Last week I mentioned my experience listening through U2s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb at church and the impact that had on me. This week we took two hours out of our Sunday to watch and discuss M. Night Shyamalanâ??s The Village as a Bible Community (remember: cool codeword for Sunday School class) in the next installment of our Engaging Culture and Finding God series.
If youâ??re unfamiliar with the film, The Village tells the story of a 1890s community comprised of people who, dissatisfied with the sin and pain of â??the townsâ??, withdraw to a secluded valley. The idea is that a community that functions without money, materialism, and machines can produce both innocence and crops in abundance.
As we get to know the village and its inhabitants better we find that problems still exist. Despite pure intentions, there is no escaping illness, death, loss, secret pasts, and the paralyzing fear of the creatures lurking in the woods surrounding the fertile valley. By vilifying the towns and fostering fear of the creatures of the forest, the elders of the village are able to keep their citizens within the borders of the valley. However, circumstances eventually give one villager the desire to cross through the forest and enter the towns in search of something that canâ??t be found in the valley.
I donâ??t want to spoil the plot for you (The Village is from the guy who did The Sixth Sense so you know it has a twist), but the movie had some insightful takeaways for me. First, The Village makes the case that money and materialism are not what is wrong with us, they are merely symptoms of a deeper condition. The film gives us a picture of how our fractured humanity can manifest itself even in the absence of money, social class, and guns.
Another theme of The Village is that the ephemeral nature of this life means that love almost always leads to loss. The things that we love (other than God) can rust, fail, die, or run away, regardless of our setting or attempts at moral purity.
Finally, I couldnâ??t help but view The Village as a mirror. When I looked at it, I saw myself and the Church to some degree. In the last year or two, I sat in one of the biggest churches in the state of Texas and listened as the pastor commanded his audience, over and over, louder and louder, to build an island around our families.
â??You have got to build an island around your family!â?? He echoed as he stomped his foot and pounded his fist. His heart was in the right place, he wants to protect Christian families from the sin that so easily entangles. The problem with the withdrawal method, as The Village demonstrates, is that fear of and isolation from the outside world does not make for a peaceful, complete, and redeemed valley. On top of that, how can a secluded valley affect positive change in an outside world abandoned by moral purists?
As the Church we will continue to struggle with what it means to be in, but not of, the world, and how to live out the gospel story amidst this present darkness. My hope is that we will not interpret the struggle as an indication that withdrawal is the lifestyle for which we were created.