Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ranting about the caricature

I find it annoying that the artists of our world pick on fundamentalists. For an illustration of this you can watch "Driving Lessons", a British movie about a young by raised by what the cover of the DVD calls an 'evangelical Christian'. This evangelical mother wears a plastic smile, is rude, manipulative, fearful, deceptive, and clearly cruel. So once again, pop culture presents the fringe fanaticism at the wacky edge of the evangelical movement as 'normative'. It is from her oppressive regime that the son must break free which, of course, is the main theme of this coming of age film. He finds an alternative reality in the wild adventures of a burnt out alcoholic actress who, we are led to believe, is the one who really understands life as it's meant to be lived: a mystery which you celebrate when you can, and escape from through binge drinking when you can't.

So here's my rant: I completely understand how easy these fringe elements are to pick on. I'm as frustrated with them as anyone (did you read the previous post a few days ago about the convention in Everett?). But because the arts community paints people of Christian faith almost universally with this fanatic, fringe brush, many in our world lump all people of faith into this category. It's why sometimes, when I travel, I don't want to tell people what I do until after I've had a good bit of conversation with them. I want them to know that Christians can enjoy poetry, be politically informed, care about environmental degradation, and read the NY Times. More than once, people have said, "you don't fit my notion of a pastor", which has sometimes led to conversations about where they got their notion of what a pastor is, of what a Christian is. That's when it comes out; the parody portrayed in mainstream media has become 'the norm' in people's minds. Books like the Poisonwood Bible, the Brothers K (one of my favorite books), well written books by authors I respect, paint pictures of the faithful that reinforce this sorry caricature. Film, literature, television, the vision of Christianity as boring, petty, controlling, is relentlessly reinforced.

That's like saying that all baseball players are Barry Bonds, all female pop-starts Britteny Spears. Jamie Moyer is more common than Barry Bonds. And Christians who pray, love their neighbor, care for the poor, and interact with their culture are... what do you think? Common? Rare? Love to hear your thoughts! And would love to learn of good film and literature providing an alternative view!

Whatever we think though, it seems that our calling should include word recovery, so that words like church, Christian, and believer can be recovered from the trash heap upon which they've been thrown.

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At 6/11/07 20:44, Blogger Brad Hennessy said...

Great post Richard. Seems like His spirit is stirring us in similar ways. I just started a book entitled "Un Christian" based on three years of research by the Barna Group into the very subject of the perception of Christians in american culture.

One part of the problem is that American culture really enjoys labeling people. Labels carry connotations and pigeon-hole people to be aligned with the extreme examples. In turn they strip away the humanity and uniqueness of each individual.

Christians have long used derogatory labels to describe those outside of the church. Christians use terms like "pagans", or "the lost", and worse, which simply deepen an already growing divide between those in the church and those outside of the church. Even terms like "non-christians" or "unbelievers" are rather inadequate as they define someone by what they are not and may not necessarily be true of those outside the church.

In all honesty, right or not, I think society is simply returning the favor.

At 6/11/07 21:07, Blogger Roy said...

I didn't get finished reading all of it but I read most of the same book the above poster mentioned and I think the poster is right, the caricature of Christians we see in most films are usually a representation of the most vocal and visible characters in the church. I've been very guilty of claiming that ALL Christians suck based on my experience of some while the whole time having very loving Christians in my life who tolerate my craziness and love me in spite of it.

You asked for some alternatives that show Christians in a better light and there are quite a few. A recent film I just saw is called "Lars and the Real Girl". Lars is an emotionally arrested young man who has withdrawn from his family and community who all love him a great deal. To replace those he feels so far from he purchases a life size doll and lavishes and receives affection from her that he could never receive from his community. Lars attend a Lutheran church and through out the film you see this group of people loving Lars, even when it seems absolutely ridiculous the things he is asking of them, and caring for him in spite of himself. I thought it was a profound film about the power of redemption, forgiveness and community. It's in the theaters now.

At 7/11/07 16:57, Blogger Ilse said...

Thanks for posting this richard - my parents, who left the church when I was a teenager, was speaking about Evangelical Christians, and it had a bit of a negative tone to it, and I told that I was an Evangelical Christian. I think it made her think twice about her "picture" of them. We had the conversation of the "labels" and their limitations, because sometimes I don't want to be defined as an Evangelical Christian because I don't want to be associated with people who are making the headlines for all they are spouting off. Its frustrating, and yet it allows us to redefine the word, and be an example of what Christ calls Christians to be.

I am studying in Matthew right now, and am reminded of how Christ says "don't do as the hyprocrites do......instead, do....." Christ sees the hypocrisy today, just as he did in that day (both in those "out there" and in myself). Sometimes I feel like the portrayals of Christians in the media are amazing opportunities to speak Christ's truth, and open up people's eyes to the people that they interact with everyday, and not just the sensationalism that comes from those on the extreme.

At 7/11/07 17:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, what "they" say about "us" is predominanly true. I think the point is that we not worry about being "fanatic" but what it is we are fanatic about. We are not called to say "no, bad, can't" to everything, but say yes to everything that Christ has to offer. Healing, transformation, renewal, revival, a "life abundant". THEN we will be the salt and light we are called to be. What's salt or light about a false sense of piety? That's what the world sees and what they are responding to. I wouldn't want that kind of faith either! On that note, it's our duty to see what's being said about the church community, "agree with our adversary" and take our accusation to the throne of grace, ask for forgiveness for any involvement we've had in reinforcing this opinion. "Being the change we want to see in the world" must start with authenticity. Maybe we need to start making a loud and joyful noise of hope, forgiveness and grace to drown out the sound of the religious "can and can'ts" that the world is hearing.

At 8/11/07 09:04, Anonymous donte said...

How about Tyler Perry's movies. He generally develops plots based on broken relationships that are redeemed through reconciliation and forgiveness. The perfect illustrations of the Christian faith! His characters are never all bad or all good; rather they are people who struggle to live whole and dignified lives through Christianity.

You can check out his work at

At 9/11/07 10:50, Anonymous Tom Lane said...

Let's bring back Denis and Margie Haack ( to refresh our thinking about the arts. I've often referred to his comments about "Piss Christ," the photo of a plastic crucifix in a glass of urine that generated an uproar in churches across the country.

Denis suggested that it was a powerful symbol of Jesus descending into humanity's filth. What a great way to turn a cultural message into an opportunity to talk about our faith instead of being threatened by it. Had more of us taken this approach to the controversial piece of art, the controversy might have melted away in a hurry!

I don't expect Hollywood to come out with stories that affirm biblical values - why would they? The surprise for me is that now and again we do get films with powerful messages of sacrificial love, redemption, light overcoming darkness, etc. Perhaps we want to encourage more of that.

I also think of friends from Bruderhof communities (no current Web presence except for their publishing house at who spoke in terms of their own - and others' - seeking and journeys. This allows for more emphasis on finding common ground, building bridges between people, and moving away from the temptation to label rather than understand others.

Thanks, Richard. Keep pushing us!

At 9/11/07 18:04, Blogger Gregg said...

I like it. It goes very well with this passage from Diedrich Bonhoeffer's "Ethics": It would be quite wrong simply to identify western godlessness with enmity towards the Church. There is the godlessness in religious and Christian clothing, which we have called a hopeless godlessness, but there is also a godlessness which is full of promise, a godlessness which speaks against religion and against the Church. It is the protest against pious godlessness in so far as this has corrupted the churches, and thus in a certain sense, if only negatively, it defends the heritage of a genuine faith in God and of a genuine Church. There is relevance here in Luther's saying that perhaps God would rather hear the curses of the ungodly than the alleluia of the pious.

Anyway, it's interesting to hear that from someone as influential as Bonhoeffer, and it's our role to live out a genuine faith in God, and take things like this on the chin.


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