On ‘Conversations with God’

“Conversations with God” Premieres Friday, October 27th; see it in Kansas City at the Tivoli Manor Squares Theatres.  

By Anna Foote

In an early scene of the new film “Conversations with God,” Neale, our protagonist, speaks to a crowd about the messages he’s been receiving. There’s a straw man figure in their midst who accuses Neale of being a hypocrite, a lout and a liar.

Neale gently replies, “I’ve wondered what you are wondering. Will anyone believe what I’m saying? Believe where this came from? I guess that’s up to you. I only hope you don’t disqualify or marginalize the message just because it’s coming through such a fallible messenger.”

That fallible messenger in real life is Neale Donald Walsch. The visually beautiful film, “Conversations with God” recounts the story and insights captured in his bestselling book series. As he sees it, his books are dictation from God, a correspondence that started in 1992, as he emerged from a period of deep emotional, communal and financial despair. The books and the film ask us to believe in a God who advocates for constant love in the world.

The message is reasonable, if not novel. And in a world where the word God often conjures visions of vengeance, you could see why his proposal is appealing to so many.

Still, the film’s message focuses so tightly on the personal experience that the communal experience of both faith and life is lost. This imbalance, I feel, is a mistake.

I hoped Walsch’s conversations with God might provide specifics on suffering and injustice. If I were Walsch, I’d ask God about war; we’d talk about racism, poverty. But these subjects didn’t come up in the movie. Instead, personal affirmation is the dominant theme. We can all use that, of course, but couldn’t we also use some Godly insight on Darfur as well?

Human falliblility, God might tell Walsch.

Fine, but since I have you here, God, could you please explain the tsunami in Asia?

These questions are not asked in the film. Even so, by focusing intently on the personal, Walsch (perhaps inadvertently) raises the foundational questions of communal faith.

Walsch is a modern-day prophet that is unaffiliated with any established religion. This allows his message to transcend the muck and mire of thousands of years of mistakes made, now as much as ever, by organized religion. He is spiritual rather than religious.

But his words made me think of faith communities anyway. Being human institutions, they are also most certainly fallible messengers. (I’m Roman Catholic, grew up one, so I speak from that limited experience. But I imagine many who find themselves invested in religious groups feel this way from time to time.)

Walsch says we can all hear God in our own voice. But if that goes unchecked, can’t it lead to the same mistakes organized faiths make?

Isn’t it fair to wonder whether a group of humans, a faith community, might better listen and respond to God’s call than I can as an individual? Can a faith viewed as intensely personal as Walsch’s ever lead to true community, with all its warts? Has organized religion gone so wrong that we must limit our intrinsic fallibilities to the single unit (even if that individual sells over 1.5 million copies of his book)? Don’t we run the risk of becoming more isolated than ever?

Still, Walsch sets a good example for all faith communities, who should be willing to say: “I only hope you don’t disqualify or marginalize the message just because it’s coming through such a fallible messenger.”

One other part of Walsch’s opening message also made me think of faith communities.

He says, “Every single free choice you make arises from either a thought of love or a thought of fear.”

I believe he is right.

And I think that when we, as communities, choose to focus on bringing God into the world together, for God’s sake and for all of ours, we are thinking of love.

Otherwise, we’re thinking in fear.

Return to kcolivebranch.org

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment »

  1. Ken Gates said

    I saw the film last weekend at Unity Village. It’s just Neal’s personal story and it’s great that it was shared with the world, in book and now film form. It’s another piece of the puzzle of trying to understand what ‘God’ is and what we’re doing here. Keep looking and you’ll find more pieces. Even add your own piece(s). No one has ‘the complete understanding’. We all get to come up with our own understanding and hopefully we’ll agree on enough to live in peace, at least relative peace.

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