This week, what is now been coined by one news network as “The Batman Massacre”, a former PhD student from the University of Colorado entered through an emergency exit and opened fire on movie goers. The movie was The Dark Knight Rises. The suspect was cloaked in a gas mask shooting first into the air, and then directly at people.
This has been called a senseless tragedy. And, no doubt, in the context of youth ministry, there will be teens and parents alike who will have lots of thoughts, questions, and observations about this tragedy. Here are a few ways in which you can be in dialogue with students and parents.
Pray. Pray for the victims and their families. Encourage your students and parents to be in prayer. Also, pray for the suspect and his family. It is so easy to see this shooter in a negative light. Help your students and parents pray for this person by modeling this kind of prayer. (Matthew 5:43-48) The Dark Knight Rises struggles with the fact that evil or good, we are all still human.
Be available and listen. Let students and parents know that you are available. If you have a Bible study, small group, or youth group scheduled, consider using that time to open up the floor and let the students share what they think. Let them tell you how they feel. Let them tell you what they experienced when they heard the news. Let them tell you what they think of it. Adolescents who experience violence – far and near – carry a heavy grief, as Dori Baker points out, “that seems to have few outlets.” Often times, we go into “make-it-better” mode. Instead, create a space where adolescents have an outlet to express their fears, their hopes, and their dreams in the midst of this tragedy.
See the movie. If you are going to engage your students about the film, go see it first. Don’t rely solely on movie reviews – secular or religious – see it for yourself and mode your own opinion. There have been many a Sunday mornings in the Sunday school hour where I have spent talking with students about the movies they saw that weekend. It was the movies I had seen too that I was able to really engage with them. Don’t make it about the big-bad-media. Keep the students engaged in what they experienced while at the movies. What did they like the best? What could they have done without?
Find theological themes. When you go to see the movie, watch the film through the lenses of theological reflection. Look for theological themes and when talking about the film with your students (in a structured or non-structured way) ask them about the themes you noticed and what they think about that. For example, all the Batman films tend to dwell in darkness and the chaos that lives there. In addition, The Dark Knight Rises lends itself to theological conversations about rising above tragedies; are sinful people worth saving; finding hope in the midst of despair; commitment to do good. If you see the film as a youth group outing, afterwards ask your students which character they were able to relate to and why. Ask them what theological themes they saw in the film and present yours. Ask them where they saw God in the film.
Hope. These “where is God?” questions can open the door to talk about where is God in the midst of tragedy. How does God’s mysterious presence offer hope in a situation like this? One of the themes of the Batman films (especially The Dark Knight Rises) is finding hope in the midst of despair. How do your students define hope? How does your church and/or tradition understand hope?
Finally, these words from liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez: “The Biblical God is close to human beings, a God of communion with and commitment to human beings. The active presence of God in the midst of the people is a part of the oldest and most enduring Biblical promises.”