I recently watched A Week Away on Netflix. It’s a Christian musical and I’d seen some people talking about how corny that was and others critiquing its theology, so I thought I knew what to expect.
The story goes like this: Will lost his parents as a kid and since then has been in and out of foster homes and in trouble with the law. As a last resort, he is sent to a summer camp. It’s not his scene and especially not when he discovers it’s a church one – though there’s a girl he’s immediately pretty interested in!
Will is thrown into a sub-culture he does not understand and he isn’t sure what to do with all the joy and enthusiasm around him. At times these things are even weaponised against him. But as he goes on, it becomes a story about finding acceptance and discovering that everyone is on a journey.
I wasn’t expecting any kind of theological depth and little was offered. Will’s spiritual awakening seems to be more to do with getting caught up in the moment than any change in understanding. At the end of the film, we don’t know if he’s a follower of Jesus or just happy to be a part of something greater than himself.
However, I did appreciate that the characters were given space to ask big, sometimes unanswerable questions. And I do think that sometimes our bodies and our emotions run ahead of our reason, so expecting belief to precede emotion may make our faith somewhat disembodied.
My main response to this movie was to wish that this was how the church actually was, in terms of the emphasis on welcome …
Yet, my main response to this movie was to wish that this was how the church actually was, in terms of the emphasis on welcome – even if it is by people with their own particular sub-culture.
No doubt there are many people for whom that has been true. Many of us can say that, like Will, our faith falters and we are so thankful for the Christian community that continues to hold onto us – a tangible expression of what Jesus does.
But there are others of us for whom church has been a dark place; it’s actually been the site of our exclusion or abuse. I’d take daggy and safe any day over that. In some ways, this movie represents a kind of faith I want to avoid: a whole lotta upbeat cliches and not a lot of depth.
Yet, it also made me yearn for a simpler faith. One where the Christian life is an adventure, not a grind. Where you can dive in with unabashed enthusiasm.
The soundtrack of this movie brought a whole other emotional layer for me.
A number of the songs in the musical are by Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman. My twin sister, Steph, was a massive fan of his music and hearing it as a soundtrack in the movie transported me to when we were young adults and listened to it frequently. It was a time when we were together a lot, but she died three-and-a-half years ago and it’s weird to hear that music without her.
And hearing it, I knew she would have loved the movie – and not in an ironic way.
One of the things I admired about Steph was her authenticity and emotionality. She didn’t care if something was perceived as daggy by others; if she loved something, she loved it wholeheartedly. If she got her heart broken, she fell hard. If she was hopeful, she was pinning everything on it.
Steph brought all of those things to Jesus, too. I’ve always been a bit more guarded than that, worrying about other people’s perceptions, or wondering if it’s kind of silly to like this movie or that.
As I watched this film, though, I was conscious of one very strong emotion: a great sadness hovered over me because I couldn’t share it with her. I knew how she would respond. How she would smile and bounce around or become very still, caught up in the moment. That made me want to lean into the enjoyment of it more.