Yesterday I had an opportunity to preach in church about my favorite movie, and the new reboot of said movie. As is my tradition, here is the transcript of the message:
I had been waiting for them to make Ghostbusters 3 since 1989, ever since I walked out of the theater with my father having seen one of the only three movies I have ever seen with him in the theater. The others were “The Land Before Time” and “Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country,” but I’m not here to talk about them. I’m here to talk about Ghostbusters. My favorite movie of all time. It’s sci-fi, it’s comedy, it’s scary, it’s funny, it’s dry and deadpan while also being over-the-top. It is everything I have ever wanted in a movie. And then they made Ghostbusters 2. My father took me to see it, and I don’t know that I had ever been as excited to see a movie as I was to see Ghostbusters 2. I was 11, and all I wanted was more of what I had loved. And that’s exactly what I got.
Ghostbusters 2 wasn’t a remake or a reboot. It was barely even a sequel. It rehashed, plot point by plot point, the original movie to the point where even some of the lines were repeated word for word. The critics were not kind to it. They called it “unoriginal” and “underwhelming.” And obviously I loved it. Why wouldn’t I love it? It was a new movie with everything I loved from the first movie! Sure, some of the spontaneity and improvisational nature of the original was missing, but it was familiar in a good way! It was going through the motions, but they were motions that I loved, so I was okay with it. Unfortunately, Ghostbusters 2 did not bring in a lot of new fans. The franchise closed down and I sat around for the next 27 years, listening to whispers on the internet, yearning for the day that Ghostbusters 3 would become a reality.
It’s funny what we are passionate about, isn’t it? What we hold on to? Because there are so many things in this world that I would love to change. I would have no problem with a lot of stuff being different and better and new. And yet there are a few things that, for whatever reason, I have decided should not change. There are things that ought to remain as they are, always and forever. New math, for instance, drives me crazy. I get it. I understand that it makes sense in a certain way. I even can hear your argument that, even though it is more complicated on paper, it more closely aligns with how the brain actually processes numbers and calculations. I can see all of this, and you are correct on all fronts. But I hate it anyway. Because it’s not how I was taught. How can I teach my children math, when all the systems are different? I was great at math! I loved math! I want to help my kids with their homework! And I can’t. Because I don’t know the new system. And I don’t want to learn the new system. If it was good enough for me, why isn’t it good enough for them?! I will stubbornly fight progress for no other reason than that progress does not personally resonate with me. In other news, yesterday I yelled at someone to get off of my lawn. Is this my life now?
At least I know I am not alone in wanting to keep things the way they always were. And do you know how I know I am not alone? Because I am currently standing in a church. If this is your first time in a church, I should let you know that churches are sometimes stereotyped as being change-resistant, but to be fair, this is only because they often resist change. “Can I move this vase over there?””NO! That vase has been there for 112 years, and it’s not moving now!” “How about we try a new hymn this week?” “What’s wrong with the old hymns?!” “Do you mind if I throw away this broken picture frame?” “You mean the Matilda Johnson Memorial picture frame?!”
Look, there’s a good reason that churches spend a lot of time thinking about the past. Our primary mission here is to walk in the way of a man who lived 2000 years ago, and who we read about in a book that is almost as old. To say we have a reverence for the past is to accurately define who we are and why we are here! And yet, this man from the past that we spend so much time talking about, he is alive in the present as well. And his words that we use as our guidepost do not talk a lot about keeping things the same, or dwelling on the way things used to be. No, Jesus says you have to be completely reborn! And not reborn of the flesh, but reborn of the spirit. Your body is fine the way it is! It’s the you that dwells within the body that needs to start over! It is your old way of thinking and being that needs a constant tune-up. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! But what does that mean?! Because not everything old has passed away, right?! The Bible has not passed away, right? All the lessons we were taught in Sunday School have not passed away, right? The fundamental structure of mathematics has not passed away, right?! What are we to hold on to, and what are we to let go of?!
I thought we had it several times. Dan Ackroyd seemed so sure of his script, and I wanted to believe so badly, but when Harold Ramis suddenly passed away in 2014 it seemed like the final nail in the coffin. There would be no Ghostbusters 3. And then, out of nowhere, a minor miracle. A third Ghostbusters movie was on the way after all, but with all new Ghostbusters and a new director. I was cautiously excited. The word came down that the third film would feature a new team of Ghostbusters taking over the franchise from the old team (minus the late Harold Ramis of course), and that sounded like a fantastic idea to me. A whole new generation of people, picking up where the last one had left off. That’s how you create a legacy. I was all for it. But then two pieces of new information came to light.
The first bit of info was just some casting details, and we learned that the new movie was going to feature four female Ghostbusters. For some reason this threw the internet into a blind rage. People were furious. They called it a gimmick. They hurled sexist insults at the actresses signed on to the project in the form of tweets and comments and posts. They declared that their beloved franchise was ruined, and when the first trailer for the film came out they showed up in droves, downvoting the video so quickly and in such numbers that it made headlines for being the most disliked movie trailer in YouTube history. Before the film even hit theaters, mobs of people, mostly white males I might add, flocked to IMDB to give it the lowest rating possible. It sat at a measly 3 out of 10 stars before anyone had even seen it. This is the anger directed at something that threatens to update a classic. But I had no problem with women being cast. No, I was upset for an entirely different reason.
The second bit of info that came out was that they were doing a hard reboot. As in, this was not Ghostbusters 3. This was Ghostbusters, and nothing else had ever come before it. There was no Egon, no Winston, no Peter, no Ray, not in this world. And to me, that was the only straw that mattered. I wanted something that built upon the foundations laid out by those who came before, not something that spit in the faces of those foundations if foundations had faces. Even if the original Ghostbusters were not in the movie at all, I wanted the new Ghostbusters to at least acknowledge their existence! An entirely new movie, made up of new characters, in a world that had never known ghosts or Ghostbusters? It sounded to me like they were making up their own movie and just slapping the Ghostbusters name onto it for brand recognition. I was not sure I was going to see this movie. It certainly was not the legacy I wanted to pass on to my children, as far as the Ghostbusters were concerned.
They may have been too young, but what choice did I have? I showed the original Ghostbusters to my children. This was the Ghostbusters I wanted them to grow up knowing. This was the same movie I had fallen in love with as a child. Surely they would fall in love with it too! And yeah, they liked it. They liked it enough that they wanted to see the new one when it came out. So with hugely positive critical reviews, and unprecedented levels of fan hatred, I took my family to see the brand new, hard rebooted, female starring 2016 movie, Ghostbusters.
Did you know there is a constant debate about worship styles? You probably knew that. You have maybe even been in such a debate at the end of a service during the passing of the piece of your mind. Some people like a more contemporary service, and some like a more traditional service. And that’s fine, because there are plenty of both kinds of services out there for you. But the debate isn’t just about which kind you prefer, because that would be a very short debate. You are the final authority about what you like. No, the debate turns toward what kind of service is best for drawing in that most elusive of beasts, the young person. Every church wants more young people, families, college students, because these people are the future. But will young people respond to a traditional service? Or will they find it boring? Do young people need something more contemporary? Or will a lack of a traditional structure fail to provide the solid foundation of faith that these young people really yearn for? I have seen very compelling articles arguing both sides. I don’t know if we have found the magic bullet yet. But one thing is for sure: if you are seeing a decline in attendance, then what you are doing is not working. You are not reaching people, and maybe it is time to try something new. Maybe even something radically new.
Last week Vermont voted in the primary elections, and different cities and counties held votes and referendums on a variety of different things. In the islands, the citizens were asked whether or not they should merge their school districts. You see, Vermont has a new law, Act 46, which uses state funding to pressure smaller school districts to merge with each other, thus reducing costs and giving students more options. If you don’t comply, your state funding will drop dramatically. South Hero could lose 10-20% of its education budget. And they voted not to comply. The biggest issue? Instead of just sending their kids to the mainland for high school, residents would now send their 7th-8th graders to the mainland as well, cutting their school from k-8 to k-6. And parents were not happy.
