The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking by Living Better Stories

Part of ongoing series: Hollywood and Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Thru the Stories We Live By (See also,  The Future of Faith-Based Filmmaking)

The Blind Side is not so much the story of a Christian family who transformed the life of a homeless teenager as much as it is the story of a homeless teenager who transformed the faith of a Christian family

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

“Wow, I’ve finally met someone who practices but doesn’t preach.” —Sandra Bullock, speaking of Leigh Anne Tuohy, whom Bullock portrayed in her first Oscar-winning performance

blind-side-poster-0In the aftermath of the runaway success of The Blind Side, Hollywood has become more open to Christians’ stories. I don’t mean “Christian” stories, but rather human stories about Christians whose faith has been an element in their facing universal human struggles.

The Blind Side was unlike anything normally accepted by the Church as a “Christian Film.” It is neither an evangelistic message about Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) witnessing about her faith, nor Michael Oher  (Quinton Aaron) coming to faith, nor a missionary appeal for how Christian families should adopt disadvantaged youth, nor a white-washed tale about perfect Christians, living perfect lives, with perfect motives, and everything turning out perfectly.

O, the Humanity!

Sandra Bullock as the highly flawed and genuinely Christian, Leigh Anne Tuohy.

Instead, it is a very human story about a very human woman whose Christian faith informed and motivated a series of radical decisions that transformed her life, her family, and the young man they adopted.  The story is not about her faith, but her faith is clearly part of the story.

This approach works only because The Blind Side wasn’t made like a typical “Christian film.” Although director John Lee Hancock describes himself as a Christian and there are a number of other talented Christians working at Alcon Entertainment who helped guide the project, Hancock made The Blind Side because he thought the story the Tuohys lived was so compelling. Period!

“The fact that the Tuohys are Christians played absolutely no part in me doing it or not doing it…. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s an incredibly charitable act that yields rewards for this family. It would have been an also amazingly charitable act had the Tuohys been atheists. A good deed is a good deed… I thought it was a great story.”

Hancock goes on to explain: “I think that if I set out to do stories based on that (Christianity or even inspiration) then it will probably be like the cart leading the horse… You set out to tell a good story. You don’t do it because there is a deep message involved because the movie is almost always bad when you do that…”[1]

The Future of “Christian” Filmmaking

Michael Oher is a most unlikely hero in the most unlikely “Christian” film in recent memory.

It is the very humanness of the film that makes it so approachable. Leigh Anne Tuohy is a flawed individual. She is a stubborn control freak, still struggling to stay in control even in the very last scene of the movie.  Yet when motivated by her Christian faith Leigh Anne’s  flaws propel her to make decisions that few other women would even consider.  Her character is complicated (which is why Sandra Bullock won an Academy Award for portraying her), and therefore very compelling. We like her precisely because she represents our highest aspirations and our worst self-sabotaging realities.

Hancock’s approach points toward a compelling future for “Christian” filmmaking in Hollywood — If you live it, they will come (to the theater, that is). Audiences don’t want to watch “Christian” films. They want to see good films about good stories. Compelling stories about real life human beings who overcome tremendous obstacles and who are transformed into better human beings in the process.  (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of WorldviewCrash Goes the Worldview.)

If the story happens to be about someone whose faith informed and motivated their journey then who’s to argue? Their story earned them the right to let their faith be part of the film. (And opened up the “plausibility structure” for audiences accepting that not all Christians are the preachy, bigoted hypocrites so often portrayed by the media.)

In the end, The Blind Side isn’t so much the story of a Christian family who transformed the life of a homeless teenager so much as it is the story of a homeless teenager who transformed the faith of a Christian family: all because one woman made the radical decision to actually live out her faith.

As Sandra Bullock opined about Leigh Anne and the Tuohy family:

“[S]he has no idea the path she’s begun, in terms of adoption and fostering. It’s not been on the forefront of people’s minds. It is on the forefront of my mind every day now when I get up. When I look around I go, ‘Is he, is she, what is their situation?’ And it’s because of this family, and I think what they are going to do for our country in terms of being aware of that is – I don’t think they realize the profound affect that they are going to have…. [Y]ou see this family, they were themselves for no other benefit other than because they wanted to reach out, lend a hand, and had no idea that they would get a son in return… I said, ‘Wow, I’ve finally met someone who practices but doesn’t preach.’ ” (Italics mine.)[2]

In other words, if Christians actually lived better stories then we might have a litany of heroic stories to draw upon and films to make that real people in real theaters actually want to see and A-list actors want to play. Stories about men and women (and teenagers) whose faith motivated and informed their choices to live remarkable lives by making remarkable decisions and overcome remarkable obstacles.

