The Civil Rights Movement was the harbinger of notable changes to the landscape of America. In addition to the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the March on Selma, and the numerous photos depicting a dual-class society, the struggle for integration in schools was brought to the national forefront. One famous video featured an African-American student walking into a high school while being assailed on every side by jeers and sneers of both kids and adults of a different skin color. We haven’t quite gotten to the place in society where these things are ancient history (the recent incident at the University of Oklahoma is one example), but we’ve come a long way in fifty years.
There’s another area of our society that needs to be better integrated—one that we at ScreenFish are well-equipped to deal with. When it comes to media such as television, books, movies, music, and comics, the faith element is in play in a limited capacity. Often, it’s only made relevant to a limited crowd or simply not discussed at all. There has to be a middle ground where faith is integrated into the fabric of media in relevant, life-altering ways.
The question is this: Why should faith and entertainment be integrated at all? Can’t they just remain separate? There are a number of reasons why the integration of faith and media will go a long way to bridging the gap between those who are Christians and those who want nothing to do with anything Jesus-related. Let’s look at five of them:
- Integration eliminates a disconnect between those of faith and those not of faith already.
The phrase ‘Christian bubble’ is often employed to refer to the community of faith as a collective whole. It’s like a version of heaven on earth, so to speak, where the popular culture of the time is parodied (and in some cases out-and-out copied) via trinkets, t-shirts, and tracts. Within the bubble, books and other media speak directly to a built-in audience with little to no intention on reaching anyone other than Christians. After all, are we one hundred percent certain that Jesus always wore a flowing white robe, had shoulder-length brown hair, and used an electric grooming kit to keep His beard looking perfect? When you’re completely in a bubble, you tend to think only in terms of what you see and hear that is acceptable within that bubble. The outside world becomes something akin to Elsewhere in Lois Lowry’s The Giver.
With integration, however, the bubble becomes thinner and thinner and allows for a whole myriad of possibilities, including making quality shows, books, and films that people of all walks can appreciate, enjoy, and not be scared of due to the messages contained therein. Besides, it provides people of faith no excuse in hiding from a world they’re biblically mandated to be in (see Matthew 28:18-20). To that end . . .
- Integration increases the quality of faith-based films that are often predicated on the reach of a faith-based audience.
Let’s just get this out in the open: from either a story-telling or artistic viewpoint, most Christian-made productions are sorely lacking in one or both. You know what I’m talking about—even though you might not care to admit it—they’re full of cookie-cutter stories, trite characters, and stilted dialogue that would never be used in an actual conversation, plots with serious issues in continuity, poor pacing, and points that are driven home with a sledgehammer when a feather is more useful.
And why is this? For the most part, it’s what Christians have asked for. Sadly, those of faith will be quick to find a reason to complain about a film—but are just as quick to forgive glaring artistic issues if the message is true. This should never be the case. All this does is tell faith-based media producers that their already flawed works are just fine and that they should make new items in the same fashion in order to maximize their reach to an audience that is already limited because of their faith in Jesus. In other words, if Christians are fine with inferior forms of media and register that with their hard-earned dollars, that’s all they’re going to get in the future.
This limits the potential audience to those of faith, completely ignoring a wider swath of the public who could be made to see the film with the right promotional strategy. And you know good and well it works in the opposite fashion (raise your hand if you saw Avengers: Age of Ultron and are a Christian). The point is that art and the message should always go hand-in hand. Good stuff begets more good stuff down the road.
- Integration extinguishes the inability of faith-based producers to be creative.
The poet Emily Dickinson once penned the line “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Oftentimes, writers, producers, and actors feel so stifled by the words of Scripture that they completely lose any creativity to tell a story in a way that both captivates and entices people to want more. As Jesus noted, salt is good, but when it’s not used for the right things, it becomes useless (see Matthew 5:13). Of course, I’m not saying to go so far off the beaten path that the finished product becomes sacrilegious, but maintaining the kerygma (kernel) of truth is something that can—and should—be held to. The great thing is that it can be done creatively without sacrificing one’s beliefs at the altar of pop culture. Yes, really.
- Integration destroys the protection mentality of a bubble from improper influence from the world, forcing people to react to the lessons and not let them wash over them.
The real world happens. People live, make decisions, watch a little Netflix (or binge; take your pick), and, eventually, die. Life is also gritty at times, as you can tell when you check out the news or log into your Facebook account. For faith-based media producers to shield Christians who live in the world from struggles found in the world is unfortunate. By depicting real life (not a caricature of it), people of faith have to seriously look at their lives and experiences. This forces them to deal with tough issues such as loneliness, suffering, acceptance, love, grace, and mercy in ways that aren’t rote and memorized. It also provides the opportunity for learning experiences that carry far outside the book, living room, or theater.
You see, each of us have a unique ‘grid’ comprised of our beliefs and life events that everything is filtered through. Thus, a film (faith-based or otherwise) that doesn’t provide easy answers to the struggles in real life has the ability to challenge people on completely different levels. The rubber has to meet the road. As a result . . .
- Integration provides for a richer viewing experience and allows for dialogue with others.
It’s one thing to watch Daredevil and be challenged by Matt Murdock’s faith struggles about what he should do while fighting crime at night, but it’s something completely different to stand around the water cooler at work and talk about parts of the show that meant something to you.
This is where the fun really begins. And if you think about it, we unconsciously do this all the time. To dialogue is simply to go a step further and talk about themes, issues, and situations in a production using the grid of our lives as guidance. It can be challenging. It can be enthralling. It can be entertaining. It can be all of these at once.
Dialogue allows for the grittiness of life, the uncertainty of how to handle situations, and our creative minds to join together and take a film to a completely different realm than simply two hours of mind-numbing ‘entertainment.’ Answers cannot always be reduced to pithy sayings or a single verse of the Bible. And in the end, we get the chance to apply our discoveries to our lives, adding a new component to our grid that we can use for future shows we watch, books we read, or other entertainment.
This, in essence, is what we at ScreenFish hope to accomplish with your help. We can share our thoughts gleaned from our previous dialogue with others, but the dialogue doesn’t stop when an article is posted. This is where you come in. Your comments, questions, and ideas can help to shape and challenge others just as iron sharpens iron. We’re also hoping to learn from you. Who knows, you might find something useful to take and use in your own life! That, for us, is the part that keeps us looking at entertainment, keeps us thinking, keeps us questioning, keeps us talking, keeps us learning.
So let the integration of faith and entertainment be received in your life with open arms and hearts. We’re looking forward to taking the journey with you!