It’s funny sometimes how connections happen. With the world of social media, a friend of a friend of a friend can become a new contact and sometimes the sense of resonance is powerful and exciting. This is a gift to celebrate in what has often become a fragmented and individualized reality. But let me back up…..
Fuller Seminary is in Pasadena, California. It’s an Evangelical Seminary with a reputation for engagement with matters of culture and the arts with a certain openness. Richar Mouw, recently retired president, wrote extensively on the need for Christians to engage in a winsome manner in our pluralistic contexts in his book, “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.”
Fuller made some news this past year with the announcement of OneTable, an LGBTQ student support group, the first of its kind as officially sanctioned by an Evangelical school. Through GCN (gay Christian network), I met some folks connected with OneTable and have continued to observe with some interest its developments.
One of the amazing things that has emerged is something called the “Level Ground Film Festival” which is the first faith-based LGBT film festival in the world. The two founders, Samantha Curley and Chelsea McInturff are passionate about using the vehicle of the arts to launch safe spaces for dialogue on matters of faith and sexuality. Samantha and Chelsea came to TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) a couple of months ago and connected with my colleague Wes. They were all pretty stoked to discover how much resonance there seemed to be with their focus and the values and posture of Generous Spaciousness.
Samantha says, “I do not think – as individuals or the Church – we will ever find our way out of this conversation. Nor do I think we will each choose the same path once we find our way into it. But my sense is that many of us remain on the outside, too fearful, too stubborn, or too hurt to enter. And my firmest belief and source of hope is that we must (and can) find a way in. This is where my story and the passion I have for Level Ground intersect. I believe art creates a way in to polarizing conversations and provides a space where we can safely meet the other. My story, and Level Ground’s work, is not about changing or improving ideologies, but finding safe space to learn how to listen and speak with one another.”
At New Direction, we have had a consistent appreciation for the role of the arts in opening new pathways for dialogue beyond the tired rhetoric of polarized debate. The use of film is a wonderful catalyst for fearless conversation and robust engagement with the realities that people navigate at the intersection of faith and sexuality. Film takes us out of our comfortable theoretical headspace and hurls us into the chaos of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual tension. The visceral experience that films can instigate can provide the push that some of us need to actually risk talking about the deeply personal questions that arise such as, “Just how important is human gender to God?” or “If God is relational in the essence of the Trinity, why would an entire group of people be called to celibacy?” or “What is more important – taking up your cross or experiencing abundant life?”
I am thrilled to have been invited to be one of the speakers at the Level Ground Film Festival in February. What Canadian wouldn’t want to go to California in February!! But even more than sunshine and palm trees, I am so excited to enter a slightly different cultural context and engage in conversations that matter. Our humanity matters to God. Our deepest questions matter to God. Our longings, hopes, fears, and dreams matter to God. I’m excited at the potential of breaking some stereotypes – about both religion and sexuality. I’m excited about the potential for new thinking, new openness, new risks, and willingness to enter new tensions. These are the things that bring life to human community – as we go to these places together.
The festival is only in its second year – and it is still quite a fledgling initiative. Samantha and Chelsea are running an online fundraising campaign to try to raise the funds needed to launch the festival and see it grow. If you think this is a model that can make a difference in the tired debates – and bridge some important cultural gaps – I encourage you to check out their site and consider making a donation to see this festival make an impact in southern California.