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.
“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
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
“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,”
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
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.