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Pray.Network Interviewed Josh Larsen (Movies Are Prayers)

Phil ~ Josh, I get the impression you are doing your best to ruin my default movie viewing experience . . .

Josh ~   I don't really see the book as a corrective, but more of an encouragement to those Christians who enjoy watching films and would like to start thinking about them in a way that involves their faith. I suppose the method I suggest - seeing movies as prayers - is distinct from more fearful approaches to film, where we might worry about what a movie will do to us. It also asks more of us than just sitting back and "turning our minds off." Escapism is fine, but many Christians go to movies for more. Here is one way to find that "more."

Phil ~ How do "films voice our deepest longings?" (and why do I so often miss it?)

Josh ~  Even films that are made by a director with a strong personal vision still get filtered through countless creative hands. That's the nature of the filmmaking process. So I believe that by the time a movie reaches a theater, it has become its own entity, capable of corralling, mirroring, or evoking some of the basic expressions of the human experience we all share and often express through prayer: yearning, lamenting, confessing, etc.

Phil ~ Whether I am watching for entertainment, escape, education, or even evaluation, how should I "watch" a movie so that it becomes a conversation with God?

Josh ~ First allow the possibility that a movie can function that way. Then ask yourself, what emotions/thoughts does the film evoke in me? How might those parallel the conversations I've had with God, both formally through liturgy and in my own private prayer life?

Phil ~ Agree/Disagree ... Christians too quickly judge a film by language or sexual conduct, rather than allowing themselves to be bothered by a core question or conflict that is meant to catalyze an authentic conversation with God.

Josh ~ There isn't a single answer to the content question. If certain content makes it more difficult for someone to live a Christ-like life, then they have every right to avoid such films. At the same time, if other Christians find that films - even with, and sometimes because of, difficult content - allow them to better understand God's world and how to reflect Christ's presence within it, then they should feel affirmed in watching those films. 

Phil ~ If movies are prayers, then how would you suggest we pray:

  • Before selecting a film?
  • During our viewing of the film?
  • As the credits are rolling on the screen?
  • On the way home...

Josh ~ Asking God for discernment - and the courage to be honest with ourselves about that - before selecting a film and then watching seems to be a wise way to go. Keeping God in the conversation as you consider the movie afterwards also seems to be a good way to close that loop. If there is a danger in "escapist" viewing, I suppose, it's that it makes it too easy to take God out of the equation.

Phil ~ What would you say to someone who has a strong desire to share their faith with friends, family, coworkers? How could a conversation about a movie become an opportunity to witness to the gospel?

Josh ~ I'd caution against seeing movies as a means to such an end. Certainly they can be a common interest that builds relationships. If those relationships deepen, especially around movies, then there will eventually be occasions where your take on a movie will reflect your faith in Christ. Then there may be a chance to share how a film echoes what you believe, or you may be able to offer the Gospel as a loving response to a film that expresses our great need for it.

Phil ~ So Josh, please write a prayer about movies that we can each exhale to our own betterment...

Josh ~ It's something of a spoiler, but I'll share the prayer with which I end the book: 

Dear God,

We pray for your presence in our theaters, in our homes,
and wherever we participate in one of your great gifts: the art of cinema.
Receive the praise of Avatar.
Answer the yearning of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Hear the lament of 12 Years a Slave.
Be merciful in the face of James Dean’s anger.
Accept Buzz Lightyear’s confession.
Bless the tentative reconciliation of Do the Right Thing.
Encourage George Bailey as he obeys.
Meet Buster Keaton in meditation.
Stoke Fred and Ginger’s joy.
Thank you for the movies, Lord, and the talents you’ve given to those who make them. We ask for your guidance, so that we may watch and pray with a wisdom and grace that honors you. Amen. 

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Phil and Josh,

This is very timely post for our local Cry Out America task force as we plan our 9/11 Patriot Day gathering this year with a focus on praying for media/arts/entertainment and blessing those who serve in this arena, both locally and nationally. Thank you for bringing a fresh new perspective to this sphere of culture that is sometimes viewed through negative, judgmental, and legalistic lenses.


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