I’ve had the opportunity to see the new movie Blue Like Jazz twice now, once at a pre-release screening in March and again this past opening weekend. As anyone who’s followed me on Twitter or Facebook can attest, it’s pretty much been all I’ve talked about for the last month or so. I’ve tweeted, retweeted, and posted Facebook status updates galore. I’ve talked to friends, family members, and pastors at my church about it. I’ve blogged about it (multiple times). I even gave out Blue Like Jazz flyers and stickers at work. And my wife has been just as active, even going so far as to wear a promotional t-shirt for the movie for almost a week straight.
I want this movie to succeed, not just financially but succeed in getting the approval of Christians around the country. I want them to see what I did in it, what I saw in the book by Donald Miller, and what I’ve seen in other books he’s written. It’s important. But why?
Let me first say that I have no vested financial interest in this movie. I’m not getting paid for endorsing it. If it does well at the box office, that’s great; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t come out of my paycheck. I also have to admit that I wasn’t always so thrilled with the idea of this movie. An early review of the screenplay by author Gabe Lyons made it sound as if it would be some kind of politically correct attack on conservative Christians. I’m happy to report that it’s not (at all), but I suspect a lot of people still believe it is.
A post-opening-weekend update on Miller’s blog indicates that the movie has done well in “urban and art house theaters” but not as well in the suburbs. It was rated as a lowly 41% on Rotten Tomatoes and the people behind the movies Courageous and Fireproof banned people who worked on Blue Like Jazz from ever working with them (this, without them even seeing the movie).
In my own experience promoting the movie, I’ve gotten only tepid responses from people (when I’ve gotten a response at all). Flyers given to co-workers were almost immediately trashed. The pastors at my church — men whom I respect and admire greatly — were appreciative of me sharing the information with them but made it clear they would have a hard time recommending it to others in the church. And friends who initially appeared interested in it (at least to my face) chose to see The Hunger Games instead. (I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve actually lost friends over this although I’ve always been positive and have never done anything to intentionally piss anyone off.)
But why is this movie so important anyway? Believe me, I’ve asked myself that question countless times over the last month. I think it’s important for a couple of reasons. First, because it’s not a typical Christian movie. As I’ve said before, it’s sorta the anti-Courageous, a movie with a Christian message but one that isn’t made just for Christians. I compare it to the music industry, where Christian musicians can have commercial success in the mainstream music industry without having to water down or hide their faith. We don’t really have any movies like that. Christian movies like Courageous are made specifically for Christian audiences, but what about a movie with a positive Christian message that appeals to non-Christians? It seems taboo at the moment, just as it seemed taboo in 1991 for Amy Grant to sing “Baby Baby” on Top 40 radio stations. But it also seems antiquated.
Second, Blue Like Jazz is important because of the story it’s trying to tell. As Miller wrote on his blog:
The message of the film, then, is that the church can become a fort and within that fort is a culture all its own. When a person is taken outside the fort, it is possible to survive and even have faith, but back in the fort nobody will understand him anymore. I think this is a good film for any church to start a dialogue about whether or not their culture has walls around it that are keeping people out. Those walls, of course, are cultural, political, theological (falsely, perhaps) and idealogical [sic]. That seems to be what we were trying to show when we made it, though we didn’t think of it as a message. Still, it’s where I live and many of my friends live.
There’s a huge irony here. A movie that shows how a strong faith in God can flourish at even the most “godless campus in America”, a movie that shows the importance of being authentic and true to that faith, a movie that shows the redemptive power of God’s grace even when the rest of world hates what you stand for. And yet the reaction of some Christians has been to reinforce the notion of that church fort; movies and music and culture are acceptable as long as they’re safe and kept firmly within its walls, but don’t you dare step outside of them.
Why is this movie so important? Because those walls have not just kept people out, they’ve kept us in far too long. Jesus told us to be salt and light to the world, to not keep our light hidden. But by trying desperately to create our own little niche Christian subculture, that’s exactly what we’ve done. Sure, it’s bright as daylight inside the walls, but it’s pitch black outside.
Let me be clear: At the end of the day, this is just a movie. I’m not gonna lose (too much) sleep if people don’t go see it. I do think it’s an extremely well-written and well-acted film, one that’s both really funny and really moving at the same time. But it’s just a movie. I don’t want to lose friendships over it, I really don’t. But I do strongly believe in it, for the doors it can open and for the walls it can tear down.
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