Communication is hard. Finding common ground and common words is hard. We have to build bridges in the air just to cross from one mind to another. It’s exhausting.

When you think about it, though, it’s not differences in language that create this problem so much as difference in people. Even those who share a common language are required to discover common ground and choose common words in order to communicate. Think about talking to teenagers! Most of the teens I know speak some semblance of English. But that doesn’t make communication easy. What do they want to talk about? Will they trust me enough to talk at all? Was that a grunt or a hearty affirmation of their agreement to what I’ve just said?

Communications between Christians and the world are always conducted in different languages, even when the language is shared. The trick, I believe, is to discover common ground, where trust can be established and mutual interests collide.

I’ve always found that movies are a prime common ground, a place where I can meet people who don’t share my faith and talk meaningfully about the important issues of life. Movies are seen to be “neutral territory” by many of us, written and produced with no particular theological ax to grind. In fact, most of “Hollywood” is perceived to have an anti-religious bias (which we, as Christians, have lamented ad nauseam).

That’s certainly true for most movies. There’s not much theological grist to grind in just about any movie starring Will Farrell (to use but one example). Often, you are required to wade through so much profanity and inanity to get to the meagerest “talking point” that touches on faith, you feel permanently sullied by the time you arrive.

There are movies, however, which address important themes that go to the heart of what it means to be human, movies that make attempts to cut the Gordian Knots of our existence. They have “gospel” in them, common ground for talking about faith, if only we are wise enough to see it. Just about any of the later movies of Clint Eastwood is worth seeing and provides wonderful opportunities for talking about the gospel. Unforgiven is one of my all-time favorite movies and contains some powerful scenes that touch on faith.

The Schofield Kid: It don’t seem real… how he ain’t gonna never breathe again, ever… how he’s dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.

Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.

The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.

Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.

Often, the movies of Robert Duvall (The Apostle, Tender Mercies) are thoughtful reflections on faith, grace, redemption, and second chances—all ideas at the very heart of the gospel.

A few other favorite movies that offer wonderful opportunities for talking about faith:

Children of Men—a prolonged meditation on hopelessness and the hope that becomes possible with the birth of one, special child.

The Matrix—another world, behind the one we see, that operates on different rules and a different reality.

No Country for Old Men—an incredible movie (about life and the powers that operate on it) where themes about God weave in and out of the entire story. (“I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.”)

None of these movies is easy to watch. There is violence and profanity in them all. But if we hope to talk about our faith with people who don’t share it, we must be willing to wade in a little honest human garbage as the price of conversation. Jesus did it all the time and was not desecrated by it.

The kind of people who really want to talk about life rarely go to PG movies or watch the Disney channel. If we Christians walk too daintily through life, keeping our shoes clean and our sensibilities unoffended, we may never meet the sort of people willing to talk for hours about matters that matter.

[This article was published in LookOut Magazine as part of a monthly series on Church and Culture that I write for them. If you’d like to visit their website, click here. For a listing of other articles I’ve written for this series, click here.]