Good art has a way of changing our emotions, sparking our imaginations, touching our souls, and moving us to action. Think about how powerful your favorite movie was the first time you saw it, or how you feel when you get to watch it again. Think about how the right song can stop you in your tracks, lift you up, or completely change your day. Art, especially in the form of movies and music, is a powerful medium of expression and persuasion.
So, then, as Christians, what do we watch? What do we listen to?
Some choose to watch and listen to it all. “If it’s popular, I’ll see it!” This may not be our best option. Turn on the tv, go to the movies, or play a few songs on the radio and you are bound to find terrible language, un-Christian themes, gratuitous sex and violence, and really poor writing. The Christian is sometimes left wondering what to watch.
As a result, some have chosen to only watch and listen to things produced by the Christian industry, geared to created “positive and encouraging” entertainment for the whole family. Christian music and movies are uplifting, wholesome, appropriate for all ages, and even informative about our faith. Given what’s on regular tv and radio, some believe that this is all a Christian could ever need.
But, as I’ve written before (Franciscan Film Society) I’m not a huge supporter of the Christian industry. While I don’t find reason to discourage people from it, I often find the message simplistic, the situations far from reality, and the quality of production distracting. Sure, it may have a nice, wholesome message, but it does not challenge me or stimulate my imagination. For me, the Christian industry is not bad, it’s just safe. It does not take risks, does challenge or unsettle, and does not cause the viewer to come to his/her own conclusions. It comes up with a clear, comfortable message, and builds a story around it.
Not all art is so neat and tidy. Not all problems have an easy answer. Not all situations have a happy ending. Not all of life is G-rated.
For me, there is much more fruit for a critically minded Christian in secular movies: The best movies portraying the journey of a Christian to the heart of God are often found in the secular world. With better acting, larger budgets, more creative and skilled writing, and, frankly, more of a grasp on the way the world works, secular movies and music offer greater artistic value and stimulate our imaginations in a way that many (not all) Christian movies simply do not.
What I suggest in this month’s podcast with Rob is that a trip to the movies or a turn of the radio dial can be a prayerful experience, even if the content is not itself explicitly Christian. While there are certainly things that are probably not beneficial to anyone (there is bad art in every segment of the population), a Christian with an incarnational spirituality and a critical eye can experience God, redeem what they see, and be moved to be a better Christian, even in the secular world.
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Amen, Casey. If you ever get some leisure reading time, try Bishop Robert Barron’s book, SEEDS OF THE WORD: FINDING GOD IN THE CULTURE. The Lord is ever present and can use many ways to draw us to himself. Blessed Advent!