Tyler Smith is the sort of online Christian voice other Christians claim they want to hear. He is knowledgeable and well-spoken, modest and sincere. He respects that the secular world has vivid insight into great truths, and he admires skill and beauty where he finds them.
Tyler’s holistic Christian faith is evidenced consistently through comments on two podcasts he hosts: Battleship Pretension and More Than One Lesson. The former show is well-known in the online film community for providing a mindful look at various facets of film and film culture—-facets that may not be covered elsewhere in the podcast landscape. On a program like this, one might have reason to hide their faith, but Tyler is both open and bold without being off-putting. The latter show is a solo, personal project with a more focused goal of viewing film and filmmaking through a Christian lens.
It was through More Than One Lesson that I first discovered Tyler’s work, and I became quickly enamored with the show because he spent time on films that go overlooked in the podcast community: specifically films aimed at the Christian subculture. Tyler provides mindful insight on well-known evangelical motion pictures such as God’s Not Dead and several works of Kirk Cameron, but he also spends time on lesser known (but arguably better) spiritually-minded pictures like Believe Me. I will leave you to listen to episodes of the show in order to get Tyler’s opinion on these and others, but be assured: Tyler is exceedingly fair and gracious in his comments, even and especially when they may be considered “harsh”.
In the online world of pithy retorts, mocking memes, and death threats, a balanced and meek voice like Tyler’s should be appreciated and cherished—-particularly as he is an ambassador for The Kingdom to many who otherwise might hear little regarding matters of the Christian faith.
2. Why do you choose that term?
My first instinct was to go with “Analytical”, but that sounded too cold and purely intellectual. I try to put thought into everything that I say or do. However, to only approach things intellectually is, I think, a mistake. I think it’s important to incorporate emotion and morality, to add perspective to pure analysis. So, I went with “Thoughtful”, because I thought that would encompass these other things, as well.
3. In two sentences, tell us about the show, More Than One Lesson—what it is and for whom it’s intended.
More Than One Lesson is a podcast that discusses films from a Christian point of view, while also keeping a close eye on the artistic aspect of the medium. So, we’ll discuss what a film is trying to convey, what Christians can get out of it, and the stylistic choices the director makes in order to achieve their goals.
4. What led to the creation of More Than One Lesson? Was it a specific event or was it a more progressive development?
It was more of a process. I already co-hosted a show called Battleship Pretension, which has been running since 2007. The format of that show allowed my co-host and I to bring a lot of ourselves and our philosophy into our film discussion. So, my Christianity and how it influenced my approach to different films became a regular part of the show. This started up a number of interesting conversations with listeners, both Christian and not.
So, I started toying with the idea of starting another show in 2009 that would more directly incorporate my beliefs into my movie discussion. Then, out of the blue, a friend said, “Hey, you know what you should do? You should start up a second podcast that brings your faith into your movie stuff.” That sounded like confirmation to me, but I didn’t have the money to make the show and website what I wanted it to be.
Then, another friend, who had recently been tapped to write an episode of a TV show he worked on, offered to pay for the first year of the show. So, with no reason not to do it, I started More Than One Lesson in July 2009.
5. How has your podcasting required you to sacrifice?
Aside from spending my time and money, probably the biggest sacrifice has been my own sense of self-preservation. I’m somebody that has a deep need for approval. I want everybody to like me, and am often devastated when I find this is not the case.
Of course, when doing a Christian podcast that also seeks to appeal to non- Christian listeners, I have run across a lot of people that really, really don’t like me. I have been called all kinds of names and have had things said about me that are tough to take.
It was this merciless criticism from a few vocal non-Christian listeners within the first year that actually caused me to spiral down into a very deep depression, which took a couple of years to get out of.
But, throughout it all, I felt that I was meant to just keep going, while always being honest with my listeners about where I was spiritually and emotionally. If I go back and listen to episodes from that time, there is a real weariness in those discussions that make me shudder.
