David Swanson, associate pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, is back with his second report from Park City, Utah. In this post he questions our assumptions about church and culture, and asks leaders to consider a new posture toward films.
It's day 4 of the Windrider Film Forum at the Sundance Film Festival and so far I've seen 4 dramatic features, 4 documentaries, and a set of short experimental music videos. I find this funny since I don't generally watch this many films in a year! Some of the films we've seen have been purchased by production companies and will soon be coming to a theatre near you. Others will be seen by very few people after this festival ends in a few days.
Our days at the Windrider Film Forum begin each morning with a teaching session at Mountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship facilitated by Fuller professor, Craig Detweiler. Craig has asked us to view each film with an open mind, expecting to catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God. This quote from C.S. Lewis has served as one of our starting points:
We sit down before the picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.
This week we've been asked to "get ourselves out of the way" as we show up to these films and pay attention to what the filmmakers are attempting to tell us about our world. It's been a fascinating experience.
For example, yesterday we saw a gritty film about sex trafficking called Trade . Surrendering to this film means watching some horrific realities about our world. Looking, listening, and receiving from the filmmakers meant paying attention to the stories of depravity and redemption they chose to tell. This film raised questions for me about the presence of God in the darkest places in our world, and encouraged me to pray for the people found in those dark places.
Another take-away from our morning sessions with Craig came from our conversations about how ministry leaders should think about the role films play in our culture. How are we to lead within a culture that is looking increasingly to films for ways to understand how the world works? For those of us in pastoral leadership this means accepting the reality that most folks in our churches watch a lot of films. Much of our tradition has been to tell people to abstain from films, to only watch films with certain ratings, or to sponsor screenings of explicitly "Christian" films.
But this week Craig Detweiler is proposing another response to the pervasive presence of films. He calls us to engage in "interpretive leadership." In other words, rather than asking people to distance themselves from some of the most significant stories our culture is telling, equip people in our churches to come to films prepared to engage significantly with these stories.
I'm finding Craig's idea of "interpretive leadership" to be very helpful and applicable beyond films. Many of us in pastoral ministry are growing in our awareness of the disconnect between our evangelical subculture and the culture at large. Rather than feeding that disconnect I'd like to suggest that ministry leaders wade into the thick of our culture and begin interpreting what we find and equipping our people to do the same. If the Kingdom of God can be found in a field, I'm guessing it can be found in a film.