And for years, well into my early adult years, I would have let those flaws prevent me from experiencing their valuable truths. That’s because teachers and preachers and other judgmental authority figures had quoted this text:
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8
Then they would hammer away at the flaws–whatever was not the purest of the pure, etc. Only as I grew older did I realize that nothing human can withstand such examination. Even the Bible contains episodes that are quite repulsive.
And, like many other scriptures, one day I actually read it. No, you know what I mean. We all have a habit, with texts we know well, of reading the first couple of words, and then sort of mentally rattling off the rest. We read or say the words, but don’t really process them.
It reminds me of my sister singing “Jesus Loves Me” in Korean. She learned it from a missionary at a campmeeting years ago, and can still sing–well, the syllables, anyway. I mean, she doesn’t actually speak Korean, and would be hard pressed to even identify any single Korean word.
We all tend to do that. “God so loved theworldthat-hegavehisonlybegottenson- thatwhosoeverbeliev-ethinhimshould-notperishbyt haveeverlastinglife.” I know I do this. I know because when I actually read one of these too-familiar passages I always learn something, see something which was always there, but I glossed over before.
So, one day I actually read the Philippians passage, and saw that it had been used backwards all those years. “If there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Instead of pointing out and dwelling upon the great things, wonderful truths, and well-written passages, people were dwelling on (often very small) flaws.
Now, I’m not suggesting we go sorting through the sewer looking for chips of diamonds. Far from it. Remember, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of the original films mentioned. There may be some stellar acting and wonderful cinematography in that film, but I will never know, for I will never verify those facts–if facts they are–for myself.
And there may be some films, or books which certain individuals should stay away from. Just as alcoholics need to stay away from places where alcohol is served, there may be some who need to avoid certain types of stories.
For myself, if I’m unfamiliar with a certain story or storyteller, I may read reviews by sources I’ve come to trust. That has led me to many treasures I would have ordinarily avoided. For example, I was seriously turned off by the title, and the publicity surrounding the 2003 film Bruce Almighty. But someone I had confidence in suggested I watch it.
Now, it’s not a film for everyone. Some will find it’s very honest portrayal of postmodern life objectionable. There is bad language, which makes the main character very real. In fact, he’s not a nice guy. And when invested with God’s powers, he uses them selfishly–which makes him more real. But that leads to a scene which exemplifies conversion as well as anything I’ve ever seen or heard:
You may want to quibble about fine theological points, especially in the second half of the scene. But I ask myself, is this mainly teaching about the state of the dead? Or is it teaching about what conversion is? Not only what we say, but–and here’s where the second half comes in–how we perceive and relate to the world differently. Before, Bruce would have wanted his girlfriend back no matter what. Now, he focuses on her happiness. In my opinion, this scene gets basic Christianity just right–and effectively communicates it to a contemporary audience. That’s good. Very good. And so that’s what I’m going to dwell on.
So, as a general rule, I go with the preponderance of the evidence. If the film or book is on the whole positive, and it tells Truth, I am in favor of it. If it’s on balance mediocre or not good, I don’t have time for it.
I may be wrong. I’m willing to discuss it. But I’m not into nitpicking, or magnifying of small flaws. Where there is virtue, where there is excellence, ans where I see things praiseworthy, I’m going to dwell on those things.