SIGNS – Film One: Earth
Erwin Raphael McManus
DVD: David C. Cook (2012)
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Justin Rimbo.
Erwin McManus has spent a majority of his professional ministerial life focusing on what’s new and what’s next within the Church. The author of books like The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within is a sought-after speaker on the relationship between Postmodernism and Christians, and has no problem questioning the way that the Church works.
But in Earth, the first film of a five-part series based on elements titled SIGNS, Erwin McManus begins by confessing an urge to agree with the writer of Ecclesiastes, having experienced the same feeling that there’s “nothing new under the sun.” McManus effectively expresses the despair that comes from living a life that lacks any meaning – it can feel empty, futile or vain.
Over the course of this short (just under 10-minute) film, McManus brings the central idea back around to the ability to see that new things are happening all around us, and that God is still creating, just as the Earth was created to create. He argues that, outside of God, humans become trapped in the created order, stuck in a cycle where everything is meaningless.
However, “[w]hen we live our lives inside of God,” he says, “we find ourselves alive as a part of the creative order,” (italics mine) where life is being remade all around us. That, in this creative order, “we become alive in God, we begin to realize that our imagination is the playground of God where we begin to see a future that can be created in partnership with Him.”
The question arises of whether this medium itself is getting old. Anyone who has seen a Nooma video will want to compare this short-film-cum-sermon to Rob Bell’s popular collection of DVDs. In doing a series such as this, especially when the method (short-form homiletic film) and the content (another series on the elements?) have been done so effectively before, there’s a risk of producing more white noise. So is it all vanity?
In the end, it’s a matter of context, and the ability to see the beauty and meaning that’s beneath the crust. Earth carries a strong message of hope and renewal that can be appreciated by any person who has experienced monotony, but the film’s real strength appears when McManus pairs his reflections with the cinematography itself. Talking about God’s role as creator and co-creator feels refreshingly brand new when you hear the message set against the backdrop of a forest full of gnarled tress or a time-lapsed image of stars passing overhead.
Filmed on the big island of Hawaii, the backdrop can be, at once, unappealing and hypnotically beautiful. McManus describes it this way: “There’s a place that can look incredibly barren and uninspiring to one person, and actually feel lush and awe-inspiring to another person. Or maybe the same person.”
So, your community might see this resource from Erwin McManus as beautiful, or as stagnant, but it’s worth a chance, as it’s a well-formed reminder of the God who makes all things new.
Justin Rimbo is the Music and Band Director at Jacob’s Well in Minneapolis, MN. He and his wife also raise Owen and Zoe, who are respectively 4 years old and 1 year old, depending on when you read this.