Weird Stuff Happening On Twitter. How Should Someone Handle Online (Offline) Harassment?

There’s been some weird stuff happening on Twitter.

Awhile ago I became an active participant in a Twitter community that discussed geopolitical topics and theories. Some of the subset theories loosely connected to the main topic were very wild and hard for most people to believe, yet intriguing in the same way a good story is intriguing, and admittedly I was convinced of some of them (at least as being plausible) at one point, so I became a part of the conversation.

The weirdness happened when one of the Twitter users somehow knew my last name even though I had created an anonymous account. They were friendly and seemed to be at the center of this intriguing community corner on Twitter, so that added to the intrigue, though I just figured they had done some general sleuthing.

But still it was weird, and now that I look back on it, it was unsettling.

And things just got weirder. They would do these puzzle games where you try to solve riddles to receive interesting info about a subject, but they got increasingly strange and arbitrary. They also used coded communication and wanted you to do the same.

Eventually I just couldn’t take it anymore. It was too much. I had to stop. I have no interest in social media anymore at this point (at least Twitter), and certainly not with those kind of cryptic conversations that felt manipulative at a certain point. Even if those particular theories do have truth in them, at this point they’ve lost their intrigue and fun (at least for me).

I seemed to catch their attention when I posted some amateur stargazing research I did with my software called Starry Pro 7. I was trying to solve one of their riddles using the software and find some things that were interesting using a system of Biblical allegories to “tell a story in the sky,” as people have called it (see this link for more info on what Christians mean by “The Story in the Stars”) but frankly anyone could have found the same thing with the software.

And then the riddles turned into commands. They were commanding me to research certain things. I was trying to be polite about it and continue the fun, but it was off-putting, and eventually I just had to stop.

Since leaving Twitter, I’ve received comments on other sites I manage and text messages that seem related to that community (as if someone from the community was following me around the internet) because the comment shares the same cryptic tone and writing qualities. I even got a text message from a random number with a similar feeling to it.

And then this evening my computer started doing very odd things (certain things that are possible to do when a hacker tries to control your computer remotely).

It’s all been very weird. At this point, it has felt like online harassment. I am 100% over any of those subject matters, and have no interest in doing any research of that kind.

For a long time I’ve been growing weary of the digital age in general (all the constant web browsing and screens, etc.) and this just pushes me over the edge.

Bottom-line: strange things happening on Twitter. (Oh, and don’t talk to strangers!)

Brigham Taylor, Producer of New Ewan McGregor Disney Film ‘Christopher Robin’ Talks Winnie the Pooh, Redemption & Why Our Culture Needs This Movie Today

Originally published at Rocking God's House.

The new live-action Winnie the Pooh #Disney film Christopher Robin tells the story of an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) living in midcentury London when suddenly he comes face-to-face with his past from Hundred Acre Wood.

The film releases in theaters nationwide this weekend. Like many Winnie the Pooh fans young and old, I'm looking forward to seeing it, especially after my intriguing conversation with the film's producer Brigham Taylor.

Directed by Marc Forster, the film also stars Hayley Atwell and Bronte Carmichael along with Jim Cummings reprising his beloved role as the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, roles he has played for several decades. There are quite a few other high caliber actors in this film--see full cast here. In fact, Clara McGregor, the daughter of Ewan McGregor, also has a few scenes in the film in what looks to be her first film with her father.

After such a heavy, rather contentious two years in American culture, a movie like this is both welcome and refreshing. I had the opportunity to discuss the film with Brigham Taylor, who produced Christopher Robin with Kristin Burr of Burr! Productions. Taylor has a long and fruitful history in Hollywood, recently producing under TaylorMade Productions such notable features as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," the live action version of "Jungle Book," and "Tomorrowland." When he was an executive vice president at Disney, he oversaw the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, “Tron: Legacy,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” (I was especially interested to see his Narnia credit as I am a huge Narnia fan and published a book about C. S. Lewis.)

And as a long-time fan of Winnie the Pooh ("Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" is still my favorite), I was quite curious about "Christopher Robin." I had a number of questions about the film, including how Ewan McGregor became interested in the project. After speaking with Brigham, I'm convinced that "Christopher Robin" will eventually become one of Disney's all-time classics. It seems to have all the right elements in play--even a powerful theme of redemption:

I know it took you many years to see it come to life. Can you share a little how that journey started for you and how it's evolved into the film we have today?

It's been an idea that I was thinking about years ago. We got as far as writing some scripts, but we set it aside because at the time [early 2000s] the animation group was still doing wonderful things with the character and the stories and putting films out. So we didn't really want to compete with ourselves, and so we set it aside. The years went by, and honestly for a stretch of that time I wasn't thinking that much about it just because of preoccupation with everything else we were doing. And then as we [Disney] were slowly coming back as we have in recent years to this idea of utilizing some of these classic stories, re-telling some of these fairy tales and featuring characters we love--to utilize old stories in new ways--it made more and more sense to pitch this. We had a whole new group at the studio, Alan Horn is now the Chairman and Sean Bailey is now President of Production, and none of them were around when we pitched this 15 years ago. So it's kind of like doing it all over again from the start. I was now stepping into my producing role at the studio, and my old friend and colleague Kristin Burr was still in an executive role and she's the one who said, "Now is the time to dig up that old idea of yours because this is really want they are leaning into." And she's definitely right, this was perfect, and so we found a new writer and we pitched it again. The concept was very similar. We had new details I think that we improved, in terms of certain ideas we put into it, but it was really about waiting for the right time, and it finally came out.

It sounds like the delay was a blessing in disguise.

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I think so. We were able to not compete with other projects we were making. Also, we were able to benefit from the advancement and wonderful animation techniques that we can utilize with the visual effects team in bringing these characters to life. It's gotten ever more sophisticated. And the funny thing here is that we're trying to do the most rudimentary thing: we're trying to basically present vintage stuffed toys and have them only move in ways that they could realistically move. So we're trying to do the most low-fi possible presentation but it takes wonderful technology to do that. So hopefully the effect is that of a very low tech even though it's using state-of-the-art techniques.

Interesting contradiction there. I'm excited to see the animation. The trailer looks extraordinary. I write for a Christian website, and I'm a Christian. Obviously not every movie talks about faith, but just about every good movie in Hollywood has some theme of redemption in it, where something lost is found again. I was curious what kind of themes of redemption do you see in this project?

I think this is all about finding the things you've lost, and specifically the things that Christopher has left behind in childhood. So that is, I think, the universal challenge that everyone faces: how to hold on to the best things from youth, assuming we were privileged enough to have a happy childhood. But there are these wonderful lessons about friendship, about kindness, about taking time to be completely present with your friends and with your family. That gets ever more challenging as you get older and you take on your education and eventually your career. We wanted to tell a story and have Christopher Robin be very much the "everyman" who stands in for all of us, all the men and women who grow old and get weighed down with responsibilities and distractions that can absolutely pull you away from things that are important. And so what better way to remind you of that than the embodiment of your childhood--in this case Winnie the Pooh arriving at your doorstep needing your help. Christopher has to tend to someone else's needs, which is always a great way to get outside of your own issues. And in doing so, to see yourself even more clearly for what you're doing and more for what you're not doing. In the case of Christopher, he's really not attending to his most important relationships, which are his wife and daughter. And so hopefully in the story you will get a feeling that he corrects that and puts his life back in balance. We can't all quit our jobs and go play in the woods all day [laughs], but we can find time to do that and put life in balance, and that's hopefully the message that comes through.

Was Winnie the Pooh a part of your childhood? What's your history with that character?