Part of me wanted to quit, but I felt I was supposed to soldier on, relying not on the world’s opinion of me, but God’s. It has been incredibly difficult, but I think it has paid off in spades.
6. What is your primary goal when you podcast?
My primary goal is to try to cover as much ground as possible, both thematically and artistically. I sometimes worry that we get so involved in discussion of theme that we leave the artistic aspects behind. I absolutely don’t want to do this, because I really want to emphasize just how vital the stylistic decisions of the director are to the realization of theme.
So, our episodes are usually longer than we initially plan, because we don’t want to leave anything out. We want to be as comprehensive as we can, so that people can fully understand the relationship between art and theme.
7. What is your largest hope for your listeners?
My hope for my listeners is pretty lofty and hasn’t really changed over the years. My goal is to help Christian listeners understand that film isn’t the enemy. I’ve been a part of some Christian communities that approached the entertainment industry with caution and suspicion, and I wanted to help them embrace the possibilities of film through discussion of themes that we Christians can absolutely get on board with.
The other side of the coin has to do with non-Christian listeners. Chances are, they found the show through Battleship Pretension, so they’re likely pretty hardcore film fans. They already know the merits of quality filmmaking, so my goals are different with them. While I have no expectation of converting anybody through the show, I hope to illustrate to non-Christians that it is perfectly possible for Christianity- which has come to be associated, fairly or unfairly, with an anti-intellectual mindset- to embrace nuance and sensitivity and analysis.
So, through the thematic discussions, I’m hoping to legitimize film in the eyes of the Christian community. And, through the artistic discussions, I’m hoping to legitimize Christianity in the eyes of non-Christians.
I don’t completely know if I’ve accomplished either, but that’s the hope.
8. What are two key ways that your podcasting benefits the online community?
That’s a tough question to answer, because the online community isn’t one single unit. It’s not as though the world can be divided into the online community and the real world. Everybody goes online all the time, but with completely different goals which keep them from being grouped together as one entity.
So, I’ll go ahead and talk about possible benefits to the online filmlovers’ community, which I’m much more closely related to.
I think that, with both of my podcasts, but especially More Than One Lesson, I’ve tried to avoid the snark and smugness that you’ll find so often in film discussion online. Online film writers tend to exaggerate—or at least heighten—their reactions to films, quite possibly because this kind of discussion can be a lot of fun. We would much rather read a very harsh and clever negative review of a film than one that holds back the arrogance in favor of a genuine discussion of how the film failed and what it could have done differently.
Since we’ll occasionally discuss Christian films on the show—like Fireproof or God’s Not Dead–– there is tremendous temptation to be cruel. And, indeed, these movies are pretty bad. But, if we dismiss them the way so many other critics do, then it won’t be helpful for anybody, filmmaker or viewer. So, we have to keep our natural instincts in check and approach these films like any other that we find wanting.
So, I guess we’ve (theoretically) benefitted the online filmlover community by embracing nuance and restraint in our approach to film discussion and encouraging them to do the same. It can be difficult to hold back a snarky tone, but it makes for a much better and more sincere discussion.
I think that’s only one way, but it’s important, and I can’t think of another one, so I’m counting it as two.
9. How have you seen God’s goodness and faithfulness in your recording work?
Very much so, mostly through relationships. Some of my strongest friendships right now are with people that started out as listeners. I’ve had dinner with listeners in other countries, like New Zealand and Switzerland. I’ve Skyped with listeners from all around the world. The way that podcasting brings people together is astounding, and very humbling. I sometimes can’t believe that there are people on the other side of the planet that actually care what I have to say.
I’ll occasionally get an e-mail from a listener talking about how an episode is exactly what they needed at that moment in their lives. This will often happen in response to an episode that I don’t personally feel very strongly about. The fact that God can use even my more mediocre episodes to communicate His love to a listener is astounding.
10. How can readers learn more, donate to your work, or get involved?
And, yes, if anybody felt like donating to the show, they’re more than welcome to go to the website and do so.