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I have always been drawn to stories—particularly the way stories come alive in film. To this day, I can easily recall vivid memories of a number of different films I saw for the first time. I remember the way they made me feel and how they stirred an emotional response, and I’m not the only one who’s felt that. The power of a good story is that it draws you in and connects with you on an emotional level.
My favorite film critic, Roger Ebert, once said, “If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen.”
That’s why we’re drawn to films, TV shows, books, music and other creative arts—the stories they tell connect with us on a deeper level. They challenge the way we see each other, the way we see the world, the kind of people we want to be and, if we’re paying attention, our faith. That’s an idea I first experienced in college at the Biblical Institute of Los Angeles (Biola) where I had a chance to take a film theory class. But we didn’t just consider how films were made from a technical standpoint, we considered what they meant for us as Christians and how we relate to the world.
That doesn’t mean that every film gives you a Spiritual lesson. Rather, films are a window into the beliefs of their creators, like all good art. In this case it’s often a writer or director (ideally both) who want to make a statement about how they see the world. Sometimes these statements are bland, but sometimes they’re challenging. It can be a chance to consider our own faith, our own worldview, and how it compares.
Author Donald Miller, who wrote Blue Like Jazz, became fascinated with the idea of story and its power when we was making his own foray into film, helping adapt his book into a movie. In a book he wrote about that process, Miller said, “narrative has an unbelievable ability to adjust your moral compass.”
For the past few years, I’ve shared my passion for tearing apart narrative through GTW classes. When I took that film theory class in college, the professor began by saying when we were through we’d, “never look at films the same way.” And that’s been true for me, so it’s a promise I try to make to everyone who joins a class I teach.
I’ve been blessed to find a number of people with a similar passion for considering narrative and faith. Rev. Eunice “Junior” McGarrahan and I have been known to have many long, passionate discussions about films, stories, faith and our culture. And this fall, we’re going to team up to share that passion together as part of Growing Together Wednesdays. We’ll be looking at a number of deep, often challenging films and diving into what we can take away, as Christians, from the story and how we can be an influence for Christ in our culture.
In addition, we’ll be looking at the books that served as a basis, inspiration or companion to the films. We hope it will be a fun time to dig into narrative together and grow in our faith. If you’re a fan of books, movies or just seeing a couple narrative geeks share their passion on nine Wednesday nights this fall, this class is for you. It’s also a great opportunity to invite a friend, neighbor or co-worker who shares a love for story to be part of looking at these books and movies in a new way. It can be a gateway to a bigger conversation about faith. We hope to see you Wednesdays this fall!
The outline for this fall's course appears below, so you can get a jump on reading, watching and discovering what our featured artists have to say while you're filling up your summer book and movie lists.
Wednesday, August 29—The Young Messiah (2016); Christ The Lord Out of Egypt by Anne Rice, and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Wednesday, September 5 and Wednesday, September 12—The Godfather (1972); The Godfather by Mario Puzo, and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Wednesday, September 19—Life of Brian (1979); Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Wednesday, September 26—Atonement (2007); Atonement By Ian McEwan
Wednesday, October 3—A Wrinkle in Time (2018); A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Wednesday, October 10, Wednesday, October 17, Wednesday, October 24—A Time to Kill (1996), To Kill A Mockingbird (1962); A Time to Kill by John Grisham, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson