(Provacative title, no?)
When I was about five and half years old Return of the Jedi was released to theaters. I was just about the worlds biggest Star Wars nut at the time–having already seen the original at least three dozen times and spending almost every waking and non-schooled second playing Star Wars in some capacity–and wanted nothing more than to see the conclusion to the intergalactic saga on the big screen. However, there was a problem. We, as in my family, didn’t go to the movies.
My dad was the pastor of a non-denominational Bible church in a small town during most of the 1980’s and going to the show was still viewed by many, at least in our church community, as something a Christian didn’t do. Especially the pastor. This wasn’t necessarily a conviction that my parents shared (they had actually seen the first Star Wars in the theater), but as the pastor and his family you learn to forgo things that you might view as OK in order to prevent confusion and unnecessary grief for others. In a way its refreshing in a time of insisted-upon rights to set aside something that is personally enjoyable for the potential benefit of others. But not to me as a five year old Star Wars fiend. (For the record, it wasn’t as if the townsfolk would have caused an uprising and ran us out of town had we gone to the movies. I harbor no ill will toward my parents or those of the congregation for my delayed Jedi viewing.) So, I had to wait for the VHS home video for my Return of the Jedi fix, subsisting on second-hand accounts from friends until that day finally came.
Growing up, the only time we ever went to the movies was when we were visiting relatives in Minnesota. Far, far away from the possibility of being “caught” by a church attendee in that den of iniquity known as the multiplex. As I reached the pre- and early teen years the reins laxed a bit. We had moved to a much larger town and most in that community didn’t see movie-going as an inherently evil past time. I was permitted on a few occasions to go with friends to the theater, but only if given parental approval for the film to be viewed beforehand. My parents however continued to abstain. That is until Jurassic Park.
My dad enjoys movies. He’s a very discerning viewer, as we all should be, but he loves big spectacles, especially when viewed as intended on the big screen. When Steven Spielbergs’s pre-historic pageant came out, he had to see it in all its wide-screened, THXed glory. So he and I and his friend who was visiting from out of town (also a pastor) all went to see it, vowing not to tell a soul outside our immediate families and forcing them to take a blood oath to keep the secret.
Its not like that so much anymore. Times and attitudes change. But what was it about the moving picture show that made it such a taboo activity for so many Christians for so long? What made it the proverbial pool hall of the middle 20th century? A lot of it could have to do with its origins. The first movie theaters, or nickelodeons, were usually found in the seedier, poorer parts of town. Not exactly the types of places you’d want little Johnny spending his free time. So it had acquired a bit of that pool hall stigma. And Hollywood was never a beacon of moral purity, even in its infancy. Even in the early days of the Hayes code up through the later 1960’s when what was actually on the screen was reasonably tame by today’s standards, the lives of the stars weren’t necessarily so. Action star of the 1930’s Errol Flynn’s escapades are renowned in their luridness. While there wasn’t the round-the-clock tabloid journalism we have today, news still got around, at least to those in the cities. Also, like pretty much any new and fantastic artistic form, film was met with the concern of parents everywhere for fear of the influence it would wield over the children.
All these reasons seem legitimate enough and were almost exclusively well intended. But what about in 1983 when I wanted to see Return of the Jedi? There wasn’t much to fear, was there? The theater was in suburbia, the content unlikely to influence me to join a galactic rebellion, and as far as I knew Harrison Ford was Han Solo. The issue was, what had started out as legitimate concern, had slowly, over time, morphed into legalism. You don’t go to the movies because movies are bad…unless they’re viewed in the comfort of your own home. Oh, so its the building itself that is vile? Hmmmm, that doesn’t make much sense does it? Well, I don’t want to support the industry…but I do watch TV. See the logic problem there?
In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul talks about our freedom from the Law in Christ. We aren’t bound by a list of do’s and dont’s. You could follow every rule ever written, but if you don’t have Christ its all for naught. We don’t curry more of God’s favor just by doing or not doing something, whether that’s going to the movies or anything else. However, that doesn’t give me, the Christian, carte blanche to do or watch whatever I want. Paul goes on in that same chapter to say that we are not to use our freedom to indulge our sinful nature. So, what it boils down to, for me at least, is not where you’re watching, but what you’re watching. But that’s a post for another blog-a-thon…or maybe tomorrow.
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