-Pastor Melissa Fain-
This is a continuing Lenten exploration of non-religious artists' take on religion.
This is how I’ve suggested one engages these meditations.
Saved- Link is to watch the movie Saved. It is free on Tubi.
About the Artist:
Brian Dannelly (1973- ) was born in Germany, and relocated to Baltimore, Maryland at the age of 11. He spent all of his American childhood deep in American religion. He attended a Catholic elementary school, a Baptist high school, and spent his summers at a Jewish Summer camp. He has his degree in filmmaking, and has had many of his short films played around the world.
About the Art:
Written alongside Michael Urban, Saved was first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and picked up by MGM/United Artists.
It tells the story of a naive girl who attends a very charismatic Christian high school. When her boyfriend confesses he is gay, she decides to sleep with him to help him be straight. When she gets pregnant, she is forced into figuring out where she belongs being a future unwed mother.
I need to give you two takes on this. The first will be my post-high school, but pre-seminary-take back when it was released in 2004. The second will be my mid-life take now.
My 2004 take: When I first watched this I was high on Jesus. I had done a Christian concert tour, taking love offerings to earn money to fix the local Church Camp. I had spent three summers at a Conference Center- working one summer in the kitchen, and the other two as Camp Staff. I had worked at two churches. One- as the Youth Director, and the other as the Youth/Choir Director. I was deep in the system.
That’s probably why I was uncomfortable with this movie. I thought it went too far. That wasn’t my experience in the Church. If it were true, it wasn’t related to me, so I could enjoy it as someone else’s condemnation.
Deep down, I already knew better.
I had watched as the church I loved told a couple I loved that they couldn’t be Elders in the church anymore because they felt comfortable enough to come out as a couple. Everyone already knew, but because they verbalized it, they couldn’t do what they were already doing.
I listened as a congregant told me they supported women in ministry, but they would never vote for one to be their senior pastor. I should have told her, “If you’re not hiring us to work in your churches, then why are you supporting us to get this very expensive education we have to pay back?” I didn’t. I wasn’t in seminary yet, and I was naive back then. I left it wasn’t going to be my experience. I was going to change the world! I could feel it.
Saved came at me with a reflection I was not ready to see. Sure it was true, but from my opinion it wasn’t my truth.
Sure, I’d seen the zealotry in the church, but it was over played for laughs. Hilary Faye was the one I knew went too far. She didn’t “get” being a Christian. That was why I decided to like this movie back in 2004. She was a cautionary tale. She was zealotry gone too far. You could be all in for Jesus, and not be Hilary.
My 2022 take: When I write that we are all part of the Body of Christ, and all issues in the Church are all of our problems, I’m always recalling this movie in my head.
The Church has become so insular. I didn’t realize how much back in 2004, but I’m well aware now in 2022.
From the mother winning Top Christian Interior Designer, to the way worship is so jarring and unrelated to the world, this movie is still relevant. Sure, there are points that speak to the late 90’s early 00’s a little better than today, but most of it is very relevant now.
How about the pastor who is more concerned with how he appeared to kids, than actually educating and helping them? He’s the one who can’t handle Dean being gay, or Mary (just a little on the nose) being pregnant. Watching this again as a middle-aged, have two kids, ordained as a pastor, adult gave me a new insight. Mary’s mother, Lillian, tries to explain to Mary why Dean was sent to Mercy House. She basically tells Mary that some problems are bigger than a person could handle. Someone else has to fix it. Yet notice it wasn’t Lillian who suggested Mercy House when it is revealed that Mary is pregnant. It’s Pastor Skip. He’s the one who doesn’t have the answers. He’s the one who can’t spiritually justify what’s happening, so it’s easier to take it away rather than deal with it. He’s putting the problem outside the cultural bubble, thus making it disappear. (Kinda like the church did with that amazing couple that came out to a community they thought was family.) His emptiness was on full display. The appearance of relatability was worth more to this community than the reality of relatability.
Then there’s the character Hilary Faye. She plays a puppet. Pastor Skip tells her to do something, and she does. This is a girl who has low self-esteem, and just wants to be part of something where she is loved and included. Pastor Skip takes advantage of that to get what he wants.
He should be the one talking to Mary and forming a relationship.
He should be the one to explain that God loves Faye even if things are not going her way.
He should be the one giving authentic lessons instead of pithy sentiments.
But he’s not.
This movie is also why I’m suddenly silent when people ask me to help them find a church.
Do you know there are people who literally walk out of the room when I go to speak? There are many more who will privately tell me they support me, but suddenly go silent when that support requires something a little more public. There are plenty of churches in my county where I do not feel the Spirit. Only 6-8 years ago I listened as a local associate pastor explained that she didn’t go to community pastor meetings because they literally laughed her out of the room! If you like what I’m saying, there is nothing in this county for you. Not really. Sure, there are places you can go into their cultural bubble and fit right in. Just remember you have to leave me and anything I say outside the door.
How does Saved preach the Word of God to the people of God?