I've told my kids for years that they might like such and such movie...but the best movies ever made are The Godfather Part I&II. I've told them this isn't a subjective opinion...it's an objective fact. There are no better movies. This holiday break I determined that they were old enough to finally watch the movies and we tackled both behemoths on separate evenings.
So, watching these movies this time around for me was an unusual experience - I got to view them through my kid's eyes. And here's the thing - I don't think they loved the movies. I don't think they even really liked the movies much. And I know they didn't understand the movies. They stuck with them mainly not to disappoint me.
Whether or not you agree that they're the best movies ever made, I realized this week just why The Godfather movies are so highly regarded by cinemaphiles everywhere.
First: They're "Thick". They are so dense. I have never read Mario Puzo's novel so I have no idea how the pulp fiction bestseller reads, but the movies are just so dense. These are not simple paint by the numbers plots. And the characters are rich. It really struck me, this time around, how The Godfather movies are America's Shakespeare - especially Part II - with it's father and son innuendoes and generational family tragedy plot arcs. You don't easily summarize the Godfather. You have to think about it. You wade through it. You talk about it with your friends. You try to talk about it with your bored kids, but you don't get anywhere. This is why people (including myself) return to these movies again and again. They don't wear thin or get old. Each viewing is fresh...revealing.
Secondly: These movies assume a certain audience intelligence. They don't hold your hand and gently take you through the story. There's no character who tells you how to feel...no dialogue that neatly summarizes what is going on in case you missed it. Every spoken line matters. You have to pay attention. The film doesn't target the least intelligent person and merely cater to the rest with special effects, etc. You - as the audience member - have to think. You have to connect the dots.
Hopefully my kids recognized something great whether or not they "got it". And hopefully that will mean something to them someday.
Regardless, the whole experience got me thinking about church...our church, and what I want for our church. I realized that - not coincidentally - the things I love about The Godfather are the same things I want for our church community.
A "thick" experience. a "thick" gospel. No doubt the gospel can be reduced to a simple story. A few bullet points. Something easy to digest. Jesus died for your sins. God loves you. Etc. And I suppose there's nothing wrong with these reductionist messages. They're not false. They're actually very good...and totally appropriate messages in and of themselves...especially for children.
But what about those of us who aren't children? What about those of us who want and crave something thick to wrestle with...converse about...and humbly bow to? When does the gospel transcend Transformers and become The Godfather? This is our vision for our church. A rich and ongoing conversation that doesn't always wrap-up nicely. An invitation into tension, and messages about co-creating with God and helping to inaugurate his Kingdom and what that means and looks like for us. Something not easily summarized. Something you can talk about with your friends. Something that has space for your doubts...and far-fetched wonderings.
When we began Beggars Table I didn't have all the language (I'm sure I still don't), but upon reflection, I'm sure one of my desires was to host a gathering that didn't cater to the most simple minded. To host an ongoing conversation that welcomed all who were ready and willing to give their full attention...to think good thoughts and to wrestle with the wonderful mysteries that comprise the totality of our gospel story. To have The Godfather experience - that we keep revisiting again and again! We probably fall short of The Godfather week-to-week. We might shoot for The Godfather, but end up with The Untouchables. But just like great filmmakers keep trying to make the masterpiece, we keep trying to offer that thick and intelligent experience...for better or for worse...