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These themes are quite diverse; some that may be of particular interest to urbanministry.org folks are “013 Rich,” “016 Store,” “018 Name,” and “021 She” (the afore-mentioned newest one). These installments are just the ones that have to do with social justice more directly—anything that brings you closer to God should inspire acts of justice and compassion.
The teaching Bell presents in the NOOMA videos is scripturally-based and inspiring, but what is really unique about these films is the way the silent story, set to stirring music, contribute so much that they sometimes seem to be little sermons in themselves. When my small group Bible study used NOOMA as our curriculum for a few weeks, we usually watched the film twice in order to absorb more of its rich meaning. Sometimes the talking and the acting seemed to compete for the viewer's attention, but if you watch them more than once you'll understand how they compliment each other. At any rate, the use of multiple arts—speaking, music, acting—allows the viewer to engage the theme on both intellectual and emotional levels. This ensures that whatever you bring to the experience, even if you're tired or otherwise distracted, you come away feeling as though you have gotten something out of it.
In “021 She," while Bell discusses the ways in which motherhood and women express the character of God, we watch a mother bring her daughter home from school on a bus. We see the many ways in which she cares for her child: feeding her, clothing her, comforting and encouraging her, supervising her, directly and indirectly educating her, advocating for her, providing for her financially. In perhaps one of the most moving scenes of the film, the mother takes her sleeping child from one bus to another, and we literally see the heavy burden she carries in the form of groceries, a backpack, and the warmly-dressed child herself through a cold and sometimes uninviting world. We are thus powerfully reminded to appreciate all the women for their work in our lives, however mundane their tasks may seem. I imagine those viewers who are mothers themselves must find in this film greatly deserved affirmation.
A little background on Rob Bell: He's the founder and pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, the largest city in West Michigan. The large church is heavily involved in ministry to low-income people locally and abroad. Bell is the author of Velvet Elvis and Sex God.
I've recently encouraged some friends to watch the new movie while it was available for free, and one of them was so impressed she went to the website to find out how she could see more in the series. In doing so, she discovered the one downside: the films are a bit pricey at $10 per DVD or $190 for a set that includes the first twenty. I'm sure the price reflects the cost of producing the films, because it's obvious from looking at them that they are of very high quality. The DVDs I have seen were all purchased by my church or the pastor of another church, and I think that's probably the the best way for a lot of people to see them. If everyone in a small group pitches in, it doesn't amount to very much per DVD. Multiple churches could even share a set. As long as there is a group of people watching them or sharing it amongst themselves, I really think they're an excellent investment.
Would anyone like to recommend other resources for small groups that incorporate the arts? Please leave a comment!
* For those of you who like language and don't mind a little linguistics-speak, the name NOOMA is a phonetic spelling of an Anglicized version of the Greek word pneuma which means, well, a lot, but basically “life,” “spirit,” “breath,” and “wind.” And by the way, if this sort of information interests you, you'll probably like the NOOMA series a lot.