Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Pearls Before Swine

[The following is from an email sent to my Sunday School class one year ago, when the movie End of the Spear was released]

Has anyone seen End of the Spear yet? I have not yet seen it, though the Christians I have talked to have told me it is an excellent film. Critical reviews seem to be split on whether it is a good movie or not, but even so it is doing fairly well at the box office.

I was intrigued by some of the reviews from the secular press. Non-Christian reviews of Christian movies are always interesting to read, as the reviewer grapples not only with the technical and artistic merits of the film, but the Christian message as well. Traditionally, Christian films have done well with the message, but have an embarrassing track record with the quality-level of the film and/or the actors and actresses. I think the application for an actor in a Christian movie has only two questions:
  1. Are you a Christian?
  2. Have you, or someone you know, ever been involved in a school play?
If you answered "yes" to both, you're in. And even then, there's some leeway with #2.

(In an interesting, side note - numerous conservative and family organizations are now pushing Congress to force cable companies to provide "ala carte" pricing, which would give you the freedom to pick only the cable channels you desire. Not only would you not have to worry about having channels in your home that often contain inappropriate content, but you wouldn't have to subsidize them either. Of course, the cable monopolies are strongly against this move. But they have some very unlikely bedfellows in a large number of Christian networks and Christian broadcasting companies, who also oppose ala carte pricing. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why. Hint: the answer is in the paragraph above.)

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, End of the Spear. Following are some excerpts from some secular reviews:

"Filmmakers don't need stories with a religious agenda any more than they need ones with an irreligious one. They don't need stories with any agenda, frankly. They just need good stories." -- Stephen Whitty, NEWARK STAR-LEDGER

"Although the film invests time among the tribesmen, it never really explores the idea that one man's missionary work is another's ideological aggression. And the movie is tentative, dramatically speaking."
-- Desson Thomson, WASHINGTON POST

"[End of the Spear's] dogmatism comes through as loud and clear as the sinister subtext behind its message of nonviolence—that the world's nonwhite, 'undeveloped' cultures continue to require prophylactic doses of Yank benevolence in order to survive and thrive. -- Mark Holcomb, THE VILLAGE VOICE

If you're like me, you want to lash back. Why is it that everyone in Hollywood is allowed to have an agenda except the Christian? Sure, Mr. Whitty, Michael Moore's films are just good stories. No agenda there. Nope. Puuuhhlease.

And Thomson's insinuation that spreading the Good News might be akin to "ideological aggression" is rather chilling. Persecution against a people rarely just starts out of the blue. It has to be built, stone by stone, brick by brick, and the first step is to demonize the victim.

And finally, if I had the time right now, I would write a letter to Mr. Holcomb and remind him that, yes, the Waodani Indians were in fact on their way to self-induced extinction due to the killing and violence that permeated their society. But it wasn't "Yank benevolence" that saved them, it was the life-changing message of Jesus Christ (I'm starting to wonder if he actually even saw the movie).

But, this is the easy way out. It is a traditional Christian response to play the victim. "Oh, poor us. Society is giving us a bad rap. No one loves us. What are we to do? Boo hoo." I've got three letters for you: D.U.H. 1 John 3:13 tells us to not be surprised if the world hates us. So why do we always act so surprised?

I want to suggest to you a different reaction to reviews like this: Joy. "Joy" you say? Yes. Let's step back and take a look what we have here. An independent Christian film with a decent budget and half-way decent actors, gets released on the big screen and finishes in the Top 10 in it's opening weekend. This is awesome! Don't forget that a strong negative reaction can be just as big a sign that we are doing something right as a big positive reaction. They didn't crucify Jesus for doing and saying what made sense to everyone. So we can't expect films like The Passion or End of the Spear to make sense to everyone either. Enemies of the cross will hate it. Satan doesn't like it when we start to encroach on his turf. It's one thing when obnoxious little Christian films are released straight to video to be shown only in churches during a New Year's eve service. But its a whole different ball of wax when the Message starts to go mainstream.

In Matthew 21:23-27 we have a great story of a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. Jesus is walking around the temple, acting like he owns the place. The "elders" are rather annoyed, to say the least. Their question to Jesus was: "By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?" Do you notice a parallel between the their line of questioning and the reviews listed above? Yes! Both of them basically say, "Just who do you think you are? What gives you the right to tell other people that you have the WAY?" I love it. It means we are on the right track.

Most Christians bemoan the fact that we are no longer a "Christian" nation (if we ever were one to begin with). I don't. The divorce of the church and politics allows us to focus once again on what it truly means to be the church. We can spend less time trying to force Christian-like behavior via the law, and more time telling the stories of Jesus Christ, the stories by which the Holy Spirit will draw people to Himself and change their heart. Which of course leads to a true change in behavior.

So, if you've stuck with me so far, what is the point of this entire rant? In the words of N.T. Wright's commentary on the Matthew passage: "What we should also be asking is this. What should Jesus' followers be doing today that would challenge the powers of the present world with the news that he is indeed its rightful Lord? What should we be doing that would make people ask, 'By what right are you doing that?'"

Sounds like we are already starting to do that. But we are just barely scratching the surface. Take some time to ponder those questions, as it relates to both yourself and [your] church.

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