taking the words of Jesus seriously

Several years ago, I was teaching a range of classes on film analysis and directing. During that time, I heard an interview with a well-known Hollywood film director. The topic was the plot lines of films. He emphasized that, when you look closely, you’ll notice that every film is about the same thing: transformation.

The key characters are very different people at the end of the film than they were at the beginning. The story we just saw changed them — forever. It’s no coincidence that this would happen. We like, even love, portrayals of transformed lives.

In spite of culture war noise about “Hollywood elites,” virtually every film is a proclamation of actual, or at least possible, transformation and restoration.

No individual is beyond redemption, they demonstrate. 

No relationship is entirely bereft of reclamation.

This is not quite how some religious traditions view the film industry —but it is their loss. And ours.

At its core, life — at every stage, in every culture — is about reclamation and recovery, restoration and healing. Our relationships (with the earth, with other races, other faiths, even with our own individual conflicting impulses) are perpetually in need of healing. This is the foundation of every expression of storytelling and every religious tradition.

In an odd turn of events, most films are better sermons than the authorized church version. Forgiveness and restoration are, as many films show us, worth the (sometimes high) price we end up paying for them. But full and final reconciliation, as the gospel tells us, is worth every sacrifice, every last drop of that precious blood, every ragged and clumsy step toward that humility that takes a lost soul back.

READ: The Racist Policing of China and the United States

Yes, betrayal, deception, and destruction are everywhere. But that is not the world we are called to live in.

Or hide from.

It is the world to and for which we are called to witness, heal, restore, and inspire.

In a time of indescribable need, how many churches failed to reach out and live up to their one true calling will be a question people will ask for generations. Those who did stand up and testify (sometimes with their lives) that there is indeed hope and power and healing beyond the grim, obvious drone of depressing headlines will be hailed as our saints. 

They, as you probably know all too well, are not always “good” people, or even “likable,” or “nice.” In fact, those I have known have been often burdened, even relentlessly pursued, by a vision no one else can see, a Word that cannot be explained, a Knowledge that cannot be contained, a power so far past our standard horizons of explanation that, even those of us who “agree” with them can barely comprehend their message. 

These are the people who follow the calling we are all called to follow: to leave a trail of transformation wherever we go.

There is no greater calling.

In fact I would say that there is literally no other calling. Being transformative is who we are. Attending church or even being “saved” is, if anything, the barest beginning, the starting line of a faith intended to redeem and transform every corner of the world that we encounter.

Stepping out in faith will never be easy — in fact probably nothing is more difficult. But nothing else is more rewarding. It won’t always be “safe,” but it will show us (and sometimes those around us) that what we believe is not only what we “believe,” but who we are. 

We, and they, just might learn that faith matters in the real world.

Now there’s a message worthy of the big screen.

About The Author


Faith is not a formula. And I wouldn't even use the word 'relationship' - and probably not the metaphor of 'a journey'. The older I get, the more it seems that faith is a process - a determined focus on listening to the eternal, sifting out the noise and distractions and becoming closer with each breath and each word, to the fullness - and emptiness - of the pulse, hand and purpose of our Creator, which, ultimately brings us where we belong. I'm a teacher and writer, which really means that I am a listener and I share what I see and hear.

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