Should We Leave the Entertaining to Hollywood?
I’ve been on a new journey lately looking into writing screenplays from a Christian perspective. I’m trying my hand at episodic T.V. However, as I explore the Christian Film and television industry, I see that the current emphasis in Christian films is on true-life stories, movies in particular. I understand these sell much better than fictionalized Christian films. And yet, my forte, my love, and my own personal favorite is a purely made-up story that is a lot of fun and touches all the feels. So, what’s a fiction author to do if she wants to break into the Christian film Biz?
First, I think I need to state my case. Why do I prefer to write Christian Fiction as opposed to Real-Life Stories? And … Are these stories as important and effective (as a ministry) as true-life stories seem to be?
The answer to the first question is, I like to create. One cannot create a whole lot if one is only imparting the facts of an already established event. If I wanted to do that, I would have become a reporter—blah! Yes, I have written books that were remakes of well-known stories (i.e. At the Edge of a Dark Forest is a modern-day retelling of Beauty and the Beast), but those projects left lots of room to weave a whole new tale into the classic. That is what God called me to do. Who am I to tell Him I should do something else?
As far as the second question goes—are these stories as important and effective in ministry? I do believe they are both important AND effective.
Let’s just talk about their entertainment value. Is it a sin to entertain someone? Of course not! But is it important? Oh well, I guess we should say it’s not and leave all the entertainment creation to all those wonderful people in Hollywood who are currently in the process of purposely crafting agenda-based stories that intentionally dishonor God. I have been to the screenwriting conferences. That is practically the stated plan! We can choose to either watch these masterpieces of deception or watch the fun story of … uh …
Now, I like a good Gospel, come-to-Jesus, movie as much as the next Christian (in fact, I’ve written these types of books), but am I not allowed to watch something that’s just meant to entertain? In a world where our choices as believers carry more and more weight, leaving us sometimes spiritually depleted by the end of the day, is it evil to want a little good, clean fun to lighten our mood? And therefore, is it evil to create a story that allows the hard-working Christian a moment of fun without having to close their eyes through certain scenes or tolerate the glorification of something that goes against every fiber of their faith?
Help me, Jesus!
I once spoke with a woman who’d been dealing with the daily effects of living with a husband who had Alzheimer’s. Her every hour was spent in the care of a man who couldn’t remember what happened ten minutes ago and experienced visual hallucinations that made him act out badly. She cried to me on the phone about her horrible life. She said there was nothing good in her life at all. Now, as a counselor in another career, I asked her to elaborate. I said, “Nothing?” She thought deeply on that word and recognized there was one thing she looked forward to more than anything else. Once her husband was put to bed and asleep each night, she’d climb in next to him, turn on her reading device, and read a good book that would take her away from all her troubles and yes, entertain. As I sat there listening to her explain what seemed a miraculous endeavor, I thought how sad that this was all she had to look forward to. But she surprised me when she said, “Thank you, Connie! I needed to be reminded of that. I can look forward to that every day.” I was blown away! She was serious!
No longer will I ever call a good piece of fiction unimportant.
Do not minimize the power of story. Jesus used story when He wanted to impart an important message that could only be demonstrated through a parable that would make the Kingdom of God relatable to us humans on Earth. In fact, the noted apologist, C.S. Lewis said, “Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Maybe that’s why he also wrote fiction. Someone can tell us something over and over again without it taking root in our hearts, but a good story can help us experience the reality of a concept like no fact alone will ever do.
And though Jesus called us to make disciples of those around us, in real life, sometimes there are other things we Christians do and face that could be made into a great story that might even inspire the viewers in their daily walk. Yes, the message of the Gospel is important. If you are a born-again believer, you already know it. But maybe the reader/movie-watcher needs to be inspired to walk in the every day. Maybe, those of us who do not live in a strong community of believers (communities who are in fact quite antagonistic to faith) need to be encouraged to persist amidst the snide remarks and subtle jabs while we struggle to make the best choices for our lives. These, too, are stories that inspire. These are stories I want to see!
So where does a Christian girl go when she wants a little good entertainment without feeling she’s watching a sermon. I get a sermon on Sunday and choose to watch others online during the week. When I need another, I know where to find them. When I choose a film, it’s usually because I’m not looking for a sermon at that moment. So, I go to the secular entertainment streaming services because entertainment is what they do. Oh, the various series I’d binged through during the 2020 lockdown that pulled me into a story, dropping lots of questions and breadcrumbs along the way, making me need to see it to its completion, only to slam me with a heavy anti-Christian agenda about midway through the second season. Sometimes before that. However, I’m sure the creators of these stories know exactly where they can get away with the bait-and-switch in order to reel the viewer in. So, at that point, I’d have this dilemma: Do I continue to watch to find out what happens? Or Do I have the courage of my convictions, not wanting to saturate my thoughts in something that dishonors my Creator, and stop watching there?
Please, someone, give me a good story that can take my mind off my own cares for just a few minutes while not indoctrinating me into something that pulls me from my purpose. Make it fun, exciting, moving, and yes, inspiring. There are lots of ways to inspire. It doesn’t always have to end with the sinner’s prayer.
So, what if we turned things around? Told a funny, moving story about a young girl who just happened to be a goody-two-shoes (though humanly flawed) Christian amongst a bunch of people who think her faith is a lot of hooey? What if a secular audience is poised not to like her (cuz she grew up in church) but is thinking how they can’t wait to see how the screenwriter knocks her from her high horse (because that’s what secular screenwriters do to Christians these days) … but then the audience realizes, she’s actually humble and doesn’t ride a horse at all. What if she’s kinda quirky and that faith thing is one of her quirks? And as they watch, episode after episode, that quirk becomes a little charming … and then … maybe even something the viewer begins to like. Wait a minute, it’s not a quirk after all. It’s what makes her a compelling human being who touches people little by little all along the way as she struggles through life right alongside them.
That’s a story I want to watch! That’s the story I want to write. It’s the kind of story that even the unbeliever could enjoy and while doing so, they might gain a little Jesus as they do.
Please excuse me. I think I’ll go write that now.