On March 12, I made the decision to consume nothing but Christian media for forty days and to document the experience. I wasn’t angling for a book deal, or trying to increase revenue by upping clicks on my blog (I make no money off of this blog). I just wanted to see what would happen if I restricted myself to a steady diet of media created by Christians, for Christians, the kind you could only buy from a Christian bookstore.
Would I grow in some way? Spiritually? Physically? Mentally? Would it somehow make me into a more sincere and effective Christian? Would I snap and throw my laptop from my 16th floor balcony?
Well, as of today (due to some international travel that messed up the days a bit) those forty days are finally over, and while I did have to get a new laptop, it was because of catastrophic systems failure in the old one, and not because of a Christian-media-induced mental breakdown.
And that sound you hear is me, breathing.
Deep, cleansing, cautious breaths.
My first official non-Christian-made media as I’m coming off the forty days? Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar soundtrack.
Man, I missed me some Hans Zimmer.
Yesterday, my wife asked me if I’d learned anything over the past forty days, and I’d like to answer her question here, for anyone to see.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE 40 DAYS (AND NIGHTS) OF CHRISTIAN MEDIA CHALLENGE
Over the past 40 days…
1. You take the good, you take the bad…
I have learned that, like with regular media, there are some really good bits of Christian media and there are some incredibly horrid bits. The incredibly horrid bits are typically the ones that get the most attention and marketing money, and get sold by Christian retailers. The really good bits are typically harder to find, but it’s worth the effort.
2. The Balaam’s Donkey Effect
I have learned to my surprise that God even uses the incredibly horrid bits of Christian media to encourage people. I have no idea why He does this, but I call it The Balaam’s Donkey Effect.
As Rich said, you never know who God is gonna use.
3. Misuse of The Balaam’s Donkey Effect
I have learned that some Christian media producers take the Balaam’s Donkey Effect to mean that you can produce media with good intentions alone and God will bless it because of those good intentions.
They seem to forget that the Bible has a lot to say about excellence.
4. The True Salt and Lighters
I have learned that there are Christian producers of media, true “salt and lighters”, working very hard within traditional media companies to produce great work that is not necessarily obviously Christian.
I’ve also learned that these people don’t get near the attention from within the church as do the obvious Christian media producers.
And this is going to be hard to hear, but I think that it needs to be said: I have concluded that this is really stupid and short-sighted on the part of the church.
Church, pay special attention to the following statement, because it is a message for you: Support Christians working in non-Christian media companies like they are missionaries, because that’s what they are.
“But my denomination doesn’t send out missionaries to Hollywood or Nashville. How do we know who they are?”
Easy. Do some research. They’re not hard to find.
And once you do find them, support them with prayers and finances. Have a Sunday School class adopt them, and send them Amazon gift cards. Remember their kid’s birthdays. If they live close, invite them out to dinner and let them talk about their projects. Creatives love talking about the things they are trying to do. In short, treat them the way you do your missionaries to Africa and Asia and Latin America. They are in a mission field that is just as challenging in many ways.
And lastly on this point, don’t just find and support the people working in the more visible fields of Christian media (the authors, the singers, the directors, and such), but also the ones who work behind the scenes (the sound engineers, the DPs, the editors, the key grips, and so on). It’s just as hard to be a Christ-following techie in media as it is to be a celebrity. Maybe harder.
5. The Dreaded Christian Bubble
I have learned that our Christian sub-culture bubble is arguably un-Biblical. We weren’t called to be hermits living in caves. How can we show we’re not of the culture unless we’re engaged with the culture?
Recently I was involved in a discussion with a somewhat well-known Christian filmmaker, who stunned me when he said that he’d not actually watched any non-Christian movies in his life.
In. His. Life.
Not even the “safe” non-Christian movies. He didn’t see any need to expose himself to the films of the world, and didn’t think that it affected his own filmmaking abilities.
Romans 14 tells me that I have to respect this man’s convictions on watching films, and so I do, from a brother-in-Christ point of view. From a filmmaking point of view, I will be really surprised if he ever actually makes an all-around decent movie. The odds are stacked against him, since he’s cut himself off from the professional influence of people who really know how to make films.
And we see Christians encasing themselves in bubbles all over the place. We need to pop those bubbles.
6. The Need for Christian Media for Christians
I have learned to respect the need for Christian-made media that is made specifically for Christians. It’s quite nice that we can watch television and surf the internet and listen to music, just like non-Christians do, and grow in the faith.
But I do wish a couple of things would happen with this media:
First, I wish that the ones making media for the Christian subculture would just acknowledge they are making media for Christians rather than pretending that their work is making any substantial positive impact on the wider culture. The Balaam’s Donkey Effect notwithstanding, I’m talking about being honest and open about the demographics you honestly think you will reach. The majority of non-Christians in the world have a very low opinion of our music, our movies, and our books. We need to face that fact.
Second, I wish the ones making media for the Christian subculture would challenge the Christian subculture more, and not just hit all the right beats to make it suitably digestible. Doesn’t 2 Timothy say something about itching ears?
I have learned that we should – for once and for all – draw a big fat line between “family-friendly” and “faith-based”. I’ve made this point on the blog before, but over the last forty days I found myself longing for a faith-based film that was willing to plumb the depths of the human condition as well as explore the heights, and only found it with The Song. Faith-based films should be allowed to go mature and dark in order to truly show the light.
Where is the Christian-made Calvary? Where is the Christian-made Shawshank Redemption? Unforgiven? Schindler’s List? For that matter, why did we need Angelina Jolie to make a decent (if incomplete) version of Unbroken?
The problem is that we’ve shackled family-friendly and faith-based together, and in the process we’ve cut ourselves off from being able to make really good drama. Only a non-Christian can really tell our stories well, and then we get upset when they don’t tell them the way we want them to be told.
8. Fear Not
If I can judge the state of the 21st American Christian church by the state of her media, I’ve learned that we Christians seem to be afraid. Of all sorts of things.
We’re afraid of homosexuals, Muslim radicals, bad parenting, Hollywood, video games, illegal immigrants, the dark side of the internet, atheist filmmakers making Bible epics, the other side of the political aisle gaining political power, magic, public education, higher education, and losing our American freedoms and rights. To name just a few things.
But we shouldn’t be afraid.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
If we truly believe that God is sovereign, then we should live with hopeful anticipation about what He is doing in the world, not in fear that He’s somehow losing control.
9. The Heart of the Matter
Finally, the most important thing I’ve learned over the past forty days is the importance of starting the day in God’s Word. I’ve mentioned a couple of times over these past 40 days that I’ve been utilizing the daily devotional written by Skye Jethani, and I highly recommend it.
If you are a Christian who – like me – loves secular media, I strongly urge you to make it a point to start your day in the presence of your heavenly Father. This will better enable you to meet the challenges found in trying to swim in the tsunami of secular media, and will infuse you with the grace to step into the stream of Christian-made media with understanding and patience.
There are plenty of Christians around the world for whom the Bible is literally the only Christian media they have exposure to, and guess what?
And in my opinion, they’re probably a lot better off than the rest of us.
Thanks to all who joined me in this forty day adventure in odyssey. Come back for my next challenge, The 40 Days (and Nights) of Star Wars Media Challenge.
I’ve got a bad feeling about this…