Category Archives: Wrestling with Movies

The Shack

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I already know that the theology police are not super happy, their citation pads are out and they are furiously scribbling down infractions. What has them so upset? The Shack is now a movie. It’s not just the theology police either, I imagine the theatrical police have their issues as well. It’s always difficult for actors to depict convincingly for the screen spiritual struggle. I will leave the varying theological and theatrical policing blogs to do their necessary work. As for me, I only want to comment on how I believe the movie managed to capture powerfully the big ideas of what it means to be a Christian person connected to God in the midst of grief.

A Christian person — To be a Christian, is to get to a point where you agree with God that he is good and to be trusted. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the vital link in getting us to that place. We are told, that when you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen God. You must walk with Jesus to avoid sinking into the black abyss of guilt, shame and bitterness. In this movie Christianity is portrayed simply as being friends with Jesus, trusting him. It’s not about religion, or keeping a list of rules, or paying for past sins. Both Mack and his older daughter blamed themselves for the death of Missy. The older daughter was fooling around in the canoe. In her mind it was her irresponsibility cost Missy’s life. For Mack he was sure that this unspeakable tragedy was the result of his own past sins. Both their lives became stuck in the quicksand of guilt and shame. Because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice they both came to believe that the time for blame and guilt was over. Bad stuff happens, our hearts break, we suffer, great sadness occurs, but we don’t get stuck, we trust that through it all God will do what is good and right and true. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Connected to God — God is depicted as a trinity so that we can see that the Christian God is fundamentally relational. Love is possible only in relationship and the Father, Son and Spirit have that in bucket loads. God’s invites us into this love. In the movie God reminds Mack regularly that he is especially fond of him and all humans. That was a tough one for Mack to accept, and it’s a tough one for all humans to accept. We all must suffer and we all must die. Reconciling human suffering with God’s goodness is not a new conundrum, and this movie offers nothing new in resolving that tension, except in this movie God gets to answer directly the charges levelled against him. I found God’s explanations in the context of this movie powerful and helpful.  All three persons of the trinity, are shown to feel our pain. That’s the reason all three have nail prints.  God changes his appearance in order to help us understand that he knows what we need when we need it. God is portrayed as all knowing, but yet keenly interested in our lives. And though God loves all his children, he is not disinterested in justice either. In the end we are told that God will make right judgements upon his wayward children, however, we are also told in compelling fashion, that this job of ultimate justice is better left with God. The perpetrator is never caught, justice never served in the movie. Even still Papa wants Mack to “remove his hand from the throat” of this terrible predator. Forgiveness is the only way forward, but by forgiving Mack is also entrusting himself to the judge of all the earth who will judge rightly.

In the midst of Grief — When we suffer, we have to realize that we don’t have the complete perspective. We can only see through the “knothole of our own grief.” The garden in the movie is an absolute mess from Mack’s perspective, but when the shot pans out and you see the garden from the air, mess turns into beauty. God is not the ultimate source of evil, human free will prevents that conclusion, however, God is actively working in and through evil to bring about a greater good, good that we can’t always see, but must learn to trust is there.

I think if every person walked away from this movie, having taken into their hearts the above conclusions about Christianity, God, and grief. The world would be an infinitely better place.

Maleficent Movie Review

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Romantic love is good for warm fuzzes and box office sales, but it’s lousy for human flourishing.

The stories are all variations of the same thing. In about 2 hours time, a boy meets a girl, he is strong and handsome, she is beautiful, there is chemistry and connection. As the movie unfolds, there is a series of incredible circumstances that catapult the couple together, they become intimate, and romantic love triumphs once again. Over and over again we are visually educated that love is little more than a connection, a feeling oriented superficial gush that leads to bodies intwined in passionate embrace. This electric feeling is what results in happily ever after. In our deep hearts we know better and so does Maleficent.

