So, you may have picked up in some of my past writings that I’m a bit of a netflix documentary junky, and I’ve gotta say that I remember well when my neighborhood video store was going out of town I came across a movie called “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” and was intrigued, but way more interested at the time in picking up that copy of the Friday the 13th remake, plus Jason was two bucks and “Lord, Save Us…” was like 8, and I was heading to lunch afterwards, so money (and burritos) were talking. Fast forward a couple months and the Jason flick had disappointed me (and made me cry everytime I heard the directors name attached to a remake of my fave franchises) and I was flipping through Netflix looking for something to watch when the bumper sticker covered jumpsuit caught my attention again. I watched it and immediately regretted passing up what is probably in my top 5 favorite movies ever, and discovered that there were more people than just me and my Holy Burrito Crew out there trying to start conversations for the sake of Christ. Fast forward again, and one of my Burrito Brethren challenged me to try to contact the filmmaker/bumper sticker guy for an interview, since he was evidently a kindred spirit in the cause of the Burrito. I reckon it was a good idea, because shortly thereafter I was talking to Dan Merchant and gotten the interview. So, without further pontification, what follows is the interview (my first interview) and a product of one of the coolest connections I’ve made in my Ministry career.
1 – Dan, first off, HUGE thanks for being open to an interview. I think the more we can spark discussion the better off we will all be, and that’s why I love “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” so much. I think you did an awesome job at reinforcing the theme that conversation is what’s going to get us there. So, because of that, I have to ask, where has the conversation taken you since the film released, from the tour that ensued to where you are now?
The conversations that have sprung from Lord, Save Us have been really energizing and encouraging. My favorite examples have been when disparate groups have come together to screen the film and talk about it. For example, an Evangelical church in LaJolla, California partnered with the LaJolla Jewish Community Center to present the film and host the Q&A afterwards and the conversation was really positive, healthy and life affirming. Next week I’ll be at Oregon State University with the film – a guest of the Rainbow Continuum (a Pride group on campus) and Campus Crusade. Odd partnerships unless we remember that God made us all and loves us all – then it seems pretty obvious that we can be together. Ha. Also, the movie has aired on religious TV and the PBS station in Seattle in recent months – two ends of the spectrum again – and the film is received warmly and does it’s thing positively provoking thoughts, questions and conversations.
2 – I’m a big fan of social media (or you could call me an addict or a nerd, whichever) and I think it’s a great resource available to us these days, do you think it’s an important part of the conversation?
I think Social Media is inevitably going to be part of the conversation going forward but it’s not my favorite thing. It does a great job of connecting/introducing people to each other without requiring too much, but the face to face “I’m talking to a real person” thing can get lost pretty quickly when we are really interacting with a screen. It’s a very different conversation to speak directly with someone, see their expressions change, hear their voice and so on. It’s interesting to consider that person across from you as a fellow image bearer of God – it’s more difficult to dismiss them when they’re right there in front of you. It’s not too hard to dismiss a goofy screen name which is banging out misspelled words and using ALL CAPS and lots of !!!!!!!!! to make their points. Ha ha. So, I think Social Media is limited but perhaps it will evolve or we’ll figure out a way to focus on it’s strengths.
3 – One of the big things that keeps coming back around in your movie, is that people perceive Christians as the people that are pointing fingers and calling other sinners. Is there a part of the conversation where we address sin, or do we need to keep trying to get rid of the plank in our own eye first?
