I came across the following quote by movie director Danny Boyle from way back in 2005 in a great interview with Jeffrey Overstreet:
“… you’ve got to be, like Scorsese says, ‘cunning.’ You’ve got to smuggle good ideas into something that attracts that person to the Friday or Saturday night film. That way they get a bigger kick out of it than they do from those films you’re talking about. That’s the job. It’s not like you’ve got to ban the bad films. You’ve just got to make better films more entertaining.”
Boyle is referring to all of the junk movies that are tossed out there all the time. He they’re OK because they give people who simply need a laugh in order to make it through the day at least something to laugh at. Because people will always need to be entertained, junk movies will always be around. But we need to “smuggle good ideas into something that attracts” as well.
Being smart. Being cunning. Smuggling in the good in the midst of all the bad. That approach makes me think about food and exercise and social media and so on. But it also makes me wonder if smuggling works with the proclamation of the gospel.
Is this compromise or is it, in the words of Eugene Peterson, “telling it slant,” telling the gospel in a way that it doesn’t get rejected out of hand but gets inside of people by being “smuggled” around their barriers?
There is a time and a place for direct speech. Sermons are those. In our info-glut society, there’s a need for speech that is recognizably true and to the point. But there’s also a need for speech that is parable-like, that sneaks its way into us by not activating our defense shields. Because the reality is that in our info-glut, we’ve got pretty good at activating those shields. When someone bowls straight down the alley at us, we tend to side-step them and what they’re saying. And that’s especially true when speaking gospel, even if it is good news.
So, even though there is a place for direct speech, Boyle’s comment is almost always true, but with occasional exceptions. We’ve got to be God’s smugglers, importing the gospel into people’s lives without their even knowing it.
Here’s the Emily Dickinson poem that Eugene Peterson quotes from when talking about telling it slant, speaking truth from a softer angle than straight on: