Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why I'll be Showing a Blatantly Non-Christian Movie at Youth Group

Some time earlier this year (I think around October), my wife and I had some rare, kidless downtime and found ourselves in Tyler (the nearest town with several decent-sized movie theatres) with a few hours to kill and a few extra bucks in our pockets. Being that we were an hour's drive from home and had just showed up at the theatre hoping to catch something good, we realized we didn't want to wait 45 minutes to see the new Sandra Bullock film. So we opted to see "The Invention of Lying" which started in just a few minutes. We had heard no reviews about the movie, but with a cast that included Jennifer Garner, Tina Fey, and appearances by Rob Lowe and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it looked promising to say the least. Two hours later, I found my heart and mind in a tug-of-war wrestling with a number of ideas that had been presented in a very different way. Because of the response it created in me, I immediately realized I had to show it to my youth group and allow them to be presented with the same questions that were presented to me during the film.

I did not include a link to a movie review of this movie because the opinions surrounding this movie are as varied as the number of people who've written them. I didn't want you to read a Christian's conservative review blasting the film as "blasphemous" nor did I want an extremely open-minded review praising its satire, which many people found just plain offensive. If you have not seen the film, I would urge you to resist temptation and see it without reading anything about it beforehand. I will say that the film was co-written, co-directed, and starred in by professed atheist and British comedian Ricky Gervais, famous for his role in original British version of the hit comedy series, The Office (the pre-cursor to the wildly popular American version). Without giving away too much information on the movie (you can google all the movie reviews you like), I can say that "The Invention of Lying", whether by intent or not, makes a case for atheism much the same way "Facing the Giants" or "Fireproof" makes a case for putting faith in God. In the course of the story, this movie takes numerous less-than-subtle stabs at Christianity, Jewish traditions, and the whole idea of faith in general. It is rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and one drug reference. So why will I be showing it to my youth group after it is released on DVD January 19th? Here is why.

1. I think we learn more about ourselves and what we believe from people who disagree with us, than simply by listening to people who are echoing our own thoughts. As I left the theatre after seeing this movie--while my blood was boiling because many parts of me felt like my faith, which I hold ver dear, was under attack--I began to process the argument that had been presented to me through this subversive, yet light-hearted medium. For me, it wasn't something that caused me to question my faith, but rather solidify it.

2. We must be challenged in order to grow. The metaphor of a muscle in the human body being broken down in order to be rebuilt in a bigger, stronger way has become cliche, but it holds true. If you have ever been through a physically strenuous workout, whether running, or lifting weights, or some other form of exercise, or if you've exerted yourself physically more than usual, the next day, you will find you will be quite sore--sometimes in places you didn't realize you had! That is because using our muscles excessively causes them to break down, then rebuild themselves in a stronger manner. Likewise, many houseplants (from the way I understand it) will not really start to grow, until their roots have found their way to the sides of the pot. So challenging my students will cause them to ask some really important questions and in the proper environment we will be able to answer their questions.

3. Creating a bubble for our Christian kids does not paint a clear picture of reality. I've known many people in youth ministry (and I have been there myself) who feel it is our job as youth leaders to shield our precious children from all the reprehensible stuff out there in the world. We encourage them to only listen to Christian music (especially on youth trips) and only watch "G" or "PG" rated films. And while this can work in the vacuum of youth group meetings or even a week-long camp, it's not realistic to assume that our students follow these same ideals when they are not at youth group functions. Now, does that mean I show the latest Quentin Tarantino movie at our next movie night? Absolutely not. However, our job as youth workers is not to shield them from the world, but rather to give them the means to adapt to the culture they are in and to do that from a faith-based standpoint.

We've all heard the stories about the student who goes off to college and find his faith challenged by some philosophy professor who thinks Christianity is all a bunch of garbage, or the other college student who is too busy partying to remain true to his Christian beliefs that may or may not have ever truly been his own (as opposed to his parents). I feel that if youth workers are to be effective, we have to get our heads out of the sand and be aware of the culture our kids live in and give them the tools to help solidify their faith.

Do you agree with this approach? Would you show this movie to your kids? What similar things have you done in your ministry to challenge the way kids think?

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