Which Genre is for Christians?
“With a sword thou mayest kill thy father, and with a sword thou mayest defend thy prince and country.” ― Sir Philip Sidney, A Defense of Poesy
With the release of Faith-Based, a satirical piece about the making of a faith-based movie, it is important to note that we are being mocked. Not all mockery is legitimate, but if we are honest, this one stings because it’s fair. Faith-based movies have been bad.
It's easy to try and retreat to the few that haven’t, but I propose we don’t justify our sins that way. Instead, let’s take our beating and toughen up. My boxing coach used to have the newbies hold the bag and don the mitts for the pros. Learning to step in when the punches are flying is part of the process.
But we also need to learn to bob and weave.
Lesson #1: Faith-based is not a genre.
Genres are useful in their place. They are marketing tools. They work to set audience expectations so that an audience can be blessed with the satisfactions of comfort and surprise. Writers unfamiliar with genre are bound to be derivative and transient. If you don’t know people's expectations, the truth in your story slips through the cracks of disappointment.
In spite of the suits and haircut's marketing machinery, and in spite of Christian producers accepting the crumbs under the table, faith-based is not a genre.
Faith-based implies that there are movies that are regular, secular, not faith-based. But when it comes to telling a story, it's never a matter of if it is faith based, but only a question of which faith.
All stories assume a center and argue for a view of the world. That’s why Socrates wants the poets exiled from the city. They can hide their dissent in plain site. No totalitarian is safe with storytellers on the prowl. You think you are just enjoying a story, but you find your philosophical foundations have been jackhammered.
Christians have, for too long, let the moneyed heathens keep them in their lane by buying them a genre. I get my dog into his shock collar with a treat too.
Dante changed the world. He took the genre of the Latin epic and swung it like a hammer until even Virgil took a knee before Jesus. Milton wrote an epic of such a caliber that it simply ended the genre for good. The wineskin of the genre burst when filled with the glory of their faith-based epics. It's time for Christian filmmakers to commit to bursting the film genres too.
Christians who apply themselves to cinematic storytelling need two things. A commitment to craft and a commitment to studying reality. Jerry Seinfeld compares writing comedy to learning to do a kick flip on a skateboard. You can’t even be mediocre at it without 499 failed attempts. Storytelling is a craft and no one will pay you to learn it. You have to commit. Milton had read every book in every town within walking distance. He wasn’t born a great poet. He also wasn’t born-again a great poet. You might be a wonderful Christian, but it takes more than that to be a great storyteller. In fact, it doesn’t even give you a leg up. Lazy always shows. And baptized lazy glows in the dark.
Commit also to studying reality. Wisdom is skill in living in the world God made. If you want your stories to be of any use, you need to understand how the world works. You aren’t going to get that watching indie movies until 3am every night. You need to commit to wooing lady wisdom. My suggestion: commit to a church, read widely like your life depends on it, get to know people older than you and listen to their stories, and quit the misanthropic pride that looks down on everyone. And your mom told you that you shouldn’t watch so much Quentin Tarantino, figure out why she was right. God gives wisdom to those that pursue it, but here’s the warning--all true wisdom is resurrection wisdom. When you commit to the pursuit of wisdom, you’ll find it through the trap doors of God’s coffins made just for you.
Storytelling is inescapably faith based. Christians can, and should, write in every genre. So get good and join us at Loor.tv. Help us challenge the world to a storytelling contest. You can put you name on the loor.tv artist email list HERE.
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