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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Spirit Avoids the Spotlight

Mad Max: Fury Road has been widely acclaimed as one of the greatest action films of all time.

Most people associate the Mad Max franchise with breakneck speed, mindless mayhem, and stuff blowing up.

It came as something of a surprise, then, when Fury Road became the second-most nominated film for the 88th Academy Awards in 2016, including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. People were even more surprised when it walked off with six Oscars.

Fury Road is not what one would describe as a great date movie. Nor is it likely to become a favorite at contemplative retreats.

But it justly deserves its Academy Awards, especially for its remarkable film editing.

Director George Miller spent 10 years imagining the flow of the action. During that time he never had an actual script – just a clear sense of the unfolding story. When filming was complete, he handed film editor Margaret Sixel a whopping 480 hours of footage.

Somehow she had to turn those 480 hours into a two-hour movie. Her final version is a seamless quilt of 2700 individual shots.

As the film industry website VashiVisuals puts it: “That’s 2700 consecutive decisions that must flow smoothly and immerse the viewer. 2700 decisions that must guide and reveal the story in a clear and concise manner. One bad cut can ruin a moment, a scene, or the whole film. No pressure!”

It’s no secret that action movies over the past few decades have devolved into a strategy called Chaos Cinema. One reviewer describes this approach as “a barrage of non-congruent and seemingly random shots that overwhelm the viewer with a false sense of kinetic energy and power.”

In other words, a whole lot is happening on the screen, so this must be interesting and important.

But such chaos is exhausting to watch. And more often than not, the story gets buried beneath the confusion.

Miller opted for a different approach: Center-frame what matters. In almost every one of those 2700 individual shots, the story is happening right in the center of everything. That way viewers don’t have to search left and right, up and down for what’s important.

Even in the midst of endless distractions, the Fury Road narrative can always be found at the center.

Real life can feel like Chaos Cinema. Think of your family, your bank account, and your plans for the future. Or consider the never-ending updates from Israel, the political campaign trail, and the latest tragic shooting.

In the midst of so much noise and confusion, is there really something at the Center of Everything?

The New Testament boldly declares, “Christ is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Our call is to keep looking at Jesus, to center-frame the Son of God in every aspect of our lives.

And one of the Holy Spirit’s primary jobs is to help us do that every hour of every day.

Here we need to affirm, straight out, that the Holy Spirit is not the star of the show. Bible scholar Dale Bruner chose a splendid title for one of his books: The Holy Spirit – Shy Member of the Trinity. In what regard is the Spirit “shy”?

The Spirit never says, “Look at me, think about me, and pay attention to what I’m doing.” Instead, the Spirit points to Jesus and says, “Look at him, think about him, and pay attention to what he is doing.” Jesus himself says at the Last Supper, concerning the Spirit, “He will bring glory to me by taking of what is mine and making it known to you” (John 16:14).

Who is the central character of God’s story? That would be Jesus. That’s where the spotlight shines. We must center-frame what matters. Jesus is the One who matters.

The Spirit is not in competition with Jesus, but delights in making sure that God’s Son is central in our thoughts, actions, and prayers.

Here we need to pause and express appropriate concerns regarding what have come to be known as Holy Spirit conferences, Holy Spirit ministries, and Holy Spirit churches. Everything we read in Scripture leads us to believe that when we turn the spotlight on the Spirit, our attention is actually being drawn away from the very One the Spirit is trying to spotlight.

The Spirit is not the hero of God’s story. Nor is the Spirit our Savior. “Don’t look at me,” says the shy member of the Trinity. “Look at him.”

Which means that the old saying is really true, whether in directing a film or living the kind of Christ-centered life to which we have been called:

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

God’s Spirit would be the very first One to say, “Amen.”

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