Living a Better Story

If more Christians actually lived compelling stories then we might have a litany of heroic movies.

Every believer (and not just filmmakers) ought to be asking themselves ‘Am I living the kind of story that, in Donald Miller’s words, “leaves a beautiful feeling even as the credits role”? As Miller discovered in writing his book subtitled How I Learned to Live a Better Story, few Christians are living stories that come remotely close to living out the full implications of their faith.

What story are we writing with our lives? Leigh Anne Tuohy’s story is deeply heroic precisely because her faith motivated her to take action toward the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. Will we?

Heaven is looking for heroic stories even more than Hollywood. Will this generation overwhelm the world with stories of very human Christ followers whose faith motivates and informs the heroic lives they live?  The world is watching…

If you live it, they will come!


Next post in series: Current Films by Act One Graduates Reveal Strange Dichotomy in Box Office Mojo’s ‘Christian Movie’ Category, by Gary David Stratton

See Also:

Conversations On The Blind Side – Sandra Bullock and Leigh Anne Tuohy Go One-On-One, by Rebecca Murray

Michael Oher and Tuohy Family Celebrate Super Bowl Victory (ABC)

Hollywood and Higher Education, by Gary David Stratton

Why Story Structure Matters: Even if you don’t want it to, by Christopher Riley

Opening Doors for Others: An Interview with Writer-Director Brian Bird, by Gary David Stratton

Christians in Hollywood: A Mission Impossible Writer Offers a Treatment, by Ron Austin



[1] Interview: ‘The Blind Side’ Director John Lee Hancock, Michelle A. Vu

[2] Bullock Quotations from:  Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw Discuss ‘The Blind Side’ 

TONIGHT! Rebranding Christianity, with filmmaker & author Phil Cooke

FREE Teleseminar


Thursday, July 16th, 7-8pm EST

Dear Friend,
phil_cookeIn a truly post-Christian America, Christians find themselves ostracized, misunderstood, marginalized, and often the victims of seemingly unmerited and scathing accusations. It seems in today’s world, Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we’re for.But, the truth is Christians are some of the most giving people on the planet, committed to their families, churches, and communities. It’s true we’re far from perfect, but if most Christians are decentindividuals who strive to love and serve others, what went wrong?Phil Cooke is on a mission to show Christians how to fix our “branding” problem in America.

Phil Cooke is a writer, television producer, and media consultant based in Burbank, California, as well as a critic of some aspects of contemporary American and American-influenced Christian culture. He is a fundamentalist Christian and, as Scott McClellan of Collide Magazine wrote, “At times, Cooke may appear to be Christian media’s biggest critic but, as he is quick to point out, he criticizes because he loves.”

He is a long-time producer of nationally known religious and inspirational programming, and has worked for such clients as Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, The Salvation Army, Mercy Ships, The American Bible Society, and the YouVersion Bible App. Cooke produced Billy Graham’s most-seen program, “Starting Over,” which reached around 1.5 billion people in 200 countries in one day. Joel Osteen said, “Phil Cooke is one of the greatest communicators of our generation.”

During this teleseminar training call, you’ll discover:

  • What branding is, and what it isn’t
  • What happened to Christianity from a P.R. perspective
  • What branding and religion have in common
  • How to handle public opinion on the gay marriage issue
  • Why public perception is often received as reality and what to do about it
  • What Christians can do to help fix the branding (or perception) of Christianity in culture


To join Phil for this FREE webinar, register here

Ponce de León on Steroids: What does Christian maturity look like in a youth-worshiping culture? by John Ortberg

A response to Thomas E. Bergler’s The Juvenilization of American Christianity

Because we increasingly live in a post-Christian culture, any church leader must seek to discover how to contextualize the gospel to our culture. And our culture is a youth-worshiping, Justin Bieberized, Twilight-Hunger Games-Kardashian culture.

by John Ortberg

I ran across a generationally concerned quote while reading University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright recently:

“Our earth is degenerate in these latter days … children no longer obey their parents.”

