Thursday, May 7, 2015

Re-Post: Culutre & Bible Study

In the youth group I lead, we often use movies and television shows to teach the Bible. We have two meetings each week, one on Wednesday and one on Sunday. On Sunday we often have a study focused solely on the Bible or some piece of church history, and on Wednesday we usually use a TV or movie-based Bible study. This isn't universally true, we have some movie studies on Sunday and some in-depth Bible-only studies on Wednesday. But, generally speaking, this is how our youth group works.

Well last Wednesday a young lady from our group asked whether the parallels that we find between the movies we watch and the Bible are there on purpose, or by "accident". It is an important question. Over and over again, my youth come to me with pieces of cinema or entertainment that we can use to illustrate various Bible passages. I have produced, with the help of many of my youth, over 50 Bible studies using every kind of movie and television series. How can this be so? How can SO much modern entertainment be related to what we do in church of all places?

To answer that question, let me talk a little bit about the process I use to write these studies. Those who have worked with me are well aware of my 'triangulation' method of curriculum development. I start with the movie itself. That might seem strange and somehow sacrilegious. Shouldn't I start with the Bible and move from there? In point of fact, I assume that the Bible relates to ALMOST every human experience in some way or another. The Bible is an extended meditation on people's relationship with each other and with God, extending over 1500 years or more. This is literally thousands if not millions of people, encountering God, encountering life and reflecting on what it all means. It is such a great record of, if nothing else, just people living life. Almost all art and entertainment also relates to some concrete human experience. Even the most abstract films have to speak to something of our actual encounter with the world to be entertaining or moving in any way, shape, or form.

So starting with the film I look for any particular scene or moment that brings up some important moral question or reflection on the human condition. I then turn to the Bible and look for lessons or images related to the same issue. So it is not true that EVERY movie is related to the Bible, directly, but some part of the Bible and the film are likely to be related to some issue we all have to deal with. Life is the reference point. The Bible is life at its most raw, to the degree any film or television show also relates to life, it'll also relate to the Bible. And that becomes the third angle in my method. After we've looked at the issue raised by the film and seen what the Bible might have to say about that issue, we ask questions about our own lives. It gets personal, as any good religious meeting should. Religion is both a very personal, and a very public thing. The key is to use the movie and the Bible as 'lenses' that let us look at life in a new way, and help us clarify our own vision about this grand adventure called the human experience.

Phillip K Dick believed that the Book of Acts unveiled a reality that is hidden underneath the veil of common experience. I think Dick was on to something, though I'm loathe to accept his ontology. I believe that the Bible, and religion in general, can help us see into the world at a level of 'depth' that other points of contact miss. That depth dimension is, in reality, the very ground of the common experience Dick saw as illusion. But whereas other points of contact with the world, like scientific investigation, give us a lot of precision and certainty, religion's vision is necessarily vague and risky. You have to sacrifice precision to get deeper, and when you get deep, your vision gets murky. That is just the cost of being a limited, embedded human being. I believe the Bible is a special kind of access to that deeper level of existence. If I didn't I wouldn't be a Christian. But it isn't the only access we have, nor is it in all ways complete. Other religions, and all kinds of art, can also help us keep in contact with that deeper place that gives us a glimpse of who we really are, and what it means to be in relationship with that Wonder we call "God". So I find it perfectly appropriate to use movies and television and music, which are for better or worse the prevailing artistic endeavors of our day, to help us on our spiritual journey. And I don't think it should surprise us at all when we keep finding connections between the art we love and the Holy Scripture that is the foundation of our lives.

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