When the pandemic started, Reel World Theology was already in trouble.
Established in February of 2013 by Mikey Fissel, the website did and continues to pursue the truth of God’s story in the narratives we make. “Every movie has a story, and every story is riddled with thoughts, assumptions, interjections, and speculations about everything that people could imagine,” he wrote in his introductory post; “all of these stories are created and interpreted by writers, directors, and producers who are trying to bring that story to life, and in the process, influencing our own theology directly or indirectly.” Or, to put it more succinctly as he does at the end of every podcast episode, “story is powerful, and entertainment is not mindless.”
I started Redeeming Culture in September of 2014 with the same goal, and over the years it grew into something I was really proud of, with ongoing series and a few contributors. When I started it, I didn’t know anything about Mikey or Reel World Theology at all. We were both inspired by the work of James Harleman, a pastor whose “Film and Theology” series became a book and website called Cinemagogue. He’s since joined us for a few projects here, and now co-hosts the Popcorn Theology podcast with David Lee, Miles Wallace, and Richard Foltz.
We joined forces in 2017 to produce the second season of “Trektember” in celebration of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s thirtieth anniversary. Shortly thereafter, the Reel World team invited Redeeming Culture to join forces more officially and more permanently. We did, and in June of 2018 my writing officially shifted over to Reel World Theology. I jumped in with great excitement; working with other people on this thing that has occupied so much of my time and so much of my mind has been, truthfully, a singular honor and delight. Through a series of strange events, I found myself the managing editor of the site later that same year, a job I was truly thrilled to hold and remain excited to do.
But that’s also when the trouble started.
So, I have to say at this point that these troubles are not anyone’s fault. Not mine, not any of our contributors’ or editors’, nobody’s. The problem was money and time: one by one, our staff team began working new jobs (real world jobs that actually paid; nobody draws a salary from Reel World Theology) that required more time and mental energy. Our families also grew, and nobody has ever called having children a “timesaver.” As this happened for our staff, it also happened to our contributors; and we soon found ourselves hoping that more people would jump on board. Some did, but as time went on more and more people were unable to write for the site. I was actively working toward increasing our pool of contributors; my job had been fairly stable, and afforded me plenty of downtime to seek out new writers and new talent in our community, cultivate their work, and hopefully grow our stable of contributors once more.
Then I lost my job.
And a month later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.
With that one-two punch, I was out for the season. The rest of the staff was even more sidelined than they were before, and with nobody able to maintain momentum, we were spinning out. A few painful attempts at restarting our forward motion led to frustration. “Everything in life feels exhausting right now” was an actual message posted in our staff Slack channel, and it pretty accurately summed up how we all felt. Between being laid off, being forced by a pandemic to disconnect from those I was closest to, and losing the structure and routine of a life that I was accustomed to, I was entering what I can now look back on and correctly identify as a depressive episode. And I am quite certain that I was not the only one.
In that season, it was easy to hope that it would only last for a few months; both the pandemic and our collective slump. Movies were gone for the time being anyway, so we might as well take some time off of reviewing them.
Then movies came back, but our collective ways of coping with everything that was 2020 meant that we weren’t any closer to escaping our group depressive state. And it kept going on, and on, and on. More brief attempts at recovering our old glory came and went, deadlines passed without posts, series were left unfinished, everything felt broken. And through all this, my soul burned with the missed opportunities; if I have a calling, culture redemption and metanarrative examination is it. Leaving it unfulfilled was tearing me apart, Lisa. Guilt and shame over my failure compounded the feeling that the world was broken.
When my personal brain chemistry finally recovered, I was able to take a look back at what 2020-2021 was and realize that my world wasn’t going to get back to normal any more than the world as a whole was. Even though I had long since recognized the cliche of the “new normal,” I hadn’t internalized it; for me or for Reel World.
So I got to work doing just that.
Starting this summer is a new Reel World Theology and a new Redeeming Culture. We’re going to be leaner and lighter, and more sustainable for people with jobs and families. We’re not going to stop doing what we do, but we are going to do it in a way that doesn’t take us away from the stuff that matters.
What does that mean? Well, like any Hollywood reboot, that means we’re changing up the formula. Some stuff is going to change. And there will probably be weird cameos and callbacks.
First of all, it means that Reel World Theology and Redeeming Culture are joining forces fully and completely. When I joined Reel World in 2018, I left Redeeming Culture on the back burner; now we’re making them officially one entity.
Second, it means that we’re broadening our attention. We won’t just focus on movies anymore; we’re looking at everything. In fact, a lot of the pieces we have coming soon are about TV shows.
Third, for both sites, we’re going back to basics. Reel World has long been centered on two things: the podcast and the community. Redeeming Culture has always been about the text commentaries.
Earlier this year you saw the rebooted Reel World Theology podcast warming up the feed you had of course been faithfully leaving subscribed in your podcast player (as well as our YouTube channel). (If you deleted your subscription, or never were subscribed, subscribe to “Reel World Theology” on Apple Podcasts or anywhere else you get your podcasts.) It’s the same podcast you love and adore, though perhaps a bit shorter at the start (and maybe that’s actually a selling point for you!), and we’d be honored if you’d stick with us as we move forward here. We’re on a season break for now, but hopefully you’ll see us back again soon.
Next, join our Discord server! It’s the same raucous discussions and memes, thoughtful observations and inane polls our community is known for, but if you feel morally conflicted about being on Facebook, or you want to talk about or mute spoilers in dedicated spoiler channels, you can. Of course, our Facebook group is still humming along; if you’re on Facebook, I think you’ll find it’s the best community on the site.
As for Redeeming Culture, we’re warming that up for our written content! Don’t worry, all of our articles are going to be crossposted to both sites for the foreseeable future. Our back catalog has been getting a lot of traffic over there recently, so we migrated over all of the Reel World written content a few months ago and we’ll be posting all of our new text commentaries there. The plan for this is a lot less definite (we have a few TV show reviews, a shortened Trektember, and a few other pieces coming this summer and fall), but there is a general theme, at least.
One thing we do know for sure is that we need help! If you’d like to write for Redeeming Culture or join Fizz, David, Ryan, and CC on the podcast, please drop us a line. We need people who want to talk about all sorts of stories; movies, television shows, books, music, video games; old or new, in theaters or on streaming. Anything that made you feel or think something about God, we want to hear about it; and if you’re not confident about your writing abilities, I’m happy to help you work it up into something more.
What about our other projects, like Trektember, Home One Radio, Reel World Rewind, Tough Passages, Cinephile, the 3D Podcast, Separation of Church and Film…? Well, we’re starting small. Remember, the goal is to make this sustainable. As we grow, we may find ourselves able to get back into those projects. Some of them are headlined by creators who are even busier than we are, and it may be a while before they can get back into them. Stay tuned for more updates on those and other new projects.
Overall, this isn’t a promise to do better or try harder. This is an attempt to make our comeback a more sustainable and dependable source of discussion about narrative truth. We hope you’ll join us for the reboot.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to turn this thing off and back on again—