Sour Notes: Blue Like Jazz

Sour Notes: Blue Like Jazz March 22, 2012

Not surprisingly, the customer-funded movie Blue Like Jazz now touring the country is already creating a fuss within certain conservative circles.

Steve Taylor, the movie’s director, took to the show’s official site on Tumblr to explain the most current tift. Taylor’s essay was also posted on author Don Miller’s site. Taylor says the Christian Movie Establishment, (represented by the Kendricks Brothers, producers of the wildly popular Fireproof) , are out to get him and Don and their movie.

For proof, Taylor offers up:

The Executive Pastor of Sherwood Baptist (where the Kendricks Brothers movies are produced) issued what amounts to a fatwa against Blue Like Jazz when he made it known that nobody who worked on our movie would be allowed to work with them in the future.

I’ve had instances where I felt like somebody issued a fatwa against me. It’s hurtful. I’m sure Steve Taylor and Don Miller must be exhausted by now. Touring isn’t as glamorous as it seems. So maybe we ought to overlook the fatwa remark by Steve, which is both an unfortunate and inflammatory word choice. Perhaps we should take it with a grain of salt, and mark it up to passion gone astray.

But I read something by C.S. Lewis tonight that I found fitting. Lewis was speaking to the notion of creativity:

The rules for writing a good passion play or a good devotional lyric are simply the rules for writing tragedy or lyric in general: success in sacred literature depends on the same qualities of structure, suspense, variety, diction and the like which secure success in secular literature. And if we enlarge the idea of Christian Literature to include not only literature on sacred themes, but all that is written by Christians for Christians to read, then, I think Christian Literature can exist only in the same sense in which Christian cookery might exist… That is to say, its choice of dishes would be Christian. But there could be nothing specifically Christian about the actual cooking of the dishes included. Boiling an egg is the same process whether you are a Christian or a Pagan. In the same way, literature (or in this case a screenplay) written by Christians for Christians would have to avoid mendacity, cruelty, blasphemy, pornography, and the like and it would aim at edification in so far as edification was proper to the kind of work at hand.


Don’t you just hate it when the people you admire get to fighting over how to boil eggs?

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  • Anonymous

    I appreciate your push back at the word “fatwa.” I flinched at that word choice but couldn’t find a kind way to challenge it. You did.

  • Thing about it is: yeah, I don’t like that this is an example of Christians not getting along, in a public forum so that others can watch.
    Having said that, Taylor’s piece did a great job of summing up the narrow criteria that many Christians expect from their “Christian movies”. Your quote from Lewis, which i had not yet seen before, reinforces that. Christians should not accept mediocre movies or music, simply because it carries a label of “Christian.”

    • True. We ought to honor the creativity in others though. Isn’t Taylor in some sense doing to the Firestarter team exactly what he accuses them of doing — tossing them overboard.
      And beyond that, fatawa, really? I really hate it when people who have never served on the frontlines of a real battlefield co-opt the terminology of war to wage their verbal pissing matches.

      • I cannot argue with a word you just said. You are exactly right. I think there’s some truth in what he wrote, but he could have chosen his words more carefully.

  • WGA writer

    The most repugnant part of this piece is the suggestion that the schlock produced by the Kendrick brothers would ever make them the “Christian movie establishment.” Good grief. Have we fallen so low in the arts?

    • Steve Taylor’s term for them but I find your response to be in the same spirit as Steve’s — tossing others overboard. How does this honor the creative spirit within?

      • It’s funny how we can read the same post and come away with different impressions of what the writer said. Seems Taylor was saying two main things: (a)Christian movies tend to lean toward the mediocre side; (b) the best-known current faith-based filmmakers seem to have a problem with BLJ and are crossing the line in how they are handling their dislike of it.
        Thing is, I flinched, to use Larry’s word, when I saw the use of fatwa, but I focused much more on (a). He is calling Christian filmmakers to raise the bar. I applaud this point, and don’t think it’s tossing anyone overboard.
        As for (b) Taylor’s reaction to finding out that the Kendricks have banned participants in BLJ from helping any future Sherwood flicks is very understandable. He’s a Christian guy, making a movie about faith, as a labor of love, and while he has an expectation to be attacked from the unbelievers, he also gets unreasonable treatment from his fellow brothers in Christ. I’m be upset too. I probably wouldn’t use the exact words he used, but I understand.
        Bottom line, though, is that (a) point is what really mattered to me as I read that post. In fact, I saw Taylor last night, about 12 hours after that post went public, an I thanked him for writing it. Again, not because of his tiff with the Kendrickses, but because in challenging Christians to produce quality work, he’s right on.

        • I think your first sentence sums it up — we can not only read the same post and come away with different impressions — we can watch the same movie and do the same thing. Or listen to the same song. Or read the same book. Or have coffee with the same person.

          And still come away with different impressions.

          A song that ministers to me might annoy the mess out of you.

          A book I love might bore you to tears.

          A movie you rave about might put me to sleep.

          That’s the thing.

          What right do any of us have to say to another of us that the creative powers within are crap?

          What is honorable about repeating criticisms, as Taylor did when he noted, “Christian movies are like porn – poorly lit, poorly acted and you always know how they’re going to end”?

          Some have suggested Taylor and Miller have drummed up this “non-controversy” as a marketing ploy.

          I hope that’s not the case but all of it seems in poor taste to me.

