The death of the Christian Movie–Day #7 out of the 30 day challenge to blog

I pray for the Christian Movie to die. Like I’ve learned from smarter men & women than me, “Products can’t be Christian.” They can’t be baptized, confess of it’s sins, or follow Jesus. I wish my movies could be a Christian. That way it could confess of it’s sins, be transformed, and raised from the dead. But a las, that ain’t gonna happen. Now you still might catch me use the phrase, for the purposes of brevity. But just know, that’s all it is. Laziness. And without a proper understanding that products can’t be christian, matter of fact, that can be dangerous.

It is ironic that this is the topic that has most carbonated my inspiration to write this morning, when today is the day we are launching the teaser trailer for my next movie, “Brennan,” based on the author of the book The Ragamuffin Gospel. He was Rich Mullins friend, and a sorta mentor to Rich in seasons of his life, especially 8 months before Rich died. Rich was the the person who’s life and story we explored in my last flick, Ragamuffin. I say story, but what is more accurate is we explored one of his stories. For now life has only one story.  I chose the story of his pain, versus the story of his joy. And I have gotten more shit over that than you can possibly imagine. It’s not exactly a simple answer, but that goes into why there isn’t more “Joy” in my last movie, even though there were various attempts, but we just quite couldn’t get over that hurdle. But mostly it’s my fault. That was the story. It was not only the most interesting to me, based on my research of his friends and family, but to me the most beautiful stories that are filled with redemption, joy, life, love, and as Brennan Manning would say, “A case of the happies,” first…have to go to hell and back. Kinda like Jesus and his death on Calvary. Man, for the Christian we get our sins paid for and if we believe and accept Jesus as not only our savior but also our as the Lord over our life, we get new life in him. We get to experience true love, redemption, and if it’s genuine we will too get a case of the “happies.” We will get joy. But the story behind the joy, is pure hell. Imagine the three hours of hell Jesus experienced on the cross. The pain, and the little shit mop that was put in a bucket of vinegar and than put to the lips of Jesus so he could get a drink. And then most believe, while Jesus was dead, he went to the literal hell, and then three days later rose again. Now to say there was no joy in the life of Jesus before, during, and after his time on earth, would be insane. And yet my brother in Christ, and hero when it comes to filmmaking, Mel Gibson did that with the story of Christ, in “passion.” He told the story of Jesus’ pain. I love that movie, yet I don’t think i’ve seen it more than 1 1/2 times because…of the painful and beautiful intensity it is to watch.

By the way if you are reading this and you shutter about the fact that I mentioned Mel Gibson…I get it. I’m half Jewish, and I love my wife. So if any one of my friends or brothers in Christ expressed any ounce of anti-Semitic thoughts, rants, or treated the woman they are dating like an asshole…than he would be getting a good ass kicking from me. No joke. A literal ass kicking. But they would also get my forgiveness. Why? Because I’m no peach, my sins are dark, & gruesome, and not pretty…and yet Jesus forgave me. That’s why. I mean, there are other reasons…but that’s the deepest.

If you know me, you know I don’t like the faith-based movie type crap. And I also don’t like the baggage that comes with it. I’m not trying to be political here, but I do like people’s hearts, though. Not everyone’s, but some. For example, I think that the guys that do the fireproof, courageous, war room movies…they seem like guys I would like. I could grab a beer with them. Now they probably would have a lemonade while I’m having a beer, but that’s okay…why…because they are following their conscience and so am I. We both love Jesus, and are trying to be artists, and follow our hearts to love people. One of the Kendrick brothers said recently in an article, “We are still new at this thing…and were just trying to get better…” He was referring to filmmaking. I honestly don’t care that his movies suck, in terms of quality. I mean my movies are no peach. They too suck in ways…but I will always respect a filmmaker that isn’t just putting out crap and saying…”I love Jesus so it doesn’t matter”…and from what I heard they are making their movies specifically for the church…a overtly Christian crowd…okay, cool, fine…that’s great man good for you…and you know what that’s great…and the guys seem like nice guys…so good for them, I genuinely wish them well. And their movies, yes, have done a lot of good, in terms of an internal tool to help people. I don’t know people personally…but that’s what I’ve heard. And that’s wonderful. They have done a lot of good…now I do think they have done some bad…but so what? Because we are human, any good we attempt because it’s a human reflection of the divine, is still going to have some imperfection and negative impact, because it’s flawed, it has a human involved. It’s just simple math.

