Finding Faith in Film 1: God Goes to the Movies

If you’ve read the “About” section of this blog, you’ve seen that the blog exists in part to introduce what I’ll be teaching about in the new “Thinking and Believing” class at Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, TN. The class gets cranked up this Sunday (September 13, 2009), so this post will inaugurate the class conversation.

For the next 5 weeks the class will focus on God and the movies. To start that conversation, let’s ask a question: Why do so many people list movies as among their most significant spiritual experiences? Put a different way, why do films provide so many opportunities to explore and understand Christian faith? We’ll look at this in more detail in class, but for now I want to suggest two answers.

First, because at their best, movies tell good stories. Clearly there’s a LOT more going on in film than storytelling, but for my money telling a good story well lies at the heart of most great movies. This matters to our conversation because Christian faith is also all about stories, particularly the peculiar stories of God’s choice of Israel as God’s light to the world, and God’s invasion of human history in Jesus of Nazareth. Scripture is, of course, full of stories; close your eyes, open your Bible to a random page, poke your finger down and there’s a better than even chance you’ll find it on a story. The movies resonate with the Christian faith because both stand or fall on their stories’ ability to grab and compel us.

Second, and related, is the way movies take over our lives while we’re watching them, and beyond. We enjoy a good story because it takes us out of our everyday experience and creates a world we live in for a while. We like movies so much because they do this so powerfully. Think about it: how many times have you seen a film that sticks in your head for hours, or even days, afterward? Geeky Tolkien fan that I am, I floated around in a state of intoxication for a few days after seeing The Return of the King, the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (for a humorous look at this reaction, see the following: http://www.pvponline.com/2003/12/17/wed-dec-17/ ). And this, too, is what the Christian faith does for us; it creates a world we inhabit, gives us a story bigger than our own to be part of, fills us with the vision of a life that is richer, deeper, more complex, more difficult, but always more significant than the one we’ve contented ourselves to live in.

This Sunday we’ll start looking at films that depict the experience of a transcendent world breaking through the boundaries of this one. If you have access to any of the following movies, you might want to watch them in preparation:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Spirited Away
Signs
Field of Dreams

Finally, please come with your own suggestions for films that you think provide a peek into worlds beyond this one.

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