          Why can’t we create our art without criticizing the art in others?

  • As a person who lived in the Middle East for over a decade, speaks Turkish fluently, and has read the Koran dozens of times, I’m not so sure that the term fatwa was incorrect. That is “creativity” in language. I appreciated the “creativity” of the expression, for in many ways the pronouncement by the Kendricks Brothers is exactly that, a narrow fundamentalist proclamation driven by religious sentiment that passes judgment and attempts to shape opinion. It was used to compare their statement to that of other institutionalized religions (in this case Islam) which people find offensive, to make a point. I loved it! But, then maybe it speaks to me differently than it does to others.

    • Perhaps but here in America where the hillbillies and rednecks and rural folks live we are mostly familiar with fatwa as the edict issued by Osama Bin Laden against Americans, and underscoring the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
      The connotation of the word has far more impact than its literal meaning, as is the way with most words hurled at another in anger and frustration. I don’t find it creative. I find it juvenile. And to see a whole twitter feed #bluelikejazz alight with people regurgitating the fatwa quote is disturbing to me, as someone who knows by name dozens of women and children who have lost husbands and fathers in the War on Terror.
      From where I sit behind this keyboard, Taylor’s remarks, in essence, are the flip side of the same coin. He does what he accuses Kendricks Brothers of doing. This schoolyard pissing among Christians needs to come to a stop. We need to respect the artist within each other.
      Do you think Nora Jones would ever say to Dolly Parton, you are cheesy? No, because Dolly does what she does with her whole heart and in an honorable way. She’s terrific. Maybe not to those who prefer Nora Jones but Dolly appeals to millions of others. So why can’t Steve Taylor and Don Miller just accept that Firestarter might not be their kind of art but it’s ministering to others. Why does it have to be an us & them thing?

      • Maybe Taylor is one of the few people in the country who seems to know that a fatwa predates Osama Bin Ladin by over a millennium and has nothing whatsoever to do with the 911, the war on terror, Afghanistan, Iraq or any other Muslim conflict but is instead a “legal opinion” issued by a Muslim cleric (of certain rank) and usually deals with the most mundane issues. For those people in this country ignorant of its true meaning, (I’m not assuming that rednecks are included in this category as I know some VERY informed country folk), Taylor’s use of the term might get them to do some research and stop making such superficial and broad categorizations. I’m not sure that Taylor was “hurling” words “in anger”. It seems to have been a carefully chosen word aimed at helping the Kendricks Brothers see how narrow-minded and unJesus-like their statement was. I think it was used as a “wake-up call” to people blasting their film. If, as you suggest, it was “schoolyard pissing,” then obviously it was wrong. I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, refrain from judging their motives, and evaluating the situation based only on what they said and what it means (as opposed to what some people might think it means).

        Grace and peace…

      • “The connotation of the word has far more impact than its literal meaning”. This reminds me of the “niggardly” scandal from a few years ago. How much should we weigh a person’s incorrect interpretation of a word when deciding who’s at fault when someone is offended? I don’t propose to have that answer, but it’s a valid question.

    • Halmecco

      The Kendrick Brothers had NOTHING to do with any of this. They never said a word about Steve or his film. It turns out that Taylor included their name to build some traction for his “anti-establishment” fight. He should have done his homework and checked with them before accusing them of anything. That’s pretty irresponsible if you ask me.

  • Tim

    I’ve always apreciated C.S. Lewis’s perspective on good writing. He certainly wasn’t looking for anyone to go easy on him when it came to evaluating his stuff, and vertainly not to coddle him merely because it was meant to be an expression of his faith. He also gave us great examples of how to be gracious without that coddling, and I think this is what you have shown here too, Karen: we can appreciate the efforts of the Kendricks brothers or Steve Taylor* as expressions of their faith regardless of whether those efforts actually result in good films. That’s why we clap when the kids’ choir sings (off-key or not) at Christmas and Easter, right?


    *I have appreciated Steve Taylor’s efforts at times, especially the 1982 album “I Want to Be a Clone”. Good stuff there.

    • I think that we could all use a little more “and” in our lives and a little less “not”

  • AFRoger

    Here’s a little something from my late hero, Joseph Sittler:

    ‘In the uses of literature, the use of art, I find our intellectual obligation being unfulfilled. We simply are not cultivated people in our time. Of the old church an ancient historian said, “The church in the first three centuries won the empire because it outlived, it out-thought, and it outdied the pagan world”–including in intellectual and artistic achievement. But much of the intellectual and aesthetic life within the contemporary congregation is simply contemptible. The intellectual content of the ordinary sermon is contemptible. It is often full of moral fervor and piety, but it is usually absent in the clarity of ideas that thread against the accepted norms and offer new possibilities for reflection.’

    What was Jesus known for? Being a better scribe? Having not one original new thought but being able to spout old ones from memory faster and better than all the previous trainees? Being the best Etch-a-Sketch of the day?

    And what are we known for? Being Christ-like, or…? “Christian” in the NT is used three times; always as a noun, never as an adjective, never modified by an adjective. So what is that? Who are we? What are we for?

  • Halmecco

    The Kendrick Brothers had NOTHING to do with any of this. They never said a word about Steve or his film. It turns out that Taylor included their name to build some traction for his “anti-establishment” fight. He should have done his homework and checked with them before accusing them of anything. That’s pretty irresponsible if you ask me.