Why Do a "God in Film" Teaching Series?
Being still a relative newcomer to Missiongathering, I can say I am stoked to find out that our church does this series every year. Not just because I’m a huge fan of movies, but because I’m a huger fan of thinking critically about art and culture.
I love to explore how things like movies, music and books move us, unsettle us, transform and inspire us.
This Sunday I'll be kicking off the series as I engage with The Hunger Games.
As I've been thinking about and writing the sermon for this week, I wanted to stop and reflect on the reason why we do this.
Why engage with movies like this at church.
So here are some of my thoughts on that.
Breaking the False Divide
If you’ve spent any amount of time (like I have) in the Christian sub-culture, the bubble of conservative christianity, you quickly discover how bizarre it can be. Everything gets classified in to two categories:
Christian or non-Christian. The Sacred and the Secular.
Thanks to the world of marketing, we now have:
Christian music and Secular music. You have Christian books and Secular books. Christian art and non-Christian art.
And so on…
David Dark, a prolific writer who teaches in Nashville at various institutions, says “there is not a single secular molecule in the universe.”
Or as Rob Bell says, “everything is spiritual.”
In David Dark's book, “Everyday Apocalypse” he challenges us to return to the original meaning of the word “apocalypse:” Which means “revelation,” or to uncover, to reveal.
And in the book he explores popular movies, t.v. shows, and music to demonstrate how we can look at things in such a way as to discover how there is a sacredness in everything.
When you begin to view all truthfulness as somehow bearing witness to God's coming kingdom, you're gradually able to view all kinds of art much more redemptively than a market-defined "Spirituality" or "Contemporary Christian Music" category can allow.
There is a division that has been created, a FALSE division, between things that belong to the world of “Christianity” and things that are Secular, or non-Christian. One of the things our God in Film series is trying to accomplish is to break down that false, invisible wall. To expose the myth that some things have spiritual value to them, and others don’t. Or that some products are “Christian” and so should be consumed hook, line and sinker… while everything else is secular, scary, dangerous, and to be avoided at all costs.
But it is THIS separation, I would argue, that is thing that is dangerous, scary, and un-biblical (if you’ll permit me to use such a phrase), and it is the creation of these divisions that must be avoided at all costs.
We want to be people who develop eyes to see the Divine in all things. And so as we explore, over the next 6 weeks, these six different films, hopefully as a community we’ll all get some much needed exercise in seeing how everything is spiritual.
(That is NOT to say, of course, that everything is redeeming, or edifying, or has equal value to the soul. That is an equally dangerous position to hold. But that blog post is not this blog post.)
The Power of Movies
Movies are a powerful force, I think you’d agree.
Some movies inspire us to want to become more than we are, to live better stories, to keep moving forward in the pursuit of being the person we really want to be.
Other movies expose the lies that we live. They speak of messages that certain forces in this world would have us believe. That certain things or people can bring us happiness and satisfaction. And we find ourselves confronted with a choice to accept that this movie is either telling us something real about life, or exposing it to be a sham.
Other movies get underneath our skin, and unsettle us, unnerve us. They challenge us to look more closely, more critically at what we think and how we believe.
But movies are, ultimately, a medium for telling stories. And stories are one of the world’s most powerful forces to change people, to inspire transformation. And so God in Film provides us the chance to do a bit of apocalyptic work on some of last years most interesting movies.
To Reveal, really, ways in which we can say, “wait, that’s God!”
“wait, that is NOT God!”
Of course, that begs the question, what does one mean when they say, “That’s God,” or “that’s NOT God.”
And much could be said about that (in fact, if you haven’t already, I invite you read Rob Bell’s newest book What we Talk about When we Talk About God for a fresh way to think about the word, name, and person of God), but I’ll try and sum up just briefly what “I” mean when I say things like “there, there I see the PRESENCE of God,” or “there I see the ABSENCE of God.”
The Presence of God
When I say I see the presence of God in something, what I DON’T mean is that God wasn’t previously present but now IS. I don’t mean that God magically appears in one moment, and then disappears when the moment is over.
We often find ourselves saying things like, “That was a God moment” or “Then God showed up”
And while I get the sentiment (and find myself at times defaulting to similar types of expressions), we have to remind ourselves that that sort of language implies that other moments are NOT God moments, or that we are suggesting that God is not in a place most of the time but only shows up when we can see evidence of it.
But I don’t think, if we really stop to consider it, that THAT is what we mean. Or what we really think.
So when I make statements like "seeing God in a movie," what I’m trying to articulate is that there is something in that scene that resonates in a more obvious and profound way with the things that make me think about God.
Or there’s something about that plot development that echoes with things that I feel represent the character or passions of God: be it the pursuit of justice, or the work of reconciliation, or the process of renewing and redeeming something or someone.
Or, perhaps in a specifically Christian perspective, I might say that there’s something in that character and her choices that reflect the type of life that I see modeled in and taught by Jesus: be it forgiveness or working towards peace or loving the outcast.
And all good movies (all stories, really), in someway or another, tap in to what is true about life. And when that happens, like David Dark says, when we see that all truthfulness somehow bears witness to God and God’s Kingdom, then we can say things like “I saw God in that film.”
The Absence of God
But I think another way we see God in Film is when we DON’T. You could call this seeing the ABSENCE of God.
The PRESENCE of God often lifts us up, inspires us, encourages us… with things like love, redemption, sacrifice, joy, etc…
But films that deal with the ABSENCE of God are often the ones that unsettle us… disturb us… bother us and stick with us for days. Because we see, for instance, in movies like Schindler’s List a certain “that’s-not-rightness.”
When gross injustices are shown on screen, and we stare deep in the face of the evil and wickedness that humankind is capable of, we find ourselves knowing on a profound level that that is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Other times it’s more subtle.
And still other times we might be completely oblivious to it, or we might be downright deceived.
(I think that Romantic comedies often fall prey to this. We often witness a fairytale sort of ending where everything works out and the guy gets the gal, or vice versa, and we leave the theater feeling all warm and fuzzy, and our ears were tickled… but really, we just spent 90 minutes being lied to. Because life ISN’T that way. That’s NOT really love. That’s not how relationships work. And we find ourselves constantly unhappy in life because our brains have been re-wired to expect the world that cinema gives us. But anyways...)
That is the ABSENCE of God. The telling of a story that wars AGAINST the Kingdom of God.
Looking for God in Film
The God in Film teaching series allows us to engage with the medium of film in a way that invites us to explore how the stories we watch might be tapping in to something beautiful and true about God and God’s Kingdom, OR be exposing stories that war against God’s Kingdom.
This 6 week exploration allows us to exercise our vision to see how everything is spiritual, and to think critically about what it is we are consuming.
Hopefully some of you found this a little helpful with regards to why we do this series every year.
And, if none of that was interesting or helpful, it’s also just a lot of FUN!
So if you're in the San Diego area anytime during the next 6 weeks, I invite you to join us at 9am or 11am for God in Film at Missiongathering. Or, head over to www.godinfilm.com each week to download the latest message.