Now there are some really gross people and motives out there in the industry (imagine that), but specifically people who just want to make a buck of the Christian. One friend told me that a big time “Christian” distribution guy referred to his company as a “chop shop” for Christian movies. When he told me the story, you would think I couldn’t fit more F-words into a conversation. But, I managed.

Unless you’re from mars, we all understand what’s so bad about these faith based movies, right? Poor quality, shaky stories, bad acting etc…now again, making movies is tough. And far be it from me, being a wannabe filmmaker to ever knock anyone that is trying. Matter of fact, I’ll be the first to stand up and give you a standing ovation, and yell “Good for you! YOU DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Because I know just how hard it is to make a movie. And to put it simply, we all have to start somewhere…how else are we going to get better. So I say, don’t listen to people like me bitch about it…go out there and suck…go suck bad…and work hard…never stop shooting…never stop writing…never stop making movies…because if you don’t…how else will you get better? Let me answer that, you won’t. Now some church communities, or christian filmmakers out there…to me they aren’t really filmmakers. They aren’t really artists. I think they like the idea of it, more than they are actually earning that title. It’s not a concept that’s foreign to any industry really…I remember a few years back there was this guy working as a D.P. with my filmmaker friend…and he was convinced he was the best D.P. ever…and my friend had to give him a wake up call. He wasn’t really. Oh, sure I think he liked the idea of it. But not deep down where it counts, and that’s where the true artist lives. Deep down. I heard that guy, ended up becoming a fire fighter.

Good for him! So he became a hero, vs. an artist. Lucky! I would rather be a cop. Sometimes I pretend to be John Mclaine remember. But my loving wife has corrected me here. You don’t want to be a cop. You just want to play one in a movie. She’s right. But in reality I think we are all artists. Why? Because we are made in the image of the true God. He’s the creator and we are the creation. He’s the ultimate artist. And you in his image, are too an artist. You know my Dad is a chef, and he doesn’t just slap mustard on a sandwich, but he’s a true artist with the whole deal…why because he’s creating something beautiful. It really goes for any profession. Like a janitor ressurects a trashed office building making it beautiful again. A defense lawyer protecting the innocent, or at the very least giving a fair defense to the guilty. A plumber. You can fill in the blank there. But in all of us is the identity of an artist. It’s the thumbprint of our creator, that is in us, and the artistic tendencies are always seeping out, in however he created us in our individuality.

So then why do some movies still suck. I don’t know. Ask them. But we should all be careful to not judge them, myself included. Maybe that’s just the best they can do. And they are trying to get better and better. So leave them the hell alone, and give them the grace to get better and better. I sure would appreciate that grace. And I feel like I need more than most. I can’t even watch my last movie Ragamuffin anymore, because all I do is cringe at all the flaws. Making movies is hard man! But while I don’t watch the movie anymore, I do celebrate all the work that God continues to do in and through it. From the stories about how a 50 year old woman has been a woman of faith her whole life, and yet never understood the really real reality of God’s love until she watched the movie. She couldn’t even explain it, but she watched the film. Went to bed. Then, woke up the next morning and felt like she experienced the love of God for the first time. Or to the 5 or 6 stories I’ve heard about people that were going to kill themselves, some even planned the date, and then God stopped them some way…some how via watching the movie.

Now let me say a word, and give some caution to this whole thing. I once heard a pastor tell a wonderful story about a woman. This woman though had a rough life, and rough time…why? Because her Dad was a piece of shit. But despite that, this woman had the grace of God on her life, was ambushed by God’s love, and had an amazing amount of fruit in her life. One day the pastor was meeting with this father, and rebuking him for his un-fatherly crap. And the father got all defensive, and said…”Well I must’ve done something right, look at how good she is and how good she turned out…and all the good she’s doing.”…………And this pastor, had the right wisdom to tell this father this….”Just because God does something good through you…doesn’t mean YOU’RE GOOD…it means…HE’S GOOD.”

