Show, don't tell

I watched two movies recently that I highly recommend. The first is Fireproof, a movie that many of you have seen and appreciated for its straightforward message to couples to keep their marriages together. Though I recommend watching it, I am about to heap some criticism on it.

Fireproof is about a struggling marriage. The husband, Caleb, is in a rush to divorce before his father steps in with a challenge: stick it out for 40 days. Caleb accepts the challenge and begins to take steps to keep his marriage together. Caleb’s father gives him a handwritten book applying a principle of relationships for each of the 40 days. Caleb slowly starts putting his wife before himself in all areas suggested in his father’s book, learning the difficult process loving once more.

My dad and I, both writers, said that it was a good movie, but was unrealistic. (Don’t get me wrong: I still recommend the movie. It is worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.) Picture a divorced person seeing that movie. They will come out of the theater disgusted because, they would reason, it doesn’t always work to love a spouse who doesn’t love back. There was an us-vs-them thing going on, too. Caleb became a Christian in the process of his 40 days, and suddenly everything worked. All sorts of things just happened to work out, like Caleb living next to a Christian campground with scenic walks and wooden crosses.

The Christian walk seldoms works so simply. What if your spouse still divorces after your conversion, or perhaps because you became a Christian, does that invalidate Christianity? Life can be ugly, and our faith doesn’t clean it all up in a snap. The movie seemed “preachy” and I couldn’t help but wonder how non-Christians would respond to its message.

Writers differentiate between “telling” a story and “showing” it. While Fireproof walked through principles of marital relationships by “telling” them with the help of Caleb’s father and his 40-day journal, better stories will “show” the depth of truth through the actual events.

I recall a sermon by Dr. S.M. Davis years ago of when the prophet Nathan confronted David of his adultery. Nathan didn’t go to him and shout, “You are wicked to do what you did!” Instead, he told a story of a rich man with many sheep killing the poor man to take his one lamb. David became enraged at Nathan’s story, making the truth of David’s sin so vivid.

There is power in story, which is why Jesus spoke many times in parables. In the same way, movies could be written so that basic morals are “shown,” rather than merely “told.” The audience wouldn’t feel like truth was thrown in their face.

Fireproof was good, but I liked Pendragon: Sword of His Father, a movie that was made by a handful of large home-school families and lots of volunteers, better. My sister, Lydia, and I bought it for my brother’s 13th birthday, and we watched it as a family last night.

This is an ameteur movie, but the acting, score, plot, costumes, cameras, editing, sets, and choreography were surprisingly well done. Rather then sit with his friend over coffee to discuss whether God should be followed or not, Artos (the main character) refuses to choose power or riches over the lives of others. I loved princess Wenneveria, who was played by Artos’s real-life sister. Her character was another example of showing the audience clearly what a strong woman looks like. No one needed to say, “Artos is a great guy” or “Wenneveria is a great woman”; the events of the story proved it.

The old saying “practice what you preach” reflects the conflict between showing and telling. I sometimes “tell” others of my faith, making sure they know I’m a Christian by my words. Showing my faith to others must be so much more obvious. The actions I take need to say that I am humble, and I am in love with Jesus. This doesn’t mean that I’m always going to succeed at showing, but my actions are critical to reflecting Christ.

Get these movies and watch them. They’re both worth your time. You’ll see what I mean: actions speak louder than words. This reminds me of the Brennan Manning quotation used in the prelude to DC Talk’s song “What If I Stumble?”:

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

  • Emily

    Thank you for the reviews! Pendragon looks great!

  • http://deleted Kathy

    Thank You for the reviews. I didn’t know of these movies and now I will make them a must to watch! I very much enjoy reading Jueb posts :)

  • crumbsonmyfloor

    Very interesting.

    I for one, fully enjoyed the movie, Fireproof. Walked into the theater without any extra tissue and ended up using my sleeve on my coat. I know, too much information. But it was a great movie to see for me and my husband. We could relate to so many things in it.

    I can, though, see your side of it. Perhaps the movie did make it seem *all to easy*.

  • Jenny

    My kids loved Fireproof the 6-12year olds. It looks as if Pendragon would be better for older kids..teens because of the fighting? I will probably watch it first. Thanks for sharing

  • Rachel from Wisconsin

    Hi Cynthia!

    I watched Fireproof about a month ago, and now that you mention it, it does seem like it would make a different impact on Christians vs. Non-Christians. Until someone gets to know Jesus, I don’t think they understand what true love is.

    It seems many people think ‘love’ is about feeling good and satisfying something within them – they don’t realize that ‘love’ is an action; it’s something we do – not something we feel. I think the movie shows how the definition of love changed for the characters. It went from the World’s definition to God’s definition, and that saved their marriage. I’m sure many marriages would be saved if they did the same thing.

    Yes, the transformation from Worldly living to Christian living did happen quickly in the movie, and it did seem ‘preachy’ at certain points. I hope that God worked miracles through the movie all the same, and that people were led to Christ.

    As for Pendragon, it looks like it would be a great movie to watch. I pray for more movies like Fireproof and Pendragon. I’ll take a Christian-based movie over the mainstream stuff any day.

  • Kristy

    Hello Cynthia,:)

    I’m Skye.Age 15. I just wanted to say well said.You are a spledid writer and your thoghts are very wise.Thank you as well for the reviews.I had not heard of the movie “Pendragon.” It sounds and looks like it’s a good movie. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • havi

    Hey Cynthia!

    Funny thing is, that’s how I remember you too.

    Old memories die hard, eh? You should update your blog more often. Not that I have too much to say…=P

    How are you these days? I can’t even remember how old you are. I’ll be sixteen in September. If you happened to forget that about me, as well. ^_~

    btw, totally agree with you about Fireproof, here! I had a big problem with the preachiness of it. And how non-Christians would see it as just that (a stiff necked, stereotypical “Christian” approach). Hm.