Friday, August 7, 2015

Jesus Goes to the Movies - Boring is Better

My upcoming book, Jesus Goes to the Movies: The Youth Ministry Film Guide, releases on August 11. You can purchase it through Amazon or The Youth Cartel. I'll be posting excerpts in the days leading up to the book. Be sure to buy your copy today!

Boring is Better

Young Life founder Jim Rayburn once said, “We believe it is sinful to bore kids with the gospel.” As youth workers, we’ve each struggled with the entertainment-driven program models, attempting to keep teenagers engaged through a barrage of games, videos and fun-filled events. Youth want what they want, and they want it now, and we surely don’t want to make Jesus appear boring. If we as pastors and mentors cannot keep them engaged for longer than a few minutes, their attention is immediately elsewhere. Yet pandering to this mindset and creating a program of entertainment only fosters more cynicism and consumerism. Teens quickly see through the marketing technique of trying to keep them entertained, yet paradoxically seem to insist on more entertainment, not less.

With the advent of portable technology and wireless Internet, young people don’t have to wait for anything. When answers to difficult spiritual questions can be Googled, authentic community is replaced by Facebook and Bible study methods can be found on an app, what does a long obedience really look like? I think of my friend who rejected the foreign film because he doesn’t “go to the movies to read.” When reading and joy are clear opposites in his mind, how does this affect one’s approach to reading the Scriptures?

Why is it, though, that we avoid the slow and boring? What’s really wrong with boring? Clearly people have not always balked at the quiet and meditative; our culture of immediacy is a relatively recent one. Were folks just more immune to boredom a thousand years ago? Or perhaps people’s lives were a continual stream of misery before the advent of CGI fighting robots. In any case, boredom is a current cultural anathema; we simply won’t tolerate it. You can entertain me, scare me, humor me, even offend me; just don’t bore me.

When I am slow and still and quiet, the true stirrings of my heart surface from the depths. They burst forth in those seemingly random thoughts that appear once you let your mind actually wander. I’m just quietly sipping coffee here at Starbucks; why am I wondering about my relationship with my mother and whether I can trust God with it? It is only when I fill my mind and heart with noise that I can distract myself from those inner pains and struggles. Many movies will gladly be that noise for us.

This is escapism in the worst way. We are trying to escape our own painful reality through the diversions these films offer. We don’t even have to worry about our own emotions because the Hollywood blockbusters are all too ready to take our emotional steering wheels from us through the use of sweeping soundtracks and conspicuous imagery. No wonder we need movies to be as fast-paced and energetic as possible—we wouldn’t want to actually experience a true feeling on our own or be forced to confront the reality of our own brokenness. It is the filmic equivalent of an awkwardly long pause in a dinner conversation. We have to fill it with something, or we are confronted with our own souls.

What if these slow and boring films could save our souls? What if we viewed films as disciplines instead of diversions, as edification instead of entertainment? Could we begin to take movies as opportunities to experience the transcendent?

I was recently struck by this quote from John Stackhouse in the opening of his latest book: “Christians are supposed to think.” What he meant was that Jesus called us to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds. Thinking is not just an obligation, a painful-but-profitable exercise akin to flossing; it is a gift from God and a central part of our ability to love. Regarding films (and all of culture), we need to be better, more loving thinkers. What if Christians were known as the most thoughtful, self-aware people around, especially regarding arts and culture?

The dichotomy between thinking and movies needs to be destroyed. We are doing young people a disservice when we equate spiritual formation with entertainment, and I think our approach to movies can be a reflection of our discipleship. Following Jesus is an often tedious, painful and—dare I say it—boring endeavor. Reading the Bible takes discipline. Prayer takes discipline. Healthy community takes discipline. All are slow and patient endeavors. It’s not always fun and games and fireworks and fog machines. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen in a microwave; it is a seed that sprouts and matures slowly. It is not easy by any means, but often the best things we experience in this world are those intensely cathartic moments that come after extended slow seasons.


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