Film probes Americans’ images of God
Kimberlee Hauss, Religion News Service
October 15, 2010

Film probes Americans’ images of God

Film probes Americans’ images of God
Kimberlee Hauss, Religion News Service
October 15, 2010

WASHINGTON — On the big

screen of the movies, God has been played by everyone from George Burns (“Oh,

God!”) to Alanis Morissette (“Dogma”) to Morgan Freeman (“Bruce Almighty.”)

On the small screen of

people’s imaginations, God frequently looks like an old man in the clouds, like

something out of “The Simpsons.” Or Kenny Rogers. Or more ambiguous terms like

creator, energy, love or nature.

That’s how some Americans

described their image of God in a small independent documentary entitled “God

in the Box.”

“I really wanted to be able

to look behind people’s eyes and see what God looks like to them and what God

means to them,” said filmmaker Nathan Lang. “They’re not leaving novels about

their feelings, they’re leaving just snapshots.”

Lang’s four-man crew

traveled across the country for three years with a phone-booth-sized black box

that they set up on street corners. The hope was that people would feel

comfortable enough in the anonymity of the box to share their thoughts and

visions of God.

The documentary has been

shown at synagogues, churches, mosques and community centers and anywhere

people want to see it.

Passersby stepped inside the

box as cameras and microphones captured their insights while they sketched

their image of God.

RNS photo courtesy Nathan Lang

Filmmaker Nathan Lang invited passersby to enter a large black box and describe their image of God for his new film, “God in the Box.”

“Our hope was just that

people would take it seriously when they went in and … take a moment and

reveal themselves,” Lang said. “And 99.9 percent did. They were quite sincere

about it.”

The documentary features

three groups of people: the filmmakers, the participants and a few religious

experts. The storyline is built around the people in the box, but it also

traces Lang’s personal journey.

Lang was raised Jewish but

had many questions about God. As he crisscrossed America, he found the majority

of participants had an opinion, but many, like him, were less than certain

about their answers.

Respondents answered with

everything from God does not exist, to God is the creator of all things. Some

said God was energy, while others called God a conscience, a second chance, a

higher power and love. When asked to describe or draw God, some people drew

things in nature, others sketched symbols like hearts and crosses, while still

others said he looked like Kenny Rogers.

Amid the variety of answers,

Lang said one thing was clear: People were taking the questions seriously, even

if they didn’t know the answers.

“People were incredibly

honest and were willing to reveal parts of themselves that I don’t know if I

would reveal if I had walked into that box under those same circumstances,” Lang


At a screening here, Graylan

Hagler, senior minister at Washington’s Plymouth Congregational United Church

of Christ, said the privacy of the box offered people a safe place to share

their feelings.

“It’s interesting how

people, when they get into a place where they know that they are respected and

(are) not going to be judged or criticized, have a tendency to get truthful,”

Hagler said.

Although respondents were

willing to open up and share, the project that began with questions ultimately

ended with them, as well.

“It’s more about the

question than about the answer,” said Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig of the Washington

Hebrew Congregation.

The documentary ends with

the filmmakers themselves stepping into the box and confronting their own


After three years of traveling in search of answers, Lang, too, still

had a hard time stating his view of God.

“I’m a prisoner,” he said, “in

my own device.”

More information on the film

can be found at www.godinthebox.com.