Experiencing the Sacred at Sundance (Theology at the Theater, Part 3)

In the previous blog of this series, I discussed using the lectio divina as a way to approach the theology of film through a process I call cinematographeum divina.

While this idea wasn’t fully developed until after my trip to Sundance, I had the opportunity to work through most of the steps, because I approach much of my life in this way. Let’s look at one of the films that deeply touched me at Sundance, and how it has continued to shape my life since that time.

Higher Ground

Step One: Silencio (Preparation)

I arrived early to get a good seat for the film, and sought to center myself so that I would be fully present before the film started.

Step Two: Specto (Watch)

The storyline and the acting sustained my attention the entire film. I totally identified with and sympathized with Corrine throughout the film, because her experience of Christian community mirrored my first Christian community after coming to faith in college.

I could fully understand the nature of the church she was a part of and felt that the film gave an honest interpretation of a more fundamentalist kind of Christian community. The songs brought back memories, as did how the community corrected one another and held each other “accountable.”

Step Three: Meditatio (Reflect)

The reason I identified with Corrine so much is because I saw that she had a genuine yearning for God in an environment where there was not a lot of room for honest questioning about certain doctrines, like the role of women and why bad things happen to “good” people.

While she was willing to challenge the written and unwritten rules of the community, she seemed to always have a sense of humility in the process. Personally, I found it difficult to watch her leave her husband, family and church, even though she may have suffocated if she remained.

Step Four: Oratio (Respond)

God was speaking to me throughout the film about the importance of good hermeneutics. Our approach to how we interpret the scripture builds a particular culture in our communities that either stifles the work of the Spirit or allows the Spirit the ability to fully work in our communities.

In this case, I was saddened as I thought the approach of Corrine’s church in interpreting the scripture not only affected the her own, but also continues to affect a number of faith communities I know. I know a number of people who love their community, but are unable to be real and honest in that environment.

I wish I could have stepped into the film, and become part of the community with the hopes of helping them move toward a more generous orthodoxy.

Step Five: Contemplatio (Rest)

While many different emotions were running through me, I considered the many ways that God has worked through my own weaknesses in the past. I was reminded of the many things that I have taught in the past that I would change, had I know better. This pause helped me to remember to walk in humility, for we all “see in a mirror dimly.”

Step Six: Incarnatio (Resolve)

My hope is that God would somehow use me to help others consider how their approach to epistemology and hermeneutics and how those shape the culture of their faith communities, often in profound ways.

One concrete action that has come from watching this film is that I am writing about it as it relates to hermeneutics in my upcoming book for InterVarsity Press. I also plan to take upcoming opportunities to speak in both public and private settings. I hope to engage people on this issue, especially as it relates to women in ministry.

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JR Woodward
JR Woodward is a church planter, activist, missiologist and author of Creating a Missional Culture (IVP, 2012). He co-founded the Ecclesia Network and Missio Alliance. He currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Manchester (UK).
JR Woodward

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