The Irrelevant Christian

It’s been fascinating to me to see how the Christian community has responded to the release of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey.  First, let me say I haven’t seen it and have no desire to see it – and this post is not about the film itself but more about what I believe our response to it represents.  Over-all many in the Christian community have decried the film’s release, I’ve heard some call for boycotts and others argue that, basically, seeing it is a way to be a missionary to the lost who will see it.

Here’s what prompted this post, though… I have in the past consulted the site Plugged In regarding movies to see if they are ones I wanted to go to or not, so I was curious whether the site would review this particular movie, given the public interest in the film in general.  I won’t say I was surprised to see they did, and I also won’t say I wasn’t disappointed to see they did.  But perhaps not for the reasons you may expect.

First, I wasn’t surprised they reviewed it because they’ve reviewed most movies over the years that seem to be highly popular.  Given that pre-release ticket sales were through the roof and that from what I heard about opening weekend sales it out-sold it’s next closest competitor by a 2:1 margin, I wasn’t surprised they reviewed it because that’s what they do.

Second, yes, I was disappointed they reviewed it.  But not necessarily because of the content of the movie in particular – let’s be honest, Christians don’t want to even talk about sex in general, yet alone what this movie apparently portrays – but more generally than that. Because of it’s emphasis on sex most Christians were expected to stand against it and say “don’t go see it”.  Yet many of those same Christians will go see plenty of other movies that portray violence and graphic sex and they don’t seem to blink an eye.  For a long time I’ve had mixed feelings about Plugged In in general – here is a Christian reviewer who will go see some of the worst movies I can imagine and literally record the number of times God’s name is said in vain, the number of swear words, the specific sexual details in the movie (amount of nudity, type of sex, etc).  And I have to wonder how beneficial that really is.

Call me crazy or old-fashioned, but isn’t that one of the purposes of the MPAA – to tell us, as a public, the contents of a movie?  Movies with lots of questionable content (drugs, drinking, graphic sex, nudity, swearing, etc) receive higher MPAA ratings, while those that are “cleaner” receive lower ratings.  So I decided to give this a little test… I pulled the historical ratings of Plugged In to see how he rated all the “R” rated movies over the years.  As could probably be expected, they all are rated poorly – most have only 1 or 2 stars, and only one had 3 stars ever.

Yeah, that’s right…  Movies that I would expect to be questionable for me as a believer to see based on the MPAA rating were, in fact, questionable for me to see based on Plugged In’s rating as well.

Which gets me to the point of this post…  Perhaps the reason the world finds so many Christians irrelevant is that we aren’t different enough from the culture around us; perhaps the reason the world finds so many Christians irrelevant is that they see us condemn movies like Fifty Shades of Grey because of it’s content but then we’ll turn around and praise another movie which, according to Plugged In (since I didn’t see it), has over 100 uses of the “F” word, over a dozen uses of “God” and “damn” together, and “Someone [who] removes his ring when trying to score at a bar [and contains]  one-off jokes about incest, masturbation, oral sex, anatomical sizes and talking dirty on the phone.” (yes, that’s a direct quote).  How is it that Fifty Shades is wrong to watch but the movie American Sniper isn’t (which is what that review is referring to)?

Plugged In even had to release an explanation of why they were reviewing Fifty Shades, given how controversial the decision was.  Obviously, I’m in the camp of commentators who would have preferred Plugged In not review the movie, but apparently I’m in the minority that feels Plugged In (and Christians in general) really don’t need to review any movie with an R rating.  I gave up on those movies long ago.  And I’ve learned that even Plugged In hasn’t given a positive review to any R rated film that I could find, which tells me that, by and large, I can actually trust the MPAA to correctly inform me whether I want to consider seeing a movie or not.  In my opinion, Plugged In could just review G, PG, and PG13 films if they feel the need to, because apparently they haven’t seen a decent R-rated film in the last 5 years (that’s as far back as the records on the site go).

See, part of our problem as followers of Jesus is that we too often don’t take God at his word.  My pastor when I lived in Florida (and who married Melissa and I) released on his blog a post entitled Protect Your Mind! Guard Your Heart! and in it he shared a couple of Bible verses I think are wonderful verses.  Take Psalm 101:3, for example, where David wrote, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless,” or Philippians 4:8 where Paul admonishes “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

But we don’t really act that way – not really.  We put all sorts of conditions on them..  If I were to use the two movies already mentioned I would have to reword Psalm 101 to say, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless unless it is a great patriotic movie” while Philippians would have to be reworded to say, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable, unless you’re watching a movie (listing to music/reading a book) that clearly differentiates between good and evil or is extra patriotic and tells a true story.

It seems to me that Christians are the only ones who identify levels of sin – and, ironically, we are the ones who should be move giving of grace.  We are willing to say, “sex on screen in a movie like 50 Shades is sin” but “I can watch Titanic because it only has one scene with nudity.”  Or we justify seeing a movie with “over 100 ‘F’ words” because it’s “patriotic” and “inspirational”.

I watch very little TV, but sometimes I even have to ask myself if sitting and watching a show like Bones on Netflix is any less “fixing my thoughts on what is true” than would be watching 50 Shades.  What about other shows that have people engaging in extra-marital affairs, homosexual relationships, using God’s name in vain, or killing people?  When did watching those shows somehow become “acceptable”?  Why is watching those shows appropriate but 50 Shades not?

The release of Fifty Shades of Grey should cause us as Christians to re-examine what it is we are watching, how we are living, and what it is we say when we tacitly endorse by our words and actions certain movies/shows/books/music over others.


Through a Child’s Eyes

One of the greatest joys of raising kids – as I think any parent will tell you – is seeing your child experience something for the first time.  The wonder, awe, and excitement they display – that glint in their eyes – makes so many sacrifices worth while.

Last week Melissa and I took Chloe to see Beauty and the Beast 3D at the theater.  Now this was not the first time Chloe has been to a movie, but it was the first time she ever saw one in 3D.  And even though she has been to movies before, she still gets the biggest kick out of going to the theater.  But as I sat next to her, with her 3D glasses on and her Skittles in her lap I could just see the look on her face as she waited in anticipation for the movie to start.

It actually reminded me of our trip to the NC State Fair last fall.  We took Chloe a couple of years ago, but she was too young to really remember it.  But this year she got to ride the rides, experience the exhibits and animals, and enjoy all the food the fair has to offer.  All day she was seeing stuff for the very first time; what was common place and expected for Melissa and I was something that Chloe had not only never seen, but in many cases never even imagined.

I wonder if that’s what Heaven will be like…  Paul tells us in Ephesians that God is able to do more than we could ever “ask or imagine.”  Let me just say that I can imagine a lot.  But if Heaven is going to be even more than that I have this feeling I’ll be spending a lot of time in eternity saying, “WOW!!!  I never even thought of that!”  And God, who will be standing there beside me, will just smile as he looks down and sees what I’m experiencing.  And then, just like the majesty and wonder of the movie theater led Chloe to say over and over “Thank you, Daddy, for taking me to see Beauty and the Beast,” in a similar way I’ll be forced to fall down and worship this amazing God who provides and cares for me.

Sometimes life is rough; sometimes bills don’t get paid on time (even though we try), and the car repairs end up being more than we have in savings, or the roof gets blown off the house the same week the washer and dryer decide they’re going to die, or someone gets sick and has to go into the hospital, or maybe you end up loosing a job.  But at the end of the day we can have hope – not some blind “I hope this gets better”, but a quiet yet confident assurance that God is working in and through us, that he is providing for us.

Sometimes what God wants is for us to simply sit back and rest in his grace, knowing he will take care of us.  And when we do that – when we trust and allow him to provide – then he gets to sit back and see our expression as we realize that he’s real.  Why do we so often rob ourselves of the joy God wants to set before us by getting bogged down in worry?  Why do we want to steal from God the joy he experiences as he watches us rest in him?

I’m not sure who enjoyed the movie more last week – my daughter or myself.  What I can say with confidence is that I watched much more than a movie I’ve seen over and over.  I got to see through my child’s eyes.

