Why Do a “God in Film” Teaching Series?

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Why would we talk about “worldly” movies in CHURCH?!

This Sunday, at Missiongathering, we are kicking off our annual Spring teaching series: God in Film.

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.

He says,

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.


Using iMag in Corporate Worship

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend Catalyst West, a conference designed to encourage, inspire, and challenge the leaders of tomorrow, those in our church who will live in and live out the Kingdom of God.

It was a brilliantly assembled (and beautifully diverse… in some ways) gathering of men (and women… although not enough, if you ask me) that I really think accomplished what it set out to.

I may post further observations and thoughts in later posts, but for right now I want to talk about what is commonly referred to as “iMag”, or Image Magnification.

iMag is essentially the process of using cameras to project on to large screens what is happening on the main stage. Such as the below pic of Chris Tomlin leading worship.

Chris Tomlin leading at CatWest

You can see, above and behind Chris, a large screen projecting shots of the band.

Many churches use this technique, iMag, during their services, and if I may I’d like to give my thoughts on it. What’s that? You didn’t really ask me for my thoughts? Oh that’s okay… I tend to give unsolicited opinions often…

5 Reasons I Like iMag

1) It Connects You to What is Happening on the Stage. If you are in a large auditorium, and you get stuck in the way back (or way top), then you can feel disconnected from what’s going on. You also miss facial expressions and other non-verbals. Making a 10-foot face is a simple solution. Imagine sitting in the below auditorium, in the nosebleeds. Without iMag, you just might get frustrated enough to show up earlier next week for a better seat.

Rob Bell speaking at Catalyst '09

2) It Looks Cool: C’mon, admit it. When you’ve got cameras sweeping across the room on giant booms, and camera guys running around the stage, you think: wow, this is something really special! Haven’t you always wondered how that lead guitar part goes? Bam! Solo shot on the stud guitarist, extreme close up of his hands flying across the fretboard. Feel sad that the drummer is always in the back, blocked by cymbals and stands? Bam! Solo shot on the drummer’s face as he sweats and bobs to the music. Wonder how you too can have awesome emo/metro hair like the worship leader? Bam! Solo shot on the leader!

3) It Provides Service Opportunities for Techies in Your Congregation. I run in to a lot of people who are frustrated because they love to zoom in on stuff, but their church doesn’t have a place for them. Now, just keep adding camera shots, and more and more people can serve!

4) It Gives You Something to Watch if You Don’t Like Singing: Not everyone likes to sing, or always feels like singing, but with iMag you at least provide them with something to watch if they want. If you just have graphic backgrounds behind your lyrics, that gets boring fast. And if you can’t ‘see the preacher, you’ll easily tune out. But if you can watch the constant panning and zooming, the cutting and fading of the worship band, that’s like being at home watching t.v.! I can just tap my feet to the music and watch the show without feeling like I have to sing along!

5) It Forces Hygiene: Gone are the days when the bassist can just roll out of bed, slumber on to the stage, and do his thing. Now, he’s got to be ready should he get a close up. Ladies can’t skip the make-up in the morning, cause their face could be the balance on whether people engage in worship that morning, or grimace and disengage. Speakers must be well shaved and clothes well pressed. You can’t hide anything in 20 feet of high definition.

5 Reasons I Do Not Like iMag

1) It Can Be A Distraction: This really applies to the music section of a service. If my only opportunity to follow along with the lyrics is to look at a large screen showing me everything the band is doing, for me that is a negative.  If I know the song, I’ll close my eyes and sing along. If I don’t, I’m forced to read them from a screen, which is fine and good. But I don’t want to have to watch a music-video while I’m doing it.

2) It Can Confuse the Focus: Worship, I think we can all agree, is about the King and for the King. Obviously churches and people who utilize iMag for worship know and believe this as well, I’m not saying they don’t. But doesn’t it send mixed messages? To quote Shane Hipps: the media IS the message. If we show lead guitar guy shredding the lick, or zoom in on singer-lady’s face as she belts that high-C, aren’t we, in a sense, saying that these people and what they are doing is the focus? Not intentionally, maybe, but unintentionally absolutely. “Just ignore me… pretend it’s just you and God right now… let me and my voice just fade to the background,” says the worship leader WITH THE GIANT HEAD. It’s hard enough to empower our congregations to focus on Jesus as they worship, but aren’t we compounding the issue by asking them to ignore the show we’re broadcasting on the screen? It’s like telling our kids they have to eat dinner before they get dessert, WHILE WE OURSELVES are chomping on a chocolate chip cookie with our broccoli untouched.

3) It Puts Weird Pressure on the People on Stage: Some of the camera guys I was watching at Catalyst were getting so close to the guitar players, I felt nervous FOR them. How in the world do we expect the musicians to be worshiping themselves when they are constantly thinking “uh-oh, am I on the screen for this one? I better not screw up… and I better make sure my face looks really worshipful…” Certainly people can get used to this, to where they don’t really think about it anymore, but is that really a good thing in the end? It’s already enough of an issue to fight against the complex of feeling like a rock-star while on stage, performing for thousands of people, but you put my face on a giant screen, and now I feel even more important!

