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Jonathan's Resource Ezine

Weekly Resources, Ideas and Articles from The Source for Youth Ministry
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

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Featured Article: This Weekend, Christianity "Dissed" and "Given Props" at the Box Office-"Saved" and "Raising Helen" Reviewed

This Friday two films are hitting the box office with Christian pastors as lead characters. One film portrays Christians in a positive light, the other in a negative light.

Some say both are worth seeing. I guess that depends on what "worth seeing" means. One film is really enjoyable, the other was intriguing, but left a sour taste in my mouth.

I'll start with the one that makes Christian's look bad. Here's my two cents:

Saved (2004)
Directed by Brian Dannelly
Starring Mandy Moore, Jena Malone and Macaulay Culkin

The tagline for this film is "Heaven Help Us!" I agree ... but I'm not sure the film does.

I don't think the creators of "Saved" intended to poke fun at Christianity ... just at Christians. But can we blame them? Gandhi himself looked into Christianity and concluded, "I like their Christ, but I don't like their Christians." The sad truth about the movie "Saved" is, the film doesn't represent Christ at all, but it very accurately represents America's perception of Christians.

It's interesting to see the polarized reactions to this film. In general, people outside the Christian community seem to be amused by the film. "I sent my kid to one of those Christian schools and it was just like that," one reviewer contended. "That's exactly the way those Jesus lovers are, condescending and hypocritical."

The Christian community, in general, is not amused. I guess the joke isn't so funny when the joke's on us.

The film's setting is an almost all-white Baptist high school where an elite group of self-righteous Bible-thumpers is the popular crowd, and a handful of "sinners" are the outcasts. Our introduction to the school is its opening rally introducing us to Pastor Skip, whose hokey gangsta approach, "Are you down with the G.O.D.!" works on this group of Jesus freaks. I wish I could say this mockery of a Jesus pep rally was ludicrous, if I hadn't witnessed actual events like this myself numerous times.

The "good guys" in the film are the rebels who don't buy into the whole Jesus thing. Mary (Jena Malone) has a vision from Jesus to "do anything" to save her friend Dean from being gay. So Mary has sex with him, hoping to cure him from his gayness, only to find herself pregnant and feeling very alone. But she is befriended by two "non-believers," Cassandra, a Jew, alienated for her rebellious attitude and unbelief, and Roland (Macaulay Culkin), the handicapped brother of the head Jesus freak Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore).

The "bad guys" are - you guessed it-the people who are supposedly completely sold-out to Jesus. Tammy Faye ... I mean, Hilary Faye is the leader of the self-righteous clich? of Jesus freaks. She parades the halls talking about Jesus loudly, prays publicly for the less fortunate, and condemns sinners, constantly reminding them of their need to accept Jesus into their heart.

So is the film anti-Christian or not?
We would gain a little insight if we started watching the film from the ending credits. In the credits, we'd see the special thanks to George H. Smith for his book, "Atheism: The Case Against God." Ironically, the film isn't "anti-God." It's just anti "Jesus-freak." The film actually ends with the main character Mary concluding, "Life is not this random. There had to be a God or something out there. Something inside. You just had to find it." The film seems to convey that there is something or someone out there watching out for us, but it's probably not anything that these Bible Thumping Baptists push on you. "You just have to find it" yourself, a popular notion in the new millennium. "God is okay-but just don't tell me I have to go to a certain church, read the Bible or give up sleeping with my boyfriend." Mandy Moore summarized it well when she talked about her role in the film. "I have faith. It only becomes cultish when people start to think that their way is the only way. I feel bad for Hilary Faye-her whole identity is her relationship with Jesus." (Mandy Moore, Teen Vogue, May 2004, p. 118.)

I think the main reason I disliked the film was the absence of even one redeeming Christian character. Everyone in the film who was "committed to Jesus" was self-righteous and a hypocrite, something Jesus himself didn't stand for. The only likable characters in the film were those who didn't buy into the whole Jesus thing. Even Pastor Skip, who had a few good moments, lacked integrity in crucial scenes of the film. Not only was he in an inappropriate relationship with Mary's mother, he cast judgment on others who were sinners just like him. One such moment was when a group of gay students tried to come to the prom and Pastor Skip didn't allow them in. "There's no room for moral ambiguity here," he declared, living a secret life that was just as morally ambiguous.

In addition, this film bearing the title "Saved" lacked any glimpses of anyone truly becoming saved. The rally in the beginning of the film had a moment where Pastor Skip simply asks, "Does anyone need to be saved?" No Gospel message, no sign of a changed heart or a changed life, but "do you want to come forward and be saved ..." whatever that means.

I guess if I had to choose something positive about the film, it would be that it was a great modern-day picture of the Pharisee's. Hilary was always quick to announce someone's need for Jesus. When told to show compassion to Mary, she engaged in a drive-by exorcism, trying to remove the evil from her. Earlier in the film Hilary publicized Dean's homosexuality on fliers throughout the school, calling a "prayer meeting" for him, a front for her own self glorification. And at the end of the film, she was so mad at the group of "sinners" that were ruining her school, she secretly vandalized the school attempting to get Mary and the others in trouble, perhaps like the Biblical account of the religious leaders who framed the adulteress woman in John chapter 8.

