Why do we watch movies? Arguably for escapism, looking for something that takes us out of our world if just for two hours.
But why do people make movies? Arguably not simply to provide escape, but to tell stories that will stir the longings of the human heart.
Cinema tells us that we are living in dark times, and that such times call for ordinary people, caught up in a struggle between good and evil (right and wrong, justice and injustice), to step up and do extraordinary things. This story is told on the epic scale (Star Wars, LOTR); told through rom-com (Love, Actually is full of this, from the British PM standing up to the American President, to the little boy who runs through the airport because the girl he loves can’t be allowed to get on the plane to New York with her mom and out of his life forever without knowing how he feels); set in every era and culture (WWII, future sci-fi, Slumdog Millionaire)...
Cinema understands those things that resonate with our inmost being – love, friendship, adventure, justice – and tells story and employs symbolic drama in order to affect us. Heart-warming, heart-wrenching, great cinema stirs us up. I don’t know anyone who goes to the cinema because it is relevant to their lives. We don’t watch films because they are relevant, but because they resonate with us.
As we walk into the auditorium, we suspend our disbelief in order to enter the world being presented to us. And as we walk out through the foyer, we take up again the disbelief that prevents us from making connections between those worlds and our own world. We are stirred up, but those stirrings are not channelled into our experience. There is no-one to help to broker the relationship between resonance and relevance.
God has given us a story that resonates with all the longings he has hidden deep within us. It is a story that is told in the Bible, but it isn’t a story that is contained by the Bible. It isn’t a story that can be communicated solely through reading or listening to Scripture – the very events Scripture records show that Scripture alone is not enough.
The Church has not only a story that resonates with human hearts but also moments of drama that interrupt everyday life, that particularly affect us – in the same way that within the arc of a two-hour story, the film-maker does not expect or attempt to affect the audience with every moment but at key moments. Over two-thousand years, the Holy Spirit has led the Church in creating drama and symbol to affect us, drama and symbol that not only resonates with our hearts but also helps us to step-into the big story of salvation history, to make it our own story. (Like cinema) That these dramatic moments are no longer relevant to people’s experience of life is...irrelevant.
But (unlike cinema) the Church is also placed to help people make connections between the story and their own everyday experience of life – to continue to suspend our disbelief. In community and through our disciplines, we broker the relationship between resonance and relevance. This is why we need to rediscover the ancient disciplines of the Church as well as her moments of great drama – disciplines such as feasting and fasting; solitude and community; work and prayer – and re-articulate them in our own generation. They are tried and tested, effective in shaping our lives.
Relevance channels resonance – but resonance fuels relevance: and the pursuit of relevance without attending to resonance will – sooner or later – run dry.
We need to start with resonance, not relevance. Stirring the heart, and then engaging the mind. If we start with the intellect, with relevance, we will not touch the heart. And if the heart is not touched, the mind will not be renewed. This is, perhaps, the particular amnesia of the charismatic evangelical movement, which behaves as if resonance is an un-mediated ministry of the Holy Spirit and that the role of the church is above all else to be relevant...