What if theology embraced innovation as much as science and business do? What if religions encouraged new ideas in theology? What if courageous theologians are among the real heroes of today?
Why do some people with brilliant minds choose to dedicate themselves to theological discovery? Especially now when evil often seems to have goodness on the ropes? What difference might theology make in such a world?
Such questions intrigue documentary filmmaker Sean Dimond, director, producer and composer at UNTAMED, an international film company based in Seattle. For more than a decade, UNTAMED has made films about inspiring people who are making a difference in the world. The company’s creative intent is captured on its homepage: “It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light,” a quote of British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
With a grant from Templeton Religion Trust, UNTAMED is producing a 6-part short documentary film series. It profiles the life and work of Christian theologians who are “beacons of light” – inspirational people working to make progress in theology.
With this film series, Dimond explains, UNTAMED intends to “light the beacons” by amplifying the voices of six theologians who are asking courageous, discovery-oriented questions and opening minds to new approaches:
As Dimond describes it, the work of these theologians “lives and breathes at the intersection of humility – a positive and vibrant recognition of the limits of what we don’t or perhaps can’t know — and discovery, the pursuit of a great, beautiful, animating question.”
He continues: “As filmmakers, we realize that a well-told story will evoke emotional truth and propel an audience to look ever deeper. Therefore, we are not approaching this series looking to document ‘answers.’ Rather, through our human-centered approach, we seek to reveal glimpses of both humanity and humility in the questions that theologians are asking, the new concepts developed, and answers explored and/or offered.”
Each film, approximately 9-12 minutes long, includes excerpts from in-depth interviews with the theologians. As important, footage takes viewers behind the scenes of their professional endeavors and into the personal, private moments of their day-to-day lives.
“We bring to the entire filmmaking process a deep curiosity about what matters to the person we are profiling and, in this specific case, how the events and questions that have shaped a given theologian’s life story influence how and why they do theology,” Dimond explains.
In addition to focusing on six theologians, the series will also explore the role of theology today — its value and relevancy as well as what’s at stake for the rest of us. As Dimond expresses it, “Why does this matter for the person in the pew — or, more likely, the person who’s left the pew?”
Perhaps put another way: Do theologians’ lives and work really matter enough to warrant our attention?
As an experienced filmmaker, Dimond is convinced that the answer is a resounding yes. “It is this courageous, humble, relentless inquiry into the essential questions of our own story – of the human story connected to the story of God’s engagement with the world – that helps us expand our identity, discover new possibilities for life and give birth to a more generous life,” he says.
In addition to exposing viewers around the world to “the extraordinary, inspirational and innovative work of these theologians,” Dimond hopes the series can ignite the vocational imagination of the next generation.
He speculates: “What if more bright children said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a theologian because that’s where the action’s at.'”
It’s an aspirational goal, to be sure. But it’s also an important reminder that, perhaps especially today, brilliance and heroism can take unexpected forms.