On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of hosting an evening at the International Christian College in Glasgow, looking at how we use film in christian youth work and how it could be developed. Below is a summary of what I said:
I started by asking three questions to get folks thinking:
1) What is your favourite genre?
2) Can you think of a time when a film changed you in some way?
3) How do you use film in church or with young people?
Films are stories and stories have been around for thousands of years. Judaism used a form of oral storytelling as a way of self definition. It helped them to understand who they were, how they came to be and who there God was. Jesus used parables (stories) to communicate the kingdom of God. And today, we use film to do the same.
Moses encountered God in a burning bush. Moses would have walked past that bush many times but on that occasion God chose to make that place holy. On that occasion heaven collided with earth. In Celtic theology, this is understood as a ‘thin place’. A place where heaven and earth collide. I believe film can be thin places. Places where we encounter the divine.
Historically there has been five ways in which people have interacted with film:
1) Avoidance- (steer clear)
2) Caution (watch with suspicion)
3) Dialogue (a belief that films can have theological themes)
4) Appropriation (we can achieve greater insight about god and ourselves)
5) divine encounter (we can encounter God and be transformed)
1) which view do you most often hold?
How we have historically used film with young people?
The Matrix Red/ Blue Pill clip
1) Who has used this clip in their youth work or seen it used in youth work before?
It’s not wrong to show a two-minute clip but what you need to ask, is, the theme I am communicating through the clip true for the rest of the movie?
What other themes appear in ‘The Matrix’?
The blurring of humans and machines, Sex and sensuality, Fate and freewill, mirrors. The blurring of the real world and the simulated world. Philosophical themes of Descartes, Socrates, Plato, bondage and S&M, sexual ecstasy and orgies.
Do any of these ideas conflict with the Christian worldview? By endorsing one theme, are we endorsing the themes we do not agree with?
Now you make think this is all nonsense and unnecessary. Maybe there is nothing wrong with cherry picking scenes from movies that fit the message we want to share. We realise that we shouldn’t read the bible out of context. the bible out of context. Because it’s wrong and can and has lead to all sorts of misunderstanding and oppression. The bible has been used to condemn and oppress all sorts of people because readers have cherry picked what they have wanted to hear. We come to the bible, not with an agenda, but to hear the inspired words of God. I believe we should be doing the same with film.
So what’s the alternative?
Part 3- A new kind of film criticism
Rather than picking out specific scenes to a film your young people might not have seen, why not start by watching a film and then allowing a discussion to take place over a period of time. Rather than having an agenda, let the film speak for itself. You could then do a whole series of discussions and chats around the themes of one particular film, showing a short clip to refresh their memory.
This also gives young people the tools to be able to do this on their own when their watching films or TV programmes.
Here are the questions that I believe are useful to helping people unpack a film.
What the key themes that this film is trying to engage with?
Ø What is the film trying to tell you about this?
Ø Is this the commonly held perception of this?
Ø What’s your perception of this?
Ø What’s the biblical perception of this?
Ø Do these compliment or conflict with each other?
Can you see yourself in any roles / do you identify yourself with any characters?
Are there any background influences from writers/directors that shape the view?
We then watched my short film ‘prodigal’ about a repentant Satan trying to re-enter Heaven and used the questions as a test-case study.
Higgins G “How movies helped save my soul”
Johnston R “Finding God in the Movies”
Johnston R “Reframing theology and film”
Johnston R “Reel Spirituality”
Ortiz G “Explorations in theology and film”
Sogaard V “Media in Church and Mission”
On Wednesday 2nd November I attended the “how to get your kids through church without them hating God” tour organised by Rob Parsons and ‘Care for the Family’.
It was an excellent evening with lots of thought-provoking ideas. As an aside, one thing I really enjoyed what that they encouraged people to tweet comments using #GYKTC tag and it was great to interact with others in attendance and hear what they were being challenged with. A few of the older people I was with glanced at me a couple of times because I was typing away on my phone. They probably thought I was being rude but I was REALLY interacting with the talks through twitter.
I’d love to see my speakers in church using twitter to allow people to comment or ask questions during their sermons. Although, I have to wonder, how many of the church congregation i am part of have ever heard of twitter.
Anyway, let me get one with actually discussing the event.
The evening was split into three sections and each section consisted of a short video, drama and then a talk by Rob Parsons. Phatfish already provided worship at the start and the end of the evening. In this blog, I will explore section 1.
Rob explained the four steps of faith for ‘churched’ young people:
1) experienced faith (what they see from their parents)
2) affiliated faith (from their church and peer group)
3) searching faith (where they graps the ability to question their faith and ask difficult questions)
4) owned faith (a faith they accept and own for themselves)
Rob said an interesting thing in that although we don’t think our children/ young people are listening to us, they are in fact hearing everything we have to say. A simple yet profound misunderstanding.
I wonder if you’re anything like me and you’re standing talking to a group of young people about an event coming up or something you’re asking them to do and then a few minutes later they have completely forgotten. It’s like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. In many cases it is clear to me that they are not listening to me. By listening, I mean taking in the facts that I am presenting to them. But what they are doing is ‘hearing’ how I’m saying things. They pick up on the aggression and the frustration. They pick up on the times I am gossiping or slagging someone off and this will have a profound impact on their faith. As leaders, we need to be aware that young people are always ‘hearing’ even when they’re not listening and how we interact with them and others will shape what they think of Christianity.
