Approach movie season with Christian lens

By the looks of recent television commercials, we are in for a summer full of movies funny and sad, bombastic and thoughtful.  With blockbuster season right around the corner, perhaps we should take note now–and discuss with our families–how to watch movies from a Christian point-of-view.

On set of Transformers 3: Director Michael Bay with actors Shia LaBeouf (foreground) and Josh Duhamel

Watching a movie through a Christian “lens” is decidedly different than, say, watching a movie for watching sake.   We assume that since Christ is Lord and that we are to take every thought captive, we should ask questions about a film’s lessons for faith and for society.

Our Christian lens allows us to engage the underlying moral and ethical themes in the movies we watch, as well as analyze them with an eye towards God’s redemptive work in the midst of artistic expression.

It is important to approach movies cautiously.  Families with small children can peruse websites that “grade” movies based on violence, language, and sexual content.  Those with older children or teens can watch a movie together, and then discuss how the movie makes an audiences come to conclusions related to faith and morality.

Check out some of these thematic elements that can inform a family discussion as it relates to faith:

We have a whole new line of hero-based movies hitting the big screen, from Thor to Captain America.  Many of these movies help us recognize that honor and courage are important attributes in life.  Yet, they usually glorify violence and revenge, so-called virtues that conflict with God’s word.

It will help families to recall that Jesus explicitly opposed violence as a means of revenge.  Violent content in comic-book movies are usually entertaining, but not very redeeming.

Another unfortunate thematic element found in most movies is sexual exploitation.  I’m looking forward to watching the third installment of the Transformers franchise next month, but I know that director, Michael Bay, has a shallow approach to how he portrays his female characters in his films.

Bay’s movies often degrade women to the status of sex objects or “boy toys.”   Morphing cars are cool, but we may need to discuss how this movie among others mistreat women in general.

Other, more nuanced movies will reach for Academy Award status by portraying humanity in all its candor.  These movies usually have deeper messages than do action flicks, but they too can become important conversation pieces in Christian circles.  Many times these films explore the tensions between faith and science, fate and destiny, hope and grief, and lostness and redemption.

These films can actually become resources to point others to Christ.  Remember last year’s Academy contender, “Up in the Air,” starring George Clooney?  The film’s theme centered around an executive who had no real relational connections and very little meaning in his life.  The movie ends on a depressing note.  The movie made me wonder: What if Christ were to take all of the Clooneys of the world and show them that an abundant life is possible only when one relates to God?

Company Men has a star-studded cast, including Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Affleck

I’m looking forward to “Company Men,” which explores the lives of a half-dozen executives who lose jobs during the recession.  It is timely, but it is an important film that echoes “Up in the Air” because it reminds us that family and relationships are more important than prestige and social status.

Despite the downturn of the economy, we can be sure that movies are still cash cows.  As Christians, however, we are called to engage movies with a critical eye towards faith and art from a uniquely Christian perspective.

“Palinization” opens Dialogue about Equality, Dignity

By Joe LaGuardia, with Rev. Nicole Farrar

I have seen so much of Sarah Palin in the news over the past several weeks, I feel like I am qualified to be called one of her best friends.  Sarah Palin and her book tour have attracted the attention of almost every media outlet.  My most recent Newsweek came in the mailbox, and there she was brandishing running attire and the American flag.

One of the things I noticed in reading and hearing all of the coverage was how mean and insensitive some commentators are when talking about her.  Many are critical while others point out the weaknesses of her policies; as a whole, Palin’s been treated with disdain, even from pundits within her own party.  She is often portrayed as an airhead, opportunist, or sex symbol.

The negative press on Palin is a symptom of a deeper issue of how women are treated in the public sphere.  Consider Hillary Clinton who stands on the other side of the political aisle.  She too has been portrayed as a villain, a she-devil in a skirt.

The treatment of Palin and Clinton reveal that women are often presented as mere caricatures in the media.  I constantly remind myself that I cannot expect much more than generalizations from news organizations that are interested in ratings and the bottom line.

But I can expect Christians to treat all women with respect, dignity, and equity despite whether they agree with a woman’s politics.  It was St. Paul who said in Galatians that, “In Christ there is neither slave nor free, man nor female.”  Ours is a faith that declares Christ’s salvation for all who call him Lord and baptizes both genders.

Yet, religion sometimes finds itself on the wrong side of history when it comes to gender equality.  Christianity, among other religions, has a soiled past in its treatment of women.  Women stand in the shadows of Sinning Eve, Laughing Sarah, Murderous Jezebel, and Temptress Bathsheba.

As a result, some denominations influence women to wear clothes from head-to-toe, while others are silenced.  Just this past month, the Georgia Baptist Convention broke ties with the First Baptist Church of Decatur because the church, made up of several thousand members, called a woman to be its pastor in 2007.

One traditional belief is that Paul forbade women to speak in churches in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:33b-34).  A fuller treatment of Paul’s letter, however, proves that Paul was not so much concerned about gender as he was about power.

The church in Corinth had very strong factions in its midst.  Prestigious cliques, at least one made up of women, paraded their honor over the weak within the community.  For Paul, social decorum was the great equalizer that prevented a robust lust for power.

My deepest conviction is that women are without equality for much of the same reasons Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  Those in power do not like to see those on the margins have a respectable footing in the world; dehumanizing rhetoric insures inequality.

Women speak for themselves with clear, reasoned voices.  Sometimes despite the merit of their words and the strengths of their arguments, they are ignored or exploited by many who are content with a status quo of inequality.  All of us who are concerned with the biblical call to fashion a more just society must draw attention to the gender disparities that still exist; we must work for the full inclusion of women in life, work, and the church.