I’ve always loved that story. And for me, in the deepest roots of my theology…the theology of not only my head, but also my heart….I feel as it applies to almost everything! Especially this whole “Christian Movie” thing. So a “Christian Movie” comes out and it sucks, makes a ton of money, and it does a lot of good. Well you know what I say Amen. I praise God. You know why? Because it means that God’s good. It doesn’t necessarily mean these movies are. But be careful to not pat yourself on the back just because God did this in and through you…because it doesn’t mean your good. It means God is. And so what that God used your movie…or mine…it doesn’t really matter. I mean, God could use a rock, or a burning bush to do his will. And matter of fact, he has. And as Rich Mullins once said, “Don’t get caught up in this whole ‘God using me thing’ because it’s a better thing to be wanted by God than to be used by God.”

Now what do we do with all these shady assholes who have bad motives that are just trying to make a buck off Jesus name, and have the “chop shop” mentality…you mean besides kick their ass? Well, there’s a story from the scriptures that come to mind…It’s like what Paul said to the philipians…”Whether true motives or false….all that matters is Christ is preached.”

I remember going on tour with my buddy Jb, and in my toyota corolla with the movie “Ragamuffin”…and this really grumpy lady raised her hand in the Q&A after the movie and asked…”So why didn’t you have Rich Mullins pray and read his bible in the movie?” I sighed. Literally in front of hundreds of people…I sighed with disgust. I couldn’t help it. It’s like right in that moment. This lady and I have as much of a chance as if we were  from different countries, speak different languages…and sending morris code through a fax machine….First, I didn’t correct her…that actually he did…he prayed out to God after the bath tub scene…or to mention many of his songs were prayers…like “hold me Jesus”….and in one of the montage moments he is reading his bible…and what can I say, I was inspired by Rich Mullins to be a bit of a smart ass when I answer questions like that….but I just stepped up on my little soap box, and let her have it…”Look, lady, because Rich Mullins isn’t the hero of this movie. God is. And furthermore…there’s no such thing as good Chrisitan…God is good and were saved by his goodness….and another thing…there’s no amount of works no matter how long the list is that makes you a Christian…you are saved by Christ alone and the work he did for you on the cross…I mean I let her have it…”Did I feel bad about it? Nah. You run into this all the time. People that really don’t have a full understanding of the gospel of Jesus, who think they are a Christian, and aren’t really. Not saying she was or wasn’t…but there’s shit some people would say at so many of these screenings I’d do across the country…and I’m not trying to be a jerk here…I mean I’m genuinely concerned for these people…that there’s so many that genuinely think they are a Christian…that I worry they have no fundamental understanding of the simple gospel message of the grace of God whatsoever. It’s actually quite concerning. And then you go, well, no wonder America thinks Christians are a bunch of assholes. When you have folks that think the gospel of Jesus is a clean up your act, pull up your boot-strap type of Christianity , and not what it really is…Jesus loves you so much, and wants you love and trust so much, that he died for it.

You know when someone says something nasty to you, or in the case above, asks you a stupid question…and you think of something really good to say…a few hours later. Well for me it was months later. But if I could go back in time here’s what I would tell that lady…”You know why I didn’t have Rich reading his bible, and praying in some melodramatic cheesy way ….like you were hoping…” Oh, or to the Christian who would ask me, “Why didn’t you lay out the Romans Road plan of salvation in the movie”…Geeze you might as well ask me why I didn’t have an altar call IN THE MOVIE…or ask them to bow their heads and close their eyes IN THE MOVIE…and ask them to RAISE THEIR HANDS…IN THE MOVIE….here’s what I’d say to all these folks…”Because I want to be like Jesus. Because I don’t want to be storyteller like Christian Filmmakers of our day. I want to be a story teller like Jesus. Jesus would just tell stories. He didn’t have his Characters reading the scriptures, or have some type of altar call…he told stories that in them and through them would point to the love of his Father. And that’s all I’m trying to do. So go ahead and be mad at me because it’s not a “real christian movie if you don’t have__________ or __________…because there’s no such thing as a Christian movie anyway.” That’s what I should have said.

