Kent Bush: Film maker created new stereotypes

Kent Bush

Why shouldn’t a Christian-themed movie be controversial?

When Jesus taught, he created controversy, especially within the existing religious culture. So the movie based on the Donald Miller book “Blue Like Jazz” can claim that aspect of Christ-likeness, although that is where most comparisons would have to stop.

Miller and the movie’s producers have been critical of Sherwood Pictures –– the creators of “Flywheel,” “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof” and “Courageous” –– for their ability to resolve difficult topics in one Sunday-school lesson of a movie.

Some of the higher ups in Sherwood Pictures have made it clear that anyone involved with the making of this movie –– which glorified the college party scene and took a lot of pot shots at church culture –– would not work on a Sherwood film in the future.

The producers of the recent release “October Baby” asked distributors to keep “Blue Like Jazz” out of the group of previews shown before their film.

These attacks left the “Blue Like Jazz” supporters claiming underdog status and saying that the other Christian movie houses were just scared to take an honest look at faith.

However, for a movie that supposedly takes a more honest look at faith, “Blue Like Jazz” takes so much license with the book’s contents that it is barely recognizable. It would have been almost as surprising if the Titanic made it safely across the Atlantic in the movie version of the tale.

The book and movie tell the story of Miller’s path to faith. Miller was a devout young man. He was a leader in his Southern Baptist church youth group in south Texas. However, his mother had an affair with his youth pastor, and the pain from that led Miller to take his father’s offer to go to a high-achiever school in Portland, Ore.

The book is far less direct in its recollections of Miller’s denial of Christian beliefs than the movie. The movie portrays every negative religious stereotype possible. The youth minister also put on puppet shows in front of the church, and they made Miller’s movie character wear the full armor of God like a strange post-Halloween religious rite.

Then they had a cross-shaped piñata in the church service, and Miller used the sword of truth to break the piñata that was filled with vials of the blood of Christ rather than candy.

When Miller and the moviemakers ran out of stereotypes, they created new ones. I have more than three decades of experience in Southern Baptist churches, and this didn’t ring true at all. Some of the pieces may exist separately. But lumping every offbeat Christian practice into one scene was obviously an attempt to explain Miller’s eventual fall from grace.

In the movie, Miller also denied his Christian beliefs due to incredible peer pressure multiple times. The book did not remember these denials as distinctly.

Where the movie does succeed is in its portrayal of religious people who sometimes fail to live up to the high standards set for them by themselves and others.

Have I had a bad experience at church? Do you mean this week? Religious people aren’t perfect, or they wouldn’t need to go to church.

Miller tells of testing his faith during college and soon after. Many people can relate to that journey. When real life breaks through the Noah’s Ark and Daniel and the Lion’s Den Bible stories, and you are hurt and desperate, is when your faith shows up.

For many people, it reveals they never believed those saccharine little church sayings that sound so sweet when the good times are rolling. But when times of trouble come or something happens to make you question your faith, where you go from there shows whether you ever really believed all of the things you said.

In the end, Miller comes back around. When he stopped experimenting with drugs and alcohol and gallivanting around a college renowned for its paganism, Miller realized that faith was enough.

A friend aided Miller’s return to faith. He saw her live her faith in truth and devotion.

“Sometimes you have to watch someone love something in order to love it,” Miller writes.

The movie is great to watch before a dinner date. You will never lack topics for rich conversation. However, the movie does a poor job of portraying the original message and theme of Miller’s book.

When Christ brought controversy, it was by healing people on the Sabbath or telling religious leaders that his existence was going to change everything they have ever known. The movie “Blue Like Jazz” asks a lot of questions and takes a different perspective on faith. But controversy for the sake of being controversial isn’t a worthwhile goal.

There are enough attacks from outside the walls of the church without anyone being injured by friendly fire.