10/18/2006

Lessons from Facing the Giants

For those who haven’t heard, Facing the Giants is a Christian film that has done exceptionally well in a limited release. The movie tells the story of a Christian High School football coach, who after six losing seasons is at the end of his rope; his finances are in a mess, and he and his wife are struggling with infertility.

It’s an inspirational story of a team and a man turning around. It’s a movie with an inspiring message that challenges Christians to face their own giants.

What does this have to do with Christian Speculative Fiction? I think the movie and its production can provide guidance to us.

The story behind the movie is amazing in that you consider that it was shot on a $100,000 budget, using one camera, and starring members of the Actor/Producer/Writer Alex Kendrick’s church. Yet somehow, it’s ended up in 400 + theaters across America and has already grossed nearly 30 times its budget. The movie itself was a departure from the End Times movies of more recent years. Does this movie have something to say to us? You bet.

1) Our Purpose

The movie asks a powerful question. Kendrick’s character Coach Grant Taylor asks his team what their purpose. When a player responds that the goal is to win football game, the coach responds that’s too small a purpose. He proposed that the team’s new philosophy will be honor God in all they do: on the field and off, saying, “If we win, we praise him; if we lose, we praise him.”

If our purpose is to be published or even to make money writing, we’ve missed the point. A lot of people have written books and made millions, only to be forgotten. As a poet once wrote, “Only one life, 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last.”

If our purpose is first to honor God with our writing and everything else we do, regardless of happens, we won’t fail.

2) Our Faith

The failure of Coach Taylor’s team, like that many real life high school teams, was not due to a lack of talent, but an attitude of defeat. I’ve had those job interviews where I went in sure I wouldn’t get the job and sure enough, I didn’t get it.

When you go out mentally defeated and focused on how bad you see the results being, your prophecies of failure are almost certain to be fulfilled.

Coach Taylor got his team’s focus off of the teams they were playing, off of their fear and inadequacy, and on glorifying God. God doesn’t ask that we always have great success, but rather on giving God our best.
Colossians 3:23, 24 says:
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men, knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
It’s not talking about church work. It’s talking about everything in our lives.
Why are so many pieces of Christian Fiction of low quality? We’ve all read books and wondered, how were these ever published? Some get published because an author knows that they can get away with it in the Christian market. We should never try and get by in our writing, but rather do this as unto God.
3) Leave It All on the Field
In the final game, Coach Grant encourages his team to play so that they can say years later that they held nothing back. Facing a team with more than 80 players and them having less than 30, players would have to squeeze every ounce of energy to hope of succeeding. In giving their all for God, they fought beyond what they thought was possible.
Related to the idea of doing things unto God is to hold nothing back in your writing. Think of the best way to set the scene, the best way for the plot to go. Pour yourself into your writing so that at the end of the day, whether you’re published or not, you can say you held nothing back. You made your best effort.
I think of my own writing and the movie challenged me on this point. I have a novel that I’ve been working on for four years and as best I can tell, it’s done. I’ve cut 14,000 words. I’ve re-written half the story out of first person and into third person, but I still haven’t submitted. Why not?

I could make a bunch of excuses, but the truth is that I’ve been afraid. Afraid that after all I’d done, it still wasn’t good enough. Afraid of the piece I’ve worked the hardest on being rejected. Yet, I too have got to leave everything on the field. I too have to face my giant. So, God helping me, I’m going to get this novel submitted by the 1st of December and if it’s accepted, I’ll praise him, and if it’s rejected, I’ll praise him.
4) Community

Watching the closing credits of Facing the Giants, I was stunned by the sheer number of people credited, nearly all volunteers. What had happened? Hundreds of people came together from across the church and the community to make the movie happen.
Too often, we have the image of the writer as the iconoclastic loner. Yet, the best things come from community of some sort and the success of our work will depends on friends, family, church members, our fellow writers, in short community.

It’s a biblical thing. The church is described as a “body.” A body is not a hand jiggling in the air proclaiming it’s a wonderful hand, but rather the hand doing it’s part as a member of the body. So, thus in our efforts we must pray for God to move His Church and fellow believers to support and encourage us.

5) Follow the Vision God has given you.
Kendrick, when he filmed the movie, faced skepticism from industry professionals. You don’t film movies using one camera, amateur actors, amateur crew, and end up with a movie that ends up in theaters. You don’t even sell many DVDs that way.
Yet, Kendrick practiced what he preached about doing his absolute best and a dedication for excellence, and the result was success because he kept firm with the vision God had given Him.
Oftentimes, the idea of biblical Speculative fiction will earn a sharp rebuke. Authors will be told it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done. Yet, if you can make a movie that touches the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people, and you can make a movie that in the face of the heartbreak in Lancaster is requested by community leaders in a time of citywide grief, then what can we say for mocking and discouragement?

