007: The Gospel According to Hollywood

    Ugh, it’s Moooooonday again.
    So, let’s have a little spiritual fun, shall we?
    I’ve invited some friends to help us! A group of students and faculty from Wayne County Community College in Michigan contributed to today’s story. This weekend, I was the keynote speaker for a conference on “Religions in America” and I invited the crowd to fill out cards nominating their favorite spiritual movies.
    Here at ReadTheSpirit, we define spirituality broadly as those ultimate  connections that draw us beyond ourselves and help to explain why we’re here, how we should live and what ultimate values we should preserve in our lives.
    The crowd was so eager to talk about this subject that movie nominations spilled over — from the cards the audience filled out during one of our conference sessions — to students and teachers following me into a hallway to tell me about additional movies. Then, a few people  continued the discussion in the parking lot after formal sessions ended!
    “You need to tell people about ‘Fried Green Tomatoes,’” said Yvonne Davenport, who is studying ethics at the college and who pursued me into the parking lot to explain her family’s enthusiasm for that movie. “My daughter Sterling is 11; we watch this movie four or five times a year.

    “I love it because the movie is full of story telling, people telling stories for the benefit of others. That’s such an unselfish gesture — telling stories like that. And it’s so much fun to watch that my daughter loves the movie, too.
    “I know it’s a movie for adults but she enjoys it,” Yvonne said. “And it’s the kind of story that I want my daughter to grow up with.”

    Now, think about that: “It’s the kind of story I want my daughter to grow up with.” In that eloquent line, Yvonne expressed our ReadTheSpirit goal better than I can explain it with all of my abstract language about “ultimate connections.”
    In fact, if you’re intrigued by that basic issue, come back tomorrow for a story we’re calling, “25 Images Through a Glass Darkly,” which talks more about this problem of choosing the spiritual images that should fill our lives. But, as I say, this is Monday, so let’s have some fun like the students and faculty at WCCC’s western campus had on Saturday.   

The movie discussion continued, on and off, throughout the day.
    “You’ve got to include ‘Simon Birch’ on the list,” Howard Tranumm, who teaches philosophy at the college, told me in the hallway. “The little guy in that movie has more heart and purpose to his life than most of us. I show that movie every year to my philosophy classes and they always love it.”
    Someone else tugged at my slieve. “You’ve got to include, ‘Crash.’ That’s important to see. And add ‘What’s Cooking?’ It’s about these four families in Los Angeles celebrating Thanksgiving.”
    Yet another person passed me a slip of paper with the title of “Lagaan” printed neatly across the page. “Lagaan was an Oscar nominee. It’s centered around cricket. Sports movies always make one feel happy.”

    “I like that suggestion,” I said. “It’ll add to the diversity of the list.”
    “Or, ‘Pride and Prejudice,’” said a student. “That story shows that when you actually get to know people, often you discover that a lot of your prejudices were wrong. That’s a spiritual issue, isn’t it?”
    Another voice chimed in: “The Green Mile!”
    “Yeah,” said someone else. “’The Green Mile’ shows that people sometimes completely misunderstand what’s going on inside a person’s heart. That man they had on death row turned out to be a spiritual savior with a gift.”

Well, you get the idea.
    ReadTheSpirit is devoted to connecting people with great spiritual stories, mainly in book form, but sometimes the best versions of stories come in music or movies or other forms of media.
    And, asking this diverse crowd on Saturday to talk about beloved movies was like turning on a spiritual lightbulb.
    So, now it’s your turn!

    First of all, if you want to explore this connection between film and faith, I’m recommending two great books:
    One is “The Gospel According to Hollywood,” by Greg Garrett, a very thoughtful book about the religious reflections in a whole range of movies, including “Crash.”
    Second, if you want to zero in on Hollywood’s depiction of religious stories, you’ll want J. Stephen Lang’s “The Bible on the Big Screen: A Guide from Silent Films to Today’s Movies.”
    (Click on either title – or the book covers shown with this story – and you’ll jump to reviews of the books. You also can buy them through Amazon.)

    THEN, take a look at the list below. These are just a handful of the dozens of movies recommended by the crowd on Saturday. We want you to look over the list, then think of films you think should be added.

Here are just 10 of the most popular examples of spiritual cinema that students and faculty nominated. (Click on any movie to read more.)

“Fried Green Tomatoes”
“Simon Birch”
“What’s Cooking?”
“Pride and Prejudice”
“The Green Mile”
“Schindler’s List”
“Malcolm X”
“Dances With Wolves”

Please, tell us what you would add to this list or share your thoughts about the nominated movies. Tell us what makes a movie truly a spiritual experience for you.
    Click Here to send me an Email –- or click on the Comment link below to leave a comment for all of our readers to consider.

COME BACK throughout the week for these stories:

TUESDAY: 008 25 Images Through a Glass Darkly
WEDNESDAY: 009 A Conversation With Frederick Buechner
THURSDAY: 010 The Gifts of Aging
FRIDAY: 011 Teach Us To Pray

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