Church Life

Give me those old theologians…

Tonight at Confirmation we watched a video that they've watched for years as part of the Confirmation program at First Parish. 

I must admit I didn't preview the video. I just picked it up from the Resource Center.

As soon as it started, I thought we might have trouble. It was one of those late '80s era videos shot with two cameras, so a person's image might suddenly be replaced by another angle. A range of liberal Christians (Matthew Fox, James Cone, Sallie McFague, Walter Brueggemann), along with a rabbi, try to answer the question, "What's the Holy Spirit?" I have no problem with their ideas. They are ideas that informed my theological education. 

But, oh! The close-ups on these poor people! Every pore shows! And the eyeglasses! The wardrobe! The hair!

I haven't been able to find a reference to the series on the Internet, so I'm guessing at the date. But it was back in the day when James Cone had a full afro.

And his appearance on the video was a turning point in the students' experience. He told the story of preaching to and doing workshops with a Korean Christian community in Japan. He spoke no Korean, and they spoke no English. A translator helped interpret them to one another. Just before he preached, he stood amazed to hear the Korean congregation singing, in words he did not understand, "Were You There?" "That's my song!" he said, and in the retelling you can feel the excitement he felt, the deep sense of connection he experienced as a manifestation of the Spirit.

That was the story that got us beyond the dated nature of the production. We talked about the different ways people experience the Spirit of God, in relationship and in nature and yes, even in worship, and whether the Spirit is the Creator or the Christ or both or neither. We had a group breakthrough around the use of wind as a metaphor for the Spirit. (Even though none of them knew the Rossetti poem…)

In the end I think the video acted the same way James Cone's experience unfolded for him. A few of the stories spoke to the kids, even though the method of communicating (middle-aged and older people, mostly, talking at an angle to an invisible interviewer, with no music or graphics) was old-fashioned, even foreign for them. 

And in the conversation that followed, one of the students spoke a thought I had while watching the video: "Why don't we make our own movie about it?"

We just might. Because I think it's possible the Spirit moved.

8 thoughts on “Give me those old theologians…”

  1. What a great idea!
    The tradition in my kids’ confirmation classes (same minister, over a 10-11 year period) was a film called “The Jesus Roast.” I’ve never seen it, perhaps if Sisterfilms is reading she can describe it, but apparently it was much as the title suggests. The tale of “The Jesus Roast” was passed down from sibling to sibling and through the youth group so it could not have been omitted! Now there’s a new minister there and for all I know, the MN Resource Center has jettisoned the video, but for a long time this film, which was probably outdated when my eldest saw it, was a much-anticipated feature of confirmation class.

  2. It sounds like it might be the same series we used in an adult class back in the early 90s– the ones we watched included the topics of “faith,” “sin,” and “grace” and featured Ann Ulanov, William Sloane Coffin, Leontine Kelly, Will Campbell, and Joan Chittester, among others. I heartily enjoyed them and still sometimes refer to the quotes I hastily scribbled down as we watched and listened to these “Big Thought Thinkers.”
    I think it’s good for kids to watch a low-budget production now and then–to sit and watch unadorned faces, to sit and listen to real, unscripted speech. The very awkwardness of it serves to remind us that authentic human interaction–and, for that matter, our openness to the Holy Spirit– demands a very different level of engagement than the zip-zap-zoom-blips of techno-pop culture interactions.

  3. Glad they could get past the dated “doos” and hear the message. And how cool that they may just make their own version. :c)

  4. the liberationist in me loves that it was James Cone that got them excited about the Spirit…

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