It was chiseled on an Assyrian stone tablet around 2800 B.C. And it may well have been true. You don’t see a lot of thriving Assyrian family ministries these days.

The “things are getting worse” narrative is a comet with a long tail in human history and has particular resonance with today’s evangelical community. Thomas Bergler’s thoughtful exploration of American youth ministry taps into that narrative with a wealth of information that will be new even for many of us who grew up in the evangelical world. And it will prompt many questions about a dilemma that has troubled the American church for a long while: What kind of people are we trying to reach, and what kind of people are we trying to produce, and is it possible to do both simultaneously?

Youth has always been worshiped in its own way. After all, Ponce de León didn’t risk his life and fortune searching for the Fountain of Maturity. But what was once a quest has become an industry. Between Rogaine, Viagra, Botox, and Gingko, the fountain of youth has turned out to be pharmacological.

Bergler poses as his thesis that an inescapable tension struck the core of American Christianity during the 1930s and ’40s: Should church leaders aggressively seek to adapt to youth culture and risk altering the faith, or should they avoid youth culture and risk losing the youth?

One of the difficulties in answering that question is the lack of a baseline. To truly measure the cost of adapting to youth culture, we would need to have a good gauge of the “maturity level” of people whom churches were turning out in the three or four decades before the ’30s and the rise of youth culture. The emergence of adolescence as a prolonged developmental stage of life is clear; judging its impact on national character would require some kind of assessment of prior national character.

Continue Reading

Millennials Receptive to but Highly Critical of Christianity, by Billy Roberts

Part 14 in series How Millennials Who Gave up  on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community


Bad news for churches trying to fill their seats with young people. A recent survey of Millennial values conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute offers little in the way of good news for religious affiliation and the Millennial generation.

The study, conducted in conjunction with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs shows that across the board numbers are dropping in religious affiliation among younger Millennials. College aged Millennials are more likely to be religiously unaffiliated than the rest of the public. Of those surveyed, despite only 11 percent being raised religiously unaffiliated as children, 25 percent now are unaffiliated with religion. The study does not paint a pretty picture for religious denominations which have typically ruled American religious life, such as mainline Protestants (Episcopalians, Presbyterian, etc.) as well as Catholics.

What’s most interesting however are the possible reasons for the break from religion, specifically Christianity, among Millennials.

Younger Millennials’ feelings about Christianity are decidedly mixed. Three-quarters (76 percent) agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” and 63 percent believe that Christianity “consistently shows love for other people.” On the other hand, strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent) and “anti-gay” (64 percent).

So what we have are young people who are at least receptive to Christianity’s values and principles, but are turned off by its hypocrisy and strong judgment as it exists today. Especially when it comes to homosexuality.

…a PRRI survey found that nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) 18-29-year-old Millennials agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

Will we see a shift in the way churches engage with young people? Can (or better yet, will) the Church shed it’s “anti-gay” image?

If religious leaders — particularly in Catholic and white mainline Protestant churches — aren’t content to wait for the return of this generation’s prodigals, they are faced with a challenging task. The balancing act of whether and how to reshape present-day congregations to connect with a generation that remains receptive to — but also highly critical of — traditional forms of religiosity.

via ThePublicQueue 

Next Post in the series: The Millennial Teenager: An Infographic

New Study Reveals Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church, by Robert P. Jones, PhD

Part 13 in series How Millennials Who Gave up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community

by , CEO and Founder, Public Religion Research Institute

Pastors and priests seeking to fill their pews with young churchgoers have a tough task ahead. According to a newly released survey, even before they move out of their childhood homes, many younger Millennials have already moved away from the religion in which they were raised, mostly joining the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

The 2012 Millennial Values Survey, conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, shows that college-age Millennials (ages 18-24) are more likely than the general population to be religiously unaffiliated (25 percent vs. 19 percent in the general population). Moreover, they report significant movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood: Only 11 percent of Millennials were raised religiously unaffiliated, but one-quarter (25 percent) identify as religiously unaffiliated today, an increase of 14 points.

