Last month, I spent some time at the Sundance Film Festival. In a recent post, I noted the difference between marketing films to Christians and the possibility of film as a transformative space in the life of a Christian. Instead of imagining Christians as a set audience whose worldview we don’t want to disturb, I wonder if we could use Christianity’s specific theological language to enliven our understanding of film. Could Christianity’s theological lens illuminate elements of film that other cultural perspectives miss?
Perhaps the best example of this possibility that I saw at Sundance came from watching the Justin Kelly film I am Michael.
Sitting beside my best friend, we tensed as policemen clubbed civil rights protesters. We teared up as Martin Luther King Jr. marched alongside James Bevel, as Coretta Scott King talked with Malcolm X, and as the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee strained to relate to their elders. Selma was an experience: visceral, soulful, inspiring, and shocking.
A visual image that struck me was based in sound: microphone before King, organ pipes behind him.
2014 has been described as the year that Hollywood found faith. But if the first-ever panel on faith and film at the Sundance Film Festival is any indication, the discovery of theological depth is still quite a ways off.
My good neighbor of long standing said to me, You know, I think that old nursery rhyme, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, is the golden key To a successful life. Remember how it goes?
Oh yes, I said, but what about all those folks Whose boat is leaking, and their oars have Battered blades and split handles that pinch Their palms and splinter their fingers at every stroke, And as far as they can see downstream, There is crashing white water, great boulders And perhaps a fatal waterfall ahead?
Ah yes, he sighed. I pray for them every day. I pray earnestly that they can swim—that they Know how to swim, he said, pouting his lips Thoughtfully and nodding his white head. Yes, they must know how to swim.
Religion is often on display in professional athletics, with the exception of the National Hockey League. The few hockey players who are open about their faith buck a tradition of reticence or downright distrustfulness toward religion. Unlike professional football or basketball, many NHL players come from Canada or Europe, where the culture is much more secular and religious faith is closely guarded. There is also the suspicion in hockey that a person of faith might be too soft a player. Some hockey clubs make chapel services available, but far fewer than in professional basketball (Boston Globe, April 5).