Yes, he was a part of my childhood, and the stories I remember were read to me by my mom who remains a huge fan of A.A. Milne. Even now, I just came from a family reunion where there are four generations and 95 people all sort of springing out of my parents' family and we are inevitably all forced to recite one of the poems from A. A. Milne's "When We Were Very Young." I gave my parents--they have sitting outside their cabin--a wood carving of Pooh and Piglet. He's always been kind of a key character in childhood and even adulthood, which made it all the more exciting to try to add a new chapter and to re-introduce these characters to this generation in a way that no one has ever quite seen them before, as these very real and approachable characters. The characters were very meaningful and I really fell in love with the early animation of those three featurettes they produced, especially between '66 and '74. Just amazing voices that they found to embody these characters and the most charming animation. They were very adept at portraying these characters as stuffed animals, even their drawings and the wonderful charm and kindness that permeates these stories. They have a certain kind of tone all to themselves, and we really tried to keep that in the movie. We didn't try to put a weird edge on it or hip it up, we tried to keep it very approachable and keep the tone more of the sort of quiet communication of these characters. Though there's Tigger who's very energetic and there's a little bit of lunacy there, but by and large it's a movie that gets by on its charm.

That's fantastic. And we would expect that from Tigger definitely [laughs]. Ewan McGregor, I just saw him in "Last Days in the Desert," and he has such an amazing range of roles: I was just curious how he got involved in this particular project.

We had a script and a director and we sat down and of course the most important decision at that point is "who is our Christopher?" You look around in the landscape of who is out there in the right age range and one guy just popped out to all of us as number one on our wish list, and that was Ewan. Mark, our director, had made a film with Ewan, so they were friendly and he was able to approach him with a positive past relationship. But still it comes down to him reading the script, wrapping his head around it and wanting to do it or not. Lucky for us, he embraced and jumped into it. I remember, just a week into filming, we felt like we had the right guy, but we were really blown away. He was incredibly prepared, he takes his craft super seriously. There was not a moment where he was thinking, oh I'm just making a family film. He was making a dramatic film in the best way because him being very grounded in that role both I think accentuates the drama and the emotion but also heightens the humor in the movie because there's a very real tension between the adult Christopher Robin trying to maintain all the issues that are on his plate and also deal with this friend who has seemingly very frivolous problems. That was always to me going to be a wonderful source of comedy in this movie and I think it's in there. And I love those scenes where he's having to suppress his own frustration, which eventually turns around into understanding. With Ewan we couldn't have been happier. He's one of our best actors working in this industry. And he's the guy who brought to us both this amazing sort of gravitas and emotional depth but also has this tremendous charm and can remind you of the six year old boy he used to be and the kid who used to play in these woods. He has just one of the most magnetic smiles that you're ever going to see, and when you get to employ that it's an amazing sort of jolt. His range is tremendous and I can't imagine it without him now.

That's awesome. It was surprising to see him there, but then the more I thought about it, I thought "That's going to be amazing!" [laughs] How do you hope this movie will contribute to the overall legacy of Winnie the Pooh in our culture?

I hope it serves as a wonderful refresher course in the value of these characters and what they represent. I think a lot of people don't have to be reminded. But I think there's a lot of people who maybe grew up with it and haven't re-engaged with one of the movies or with the books recently and I think this is a gateway back into that and it reminds you about the value of this kind of friendship, the value of doing nothing with people that you love, and that means just being present and being together doing your favorite things. As Christopher Robin asks Pooh, "How do you do nothing?" He says, "That's when someone says, 'What are you going to do?' and you say, 'Nothing,' and then you go and do it," [laughs] which means you go and do something you enjoy. That's a timeless value and I'm hoping this keeps those lessons firmly etched in people's minds and imaginations and has them going back to re-read these books, which are amazing. Every time I've read them, now multiple times in the course of making the film, they're never notenjoyable. That's my hope.

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To view theater listings and purchase tickets for "Christopher Robin," click here.

Kevin Ott is a movie reviewer, entertainment journalist and the author of the C. S. Lewis, music-themed inspirational book Shadowlands and Songs of Light.

Becoming Free (Through Christ) From What Other People Think About You

The following are notes and reflections on a Tim Keller sermon I listened to recently about the meaning of "justification."

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"I don't care what other people think about me."

We have all said that or, probably more accurately, wanted to say that.

Becoming enslaved to what other people think about you is painful and maddening, and it's a vicious cycle. The more you want people to approve of you, the more you keep your "radar" on for any hint of disapproval--along with great rejoicing when you are a smash-hit with the world--but each cycle, good or bad, makes you want it even more.

