How We Experience Our World (Or Why I Can’t Watch Hotel Rwanda)

Images are powerful. When scanned by the eye, they become embedded in our minds, flash up into our memory even if we don’t want them there, and are nearly impossible to delete by any other means than time and the accumulation of fresher, more vivid images. In my desire to be missional to my North American culture, the pull of images today cannot be ignored. Whether they are still shots on web sites or newspapers, live video footage by a camera man on site, or a scripted movie or TV show, we are surrounded by images.

Many who desire to be missional take in heavy doses of images by watching extensive amounts of TV or religiously viewing one particularly relevant show in order to be better attuned to the thinking of people. Chris Seay is one person who does this. He regularly watches The Sopranos because of its interaction with the values of today’s culture, and he even wrote a book entitled The Gospel According to Tony Soprano. In addition, Brian McLaren recommended that Christians should see the heartbreaking movie Hotel Rwanda and then take action steps in alerting the world to such atrocities.

I’m not writing to question or condemn the value of such cultural artifacts or those who view them. What I do want to ask is, “Must we all watch these to be relevant with our culture?” The simple matter is that movies, TV shows, and images in general have different effects on each person. Such a situation does not warrant ignorance of genocide, greed, murder, rape, etc. It does however mean that we need to find ways to be aware of and relevant to our culture and world that are spiritually congruent with our weaknesses. I desire to know what is happening in our world, but I don’t think I need to watch it being recreated.

For example, there is a new TV series called Human Trafficking. It’s dealing with the pervasive issue of slavery, primarily of women and young boys. The problem ranges from Europe, the New York City, South America, and all the way to Asia. The numbers are staggering and the situations are heart-breaking. I watched the preview/advertisement for this show from its web site and was deeply disturbed. I know that I simply cannot handle watching this show not only because of its visual content, but also because I emotionally cannot handle it. The same goes for Hotel Rwanda. I gave it a shot, but did not last long. I become so emotionally depressed and disturbed that I had to settle for researching the genocide on the web as my means of becoming informed on the situation.

I want to be very clear here once again that I do not think my emotional and visual sensitivity should free myself from having to find out about slavery, rape, and murder in the world. My sensitivities dictate the ways that I learn about them and experience them.

So instead of watching Human Trafficking, I can become aware of the situation through web sites such as Protest4 and organizations such as Rainbows of Hope. Even better than that, a little bit of research on the web will quickly yield ways to become involved.

As I wrestle with this issue, I wonder how correct my above thoughts are. Should I just bite the bullet and watch things that I find deeply disturbing in the name of relevance and awareness of important issues? Or is this a case where I’m the weaker brother who needs the stronger ones, who can handle disturbing images, to give me some lee way?