This is not a blog about religion, nor is it a political blog. Rather, Boomers blog has maintained a clear generational focus since its inauguration in June 2005. Sometimes religion and politics have generational implications, and this is specifically true for a new movie released ten days before the 2017 Easter Sunday and entitled The Case for Christ.
This odyssey follows the real-life story of Lee Strobel, a Boomer born in 1952. Receiving a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and then a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale Law School, Strobel began his professional career as a newspaper reporter, notably for The Chicago Tribune, where he achieved award-winning recognition from UPI for his incisive reporting.
An avowed atheist, Strobel's hardened beliefs become severely tested by his wife, Leslie. After a series of family challenges, Leslie, an agnostic, aims her struggling faith at Christianity for solace and hope. Strobel cannot accept such a transformation, feeling threatened by his wife's conversion as if a cult-like wedge driving them apart.
The journalist sets out to ply his investigative reporting skills and debunk Christianity. He focuses on the most significant myth of the religion: resurrection of Jesus Christ. By disproving Christ's resurrection from Roman crucifixion and death, Strobel believes the entire religion will cave as if a house of cards. He can then rescue his wife from brainwashing and restore the equilibrium of their otherwise compatible marriage.
Strobel travels the nation to meet with and interview thirteen evangelical Christian experts covering history, anatomy, religious studies, psychology, philosophy, and cultural anthropology. Each resurrection-defying theory he attempts to prove meets countervailing evidence; each theological linchpin becomes more persuasive and captivating. When confronted with the totality of evidence presented by so many convincing experts, Strobel's emotional resistance collapses, and he also converts to Christianity.
His epiphany launches a new career, in his words "to share the evidence that supports the truth and claims of Christianity," eventually leading to his bestselling book and movie by the same title. Brian Bird, a professional screenwriter, has given Strobel's movie adaptation its Hollywood flair, with a gripping narrative pace, engaging plot twists, and satisfying story resolution.
I became aware of this movie the same day it was released for a special showing. The news came to me through a video promotion and e-newsletter developed by Marc Middleton and Bill Shafer, co-founders of a positive aging and wellness media company called Growing Bolder.
Even with such short notice, my wife, Becky, and I attended the first screening of the movie that also included a live Q&A with Strobel, his wife, and the movie's lead cast members and principal filmmakers. Paradoxically, we watched the movie in the same theater made infamous and haunting by the 2012 Aurora slayings where twelve innocent moviegoers had been massacred and 50 others injured. Although we had the choice of two other alternative theaters for this special event, the Century 16 seemed a fitting context for cinematic redemption.
My views of cultural and artistic phenomena ultimately become filtered through the lens of generational sociology. After twenty years of serious research and study of this generation, I also believe that our shared formative years are prologue to the present and prescriptive for the future. Whether Lee Strobel knows this consciously or not, his faith origin story reflects and refines the narrative of his generation. Thus, I noticed several aspects of this movie with broader generational implications.
Give Me A Head with Hair
Young Lee sported shoulder-length hair, which made him appear revolutionary and iconoclastic in the context of the straight-laced people he encounters throughout the movie. With his "freak flag" planted in a busy, all-business newsroom, his appearance reminded me of an investigative reporting duo showcased in the movie All The Presidents Men, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. This universally acclaimed political thriller follows two obstinate young journalists investigating the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post. Playing Carl Bernstein, Hoffman also parades shoulder-length hair, defiant and nonconforming.
Complicated Father-Son Relationships
Young Baby Boomer men had complex and sometimes vitriolic relationships with their Greatest Generation fathers. Much of this divisiveness centered on the Vietnam War, when the men who fought nobly in World War II often felt their sons should embrace the Pax Americana moral imperatives of another offensive war. The two generations parted company on other core values, including women's liberation, racial integration, and gay rights. Boomer men often thought of their laconic fathers as insensitive and rigid, unwilling or unable to show genuine affection. Lee's angry relationship with his father portrayed this larger generational narrative. It was only after Walter Strobel's sudden death that Lee discovers how much his father loved and respected an unforgiving son. This breakdown in communication between men of these different generations has been magnificently captured through a popular song by Mike + The Mechanics and entitled The Living Years.
Carry On Wayward Son
Set in 1979 and 1980, the movie showcases some historical popular culture. One song stands out from the cinematic background: Carry On Wayward Son, created and performed by progressive rock super-group Kansas for their 1976 album Leftoverture. In 1977, the song crested at number eleven on the US Billboard Hot 100. Then Carry On Wayward Son became the second-most-played track on US classic rock radio stations in 1995 and number one in 1997.
What's ironic and not widely known is that two of the founding band members became evangelical Christians around the same time as Lee Strobel's conversion. Kerry Livgren, who wrote most of the band's hit songs, and Dave Hope, who performed as the band's bass guitar player, shared profound born again Christian experiences during their strenuous years as part of a stadium-filling rock band. Today, Livgren creates Christian music with his ultimate achievement an opus entitled Cantata: The Resurrection of Lazarus, an epic orchestral and vocal composition based on a Biblical story told in John, Chapter 11. Hope has served in the clergy for Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin, Florida. Today he is a retired Anglican priest.
Power of Generational Aphorisms
Many Boomers remember with clarity a romantic drama film written by Erich Segal and released to theaters in 1970. Love Story conveys a heartrending fictional romance between two Ivy League college students: Oliver Barrett IV, played by Ryan O'Neal, and Jennifer "Jenny" Cavalleri, played by Ali MacGraw. Similar to Lee and Leslie Strobel's story, the protagonists of Love Story confront severe challenges to their marriage from external forces. For the Strobel's, the aphorism distilling their unity in the face of disunity is "You and only you." For the troubled couple in Love Story, one memorable line stands out as Oliver's final statement to his insensitive father: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Boomers were raised on marketing and cultural aphorisms, and in many ways their generational story can be unfurled with a succession of pithy statements accumulating across five decades.
The Boomer generation is at a crossroads today. Many are reconsidering their spiritual beliefs, and some are rediscovering their childhood religious values. An expanding cohort falls into a religious netherworld described with an acronym SBNR: Spiritual But Not Religious.
This perennially soul-searching generation is reemerging around a zeitgeist today characterized by grand-parenting, generativity, and grief. Because of their advancing age and oncoming "sunset lifestage," many are facing increasing losses, bereavement, and core values reassessment. This is also why I have written Questions of the Spirit: The Quest for Understanding at A Time of Loss. This book conveys my own search for the sources of grace.
The timing for The Case for Christ could not be better. I'm sure the creative community that has shaped this movie hopes and even expects some spiritual wayfarers will rediscover their Christian faith. At the very least, more will become inspired to ask difficult questions about the hereafter, probing for satisfying answers, much in the same way that Lee Strobel did in 1979 and 1980, the beginning of his productive career investigating and reporting on life's greatest mysteries.