This morning, my writing partners Matthew Brown and Deborah Hocutt and I completed the first read-through of the first draft of our screenplay, which we’ve entitled, “Passages.”
It was an emotional experience for me, representing the passing of the first milepost on a journey that started January 12, 2010. That was when I first felt the nudge to launch what I’ve been calling “The Prodigal Project.”
I was on sabbatical leave, sitting in a nearly empty restaurant on Jekyll Island, Georgia, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and trying to discern the direction that God was leading me in the next chapters of my life.
I had just finished reading some books that were still reverberating in my mind: They Like Jesus But Not the Church by Dan Kimball, UnChristian by David Kinnaman, Applebee’s America by Douglas B. Sosnik, Matthew J. Dowd and Ron Fournier, and Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.
Those books made me think of helping those of us in the church understand how our “unChristian” behavior and attitudes were having the same effect on our culture as the harsh and unyielding ways of the Pharisees had in first century Palestine.
They also sparked the idea of speaking to the increasing number of people in our culture for whom God is not even on the radar. Folks who consider themselves “spiritual,” but they don’t need any church to tell them what and how to believe. They are on a constant search for fresh experiences and new sources of motivation and inspiration. But a relationship with their creator is not a part of their lives.
So on that cold winter morning on the Georgia coast, the day before my 59th birthday, the idea was born to tell a story that would speak to both audiences.
I’ve been working in video for forty years, so it made sense to use that medium. But I didn’t want to do another syrupy “Christian film” that would make church folks cheer and everybody else stay away in droves. I wanted to do something that would stand on it’s own through strong characters and a compelling story.
Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 provided a perfect model. It speaks effectively to both groups. And it has endured for 2,000 years as a well-crafted story.
The study of Luke 15 has enriched my life. I’ve grown to appreciate Jesus even more as a master storyteller. Through reading, study, and countless discussions with friends and colleagues, I’ve grown to understand more than ever before about God’s grace, unconditional love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. As I wrote in my journal early on, “It is a process, not a formula… a relationship, not a rulebook.” The study and discussions will continue.
But this morning, after two and a half years of thinking, praying, false starts, reading, studying, discussing, writing, collaborating, waiting, listening… and then four months of intensive writing with two amazing partners, we reached a crucial goal: the completion of the first draft of the screenplay.
The next steps include script editing and revisions, developing a budget, securing funding, working out a production schedule, casting, crewing, shooting and editing, and presenting it to our audiences as a made-for-TV-movie, release on DVD, and perhaps some web collateral.
And then, who knows, there may be even more opportunities to tell and hear stories of God’s grace, unconditional love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.