An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
The abbess of the farm and I watched this film over the "long" (or so I'm assured) weekend, so I thought I'd type out a few thoughts about it which may include some spoilers.
As anticipated, it is unashamedly evangelical. As such you will be treated to the pre-packaged "Jesus took the punishment you deserved" call to repentence...however, that was only one sentence in a "sermon" that is well done and set up beautifully in the context of the question: What is real love? Self-sacrifice is the answer...even for us.
The bane of almost all overtly Christian films is a badly written script and/or one that is poorly executed by the performers. In a few places I could sense both in this film - a certain air of cheesiness - however, the seriously dramatic moments of interactions between Kirk Cameron's character (Caleb) and his wife (Catherine) are very well done. In my mind, the overall message of the film easily trumps any of its flaws.
The film begins with an already failing marriage between Caleb and Catherine with neither of them appearing interestred in trying to salvage it. Their issues are multifaceted and I expect not terribly uncommon; summing up what is legally termed "irreconcilable differences." Bravely, yet as tastefully as possible, they even address the "adultery" of Caleb's addiction to internet pornography as being one of the numerous overt problems with which the couple must deal.
On the brink of divorce, Caleb's father steps in and asks Caleb to make a try at saving his marriage by offering him "The love dare", which is a handwritten book that will walk him through 40 daily doses of practical acts of love. Each day has a new "assignment" that ranges from the relatively straight forward (e.g. "No matter what, don't react with anger today") to the far more complex (e.g. "Vow today to rid your life and your marriage of 'parasites' - addicitions/distractions that drain the life out of you and your marriage - e.g. pornography"). Not surprisingly, you can expect to find a real copy of this book on bookshelves anyday now, if not already.
The "love dare" really is a beautiful thing, but as the main character comes to learn, it is useless until Christ is at the center of it. It is in Christ that we truly learn and can experience the most profound example of love. A conversion experience is what eventually really makes the "love dare" come alive for Caleb, and there is a great deal of truth to this because if the Christian life is ANYTHING, it is one big massive "love dare" not just for our spouses, but for the world. I believe the "love dare" is nothing more than the simplistic spelling out of what life should really be about for Christians - and thus it really should not be a huge surprise, or a marketable secret that will save all manner of relationships. This ought to be just common sense.
One thing I would add to the film is that the reality of the conversion experience Caleb has is not really a one-time event. It is an ongoing and daily occurence. Nothing is said, really, of the ongoing struggle that all Christians must face in trying to conform to the image of their God - though we are shown Caleb's post-conversion struggle with the internet, but even this is quickly and effectively dealt with. The deeper reality though, as I expect the Fathers would say, is that Caleb still has these "demons" to wrestle, just as an alcoholic does not cure himself by removing all alcohol from the house. Our healing is not instantaneous and it is not miraculously given with the fireworks of a pentecostal baptism. Too many, I suspect, walk away from a conversion experience with little to no notion that the struggle has only just begun. Once one has a certain anticipation of ascetic struggles, this should lead them to a DAILY conversion experience as opposed to a painful and unending cycling of conversion, failure, confusion, doubt, despair and rededication.
Why do you think we Orthodox pray "Lord have mercy" over and over and over again?
Some will probably suggest that films such as this be avoided by Orthodox Christians because of its evangelical protestant theology, but I would argue otherwise. If we can watch a thoroughly secular film and distill some profundity in it despite the display of values we might find abhorrent, I don't see why we cannot see past a small amount of theology we disagree with in order to appreciate the really important exhortation of this film: work to save your marriage.
I'm with you here, James. I saw Facing the Giant back this past July as one of my Netflix picks, and it ended up being a God-send.
For one it took me back to the good stuff in my Protestant upbringing. For another, it reminded me (as if I needed it) that the Christian life is a struggle. For another, it reminded me of the blessedness of daily conversations infused with the Gospel and the Scriptures.
All the weaknesses are there (some of which you note for Fireproof here), but there is much the Orthodox Christian can affirm and enjoy.
I'll be seeing Fireproof someday, perhaps not soon, but in time.
I have often wondered why it is so many Orthodox like to tout our baptizing of pagan thought/ritual/practice as laudable but seem to feel that chrismating (so to speak) heterodox elements is so deeply dangerous.