want to make a film about economics, you first have to understand God’s economy of all things, like His mission in the world.” And as we unpacked that, our big movement was to make sure that we were reenchanting the Christian imagination and doing that all the way through the piece.
Not just doing a “talking head,” giving you truth-bullets or apologetic or weaponry to use, but to say like, “Let’s just make something beautiful that not only talks about God’s economy of all things but shows it, and shows the depth of mystery and magic and whimsy of God alive and well and working in the world. So, that was sort of the impetus.
That’s good. For listeners who haven’t seen it, I mean, you guys tackle issues of God’s economy like love, creativity, and wonder and all these different things. And the whole style of it, it almost has a (it’s opposite of the truth-bullet “talking head” because that would just put someone to sleep), more of the, almost like a Portlandia feel which makes it really enjoyable. My wife and I sat down a couple weeks ago and we were watching a couple of them, and we were like “Man, this is just enjoyable to watch.” It makes it really good.
I love the point: what is our salvation for? That’s the question. I’m trying to remember the woman that told you that, I think Amy something?
Amy Sherman, yep.
Amy Sherman, yeah. Can you quickly explain that a little bit on what that question means?
Sure. Well, especially in my growing up and I think in a lot of people, as you said, like, what is salvation for? Well, most people wouldn’t even think about it that way. They think about what salvation is from. It’s more of the perspective that we have. It’s like, “Oh it’s my golden ticket to heaven,” or “It’s my protection from hell,” or, it’s more about what we’re leaving behind not actually what our focus is and where we’re going and what that’s about.
So, when we ask the question “What is our salvation for?” we have to think, now that our relationship with our heavenly Father is restored, like, what do we do now? What does that mean for how we live our lives and how does that impact not just this “spiritual” or “sacred” area of our life, but how does that now make our entire being and our work in the world sacred and an offering to God? Because that’s really what salvation is for. We now return the world back to God.
That’s a great point, you’re right, no one naturally thinks of that question “What is our salvation for?” you know? You’re right to say that we usually think of what it’s “from.” So, you ask anyone “Where is your salvation from?” and then they’ll just go on and on, but then you ask them “What is your salvation for?” and they might just look dumb-founded. That’s really cool, and that’s what this series gets into I guess. Explaining how that can look in your life.
For the behind the scenes stuff though for that series, it looks like it must have been a huge production. A lot of work looks like it was put into that. I’m presuming.
Yeah, yeah. It was a pretty big undertaking, I mean we – the development and writing alone took about a year of writing and tweaking and developing what it was we were going to say and what our strategy was and then the creative stuff, and then the production was about a month, and then the editing was another six months.
Wow, a month for all that. Man, you guys had a tight schedule I can imagine.
We were flying, yeah.
From just your life experience as being a writer and actor and all these different things, and also doing series like For the Life of the World, what’s one thing, if you had to bring it to one thing, you learned about the relationship between Christ and your own faith mixed with culture?
Oh sure, yeah, I think for me it’s like a co-operation. Right?
It’s a co-operation of us and God working together in the world. And it requires us to be a part of culture, and it requires us to enter into culture, or to enter into those places that we might have thought we weren’t allowed to enter into, or that we’re afraid to enter into, or scared, or all of those things.
I think the big thing is that it’s both of us together, and that it really is a gift – that it is something we ought to be grateful for and that we do get to do the things that we do, and that we don’t have to fear because we’re co-operating, we’re not alone.
That’s good. So, would you say that the monks got it wrong a little bit? “Let’s just retreat, let’s leave everything and do our own thing over here!”
No, I think, I mean, they’re co-operating with God in prayer for the life of the world. So, “Yeah, go for it man, I need that! I need you guys holding me up when I’m tired. And I need you guys praying for the sanctity of the world and the church, because that’s just as important as what we do.”
Yeah, that’s a really good point. And you know, as you say that, I think the majority of people listening are obviously engaging in the world. I don’t want to wipe a brush over everyone, but even the fact that they’re listening to this podcast means that they are engaging in technology and things like that.
Now, even though America and Canada have differences with politics, economy, all those different things, there are still a lot of similarities between our two nations, so what’s one way you could encourage Christians who are engaging culture and co-operating with God right now? What’s one way you could encourage them that you found through your life?
Oh boy, well, I think what’s right in front of you right now.
Like, what is that thing that’s right there that’s asking you to get involved? Right there.
Or what’s wooing you or that thing you’ve been thinking about, like, “Maybe I should just try to this thing, or I should try and do that thing.” I always feel like those are the things, and they can be little things like, “Holy cow my kitchen is a mess.” As I’m talking to you, I’m walking through my kitchen and it is a mess, and I’m like, “I should probably clean this because that would bring order here and I know my wife would come home and go like, ‘Oh thank God that I’m coming home to at least a semi-clean house’.”
But I think that’s what’s important – what’s right in front of you that you can get involved in.
And yeah, we all have those ‘pie in the skies’ and if what’s right in front of you is accomplished or, you feel comfortable with what is that thing that you’re like, “Huh, how can I feed that small voice for the other thing that’s going on, what’s the first thing I can do?”
