“A studio president once asked me if I believed in angels and demons. (My writing partner, Paul Boardman, and I had written them into a script the studio head had just purchased.) Sensing that he was really wanting to know if I was a Christian with an agenda, I said, ‘I think what I believe is irrelevant. What’s important is that people want to believe in spiritual realities.’ He thought for a minute and seemed to decide that he didn’t really care what I believed, just so long as I wasn’t there to proselytize him or the audience. He nodded, the meeting went on and the subject never came up again. I didn’t deny my faith. I simply didn’t answer the question–a little trick I learned from Christ himself.”
—Scott Derrickson, screenwriter, producer, director
I work at Barnes & Noble. Sometimes in the morning my job is to shelf books that were delivered to the store the night before. When one of my co-workers has this particular job she makes sure she gets the Christianity/Religion section done before the store opens so that she won’t be there when customers come in. She doesn’t like the customers who come to that section. They freak her out.
We often talk about movies and books and other things while working and I haven’t yet been asked point blank if I’m a religious person-slash-Christian-slash-freak. I’m kind of glad I haven’t, either, because I’m not quite sure how I would respond. Am I ashamed of being a Christian? I don’t think so. My hesitation comes not so much from being embarrassed for being a Christian as from having been told portions of the truth in a Christianese language that has begun not to work for myself and will most assuredly not work for my skeptical co-worker, and I can’t figure out a way to say it. The goal is not to recycle meaningless words but to articulate this breathtaking reality in fresh language. John Piper says it this way:
“My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with biblical truth.”
The problem with some fringes of the tradition I’ve come from is that what lies on the uppermost shelf of importance is not the truth but the language, and as a Christian it is my duty to be for what is ultimately real, not a system of beliefs surrounded by a few choice words.
“Nothing is more easily resisted than subcultural religious language. One of our primary responsibilities as artists and Christians is to invent a new language for old ideas. It is impossible for me to successfully talk with people in Hollywood about sin and salvation. Those words are no longer alive for them. Words are socially born and they socially die, and we have killed off much of our Christian language. In popular culture, words like ‘sin’ and ‘salvation’ have connotations and associative meanings that are so antiquated and negative that it’s impossible to use them effectively. What artists can do is to take the truth of sin, the truth of salvation, the truth of redemption and find new ways of representing them.” –Derrickson
Words are socially born and they socially die. When Billy Graham preached around the United States in the 1950’s through 1980’s he used words that people understood – sin, salvation, repent, born-again, etc. The truth behind those words was true long before Billy came around and it will be around long after he’s gone. The truth lives. But the words? The language? I think they may have died, at least to the average person in America in 2008.
So, what if my co-worker asks me if I’m a Christian and I don’t answer her directly? Am I denying Christ? Or would I be denying a language?
Maybe being a Christian is more about living in the world in an excellent way than making sure I conform my words to a certain acceptable language. Maybe my agnostic co-worker is acting more like Christ than I am by working her hardest and treating the other employees with kindness while I lazily anticipate punching out so I can go home and eat, snarling at co-workers in the process. Maybe what’s most important is living as in-tune with reality as possible, not making sure my doctrines line up correctly, and by “correctly” I mean the way I see things.
Nietzsche is famous for saying “God is dead.” I agree. “God” is dead, but the one outside of time who made possible for the tides to come in and go out while pulling the moon in like a kite, yay, who invented the human hand which pontificates on life, philosophy, animals, sex, politics, and even God, is more alive than our language allows us to express.
If I ever do feel guilty it should not be because I failed to recite the right words, but because I’ve been shown what it looks like to live in a way that most lines up with reality and I failed to conform. Words are secondary and only hint at the truth.
Your task is to find the symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting flags in hostile soil, setting up signposts that say there is a different way to be human.