The Legion of Decency

People who know me well know that I’m a bit of a cinephile, a film buff. Although I’m not completely sure where my love of film came from, I know that I’ve passed it on to my kids, for better or worse. I may or may not have been a little more liberal in my permission of what my kids have seen than my own parents were for me.

The other evening, my boys and I were watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Unprompted, my oldest announces to me, “These filmmakers are better Christian filmmakers than Christian filmmakers are. People playing God and paying the price.”

It was a moment of pride for me. He’s obviously picked up on my disdain for sanitized storytelling in the form of the Christian market. I’m convinced that Christians have a tendency to whitewash things and offer storybook versions of reality rather than embracing the difficulties and challenges of life. I’m all into fantastic storytelling, but when those fantasies are depicted as reality, I struggle.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had some challenges in my life. Maybe it’s because I like to call the elephants out in the room. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of false prophets portraying the Christian life as easy and full of rainbows and unicorns. Whatever it is, I’m tired of that sanitized storytelling.

When I was a teenager, I was a big Stephen King fan. My fandom has been tempered in my adulthood, mostly because I haven’t had the bandwidth to read very many 500+ page books. His book “On Writing” made an impression on me in my own writing and how I look at art. He comes to a place in that book where he speaks of the Legion of Decency and how some writers, for the sake of said league, sanitize their dialogue at the sacrifice of realism. In fact, he writes, “The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest….”

When I read those words, something clicked within me and I realized why I had struggled with so much of what had been labeled “Christian fiction” or “Christian film.” While I struggled with the storytelling a little, I struggled more with the lack of three dimensional characters. As King says, when your character hits his thumb with a hammer, he probably doesn’t shout, “Oh, sugar!” There may be certain characters that do, but if we’re honest, that’s not really being honest.

I’m not advocating for letting kids watch movies with objectionable material just because those films let their characters be true. Parents can choose what’s appropriate for their kids to watch. As my mom always used to say, I don’t have to subject myself to that kind of language.

I agree, Mom, but I also don’t have to pretend that language doesn’t exist. Sometimes people swear. Sometimes those people happen to be Christian, too.

I recently read a book, a tribute to Madeleine L’Engle. It was such a fascinating read to me because people just didn’t know what to do with her. To Christians, she was too secular. To secularists, she was too Christian. She wasn’t a fan of the line between sacred and secular and so she chose to not adhere to that line. She blurred that line, not in an irreverent way, but in a real and honest sort of way. Her faith came through in her books, but she didn’t sacrifice her characters or her storytelling simply because of her faith.

I guess that’s kind of the heart of what frustrates me. Can’t we just have storytellers who happen to be Christians? Can’t we have musicians who happen to love Jesus? Why do we have to throw the Christian label on everything so that it can be approved by the Legion of Decency?

Frankly, the Legion of Decency has never done me any favors. It didn’t change the fact that my mom got cancer that killed her and my dad died of a broken heart, both literally and figuratively. It didn’t change the fact that my heart was impacted by a virus I had when I was in high school. It didn’t change the fact that one of my best friends lost his little boy at six months to cancer or that a relative delivered their first child stillborn. So, whether the Legion of Decency likes it or not, I honestly say that those things all suck.

That’s why I hold on to hope in something other than what I see around me. But just because I have that hope doesn’t mean that I have to sanitize everything else. The less sanitized that we admit things are, the more awesome that hope comes across. And I really think that hope is awesome, something far beyond anything I could conjure up on my own, and if we’re really honest, the story of how we gain that hope might fly in the face of the Legion of Decency.

 

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