Silence and the Price is Right
A parable about the Price is Right and why their should be more films like Silence (2016) in the Christian discussion.
There was a boy who watched taped episodes of the Price is Right every evening. He lived a sheltered life with his mother, and these tapes were the only media he was allowed to consume.
But his Price is Right experience was different than the rest of the world because the boy only saw winners. Each night he watched contestants spin the wheel and hit 100, play Plinko and win a car, then win the grand prize with confetti falling from the sky.
This odd viewing experience occurred because his mom wanted her son to be a winner! To reinforce this trajectory, she taped over any time a contestant lost and only showed her son the edited episodes... meaning the son never saw anyone lose... ever!
This went on and on for many years until one day his mother died. This forced the boy to leave the house and see the world that was kept sheltered from him. First on his agenda was a visit to the Price is Right.
He showed up unprepared but by some miracle, he got into the taping. Then by some even greater act of divine providence, he was called from the audience as the first to play.
His thousands of hours watching the show gave him an advantage in this first round and he used it to guess the price exactly right. Next, he was asked to spin the wheel.
As he stood looking at the colorful numbers, the host gave his speech about probability and luck, but the boy didn't listen. He knew all the other numbers were just there for show. Once he finished talking, the host asked him to spin the wheel.
The boy stepped up, took a deep breath and spun the wheel!! The numbers went round and round and round and round... A smile rested on his face until the spinner passed the magical 100 and landed on a 7.
He stood there shocked, but he knew he had one more try. All he needed was a 93... but instead he spun an 11...
The shock settled in as he was escorted to the side of the stage. Later in the show he had another opportunity to spin but again, he fell drastically short.
The boy left the show that day confused and dejected. As he walked to his lonely home, two questions continually occurred in his head:
"What is wrong with me? How can I be the only person who has ever lost?"...
And the even worse thought:
"Has everything I've ever known, everything I've ever strived to be been a lie?"...
This is a sad story that thankfully didn't really happen, yet I believe this is something we all regularly go through in adulthood: the realization that the truth we think we know, has actually been filtered to a point that it no longer resembles the world we regularly experience.
This happens with everyone, especially when we are young. I have a two year old daughter and there will absolutely be things I keep from her until I think she is ready. It's part of growing up, but if this filtering continues over an entire lifetime, the results can be devastating.
For me right now, this issue is most clearly exhibited in the church world. This refers to how information is filtered to be presented from stage, from conversational taboos at small groups, and most importantly: MEDIA.
I used to work full time at a church of 4,000 weekly attenders. My job was to write, shoot, and edit videos to play online and in service every weekend. I sat in countless creative meetings where we brainstormed ideas for people who had testimonies we could shoot. (Testimonies are true stories shot in documentary style showing how God has worked a miracle in someone's life.)
During this time, my wife worked for a large Christian broadcasting company, on one of their most popular shows. Her job was to produce testimonies as well. (But she had a crew, budget, and time :).
In both of our situations, we encountered something odd. The only testimonies ever approved were the ones that ended very positively and I mean very positively: a miraculous healing, a marriage completely restored, or a financial blessing coming out of thin air.
We made hundreds of these videos and I truly believe they are great. We should absolutely be shouting the goodness of the Lord from the rooftop and these positive stories are a way to do that... but are we screwing up if these are the only stories we tell?
The Bible is full of tales where God was faithful but the ending was tragic. Think about it, all the disciples were either killed or exiled for their faith. These stories would not fly in our current Christian culture. I could just see my pastor now telling me I can't do that story on Peter because he was about to be crucified, or I can't interview Moses because he didn't make it to the promise land.
Faith doesn't always look like victory, the Bible makes that very clear, yet in the Christian world, victories are the only tales allowed to be told. At what point does this well-meaning filtering of the gospel turn into propaganda? Why can't we tell the story of someone leaning on the Lord during their struggle with sickness even when the disease continues getting worse?
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul writes:
"I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
THIS, this is a story the current Christian culture would never create and if it was told by some miracle, no one would share it.
It is as if the public relations and marketing mindset has seized Christianity and convinced everyone that "happily ever after" is the only ending you can show.
I have seen countless consequences of this with my friends and family: when their relative isn't healed from cancer or their porn addiction refuses to go away, they are left asking the exact same things: "What is wrong with me? Do I not have enough faith? OR Has everything I've ever known, everything I've ever strived to be been a lie?"
There are a few shining exceptions to this filtered down media approach, but they are rarely seen and never championed. One such example is Martin Scorcese's Silence (2016). This film was his passion project and tells the true story of Jesuit missionaries in Japan. It is not an uplifting film in the typical way. After two and a half hours of watching these men be beaten, locked away, and forced to watch their friends brutally killed... these priests abandon their faith. It asks questions no one is allowed to ask in church by telling a TRUE story that no one is supposed to tell. And the viewing experience was painful, confusing, and absolutely beautiful.
It gave a fleshed out version of faith, one that didn't pretend to have all the answers but focused on real faith. Because of this approach, the movie was all but ignored by Hollywood and the churches.
This entire post came from a conversation I had with a Christian mentor of mine. I asked him to watch the film and he came back very troubled. He didn't like it, yet we had as deep of a conversation as we have ever had. We asked questions without finding answers and left being content.
There needs to be more films like Silence (2016), more stories in Christian faith that haven't been filtered through a "feel good machine", because unless that happens, young Christians are going to keep walking away from their faith experience asking why they have been told lies.