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Movies & TV for worship and wonder

There may be a few "Christian" movies and TV shows on this list, but I enjoy finding seeds of the divine in the secular. One director who will have multiple entries here is Terrence Malick. As I understand it, he is a devout Christian. His movies are meditations of beauty.

The Tree of Life: Directed by Terrence Malick. "The nuns taught us there are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. Grace doesn't try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, and get others to please it, too. Likes to lord it over them, to have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it, when love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end." These words are near the very beginning of the movie and set the stage for the second half(ish) of the movie. The next scene cuts to a mother receiving a letter that one of her children in the military has died. We see this battle between grace and nature play out later in the movie.

At one point in the movie the mom asks God where was He? Then there is this several minute montage of creation that hearkens back to God's answer to Job. (Job is also quoted in the opening seconds of the movie) At another point shortly thereafter Sean Penn's character asks God when He first touched his heart. Then there is this several minute montage of many of the precious moments of a child's early life full of love and wonder.

I don't want to give away the whole movie but it is glorious.

The Shack: Based on the book by William Paul Young. I know that some have concerns about some of the theology in this book/movie, so I am including a podcast where William Paul Young explains a lot of it to James Bryan Smith on the Things Above podcast here. But this is a great movie! I can't recommend it highly enough. It has a great theodicy argument, teaches about the power and importance of forgiveness, and reminds us that being locked in our own pain and unforgiveness robs us of our ability to look out and see and love others. This is an important movie.

A Hidden Life: Directed by Terrence Malick. Profound. It tells the dramatized story of a real Austrian farmer who stood up to Hitler's regime, the church, and his community to do what he felt was right in refusing to fight in Hitler's army, at great cost to himself and his family. This movie invites us to consider what it means to stand up for the good and true in our own lives.

The Passion of the Christ: Directed by Mel Gibson. This movie needs no introduction. It is excellent. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

The Chosen: Due to the track record of Christian movies and television, I tend to be very skeptical of them. Many times we grade them on a curve, but I don't want to do that because I do not want to recommend something I then have to apologize for because in reality it wasn't as good as I wanted to believe it was. As such, I tend to view them with a critical eye. I can heartily recommend this show and there is no need to apologize for it. The show carries emotional weight with well written stories and stays as true as possible to the Biblical record. Character development is fantastic. I admire their messages within the message of the show as well as their insistence that all people are invited into the kingdom of God. It is a beautiful show.

The video below is a trailer on YouTube. As I write this you can click on the link above to see where you can view it (it is available on various platforms).

To the Wonder: Directed by Terrence Malick. All of Terrence Malick's films that I have seen deal with the question of the meaning of life in one way or another. In this one you may need to listen carefully and read between the lines and remember that the film is directed by a Christian that takes his faith seriously (see this article). A subplot of the movie involves a Catholic priest that is having a crisis of faith but finds resolution in the end. The movie serves as a kind of warning but also provides hope. Every character in the movie was dealing with some kind of double-mindedness that was harming their lives. Noncommittedness was the clear enemy in this movie and the main characters its victims. But man can't serve two masters. Important moments are quietly whispered from a child telling her mother that "There is something missing." to a wife asking her noncommittal husband "what are you afraid of?" The same can be asked of our lives not lived wholeheartedly with God.

Knight of Cups: Directed by Terrence Malick. Another meaning of life film. Lines lifted from poetry (literally) serve as much of the inner monologues / voiceovers in this movie. It tells the story of Christian Bale's character. He has all he could possibly want, materially speaking: wealth, fame, surrounded by beautiful women, yet seems to be coasting through life, not really alive. One such poem tells the story of a son sent west to Egypt from a land of the east to retrieve a great pearl. But when he got there they gave him a glass that made him forget. But his father kept sending messages. Remember who you are - the son of a king, remember the pearl. The world that he was in - the fame, the wealth, the sex - was not his home and not the way he was meant to live, and that is why he was lifeless in it. There is Tarot card imagery, which mainly tells the tale of living this vapor or dream of an existence. One character even asks him if he lives his life as a fantasy. She answers that she does, too, but that she thinks it is just fine to do so, good even. In the actual poem the pearl is surrounded by a serpent, and this life he is living is not the life that he ought to be living. The movie also quotes Pilgrim's Progress. 

The movie probably deserves its R rating, so if you want to skip it, that it understandable. There is a scene near the end of the movie where a priest is speaking with Christian Bale's character and sums up a major point of the movie. The dissatisfaction that his character is going through may just be keeping him linked to a higher life. While I do not think that God sends us suffering (He does actively allow it, though), as this dialogue suggests, we are to consider trials a gift (James 1:2-4), and suffering does help to form our character.

Small Group: This is a Christian film. As stated on a previous listing above, I view these with a skeptical eye. But this one is reasonably well done. Is it as good as The Chosen? No. But the movie is entertaining, heartfelt, and has a positive message. I especially liked the portrayal of how one man's betrayal of their small group is dealt with by both he and the small group. Community is messy, and necessary. In a world where the tendency seems to be to want to cancel people, this movie shows that even betrayals can often be worked out, provided the parties involved are willing... and we are called to be a forgiving people.

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