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Jason Byassee

Jedi or Jesuit?

Looking for God at the cineplex.

Is it cooler to be a Jedi or a Jesuit? A band of Jesuit novices argued this question on the way to see the then-new Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace. The Jedi side had a lot going for it. These twentysomethings had all been raised on the Force, the Dark Side, and Obi-Wan. The rich mythology had not a little to do with their pursuit of mystery and desire to save the world.

Yet Jesuits were cool too. Cool enough to make these smart, attractive, basically well-adjusted young men vow to poverty, chastity and obedience. Another movie added to their sense of vocation: The Mission. They didn't just weep at that film's portrayal of sin, conversion and nonviolence in colonial South America. They signed up with today's version of the Society of Jesus.

On the way out of the colossal disappointment of Menace, the novices were quiet. The Jedi side had so obviously lost that the argument was no longer fun. One finally sighed: "Definitely cooler being a Jesuit."

The pairing of God and the movies, variously construed, has been the subject of a raft of recent books, dozens in the last several years alone. Interest goes both ways—theologically minded writers paying more attention to movies, even as the movies seem to be paying more attention to God—ensuring that our authors have lots to work with. How ought Christians go about discerning God's presence at the movies?

With enthusiasm, according to longtime Calvin College Professor Roy Anker. The movies don't just physically depend on the light shining through miles of film, they also depict well the divine Light that occasionally shines at the edges of things. In Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies, Anker organizes his detailed readings of mostly blockbuster films over the last 30 years around Frederick Buechner's tripartite discussion of the gospel as "tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale." In Anker's hands, great movies become great religious commentary: The Godfather, with its chilling portrayal of Al Pacino's Michael Corleone ...

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