Despite strong performances and decent filmmaking, I can't say I enjoyed the film. I wouldn't show it to my kids, and I wouldn't recommend that youth workers show it to their students. The films poor generalizations and inappropriate content outweigh any redeeming lessons on "how not to act."

But it is probably a film youth workers should see, just to see how we, as youth leaders and Christians, are perceived.

Raising Helen (2004)
Directed by Garry Marshall
Starring Kate Hudson, John Corbett and John Cusack

Helen is a young professional who loves her glamorous job and her life as successful single woman. But her life is turned upside-down when her sister and brother in law die in a car accident, leaving Helen as the guardian of their three kids, Audrey, Henry and Sarah.

It sounds like a tear jerker, huh? No worries. Put your Kleenex box away, because even though "Raising Helen" touches your heart, it is a fun film that keeps you laughing throughout.

"Raising Helen" shows how everything can change in a split second. The same Aunt Helen who was just congratulating her teenaged niece about her first fake I.D., is suddenly thrust into the role of care-taker and disciplinarian. What once was all fun and games turns into "Do your homework," "Stop fighting," and "No, you can't go to the dance with him!" Helen used to be able to fly out of town for work on a whim. But now, "who would watch the kids?" Helen struggles to find a mom-friendly career, and struggles to find the balance between the love and discipline.

But "Raising Helen" does something else. The film takes a road rarely traveled in Hollywood today, introducing the most unlikely of helpers to aide Helen (unlikely to this generation anyway), a pastor. Released on the same day as "Saved," a movie portraying Christians as anything but caring, "Raising Helen" actually shows the church to be a safe and caring place.

John Corbett plays Pastor Dan, the pastor/principal of the elementary school where Helen brings the kids. Pastor Dan takes a liking to Helen and the kids. A romance springs up, one that doesn't spring them into bed, a rare omission in today's films. And Pastor Dan isn't rigid, snobby or condescending, he's likable and down to earth.

I'm always a little scared to see how the big screen will represent a pastor or the church. You usually find one of two extremes. The first is the typical hypocritical, judging role often represented in films such as "Saved." The second extreme is the role of the pastor who would be cool in the world's eyes, but lacks Biblical character. Such was the example of Matthew McConaughey's role of the "man of the cloth without the cloth" in "Contact," where he hopped in bed with Jodie Foster faster than he could have prayed the Rosary.

But Pastor Dan is a character that secular audiences will like. When the kids first arrive, Henry asks Pastor Dan, "So what's the Lutheran take on the afterlife? Heaven? Hell?" Pastor Dan warmly responds, "Yeah, we're pretty old-school around here." And "old-school" isn't a negative term to today's generation; it's a word that means "classic," "old, but good." This Lutheran school/church is one that you would actually feel comfortable attending.

Most Christians will like him too (aside from one joke he makes about dirty movies). He was real, the kind of pastor you'd want in your kid's school. And let's face it, it's not often we see a Christian portrayed in a good light in Hollywood.

Should Your Whole Family See it?
As always, I recommend you check out to review the content so you can make your own decision. Although the film is very clean by today's standards, it has a few things you should be aware of. Before the catastrophe happens, we see Helen bring her date home, make a comment about getting his clothes off, and they disappear into her apartment. And a few cuss words are littered throughout the film, the worst being the boy loudly declaring that they are in "deep sh**." But if you let your kids see "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," you'd probably let them see this.

The film has a good message and I recommend that parents see it. It will stir up good discussion about the balance between being a "friend" and a "disciplinarian" with your children.

The movie will be in theatres this Friday, May 28th.


Something You Can Use: More New Movie Reviews on our Movie Review Page: Troy, Ella Enchanted ...

You've already seen our "VIDEO CLIP IDEAS" page (CLICK HERE), giving you ideas to kick off discussion in your ministry. But that page doesn't talk much about whether films are worth watching. Jonathan is now providing another resource at THE SOURCE. He's now launching the MOVIE REVIEW page (CLICK HERE), where upcoming movie and video releases will be looked at, from the perspective of a youth worker and a parent.

Jonathan studied film and video production in College before he went into youth ministry. Since then, he has used his knowledge of film in his ministry, not only making video shorts, but staying current with what teens are watching. He loves film and has used it for years as a tool for understanding and reaching unchurched teenagers.

THE SOURCE's new movie review page will keep us up to date on how films will affect our culture, and what films have good messages, bad messages, or in many cases, should be avoided all together.

This week Jonathan reviewed "Troy," "Ella Enchanted," "Saved," and "Raising Helen."


Coming Next Month: Our New "Growth" Curriculum page

You've seen our "TOPICAL CURRICULUM" page on our web site. This page has always had two choices, "OPENERS," which are discussion openers, and "OUTREACH AGENDAS," which are complete agendas for your outreach program.

But what about your "GROWTH" program?

OUTREACH AND GROWTH are two different things. OUTREACH PROGRAMS have the goal of attracting kids that don't know Jesus, and pointing them toward him. These programs will have basic Gospel messages and opportunities to respond in a commitment to Him. GROWTH programs have the goal of helping your Christian kids grow and draw closer to God.

Next month, we will be launching our GROWTH PROGRAMS page, under "Topical Curriculum." Our goal is that this page will provide FREE quality discussion ideas, small group questions and content you can use for your weekly GROWTH program.


Find more outreach curriculum and student leadership
curriculum in the three books available on our
"Only Page With Resources For Sale"

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