There have been a number of movies by Christians over the past several years. It seems that the movie industry is taking notice of either a new genre, or a new market. As we get close to Easter, who could forget the firestorm of media attention and box office dollars that The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson generated several years back. Rob Bell broke into the market with the Christian short films, the Nouma Series. Apparently this was a new market that Christians have excelled at, and now it looks like Rob is headed to make his tv series, and has left Mars Hill Church to do so. I've been privileged to know a few people who are trying to make their way in the film industry as Christians, and its not an easy road. Money is hard to come by, and even harder it seems, are good films. I've watched a number of "Christian films" and been sorely disappointed. One that I was disappointed in is one of the most famous of Christian films - Fireproof. Though I loved the concept and the message, the filming wasn't very good, the acting was rough, and the spirituality was gratuitous and felt contrived. I appreciate the desire to grapple with real life issues, and am thankful for films that are doing so set in the real life, the real world, and with the real people we know. I long for films made by Christians that touch the heart, evoke the imagination, stimulate thinking, challenge assumptions, offer hope, and do so in a way that is as complex a reflection of the year world we live in while still simple threading the power of the gospel through image, music, and evocative storylines. And I also long for Christians who are thoughtful about film in their critiques, rather than being reactionary because a particular formula hasn't been followed. Here is an article about the forthcoming movie, Blue Like Jazz based on Donald Miller's book. This feels like the same argument we have about CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) back in the 80's and 90's. Subculturizing Christian culture with particular rules and dividing sacred and secular in these unfortunate ways not only divides Christians, but makes us look pretty silly to the world around us. Is that too much to ask?
Maybe. Maybe not. And there are a lot of questions. What makes a Christian film? Is it the actors? The producers? The money behind it? What happens with the proceeds? The truth and beauty portrayed? The story line? Whether or not there is an altar call or clear salvation line by a key actor or actress? This gets to a deeper question about culture that makes my mind sing. What makes Christian anything, and was Christian ever meant to be an adjective... or was it meant to describe the ones who call themselves followers of the Way?
I had a question the other day that someone asked about how our family deals with secular and sacred, or Christian music. I used to talk about that debate a lot, and now that I'm raising kids, we haven't really talked about it much. This question caused me to pause and think about what we do with our kids. Here's what I realized... we aren't teaching our children about "Christian" music, as if some things are baptized and others are not, or that somehow the sacred realm is divided from the secular in clear lines and demarcations. Those of us who live in the real world no better, intuitively. I realized that my reality is that there is good music, and there is bad music. There are good lyrics, and there are bad lyrics. There are ones that are honoring to God, and those that are not. There are great riffs, chord changes, and surprising sub-melodies or sub-texts. Some of these are written by Christians and some are not. God presents himself powerfully in ways that catch us unaware if we are paying enough attention, and we need to pay attention because there is a lot of garbage that's bad for the soul out there. But there is also much beauty, wonder, longing, and even reflexive response to the Creator by those who don't know him, yet.
This is a problem we've been grappling with for a long time - what is Christian, and how do Christians relate with culture. Great questions that require much more thinking, engaging, responding, creating, critiquing, and imagining.
Here are a sampling of some interesting books I've enjoyed on the topic of Christianity, Culture, and Creativity:
- Christ & Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr
- Culture Making: recovering our creative culture by Andy Crouch
- Desiring the Kingdom by James KA Smith
- Eyes Wide Open by Bill Romanowski
- To Change the World by James Davison Hunter
- The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida
- All God's Children in Blue Suede Shoes by Ken Myers
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