When I was growing up I had a friend who was into, what I can only describe as “death metal Christian band” either that or a “screamo” Christian band. To this day I have no idea what that was, all I remember thinking: “boy that is odd”. Years later I remember talking to an evangelical friend and telling him how odd is to have a “death metal” Christian band singing songs of worship. Just imagine someone shouting from the top of his lungs with a deep ghastly voice: “Jesus Saves You” over and over against the backdrop of screams and dissonant guitar riffs… odd, isn’t? My friend said: if that leads them to Christ then he was fine with it. I quickly agree with him and move on…
Years later, I am confronted with a slightly different question: why modern Christian art is so bad? Let me make some distinctions before you stop reading. When I say bad I mean humdrum, preachy and uninspiring. For example, movies with a Christian themes tend to be long protracted sermons aimed at having someone to accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior right on the spot but are devoid of the great drama of human life. They only have one audience in mind: churchgoing Christians. Another example is praise and worship music. I don’t listen to it. I rather think most of it is just plain bad. I am sorry but it is just an opinion. I find myself closer to God listening to Sigur Ros, an admittedly pagan band with a homosexual front man, than anything I hear on your garden variety of praise and worship station.
This is a generalization. On one hand, there are movies like The Kid with a Bike or the Son, by the Belgian filmmakers Dardenne brothers, that have profound but subtle Christian themes, the detrimental effects of an absent father on the former and forgiveness on the latter. On the other hand, you have movies like Mel Gibson’s masterpiece the Passion of the Christ. Which challenges you in almost every single frame because it conveys the story of the greatest love that ever was and does so superbly.
The art of subtlety, for the most part, has been lost in Christian art. Subtlety is powerful because it bypasses your own biases and hits you, like a clever joke that conveys some truth. The beauty and the sense of wonder about our faith are often lost because we are so close to it and the filmmakers don’t know how to translate it into the screen. Also, we are guilty of forgetting that before the resurrection there was the passion, that without the Cross, there is no Easter. That, in the drama of life, sin and redemption are powerful. Yet we often don’t really see that in most Christian films. The characters are fixed from beginning till end. No real danger of a precipice to fall and thereby no payoff, no growth and no dramatic event, such as in God is not Dead movie. Alternatively, movies like Joe managed to convey this tight rope dance between sin and redemption, between the ugliness and the beauty of life. I can’t really recommend this movie to everyone, but it tells the story of a very sinful man searching for redemption and making a difference in the life of a kid.
I think this is why we are losing the so-called culture war. We are afraid of engaging the culture where it is and if we do, we can’t resist the urge to preach and succumbing to all temptations and pitfalls of a bore.
The answer is that we should not conform to the “isn’t that nice” attitude. Why not offer the best we can offer? Why not stride to make the best art we can make and not just pay lip service to something that we believe? Why not build cathedrals whose stain glasses are a living gospel that evangelizes the illiterate? Why not be passionate about the gift that God as given you and share them with the world?
St. Paul says in Romans 12:6: “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them…” If you are a blogger, a musician, an aspiring filmmaker or a photographer just make the best blog, the best music, the best film and the best picture that you can make… after all any frame can be a Cathedral stain glass that can evangelize the unbeliever.
If you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend the essay: Why Heathen makes the best Christian Films or Peter Kreef’s talk about Beauty from which I took a lot of inspiration writting this post. Tell me what think in the comments below.
One more note:
Funny thing, I started writing this post wanting to write about Sleeping at Last recently completed a yearlong music album “Atlas”. They are one of my favorite bands that embody the spirit that I wrote about. I guess I will save that post for later.