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jann cather weaver


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We are not lacking in books on theology/religion/spirituality and film. Just search In my academic judgment, many of these books “fill in the blanks” by telling people what particular films mean. The authors of these books, however, rarely acknowledge the perspective from which they are reading a film. They make it easy for readers; the author’s view becomes "fact." The "Truth." No questions are necessary -- or recommended.

Many books on theology and film fail to teach people how to interpret film with creative imagination drawn from distinctive religious, spiritual, theological, and/or secular perspectives. This website is dedicated to teaching ways of interpreting film openly from vast, interdisciplinary perspectives. It will teach how to explore film with diverse questions and concerns, from issues of religion to world politics, from issues of prejudicial "-isms" to new spiritualities.

All films have many truths, many interpretations. All are "right"; all are "wrong." Interpretations follow the renowned "both/and" tensions of postmodernism. Interpretations, in postmodernism, ebb and flow in meanings and relevance. The notions of "fact," "Truth," and "objectivity," have become an antiquated remnant of Enlightenment (i.e., “Modernism”) and Platonic dualism. Unfortunately, many people and most faith traditions of today continue in Modernism’s either/or (dualistic) worldview.

This website is mostly concerned with films that are not obviously religious or related to any religious tradition; rather, it seeks to shed light on life’s meanings, creation’s mysteries, and human relationships as we encounter the sacred/numinous/holy/mystery in its multitude of ways as made visible in film. We are to encounter film as film, not as an eisegetical religious text, or as a religious text disguised in film format.    We begin with the film text first -- as a visual multi-medium text honored on its own. We then, knowingly, examine films from various perspectives, yielding a variety of postmodern interpretations.

No particular denomination, religious tradition, or political ideology dominates this site. Discussions and resources are open to religious and secular explorations of film with a mixing of voices: progressive Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and secular socio-political perspectives. Insights from these perspectives reveal the postmodern intricacies of meanings, communities, and social responsibilities as exposed on film.

This website opens discussions to films beyond those depicting the "Euro-Jesus" accompanied by only twelve male (get real!) disciples dressed in cheesy robes. Many of these films, attempting to portray Jesus as "supernatural," (i.e., not human)   re-present Jesus in an ethereal, "historical," re-play. While intentions may be good, this filmic approach keeps the human life and events of Jesus of Nazareth stuck in an unimaginative, dead, and Anglo-Saxon-blue-eyed past.

This website will, however, also explore the obviously religious films that hit the contemporary window of current films. Films with obvious Christian themes -- from The Gospel according to Saint Matthew by Pier Paolo Pasolini to Dogma by Kevin Smith -- are important to flesh out; for this genre of religious films deal with the ways people decide to live their daily lives.

Coupling film’s manipulative power and some film’s re-presentation to eager yet theologically naïve audiences, religious films are potentially harmful to the well-being of people and communities of culture and religion. Films, especially with explicit religious content, can be manipulative and convincingly terrifying for people who have not developed a mature understanding of their faith.

We need to learn how to interpret obviously religious films in mature, conscious, theologically sound and informed ways. We need to learn to see beyond the literal re-presentations that some of these films try to dictate.

For instance, The Passion of the Christ (Recut) by Mel Gibson, cannot be taken as an actual account of Jesus of Nazareth -- if one exists. Despite his claims, Gibson’s film is not based on the ministry of Jesus as told in the canonical Gospels, (which are not even historical accounts). Very little of this film is based on canonical scripture -- not that films about Jesus of Nazareth need to be or can be. Yet, Gibson claims he used the canonical gospels as his foundational texts. His claims, however, can be challenged.

The published visions of Saint Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) in her The Dolorous (Sorrowful) Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the visions of Saint Mary of Agreda (1602-1665) formed the major part of the film. People whose faith depends on a real, historical Jesus need “proof” of Jesus within a specious historicism. This need, Mel commercially exploits. Moreover, his film emotionally manipulates by using a powerful musical score and stellar cinematography.

I do not understand Pope John Paul II’s comment that Gibson’s film was, “It is as it was.” Since the film received this Papal stamp as being “an accurate representation of scriptural sources for the Passion,” the Pope sanctioned Gibson’s film as “a new sacred text with a certain level of legitimacy and authority.” (Santana and Erickson, Religion and Popular Culture, 91.)

Likewise, claims The Passion of the Christ (Recut) will become the authoritative text over the canonical Gospels about the arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion of Jesus. This speaks of the power of film, which Gibson abused. This also speaks about the public’s ignorance of seeing film. Will we have to put Jewish and Christian scriptures to film to make them authoritative? This will literalize these foundational, living narratives, turning them into cold stones that cannot cry out.

The film includes the Stations of the Cross, a devotional ritual related to the final day and hours of Jesus (usually found in Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Episcopalian churches --  although some Protestant traditions are developing variations on the the ritual). While a few elements of the Stations of the Cross relate to the canonical gospels, most of the stations include legendary material. The website, Catholic Online, provides images and a liturgy for the Stations of the Cross.

Furthermore, if you have seen Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart, you have witnessed the extreme  level of violence in The Passion. If you have seen Braveheart, you have seen the origins of The Passion of Christ.

A phenomenal number of people saw The Passion of the Christ, taking it as “Truth” and "fact.” The Passion is a film version of the Christian, Medieval European passion plays, rooted in the anti-Semitic notion that the Jews killed Jesus, not the Romans. The Passion Play continues in Oberammergau, Germany every ten years. Few things change. (If you have questions about Passion Plays, check out this playwright's website. You can also see the film, Jesus of Montreal, written and directed by Denys Arcand -- the best "Jesus Flix" I have yet to see.)

The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by  Martin Scorsese, stirred great controversy by suggesting that Jesus just might have been truly human and, thus, a sexual being. The idea of Jesus being sexual, married with children, was for many people beyond conception for their understanding of Jesus supposedly being human and divine in one person. To infer by a moving hip under a sheet that Jesus was a healthy, sexual Jewish male went beyond the pale. Blasphemy that Jesus be that much human.

Ironically, the film affirms these convictions. In the end of the film, Judas accuses Jesus of abandoning his calling to be the "Messiah" by marrying a woman. (Heaven forbid Jesus love a woman!) Jesus had to forsake his married ways to become what God wanted -- the suffering and martyred, asexual "Messiah."

So why are evangelical Christians, who are "family-oriented," upset that Jesus might have been married and had a family? (Echoes of Dan Brown's, The Da Vinci Code (2003), which, despite "inaccuracies," poses a creative take on Jesus and his relationship to Mary Magdalene.) Your guess is as good as mine.

G-d, the holy, the sacred, the divine, and/or the numinous pokes out in this world in the most imaginative ways. We catch glimpses. Let us find as many pokes and jabs of this mystery as we can. They provide us with meaning, the sustaining hope of becoming peacemakers, and perhaps we shall learn to have “eyes to see” in refreshing, renewing ways.

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