A couple of weeks ago I spent some time with a visionary guy who cares deeply about following Jesus, and being innovative. And he’s good at it. I’m talking, major music video producer, good at it. He’s produced just about everyone of Carrie Underwood’s videos, and interesting side note, he actually produced the Taylor Swift award winning video that Kayne West made such a fuss about at the awards ceremony.
All that to say he’s a Christian who is very creative. And he’s thinking about making movies.
I remember growing up in Arkansas, movies were always suspect for many of the Christians I knew. We assumed that Hollywood had an agenda that involved getting rid of God and making us all vote for Democrats (or something like that). But lately it’s gotten harder to write off the movies that have been coming out. Think about the Redemption in Slumdog Millionare, or the subversive story that Life is Beautiful or Bella tells. Movies are stories, lens’ that shape the way people look at life. They can be neutral, or bad or very good. But when they are done well they are powerful.
Like Training Day.
Which is a movie of a corrupt undercover narcotics cop, played by Denzel Washington, who has learned how to use the system to his advantage. He exploits people for personal gain, and treats people like commodities. The movie takes place all in one day, and it’s about him training a new rookie cop to do what he does, where he ultimately finds out that the rookie won’t go along with his corruption.
I’ll spare you the ending, but it’s a powerful movie. I watched an edited version of Training Day on cable television, and even watching that version I could tell that it was a rough movie. One that I wouldn’t recommend or let my kids watch. The last word that came to mind was Christian.
But I read an article recently about Denzel Washington that I thought was interesting. Washington was interviewed in Relevant Magazine about his faith and how following Jesus has informed the way he approached acting. This may not be well known, but Washington is actually a devoted follower of Jesus. The entire article was interesting, but what I really appreciated was what he said about his role in a specific movie, Training Day.
Every day when he was shooting this film, portraying a corrupt cop who is getting ahead at the expense of everyone else, Washington would get up and immediately write on his hands a verse. It was Romans 3:23.
“For the Wages of Sin are death.”
He said that he was trying to communicate that one thought. And in his words, “In order show him live in the worst way, he has to die in the worst way.” Washington says on some level he views what he does as a prophet/preacher. And while you might disagree with what movies he’s been in as a professing Christian, here’s my question…Shouldn’t we be glad that Jesus followers are in this industry?
I spent the last few days in Hollywood, and because I was speaking at a church where a lot of people worked in the film industry I got to hang out with people who have a slightly different perspective on this. One guy we hung out with has regular meetings with people like Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, and J.J. Abrams, another is in charge of helping produce Kung Fu Panda II (because one funny, furry MMA Panda movie just isn’t enough). And I have to tell you, I’m really, really glad that they are there. They talked about how people respect them in their work because they aren’t just trying to get ahead, but serve others, which is a refreshing change for their bosses.
I’m glad that people who are developing a radically different ethic centered around Jesus are hanging around this epicenter of influence. This is, at least in part, what it means to be a city on a Hill.
We don’t bury our head in the sand and opine for a previous time. We roll up our sleeves, and like yeast, make a slow gradual difference.
But it’s not just because of the influence we can have, it’s also because of this fundamental part of the Christian story is to, well, tell stories.
Sometimes I think we forget that the very nature of the Scripture is this huge, massive narrative. One that if you had to rate it would be NC-17 in parts (book of Judges anyone?), and PG at others. But mainly the Parables are what get me. Jesus told the best stories. They were stories of scandal and shame, joy and celebration (Jewish people to this day still consider Jesus one of their best story-tellers). Jesus was the 1st Century Steven Spielberg.
Bono recently made this point about God, He said he was the original movie producer, and the church was the original movie. This after all, says Bono, was what stained glass windows were. They were the church telling a story that words just aren’t big enough to capture. They were creating more than colored glass, they were creating parables.
And maybe it’s time for the church to rejoin that project. We were the original city on a hill after all.
It’s time to make some more stained glass windows.