Being both a filmmaker and a Christian, I’ve always struggled with the fact that on camera, Christianity looks cheesy. Almost every time I see Christianity depicted on screen, I cringe. A few days ago I was watching Machine Gun Preacher, and though it’s a decent film, I still found myself cringing when it got to the “Christian parts”. In this true story, a member of a biker gang, drugged out, ex-con hits rock bottom then finds himself back in kindergarten where he meets Jesus.
No, he didn’t really go to kindergarten, he went to church. But in comparison with the “real world” it sure felt like kindergarten to me. Everyone was wearing pastel colors and standing together and smiling and singing songs and clapping their hands. The guy then listened to Mr. Rogers give a message and when he felt the Holy Spirit stirring his heart he took the plunge and decided to give his life to over to God.
No, it wasn’t really Mr. Rogers – if you didn’t know, I am sorry to be the one to tell you, but Mr. Rogers died a few years back. And no, he was never a sniper in his “old life”- despite the rumors.
The thing is, this guy wasn’t at a bad church and he really did find God there. It was actually a great church! And the preacher who told him about Jesus obviously cared about the guy. But when compared to this guys life in the “real world” it was like watching “The Real World” and then switching over to “Full House“. I understand that life changes when you meet God, but I’m beginning to wonder if we’re all meant to live inAfter School Specials, or maybe we just think we are. Throughout the rest of the film the guy brings God into the real world and it is pretty brutal. But love it or hate it, it’s a compelling story. Personally, I loved it.
It was while watching this film that I began to realize I haven’t actually been cringing at Christianity depicted on screen. What’s made me cringe is when people try to portray LOVE, AKA God, and instead portray tradition and “church”. There is nothing wrong with tradition or church, but they are not by any means LOVE.
When love is portrayed on film… I mean real LOVE, it wins an academy award. Love stories garner the widest possible audience. Whenever sacrificial, romantic or any other kind of TRUE LOVE is portrayed on screen it brings tears, laughter or gasps of astonished wonder.
I don’t think God, AKA LOVE should ever look like an after school special. And while this is encouraging, It leaves me with a number of questions.
What are we presenting to the world as the “church”?
What do “unchurchy” people think it means to be a Christian?
Do they have to dress up and clap their hands and go back to kindergarten?
I’m not knocking our current traditional and cultural format, it’s fine. But it is not the Church, it is simply a traditional gathering. Yes, it is a place where we can hopefully find community and learn about God and even meet with God, but I think we have presented our traditional format as if it is THE Church.
The fact is, the Church is anywhere TRUE LOVE is happening. Real, TRUE CHURCH happens under an overpass, in the supermarket, at the mall or in your backyard. It isn’t polished or shiny and it doesn’t have announcements, offerings or snazzy bands and it doesn’t always come in a pretty package, it is simply LOVE. And when LOVE is portrayed on screen, it is beautiful and something people crave as apposed to something that makes them feel like they are hanging with Mr. Rogers.
I like my traditional church gathering and I understand that people have found God there. I find community and God there as well. But I don’t like that we have presented our gatherings as THE Church. I don’t like that when we want to show LOVE we show a gathering of pastel colors and smiling people. And I don’t think our gatherings should be the place we bring people to “find God”. Finding God should happen when WE the CHURCH, LOVE the people around us.
The guy in the film met God in the church building. I understand it happens. But I don’t think it should be the norm. Our gatherings inside the buildings where we sing and clap and smile should be the times when we are encouraged to go out and BE the Church, to go out and BE LOVE. Our traditional gatherings are great places to “plug in” and find community and hopefully learn more and experience more of God. But if our gatherings are the place we bring people to find God in the first place, we have confused a building with LOVE… and that is almost as bad as thinking someone as kind and gentile as Mr. Rogers could have ever been a sniper.