amwriting Church-y trying new things

Reel Spirituality: Or, how movies are like God’s love letter to me

Hint: It's all about the stories. And redemption.

By Liz Rasley

Image courtesy of Denise Jans, Unsplash

I know, I know.

This is a (short long) story about movies and God, and really, I should not be mixing the two. Understand that completely, especially if you are of a certain religious upbringing that may or may not have including dancing and card playing as unacceptable activities…or perhaps raised anywhere in the vicinity of the Bible Belt. I was raised in Texas, so what do I know?

However, in the vein of God showing up for us wherever (and whoever) we are, (burning bush, whale tongue/stomach with undoubtedly bad breath, anyone? Movies aren’t the craziest things to express faith, lest I remind you) well – it’s clear God is beyond our small, tiny limitations and imaginations, and 2) loves us deeply enough to show up where we least expect His presence. At least from what I’ve seen in my faith journey anyways, God will do almost anything for a connection with His beloved child.

Which for me, is movies.

As a small kid, I loved movies, but for some reason, always thought they were “bad.”  I was the child of two easy going parents who loved me and didn’t seem tripped up or particularly uptight about movies, but I also was the kid that always needed the last button on the shirt buttoned all the way up. So you know, a laid-back kid with an open mind trying to hustle for all the candy and other kid-manipulations I could wager.

For whatever reason that I still cannot pinpoint (especially considering we grew up Methodist and mostly without a list of what was and was not acceptable in terms of entertainment,) I would still say no to movies that were not Christian (or, let’s be honest, this was the era of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast) Disney-based. For the young ones in the back, Disney at one point in time was the line for all Christian parents for moral, family-friendly movies to watch unchaperoned. Meanwhile, whatever the reason, too visually/emotionally overwhelming for me or I was just an weird kid (putting money on this one) I didn’t want to see any movie that wasn’t those two things. Maybe, because, as much as movies are an escape, they also force you to deal with things that you would rather not. Or, in my case, perhaps I was just a scaredy cat kid. Seeing as that my kids can still jump scare me on a regular basis, I’ll go with all of the above.

In any case, doesn’t matter.

What matters is that I, nearly 40 at the time, started allowing myself to watch movies that were “not good for me” and “not church approved” (again, not any church group I had been a part of had ever said this) and through it all, found a deeper relationship with God and His stories. Because of that, I’ve now written a faith-based screenplay (screenplays were never part of any career plan, fyi) and well, fallen in love with Bible stories all over again and humanity’s need to figure out what those stories mean to us.

Along with being the nerdy kid with a head always in a book, I’ve always been a visual learner and lover – my original career choice was fashion, just so we’re all aware. And, what’s more, I did costume design in college and LOVED it and the challenge of how a character in this particular world/story would choose to express themselves, but never put it together that creating stories – writing and visually – might be my sweet spot.

I know, I know. I’m shaking my head too.

One would think these would be clues as to my future career path, but alas – too busy surviving on ramen, $5 pizzas and using all my brain power to pull together outfit choices and interpret drama on which sorority was having problems. There was clearly no mental space to figure out my future and career. Sigh.

Oh well. To further this hilarity, I also took a creative writing class during this time, a morning class on creative writing with room to create and a wall of windows with trees swaying…it was a haven. One of the few classes I looked forward to. And yet, in those four years it never dawned on me that perhaps this was my calling. I KNOW. And yes, I have always been late to my own parties.

Meanwhile, my past and how I’ve decided to go all in on movies is not what you’re here for.

But all that nonsense to say this: Whatever beliefs you do or do not hold about movies and God, I do believe there’s a healthy intersection of the two, with redemptive-themed stories/movies, and it’s taken me years and a lot of shame-shedding to figure that out.

For the record, my personal stance is, if it’s a redemptive story with hope, and/or a way to better or learn how to manage/challenge the human condition, I’m in. Needless blood and gore and violence? I understand there’s a place for it and some people use that to process the blood and violence and endless amount of trauma in the world, but for me, it doesn’t help, so I typically stay away from those types.

And well, the net-net is I enjoy movies. And I can let myself enjoy them now, shame-free.

Personally, I think God sees how much a good laugh and an escape heals our small cracks sometimes, and how a story told creatively can bring us back to ourselves and Him. And well, really – who created creation, anyway? The Master Storyteller, the Master of All Creativity.

So, all those words to say that’s how I got to what we’re calling Reel Spirituality and the intersection of God and stories. And good stories, to boot – not limited (at least in my book) to *just* Christian-based films or safe, family-friendly movies and stories. After all, when was the last time following Christ has been safe?

If you’re interested in more discussion about movies + God and you’re local, join me for fun movie discussion, bits of faith journeys and and Bible story discussions, and well, pizza, click here.

Meanwhile, if you need some recommendations on what to watch, below are my favorites, the ones I’ve watched a shameful amount of times (I also have a WHOLE other long list of book recos, so if you want to be added to that group, just email me at lrasleywrites at gmail dot com) and again, am not ashamed about any of it.

The Favorites

The Farewell (2019)

Ghostbusters (2016)

The Sound of Music (the 60s version – unpopular opinion – Julie Andrews is my Mary Poppins too)

Thor: Ragnarok

Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse

Kodahchrome (2017)

Beauty and the Beast

Girls (and Middle-Age+ people) Kicking Butt and Taking Names

RED

The Old Guard

Spy (Melissa McCarthy)

The Heat (Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock one – sensing a theme?)

Hot Fuzz

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Marvel recs (now that I’m a Marvel-ish fan since I binged all of them in order during the pandemic)

Thor: Ragnarok (duh!)

Black Panther

Black Widow

Ant Man and The Wasp

Spider Man: Homecoming

…And I like it when the gang’s all together in Infinity War, and anytime the Rocket the Racoon and baby/teen Groot appear.

In the meantime, got any favorites? What are they? Would love to know.

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