And you know what?  It was good.

Yoda vs. Jesus Christ (2.25)

“Into exile I must go. Failed I have.”     – Yoda

That’s perhaps one of the most disappointing lines I’ve ever heard spoken in a movie.  It comes from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  If you watched the old Star Wars you know that Anakin Skywalker was the apprentice of the Jedi Knight Obi-wan Kenobi but then turned to the dark side of the force and became Darth Vader.  The final installment in this series is actually when we see how Darth Vader and Lord Sidious defeat Master Yoda and Obi-wan.  It was a fantastic movie – until the very end.

As the fight between good and evil reaches its climax, evil wins, but not because evil overpowers good.  No, evil wins because good fails to get up and fight, instead choosing to run.  That’s where Yoda’s statement comes in – he has been fighting Lord Sidious and falls down.  Quite honestly, instead of getting back up and fighting to the death he runs like a coward down a turbo-shaft and escapes.  Obi-wan does the same thing – once Darth Vader has been defeated in the fight, instead of delivering a death blow to his opponent to destroy this evil one, Obi-wan walks away to leave Vader to die; unfortunately for him (and everyone else in the universe), Vader is found in time to be saved.  It will be many more years until another Jedi Knight appears on the scene to right the wrongs committed by these two.

From a theatrical standpoint I found this terribly disappointing.  From a theological and philosophical one, though, I find it devastating.  I happened to turn on the TV tonight and I watched this scene from the movie (because it was on).  It saddens me – it really does.  The entire scene reminded me of the quote that reads, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

The philosophy found in the movie is absolutely anti-Christian (perhaps I should say Anti-Christ), yet I find that we often fall victim to it.  How many times do we neglect to stand up for those that need defense?  How often do we silently approve of conversations or jokes we hear (simply because we don’t verbally disapprove of them) at work?   How often do we fail to call ourselves Christians because of who may hear us and what they might think?

And this all goes back to original sin.  When we look at the Genesis narrative we all know that the first “sin” was when Eve took and ate of the fruit.  Yet if we read the text carefully we see that Adam was “with her” (see Gen 3:6).  I strongly believe that the great sin committed by Adam was his failure to stand up for what was right and protect Eve.  No, he wasn’t the one who “took the fruit and ate it” at first, but he also didn’t stop the woman from doing it.  And that is the sin he committed.  There were two sins – one of commission (what Eve did), but also one of omission (what Adam failed to do).  And, like Yoda, when Adam fell down he ran and hid.

But Christ calls us for so much more.  Jesus told Peter that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church; by describing the gates of Hell in a defensive posture, Christ implies the church would be on the offense.  Yet too often we fail to fight for what is noble and true and right; often because it is “too hard.”

John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”  His advice challenges all of us to rise from our slumber and do good, not run because evil looks too big.

If you need a scriptural command to not stand still when evil is afoot, read Obadiah 1:11, where those who stood idly by were considered as bad as those who committed the acts of war (see also James 4:17 and Revelation 3:15-16, or even the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and Luke 19).

Let us never fall prey to the words of Yoda, for if we do we may never hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” by  our Master Jesus.  Find someone this week for whom you can do good.

Snuggling on the Couch

So I haven’t done this in a long time…  My wife has finally gotten into reading blogs and is going to start blogging, so I figured I should try and start again, too..

Tonight Melissa was playing a show in Farmville so after I put Celeste to bed (about 6:15) Chloe and I sat down to watch Finding Nemo (one of her favorite movies).  We spent the evening snuggling on the couch (she with her fingers in her mouth, me with my arm around her) watching the movie.  When the scary part (where Nemo “touches the boat”) came up she got all worried, so we just hit the skip button on the DVD remote and moved on…  She was happy.

Tomorrow we’ll finish the movie (since it was still going at bed time).  I am learning to cherish these times together – I know there will come a day in the future when she won’t want to snuggle with Daddy on the couch and watch a movie, so I’m going to take advantage of them while they do happen!  It’s hard to think of a better way to spend an evening…