Aaron Keyes leading worship at CatWest

4) It Feeds the Entertain-me Machine: One of the major criticisms of the modern, western, evangelical church is that it has become too consumeristic. Rather than asking church-goers “how can YOU serve people,” we ask “how can WE serve you?” We create a environment where people come to be entertained. We put on a show for them, hoping they’ll come back next week with a friend. We don’t require anything from them, just that they sit back and enjoy the show. I feel like using iMag in worship does nothing to combat this notion, and more likely does much to convey it.

5) It Doesn’t Feel Right: Okay, so this is pretty vague, and sort of a lame 5th reason. But there’s just something about iMag that I can’t quite put my finger on (other than the previous 4 reasons, of course) that just makes me cringe a bit. While the motives of those using iMag are undoubtedly noble, the final product looks, well, like that: a product. I don’t feel invited in to engage in worship, I feel invited to join a concert, to watch a performance, to see how good looking and talented other people are. I end up feeling bad for the people on stage, wishing they didn’t have to have themselves projected on large screens. I find myself desperate to look elsewhere, even if it means I cannot sing-a-long because I don’t know the words. And in the end, I realize that all I’m really thinking about is the use of iMag itself, and not Jesus and His worship.

Conclusion: I don’t totally hate iMag. My first “reason to like” iMag remains true, however I would apply that only to the Preacher/Speaker. I just think the game changes too much when it comes to the music and worship. Yes, use iMag to blow up the head of the preacher so we can follow along and be engaged. But leave it off when the band plays. So what if I can’t see the singers face, I’m not here to watch him. I don’t want to condemn or judge those of my friends and comrades who utilize iMag (or are at a church that forces them to use iMag), for I know that much of this is preference and personal conviction. But I do think there is enough inherent to the medium itself that should cause us to question “why” we use it, and what messages are we conveying when we do.

What about you?

Does your church use iMag? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, how would you feel if they started this week?

Or have you been to events where they used iMag? How did you feel about it?

As always, I welcome your comments…

Ever Changing Cyber Etiquette

Text-er? Email-er? FB-er? Phone-er?

Text-er? Email-er? FB-er? Phone-er?

Potential Conversation in 2001

Bro: “Dude, did you get my message?”

Dude: “What message, bro?”

Bro: “The message I left on your voicemail?”

Dude: “Home or cell?”

Bro: “Home, dude.”

Dude: “Bro, we don’t really use that phone anymore.”

Potential Conversation in 2007

Dude: “Bro, what’s up.. you called?”

Bro: “yeah dude, I left a voicemail, didn’t you get it?”

Dude: “eh, I just saw I had a missed call… I don’t really check my voicemail much.”

Potential Conversation in 2008

Bro: “Dude, why haven’t you called me back… I hit you up like twice yesterday…”

Dude: “oh, sorry bro… you should’ve texted me. I don’t really look at my calls anymore.”

Potential Conversation in 2009

Bro: “Dude, are you coming tonight?”

Dude: “Coming where, bro?”

Bro: “to the movies with us… didn’t you get my texts?”

Dude: “ah, sorry bro… didn’t check my texts today. You should’ve left me a message on FaceBook…”

I’m guessing, minus the “dude” and “bro” language, you’ve probably had a similar conversation with someone over the past few years. It seems that with the ever changing culture of social networking and communication, the quote-un-quote “etiquette” that goes along with communication is having a hard time keeping up.

I noticed this clearly in an experience I had last week with a friend.

After about 3 interactions (or maybe “failed” interactions) through texting and attempting to comment on Facebook, he finally called me out and just said “dude, I don’t check my actual facebook page… try calling sometime. i think you’d come off a little less abrasive.”

Confused, I called him and asked what he meant, and found out that: a) sarcasm doesn’t always communicate in the virtual world, b) I was misinformed about how frequent this person checked Facebook (turns out he updates via Twitter… so while he has multiple “status updates” a day, it’s almost always apart from actually logging on to Facebook), and c) I had, unintentionally, imposed expectations on this friend based on interactions with other friends.

So what I’m finding is that it is important to be aware of your own expectations towards others when communicating with them virtually. One friend may be an uber-texter… you know the type. Before you even hit the ‘home’ button after pushing send, you’ve already got a reply back. Or another friend may just love the phone… you send an email with a question, and five minutes later your phone is blowing up. Meanwhile, you have the “always have a Facebook window open” friend, who lives and dies by the status updates and comments. And soon you begin to make mental checklists of who communicates how, and by what speed they do so. This can become both helpful and efficient most of the time.

The problem comes when either: a) you don’t actually KNOW the preferred communication habits of particular friend, or b) you get them mixed up or confused. And soon you begin to wonder why JOE hasn’t texted you back, why JILL can’t seem to take five minutes to reply to your email, how long your FB comment/question on TODD’S wall will remain unattended to, and if SUE must have lost her job and can’t afford her phone anymore because she hasn’t returned your call in days.

As wonderful and efficient as all our methods of communication in the 21st century are, they certainly can lead to inter-relational frustration at times if we are not careful. So I, for one, am going to try and make a better effort to understand how my friends and family communicate best, and keep that in mind if an “emailer” doesn’t respond to my text right away, or a “phoner” leaves my Facebook comment unanswered for days.

What about you? Have you ran in to similar problems? And what type of virtual communicator are you, and do your friends know that?