My sister-in-law and her husband live in South Hero, and they have kids who will be affected by this decision. They attended the meetings, and said that many of the arguments against the change were things like “I want my kids to graduate 8th grade from the same school I did!” “I went to that school, and so did my parents, and their parents, and…” There was not a lot of talk about the budget math, or the shrinking population, or anything much logical. This, for many, was an emotional issue, and no matter what it cost them, they were not going to change, because to change meant to lose something familiar that they loved.
Now that’s all well and good, but the reason I am telling you this story at all is because of what happened after the meeting. My sister-in-law, who was highly in favor of the proposal, was contacted by some of the other parents who wanted to let her know that they still considered her part of the group, despite her misguided attempts to tear apart their tiny community. As if that was even a question! Really! There are people out there who will not only do everything in their power to fight change, but will carry over that anger at the change to the person advocating for it! Not these people, fortunately, but some people! And I thought, can we exist in a community where we hold different opinions, or is that out the window now? Is there room at the table for the folks who like contemporary worship songs and those who like traditional hymns? Can they sit at the same table? Or do we need to build a separate table for “those people?” And most importantly, how much of our holding on to the way things are is based on reaching new people, and how much of it is based on staying in our own comfort zones?
In the original Ghostbusters, Winston asks Ray if he believes in God. He is wondering if the reason for all of the ghosts that they have been busting is due to the prophecies in the book of Revelation. Winston wonders if judgement day is at hand, and the dead are rising from the grave. And Revelation does talk about the end of the world. This can be scary to a lot of people. But if you read that book and think it’s only talking about endings, you haven’t read far enough.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Revelation is about beginnings! Revelation is about a hard reboot! The old has to pass away, because something new is coming. Is it something better? I suppose that depends on who you ask. And it probably depends on which generation you belong to. The people of England recently voted to leave the European Union, as you may have heard about in the news. And the demographics of that vote were fascinating. Pretty much anyone who had been an adult before the E.U. existed voted to leave, to go back to the way things used to be. No more European Union for them! And anyone who had been born after Britain joined the E.U. voted to remain. To keep things the way they had always known them. We all long for our comfort zones. We all want to do things that we like, that have meaning for ourselves, and most of us, myself included, have the unmitigated ego to believe that what is best for us is what is best for everyone. So ask yourself the question, who are you living for? Who are you here for? Who are you trying to reach? Is it yourself?
And here’s the thing. How sure are you that your way is the right way? Even in terms of scripture, how do you know? Have you ever read a passage that meant something to you, and then read it later in life and had it mean something completely different? There are different interpretations for different times, and we have to trust that God knows the plan. Holding on to the old way of thinking might be the thing to do, but it might also be your own selfishness and discomfort getting in the way of what God is trying to reveal to the world! We have to believe even that our own understanding is going to change and improve over time, or else what are we all doing here?! If we have locked our hearts and minds onto one version of Jesus and the Bible then all we are really here for is to chat and eat cookies. But I think we’re here for more than cookies. I think we’re here to learn, and to grow, and to step outside of ourselves for a moment and look at things in a different way. Is it time for Christ to reveal something new to you, using the same texts you have read a hundred times?
The opening scene of the new Ghostbusters was a little scary. I was worried that we would have to walk out of the theater. But as soon as that familiar theme music came on, I turned to Edward and saw him grinning, clapping, and hopping up and down in his seat. By the time the movie ended, I was sitting in the theater with a whole new generation of fans. This movie spoke their language. This movie was current and new, while still maintaining the sense of what Ghostbusters is about. Ruby got to see four women on screen being action heroes with no trace of a romantic subplot. There are so many good things about the movie that I don’t have time to tell you about them all, but it really was fantastic. And it will never replace the original in my heart. I will still go home and watch it, over and over again. But I will watch the new one with my kids. And we will speak a common language, even if it is a different dialect. To get my children excited about Ghostbusters, I can give up my favorite movie for them. I can watch the story in a new way. What will you give up to get people excited about Christ? What in your life needs to be rebooted today?