A few years ago, in early 2006, Jonathan Bock, the president of Grace Hill Media, a firm that markets major motion pictures to the faith audience, arranged for a panel presentation about Christianity to both the Los Angeles and New York administrative and creative support teams for New Line Cinema. New Line Cinema had just signed on to produce "The Nativity Story," and there was interest in making sure everyone involved understood what this story would mean to millions of viewers. Jonathan asked senior pastor the Rev. Mark Brewer of Bel Air Presbyterian, the Rev. Erwin McManus, pastor of Mosaic Church in Hollywood, and me to be on the panel. Jonathan, himself an elder at Bel Air Presbyterian, was the moderator, and he used the Apostles' Creed, line by line, to frame what became a wonderful conversation about Christianity with people of differing faiths, no faith, and some Christians as well.
Now, seven years later, New Line Cinema is a shadow of its former self since merging with Warner Bros. in 2008. Sherwood Pictures, a ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., has made some strongly Christian films that have earned decent box office receipts for such small-budget films with mostly amateur actors, such as "Fireproof" in 2008 and "Courageous" in 2011. Pure Flix Entertainment was co-founded about 2008 by country singer Randy Travis and his former wife and has produced films that may be squeaky-clean but have not moved beyond their narrow Christian focus.
This is not to disparage efforts at making Christian films, though most have a long way to go in trusting their audiences to "get it" without a direct infusion of literal teaching and Bible quotes. They do not seem to realize that mainstream cinema is not a Sunday school lesson. Look at what Mel Gibson achieved with "The Passion of the Christ" in 2004 -- a work of art that did not escape controversy, however.
But on Trinity Sunday, the week after the Feast of Pentecost, I thought again about the Apostles' Creed because it keeps coming up.
At the Sundance Film Festival in January in Park City, Utah, I had a conversation with a Christian student about the difference between Christians and Mormons. I will call this young man Joe. He was about 23 or 24 and was just finishing at a Christian college. He was very eloquent about wanting to witness to the Mormons about who Jesus is, and I asked him what the difference was between us, Christians and Mormons. He said, "Jesus Christ is our personal savior."
"You mean that Jesus is God, right?"
"Oh, yes," Joe said.
Then flash back to that panel at New Line Cinema and flash forward to that day at Sundance. I asked Joe, "Have you ever heard of the Apostles' Creed?"
He just looked at me.
"What about the Nicene Creed?"
"Oh," he answered, "I have heard of the Council of Nicea, yes."
I explained that the Apostles' Creed is one of the earliest statements of what Christians believe. This "creed" expresses our belief in the Trinity, that there are three divine persons in one God. And the articles of faith expressed in this creed have united all followers of Christ for centuries and is still used by the Catholic Christian church (as well as the Nicene Creed that clarified Christological issues) and many mainstream Christian traditions, including Baptists. Catholic Christians, in fact, recite one of the creeds in the liturgy every Sunday. Joe looked at me with wide eyes, the implications of the unifying significance of the Apostles' Creed for all Christians dawning on him. At the end of the festival, I asked him what his homework was for the year (I am a nun; I can ask that), and he smiled big and said, "To learn about the Apostles' Creed."
Not long ago, I was speaking with a couple of men in Hollywood who want to make a film about Jesus. One of them, I'll call him Mike, described some scenes in the film and said he wants this film to be for all Christians and that he believes in Christian unity and wants it to appeal to all. I looked at him and asked, "What do you mean when you say you believe in Christian unity? What would that look like in the film?"
Flash back to 2006 and flash forward to 2013 again. When neither he nor his friend, I'm calling him Steve, an author and Christian leader, said anything, I asked, "Would that mean the film would express in some way the Apostles' Creed?"
Mike said nothing, but Steve thought a moment, perked up and said, "Is that the one that goes 'I believe in God the Father almighty...' ?"
"Yes! That's the one," I said.
Both Mike and Steve made a note of it and assured me they would look into it.
This past week, Pope Francis said even atheists who do good deeds are redeemed and can go to heaven. Jesus told the disciples in Luke 9 not to stop those who were casting out demons in his name because "he that is not against us is for us." In the synagogue of Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:26) listened to Apollo, who knew of the way of the Lord Jesus, though not all, and the couple took Apollo home to elaborate on the way of God more adequately.
Catholic Christians, Christians all, we've got some elaborating to do.
There was much good to celebrate in the world on Trinity Sunday, when Catholics of the East and West, as well as Anglicans, honor the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with liturgical solemnity. And the more I meet Christians in Hollywood who want to tell the Christian story on film and television, the more I am grateful to my Presbyterian friend and colleague Jonathan Bock for making the Apostles' Creed the focus formula for what Christians believe in the storytelling capital of the world.
I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.