Christians are optimists. We’re insane optimists. We worship a Guy Who got brutally murdered on a Friday and Who we believe came back to life that Sunday morning. We believe in the impossible, for sure. We honestly believe some kid with a slingshot took out a dude who was big enough and strong enough to eat the toughest modern “ultimate fighter” for lunch. We go through life thanking God when parking spots just happen to miraculously open up in front of us.
So it’s not too much of a stretch for us to think that God will work some miracles, and not the least bit of a stretch for us to write stories about Him doing it. Because we think God needs Public Relations agents, (not witnesses), we attempt to help God do what He refuses to do for Himself. When we can “control” God (and, in our fiction, we can), we tend to make Him Nice. We tend to make Him the way we want Him to be.
The first time I saw an Alex Kendrick film (director of Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof), I was in love. Flywheel wasn’t cinematically ugly or excessively preachy like so many of the other Christian abominations that I had seen; Flywheel’s message was just “Come to Jesus and everything will get better.” It showed a God consistent with what I had heard preached, so surely it was a good Christian film, and the plot seemed reasonably believable. It was exactly the kind of films I had always dreamed that maybe, someday, I could make, too. I even tried to get an opportunity to work with them before I considered Huntington University.
When I found God, or He found me, He was not like Alex Kendrick’s God. He was dangerous – Someone to be reckoned with. I discovered Him in a couple of books about love. These books were the real-life story of a couple named Eric and Leslie Ludy: how they met, fell in love, and were eventually married. Like Alex Kendrick films, God played a major role in their story.
Unlike Alex Kendrick films, God refused to be “Nice.” Eric found himself giving up things very dear to him, and Leslie found herself awed that God had willed to create such a lovely story for her to be a part of. The only thing predictable about that story was that they got married, and that was only predictable because the cover said that they shared the same last name. Through reading those books, then studying the scriptures for myself, I came to a conclusion: “I want to know this God.” (Conversely, the Christian Films I had watched had “inspired” me to want to become a Better Christian. There is a difference.)
This experience of getting to know this God led me to believe that maybe the biggest miracles happen, not externally, but inside of people. That maybe they don’t even always accompany a “sinner’s prayer.” And maybe, sometimes, they do. Sometimes (usually, in fact, I think) God works miracles slowly. And they are rarely what we expect.
If, as the song says, “God is so good,” all by Himself, why do we try to control Him? I would suggest that it may be because He is a person and, like all other persons, reserves the right to make decisions without consulting us. I saw a film around the beginning of 2009 called “Faith Like Potatoes.” It’s based on the auto-biography of South African evangelist Angus Buchan. There were miracles in that film that were rather difficult to swallow (though the documentary in the special features showed how they had not been built up, but rather watered down – I assume to make the film more believable).
I think what made this film most provocative, though, were the scenes about Angus’s nephew. His nephew gets run over by a tractor and dies. Everyone in the film, as well as the audience, expects that the child will be resurrected. Locals ask Angus’s wife why Angus didn’t ask God to bring the boy back to life. That part resonated with my experience: if miracles don’t happen in the faith community, others in the community think that the person praying doesn’t have enough faith. This death is not glazed over. It is recognized and grieved. Angus has a dream of the boy in heaven months later, and it eases the pain, but does not eliminate it.
There was no “Touched by an Angel” moment where Andrew, the Angel of Death, carries the nephew off to heaven and ends the film. The story continues past this part. It continues to be optimistic… but it shows some truth that most Christian films rarely show: that people die and it doesn’t make sense, even from a Christian perspective.
Elie Wiesel, the famous holocaust survivor, wrote a book called Night that describes his tragic experiences. It took him ten years before he would write about or even discuss those experiences. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1986, he said this near the end of his speech:
“[Job’s] ordeal concerns all humanity. Did he ever lose his faith? If so, he rediscovered it within his rebellion. He demonstrated that faith is essential to rebellion, and that hope is possible beyond despair. The source of his hope was memory, as it must be ours. Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair. I remember the killers, I remember the victims, even as I struggle to invent a thousand and one reasons to hope.” (Wiesel, 1986)
Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman, after losing a child in a tragic automobile accident, wondered for a time if he would – or could – ever sing again. When he finally did, he sang about hope. His latest album is easily his darkest album to date, containing deep cries for morning, for dawn, and a desperate hope that it is indeed coming.
