Blue Like Jazz: Blog: The Christian Movie Establishment vs. Blue Like Jazz

Blue Like Jazz: Blog: The Christian Movie Establishment vs. Blue Like Jazz:

bluelikejazzblog:

by Steve Taylor

The website BoxOfficeMojo.com is full of useless statistics that I check regularly. One of its most fascinating and terrifying features happens when you click on “Genres.”

Fascinating, because who knew that “Mother” was a genre (Mamma Mia!)? Or that The Matrix falls…

I will say, the “us vs. them” tone may be good marketing, but it’s not helpful for promoting unity in the Body of Christ—in the same way that attempting to ban the BLJ trailer from a movie is not helpful.

Review of Blue Like Jazz: The Movie

I read Blue Like Jazz a few years ago. To be honest, I don’t remember too many specifics about the book—a few of the people (especially the ones with memorable names like Tony the Beat Poet and the swearing pastor), a couple events. When I finished the book, I remember thinking, “This is an important book.” In the years since, I’ve noticed changes in my thinking which I can trace back to having read the book. So last night, when I was privileged to go to a preview screening of Blue Like Jazz: The Movie, I was pleased to find that my reaction to the movie matched my reaction to the book. In that sense, the movie is true to the book.

If you’ve read the book, though, you’ll know that it’s difficult at first to imagine Blue Like Jazz the book being made into a movie. The answer for “how” is that the movie is a highly fictionalized account of Bible-belt Baptist Don Miller’s time at Reed College in Portland, OR, which has been called, “the most godless campus in America.” It tells the story Don’s journey from going “underground” with his faith, to abandoning it entirely, to being drawn back toward Christ primarily through the example and influence of activist fellow student Penny.

If there’s anything—and I’m not convinced there is—the movie goes overboard on, it’s presenting churches and churchy people in their worst possible light. From the cringe-inducing piñata scene, references to priests sexually abusing young boys, adultery among church leadership, rampant hypocrisy, and the requisite clichéd references to the Crusades, the church and Christianity are presented much the same way as they are presented on the evening news. Don’s confessional then, becomes all the more powerful with all that baggage. Moviegoers expecting to see Christians and the church portrayed as pristine people will be somewhere between disappointed and upset; I’d argue, though, that people expecting Christians and the church to be pristine will be disappointed and upset as well. As Don Miller said in the Q&A after the screening, “God doesn’t have any problem presenting us as depraved; why should we?” Finally, some important balances are in place—note the pastor’s expression in the aforementioned piñata scene, Don’s statement regarding child support, the priest and the little girl.

Unlike so many, BLJ moves effortlessly among comedy, drama, and thought-provoking. Characters are complicated enough to feel real, not so complicated as to feel contrived. Bottom line, it’s a good story; realistic enough to be believable and unrealistic enough to be interesting.It’s an excellent film, and I’d highly recommend it to believers and unbelievers alike. You should be prepared to see it more than once (I’m sure Steve and Don would add, “opening weekend”), I’m a little frustrated that I have to wait another month to see it again.

Is it a Christian film?

This question will invariably be asked—and rightly so. Part of what makes the film so interesting is that it narrowly walks and intentionally blurs the line between the “Christian” and “secular” film. And, of course, whether or not it’s a “Christian” film will depend on how you define the term. If you mean that the movie is written by Christians for Christians to make Christians feel good about being Christians, no, it’s absolutely not. I’ll make my case, though, for why it is (1) a Christian film and (2) helpful for the Kindgom. And while I’m making up definitions, I should clarify that when I refer to “the church,” I’m talking about what we see of churches today, not either a specific local church or the true, universal church.

The following evidences are why I would define it as Christian:

  • It was written and produced by Christians
  • The resolution involves the protagonist (Don) coming back toward faith in Christ
  • The deuteragonist* (Penny) is a sincere Christian, and the primary reason for his change
  • The film is being promoted heavily to pastors and Christian influencers

* Yes, of COURSE I knew that word all along. I most certainly did NOT look at Wikipedia to find what the term was.

At first, it could be difficult to see how this can be helpful for the Kingdom. It does, after all, portray the church negatively. I see this as “tough love.” The current state of the church needs a bit of tearing down so it can be built up stronger. Movies, music, preaching, even 24-hour news channels that attempt to present or defend the church as being pristine can lull Christians into thinking, “I’m OK,” and further the perception that Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites. This movie says, “Yes, we have been hypocrites. That’s why we need Christ.”

Content

Many Christians, too, will be concerned about the film’s content. It’s rated PG-13 because it contains some langauge (a***, s***, etc., and half of an f-bomb); talk and depiction of alcohol and drug use; talk of sex, adultery, condoms, and the like. Nothing was explicit or inserted for shock value. Spend some time hanging around the halls of any area high school or college (you might have to listen for the whispers if it’s a Christian high school or college) and you’ll see and hear worse. If you’re particularly sensitive to any of the above, though, you should be aware of that.

You want me to “have a good fight?” OK, let’s go.

Every time—and it happens often—I’m called a liar for saying that I’ve never had a fight with my wife, it makes it hard for me to listen to what is otherwise probably a good message. I could call out a specific preacher, but honestly, I’ve heard the same thing from enough sources that I don’t think I need to. Here’s how it usually goes:

{humorous statement about arguing/fighting couples}

Every husband and wife fights. If you say you don’t have fights, you’re either stupid or a liar.

{laughter}

What you need to do, though, is to learn to fight well.

{rest of the message about resolving conflict properly instead of fighting}

“What are you, some kind of idiot?”

Perhaps—but in this case, I don’t think so. I’m not so naive as to believe that my marriage—or any marriage—is without disagreements. Neither my wife nor I are passive, roll-over-to-avoid-conflict type of people. What we did, though, was to listen to some excellent counsel from good teachers and observe some excellent examples; early on we intentionally developed patterns to resolve conflict together, and now it’s not a struggle.

I don’t say this as though it’s anything I’ve done; I have benefited from the Spirit’s work in my life, from excellent teaching, and from good examples. I am truly thankful for this wonderful gift.

In other words, we’re practicing what you’re preaching. We’re resolving conflict instead of fighting. Or, to put it in the terms you’re using, we’re “fighting well.”

“C’mon, that’s just semantics.”

Okay. I’ll admit that. But I think they are important semantics. Let’s look at a dictionary definition of a fight.

fight, n.
    1. The action of fighting. Now only arch. in phrase (valiant, etc.) in fight . in fight: engaged in battle.
    2. In obvious phrases: to fang, take (the) fight , to give fight , to make (a) fight .
    3. Method of fighting. Obs.
  1. A combat, battle.
    1. A hostile encounter or engagement between opposing forces
    2. A combat between two or more persons or animals. Not now usually applied (exc. rhetorically) to a formal duel, but suggesting primarily either the notion of a brawl or unpremeditated encounter, or that of a pugilistic combat.
    3. With various qualifying attributes. sham fight: a mimic battle (intended to exercise or test the troops engaged, or simply for display). single fight: a duel. stand-up fight: one in which the combatants ‘stand up’ manfully to each other.
    4. fight-off, a contest to decide a tie in a fencing match.
    5. fight-back n. a retaliation, rally, or recovery
  2. fig. Strife, conflict, struggle for victory
  3. Power, strength or inclination for fighting; pugnacity. Also in to show fight.
    1. A kind of screen used during a naval engagement to conceal and protect the crew of the vessel. Usually in pl. Obs. See also close-fight n.
    2. foremost fight n. nonce-use a breastwork on a rampart; = forefight n. Latin propugnaculum.
  4. A division of an army in battle array.

Those aren’t qualities I’m eager to apply to any conversations I have with my wife. In fact, I’ve made a pointed effort to avoid that kind of confrontation.

“But the rest of the message was so good.”

Yes, exactly! That’s why it’s so frustrating for me. It’s somewhere between bizarre and absurd for me to hear an excellent sermon about conflict resolution, but have it called “fighting.” After one of these messages (it was part of an excellent marriage conference), I asked the speaker for his working definition of a “fight,” and his response was essentially, a disagreement with or without verbal/physical abuse. So, why call it a fight then?

I would suggest that the reason is that it (1) sounds edgier so it catches more attention and (2) puts people at ease with the current state of their marriage so they don’t “tune out” the rest of the message.

“So what’s the big deal, then? Why not?”

  1. The second reason above is my first reason against using “fight” terminology. Lulling people to sleep about their unhealthy and sinful practices is not the best way to convince them to change. It is beneficial to strike a contrast between the good and bad way to resolve conflict.
  2. The word “fight” has a connotation in our society; if it didn’t, speakers wouldn’t choose it. The connotation is not one of love and working together, it’s adversarial and divisive.
  3. It alienates those who are genuinely trying to do what’s right when you call them a liar.

I would suggest a couple of alternate terms that will be widely understood and would be more broadly applicable and true to the spirit of the message. I’m sure there are plenty of other alternatives as well.

“disagreement” vs. “fight”
A disagreement is just that, when two points of view are not the same. It applies both to the over/under toilet paper dispute (the correct answer is “under”) or to a violent, physical fight.

“conflict resolution” vs. “fighting well”
The action word in each of those terms is what makes the difference. “Fighting well” is still fighting. In the term “conflict resolution,” the emphasis is on resolving the conflict—facing it, and working through it.

Honduras, Here I Come

Well, tomorrow I’m headed for Honduras. The myriad circumstances that have culminated in this trip are kinda staggering. My connection with Honduras came from two different directions—my church, who is for the second consecutive year is taking a mission team to La Ceiba, and my coffee, which led me to La Union, Lempira, Honduras.

We’ll be flying out tomorrow, June 12, and will fly in to San Pedro Sula. A 3-hour (I’m told, edge-of-your-seat, grab-the-barf-bag) bus ride will take us to our home for a week in La Ceiba. We’ll be building a shower facility, a couple homes, and a children’s center (a total of three teams will be down over the course of the next three weeks). The team will fly out sometime on Saturday, June 18.

Sometime Sunday or Monday, then, I’ll begin a cross-country trek to La Union. The major bus stops are San Pedro Sula, Santa Barbara, and then La Union.

View Larger Map

I’ll be spending a couple days with Union Microfinanza, the organization I (as Origins Coffee Roasters) purchase coffee from, where I’ll be able to meet some farmers, see some coffee shrubs, and observe this microloan enterprise in action.

I’m naturally excited and nervous, but mostly excited to see what God will do with my time down there. Please pray that I’ll be an effective servant, that God will protect and uphold my family in my absence, and that I’ll learn much.