“True loves kiss” goes badly for her. The handsome boy in a ploy to gain kingship uses romance to steal her wings and shatter her heart. Maleficent’s deep sorrow turns to hatred. She becomes violent, selfish, evil.  She is ready with her revenge when the king finally has a daughter. Eternal sleep will befall the child when she turns 16, a sleep that only “true loves kiss” can awaken. Maleficent is delighted with her sinister plot. The child will never awake because “true loves kiss” is only a fantasy. The child is spirited away to a secluded forest cottage in hopes that the curse won’t find her there when she turns 16. Maleficent regularly visit the cottage to make miserable the lives of the 3 fairies who have been tasked to care for the child. However, slowly over the course of 16 years, Maleficent begins to develop an affection for the child. She begins to care for her in quiet ways, to protect and provide for her, so much so, that she tries to revoke the curse on the eve of the girls 16 birthday, but to no avail. Sadly, the curse falls upon her and she is laid to rest in the kings palace. In desperation, Maleficent takes a handsome young man to the palace, maybe “true loves kiss” is real? The boy kisses the sleeping beauty but nothing happens. Finally, Maleficent emerges from the shadows, tears falling freely, she repents of her wickedness and makes a promise to the girl. Even though this girl will never awake, will never fill Maleficent’s heart with joy again, Maleficent determines to care for her, she will make sure that no harm comes to her as she lies in repose. Gently Maleficent seals her covenant promise with a kiss. The girl awakes!

The heart of true love is not an electric feeling, or great sex, or good chemistry. It is a promise kept, a commitment to care for someone no matter what. Feelings are important, but they are fickle, they come and go, they change and fluctuate. They should never define what we believe about true love. Falling in and out of love is tiresome business that results in way too much pain and suffering. Romantic feeling oriented love is over rated. I am with Maleficent on this one, covenant love is the better path.

Transformers Prime — Good T.V.

3906409-trans I like Transformers Prime, in fact its the only T.V. show we’ve watched as a family these last many months. Why the attraction? Prime serves as a great reminder to me of the ultimate story that I love and am shaping my life around. The good news of Jesus Christ is never mentioned a single time in all 3 seasons or in the feature length grand finale, but it is everywhere present. Starting with Optimus we come to see Jesus. Optimus is patient and kind, he is the one who wants to bring peace. He isn’t filled with hatred for “the bad guys” Instead he challenges deceptacons everywhere to “repent” and “believe”. He wants the cons to give up their quest for power and control, to stop their life styles of deceit and self absorption. For their joy he longs for them to embrace a new life, characterized by sacrifice and love. Though regularly rebuffed Prime never gives up, he continues to love his enemies even though they regularly try to snuff out his spark. The con’s are bent on chaos and destruction however, so Optimus must battle tirelessly the evil threat. He does so with courage and bravery never considering himself above others. In the end, as a willing sacrifice, Optimus gives up his life so that the world might be saved. The Autobots under his command are like the disciples of Jesus. They are rough around the edges. They argue, complain, and make foolish choices. Often attitudes of pride, revenge, and hatred surge up in these all too human robots causing plenty of problems. Prime both gently and firmly teaches them the way of grace and over the course of time they grow in their faith. Their belief system is both counter intuitive and counter cultural.  You see, the Autobots are badly outnumbered and always on the edge of extinction, but yet over and over again Prime extends grace and mercy to their mortal enemies. — Shouldn’t he kill con’s to survive? Prime and his Autobots regularly stand in harms way to protect lowly humans because of love and commitment to them. — Shouldn’t weaker creatures be sacrificed to ensure the survival of the fittest? Not according to Prime, there is a better story to believe than just the natural course of things. I love being a Christian, because I think it’s the better story. It’s the truest love story there is. Transformers Prime reflects this story so well and that is why I give it a two thumbs up!

My Thoughts on the Lego Movie

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The prophecy states that a “special” will come to save the day at just the right time. As it turns out the “special” is just a regular guy. Nothing special about him at all. However, with the help of LegoLand’s spiritual leader (very fittingly voiced by Morgan Freeman) Emmit comes to believe that he might just be that guy after all.

Then everything goes horribly wrong. Morgan Freeman’s character gets decapitated, the good guys are all captured and condemned to death and Legoland is faced with imminent destruction at the hand of the evil Lord Business.

