I recently re-watched “Pitch Perfect” — a movie that single-handedly resurrected the lure and popularity of acapella music. (Haven’t seen the sequel yet so, no spoiler alerts please!) Yes, it’s PG-13. Yes, it’s a little unsavory, but at the end of the day, this movie is hilarious and touching and, dare I say, “aca-awesome”!
And, may I suggest, there just might be some insight and encouragement tucked away in this film for we, the church? Stick with me...
The premise is simple:
Becca (Anna Kendrick) arrives as a freshman at Barden University. Her father happens to be a professor there so she has the opportunity to receive a tuition-free education. It’s fairly obvious from the beginning that Becca has no interest in going to college. Her real dream is to go to L.A. and produce music. Classic father/daughter disagreement ensues. He doesn’t “get her,” she is “unwilling to try.”
Professor dad cuts Becca a deal. She must let her guard down and join at least one activity. After one year of giving it the "old college try," if she is still miserable he will allow her to quit college and help her get to L.A. Deal!
Becca sarcastically grumbles her way through the campus activities fair. Each group seems more nerdy than the first. The all-female acapella group brings on the hard sell, but Becca’s not having it. Claims she “doesn’t sing.” Of course, one thing leads to another and yada, yada, yada, she’s discovered after one of the “Bellas” hears her singing in the shower. Becca auditions with the classic “Cups” song and boom — she’s initiated into the “Barden Bellas.”
She’s found her group. Or has she?
Several issues arise with this rag-tag group of misfits that drive the plot to its final (and ultimately happy) destination. Not to mention, they BLOW UP the message of the movie by drafting off the cult classic, “The Breakfast Club.” I always appreciate the old “movie within a movie” trick. Genius.
I could go on, but I’ll get to the point. After watching this movie, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between the lessons the girls learn in the film and the lessons we (and by "we" I mean ALL of us in the body of Christ) could learn as the church:
Belonging — Aren’t we all looking for a place to belong? A place that truly accepts us for who we are? The world is full of homogenous, affinity-based groups. Of course we will all gravitate towards people who share the same interests as us, but Jesus didn’t come only for the ones who look, smell, and sound just like us. He came for ALL. It grieves me to think the church might be seen by some as just another option in a world-wide activity fair -- a super nerdy one at that. Another place among many where you could choose to spend your precious and all-too limited time, but may feel a little irrelevant to your current needs. In my opinion, church should be the ONE place everyone feels accepted. Grace and unconditional love is always relevant.
How can we open our eyes and our hearts to help everyone feel like the "church" is someplace they truly belong? (Because that IS Jesus' ultimate invitation -- we belong with Him.)
Innovation -- The Barden Bellas are a serious snooze act as they perform the same dated songs over and over. They become the butt of the commentators jokes. Perky, blonde senior, Audrey, has deemed herself the leader of the group. She barfed all over the stage in the previous year's competition and she wants to prove herself to the world. She is controlling and unwilling to entertain new ideas. She would rather die on the hill of tradition than mix up a known quantity. Sometimes the church feels like that to me. I've been a Christian since I could hold a crayon and there are times when I feel like the whole thing is just on auto-pilot. I sense there are individuals in the mix who carry an energy for "more" but sometimes the big group feels -- stayed.
I'm hungry for bold, new, innovative ideas. I want church to be a place where we can take risks, where we can try and fail and try again in an effort to see where the movement of God really is. I remember an entire PR campaign in our church in regards to MAYBE, POSSIBLY putting a drum set up at all services near the pulpit. There were serious snickers among the congregation as the promo video played. I remember people whispering, "Is this a real issue"? Apparently it was.
How can we create a space that welcomes and encourages bold new ideas? Yes, Christ is still at the center, but I think even He would want to mix it up every now and again. Maybe even take "church" outside the walls of the church. Just a thought.
Vulnerability -- The girls go through competition season spending nearly every waking moment together, rehearsing and performing and it isn't until the very end that they realize the don't even REALLY know each other. The major breakthrough comes when Becca decides to let down her guard and humbly approach the team to ask if they'll let her back in the group after a pretty good fight. She vulnerably shares a piece of herself, the floodgates open and everyone begins to share their stories with each other. I recently read an interview with author, Soojung Jo, author of "Ghost of Sangju" in which she was asked what she learned from writing her gritty new memoir.
She says, "The bland version of my memoir was okay, people liked it well enough, but the real version was amazing and people have responded so deeply to it. Likewise, the bland, pleasing version of myself is okay, but the real version is so much better. Does this mean I’m capable of being this true in real life? No, but at least I know it’s possible. It’s aspirational."
How can we create a culture of real vulnerability in the church? When we offer the real, stripped-down, sinner-in-need-of-a-Savior version of ourselves, well now, that'll preach! And inspire and break down walls -- you get the picture.
What do you think? How do you view "the church?" Do you feel like the body of Christ is a place you "belong" or do you find yourself looking for belonging elsewhere?**
** you can see we here at WIP don't all agree 100% across the board. love it -- these kinds of discussions inspire and challenge and, hopefully, pull us closer to Jesus as the ultimate guide.
I love Pitch Perfect and I love how "cool" Becca finds her place with a bunch of nerds. Good, bad or indifferent, I think for the 20's and 30's age group, (and 40's and 50's for that matter) a lot of church groups are just that - a bunch of nerds. I really love all those nerds, though. I agree with you on churches doing their best to make people feel like they belong and I'm on board with vulnerability as the best policy, but I think being innovative as a church gets tricky. You probably can't make church as cool as the mainstream culture. The harder you try, the more foolish it looks, (in my humble opinion). Obviously, you want church to be relevant, not boring, not lame (like I'm sure that word itself is these days). Jesus is certainly none of those things. But how does the church continue to be innovative, while staying true to what it really has to offer?
I love this movie franchise. Women of all sorts come together to make something beautiful! Is it an easy process where full agreement always happens? - negative, ghost rider. But that's the way truly legit groups know they're working through important stuff in a healthy way; there is freedom to express while the group maintains purity of vision. That's how I view church on its best day. And if I believe I am part of the body, I don't stand around wondering if I feel cozy with a sense of belonging. Instead, I look for places to bring my little but unique contribution.
For the record, I've seen Pitch Perfect 5 times and I never saw the Breakfast Club references in the movie - that makes me an "aca-awful" movie critic, I suppose! I gotta run - I have a sudden urge to grab my red solo cups and do "the cup song" with my 10 year old.