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Movies, the Family, and the Catechism

August 28, 2014 No Comment

movies-family-catechism

by Ted Giese

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbour. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV)

Parents don’t often think of their children as their neighbours, but they are. In Scripture and the Small Catechism a neighbour is anyone who isn’t you. So “serving your neighbour” is at the heart of a parent’s vocation, including teaching the faith. Each section of Luther’s Small Catechism starts with the opening phrase “As the head of the family should teach…” In addition to providing the necessities of life, parents, especially fathers, are supposed to teach and equip their children to help them make choices about what’s good and bad.

A parent’s drive for what’s best for their children is always before them, informing much of their decision making. They take great care deciding which school to send their children to and what extracurricular activities they should enrol in. Some parents are rather hands-off when it comes to things like art, books, music, theatre, television, and movies while others are very hands-on. If it’s important to make good choices about what a child eats, it stands to reason that making good choices about what children read and watch is important too. Just as parents can teach a child how to read and understand a label on a food product, they can teach a child to read and understand what they see in a media product. Parents should strive to raise children capable of discerning whether something is “helpful” and whether it “builds up.”

Movies are a unique form of media because they bring together a variety of elements: narrative drama found in a good novel; music ranging from radio pop songs to symphonic masterpieces; and visual imagery that runs the gamut from the graphic punch of comic books to the sublime heights of fine art. When assembled, these elements can be overwhelming even before a viewer gets down to questions associated with the various worldviews, and/or philosophical and religious ideas present in every movie. For this reason it’s possible that, in the midst of an overwhelming film-viewing experience, such ideas can broad-side a person (regardless of age). This is particularly the case if the viewer is not clear on what they think and/or believe about a given topic. This is where the vocation of parent comes back on the scene.

small catechismParents can teach their children the faith, just like they teach them their ABC’s, to tie their shoes or to ride a bike. Teaching the faith, in fact, is the most important responsibility for parents and is where the Small Catechism is a useful tool. Families need not hold off on the catechism until children are 13 years old and then let the pastor teach it to them for two years in Confirmation class. The catechism can be used at a very young age to help children begin learning and understanding their baptismal faith. The stronger a child’s confession of faith, the better formed is their identity as a Christian—and ultimately they will have an easier time deciphering what they are looking at when watching movies or whatever media they come in contact with as they mature.

Just like teaching other things in life, the best results come from memorization. Consider this: if a child gets lost, it’s important for them to have things like their address and an emergency contact phone number memorized. So when they are sitting in a movie theatre or in front of a smaller screen, having various parts of Scripture and the Catechism memorized is a great help. Memorizing the catechism seems like a lot of work, and in some ways it is, but it can also be fun. Resources are available that set to music the first 44 pages of Luther’s Small Catechism. Just like the ABC’s song, children can learn the Lord’s Prayer or the 10 Commandments in a musical way. By the time they see their first movie, television show, or cartoon in which someone gets shot, they have the 5th Commandment and its explanation memorized:

You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbour in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

Having a discussion with them about what they saw and what they think about it will be easier if they already know the commandment. It then becomes the normative standard that helps parents teach the faith. Take these moments as opportunities, and don’t let them slip by without comment. Children look to their parents for leadership and guidance so having a firm grasp on the catechism will help.

Be encouraged! There are some other great strategies parents can use in fostering a family’s good media consumption habits. First, they can take time to preview films before their children watch them. Watch it first, then think about what’s in the movie. What are the major themes? The plot of Disney’s Bambi hinges on the death of Bambis’ mother. After watching the film—if parents feel it’s age-appropriate—be prepared to talk to children about death, the possibility of their own death, and a death that would leave them without a mother or a father.

Let’s say the child is older and wants to watch the Kevin Bacon movie Footloose. While it was originally rated R, in recent years it’s been re-rated PG. Here’s where parents will want to be careful about depending on the rating system. The more recent ratings may not be entirely helpful. It may have changed, but the film still includes the same adult themes that it always had—and these may not be appropriate for some younger viewers regardless of the film’s current rating.

Previewing a movie like this can help you decide whether to let your child watch it. An additional help is on-line at www.imdb.com. Each film has a “parental advisory” page detailing instances of sex/nudity, violence/gore, profanity, alcohol/drugs/smoking, and frightening/intense scenes. Here are the parental advisory pages for Footloose and Bambi, for comparison’s sake:

Footloose: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087277/parentalguide
Bambi: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034492/parentalguide

If the movie in question is just coming out in theatres, websites like www.imdb.com and www.rottentomatoes.com can provide some reviews and information about the film’s content. Understanding that it may be difficult to find the time and/or the money to preview first-run films these websites may be very helpful. In addition, Lutheran families can take advantage of movie reviews here on The Canadian Lutheran online, with additional reviews available at www.mountolive.ca. Parents may also want to listen to follow-up radio interviews connected to these reviews on www.IssuesEtc.org.

The purpose of these reviews is not just to review a film but also to help families and individuals begin to look differently at the medium of film—to consider that movies of every genre contain more than their obvious surface elements. While Christians are free to watch a wide variety of films, they can also be careful as they watch. We can ask whether a film is helpful for teaching some aspect of the faith—whether it helps build up a person’s faith, whether it challenges it, or whether it’s actually hostile towards their faith. By using Scripture and the Small Catechism,everyone can get more out of their media consumption. Having a firm confession of faith will help Christian viewers go beyond personal concerns and enable them to seek out the good of their neighbour, whether that neighbour is their child or a fellow adult.

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Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Regina. He reviews movies for both The Canadian Lutheran and Issues, Etc.

 

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