I can’t remember how many pastors I’d have to go up to and apologize for being upset and blunt with these folks. But, honestly, pastors are cool man. I think most, if not all were like, “I”m glad you did it…Susie needed to hear that.” I don’t love all pastors, but I sure loved the ones I met on the movie tour. They were rad. Yes, I said rad.

After years of complaining how I don’t like faith-based movies…I have struggled to come up with a succinct way to explain the anguish in my heart. Until this week. I was having a conversation with a friend and I was half complaining, and have relishing in the fact that the movies I make don’t fit in anywhere. Like Rich Mullins said of himself…”I’m too hung up for my Pagan friends, and my Christian friends are always praying for me.” That’s exactly how I feel about the movies I make. Hell, that’s exactly how I feel about myself. So in the midst of this conversation, I said to him…here’s what it comes down to. My hang up with Hollywood is that they don’t make movies that are honest about Jesus. And my hangup with the trend I see in faith-based movies is that they don’t make movies that are honest about life. Someone once asked me if I liked a certain faith based movie, and I said…”About as much as I like Disney movies. It was good, for a fairy tale. See in Disney moves it’s just this weird universe where things happen…that wouldn’t happen in real life…and that’s very much the world I see in faith based movies…it’s a world where everyone seems to be on their best behavior. And the concerning thing is, I go, where’s the pain. What’s God saving whomever from…Where’s the story?

I remember I was chatting with my former pastor about this whole being a Christian in Hollywood thing. And I was asking him for wisdom on what to do, and what not to do…and He looked at me and said “David chill out…don’t forget a movie isn’t the pulpit.” Best advice ever. Metaphorically I get that people declare it as a sermon, or a pulpit, but the reality is, it’s not…and folks will argue…well blah blah blah…yes it is. No it’s not. And the fact that you think it is…might be why your movies suck. Because when I watch it, I’m not watching a story unfold, I’m watching a teaching video. It’s usually two guys on a bench going through romans road usually as they are breaking into act 3 of the movie…A part of me is just waiting for them to look into the camera as they are presenting the gospel message…like a bad episode of the office or parks and rec or something…

So I say let the Christian Movie die. Just be you. Tell honest stories…and what if you say…but this is my calling…this is my ministry…I’d say…no it’s not. This whole “calling thing” and “My ministry” thing…probably is just a bunch of “mumbo jumbo”…you know why…that’s language and vernacular and expressions that we have come up with as a part of our christianese…and while it’s done a lot of good…it’s also done a lot of bad…much like this whole “soul mate thing”…It cracks me up that there is more talk about “who God has for you”…I always smile when I hear these type of convos…because in my head I go…”Didn’t Jesus tell everyone to be single?”

Rabbit trail. Sorry. So…ah yes…tell honest stories. You know what your calling is…to be you. You know what your ministry is…nothing. Because it’s not yours. Now there is Christian Ministry…and it’s the church’s…it’s we…not me…or you…and how can you join with God and the church in this collective ministry…by loving God…and loving people….”But I really want to make movies ” you say…than I say go for it…you are free to…like St. Augustine said…”Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength…and then go do whatever you want.” I would just say…stop making it “your ministry” and stop the patting ourselves on the back…and stop thinking were God’s gift…and stop thinking that were so special…and stop thinking about how awesome we are because all this amazing fruit happen. Stop. Stop and recognize it’s because God is good, and he may be using you, but who cares if he is. He also used Judas. Like RM said…it’s better to be wanted by God.

For the fun of it I’m including a link on this blog post about Rich Mullins calling this whole “Calling thing into ministry mumbo jumbo”…he can explain it better than I can.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zQOX8NmC0c

So pray with me. Pray for the “Christian Movie” to die.  Let’s recognize products can’t be Christian. Let’s let this idea pass away. And go out Love God with everything we got…and then we are free to do whatever we want after that…and should we make it a movie. Great make a movie. Become a storyteller. But don’t do it like it’s done before. No scratch that…do it like it’s been done before…but not like all these cheesy faith based horrible movies, mine included, do it like Jesus did. Tell stories that are both honest about God and honest about life.

David Leo Schultz

**A direct link to my blog: davidleoschultz.wordpress.com

*For my theology on cussing see blog #1 of the 30 day blog.

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~ by David Leo Schultz on October 12, 2015.

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