Cary Clack: Film looks at how we believe
"It's one of those things that, centuries later, we still struggle to get right: not letting religion and our ideas of God and what God wants us to do, and whether or not there is a God, send us into metaphorical and literal war.
“We” is all humans who share this planet; “we” is who we are before religion is misused to divide us into sects of “us” and “them” and “they,” because they're “infidels” and “heathens” and “godless” and “immoral.” Because, you know, only we know “The Truth.”
The complexity of faith and the mystery of God are the subjects of a riveting, thought-provoking documentary by San Antonio filmmaker Nathan Lang. “God in the Box” had a screening Wednesday night at Temple Beth-El.
In the film, Lang and three friends drove across the country with a small mobile studio, which they would set up in streets. They would then invite people to go in and express what God means to them and what they think God looks like.
Interspersed in the film are interviews with scholars and religious leaders, but the power and beauty of this film is the cross-section of Americans who speak candidly about God and why they believe and don't believe. They do so by speaking into a microphone, writing down their thoughts and drawing pictures.
One of the most memorable people in the film is a thoroughly deflated man who says he used to believe in God but no longer does. You're left wondering what happened to him.
While we don't know the full stories of the people speaking, we recognize their certainty and confusion, wonder and doubt, and the poetry and pain in their words because we recognize our own certainty and confusion, our own wonder and doubt, our own poetry and pain.
One of the lessons reaffirmed by this film is that to believe or not to believe in God is an intensely personal choice and that conflict brews when we don't respect and try to understand those of different faiths or no faith. It's healthy and necessary to discuss and debate moral values, but it's unhealthy to define them so narrowly and self-righteously that you vilify those who don't embrace your definition.
Following the film was a panel discussion with four clergymen whose openness and good will toward each other and each other's beliefs should be a model for those less inclined to be inclusive.
Rabbi Samuel Stahl, who is also in the film, said that “God in the Box” reminded him that “not only should we have the courage of our conviction but also the courage of our confusion.”
The Rev. Louis H. Zbinden Jr. said that “the importance of raising questions” is a message from the movie he'll take to Zambia, where he will teach seminary students.
Both Father Eddie Bernal and Imam Omar Shakir offered similar criticisms of believers of their faiths who stray from the teachings. Bernal was critical of “Christians who distort and misinterpret the Scriptures,” and Shakir said he's “deeply concerned about the misinformation and corrupt ideas about Islam.”
“God in the Box” is a challenging film with the power to discomfort and comfort us. It discomforts us because it forces us to ask ourselves hard questions about what and why we believe. But it's also comforting as it reveals that whatever our beliefs, most of us are struggling to make sense of this world and do right in it.
Maybe more important than someone's beliefs is whether those beliefs move them to treat people with dignity, to not bear false witness and to cross the road to help a wounded stranger.
Maybe it all comes down to the words above Temple Beth-El's sanctuary: “Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself.”http://www.mysanantonio.com/life/Cary_C ... l?ua=i&c=y