Friday, April 16, 2010

Don’t tell them, show them. Preaching on the Big Screen

I PREACHED AT CEMETERY JUNCTION the first two times preached in church. Sounds like a great place to preach, right? In reality it's a fairly grey cross roads on the A4, with shops, pubs, a church and a cemetery...  Bishop Alan's review of the new Ricky Gervais film "Cemetery Junction" got me thinking about preaching.

Two of Alan's observations struck me..
"At the first pub lunch of the project some basic questions needed sorting – is this Reading? If it is, how do we make it seventies? If it isn’t how do we weave a credible place together? Is it about the place or the firm, or the family or the girl? Who are these people? How and why do they matter and know each other and what are the implications? Sadly a lot of these basic questions were not answered, or answered ineptly, and the result is to sabotage the whole film."
Decide which road to take. This is the fairly obvious lesson for any communication. You need to know what you want to say. Tangents and asides are fine but it should be clear what the big idea is. What is the point and is it a point worth making. Similarly, this means being clear about what we're not saying. Without worthwhile and clear content there will be no communication.

But, content has to be communicated well otherwise it's just words in the wind.

"Last obvious nail in the coffin is the occasional failure of the script to follow the most basic rule of all drama — don’t tell them, show them."
Decide how to take it. In this vein I love the way Paul describes his preaching in Galatians 3:1 as "publicly portraying" which has the tone of painting a verbal picture for them to see. Any one can state facts repeatedly but when you portray something for the senses (with your words) you capture the heart and the imagination. It bites and it sticks.

In the opening chapter of CS Lewis' The Great Divorce gives an example. If you want to give people an idea about heaven and hell how would you do it? Lewis' takes us on a bus journey from the hellish grey-town where people drift away from each other in a place that looks substantial but where the walls can't even keep the rain out... and then into heaven which is so substantial that people seem like smudges and the place is so weighty you can't lift a daisy and the grass penetrates you feet.

Its one thing for a preacher to tell you that you must believe in Jesus, quite another for them to portray him so that you want to. We know in the cinema that man does not live by information and instruction alone but with  imagination too. The best films, sermons and blog posts know what they're trying to say and they say it with some flair that appeals to our hearts. In the cinema we know that should happen, though it often doesn't even though the Director has a cast, locations, CGI, 3D or other technology etc. The preacher has something richer to wield - words. And I'm very much still learning how to do that.

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