Friday, February 18, 2011

Soul Surfer

Living in Surf City, USA, a headline like this certainly piques your interest: Bible Edited Out of Film 'Soul Surfer' to Appeal to Non-Christians, Added Back In.  Maybe you've head of her.  Bethany Hamilton is the young girl who went from surfing one day only losing an arm in a tragic shark attack (2003) only to courageously recover and go on to win a championship months later.  This girl's got more moxy with one arm than most surfers do with two (the sport is hard enough with both arms.  It's easy to get caught up in the swell of accolades and miss the real point of this story.  Hollywood almost did, but not out of ignorance, no this was intentional.  Soul surfing and spirituality sell movies, but put in the Holy Bible and a girl not just with the courage of a Lion, but with the faith in Christ, and well, you might just not make enough money.  I wonder if movies with watered down Christian themes really attract the Non-Christian market anymore than a movie with overtly Christian themes.  I am inclined to think not - just like Christian churches who water down doctrine and practice in order to accommodate or "reach out" to a wider "fan" base.  Talk about a wipe out.  Does Christianity, much less movies with any degree of Christian imagery or themes, gain anything by leaving significant parts of the story out?  There's a reason millions of people flocked to see the Narnia movies as of late, all of which had explicit and implicit Christological themes (even if Caspian was bastardized, in the classic sense of the word).  More importantly, if you take the content out of the faith, what is left?  What kind of faith are we passing on - the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), or the faith that is most palatable to the world?  Christ Crucified as Savior with His Word and Sacraments or Jesus the good teacher and spiritual handy-man?  The means used to "bring people in" is the faith in which they will live.

And now for something completely different.  I will illustrate this point, about the absence of the central thing and losing its essence, with a conversation from Joseph Heller's Catch-22, a conversation between Colonel Cathcart and the chaplain regarding prayer before flight missions:
"I think that prayers before each mission is a very moral and highly laudatory procedure, sir" the chaplain offered timidly, and waited.
"Yea," said the colonel.  "But I want to know if you think they'll work here."
"Yes, sir," answered the chaplain after a few moments.  "I should think they would."
"Then I would like to give it a try...look how much good they've done those people in England.  Here's a picture of a colonel in The Saturday Evening Post whose chaplain conducts prayers before each mission.  If the prayers worked for him they should work for us.  Maybe if we say prayers, they'll put my picture in The Saturday Evening Post."
"...Then we'll begin with this afternoon's mission," said the colonel..."Now, I want you to give a lot of thought to the kind of prayers we're going to say.  I don't want anything heavy or sad.  I'd like to keep it light and snappy, something that will send the boys out feeling pretty good.  Do you know what I mean?  I don't want any of this Kingdom of God or Valley of Death stuff.  That's all too negative.  What are you making such a sour face for?"
"I'm sorry sir," the chaplain stammered.  "I happened to be thinking of the 23rd Psalm just as you said that."
"How does that one go?"
"That's the one you were referring to, sir.  'The Lord is my shepherd; I -"
"That's the one I was referring to.  It's out.  What else have you got?"
"Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto -"
"No waters," the colonel decided...why don't we try something musical, harps and willows?"
"That has the rivers of Babylon in it, sir," the chaplain replied.  "'...there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.'"
"Zion?  Let's forget about that one right now.  I'd like to know how that one got in there.  Haven't you got anything humorous that stays away from waters and valleys and God?  I'd like to keep away from the subject of religion altogether if we can."
"I'm sorry, sir, but just about all the prayers I know are rather somber in tone and make at least some passing reference to God."
"Then let's get some new ones.  The men are already doing enough bitching about the missions I send them on without our rubbing it in with any sermons about God or death or Paradise.  Why can't we take a more positive approach?  Why can't we all pray for something good, like a tighter bomb pattern, for example?  Couldn't we pray for a tighter bomb pattern?"
"Well, yes, sir, I suppose so," the chaplain answered hesitantly.  "You wouldn't even need me if that's all you wanted to do.  You could do that yourself."

Right...sorry; back to the soul surfing.  What kind of story is this without the Christianity?  Sure, you'd still get to see an inspirational film but where does the inspiration come from?  Sure, there's courage, but who gives such hope for courage in time of tragedy?  Sure, it's about faith and strength, but what do those words mean if they are not defined by Christ, in fact embodied by Christ for the believer and in the believer.  A story is not really a story without its central theme.  It's like trying to surf without a board (which only Jesus can do btw).  It's like looking at Narnia and not seeing Aslan as Christ or looking at Tolkien's work and ignoring his world view.  For the Hamilton family, it was enough get them to talk to Mandalay Pictures about their relevancy fail.  The story just isn't the story unless it's told in its fullness.  And so it was for the Hamilton family.  Their Christian faith was the heart of courage in the midst of this tragedy turned triumph.  For now it appears the story has a happy ending: Mandalay Pictures put the words "Holy Bible" back on the good book after digitally removing them in a scene where Scripture is read by Ms. Hamilton's bedside.  And apparently there are several scenes that prominently feature Scriptural references. But we'll have to wait until April when this movie breaks to see if it's a real Betty or a total Benny.  And that's all I've got to say about that...later, bra.

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