These findings have profound implications for the future of religious denominations that have, in the past, dominated American religious life. Of those who are currently unaffiliated, around 1-in-5 were raised white mainline Protestant (21 percent) or Catholic (23 percent), the two denominations that saw the largest net losses due to Millennials’ shifts in religious identity. Among Millennials who were raised white mainline Protestant, only 59 percent continue to identify with their childhood faith, while nearly 3-in-10 (29 percent) identify as unaffiliated. Similarly, only two-thirds (64 percent) of Millennials who were raised Catholic remain within the fold, while one-quarter (25 percent) now identify as unaffiliated.

In addition to the increase in religious disaffiliation, younger Millennials report low levels of religious engagement across the board. Only one-quarter (25 percent) of Millennials say they attend religious services at least once a week, while 3-in-10 (30 percent) say they attend occasionally. More than 4-in-10 say they seldom (16 percent) or never (27 percent) attend. Similarly, while one-third (33 percent) of Millennials say that they pray at least daily, nearly 4-in-10 (37 percent) say they seldom or never pray. Notably, despite the fact that nearly half (48 percent) of younger Millennials report that they are living at home with their parents, Millennials who live at home are not more likely to attend religious services than Millennials overall.

The survey also offers some clues to why many Millennials are breaking away from their childhood faith, at least if they come from a Christian tradition. Younger Millennials’ feelings about Christianity are decidedly mixed. Three-quarters (76 percent) agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” and 63 percent believe that Christianity “consistently shows love for other people.” On the other hand, strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent) and “anti-gay” (64 percent).

Notably, the perception that Christianity is “anti-gay” — an attribute that strong majorities of both Christian Millennials (58 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Millennials (79 percent) agree describes present-day Christianity well — may be driving some of Millennials’ estrangement from organized religion. Last fall, for example, a PRRI survey found that nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) 18-29-year-old Millennials agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

This early adult drift away from Millennials’ childhood religion highlights a particular challenge for religious leaders, and not just in the short term. In some ways, this is not a new problem; it’s not uncommon for younger American adults to be less religiously affiliated than older Americans. However, the Millennial generation’s rate of disaffiliation is higher than previous generations at comparable points in their life cycle. It’s probable that fewer Millennials than previous generations will reliably return to congregations when they are older, settled and raising children.

If religious leaders — particularly in Catholic and white mainline Protestant churches — aren’t content to wait for the return of this generation’s prodigals, they are faced with a challenging task. The balancing act of whether and how to reshape present-day congregations to connect with a generation that remains receptive to — but also highly critical of — traditional forms of religiosity.

This article was originally published at “Figuring Faith,” Dr. Jones’ blog at the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section.

Next post in series: Millennials Receptive to but Highly Critical of Christianity, by Billy Roberts

Forget The Church, Follow Jesus: ‘Reverts’ Return to their Childhood Religions

Part 12 in series How Millennials Who Gave up  on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community

Two articles in national media today picked up on some of the same themes as  this week’s THW theme, albeit from rather different perspectives.

Forget The Church, Follow Jesus


by Andrew Sullivan

If you go to the second floor of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., you’ll find a small room containing an 18th-century Bible whose pages are full of holes. They are carefully razor-cut empty spaces, so this was not an act of vandalism. It was, rather, a project begun by Thomas Jefferson when he was 77 years old. Painstakingly removing those passages he thought reflected the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson literally cut and pasted them into a slimmer, different New Testament, and left behind the remnants (all on display until July 15). What did he edit out?

Read the whole story at Newsweek


‘Reverts’ return to their childhood religions

by Cathy Lynn Grossman

Bruce and Elizabeth Boling attend a Baptist church in Tennessee. (By Jeff Adkins, for USA TODAY )

Bruce Boling will celebrate Easter Sunday this weekend among Southern Baptists, just as he did when he prayed at a tiny Kentucky church where his family filled half the pews.

After decades away from faith, “I slowly began to see what I was missing was the relationship with God that I could find in my church,” says Boling, 45, settled in with a little Baptist congregation in Hendersonville, Tenn.

Lydia Scrafano’s heart will again thrill to hear Catholic hymns sounding on a great pipe organ, just as she did as a child in Detroit.

“I missed it all. I missed taking communion with a priest. I missed the stained glass. I missed the Virgin Mary,” says Scrafano, 55, who has reconnected with her faith through a Catholic church in Williamsburg, Va.

Like many Christians and Jews, Boling and Scrafano drifted — or marched — away from the religion of their childhood.

Then, unlike most, they came back.

Read the whole story in USA Today


Next Post in Series: New Study Reveals Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church, by Robert P. Jones, PhD

Four Reasons I Came Back to Church, by Christian Piatt

Part 8 in series How Millennials Gave Up on “Church” are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.

by Christian Piatt

Open church door photo by Nagel Photography/

I’ve written a couple of pieces lately that have gotten a lot of attention about why younger people tend to walk away from church. (If you haven’t seen them yet, here are the links: “Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church” and “Four More (BIG) Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church“)

It was suggested that I might also post a piece about why young adults come back to church. Though I can’t say for sure why ALL young adults in church do so, I can share a few reasons why I, as a young adult, went back after 10 years.

I Found A Community That Defied Christian Stereotypes

I left the church as a teenager on less than good terms. My youth leader threw a Bible at me for persisting with my questions, and the only image of Christianity I saw regularly in college was the guy in the student union standing on a box with a bullhorn, yelling at passersby about how we were doomed to hell without him.

Fortunately, I found a new community in my late 20s that represented something different. We met on Sunday evenings, gathered in the round, wore whatever we wanted and never once did I feel judged or scrutinized by the others in the group. I was welcomed for who I was, not what I could do or give, and I was included in gatherings outside the Sunday evening service as well.

I would not have even given it a try, though, had my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) not persisted in inviting me. I said no many times before saying yes, and it was only after I had seen enough evidence from her that defied my presuppositions about Christianity that I was finally wiling to see who these other people she gathered with were about. Thirteen years later, I’m a Christian author and speaker, I’ve helped found a new church and I’ve led worship in multiple congregations. Fortunately, God’s grace is more persistent and patient than the time it took for me to get over my hurt feelings and biases against organized religion.

I Found My Voice

I’ve played music most of my life, but I never thought of myself as a “church music” person. There was the traditional piano or organ music with a choir and or the breathy, synth-saturated contemporary stuff. I couldn’t play the first kind and I couldn’t stand the second. It wasn’t until a minister friend encouraged me to bring my guitar to worship one night and just share a couple of songs that were meaningful to me that something changed. A place in me that had been closed off for a long, long time cracked open and hasn’t gone dormant ever since.

I believe that God’s presence is ubiquitous but not imposing. All it takes is a small open space for the divine seeds to take root. For me, that opening was in music. I can only hope that others will have the chance to find what that space-creating thing is for them. It’s worth looking for.

I Found Deeper Meaning

One reason I was so willing to walk away from religion when I did was because there seemed to be two fundamental messages I heard, week after week. And after 17 years, that got pretty old. The two themes were:

    1. If you died tomorrow, do you know where you’d spend eternity? or;
    2. Jesus could come back any day. It could be today or even tomorrow, so you’d better get yourself right with God.

I don’t really need a church to help reassure me I have some kind of divine fire insurance policy, or that God loves me in spite of the fact that I actually suck deep down inside. I was more interested in finding deeper meaning in this life, rather than worrying so much about what comes after that.

In my decade away from church, I studied all kinds of different philosophies and religions, but I didn’t ever find the thing that helped me set my own ego aside, helped me get over myself and see that life is about more than just getting my needs and wants fulfilled. It’s a counter-cultural message, but when the “it’s all about you” commercialism begins to ring hollow, we start searching for something more. I found it in a community of faith.

I Found A Sense of Belonging

I talk to churches a lot about the difference between worship attendance, membership and belonging. Too often we see all three of these as synonymous, but they’re not. I wanted to find a group of people passionate about things that mattered to me, and who would make a space for me, regardless of whether we agreed on everything, or if I gave enough money, or if I had signed my name in some official book.

For a lot of churches, that affirmation of belonging comes after you commit to membership as part of an institution. The problem for me was that I didn’t really care about their institution; I only cared about the people. I came to understand the value of some institutions along the way, but young adults don’t inherently trust institutions the way previous generations have, and we don’t care nearly as much about preserving them either.

Had my initial experiences with Christianity after my hiatus been with groups that had nice buildings and big budgets, I might not have stuck around. The fact that they had little to offer other than themselves was exactly what I was looking for.

I’ll close this piece out with a short list of all the things that didn’t mater so much in my decision to come back to Christianity, but which many churches assume are critical to their transformation:

    • I didn’t care that much about the preaching.
    • It didn’t matter to me that there wasn’t an elaborate music program.
    • I was all right with the fact that there weren’t tons of small groups to instantly “plug in” to. In fact, I just wanted to hang out with people I liked and who cared about me.
    • I didn’t care what denomination the church was a part of.
    • I didn’t care about whether they had doctrines or creeds they all agreed on.
    • I didn’t care if the carpet was nice, the garden was manicured or the bathrooms smelled like lilacs.

All of those things are nice, I guess. I’m sure they’re important to someone. But I can hear great sermons online. I can download more great music to my iPod than I can listen to in a lifetime. I can join a fancy country club and feel like I’m a part of some fancy, exclusive group.

What I can’t necessarily get in other parts of my life is authenticity. Everything else was nice, but it wasn’t what brought me back.


Next post in the series:  The Zacchaeus Generation: Identity, Community, and Seeing, by Mike Friesen


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Four More (BIG) Reasons Young Adults Quit Church, by Christian Piatt

Part 5 in series A Place of Our Own: How Millennials Who Have Given Up on “Church” are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community

by Christian Piatt

There has been a surprisingly positive response to the article I published yesterday: “Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church.” And as I noted, it was hardly a comprehensive list. There were several others I thought were worth noting if I’d had the room, so I thought I’d continue with the same theme today.

And as I said in yesterday’s article: 

  • Although the answer(s) vary from person to person, there are some general trends that I think apply in most cases, and;
  • In the list below, when I refer to “we,” “I” or “me,” I’m referring to younger adults in general, and not necessarily myself.

#8 – We Don’t Want to Be “Talked At” Any More

There’s a very strong case that can be made for the value of sermons. Jesus did it. There are times when someone in a position of expertise has something they need to share with a group, and the best way to do it is didactically. But what if people stop listening?

I asked a friend of mine, who is a minister, if he was planning to attend an upcoming conference. He said no, not because the content was off-base, but because he said he couldn’t tolerate more passive learning environments where he sat back and was a receptacle for more information.

Our daily realities are becoming more interactive. Compare the passivity of reading your daily paper with the engagement a blog offers. We expect to be able to take part in the learning process now, rather than it being so one-sided. More churches are going with a model that reflects this, dispensing entirely with the traditional sermon. I’m not sure this is the answer, but more active engagement in one’s discipleship is a must going forward. (See, J.R. Miller’s post on Flipping Theology.)

#9 – Christians Are Seen As Hypocrites

From the scads of TV evangelists busted for impropriety to Catholic priests sexually abusing children under their care, there’s a face on Christianity in the media that says one thing and does another. Though this is hardly the baseline for all Christians, there’s a phenomenon of human consciousness that tends to seek out examples that reinforce existing stereotypes. Things that don’t align with our prejudice get filtered out. The result: everywhere we look, we see examples that reaffirm what we already thought about Christians.

This may not be fair, but it’s reality. And the only thing that tends to change a social stereotype as embedded as this one is a concerted, collective effort to break the prejudice wide open, not with a competing media campaign or by shouting louder. Rather, it happens one person, one story and one relationship at a time. It’s the same way other stereotypes are dismantled, so why should Christians be any different?

#10 – Church Seems to Lack Relevance

We are swimming in the wake of a self-help tidal wave that swept through Western culture over the past thirty years. This, combined with the custom-built media universes we’re able to construct for ourselves now, reinforce the question: How does this affect me in my life today?

But at the heart of the Christian message is a counter-cultural theme, particularly in today’s culture: it’s not all about you. This can be a tough sell. After all, who really wants to hear that it’s not all about them? And there are plenty of pandering prosperity gospel types who will opportunistically affirm that it is all about us after all.

But it’s not.

That said, we still to have to be mindful in church about waxing theological, while neglecting to identify with the humanity of the people around us in our congregations. At the heart of this connection is story. Not just telling them, but also making space for others to share theirs. And when I say “story” I’m not talking about some inspiring anecdote you plucked form a forwarded email; I’m talking about your story.

If you haven’t already, go listen to the recordings that are part of National Public Radio’s Story Corps project. It is the narrative of a culture, longing for meaning, belonging and to feel something. Church can do the same; we just don’t often enough.

