This topic starts with a "why" and continues with suggested "which."
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Teaching the Bible with Secular Movies and Music
an article by Neil MacQueen originally written for the Rotation.org Writing Team's MAGI Video Workshop which uses clips from Disney's Moana.
Using movie clips and songs to help illuminate Biblical concepts and provoke discussion has a l-o-n-g history in Christian education. The technique has been used in youth ministry and adult education programming. It is less common in children's ministry but no less powerful. This is especially true if the movie or song is well-known and likely to be seen or heard many times throughout the student's life.
Our objective is to get our students comparing and contrasting the movie's message with the Christian message -- letting the attention-grabbing production values of the secular media open our students up to learning and remembering.
Our goal is to illuminate and hitch the Biblical teaching into their memories, using the attention-grabbing nature of the media function as a harpoon into their long-term memory where the meanings we discussed will be refreshed every time they see or hear that media again.
Disney's Moana is a great example of this kind of powerful teaching opportunity. As a story and animated movie, it is one of Disney's best. Its themes are universal --seeking, challenge, courage, heart, redemption. The added fact that it also musical with great songs that appeal to all ages makes make it a golden teaching opportunity. Moana's songs were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the famous songwriter of "Hamilton" (and who attended a Christian university, btw).
To be sure, secular movies RARELY exactly correspond to the Bible's message --but that's where the discussion fodder is!
The same is true for the movie Moana. It's amazing how many themes from the Bible's story are found in the Moana movie, albeit, with some different interpretations.
- Moana feels a call to be different, to explore beyond the reef.
- Her grandmother says the "ocean has chosen you."
- There are "Pharisees" in the story (her father is one), and prophets (her grandmother).
- Everyone else is afraid to travel beyond the reef, but Moana learns that it is the only way to "restore the heart of Tafiti and save her people."
- Maui, the comic relief, introduces himself as a selfish "demi-god" (half-god). But Moana's story of salvation is also Maui's story of redemption. He is a flawed hero.
- Maui teaches Moana how to be guided by the stars, ...a knowledge her people have lost.
- Moana realizes that LOVE is what Teka the Volcano goddess needs most, and it transforms both of them.
- Moana's example restores the heart of her people too, who learn to set sail again.
Supporting Members can access the Video~Music Workshop Lesson for the Magi that uses several Moana clips.
Some Questions for Moana
- How is Moana like and not like a Magi?
- What was life like for the Magi that may have prepared them to want to venture beyond the reef?
- What is the "heart" that the Magi were seeking and wanted to see restored? Who restored it?
- How does love and not fear restore people?
- What does it mean to be a Magi today?
- Who are the people in our lives that have or can teach us to be guided by the stars?
What are the differences between... (the Magi and Moana)
Make a list comparing and contrasting the:
- What's the "redemption story" in the movie? How are people saved/redeemed?
- Main themes
By using secular media, we also teach our students how to parse the message they see and hear in secular media and compare it to the Bible's message.
Good vs Evil, Heroes & Saviors, the Secret of Life, the Help of God (or gods), the Wages of Sin, Redemption ...these are universal themes read and seen throughout media. They are themes about which our student need the tools to understand how the Christian message differs. And yes, is often "hidden" between the lines and scenes for the Spirit to help us see.
Several authors have written books about the parallels and influence of the Christian story in modern media. One of the most famous is "The Gospel According to Outer Space," by Robert Short. It looks at the parallels in Superman, Star Wars, and the like to the story of Jesus. That book, and others like it, were the source of lots of study group discussion back in the 80's and 90's.
As a Sunday School teacher, I tend to see quasi-Christian themes in all sorts of media. But it doesn't always happen right away. It wasn't until I had seen Moana for the third time with my grand-daughter that the parallels jumped out at me. That's one of the blessings of a web ministry like Rotation.org -- we can post what we are seeing so others can see and use it too.
The Blessing of YouTube and DVD Players
The rise of YouTube has made showing secular media clips so much easier. Not only are key scenes and songs being released by the publishers to YouTube, they are being posted there by fans. You'd think the publishers would be upset, but they aren't, and YouTube's licensing and advertising arrangements seem to be making it worth everyone's while. (Probably doesn't hurt that YouTube is owned by Google either.)
The same is true for the use of movie DVDs on movies. As educators, the showing of video clips from ANY movie in a "face to face teaching" situation, is protected "fair use" according to the US Copyright Statutes. Equally, we can use screenshots of images from these movies, as I've done above, for the protected "fair use" of referencing their content for teaching purposes, and for the purposes of "commentary."