Something else, he said, that struck me is that we sometimes confuse “spirituality with personality“. We assume that a christian looks and sounds like ‘this or that’. We have a fixed ‘jelly mould’ that we expect Christians to be like and when they don’t fit that mould we assume their faith isn’t growing/ isn’t strong/ isn’t there. In fact what we are looking at is their personality. All Christians are not and should not be the same and we need to get rid of the ‘christian young people’ moulds that we have in our heads. Just because a young person isn’t acting how we think a christian should does not mean they are not a christian.
This idea has profound implications for how we measure ‘christian growth’. How do we know the young people we work with are becoming more like Jesus? More Christ-like? I know I have been guilty of thinking that only those who are actively engaging at youth house groups or are volunteering to be upfront at the youth services are the ones who are ‘spiritually’ growing. But that’s just not the case!
Instead of a ‘one size fits all’ discipleship measuring tool, we need to look at each young person individually and see how each one is changing. We may see that a young person is smoking (and drinking) and think that the are not becoming more like Jesus when in actual fact they are out helping people and praying loads. We cannot measure all young people’s spiritual growth in the same way.
What do you think?
On Thursday night, I took our young people to see the “glasgow passion” (a modern retelling of the passion of Jesus set in Glasgow) in George Square, Glasgow and I thought I would share a few thoughts about it. I’ve seen a number of modern retellings, from the South Africa set “Son of Man” to the outdoor passion play in Manchester a few years ago. This production shared more than a passing resemblance to the Manchester play with its use of pop songs and outdoor city centre setting.
Rather than simply saying whether the play was successful or not, I will instead focus on three areas: story, setting and acting.
From experience, I know how hard it it to translate the story of Jesus into a modern setting because the gospel of Jesus is culturally bound. The events and characters in the story are time and culture specific. The issues that Jesus grapples with are the issues of first century palestine. I feel that the writers of the ‘glasgow passion’ did a reasonable job of updating the story.
Herod and (Mc)Caiaphas were recast as politicans campaigning for re-election amidst allegations of corruption. So far, so good. This idea worked well as it gave them a reason for getting rid of Jesus. They wanted the power and so when a new political candidate rises up, they will do anything to stop him.
They also introduce a new terrorism act which works as a plot device to have Jesus arrested and tried. Having Jesus labelled a terrorist works well.
Translating the disciples was always going to be difficult and I think they do an adequate job but as is often the case with these productions, many of the characters aren’t given much to do and disappear into the background. It would have been better to reduce the numbers of disciples to three our four to make them more rounded.
My biggest gripe with the story is the ending. For most of the running time, the writers are keen to show that this is modern day Glasgow. That this is what would happen if Jesus walked around now. But by trying to be faithful to the gospel text, they make a huge mistake. After Jesus is arrested, he is sentenced to death by lethal injection.
That is not modern day Glasgow.
In that one act, the story loses its grip on reality. To add insult, the execution of Jesus is carried out publically. This would not happen.
It would have been better to have Jesus arrested and for Herod or Caiaphas to have paid another inmate to have killed him whilst in prison. Yes, the death wouldn’t have been public but it would have made more sense and would have fit better with the modern day setting.
An outdoor play, in October, is a difficult thing to pull off. It was very cold on Thursday night and many of our young people lost interest because of this. In order to keep people focused on the story, rather than the temperature, it has to be more engaging and unfortunately the story sagged in the middle.
There were four stages (i think) dotted around George Square and the audience had to turn to keep up with the action (or just watch the giant screens). The problem with this set up is that you waste a minute or so trying to work out where the actors are speaking from. It would have been better to have had the four stages at the front but that is a small gripe.
The main players: Duncan Rennie, Alan McHugh, Derek Munn and Mike Tibbetts played their parts well and Rennie did a great job of bringing real depth to the character of Jesus. The rest of the cast were a mixed bag and there was some truly terrible and amateur acting that threatened to derail the entire production.
Overall, it was worth seeing and was a good experiment. I think if it were to happen again, some of these issues would need to be looked at if it were to be more successful.
one of the issues I want to explore is the ethics of the two minute film clip.
You know what I mean. We all do it.
We pick a scene from a film that matches up with the point we are trying to make with our talk. Seems harmless doesn’t it.
But what does that communicate to young people?
Postmodernism has often been described as the pick and mix ideology. We pick what we like from here and there and build our lives around it. Postmodern religion would be picking bits from all different religions and creating a hodge-podge of spirituality.
And most of us would say that’s wrong.
For years, christians have cherry picked verses from the bible that suit their theology and ignored the ones that they disagree with.
And most of us, even though we do it from time to time, would say that’s wrong.
But then we come to film. And somehow it’s okay to cherry pick bits from films that fit our views and ignore the rest.
Well I say that’s wrong!
I believe that we need to move away from cherry picking film clips and instead show the entire film and let the film speak for itself.
Yes, this is harder. Yes, it means that we need to find news ways of doing illustrations, but I believe it is more ethical.
As a filmmaker, I want people to watch my whole film, not just bits that fit their sermons, and wrestle with all the themes that come out of it.Yes they may not agree with everything in them but that is good for discussion.
So that’s what I’ll be exploring and I hope it will be a lively discussion.
If you’re interested in coming along, please let me know.
The public premiere of my new short film, “prodigal” has just been announced.
Saturday 16th January 2010 @ the Glasgow Film Theatre
The film follows a repentant Satan as he makes a vow with God to let him back into Heaven, but a group of angels and demons will stop at nothing to make sure that doesn’t happen.
All details can be found here