Dear Hyde Park family,
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved movies. I bawled like a baby when I saw E.T. (The first film I saw twice in the theater.) I laughed out loud at Innerspace (The first film my parents let me see on my own, along with my buddy Matt Bodie.) I had nightmares for days after Sophie’s Choice (Which I saw when I was ten. My parents took me. Long story.) And I had even more nightmares after Splash (Don’t talk to me about mermaids.)
I love films.
Rarely did a week go by during my childhood that I didn’t catch the latest episode of Siskel & Ebert’s At the Movies. The thirty-minute program featured critiques of the latest films by the Chicago Tribune’s Gene Siskel and the Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert. If you ever watched their show, you know that what made it entertaining was not just in hearing their reviews. It was also in the spirited, often heated debates between these two grown men who were equally passionate about the movies.
Before he died two years ago, Roger Ebert wrote a delightful memoir called “Life Itself,” in which he shared one of the reasons films are so important to our modern day culture:
“We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds, not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, although that is an important part of it, but by seeing the world as another person sees it.”
Now, as a preacher by trade and a cinematic enthusiast by nature, I fully agree with Ebert’s point. Not only do films show us a gateway into the way the world works, but we experience truths in these films through the lens of our own world views. In spiritual terms, through the lens of the Christian faith, we can discover in Hollywood films many deeper truths about our human condition, our connection to one another, and our relationship to God.
That is the basis for our new five-week worship series. In a play off Siskel and Ebert’s weekly broadcast, we’re calling it “Hyde Park at the Movies,” and each week we will be learning important truths about the Christian faith through the sights and sounds of some of Hollywood’s most recent blockbuster movies.
Here’s the roster of movies:
Sunday, July 3, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Sunday, July 10, Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out”
Sunday, July 17, “The Martian”
Sunday, July 24, “Creed”
Sunday, July 31, “The Peanuts Movie”
Each Thursday, for this Midweek Message, you’ll receive from me a “viewer’s guide,” which you can use in conjunction with your own private screening of the film in advance. The first one is included at the end of today’s message.
Or, better yet, you can join others in the Hyde Park United Methodist congregation for a free screening of each film at Britton 8 theaters on S. Dale Mabry. Every Saturday morning at 11 a.m., they will be showing that weekend’s film for our folks. Despite the renovation work going on in their lobby, they have agreed to allow us to watch the film with a full movie-going experience in their theater before you hear us preach about it the next day. A free-will donation of any size will be accepted at the front door. It’s a bargain you won’t want to miss!
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
It all starts this weekend, with what for many science fiction fans was the biggest movie event of the last several years. When George Lucas debuted the original Star Wars trilogy from 1977 to 1983, it became more than a cultural phenomenon. It became a defining narrative for a generation of people who wanted a new mythological framework for describing their world. The archetypal Galactic Empire represented a kind of institutionalized evil and oppression, the worst of humanity organized into a cold-blooded killing machine. The Rebel Alliance, led by a spirited band of freedom fighters, summoned us to a new kind of courage, to overcome injustice in every form and bring balance to The Force.
It is The Force that is the foundational element in the Star Wars story, making it a kind of mythology-within-a-mythology. It is an all powerful being at work throughout the universe which, when kept in balance, sustains all beings in harmony. But any imbalance that allows the dark side of The Force to prevail creates chaos and violence.
And now, over thirty years after Return of the Jedi, the story continues in The Force Awakens. The dark side of the force has re-emerged as the evil First Order, served by a shadowy figure named Kylo Ren. The Jedi have all but vanished, and a small group of rebel fighters have assembled to take on The First Order.
But in the foreground of the story are two new heroes: Rey, a scavenger on a desert planet with unknown origins and an intriguing future; and Finn, a storm trooper with The First Order who undergoes a conversion of conscience. He begins a journey of self-discovery that places him squarely in the conflict between good and evil, Jedi and Sith, light and dark side of The Force.
As you watch the film in preparation for this Sunday, think about the following questions:
- What similarities do you see between Finn’s awakening of conscience and the process of Christian conversion? What biblical stories come to mind when you see Finn make the decision to leave The First Order?
- At first, Rey and Finn are incredulous to the possibility that The Force is real, until Han Solo verifies its reality for them. In what ways has the Christian faith become simply a myth in the minds of people today? What would it take to convince them that the faith is, in fact, real? Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9. What connections can you make between these instructions and what Han tells Rey and Finn?
- As in prior films, the desert is a key backdrop for much of the action. What important biblical narratives are also set in the wilderness? And just as Rey emerges from the desert as the key redemptive character in the story, what other biblical heroes emerge from the wilderness to bring about God’s kingdom?
- And finally, just for fun: What is it that you love about the Star Wars films? What childhood memories do you have? What do you think makes these films such an endearing part of our culture?
See you at the movies!
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist