Rusty Whitener - PASTOR, NOVELIST, SCREENWRITER

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Movies Are Changing . . . Jan. 1, 2010January 1, 2010

B_MG_1123            Near the end of 2009, I wrote a newspaper column recommending people see “The Blind Side” movie.  A lot of the country has; in certain weeks it passed “Twilight: New Moon” as the number one movie at the box office (for that week).  This is also the type of movie that has “legs,” meaning it will continue to gross well as more and more people hear about it.  It has been called the “Rudy” of this new millennium, except that Blind Side’s true story has a decidedly Christian family at its center.  You will love this movie, even if you don’t like football.  It’s not really about football.  It’s about loving people and serving them as Jesus did, especially those barely alive, on society’s edges. 

            Our Christian faith is most obvious and most appealing to the watching world, when we express it by loving and serving.  It is arguably least obvious and least appealing when we express it solely in the context of what we favor politically and what we oppose.  I’m not suggesting we abandon political activism; I think God honors our efforts to be politically informed and active.  I’m simply talking about our witness.  If the ONLY time Christians are recognized trumpeting our faith, it’s in the context of what we favor and what we oppose politically, then of course non-Christians will assume that Christianity is just one more political position among many clamoring for attention.  But if skeptics see us feeding the hungry (and enabling the hungry to feed themselves) and see us loving the unlovable, and see us doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8), they will be intrigued.

            The actress Sandra Bullock, now garnering “Oscar buzz” for her work in “Blind Side,” initially turned the role down three times, though she loved the script from the get-go.  Filmmaker John Lee Hancock, desperate for Bullock to do it, convinced her to travel to Memphis and meet the real family and mom she would portray, and check out Briarcrest Christian School.  Bullock did, “fell in love with the role,” and the rest is history.  In one of a number of revealing interviews, she said “I now have the blessing of having my restored…”  Bullock caught herself, before continuing, “…not a restored faith, but I now have faith in those who say they represent a faith.  I finally met people who walk the walk.”

            This is how the world changes.  This is arguably the ONLY way the world changes.  The world changes only when Christians live out their faith, one day at a time, loving God and loving people one day at a time.  Then let the world stand back in wonder.  This doesn’t mean we don’t speak out against real sin and real injustice.  It DOES mean that we be careful our political advocacy does not become our Scripture and our political goals do not become our “god.”

            Hollywood filmmakers are catching on to what sells and what does not sell.  Independent researchers conducted an extensive review of money-making Hollywood films in the early part of this decade (2001 to 2005) and concluded that films with sexual content do worse at the box office than films with little or no sexual content.  Gross sales were 31 percent lower than films without such content.  The study is published in November’s “Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.”  These are not Christian researchers pushing a Christian agenda (though I welcome their efforts too!).  These are researchers from the University of Cal-Davis and Vancouver.  There is of course, still a huge pornography market.  I’m writing here about mainstream movies that reach a mainstream audience.     

            Part of what makes “Blind Side” work is the deft hand of the director and screenwriter John Lee Hancock.  They do not push the family’s (the Touhys) Christian faith on the audience.  The movie is far subtler than “Facing the Giants” or “Fireproof.”  I celebrate those films too; I am merely considering the different approaches to Christians involved in movie-making.  Hancock is a Christian.  So is Quinton Aaron, and the man who plays the gentle giant football player Michael Oher.  Aaron says “Before this, I was working alongside my pastor as understudy at Salvation and Deliverance Church in the Bronx.  I love the church.”

            Surely you have seen, and maybe been a part of, other stunning examples of Christians reaching out and loving an unlovable world.  Think of the possibilities for films, for movies that reach thousands, millions of people.  Did you know the ONLY movie that showed on Turkish Airlines (a Muslim business) for weeks and weeks on end was… FACING THE GIANTS!  How does that happen?  It happens because God does whatever he wants to do with whomever he wants to do it.  He turns the heart of the king in the palm of His hand.

            Movies are the “church” of the unsaved culture.  Christians know that’s a poor church.  But if that’s where unsaved persons go to get some insight, entertainment, and revelation about life and God and all things, why shouldn’t Christians show up there with our messages of insight, wholesome entertainment and even revelation about God and God’s mission to save people?

            Things are changing in Hollywood and in movie-making.  I hear it in the wind.  The Spirit wind.