written by Eddie Bridle
Eddie is the Trainee Minister at St John’s Church in Winsford. He is also a recipient of a grant from the Tim Peters Training Fund. Here Eddie reflects on a Family Film Night that the church recently hosted.
Over the last few years, I’ve become more convinced that talking about pop culture is a helpful means of talking about the truths of Scripture.
Maybe that’s just because I’ve loved pop culture and the stories its given us for as long as I can remember – whether it was the first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope, started playing video games, reading books, or, more recently, started playing Dungeons and Dragons with some friends. It’s my guess that all of us have found joy, some kind of escapism, understanding or representation, or just had our imaginations engaged by something we’ve read in a book, seen in the cinema, or played on a console.
All these different mediums have a profound influence on our culture. Film directors, content creators, musicians, authors, video game development teams, social media platform owners – they all wield an unprecedented amount of power over our culture and in shaping our individual worldviews. Turnau argues “Through their messages and attitudes, popular-cultural works make some worldviews seem legitimate and others illegitimate. In this way, popular culture plays a decisive role in shaping a culture’s ethos, and so shaping the worldviews of those who dwell in that ethos.”
What I believe this means ‘on the ground’, so to speak, is that it’s important for Christians to have some knowledge of pop culture so that we can understand our culture’s priorities and address the worldviews that have been shaped by it.
I think it’s important to do this because it helps us encourage others, particularly those who don’t believe the gospel, to think about where their worldviews come from because when pushed, most of us can’t explain the presuppositions that we live with, usually unquestioningly. This is especially true in children’s and youth work.
For example, in the last couple of years we’ve done some work in the local high school. We ran a small lunchtime meeting that the children could come along to and talk about faith, while eating their lunch. Most of the time we didn’t get very far, if you do youthwork you’ll know 30 minutes a week isn’t much time to get anywhere with teenagers. However, to try and jump start conversations I would show something short, music videos usually, on the screen and then ask questions about the lyrics and what was being shown too. We found that the youth were much more engaged because they were on familiar ground.
This response encouraged us to try something different in our outreach. Our church has started a ‘Family Film Night’ to help us meet people in our area who we don’t already have contact with, and to build on the relationships we have with people already. A movie night is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but they seem to be confined mostly to youth groups, not to outreach.
The premise is very simple: we open our hall, cook a whole bunch of hot dogs, make buckets of popcorn and then put on a film (after purchasing the necessary licence).
Once the film had finished, I did a five-minute talk looking at one of two of the presumptions within the film, talking about what was good or bad about them, where they don’t quite make sense and how the Bible gives a better answer to some of the questions the film poses.
We started off our film nights with Disney Pixar’s ‘Soul’, starring Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, and released in 2020.
Below is the shortened version of my talk with a few of the ideas I touched on.
**spoiler warning for Soul**
I wonder how you would fill out this sentence.
“I could die happy if I just…”
Played a game for a Premier League club. Ran a marathon. Made one million pounds. Had a family. Became a famous content creator or influencer. Went to Australia. Saw Little Mix live.
We’ve all got an answer for that question, don’t we?
And that’s what Soul was all about, right? Finding the spark, that thing that you’re supposed to do in life, or at least that’s what Joe thought.
“I could die a happy man if I could just perform with Dorothea Williams.”
That’s what Joe’s answer was.
Right at the beginning Joe told us that he knew he was born to play when he heard Jazz for the first time.
That’s Joe’s purpose…
(Then I summarised the movie)
I think this movie gets some stuff right. It shows us just how amazing life can be. It shows us the beauty in everyday normal things. It shows us just what can happen when we get to obsessive about one thing. And it asks a good question about whether life has a purpose.
I don’t know what you thought, maybe you’re like Joe and you think you were born to do something? Maybe you’re like 22 and you’re worried that there is no purpose or that you can’t live up to the expectation? Or maybe you’re like Dez, who rolls with what life brings and moves with it.
But I think it got some stuff wrong too.
The film says that life is good and worth living because it is. That you find your spark yourself.
But I don’t think that really helps us.
I think that leads to us putting loads of pressure on ourselves. Like Joe did. It makes us think our lives are only worthwhile if we achieve something or can do something brilliantly.
We have to make something in our lives really important but what happens if it suddenly ends? If an injury stops you from playing in the team? Or an illness means you can’t work? Or you fail a test and don’t get into college?
We could lose all meaning and become lost souls or we could become obsessed with that thing and, what? Become lost souls!
I’m a Christian and I believe that Jesus Christ is good news. I think Jesus has something to say into this question.
He tells his disciples “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
You see, the bible says that God created everything. He’s king of all of it. But we’ve tried to take his crown off him and make ourselves the rulers.
God created us with a purpose, to be in a relationship with him, so that he can give us blessing. Which means fulfilment, and joy, and life.
But we threw the relationship away. We chose death, and we become lost souls, searching for things to make us happy for a bit or give us meaning.
Jesus came so that we could have real life. He gave his life for ours and gave us back the relationship we threw away. He gives us that second chance that Jerry gave to Joe. He gives us a chance to really live.
Joe thought that his life didn’t start until he played that gig but he was wrong.
The bible says that our lives don’t start until we know Jesus.
I’m by no means an expert on culture but I hope that looking at films like these, and asking the right questions, we can get under the surface of these cultural works and have better conversations with others who allow themselves, either knowingly or unknowingly, to be influenced and shaped by what our world believes to be important. Rather than giving praise and glory to the creator of them and this world and wanting to become more like him.
We had around 40 people come along to the first one and lots of good feedback. There isn’t an enormous amount of things for families to do in Winsford and so we pray that while we serve our community in this way we are also able to introduce them to Jesus and welcome them into our church family. Since running the event we’ve had a family come along to our morning services and join in our children’s work.
We pray that God would keep using this new ministry and I hope the idea might be useful to you.