The way I read the Bible, it seems we all have been given our roles. God the creator is the judge, the Holy Spirit can convict, Jesus is the reconciler and Christ gave us the job of loving one another. Our job is assist in reflecting God’s love, living out his commandment’s for the purpose more fulling knowing him and sharing him with those who don’t yet know him. So, that’s a pretty tall order for us without copping God’s duties or the Holy Spirit’s duties. I believe that through relationships we create space for the Holy Spirit to work. I love the story of the Adultering Woman where Jesus faces down the angry mob (who were “right” by the way, they had the law on their side) and he asks them, “Who here is without sin? They may cast the first stone.” Jesus was the only one qualified to stone the woman. Why doesn’t he? The mob disperses, “Where are those who condemn you? Neither do I condemn you.” Huh? Wha? If you are the woman, how do you feel right about now? Thunderstuck, perhaps? Loved, probably. Only then does Jesus offer, “Go and sin no more.” Which, in the context of this story feels like, “Honey, when you behave this way you are only hurting yourself, taking you away from God and the beautiful life he has for you.” Then she leaves. We don’t know what happens to her. What does she choose? Does she turn her life toward God? We never find out. But I think Jesus is giving us the blue print for how to address sin. Stand up for the person in pain, risk your life before the self-righteous mob if necessary, refuse to judge or condemn this person, and give them a way to God. Give them something to say “yes” to. Give them a way out of whatever mess they’re in. I believe when we approach difficult situations in this way we’re creating room for the Holy Spirit to show up. Maybe we are given the right words or some certain act to do or maybe the Holy Spirit speaks only to their heart. I don’t know. Not my job. I can tell you that when others have treated my with such loving kindness when I was in the midst of major screw up it absolutely helped me see how real and tangible God can be in my daily life.
4 – What do you see as the most important piece of the conversation today?
I’m not sure there is a single biggest part of the conversation today. Certainly, the standard political hot buttons are an entry point for many but then so are the amazing outreach and relief efforts going on in the aftermath of natural disasters or whatever. The most important part, I’d say, is that we need to be willing to have the conversation with those we are around and see what God has for us to do. I just finished a screenplay about a church that has, in essence, adopted a struggling public high school – because they asked, ‘How can we help?’ I like that conversation. It’s pretty tough to love our neighbors when we don’t even know them. So the conversation is just a place to start and then see where God leads. I see an awful lot of God matching up gifts with people who need that exact gift. A church in a public school? No preaching? No tracts? Just loving them and meeting as many needs as they can? Yeah, that sounds like Jesus. When it gets weird like that I tend to believe God is in the middle of it somehow.
5. Where do you see the biggest opportunity for progress in the U.S. Christian community in the coming years?
I guess I’m seeing some really encouraging movement of the church going from “a big mouth” to “the hands and feet of Christ”. I see God appearing in the difficult complicated work that comes when we are truly willing to love our neighbors as ourselves. More please. This is a tough time in our country, socially and economically, and the opportunities to love and heal are as diverse as every personality reading this interview. God needs all of us to be obedient and find the way he wants to use us to love others and make real his truth. That’s a big opportunity for the church especially if we can realize that Sunday morning is 10 or 20 percent of who we should be as a church. There is lots of work to be done and for so many who will never darken the door of a church this is the language that will communicate God’s truth. Jesus said our deeds are to bear fruit – that makes sense to me. If there is no nourishing fruit in your ministry but a lot of yelling and finger pointing then I’m probably going to have some hard questions for you. Ha.
6. What’s been your favorite piece of feedback you have received about the project so far?
I’m just grateful, as an artist and a believer, that Lord Save Us appeals to virtually everyone. People connect to the film on a pretty deep level because it’s about important stuff. Even though I have some wild and light hearted ways to tell the story, people do take the subject matter seriously and seem pleased I made an effort to entertain them along the way and leave the conclusions up to them. The feedback varies only slightly from group to group, but everyone could see it was sincere effort on my part to do a difficult thing: tell an honest and open story about this intersection know as faith and culture. Everyone DOES have a dog in this fight and Us and Them are not the only options. Most people, deep down, sort of like this notion of WE. Ha ha. So to learn that I’m not alone in this has been a great relief. Ha.
7 – In what I can gather from watching the film a couple hundred times so far, it seems you’re a big U2 fan, what other sounds fill your soundtrack these days?
