What does it mean to speak God’s truth into our culture?
This is one of the key questions facing the arts community today. As Christians, we have been called to engage our world in a manner that points back to our Creator… but how? In a world that views (and often discards) Christian produced media as “preachy” and “irrelevant,” it can be very difficult to bring glory to God in a way that speaks both truth and relevance into our world.
That having been said, one manner in which Christian media has begun to reach out to our secular world is to challenge and engage cultural values such as isolation and distorted views on gender roles that provide an opportunity for discussion. For instance, one such organization who wishes to connect with our world through films that challenge current cultural assumptions is Mission Pictures International (MPI). Joining forces with Summerside Press and its parent company, Guideposts, MPI recently announced that they have acquired the exclusive rights to the popular book series, Love Finds You, with the intent to produce multiple films.
In case you haven’t heard of this particular series, Love Finds You was launched in November of 2008. Since that time, Summerside has released two books a month, with the goal to feature at least one narrative in each of the fifty states. Throughout the series, each story focuses on a female protagonist wrestling with different issues of love and isolation within a specific local American setting, be it historical or contemporary. In fact, the series hopes to give readers a taste of local life across America so each novel draws on the compelling history or unique personality of a real place.
While each book is separate from one another in terms of characters, they find commonality in their theme. Every narrative tells the story of a woman in crisis who discovers the true value of herself and is drawn back into healthy community. While romance plays a part, it’s not the overall focus of the story.
“Yes, there is love of a man involved,” says Chevonne O’Shaughnessy, President of Mission Pictures International, “but the stories are more about a woman learning to care about herself and being drawn back into community. Then, she can find a man that is worthy of her… These stories are intended to be uplifting and inspirational.”
Although O’Shaughnessy acknowledges that the Christian market “is there,” MPI’s ultimate vision is to maximize the film’s crossover potential to a non-Christian audience. In other words, rather than narrow their focus to the faith market, their desire is to tell stories of an uplifting nature that all families can watch and enjoy. With the first film going into production next year and release expected in 2014, Mission Pictures has begun to carefully lay out a strategy to reach out to the secular market. In fact, having purchased the right to the first seven films (with an option for the remaining 52), MPI’s plans for Love Finds You are certainly ambitious in their scope.
To begin, “our plan is to release these films on both the Gospel Music and Hallmark Channels as well as through WalMart,” O’Shaughnessy states, “but there is also talk of starting our own channel in Germany where families can sit down together [in prime time].”
It’s here that my interest is most piqued. In making these films, Mission Pictures has no agenda to preach. Instead, their interest lies in teaching Christian values in a way that reaches into the stories of all people (though, admittedly, their target audience is 35-50 year old women). In doing so, these films have the opportunity to help people reimagine their view of themselves and their interaction with the world around them in light of God’s truth. This approach to engage rather than ‘preach’ shows a deep desire on behalf of MPI to interact with those that may not initially be willing to. Further, it also shows a great respect for the nature of storytelling and God’s ability to share truth through narrative.
Interestingly enough, this venture is not an attempt to usurp Hollywood either. Rather, MPI’s vision for releasing the Love Finds You series is to “make a product that the market [both US and foreign] needs.”
According to O’Shaughnessy, the market is certainly there as well.
“When my daughter was young, ABC Family used to be a place that I could let her watch and not be worried but that has changed over the years,” she argues. “Right now, television is dominated by [science fiction], action, and reality TV game shows. MIT did a study on people’s feelings as they watch certain shows. For example, when people watch Jersey Shore, do you know what they typically feel? Anger. When they watch CSI? They feel intuitive and calm… but, when people watch something inspirational, they feel love. Our vision is to tell uplifting stories.”
With this goal held firmly in view, the potential for the Love Finds You series is immense. In a society that can rob people—especially women—of their spiritual wholeness, it is important to recognize the importance of speaking to the minds and hearts of those who have been lied to by our culture. If done well, I believe that Love Finds You has the opportunity to speak truth in a way that is also relevant and counter-cultural.
That vision is something that I can support proudly… even if I’m not the target demographic.