The ghost of Morgan Freeman visits Emmit in his darkest hour and gives him a revelation which ultimately changes the outcome of the movie. He tells the sad hero, that the prophecy isn’t true, that the whole thing was made up. There is no “special” in Legoland, but that doesn’t matter; the truth that changes everything is when Lego people believe they are special. “It sounds like a cat poster but it’s true” says Freeman. Emmit believes, and his life is changed. Because Emmit believes he is special, sacrificial love, courage, bravery, hope, creativity and perseverance become the hallmarks of his life. Belief made all the difference.

If belief in the “specialness” of humanity is so important to human flourishing then what world view best helps it along? Naturalism is committed to the blind physical forces of nature: some get hurt, some get lucky, there is no rhyme, reason or justice – no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, just blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows or cares. DNA just is and we dance to it’s music (paraphrase of Richard Dawkins). If this is actually the truth, then how does one muster up enough belief to convince himself that he is actually special? It becomes difficult to say the least.

If we as a human race intuitively recognize the value of believing that we are all special, then what would hinder us from attaching to this conviction a grand story, a worldview that would make it easy for us to become convinced that we are special?

God’s grand story teaches us that we are created in God’s image making us special, but thats not all, later we learn that despite all of our failures, sins, and poor choices, God in the person of Jesus lays down his life for the human because of his deep, deep love for us, making us even more special. There is more: we learn that the Spirit of God promises to fill us, becoming our guide and helper all the days of our life. . . proving once again that we are special. Finally the story’s end is one of undying hope. The promise is that all that is broken will become unbroken. There can be no doubt in this story, we are all special!

When a human believes he is “special” there is a risk that he might become inflated, but if pride can be checked, he will flourish every time. “Specialness” obliterates the deadly thoughts of worthlessness and meaninglessness and God’s story as a worldview makes sure that unhealthy pride won’t creep in. God, not the human, is after all at the centre of his own story.

When the conviction of “I am special” joins itself to a worldview that agrees, a beautiful awakening happens. Sense is made and life starts.

 

Noah (Movie Review)

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          “Damned if I don’t do what it takes to survive. Damned if I don’t do what I want.”

All throughout this movie we see human depravity played out. It’s not pretty, it’s dark. Mankind is the master, the strong survive, to live is to accomplish whatever you want, without God or others as a consideration. This is human depravity lived out in absence of God. The earth is destroyed, before the flood ever comes.

There is another form of human depravity that is perhaps even more sinister. This is the depravity that is lived out in the presence of God. God becomes a tool to accomplish whatever one wants.

          “God has made us in his image, we are to subdue and dominate, so be a man and seize whatever you want.” 

A third kind of depravity is particularly sorrowful. It’s not when people ignore God, or use God, it’s when they misunderstand God

          “The time for mercy has passed, God’s judgement is on us all. We all must die, and I will see that it happens” 

Noah is painfully aware of all the wickedness around him. He also becomes aware of the wickedness of his own heart. He rightfully understands that he and his family are no better than anyone else. At this point, Noah of the movie, makes a massive mistake in his understanding of God. To this version of Noah God is simply the distant creator and the judge who has come to wipe away all that is wicked including Noah and his family. As faithful servant to this stern, unloving, master, Noah sets his mind to ensure that even his family doesn’t escape God’s judgement. The results of robot like obedience to a false God like the one portrayed in this movie, produced catastrophic results for Noah’s family. False understandings of God, have regularly produced similar horrors all through out human history.

God is creator and God is judge, yes, but God is saviour as well. The human cannot save himself, Noah of the movie was aware of this, but he failed to realize that God can and does save those who are willing to be saved. The human need only to repent and believe that God loves his children and will rescue them. This is the over arching story of the Bible. This is what the actual Noah believed. The Old Testament is a tangled mess at times, but keep reading, what emerges is that God has massive love for the human and he is committed to our rescue. All these ancient stories point in unique ways to the ultimate story, the story of the cross, where Jesus, God in flesh, enters into the dark human world to offer salvation, forgiveness, and life for any who would put their faith in him. Jesus is the ultimate ark, his blood is what pays for the safe passage of any who wish to enter. A Noah story that fails to offer mercy and redemption from a loving God misunderstands, the person of Noah, the actual story, and worst of all, God.