There’s a book called The Artist’s Way which I think is for anybody if you want to create or you want to generate something – she says, “What’s the next right thing to do?” And I say
“What’s the next good or right thing to do?”
In terms of setting out and participating in the world around you. It’s just right there.
I think, as you say that, I think about a lot of Christians, especially young adults who are our primary audience, they might be at their church listening to some preacher talk about their big thing that they’re doing or it’s some big Christian organization that’s doing some big campaign and all this kind of stuff. It sort of puts in subconsciously in to these young people’s minds that, you know, “That’s what I ought to be doing! That is the thing in which I can go and do my Christian faith in the world.”
But you’re saying, like, clean your kitchen. And I think that’s really powerful. We need to learn that so we’re not just sitting on our bums all day waiting for that big spot in an organization or whatever.
Yeah, that’s what I tell college students too, like, when they say, “What am I supposed to do with my life, and what if everything falls apart and what should my major be?” And I’m just like, “Do you have a roommate?” and they’re like, “Yeah,” and I’m like, “Are there dishes in the sink?” and they’re like, “Yeah,” and I’m like, “Start right there and do the dishes for Pete’s sake.”
Yeah, it’s those little things.
Yeah, for sure. And obviously, this is kind of cheesy, but if everyone even in the church just girded up their loins and started doing those small things, that would make a massive difference that not one organization could ever do. You know? If we all just started to play the part that we were called to play.
It’s right in front of you, yeah. Because usually you’re pretty good at what’s right in front of you.
Evan, what are some projects that you’re working on that we can know about and be excited for?
Oh sure, sure! So, I’m trying to think here. A lot of the stuff I do, well, I do a lot of normal things, like, write for companies that need to sell things, but one of the things we have in the hopper right now is a comedy called Camp Manna. We are currently shopping at distributors. It’s a feature film about an atheist kid who is sent to a backwoods Christian summer camp where Gary Busey is the runner of the camp, I don’t know if you know who Gary Busey is.
I do not.
He was on the Apprentice. If you saw the Amazon Fire commercials, he was the guy trying to stick the shells in the television.
I’ll have to go look that up after, for sure.
He’s been in several- he’s usually the bad guy or crazy guy. If you’ve seen Blacksheep, have you seen Blacksheep?
You know what? I haven’t.
You’re supposed to be engaging culture my friend!
Oh my goodness, Canadians. We need to get with this. [No, not Canadians, this is just me!]
How about Pointbreak? Not the new one, the old one with Patrick Swayze?
Evan, I’m so sorry.
Oh my gosh! You’re killing me right now. A lot of people confuse him for Nick Nolte. When you see him you’ll be like, “Oh that guy!”
You know what? I’m going to IMDB him right after this, okay?
Yep, do it right now. I’m going to wait. And we’re going to edit this, and you’re going to be like, “Oh yeah!” Because I’m saving you right now.
Yes, you’re saving me right now. Busey right? B-U…
My audio engineer just said that he’s embarrassed that I don’t know who he is. I totally know this guy, yep! Lethal Weapon, Predator…
Some cult movies. So, let’s play this again, and you can play this however you want, I really don’t care.
I think we need to keep this.
Yeah, this is great! But I will say, Gary Busey, and you’ll be like, “Dude I love that guy!” Then you say, “Man, I want to see this movie! It sounds like it will be a blast!”
Camp Manna? Yes please!
Yeah, it’s going to be great! So, Gary plays the runner of the camp, Jimmy Tatro who is, sort of, who’s an actor in Los Angeles who has his own web presence video stuff and has been in a bunch of movies is in it, he plays sort of the cocky Christian. And I play the well-meaning, innocent, naïve, evangelical counselor.
It’s just going to be a fun movie that pokes fun at everything and everybody – we call it satire with soul. You get through it, and you’re going to be like, “Man, that was a good movie.”
Yeah, that’s awesome. Who’s the producer of this film?
It was Gorilla, the same team that produced For the Life of the World, but they were hired by the Acton Institute to produce For the Life of the World. So, Camp Manna wasn’t connected to the Acton Institute at all. Just want to make that clear. It’s produced in conjunction with Charity Island pictures, which is Bob Brown out of the east side of Michigan. So, we’re hoping that will promote soon.
So is there a trailer out yet? Or not quite?
Not yet. There’s one coming. We have some secret ones, but they’re not for public consumption. There’s a website campmannamovie.com.
We’ll definitely put that on our page so listeners can check it out. It does sound intriguing for sure, especially since so many Christians who grew up in the church – everyone has stories (good and bad) from camp. I mean, everyone talks about camp, so I’m guessing you’re going to be playing on some of those fun things that happen at a Christian camp.
Oh yeah! There’s some of that, and just, you know, the crazy things- I’m not going to give it away!
No don’t do it! Anyways, Evan, thank you so much for taking a short time out of your day to be able to come and just give us quick pointers, especially the idea of just “do the thing in front of you,” don’t just sit on your bum, but do the thing in front of you and co-operate with God in this world. That was awesome.
It was my pleasure, thank you sir.