Let’s Not Be Bullies with our Movie Critiques

24 02 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback - Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

This year will see an unusual number of “Hollywood” versions of Biblical stories.  Son of God releases later this week.  One month later, Noah hits theaters.  And more will follow.  The Christian bloggers will, of course, be all over these movies with their critiques.

bulliesYou know what is annoying?  Have you ever been in a situation where a small “clique” of insiders who have developed their own expertise on a subject sit back and make fun of those who are on the outside and who do not seem to know nearly as much as they do?  You remember, don’t you?  It was a favorite middle school or even high school past time: the GT and AP students sitting together and making fun of the ignorance of other students…the athletes ganging up on the non-athletic types and making fun of them…the snobby musicians looking down their noses at the pop music lovers at prom.  And do you know why this is annoying? Because it is just a form of bullying.

So, I am wondering if we can make a sincere attempt to guard our testimonies in how we offer our critiques of these upcoming “Biblical” movies?  Let’s not become bullies in how we communicate. Let’s keep the snarky, judgmental, arrogance out of our comments and posts. In talking about these movies, here are a few questions we might ask ourselves before we click the “publish” button on our social media screen:

1. Did I actually go and see the movie…all the way through?  If not, then say that clearly right at the beginning of your critique.  And then stop and don’t bother finishing the critique, because nobody is going to read any further anyway.  Frankly, it is just best not to offer a comment on a movie you’ve never seen, for all the reasons stated here.

2. Why Am I Really Writing This Critique?  “Look at me! Look at me! Look how much I know! Look how smart I am!” Sometimes I cannot help but wonder if we just want people to appreciate how well we know our Bible.  We talk about all the ways this movie does not quite square with scripture, but what we are really doing is pointing out how Biblically literate we are, as compared to Hollywood…by the way, congratulations on that accomplishment.

3. How will this critique “build others up”?  I don’t mean to get all scriptural on you here, but Paul’s warning in Ephesians 4:29 is a good one: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  

4. How will this critique enhance my ability to speak into the lives of people who need Jesus?  There is already a prevailing mindset out there that “Christians” are arrogant and closed-minded and brainwashed and judgmental.  Is there anything about this critique that will unnecessarily foster those perceptions?

5. Can God use this movie to point people to Him? I see it often. We complain that there are not more Christian stories or Biblical stories being told by major Hollywood producers.  Then, when one of them takes on the challenge, we sit back and take pot shots at him or her for getting it wrong!  Isn’t the question that matters most whether or not God can use this film to point people to Him?  Does it really have to fit my theology to a tee in order for God to use it?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Normalizing Jesus

12 12 2013

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”  Luke 10:33-37

Christmas churchIn the Coffee household, we have been on our usual Christmas steady fare of Christmas movies.  Christmas, it seems, is such an enormous cultural event, Hollywood just cannot make enough “Christmas miracle” movies.  It’s a standard template: there is a hero (or a heroine) who is flawed and relatable in some fashion and who does not believe in the magic of Christmas.  Enter conflict (or an antagonist or dire circumstances or a hilarious parade of unforeseeable events) and there is an ensuing struggle.  Finally, there is a Christmas miracle and our hero is saved and now believes in the magic of Christmas.

This year, my attention has been grabbed by how the church is portrayed in these Hollywood versions of Christmas (if it is portrayed at all).  It seems to me that, more often than not, the church is portrayed as a bit silly and irrelevant and disconnected from anything, well… normal.  I don’t know, but I strongly suspect these portrayals betray the writers’ own stories about their church experiences growing up.  I watch these almost farcical portrayals of church and find myself asking, “Is that really what you think of church?”

I know you know this feeling.  Being made fun of and ostracized as “weird” or “abnormal” is painful.  Wouldn’t Christianity be much easier if everyone in our country, our state, our community a Christian?  If only Christianity were the norm…if a Christ-centered Christmas were the norm…then we would be so much happier.

There is one very large problem with that attitude.  Jesus, the founder of this revolution we call Christianity, was not normal.

