…it is produced by Hollywood for entertainment and not necessarily the Christian message.

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The first critique of ‘what I do’ is aimed at my admittedly heavy use of movie clips in my preaching material. For those of you who have not heard me preach on a regular basis, let me explain.(1) The standard format for most Sundays is really quite predictable: First the reading from scripture, then a movie clip of some sort (the week I wrote this BLOG I used a clip from the movie Rudy), after that I start speaking usually acknowledging the movie and then I ignore the movie clip altogether while setting up my point using translations, perspectives, and ideas all based on the reading. Finally I return to the clip and show how it is a metaphor for my point…I nearly always end with a question for the congregation to chew on throughout the week. Within that very monotonous outline, the trick becomes to keep those in attendance engaged and interested long enough to get to the point while at the same time giving them a metaphor to remember and grapple with beyond the few minutes we share together.

What is interesting is the range of feedback I get concerning this style or method of preaching. Some love it and find it deeply engaging and memorable, others use words such as ‘relevant’ (always a significant compliment no matter how overused the word is these days), and others appreciate the difference from other styles (different at least in Lutheran type circles). But, people are different, created in all sorts of diversity with an array of likes and dislikes. Therefore, not all feedback is the same. It is not all positive, of course (and it never will be). The bulk of people who don’t ‘click’ with how I do it simply move on and find another church. Others don’t say a word and simply deal with it because, even though they may not be a fan of my style, they have a theological perspective that informs and guides them to a view of ‘church’ that isn’t all about the sermon. But there is one other group…the group that feels called to tell me directly that they do not appreciate what I do or how I do it. It is from this group of people where statements such as this come from,

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“We are movie buffs, but we also realize that even though there may be a message in the film segment, it is produced by Hollywood for entertainment and not necessarily for a Christian message.”

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This of course is a valid point. One that causes me to once again think about why I do what I do…

My knee jerk reaction is to talk about culture and our use of screens. We use them. We use them for 90% of all media consumption.(2) Not only do we get most of our information through the medium of screens, but we spend most of our day looking at those screens. A recent report has the average American looking at a screen over 10 hours per day…per day!(3) In order to consume all of that media, the average American home has an average 5.7 internet connected gadgets constantly grabbing information from the omnipresent cloud in order to fill all of that screen time.(4) This is up sharply from previous years but one of the newest trends for all of us media consuming junkies isn’t the consumption itself, but the sharing of all of that media. We don’t simply use more screens over more hours on more devices as if we are passively watching and consuming more and more stuff. We are turning around and sharing it with others.(5) Screens and what goes on them is a part of who we are. It is a part of this culture. It clearly works as a means of getting information across to nearly everyone who lives in this culture. So…why use screens with both static (words and images) and dynamic (video) content? Simply put, ‘screens’ are how people get their information in today’s world, so the church might as well use them to the fullest…

Ok so that is part of an answer or reason, but why specifically to movie clips? Why Hollywood?? In my mind, Hollywood isn’t about the medium (screens filled with light and sound) as much as it is about storytelling. And I would way that, if nothing else, Hollywood is excellent at telling stories. Uri Hanson gives an interesting TED Talk that our brains, in community, “align” when we hear the same idea or story.(6) Maybe that is the power of great storytelling, that with a great story we are all as a community brought together, on the same page experiencing the same thing, and taking in the same information. How much more is that true when we find material such as popular movies and mix it with a concept being discussed on a Sunday morning in worship? Uri also gives a TED Talk about how great stories are also a memory storage device. If this is true, then maybe a more familiar, movie clip created by Hollywood to speak directly and specifically to this culture with help the congregation remember the point of the sermon. Maybe specifically that type of storytelling is a good memory storage device. Maybe?

All of that said, solid reasons in and of themselves, that isn’t the reason I started using movie clips nor are those the reasons I keep using them. I use them because God, God’s work, God’s love, isn’t revealed only in scripture. God isn’t limited to a collection of bound pages scribbled with ink organized into letters, words, sentences and paragraphs. God is more. God can be experienced throughout the whole of creation. At a very basic level, I believe we as ‘church people’ (aka: people who go to church on a regular basis) treat the Gospel, the Bible, the story of God and God’s people simply as a story from the past that we retell as if a story from 2000+ year ago is the only story of God in which the Good News of love, grace, mercy, restoration and redemption can be found, the only story of God that matters. I think this is a horribly limiting unintentional message the church has sent for a very long time…a message that says, God worked and was accessible only in the past. If only we can retell the same stories again and again in order to relive them will we get to know of God’s love today.