You become obsessed with other people's thoughts and opinions and actions as they pertain to you. (This can also make you extremely self-absorbed.)

Of course, there's the opposite extreme. You might become so anti-other-people's-opinions and so detached from humanity that you turn into a sociopath. That's not so good either.

In truth, we seek a healthy balance--a malleable but firm, secure state of confidence and freedom from people-pleasing. We want to be good listeners and attentive and mindful of other's preferences and needs--not self-absorbed and self-serving--but we want to be free from always needing to be needed, liked and accepted. We don't look to others to define our foundations or our identity in Christ, and we want to freely speak our mind and our true feelings, thoughts, beliefs without fear when we need to.

The Gospel is extremely relevant here--unbelievably relevant--and that might sound odd to some. But it's true. The Gospel--yes, the simple message in the little "four laws" booklet that college kids pass out at the beach during summer outreaches or the Roman Road or the "sinner's prayer," as some call it--is not just Christianity 101. The Gospel is the Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Course of everything that healthy, fruitful Christianity is all about. There is no doctrine that is more advanced, complex, or bottomless than the Gospel. You can never spend too much time on the Gospel from the platform or the pulpit.

And it's not just for "saving" people. The Gospel--i.e. what Jesus did on the cross for us--is the giant suitcase that can hold everything you need theologically for your Christian journey from beginning to end. And it can truly--and I'm not using hyperbole here--be applied to just about any problem or situation.

The Gospel Applied to the Problem of People-Pleasing

The people-pleasing problem is a serious thing.

When we have this problem, our identities, our lives, and even our security in Christ can become utterly controlled by the opinions, wants, whims, and moods of other fallen, imperfect, manipulative human beings (even other Christians) who, as Isaiah says, are as frail and impermanent on this earth as dead grass caught in a gust of wind.

The Gospel can help with this, but only if we clear up a common misconception: we read the Bible and we think the words "forgiven" and "justified" are synonymous, referring to the same thing.

Most Christians understand the forgiveness part of the Gospel. Our debt has been paid by God's grace. We've been given a "get out of jail free" card, etc. even though we've broken God's perfect law and done things we shouldn't have done in our lives.

But that's not what "justified" is referring to here. We are both forgiven and justified by Christ. In the Gospel, "justified" does not mean "forgiven." The difference reveals a vital clue.

God's Gift of a Perfect Record: A Part of the Roman Road We've Overlooked

In Romans 3:24 it says that we have been "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."*

This verse, admittedly, is stacked with Christianeze and insider jargon that might sound alien to the non-religious reader. But it is relevant for everyone because, truly, everyone is trying to be "justified" in some way or another, whether he or she is religious or not.

Before we go any further, let's clear away all the religious clap-trap for a moment and take a look at the profound meaning behind an Oscar-winning movie.

In the film "Chariots of Fire," we find an astonishing subtext below the action and plot. It tells the stories of two runners in the Olympics, and one of them, Harold Abrams, runs the 100-yard dash and says that, in every race, he "has 10 seconds to justify his existence." In the film, Abrams strives and strives for the gold medal, yet even a gold medal is not enough to satisfy his need for that justification. The work never ends for him. His good deeds are never enough. (In contrast, his fellow runner Eric Liddell is presented as a symbol of God's grace. You'll have to watch the movie to see what I mean.)

We have all been Harold Abrams at one point. We have all pinned our hopes on some person or thing or outcome--even on seemingly good things like our ministries or the impressiveness of our spiritual fruit--to "justify" our existence and give us the validating performance record that wins the admiration, warm approval and good opinions from people around us.

That's exactly what this Greek word translated as "justified" means in the New Testament: our validating performance record--the thing that shows others that we're worth something and worth their attention and admiration.

Our society is crazy about getting the many kinds of validating performance records that "justify" us in whatever context we're in at the time--i.e. they show us worthy to get the job we want or the college admission we crave or the significant other we wish we could marry. (It's true, even in the courtship rituals, we strut our stuff and act on our best behavior in hopes that the beloved will accept us.) I'm referring to resumes, diplomas, referrals, letters of endorsement, good reviews, attendance records in school, grade reports, good social skills that earn us friends, second dates, and popularity. All of those things are spoken and unspoken records of validation, and we desperately need them to get anywhere in this society.

But Christ freely gives us the ultimate validating performance record--the one that will outlast any of the records listed above.

As Dr. Keller says: "Justification is far more than forgiveness and pardon but distinctly different than moral goodness. Forgiveness is 'you may go, I'm not going to punish you,' but justification is 'you may come.' It's not just getting a pardon, it's getting the Congressional medal of honor bestowed upon you."

And God gives us this medal of honor that Christ earned. He gives it "freely" as Romans says, and it has nothing to do with our moral goodness. We cannot earn this justification any more than we can earn God's forgiveness.

The Gospel is not just an act of negation, of removing sin, in other words. The cross of Christ is an act of addition, of putting something on us that changes how God views us. It does not, of course, magically change how everyone else views us, but it changes how the Creator sees us from that moment on--the very moment we put our faith in Christ and open our hearts to Him.

It really is a miracle worth contemplating for the rest of our lives: God gives us Christ's "perfect record of validation"--His perfect resume--as a gift. He "justifies" us. He doesn't just pay our sin debt and remove the stains; He goes and pins the medals that Christ earned on us as if we had earned them.

He gives us the Lord Jesus Christ's perfect record.

So what is our motivation for doing good? Once God removes the scampering, selfish panic we feel to do good for the sole sake of earning a good record, we can finally start doing good works for God's sake and for the sake of others. We can finally stop doing good works for ourselves. If we think our goodness is what earns us God's love and approval, then every good thing we do will always be tinged with a selfish agenda. But if God has begins by justifying us and settling the whole question from the outset by giving us His perfect record, there our motivation for loving others changes to unselfishness. And if we meditate deeply on what Christ has done for us, the gratitude and wonder will become so intense and overflow so that it spills out into good works. We're doing good things out of genuine love and gratitude, not out of fear, pride or self-preservation.

The Gospel is utterly scandalous and unique because it does something that no other philosophy, religion, or societal system does: it gives us a perfect validation record as a gift. It clothes imperfect humans in the shining virtue of God--at least, it does so in God's view of us, maybe not always (or ever) in people's view of us.

But, thankfully, His view of us is the only view that will matter in the end.

Stay Tuned for My U2 Conference Ireland Report

Life has taken some wild turns the past couple years (some of them quite grievous) and I've found it difficult to do a large amount of posting as of late. I recently attended the U2 Conference in Belfast, Ireland, and I shall publish a report on it this fall. It was a life-changing event on so many levels.

Stay tuned!

For now here is a picture I took of St. Mark's where C. S. Lewis went to church when he was growing up in Belfast.

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Please pRay for my brother

If this happens to be seen and read, I’d like to ask a favor.

Please keep my oldest brother in prayer.

He’s a veteran and a patriot facing a difficult battle. (He’s 47, but he’s facing end-stage kidney failure, he has been doing dialysis for years, and he doesn’t qualify for a kidney transplant apparently.) I’m praying and believe God will do a miracle and heal his kidneys.

He was an officer in the Air Force who served in Los Angeles. (Though I don’t know much about what he did in the AF, frankly.)

Before the Air Force, he worked extremely hard in school, got a job in D.C. at the Pentagon (even conducted briefings there), and he has always loved America. (And he’s a massive Dodgers and Cowboys fan.) He’s always loved Jesus too.

But please keep him in prayer the best you’re able. These have been hard times on his spirit and mental stamina.

Thanks everyone and God bless you for reading this,

Kevin

Leaving for the U2 Conference in Belfast, Ireland This Week!

It's hard to believe it's already come, but I'm leaving for the U2 Conference tomorrow. I'm nervous, excited and still in wonder it's finally happening (it's been a long time coming). I am a speaker at the conference, and I'll be speaking about the U2 song "Gone."

I will be sure to publish a report when I get back.

In the meantime here is the link to the U2 Conference website:

http://u2conference.com