#11 – Nobody Looks Like Me

A young adult commented on my first post on this subject, published on the Sojourners website, that they tried really hard in college to find a faith family that felt right. But despite visiting many churches, she said that all she seemed to find were older people, families with children and a handful of youth, but no other young adults like her. After that it didn’t matter how good the music, the sermon or the coffee were. She didn’t feel like she belonged, so she left.

This long-standing chicken-or-egg conundrum has been a challenge for churches for a long time. It’s kind of like trying to get credit when you don’t have an established line of credit. Where do you start?

First of all, you don’t start by hoping they wander in on Sunday mornings and magically feel comfortable, surrounded by people unlike them. Look into concepts like the ministry of “third spaces” meeting off-site, or spontaneously organizing “hang outs” to help people connect. But I can tell you that we don’t have to look any further than ourselves when wondering why young adults feel marginalized.

My wife, Amy, and I published a book about young adult spirituality a few years ago called “MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation (clearly and outdated title now, but what can you do?). We were frustrated when it was labeled on the back of the book as a “youth” book. Why? Because there was no such thing as a Young Adult section in most bookstores and catalogs.

Still wondering why YAs feel ignored?


Next Post in Series: 15 Reasons I Left Church, by Rachel Held Evans


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Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church, by Christian Piatt

Part 4 in series How Millennials Who Gave Up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.

by Christian Piatt

From time to time I revisit the question: why are young adults walking away from religion? Although the answer(s) vary from person to person, there are some general trends that I think apply in most cases.

In the list below, when I refer to “we,” “I” or “me,” I’m referring to younger adults in general, and not necessarily myself.

#1 – We’ve Been Hurt

I can actually include myself in this one personally. Sometimes the hurtful act is specific, like when my youth leader threw a Bible at me for asking the wrong questions. Sometimes it’s rhetorical, either from the pulpit, in a small group study or over a meal. Sometimes it’s physical, taking the form of sexual abuse or the like. But millions claim a wound they can trace back to church that has never healed. Why? In part, because the church rarely seeks forgiveness.

#2 – Adult Life/College and Church Don’t Seem to Mix 

There are the obvious things, like scheduling activities on Sunday mornings (hint: young people tend to go out on Saturday nights), but there’s more to it. In college, and before that by our parents, we’re taught to explore the world, broaden our horizons, think critically, question everything and figure out who we are as individuals. Though there’s value in this, it’s hyper-individualistic. But Church is more about community. In many ways, it represents, fairly or not, sameness, conformity and a “check your brain at the door” ethos. This stands in opposition to what the world is telling us is important at this time in life.

Perhaps an emphasis on a year of community service after high school would be a natural bridge to ameliorate some of this narcissism we’re building in to ourselves.

#3 – There’s No Natural Bridge to Church

Most teenagers leave home, either for college, to travel, work or whatever after high school. With the bad economy, this number is fewer, but it’s a general trend. But the existing model of church still depends on the assumption that communities are relatively static, and that the church is at the center of that community. Not so anymore. When I went to college, I was contacted by fraternities, campus activity groups and credit card companies, but not one church. The only connection I had with religion was the ridiculous guy who (literally) stood on a box with a bullhorn in the union garden and yelled at us about our sinful ways. I could have used support in how to deal with my own finances for the first time. I could have used a built-in network of friends. I would have loved a care package, an invitation for free pizza at the local restaurant or help with my laundry. What I got was the goof with the bullhorn.

#4 – We’re Distracted:

I shared a video by Diana Butler Bass in a recent post about a priest who took his Ash Wednesday service out onto the street. When people saw him, they reacted as if they had been shaken out of a deep sleep. “It’s Ash Wednesday!” they said with surprise as they asked for the ashes. “Lent is starting!” It simply wasn’t on their radar. It’s not that we don’t care; we have so many things competing for our limited time and attention that the passive things that don’t offer an immediate “interrupt” get relegated to the “later” pile. And we rarely ever get to the “later” pile, which leads me to the next point…

#5 – We’re Skeptical

We’re exposed to more ad impressions in a month today than any other previous generation experienced in a lifetime. I’m sitting in a hotel room writing this, and in this room (which I paid for in part to have privacy), I see more than a dozen marketing messages. If I turn on the TV, they’re there. Pick up my phone, they’re there. Online…you get the point. So whereas generations before us expended energy seeking information out, now it comes at us in such overwhelming volumes that we spend at least the same amount of energy filtering things out. This leads to somewhat of a calcifying of the senses, always assuming that whoever is trying to get your attention wants something, just like everyone else.

