Photos from the movie Shooting the Prodigal courtesy of Belltower Pictures.

Photos from the movie Shooting the Prodigal courtesy of Belltower Pictures.

LAUGH AND LEARN

Comedy leads to faith beyond cultural blind spots

Not all movies made by Christians are typical “Christian movies.”

One is a 94-minute documentary that includes raw footage from the battlefield. It’s about life and death and ministry among brave, young soldiers who put it all on the line. And, most importantly, it is about their needs for personal engagement upon returning from battle.

The other is a full-length movie that uses comedy to shed light on the struggles of churches to move beyond self-preservation and common assumptions about those who are different.

The “outside influence” feared the most, the film suggests with a good blend of honesty, humor and hope, just may be the expression of grace most needed.

While Hollywood has found a market for “Christian movies,” not all filmmaking by Christians fits the familiar stereotype. These two productions are prime examples.

Are Christians judgmental hypo-crites? “Some are and some aren’t.”

That’s what a young Jewish film major from New York City, who comes South to help a Baptist congregation make a movie, learns in the comedy Shooting the Prodigal.

And the Baptist church that ventures into filmmaking has some tough lessons to learn as well, mainly: Those we fear may be those who teach us best.

All the elements are there: from a pompous but insecure pastor struggling under the shadow of his late revered preacher-father to the church power-brokers who can’t see faith beyond the offering plate.

prodigalThere is the cast of characters found in every small town, and the wonderful Southern talent for ignoring the sociological shifts that ensure tomorrow will not look like yesterday.

David Powers retired a couple of years ago as associate pastor for communication at First Baptist Church of Richmond, Va., and began setting up a nonprofit, faith-based film company called Belltower Pictures. Shooting the Prodigal is the company’s first feature film.

Powers, the writer and director, said the project began with the idea of doing a modern-day version of the Prodigal Son. But others were doing that, he discovered.

Someone suggested focusing the film instead on a church deciding to shoot a film about Jesus’ well-known parable and the lessons that might be learned in the process. That story developed in a way that lent itself to some very humorous yet insightful moments.

The film reveals the tendency of conservative Christian congregations to choose isolation over engagement with those they see as different — and as sinful.

The storyline brings together a diversity of people who otherwise would have never shared their lives so closely. In the process they learn lessons such as: The one who calls for conversion just may be the one most in need of it.

This is observed when the pastor’s college-aged daughter (“Emily”) tells “Bro. Bob” boldly: “You preach love and acceptance but don’t even know how to love someone who doesn’t agree with you.”

But her fatherless friend “Josh” admonishes: “He may not be perfect, but at least he’s here.”

It is a comedy about finding fresh faith beyond cultural blind spots — and how humor can heal hypocrisy.

Often congregations and communities need a little upheaval such as this. As eccentric old “Fred,” with his ever-present pet goat “Gracie,” put it: “It’s the most life I’ve seen around here in 20 years.”

The film offers healthy, self-deprecating humor for Christians who might take themselves too seriously — along with a large dose of hope for those who want the church to fulfill its mission of love and grace.

A discussion guide will assist those wanting to explore the issues raised by the film in a way that tickles the funny bone while poking the soul. To see the trailer and learn more about the movie, visit shootingtheprodigal.com. NFJ

The film offers healthy, self-deprecating humor for Christians who might take themselves too seriously.

Story By John D. Pierce