Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Courageous Confession

I’ve already confessed to y’all that I’m hugely nerdy. Despite my refusal to shop at Talbot’s and my attraction to edgy, hipstery things like clunky specs and indie music, I’m just a big old Ned Flanders in a black dress. So it will come as no surprise to you to know that I have just watched the movie, Courageous. And I liked it.

If you’re not familiar with this film, it’s the most recent release from the guys who made blatantly Christian movies, Facing the Giants and Fireproof. I’m not going to lie to you – these films tend to lack first-rate production values and professional-calibre acting. According to Steve Taylor, director of the slightly edgier Blue Like Jazz, in your typical "Christian movie": Sentimentality trumps substance, good intentions trump artistry, all conflict must be tidily resolved, “safe for the whole family” is a de facto requirement... or as writer David McFadzean summarized, Christian movies are like porn – poorly lit, poorly acted and you always know how they’re going to end.“

And yes, of this film, all of these things are true. That said, as I watched Courageous, which follows a group of men who make a formal vow to be there for their families, I found myself caring about each character, and ultimately, sobbing as they moved through the hard and good parts of their lives. I suppose that one does not have to be a subtle or particularly skilled filmmaker to craft a movie that tugs at heartstrings, but... you know what? I don’t care!

I remember when first I saw Forrest Gump – having my emotions tugged first one way then another. A woman in my office saw it the same weekend, and when we compared our reactions, she actually seemed kind of angry at the movie for “manipulating” her. I’m not sure why I found it an exhilarating ride, but she was just plain pissed off! 

NYC hipster Lauren Winner
found God in Mitford.
Anyway, it is my view that emotional manipulation is what movies are good at, and apparently you don’t have to be a Scorsese or a Kazan to accomplish it. Of course, in the case of Courageous, how you see it depends on where you are. It’s definitely a preaching-to-the-choir situation, and if you’re a choir member, maybe it will move you. Conversely, if you don't sing that song, and you REEEEEALLY don’t like being preached at, well, maybe this is not going to be for you. 

I guess it’s like the parable of the sower in Mark 4: 

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Jesus explained His meaning like this: “The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

So, how you see the movie may depend on how you are. Of course, I am not saying that every single Christian is going to like this movie. My husband, for instance, while a follower of Christ, is deeply suspicious of American evangelical subculture... and a discerning moviegoer to boot. So where I see a mediocrely-crafted movie that deals with the real heart issues of some ordinary men who are trying to do what’s right, my husband might see a poorly-made, unsophisticated, un-subtle, preachy view of the Christian subculture. 

I guess what I’m saying is that my tastes can be fairly unsophisticated when it comes to stuff like this. If it squeezes my heart and if it tells a truth that is dear to me, I’m on board. And honestly, sometimes this nerdy stuff hits me just right. Because you never really know what is going to touch you. 

Don't let this jolly picture fool
you, Bill Vaswig was crusty!
Writer Lauren F. Winner, in her book Girl Meets God, give her conversion story – one of a North Eastern Jewish intellectual who finds herself drawn to the Jesus and to Christianity. There were many influencing factors, of course, but one unexpected stop on Lauren’s journey was... Mitford. Yep, that’s right... She immersed herself in the imaginary world of Jan Karon’s Mitford series. These sweet, homey novels feature a small-town, Southern, Episcopal priest and his parishioners – ordinary people doing ordinary things. And yes, these books are  pretty nerdy.  But they spoke to Winner. Here’s what she said: “To tell the truth, I read them over and over in the following weeks, and found myself not only thrilled to trade my Manhattan environs for the sleepy small-town life of Mitford, but also deeply attracted to the way that faith saturated the lives of the quirky inhabitants of the town.” At one point, the horn-rimmed glasses-ed hipster from New York actually found herself driving around Charlottesville VA, looking for Karon’s house. 

Here's another example: One time I was at a conference and one of the speakers was a crusty old gent called William Vaswig. A brilliant speaker – who has since shuffled off his mortal coil – spoke on healing and prayer. And despite his touchy-feely topic, he was as crusty as they come. His demeanor as he interacted with his friend Richard Foster, the conference’s other speaker, was what can only be described as a perpetual eye roll. My friend Grace, who often says she plans to embrace the increasing crustiness that comes with age, fell deeply in love with this elderly man – claiming that she had found her soul mate. Anyway, Vaswig, a widower, told a story about how his wife used to read a devotional series that he considered shallow, sappy, trite... Crusty old Bill was much too cool for these sentimental blurbs. But that after she died, he found himself reading these books – for comfort, maybe? And, to his great surprise, this grieving man found deep comfort and sweetness in what he had earlier considered sentimental little devotionals. 

While speaking to Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus says some pretty enigmatic things.... like this: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Now, He was talking about the mysterious concept of being born again, but it reminds me of what I am talking about –the activity of the Spirit. How you can never tell when and how and where He will move. If you’ve been reading my blog much, you know that I have had Him give me shivers and bring me to tears in the most unlikely of places: Broadway shows, rock concerts, movies – about heroin addicts, no less.... But oddly enough, sometimes the Spirit can reach into your heart and touch you in unexpected, but quite predictable places... like church... or a sappy movie made by Christians for Christians. 

No comments:

Post a Comment