Friday, August 6, 2010

Jesus Camp - The Documentary

Last night I watched Jesus Camp. Here is what Wikipedia says Jesus Camp is:
Jesus Camp is a 2006 American documentary film directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing about a charismatic summer camp for children who spend their summers learning and practising their "prophetic gifts" and being taught that they can "take back America for Christ."[1] According to the distributor, it "doesn't come with any prepackaged point of view" and tries to be "an honest and impartial depiction of one faction of the evangelical Christian community".[2]

Jesus Camp debuted at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, and was sold by A&E Indie Films to Magnolia Pictures. Controversy surrounding the film was featured in several television news programs and print media articles in 2006.

On January 23, 2007, Jesus Camp was nominated for the 2006 seventy-ninth Annual Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Documentary Feature.[3] It lost to Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.


You don't need to have watched the film to understand what I am writing here: they are mostly general ideas that does not necessarily correspond to the film alone. I have taken the chance to write about the mostly negative connotations that media give out when they talk about church movements and Christianity.. so its pretty general.

Ok, about Jesus Camp: I appreciate and acknowkedge what the distributors say, that they are trying to be honest and doesn't come with any prepackaged point of view. If you have seen the documentary you will know what I am talking about: this film touches a lot of sensitive nerves in the church. By impluse I was tempted to raise the wall of defence when I thought about writing a review on it. But then I figured I don't need to. Truth is what truth is.

Yesterday too, some of my friends went to listen to a talk about Islam (as part of Islam Awareness Week thing at Uni). They came back laughing their heads off because the speaker kept proclaiming, (and I quote what they say the speaker said) "I cannot tell you what the heart of Islam is, but I can tell you what it is not!". And when people tried to raise the question of how violence s promoted in Islam, he insisted that he wants to tell people what Islam is not, and not what Islam is.

I sort of see from what angle he is coming from. And I agree that people's mindset about Islam need to change because what I know of Islam in my interaction with Muslim friends in India is that they are a disciplined lot and take their faith seriously. They take fasting seriously. They take their holy months and pilgrimage seriously. And I can say there are 90% of us Christians who can learn from that discipline and fear of God.

But again, I don't want to repeat the mistake of insisting I talk about what Christianity is NOT to defy the allegations and perception that the media suggests about the church and us. It's like what Philip Yancey wrote in his book: God does not need to prove himself.

So, though there were many things that pricked me in the Jesus Camp documentary, I am not going to put up a defence. What you saw there were what you saw. (Though I also say that use of music and film making techniques could help determine audience response too. For example, there was a scene where in the background there were sound effects of people praying and poeple speaking in tongues, while the visual showed kids in the dorms, with lights out, playing with their torches and making faces in the eerie light. The kids were obviously having a playful fun time, while the film making technique would almost suggest a sense of strangeness and other-worldlyness in what they were doing. But I am not going to go down too strong on film making. All I have to say is film making is a very powerful tool, and can make people think what you want them to think, with a right mix of music and visuals.)

I do agree that Christians have always divided up humanity into the 'saved' and the 'unsaved'. Us versus them. Church versus the world. Thats one thing, I am happy, the documentary smashed hard on.

You have Christian metal. You have Christian literature. You have Christian schools. You have Christian cafe's. We have Christian localities in cities. You even have a Christian music version of Guitar Hero. I am serious.. There is one.

What are we bunch of pansies, that we have to make soft versions of every frikkin thing on earth for ourselves? How unrelatable are we that we have to make our own worlds?

The whole point exactly, of why Jesus planted the church is so that we can be soluble in the world and be shining lights in the dark places.

To be dissolved into the world systems. To be light. Not to make a new system. Not to build a country of just Christians. Not to make a building where like minded Christians can come together and share life together and have happy wee times. Of course that is part of the plan. But if anything, Jesus wants to break down the walls of the church buildings and scatter those inside out into the world. Pentecostal happened so that I can become more relatable to the person walking on the street. Pentecostal happened so that who I used to be is dead and I can be a bigger person able to relate to other people, something I couldn't do earlier with my own effort.

There was no Jesus Camp in Jesus' plan. There was no World Camp vs Jesus Camp. There never was World Camp vs Church Camp.

Thats why I am overjoyed that America is getting over the phase where they call themselves Christian nation. I hope that Christians will from now try and stop taking things for granted and start to notice that there are PEOPLE who run the country, not just names and theologies. Not just labels, but people for whom they should show respect.

Its not just America. I think its because Americans are more outspoken, so anything they do and say is more recognisable. Which is good because the easier the problem is recognised and diagnosed the quicker you recover.

Young people passionate about something bigger than themselves. The film also showed passionate young people on fire for God. That was amazing to see, though it might have seemed unnerving to the general audience. They were barely in their teens. And there they were speaking words bigger than themselves. You might say they are babbling things they can't comprehend, saying things they don't know they are saying. But again, doesn't any other kid do that anyway? The media is strewn with lyrics and words and ideas that aren't necessarily fitting for younger people. What kid can say they completely understand the meaning of the songs they are singing? Or completely comprehend the depth and profundity of films they watch?

I'd say I'm happier to see them speak words about God though they don't understand, if they are otherwise going to go speak words about other stuff that they don't understand anyway.

That's one of my philosophy. Every person ever born is going to get influenced and (though I hate to say it) brainwashed by one thing or the other. All you can really do is choose what to be influenced by.

(So... Does God brainwash? Do I really believe that? I will write another post for that one.)

I too believe that the Church is the answer to the world's problem. But it cannot be realised as long as we keep stressing about theologies and separating ourselves from the world, and trying to defend God to people who just don't buy the idea of a God.

I don't see the Church being called to equip, empower, solve, fix and save the world as much as it is called to simply love and show love.

Simplistic love is and always have been and will always be the best solution we can give the world. Simply love.
Documentaries like Jesus Camp will be made again and again. And I think its a good wake up call, because all we need to notice our faults and mistakes and loop holes is someone else's perspective. But God has bigger things in store than having his church spend all energy defending the cause. God needs no defense. He does not need to prove himself.


PS. Most allegations made against the church are most of the times made based on some hurried or well intentioned (but wrongly interpreted) statements made by church and Christian leaders. It doesn't mean we have no respect for the Church leaders and people who go under the (mostly negative) spotlight all the time from the media. Paul writes in the New Testament that he and his colleagues are always being put (analogically) at the arena with the tigers in display for everyone to look at and mock and jeer, while the rest of the church live away and squander like kings and princes. When you are in leadership role and on centre stage it is easy for people sitting down to point out mistakes. I speak the same not just for Christian leaders, but for Hindu, Moslem and other leaders.

Show some respect for them. They are only humans and can say things that aren't the smartest things to say, and can make mistakes.


wobeni said...

Hi there Ning, I liked and enjoyed reading your blog.It is a wakeUp call for people(friends)like us too...

Its easy to see how we, too, would want to destroy the filthy, smelly, putrid garments that we have been wearing all our life but has no opportunity of washing or purifying our own garments.

Time is running out, we have to start " washing the walls of our mind, scrub the floor of our conduct and try disinfecting the atmosphere of our thinking" and be ready for a new abode.

Abby said...

love it, sounds like a conversation nick and i have constantly.

{oh ben!} said...

wobeni, thanks, good to know people agree..
abby, thanks for the read. when's your blog coming up?