#6 – We’re Exhausted

I was lumped in as pat of the Generation X group, also known as the Slacker Generation. This implied, of course, that we were lazy and unmotivated. But consider how many of us go to college, compared to generations before us. And consider that the baseline standard for family economics requires a two-income revenue stream to live in any level of the middle class. Debt and credit are givens, and working full-time while also trying to maintain a marriage, raise kids, have friends and – God forbid – have some time left for ourselves leaves us with less than nothing. We’re always running a deficit. So when you ask me to set aside more time and more money for church, you’re trying to tap already empty reserves.

#7 – We Don’t Get It

Young adults today are the most un-churched generation in a long time. In many cases, it’s not that we’re walking away from church; we never went in. From what I can tell from the outside, there’s not much relevance to my life in there, and I’m not about to take the risk of walking through the door to find out otherwise.

I’ve tried to offer insight into what might be done about a few of these issues as I went, but I invite you also to sit with the tension of not having the answers. Better yet, seek some young adults out, ask them if they relate to these. And see if they have ideas about what you (maybe not even “church” but you) can do to help relieve some of the challenges.

I think the conversation that follows might pleasantly surprise you.

Next in series: Four More (BIG) Reasons Young Adults Quit Church, by Christian Piatt 


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Glee Faith Episode ‘Grilled Cheesus’ Explores Two Approaches to ‘Christian’ Faith

Glee Faith Episode “Grilled Cheesus” Explores Two Kinds of “Christian” Faith

by Gary David Stratton, PhD

I was deeply moved by Glee’s “faith” episode (“Grilled Cheesus” 10/8/2010). It was honest, awesome television, and the highest rated Glee episode of all time. I think they hit faith from nearly every possible angle: Judaism (Rachel), Christianity (Mercedes), some kind of Theism (Quinn), hedonism (Brittany), cynicism turned desperation (Puck), disappointed with God turned to atheism (Sue), narcissistic idolatry (Finn), sacred searching (Kurt), and even Sikh.

It definitely fit the broad community of postmodern tolerance show creator Ryan Murphy is shooting for. Plus, it clearly made the point that the separation of church and state is neither an excuse for ignoring the spiritual lives of teenagers, nor for allowing only anti-religious sentiment to be expressed.

I know some Christians were offended by Finn’s “Grilled Cheesus” storyline, but frankly, I thought his banal prayers were painfully close to the self-centered civil religion that often passes for Christianity in America.

While Finn prays self-centered prayers to a sandwich bearing the image of Jesus…

Worshipping God just to get what you want (a win, a girl, a job) is an all-too-common a reason to profess faith, but it has nothing to do with what Jesus taught his followers or modeled on the cross. I suspect the prophets of Israel would agree that “losing my religion” could be a good thing if it means I’m losing my idolatry.

 The episode’s moral premise rings true for people of every faith (or none): Everyone wants a direct line to God and hates the idea that we’re all floating around in space alone. But, “You’re not alone. The big questions are really big for a reason: they’re hard. But you know what, absolutely everybody struggles with them.” We all need something sacred in our life, so don’t close yourself off to a world of spiritual experiences that might surprise you.

..Mercedes respectfully invites her hurting atheist friend to her church for prayer

 Given the pain Ryan Murphy has experienced at the hands of (perhaps) well -meaning Christians, I was shocked that the episode didn’t end with a vicious attack on the church. While Kurt certainly gives voice to those wounded by organized religion, writing him into a positive experience in Mercedes’ church was, well, AMAZING!

If you can watch Kurt’s rendition of “I Want Hold Your Hand,” followed by a prophetic hand-holding in Mercedes’ dynamic Christian church with dry eyes, well, then you’re tougher than me.

…where a loving saint offers Kurt a hand to hold until his father wakes.

 In truth, I would have been disappointed if it had been a propaganda piece for or against faith. Instead it asked a lot of questions. Art is always better at asking questions than answering them. And, yes, Ryan Murphy’s questions were most prominent.

If someone from another worldview wants their questions to be the prominent ones on whatever becomes next year’s hottest show, then they’d better start working on creating something as special as Murphy’s gem.

I’m praying for them …whoever they are.