These stories share a common thread: authenticity. I would like to think I’m learning to be more authentic in my story-telling, more realistic… but at the same time, I remain optimistic. The best way I can illustrate this is with a script I wrote last weekend.
In the story, an old man in a red suit arrives at a college dorm at midnight on Christmas Eve and frightens a female college student. She hits him over the head, ties him up, and calls the police (an interesting conversation, to be sure). While they wait for the police, they have a conversation, during which she reveals that she doesn’t believe in Santa because when she was younger she wanted a certain toy and didn’t get it; in fact, something Very Bad happened instead. In my first draft, the police arrive, and the old man vanishes when she turns her back, leaving a package containing that toy.
Shortly after writing it, I knew I couldn’t end it like that. I’m changing the end. In my new ending, the old man will turn out to have just been a homeless bum: delusional, but harmless. I haven’t decided whether he “just happens” to have the very gift she wanted or not. I think making him turn out to be “just a bum” and end up getting arrested will make the story more compelling and more believable… and more difficult to smile, say “isn’t that cute,” and walk away from without being challenged.
Fear of Desire
There is one more thing to be discussed within this idea of Controlling God. Professor Leeper asked me if I think that I “could rest in the confidence of following where [my] desires lead [me], and let God deal with the direction things should take” in regard to film production. The more I thought about this question, the more I thought about my very tangible lack of desires. I’ve rarely thought of myself as the kind of person who deeply desires to do anything. I’ve wanted to desire to do things, but it seemed to me that having dreams was an activity best engaged in by girls.
I have lived life in fear of wanting something – anything – deeply, because if I want something badly, someone can say no. God can say no. And it has been my experience that the more I want something, the less likely I am to get it. Authority figures have told me that this is happening because I am desiring something, whatever it is I desire, above God. In order to avoid this, I unconsciously made a decision to not desire anything, a decision that has kept me from disappointment with failure. It has also kept me from the elation of success.
This view of desire is one that, I think, is best described as a wrong view of God, or at least a negative view. There seems to be almost an unwritten law within Christianity that says that passion is bad, unless it is channeled toward or for God. (Thus the reason I’m trying to learn how to make “Christian” films.) And I’m still trying to figure out how to have a passion for God, and what that means. I’m beginning to think that it doesn’t mean living life in a way that is passionless toward everything other than God.
This wrong view of God is based on a deep-seated (and inaccurate) idea that God is waiting up in heaven for me to desire something so he can look at me, grin an omnipotent grin, and say, “Sorry, kid. I don’t want you to have that. This is for your own good.”
It’s a fear that God will say no. So if God (and His responses) cannot be controlled, I can at least manage His influence in my life by not desiring deeply anything that would require His blessing. I (wrongly) assume that He will say no to everything that I really and truly desire, blatantly ignoring the scripture that declares, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” So I simply avoid desiring.
Also, I am reminded of the story Jesus told about the man who was given (in today’s economics) over $200,000 and was too scared to do anything with it. So he didn’t, and ended up being called a wicked and lazy slave. So that approach to God-Management won’t work either. So, will I “let God deal with the direction things should take?” Will I follow my desires? Maybe. I’m still trying to work up the nerve to permit myself to have desires. It may not be a great answer, but it’s an honest one. I hear that God can work with honesty.
“Elie Wiesel – Nobel Lecture.” Nobelprize.org. 11 Dec. 1986. Web. 9 Dec. 2009. <http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1986/wiesel-lecture.html>
Sorry this looks a little… less-organized… than my typical blogs. If you thought this was bad, you shoulda seen the first draft and my attempts to figure out what IT was saying! Let me know what you think of it!