This is for all the filmmakers, musicians and writers out there − even if only aspiring − that are trying to solve the age-old dilemma of reconciling their creative yearnings with their faith, or probably better put, their religious beliefs.
I spent many of my formative years in a very interesting place with a very interesting set of religious beliefs. The religion? Not important− I mean no disrespect to the people of it, and it matters to them, so why should I be the one to cut them down? But I bring it up because it never suited me. I have always been a person that is inspired by the works of the creative types.
But where I grew up, my love for Captain Underpants, Harry Potter, The Rugrats and The Backstreet Boys was condemned. I loved these things because of the personal identity they created in my life, but because they didn’t align with “Christian values,” my parents would get a call asking to make sure that I neither talked about nor consumed these things while at school, with the following suggestion that my parents just take them away from me in general.
My parents never did, but I always felt like that which I was consuming was wrong simply because it wasn’t a direct reflection of the Bible, or so it was said.
But then I saw Christians reach popularity with something that wasn’t overbearing.
I recall the first time I ever remember a Christian song topping the pop charts− a song that my public school friends and I finally had in common. It was true brilliance, and it speaks to me the same is it did back then. The song was Switchfoot’s, “Meant to Live” and at a young age, “We were meant to live for so much more, have we lost ourselves?” resonated in such a powerful way.
Jon Foreman is a masterful songwriter, one of which I truly admire. Looking at the way his musical ancestors had done things, he could have probably sold a half thought-out hallmark line like, “Jesus loves you and a crown awaits you in heaven if you believe in him,” and he might have even won over a huge Christian audience. It seems like he wanted so much more− he wanted to really help people understand what he felt, and he did so with a mere question, “have we lost ourselves?”
In recent months, a few Christian artists have started creeping into the billboard charts- the likes of Lecrae, TobyMac and MercyMe. I’m not really a fan of any of these, but it seems like they are beginning to find the science to making good Christian media. They all claim to be writing what they honestly feel, see and perceive. They claim to have thrown out the CCM [Contemporary Christian Music] cookie cutters in exchange for a mold that is more customized.
Christian media has for so long held to the same script, and if we can count on our fingers the number of successful Christian media products, then something is missing that is keeping consumers away. Christian media tries too hard to be a Disney movie.
Disney movies are great, but they aren’t real. They are idealistic, they are imaginative, they resolve to a happy ending, and they are set in the perfect situation. We love them for what they are because they represent what we long for− pure fictional bliss.
Christian movies, music and literature have often tried too hard in the past to sell fiction as reality. And it seems like a heavy hearted and burdensome cycle that never ends. We want to tell the love of God to the world, but we are selling what seems to be the opposite− one-dimensional portraits of things that are really not that way. We have traded rich and complex subplot for characters on a felt board.
Look at the history we see in the Bible, and see if you can find any clean-cut followers of God with perfectly resolved lives.
There was Moses, and he killed a guy. Then there was David, which sent a man to the frontlines of battle so that he could sleep with the man’s wife. There were the disciples, which in every single way represented the lower end of society. Then there was Jesus− the only person that we can define as perfect, and he didn’t spend the bulk of his time with the religious elite.
I feel like many of us are much the same. I believe in God, and I want him to be the center of my life. But my life is not a Chris Tomlin or Michael W. Smith song. I struggle everyday to live in some sort of image of my creator. I mess up regularly. I get into bad situations. I want God more than anything, but I’m still defining what that means.
It is this central point that should be examined when creating ‘Christian media’. Rather than being focused on portraying a Christian worldview, portray the world, people and situations in the ways that you feel, sense and perceive them. And if your life is about your faith, that love and desire to portray love will come out without even attempting to make it happen.
The struggle of the human condition is to be constantly searching for some sort of meaning. Good Christian media shouldn’t even need to be defined in that term. It should be a true portrayal of the struggle to find meaning that does so in a different way that leaves people thinking. It is the allowance of the Holy Spirit to do what we can’t do.
There’s this scene in Walk the Line where Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash) begins playing this gospel song with his band to this record producer. The record producer stops him and says that he doesn’t believe that this song would be the one he would be singing if he were to get hit by a truck tomorrow and have one last chance to tell God and the world what he felt about life.
People are looking for something real.
Who is your God?
Is your faith real?
Do you ever struggle?
Do you want your life to be represented by a 3D graphic spectacular or by a felt board?
If you could only tell the world one more thing, and if God has given you the ability to communicate through media, what would you say?