That Sinking Feeling!

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Yuillogistically Speaking

Chick Yuill

By Major Chick Yuill – 

Like everyone else in America, it would seem, I’ve been to see the movie, “Titanic.” Unlike everyone else, however, I hated it! The special effects, of course, were superb. The recreation of the enormous ship and the depiction of its sinking on its maiden voyage are masterpieces of the art of cinematography. I readily concede that no one could fail to be impressed by this aspect of the film.

But the plot is another story. I just sat in the cinema getting more and more annoyed. I mean–think of all the great stories of heroism and cowardice, of love and selfishness which they could have used. Instead of that, they invented what seemed to me to be the impossible story of a woman from first class falling in love with a man from steerage. Believe me, the strict separation between the different classes on board ship would have made their meeting, never mind their romantic encounter, utterly impossible.

Then there was the script. I didn’t know whether to groan or giggle! There’s Kate Winslet, about to commit suicide by jumping overboard, only to be talked out of it by Leonardo DiCaprio with a series of one-liners that sounded as if they came from an unsuccessful third-rate comedian. And right at the end, when the great ship has split in two and the bow has reared up in the air, when passengers are sliding into the icy sea and a certain watery grave, our star-crossed lovers are again at the bow of the ship, only this time they are hanging on for dear life. And Kate gazes at Leonardo and says, “This is where we first met.” I don’t think so! At a moment like that, romance would be the last thing on your mind. You’re probably quite clear by now that this is not my favorite movie!

However, I have to tell you that James Cameron, the producer of “Titanic,” is not in the least concerned about my reaction. This movie is a mega-hit, whatever I think about it. The facts speak for themselves: “Titanic” has already grossed $750 million worldwide, and is set to be the first billion dollar movie; the orchestral sound track is the fastest selling in history; the book about the making of the movie has hit the number one spot in the New York Times best-seller list; and–perhaps the most revealing statistic of all–whereas most movies draw a two percent repeat audience, 20 percent of those who have seen this movie have been back to see it again, many of them more than once.

The lesson for me in all this is that, at least with regard to “Titanic,” I’m out of step with popular culture. The tastes and preferences of the people around me are very different from what I had imagined. And as the corps officer of a corps with a commitment to reaching the unchurched, that’s a real challenge for me. I don’t mean that we should be adapting the Gospel to suit popular taste. That’s a non-negotiable. The message cannot be altered, but the medium can, and must if we are to reach this generation for Christ.

Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Community Church, spelled it out when a group of us from Pasadena Tabernacle attended his seminar on “The Purpose Driven Church” just a couple of weeks ago. He was speaking of the style of music they use in their worship–middle-of-the-road soft rock. He didn’t tell us whether that was his favorite style or not. What he did tell us was that when they surveyed new people, that was the kind of music they listened to. Nobody listed organ music as their preference, and only two percent of Americans regularly listen to classical music. So when people attend Saddleback, the music they hear is the kind of music they most enjoy. And, since Saddleback has grown to more than 30,000 people on their books in under 20 years, they must be doing something right.

All of which forces me to face some hard questions:

Am I sometimes more concerned about maintaining the identity and culture of the Army than about reaching people outside of that culture?

Is our choice of music in worship governed by what we like or what the average man or woman in the street enjoys?

What are the implications for uniform-wearing in an age in which people “dress down” rather than “dress up” to attend church?

How much work would I be willing to do to discover the style of music and worship which would most effectively communicate the gospel to the greatest number of people in our community?

Would I be willing for the Army to look very different in the next 10 years if it meant reaching and winning more people for Christ?

These may be uncomfortable questions for us. But the failure to address them might result in a spiritual disaster beside which the sinking of the Titanic would pale into insignificance. The right answers, on the other hand, might produce results as dramatic in their own way as James Cameron’s movie.

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