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On fire for God

SimpsonOkay, it's confession time. My name is Jude, and this week I watched a Christian film.  
Me, who hasn't bought a Christian paperback in years. Me, who cringes every time J.John finds a new mnemonic via which to present the gospel in an engaging, accessible way. Me, who would rather be run over by a rhinoceros than called a 'Christian Writer'. How could I?  

Quite easily, as it happens.  Friends recommended it, saying, 'it sounds horrendous, but it's actually quite good.' They brought the DVD to church. We had a free Monday night. Bingo. The deed was done. 

If you haven't seen it (ha ha), Fireproof is the story of Caleb Holt, a fireman (note: God loves Real Men) whose blazing acts of heroism bear little relation to the fast-cooling ashes of his marriage. Via an experience of God's salvation, plus a book of advice entitled, The Love Dare (cue sickbag) Caleb rescues his marriage - and various helpless, flame-bound citizens along the way. 

I'll admit, the fireman thing played a large part in my willingness (in case my shallowness was in any doubt) and in that respect, the film doesn't disappoint. Kirk Cameron (Holt) is, frankly, gorgeous, especially in uniform. Especially in uniform with dirt smeared all over his face.  Especially in uniform, with a dirt-smeared face, rescuing an unconscious child from a burning building ... But where were we?   

I wouldn't feel so terrible about the whole thing if it weren't for the fact that I quite enjoyed the film. The dialogue is laboured, the plot predictable and the firemen don't remove their clothes often enough - sorry - I mean too many of the characters are cardboardy.  But Cameron is highly watchable  - yes, this time I'm talking about his acting - and there are some genuine chuckles. Plus, I loved the relaxation of being able to watch a film knowing I wouldn't have to steel myself for graphic scenes of machine-gunned carnage or abdominal blood gurgling out of still-warm corpses - though even I, marriage-blissed as I am, had to gag at the sugar-sweet, petal-strewn Renewal of Vows.

So why do I struggle with this way of making art, where artistic excellence is confidently subservient to preaching the gospel? I doubt King David's pirouettes exhibited technical precision when he danced before the Ark - nor that performing them in his Y-fronts in any way contributed to their artistic merit. But the key message is not so much David's spiritually-inspired flailings, but the responses. While slave girls cheer, Queen Michal haughtily condemns her husband for the demeaning goofiness of his artistic expression. 

I remember saying to a poet colleague once, 'When I'm really good, I'll start writing about God.' Am I more concerned with my reputation as an artiste than as a truth-speaking Christian? Is it possible that God likes 'bad' art if it has a 'good' message? Yikes. Maybe I should send Pam Ayres a 'Why Jesus?' booklet after all...