Visual Reality

– by Samuel Thambusamy 

I must admit that as a keen student of contextual theology I thoroughly enjoyed the movie Last Samurai . I’ve already watched it many times (actually I have lost count of it) and wouldn’t mind watching it again.The movie was ornate with themes such as ‘what constitutes good death’, ‘the collusion of cultures’, ‘forgiveness’, ‘Women as victims of war’, ‘ the advance of modernity’ etc but I would settle for Karma as the dominant theme.After I had watched the movie Last Samurai, I had asked my friends to go watch the movie. In my opinion the film demanded a christian response to the questio of karma. Every time I watched the movie, the Samurai warrior Kazimotto’ s question, ” Do you believe, a man can change his karma,” begged a Christian response. Aren’t religious pursuits in India ordered by karmic consciousness? What would be the Christian response to the question posed by Kazimotto?

Contemporary Western movies come loaded with eastern philosophy. New age philosophical questions are masqueraded as catchy one-liners backed by the eye-catching visuals and background music score. To cite another example, the trilogy Matrix is overloaded with a strange concoction of philosophical strands and could easily qualify as a post-modern purana. Even after a year or two, many young people treat Matrix as a philosophical treatise and unconditionally accept it as the ‘happening’ philosophy for the generation Next. I am not sure if many people feel the necessity to dialogue with philosophical questions embedded in movies. You can brush these ‘philosophical questions’ aside as unnecessary but not when you are longing for a challenging relevance of the gospel to the Indian social consciousness. So, cinema is no longer an ‘indulgent’ entertainment or a mere ‘catharsis’ tool for the masses. They have become ‘philosophical’ tools that present and promote a particular philosophy of life to our screenagers. What is the value of our faith if we don’t respond to the dominant questions of our age that take the celluloid route?

In today’s world, Cinema plays a dominant role in shaping people’s worldview. Sadly, we have not taken cinema seriously enough except to highlight its moral squalor.  I don’t contest the fact that some movies desecrate the human body through explicit scenes or by skimpily dressing its actresses (and its actors now) in the name of sex appeal. Anyways, there’s bound to be some rotten tomatoes in any big bag. But, the larger point I am making is that cinema has moved beyond ‘cheap’ entertainment that offers an overdose of sleaze, skin and slapstick comedy.  Looks like we too need to go beyond a naive repetition of yesteryear opinion on movies. I firmly believe that works of art mirror the experience and expectations of a society. And so, I closely follow movies. Not that I watch every one of them but I keep myself abreast of the latest arrivals through movie reviews. It has become some sort of a Friday ritual for me. I do find reviews helpful. Firstly, they help me choose good movies. Secondly, they help me map the different changes in society, as and when they happen.
I am slightly aware that my actions are suspect of either sinful indulgence or heretical inclinations (at least in private). Recently, a friend of mine who accompanied me to Last Samurai was confronted with the question, ” Is it right to watch movies? ” I found the question strange. But, looks like it is an FAQ by young people, possibly in response to stringent strictures against it. Christians have been long torn between ‘continuity’ and ‘change’ but what upsets me most is that they settle for an approximation of truth rather than the whole truth. Worse, they institutionalize it.  Today, youth workers are called to be an interface between ‘continuity’ and ‘change’.  So, we must refrain from repeating yesteryear attitudes regarding what constitute spirituality but instead re-visit the core of the gospel to discover its challenging relevance for young people. But, to think out of the box doesn’t come easy. It requires a perceptive reading of God’s Word and sensitivity to the concerns of the emerging urban sub-cultures. As always the case, we treat the pressing questions of young people with mild neglect and choose only to answer un-asked questions.

There is a constant battle between ‘continuity’ and ‘change’. But, as youth workers we are called to formulate our faith responses to issues facing youth today. Every generation is bound to think that they’ve lived out the best Christian witness and understandably so. Guardians of yester-year ‘spirituality’ may snivel over falling standards in today’s spirituality. What we fail to recognize is that the challenges of each generation are different and one generation need not be the benchmark of spirituality for the successive generations. What matters is that we follow Christ and live out this claim in concrete life situations. William Easlum reminds us that ‘If churches only improve what they have been doing they will die.the best way to fail today is to improve on yesterday’s successes’ (Dancing with the Dinosaurs: Ministry in a hostile and Hurting world, 1993) Do not the changing social contexts of young people direct us to evolve newer strategies and systems of thought? A new paradigm always emerges from the church’s new sense of Mission. I am not sure if you’d agree with me. At the risk of being unmodest (and being ridiculed too), let me state that this is definitely frontier thinking. I am known to be a thinker although I do not consider myself one. I am just thinking loud and I am willing to do it despite the risks involved. – M. Samuel Thambusamy

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