It was Jesus who taught us to love our enemies.  It was Jesus who hung out with sinners and tax collectors and referred to the esteemed religious leaders of the time as a “den of vipers” and “children of the devil”.  And it was Jesus who told ground-breaking stories like the parable of the good Samaritan.  There is nothing normal about making a much-despised Samaritan the hero of your story and making a priest and a Levite the goats of the story, and then getting a Pharisee to admit to those very things.  And it was this same Jesus who said on numerous occasions that we who follow him would be hated by this world, just as he was hated.

Jesus, it seems, wanted to be seen as abnormal. He thrived on being strange and culturally odd.  Maybe we need to adjust our perspective on it as well.  Jesus, I suspect, would note Hollywood’s portrayal of the church and of Christmas today and say, “Yep. That’s about what we expected.”

There was nothing normal about Jesus.  There is nothing normal about his followers.  And there is nothing normal about Christmas.  It is all freakishly abnormal.  And I’m OK with that.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




‘Doubt’ and Its Lessons

11 05 2010

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Last year, with its release of Doubt, Hollywood wandered not-so-innocently right into the middle of my world and, naturally, got my attention…and my $8 for a ticket.  Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play, it tells the story of a young pastor (i.e., priest) trying to bring a warmer, more relevant leadership style to a church and falling prey to the distrust and manipulative ways of an established church leader.  Sound familiar, anyone?  I’ve seen this play out in hundreds of situations and I’m sure you have seen it before as well.  Sometimes there is moral failure involved (as alleged in this case), and sometimes not so much.  But there is always plenty at risk, including the fragile spirituality of innocent bystanders, the continued credibility of established leadership and the future ministry of one “called out” to shepherd God’s people.  I must say, this movie tells the story well.  You can find some clips from the movie here.

I recommend the movie, because it is an accurate and startling depiction of a truth every church leader needs to know: when it comes to ministry, your testimony is the only currency you have.  Once it is tarnished (i.e., once the people you “lead” no longer wish to be led by you), your leadership is done.  You can lead no more.  And by the way, it doesn’t take truth to tarnish your testimony…all it takes is credible allegations and a little persistence on the part of those who stand to benefit from your departure.  In short, all it takes is sustainable doubt…doubt about you, about your past, or about your motives.

So how does a church leader protect his/her testimony from these kinds of attacks?  Well, first and foremost, by the grace of God.  The truth is, there is only so much you can do to control how others perceive you.  But there are a few things you can do.  Here are some suggestions for guarding your testimony, some lessons from Doubt:

1.  Live above the appearance of impropriety. Go out of your way to make sure you are not misunderstood in matters of moral uprightness.  In everything, pay attention to how your church might perceive circumstances.  Take practical precautions, like putting a window in your office door so that people can always see in, and making all matters of church finances open and out on the table, and avoiding gossip at all costs, etc.  If you are in ministry, you live in a fish bowl.  Get used to it.

2.  Form genuine friendships with all of your leadership. This is huge.  There simply can be no leader in the church, no person of influence, with whom you have little or no genuine friendship.  If you are not good at relationships, if you are feeling ill-equipped at forging new friendships with people with whom you have little in common, then one of two things is true: (1) you are not called to this ministry, or (2) you are about to undergo a profound change in order to be equipped for these friendships.  There are no exceptions to this.  I promise.

3.  Get help sooner rather than later. As a church mediator/interventionist, by the time I get called into a conflict, it is usually too late to bring reconciliation in a way that will save both the church and the ministry of the person at issue.  Of the few occasions I actually got to walk with a church early in the conflict, most of the time we actually moved through it in a redemptive, God-honoring, truthful way.  It almost always helps to have a person outside the circumstances to help both “sides” keep an objective perspective on the issue.

O.K. I know these are not exactly earth-shattering words of counsel.  But still, the young priest in the movie violated every one of these suggestions.  While it made for a much more emotional movie, it’s not the kind of drama I recommend for real life.

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com








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