*puke (that is just wrong…sorry!)

… the Gospel, the Bible, the story of God and God’s people, is alive today. The story of God isn’t just a story from the past, but it is a story lived out today as well, in all kinds of beautiful ways. I want people to see God and think about God not only when they hear the words “A reading from the Gospel of Mark….” (or whatever), but when they see people interact on the street, at their jobs, in their homes. If we are conditioned to only think of God when a lectionary reading is being read, or a hymn sung, or we are sitting lecture style facing an altar and a cross, then what is the point? Isn’t preaching about encouraging, teaching, persuading that the Gospel is to be lived out beyond the walls of the church? Isn’t preaching supposed to help us see, experience and be the Gospel Monday through Saturday, not just one hour on Sunday?

The movie clips are simply a part of getting people used to seeing God in a venue and a medium other than the trappings of a typical Sunday morning at church. I would LOVE for people to start telling me about movies they saw not as a word-of-mouth promotion for a movie, but as a place where they unexpectedly saw God at work. What if we as a people of God, as Jesus followers, started looking for God’s love, God’s work, God’s mercy, God’s grace in places other than scripture and a sermon? What if we didn’t only talk about the dark and dangerous (sometimes evil) world we live in in light of the evening news, but started talking about the beauty of God’s creation because of the stories being told and lived every day…what if we started to live the gospel being retold in todays world as opposed to only talking about the Gospel through four books at the beginning of the New Testament ending with “The Word of the Lord”?

What if…

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1 – I would invite you to watch/listen to my sermons on our church website, except we have chosen not to put sermons online lately due to dated and deteriorating equipment. The quality is just bad. Seriously, if you would like to help us fund some new equipment to ensure sermons are recorded and put online, please click here to make a donation (go to “OTHER” and type in SERMON EQUIPMENT in the box). We need about $1500 for a new HD Camera and another $1500 for a second computer dedicated to real time production of sermons for online use. THANK YOU!!

2 – “The Average Number of Screens in a Home Has Increased”, Tech At Last, accessed August 29th, 2016, http://techatlast.com/average-number-of-screens-in-home-increased/

3 – “Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time, and growing,” CNN, accessed August 29th, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/

4 – “NPD: US homes now hold over 500m Internet-connected devices with apps, at an average of 5.7 per household,” TNW, accessed August 26th, 2016, http://thenextweb.com/insider/2013/03/18/npd-us-homes-now-hold-over-500m-internet-connected-devices-with-apps-at-an-average-of-5-7-per-household/#gref

5 – Brown, Scott L., How Are People Consuming Media?”, Three Screens – Nielsen, 2010, accessed August 29th, 2016, http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/newswire/uploads/2010/01/Nielsen-3screen-CES-2010.pdf

6 – Hasson, Uri (2016, February). Uri Hasson: This is your brain on communication [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/uri_hasson_this_is_your_brain_on_communication

2 thoughts on “Hollywood!!!

  1. From a prison cell in Nazi Germany in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated that society was clearly becoming less religious. It was certainly acting that way, he observed. His observation is more true today than ever. Each generation is becoming more and more secular and the old religious language ceases to be effective. In his letters and papers from prison, Bonhoeffer wrote that the church of the future would need “a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming – as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom.” If we restrict ourselves to traditional church language and images, we will miss a great opportunity to speak to the world. Secular film, music, and art can often communicate the gospel in fresh ways.

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  2. I personally believe there is a Christian message to be found in everything! There is a Christian teachable moment in every situation. Just ask my kids! I am forever applying scriptures, stories of biblical people, and biblical principles to encourage them and guide them! They accuse me of turning everything in to a sermon! It’s helpful to apply the long ago written scriptures to what’s happening in the modern day!!

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