Praying Trash Dance

We publish a variety of content here on Reel Spirituality:

Our Articles are meant to be approachable “think pieces” considering the theological import of films and film culture.
Our Reviews are meant to be lightly critical and heavily dialogical, as if we are conversing with the films in question about the matters they seem to find important.
The Filmmaker section is our attempt to highlight filmmakers from every part of the filmmaking process who we believe are doing attention-worthy work.
The Television section is our foray into the rapidly changing world of small screen cinematic narratives.
Our Podcasts attempt to capture the conversations happening around Fuller’s campus and around our events related to cinema.
The Sundance section will give you a window into the annual Brehm/Windrider immersion course at the Sundance Film Festival.
Our Partners page points to people and organizations we are proud to call our friends, because they are doing excellent work in harmony with our own.

In the coming months, we are also going to begin featuring Study Guides, video essays, short films, online education opportunities, and other kinds of content we haven’t even discovered yet. We think Reel Spirituality is an exciting location of the multi-disciplinary conversation of faith and film. We thank you for joining in that conversation in whatever way fits you best. WIthout you, this would be a very quiet place.

Undergirding all of this and bubbling up noticeably from time to time in every area, is the practice of personal, spiritual reflection prompted by cinematic objects. For all of us involved in this initiative called “Reel Spirituality” on either the contributing or consuming side of things, movies (and television shows) move us. From time to time, they cause us to sit back in our theater seats and couches and consider deeply what we’ve seen and heard. Occasionally, they cause us to question our understandings of God and the world and our place in reference to both. For some of us, cinematic encounters have changed the course of our lives. Cinema has consistently proven to be one of God’s tools for shaping us into the people God wants us to become.

What follows below is a very explicit example of the kind of spiritual reflection of the kind to which I am referring based on my experience of watching the documentary Trash Dance. The documentary is being featured at the 2013 Windrider Bay Area Film Forum. I hope you take the opportunity to view it there. If you are unable to do so, you may view it online where it has been released via Vimeo On Demand. It is well worth your time, your $13, and your intentional, contemplative consideration.

How often do I look without seeing? How often do I gawk or gasp or grimace without really seeing what I’m gawking, gasping, or grimacing at? My news flows, be they televised or digitized, are more like floods. They overwhelm me with tragedy and turmoil in my neighborhood and around the world. I can’t truly take it all in, internalize it, and allow it to transform my heart and my actions, so I react briefly and then flip the channel or scroll past it hoping for something flippant to pop up to alleviate the pain.

I wish I could focus, really see, but it all seems so purposeless, so beyond me, so much.

If a film is anything, it is an invitation to focus for a set amount of time on someone or something other than myself. There is a promise implied by every film that this situation, these people, this story is worth your attention. The responsibility of every filmmaker then is to present this situation, these people, or this story in a way that honors them and that honors the audience. Whether it’s comedy or tragedy, the filmmaker is inviting the audience into a drama, and the filmmaker’s job is to make the drama worth it.

An artist is blessed and burdened with the lives of others, and the artist’s divinely appointed task is to handle those lives well.

Choreographer Allison Orr is a good artist. She honored both her subjects and her audience with her process and her product. She lived “on the job” with the sanitation workers of Austin, Texas, worked and sweated beside them. Intimately, she got to know their work, their movements, their hearts, their worlds.

That is love – to truly see and know another, to appreciate all of the other’s smells and gestures and sounds, to find beauty in the mundanity that almost completely makes up the vastness of our lives.

And then she translated all that love into a celebration of who they are, a celebration that could be shared with others so that the love she found spread amongst an entire community.

I want to be more like Allison in my work, in my anonymous interactions with others and in my personal relationships. I want to see and celebrate both the obvious and the hidden beauty of the people God puts in my path. I want everything I do to be as life and love creating as the dance in Trash Dance. If any of it is, I’ll be happy.

A Prayer Prompted By Trash Dance

God, you have made a beautiful world full of beautiful people. You love us all so much. You love us enough to look past our ugly sin to the beauty below. Please help me to do the same. So often, I look at the world and only see what’s broken. Help me to see the beautiful in the midst of the broken. Help me to love everyone and everything with a love that lifts them up and helps them love themselves. Grant me a creativity like Allison’s that is able to honor and respect all people and that is able to translate that honor and respect to others. May my work, even if it isn’t what the world calls “creative,” be creative in the way I use it to love others.