February 21st, 2011
This weekend, our church is hosting an Oscar Party, complete with a 3-course dinner and opportunity to get together with friends and watch the Academy Awards on a big screen. Before the show, I'll be giving a presentation about movies, stories and the reasons we love them, and then the red carpet telecast begins.
We all know that movies are the main source of storytelling in the world, and are very much the parables of our culture. But how can we find God in the movies when some of them have titles like Dude Where’s My Car or Killer Tomatoes Eat France?
I admit there will always be some things that are a bit of a stretch….BUT my own take on it is that this is a missional opportunity for making connections. We’re not inviting people to our church because we think we live in this cute little box where everything is perfect and we got it all figured out. It’s been said that the mission of the church is to communicate, be oriented to and cultivate the reality of God. Our job is to engage our culture and SEE where God is already working so that we can reveal that to our friends and neighbors, as a way of giving an answer for the hope we have.
The classic Biblical model we usually refer to for this is Paul when he’s walking around Athens engaging with the culture around him. Even though he’s broken by all of the bad theology and messed-up lifestyles he sees, he’s hanging out at coffee shops and shopping malls listening to their stories, art, poetry, and drama and he’s looking for windows of opportunity. If they had our modern movies back then, Paul would have been chatting with the regular folks he sees at Starbucks, and let's say the people there were chatting about how cool The Dark Knight was...Paul would have likely piped up and said "Yeah, and I love how Batman became a kind of Christ figure at the end!"
Some would have scoffed, "whatever, Paul..." but others would have said "Really? Tell us more!"
We can do this too, and it can be fun, but we have to do it not just to be cool or to win arguments, but out of a love for people.
In Luke chapter 7 there is a story about Jesus, who is dining at Simon the Pharisee’s house and a woman of the city comes in, pours perfume on Jesus’ feet, wets his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair.
Simon the Pharisee shakes his head and says ‘if this man were a prophet he would know what kind of woman this is!’
Jesus turns around and challenges Simon with a story (cuz that’s what he does).
He tells a story about two men, one with a large debt and one with a smaller debt. Neither of them can pay, so the moneylender cancels both debts. Which one of the men will love him more?
Simon says ‘I suppose the one with the larger debt.'
Jesus says ‘Right!’
Then he says, 'Simon, do you SEE this woman? I came into your house, you didn’t give me water for my feet but this woman wet my feet with her tears! You didn’t give me a kiss, but this woman hasn’t stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t pour oil on my head, but she’s pouring perfume on my feet. Her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’
This story illustrates for us two different ways of looking at our neighbors…the Pharisee only sees on the surface the fact that this woman is a sinner. Jesus on the other hand doesn’t deny her sin, but he SEES through that to the beauty underneath.
We can apply the same illustration to movies….it’s easy for us to watch a movie with a lot of questionable content where characters engage in sinful behavior and think to ourselves ‘hmm these characters are all messed-up, and I’m glad I don’t live that way or at least think that way’
...but the fact is that we do! We’re all messed up!
So we should invite our messed-up friends into our church building to watch messed-up celebrities win awards for messed-up movies that reveal to us how much we need a perfect God in our lives. Because it’s through that mess that God has the chance to tell his story.
But it’s not only through the mess, it’s in those moments that suggest truth, transcendence, or that show glimmers of the great stories of the Bible or the mystery of God which we can look for in the movies we watch and draw parallels to in dialogue with our friends, our co-workers and even our families.
There’s a lot at stake here and it’s not something that God just suggests as a good idea….it’s a call to adventure.
Ken Gire says in his book ‘Reflections on the Movies’ that we go to the movies for different reasons, and that “movies can be a means of entertainment, a means of enlightenment, and in some cases, a means of epiphany.”
If you've seen Steven Spielberg’s movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you may remember this scene…
There’s an incredible story of epiphany that surfaced about Steven Spielberg and this scene, and I'll be telling this story at the Oscar Party, so hope to see you then!