In our discussion with actor Erin Bethea last night on Catch Radio, we talked about the gratuitous use of sex, violence and profanity in much of Hollywood filmmaking. The definition of gratuitous is something uncalled for or lacking good reason. It’s something thrown in to the story to add a little spice, but it’s not essential to the story line. For instance, a passionate kiss might serve the story just as well as a nude love scene, in some cases, maybe better.
That is actually something you can discover in older films that used restraint. The sexual tension that builds in these films conveys, in most cases, more power than a blatant love scene.
In the 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, the mere touch of each other’s hand at the end of the movie is all the sex we need to see. The touch carries all the power necessary to serve the story, and it says they’ve told the story well. There was even reference made in the film to the 1957 movie An Affair to Remember when Hollywood used to stimulate our imagination instead of do everything for us.
In the same way, however, I wonder if Christian art, movies, and songs might fall prey to gratuitous faith, or at least unnecessary symbols of faith or known Christian phrases or propositions to indicate that this is Christian product. Often it’s put there to reassure Christians that this is not Hollywood, but if it is not integrated into the depth of the story, it will seem unrealistic, even unnecessary.
I think sometimes this can be true in real life. Sometimes I think we feel obligated to speak about our faith when our whole life is already telling the story. Like a friend of mine used to say, “Why be cute when you’re already beautiful?”
In the early days of Christian music, it wasn’t enough to have a song about a dad loving his child, there had to be something biblical or something about Jesus or God in it to indicate it was a Christian song worthy of being on a Christian album. As if loving your family wasn’t Christian enough.
This is certainly not to say we don’t talk about our faith at the appropriate times (usually when someone asks us), but if faith is an add on, it’s better left off.
Faith doesn’t have to be pointed out if it is integral to a person’s whole being. You don’t have to raise a little flag when it’s time to announce you are a born-again Christian. Faith that is necessary will spill out of the natural human need in our lives for God, for love and for forgiveness. If it’s real, the touch will be good enough. If it’s not, preaching will be superfluous. If you need to be saved every day, the gospel will flow out the present realities of your life; if you were saved years ago, it will be gratuitous when you talk about it.