Grace Unplugged: Creating Art out of Personal Pain.

One of the questions I get as a writer is: where do I get my ideas? I find it a difficult question to answer, because some of my stories are grounded in deep personal pain that I have no wish to discuss with the wider world. Usually, I give some lame answer about “not really knowing.”

A few weeks ago, I went to the press junket for Grace Unplugged. One of my fellow journalists asked, “Was Grace Unplugged inspired by a real story?” A very natural question, and one I assumed would be answered with, “Yes, there was this one particular star who…” (And, no, not Miley, as this film was done way before she shook her rump).

Instead, director Brad Silverman said, “Actually, one of the producers, Russ Rice, had a daughter run away seven years ago. She decided not to embrace the faith of her childhood. Grace Unplugged started taking root in my mind when I saw them (Russ and his wife) struggle with a tremendous sincerity of the heart. This is a big issue in churches today – kids growing up, struggling to make their faith their own.”

The movie plays out this pain in very moving ways, exhibiting the hardship when kids walk away from their parents, and from God. Grace Unplugged dares to raise the question of why this happens; a question often avoided in church circles. There is too much pain there for polite dinner conversation.

Why is it so painful?

The main reason is that such questions often have no easy, ready made answers. As a person who grew up and worked in the church, I could tell many stories of friends and family who left the faith for various reasons. None of them are the same.  As I wrote in my article on Miley Cyrus, sometimes kids leave because of the utter hypocrisy of their church environment. Other times, the kids leave for their own selfish reasons that make sense to no one but themselves.

In college, my professor talked about the “three circles of belief,” in regards to what would cause him pain if proven “not true.” On the outer circle, he said, “My belief that the Georgia Bulldogs are the best football team ever.” He pointed out that you could disprove this very easily, and it really wouldn’t cause him much pain. The next level is the family, and then the inner circles are the foundational beliefs we hold in the deepest part of our hearts. Here, my professor believed, is where we can be hurt at our deepest and most profound levels. We want loved ones to hold to the same beliefs we have, not out of fear as some would think, but because it’s one of the ways we are bound to those closest to us.

Imagine, then, if someone close to you just rips up that thread of connection, the thing that bonded you together as people. Imagine this person doing it without any warning or indication there was a problem. How would you deal with the pain it causes?

In the case of Grace Unplugged’s producer and director, they created a movie to sort through the questions; a very artistic thing to do. But, it’s also very difficult, as your heart is out there for the world to see.

You may see Grace Unplugged and disagree with the filmmaker’s approach to answering the question of what happens when kids leave the church. I did. But, I applaud them for at least having the courage to raise the question in a public form, using their own personal pain to do so.

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, will be released Fall 2013 in book outlets everywhere.


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