Nehemiah, when he rebuilt the Walls of Jerusalem, faced opposition. First, they mocked them, then they threatened violence. When at last, the work looked to be prevailing, they called for Nehemiah to leave the work he’d begun and come to the Valley of Ono. Nehemiah responded, “I’m doing a great work and I cannot come down.”
So, we too, like modern day Nehemiahs, must keep at our work. Despite attempts to mock, ridicule, or intimidate, we have to keep our focus and our faith. We all have our giants to face, but if we are faithful and put our faith in the Lord, He will guide our steps and lead our efforts in the paths we must follow.

14 comments:

Dan Edelen said...

Let me start by saying I did not see the movie. I have, however, heard about the storyline from others who have.

I wonder how much of Facing the Giants mirrors the reality that most Christians face. From what I've heard, when the coach becomes a Christian, all his troubles reverse course. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

Is that the reality of becoming a Christian? Or does the movie give us a glamorized view of the Faith that sets unreal expectations?

I'm always hearing about the need for us writers to write pieces that are "grittier," so I would assume that this means that not every ending is happy.

I know a pastor who died suddenly in his thirties, and his family was left destitute.
I've known plenty of good Christians who didn't get the miracle they prayed so hard for.
I've known Christians whose churches abandoned them at the point of their greatest need.

But you don't hear those stories. When the promise comes after life is over, does that make for the same kind of story as Facing the Giants? We don't like to think that our reward will solely be in heaven and not this side of it. That doesn't sell books or movies.

Yet as writers, to be true to reality, we have to write those stories. We have to reflect Habakkuk--sometimes the fig tree does not blossom, but we rejoice anyway. That's so much harder to write. Perhaps that's why we shy away from writing those stories.

cyn said...

Adam,

I am not familiar with this movie either, but I admire how you use it to develop a focussing framework for authors (and our own project, Light at the Edge of Darkness!).

Whether or not the movie has any merit in reflecting the realities of life, I can't say . . . but I can say that your post is very uplifting!

Thank you

Andrea Graham said...

Dan, you are wrong. He was always a Christian. Go see the movie. Then try to find something to complain about, but having seen it twice, I can tell you, it'll be nit picky. The movie is NOT prosperity doctrine, unless you think 30k a year is rich? That's the most the Coach in the movie ever makes.

We ought to suport Christian filmmakers efforts against the slut of hollywood, not critize them without even going to see the movie!

No, the basic plot of the movie certainly isn't, "everything goes wrong, nothing ever gets better, and I praise God anyway" but that's not what the movie is about, nor is it what people today need. We don't need more reasons to despair. We need reasons to hope, reason to believe, reason to have faith. The painful truth is, the reason for most of the disappointments we've experienced today is a sleepy, faithless church drunk on the things of this world.

The movie is about dedicating your work--whatever it is, whether football or writing--to the Lord and giving him 110%. It's about persevering even when you're tired and the odds are overwhelmingly against you. It's about facing your giants and praising the Lord--win OR lose. Believe me, the team does just that.

He will reward that, if not on earth, then in Heaven.

the LGG ought to all go see this movie and buy the DVD. This church is doing in their industry what we seek to do for the Lost Genre. How would we feel about people knocking us without even buying the book and reading what we've actually written, but going off the word of those Satan has provoked into senselessly attacking the work of God?

Adam Graham said...

I went ahead and posted my response on my personal blog as this gets off of Spec. Fic and onto personal philosophy, plus I don't want to turn Lost Genre into a debating society.

Dan Edelen said...

Andrea,

I confess I did not see the film; I said that upfront. I am going by what other Christians have told me or what I have read in reviews, both secular and Christian. (Nor should we support bad fiction because it advertises itself as being Christian. )

Don't make the mistake of believing that just because a movie advertises itself as Christian that we MUST support it. We should support good films that hew to the reality of faithfulness, in both good times and bad. If "Facing the Giants" is nothing but happy endings, and all the bad stuff goes away, then it's not real reflection of what it means to walk out the Faith.

People don't need us to promise blue skies when rain is on the horizon. Being a Christian means being faithful when the fig tree does not blossom. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, We believe God will protect us from harm, but even if He doesn't, we praise him anyway.

We need a tougher Christian. Too many people fold when adversity does not relent. There are no formulas to tip God's hand, either. We are faithful, regardless. That's the kind of faith God wants out of us.

BTW, are you going to see the Esther film?

Andrea Graham said...

And I say again, you have no right to make any judgments on this film until you have seen it. I have and I tell you the criticism against this movie is all coming from the pits of Hell, no matter who's mouth it is in. It's a wonderful movie of faith that every christian should see that encourages people to perservere in the face of adversity. The team doesn't have a revival and suddenly everything goes their way. They change their focus and decide to praise God, win or lose, and give him all they've got. In the end, they win, yes, but only because they refused to give up and gave it everything they have. Nothing is simply handed to them on a silver platter, they have to go out and prepare their fields for rain.

Listen to me already, a major theme of the movie is precisely, "If we win, we'll praise him; If we lose, we'll praise him!"

Furthermore, we should support films, in my book, that encourage this faithless generation to actually believe in something again, especially that our God is faithful. The church will let you down, yes, and we sometimes ask admiss, but God is still faithful. Bad things are going to happen, I assure you my own fiction is replete with plenty of that. But our God is still on the throne and He works all things for good.

Haven't heard of the esther film yet. We have heard of the nativity and will probably go see that.

Andrea Graham said...

Why do we have to be like this? Why do we always have to try to convince people to write the messages we feel called to write? Why do we have to critize others called to a different field?

Dan, what we're hearing from you is a very nihilistic view that God is faithless, that he never rescuses us, we can expect to fight here on earth and never make any head way, presumably that we will only lose more ground, that god will never heal us, will never save us, or anything else he has promised to do for us on this side of Heaven. Dan, if you do not see God's promises fulfilled on this earth, it is not God who has changed, it's us.

Yes, bad things will happen. You know, in one of my novels, a character ends up raising the dead Lazarus-style, but far more characters die and await the final resurrection. Young girls suffer indignities no woman (or man) should ever have to face.

Most of the time in my fiction, God doesn't stop the bad stuff from happening. Sometimes, things plain don't make sense to us, why he saves one, but allows another to suffer.

But God still gives us beauty for ashes, just as he promised he would. He still redeems, He still brings good out of even our most painful, senseless situations.

I don't know what things you've been through, but hang in there, and trust God. The story's not over yet.

Dan Edelen said...

Andrea,

I'm troubled that you're making this personal. Making (incorrect) personal assumptions and calling me nihilistic and a perpetrator of hellish concepts doesn't go toward addressing the issue.

If you think my comments are wrong, then you're taking issue with the Christy Awards, too. What I'm saying is nothing more than what's been said at the last two keynote addresses at the Christy Awards: we need to be better than blue skies and happy endings all the time.

I recently read a novel by a Christy-Award-Winning author that was supposed to be a thriller. One of the main characters was shot and killed, and all sorts of other bad stuff happened. But in the end, not only was it revealed she wasn't dead (or even slightly hurt), but all the lead characters wound up multi-millionaires living happily ever after.

What are we telling people through our fiction? That's all I'm asking.

If every problem goes away, and people get everything they pray for, how realistic is that? How does that speak truth into the lives of hurting people? Our fiction needs to find redemption even when the ending isn't entirely happy. A spouse dies young (and isn't raised from the dead). A business fails and the owner lives with the fallout for years. An infertile couple never has a biological child. Christians MUST be able to speak to these issues with wisdom and with real answers. Our fiction must therefore do the same.

At my own church, the pastor who led that congregation before we came died at the young age of 46. Everyone thought he had been healed of his disease. Every sign showed he'd been restored. But only weeks after he returned to preaching, he suffered a severe setback and died.

The story of how that church held together after that tragedy is compelling. The story's there. It's a hard story. It's the kind of story that needs to be told BECAUSE the ending (on the surface) wasn't happy. It's a faith story, though, and people need to hear it.

Who will write that story if all our stories are blue skies and happy endings?

If what I'm writing here is nihilistic to you, I don't know what to say. You and I must live on different planets.

Andrea Graham said...

Dan, all I am doing is repeating back to you what I hear you saying so you can explain what you really mean. You honestly, to my ears, speak like someone who's faced personally, or had someone else close to him, go through a trial or sever suffering. I could see someone who lost a son or daughter to atheism over some tragedying espousing such positions, for instance.

On the web, everyone, and especialy men, wants to pretend their positions are pure logic, but in my world, our personal experiences influence our positions more.I'm always curious in that regards whatever the discussion may be, and will often say things unconsciously designed to tease that out.

And my last, and final point, is this: you write what you feel led to write. I'm sure the world does need it, especially if you end with the final reward your characters recieve in heaven rather than everything going wrong and nothing ever getting better. In my honest opinion, that will only depress, discourage, and arm atheists.

But regardless, write what God has laid on your heart. If he wants you to novelize, "When God doesn't make sense," bravo, but please don't expect him to have laid that on everyone else's heart and please don't critize your fellow workers in the vineyard for telling the stories God's laid on their hearts rather than the ones He's laid on yours.


BTW, in Heaven's Mark, the pastor's wife dies in an automobile accident at the age of 29. Oh yeah, she was eight months pregnant at the time and both stayed very dead. Her husband nearly died of a broken heart and struggled so much to keep faith he had to leave his pastorate. He recovers both in time, but he and his surviving daughter remain forever changed.

Another girl grew up in a legalized whorehouse where she was raped often over the course of ten years, and escaped only to end up in a King's harem, where she is again raped repeatedly over the course of a year. She ends up escaping and eventually marries, and God brings good out of her suffering, but she still suffers emmensely for years, even if she acts strong and won't even be emotionally honest with herself, let alone others. That emotional dishonesty on her part alone was very difficult to portray well.

In that family's history, a pastor and his wife Arielle, as well as the church elders, are all martyred, and their young daughter is kidnapped and victimized in the same place by the same person as the heroine of the main story, only Arielle's daughter gets pregnant and is later murdered, never to be heard from again.

And Arielle? She got called in the ashes of her pastors and elders, also martyred as the church stood around and watched a wicked foreign dictator burn their church to the ground. Many of her congregation abandoned the faith, but God stood with those who remained faithful despite their suffering.

And her husband, for that record, recieved his call under similar conditions, with the responsibities of the church added to his shoulders on top of a medical internship.

Yes, there are senseless tragedies in this world, and no, God doesn't always step in and make things "right" as we would like him to on this side of Heaven. Yes, we need stories that grapple with that, and we have them, the market is flooded with them, in fact. But the reality is, sometimes, God does intervene and those stories are just as valid--the bible is saturated with them--and need told as well. If you're not called to write them, that's fine, but if God has called someone else to, who are you to judge another man's servant?

And everyone who knows her well is shocked that Andrea just wrote that....

driftwood said...

Nehemiah, when he rebuilt the Walls of Jerusalem, faced opposition.

When they rebuilt the temple in Nehemiah's time, each worker had to carry a weapon while rebuilding--ready not only to finish the temple but to face their enemies while doing it.

Becky said...

Adam, I agree with Cyn. Your post is inspirational. I hope that isn't overlooked in this discussion of fiction—also important to wrestle with.

I don't know about your novel, but I think this piece, with minor adaptation, could fit for fiction writers in general. I'd encourage you to seek publication, maybe in the Christiam Communicator or some other writer magazine.

Regardless, thank you for the encouragement this is to me.

Becky

familyman said...

I just say the movie, and highly recommend the film. If Napoleon Dynamite was such a hit in the main stream cultrure there is no reason why Facing the Giants shouldn't be a huge success in a sub-culture of a post-christian nation. Perhaps this film will inspire church goers to give God the glory in everyday life. The message was clear, "with God all things are possible". The movie clearly illustrates how God is working on behalf of His children to bless them and show his strengh in our weaknesses. Great job "Facing the Giants" cast and crew!

Anonymous said...

I agree with both Dan and Andrea. The movie does seem to glamorize the Christian Faith by making everything seem like there's going to be a happy ending. However, The movie does point out that our faithfulness to God shouldn't be based on our successes. In the movie the coaches wife is unable to become pregnant. After recieveing a (-) pregnancy result, she tells God that she will still love him. Regaurdless of her situation she stood faithful to God. It is true that in the end she becomes pregnant and gets what she wants. Nevertheless, I feel that the movie does adress what the attitudes of Christians should be. Watching countless times I have seen that the movie shows that wether we win or lose we should still praise God. Even the coach expresses this concept in the movie.

Anonymous said...

Facing the Giants is the Sherwood Baptist church and Kendrick's 2nd movie venture. The first was Flywheel also seen in theaters. I discovered both movies when looking for info on Fireproof which is their 3rd movie. I borrowed the movies through the local library system. I received Facing the Giants first and began watching it when my husband came home early from a late job. I wasn't sure he would enjoy it but he was willing to watch it with me. And he enjoyed it very much. When I receive Flywheel, my husband was again off on a late job and I watched it alone. It was even more amature then Giants, yet I really liked what the movie had to say. So I put it aside a few days and asked my husband to watch it one evening he was home. And he enjoyed it. Think he even cried a little at the end (or he had something in his eye) as his dad had died a few months ago and the movie has a strong father-son message as well as how faith in God can lead you to fullfill your best potential. They use my favorite psalm 37 for guidance. I would recommend watching both Flywheel and Facing the Giants. I can't wait to watch Fireproof I have it on hold from my local library. *:)