Yeah, I’m a big U2 fan. Discovered R.E.M. right about the same time (end of high school). Coming of age in the late 70’s, the hard rock hey day, I have a soft spot for loud guitars. I’ve been rocking the new Van Halen disc lately, new Rush, live Tragically Hip and a live David Bowie disc from his last tour which is amazing. Throw in a little alternative country from the Old 97’s and Kathleen Edwards and that new Black Keys disc and I think that fills up most of this weeks tunes.
8 – In the movie, you speak to Rick Santorum about a lot of the issues. Do you think he’s being authentic to those statements now that he’s been in the presidential race?
Yeah, I did receive a lot of email when Rick Santorum was winning primaries. All I can say is that Rick struck me as a sincere guy, I believe he believes what he says he believes. As a politician he probably thinks of things more in terms of policy than I have to. I suppose I would err on the side of the relationship rather than winning a given issue – because regardless of the legislation it’s still a matter of God and an individual and that’s what I’m focused on. That said, I don’t envy the way politicians have to shoe-horn their beliefs into that political paradigm. I think Rick was also in the place of trying to differentiate himself as a candidate and so certain, very conservative positions were elevated into the conversation, given more weight than, I suspect, even he would’ve liked. But that’s politics. The whole deal is a man-made power structure. I find it interesting Jesus just didn’t want to play that. Billy Graham even expressed remorse about dabbling in “temporal issues” with political figures because that participation may have driven people away from God. Tricky business, trying to do the right thing. Let me also say I enjoyed visiting with Santorum quite a lot, and that a lengthy conversation (fairly represented in the film, I believe) leaves a very different impression than random sound bites hyped on the news or the odd competition that is a candidate’s debate.
9 – What’s the hardest question you’ve been asked through this whole process, and how has it affected the way you’ve approached other questions in the conversation?.
The most difficult questions really come from truly conflicted Christians who just can’t quite wrap their heads around the idea that God made everyone, God loves them and the same deal is open to them as was to us. Sometimes I’ll meet people who seem to feel people need to qualify for our friendship or for God’s love. Stop doing those, don’t be that, just do this and THEN you can come in to the church or my home or receive my friendship or God’s love or whatever. We do have a hard time trusting God. And, at times perhaps, we don’t want to believe we’re really supposed to love one another the way he loves us. My “proof” is that I can be right about everything WITHOUT GOD but loving the unlovable (my tribe) is something I can only attempt WITH GOD. That seems like a pretty good clue to me. Ha.
10. Finally, I’ve gotta ask you – If someone were to walk up and ask you “Can God make a burrito, so big, and so spicy, that He Himself cannot eat it?” how would you respond?
Scratch that. The hardest question I’ve been asked is your, “Can God make a burrito so big that he can’t eat it?” Congrats Zach. I’ve never been asked this question and I was actually getting comfortable that I’d heard all the questions. Ha. Hmmmm. Yes. God can make a burrito so big that he can’t eat it but I imagine he’d quarter it eat the massive burrito for lunch over the next few days. I can probably back that up scripturally but you’ll have to give me a couple days…think there must be something in the Old Testament somewhere that covers this. Ha.
Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions and help me further the conversation too. Any final thoughts, comments, or favorite burrito recipes?
Lord, Save Us From Your Followers – Deluxe DVD (bonus features, small group videos, music video) is available at http://www.lordsaveusthemovie.com. The Lord, Save Us book (yes, I wrote a book) is available at amazon.com and most on-line bookstores. The film is also on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Join the Lord, Save Us From Your Followers Group page on Facebook. And you can follow me on Twitter at LordSaveUs (I think, might be BumperstickerDan – I’m still learning – ha).
Zach is a father, husband, and social media addict that describes his approach to faith as being a “Charismatic, Evangelical, Anabaptist that loves Catholic tradition, or just a plain old ‘lover of Jesus’ for short. He is the Youth director at Poages Mill Church of the Brethren and hangs out with an odd group he calls the “Holy Burrito Crew”.