Friday, November 25, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Harry, dangerous times are ahead. We must choose between what is right and what is easy.” Professor Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire is a film of transition, where we see our hero Harry Potter go from the observant wide-eyed kid of Sorcerer’s Stone to the proactive, confident young adult we see in the later Harry Potter books.

Transitions, however, are not easy.

More than any of the other books, The Goblet of Fire showcases the trauma of adolescence, the most awkward of transitions. Harry (played by Daniel Radcliffe), along with best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), in this film, have their first serious encounters with dating and inter-school rivalry.

We are uneasy with transition. We are defensive when we’re in transition. We feel helpless when we’re in transition. Just like in the film, people act differently when these emotions rear their ugly heads. Because of this, the Yule Ball at Hogwarts turns into a place where our three heroes turn on each other instead of being a fun winter experience. But we cannot – and the Hogwarts kids cannot – escape transition.

In our adult lives, it happens when we’re new at a job or amongst a new group of people. It happens when we’re dating, when we move, or when things suddenly change in life. We cannot escape these times.

The question isn’t how do we minimize our awkward life transitions, but how do we handle them when these situations happen to us?

What Goblet of Fire and the Scriptures advise us to do is to find something solid to cling onto as we weather those difficult times. “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Matt. 7:24), says Jesus. When Simon Peter tried (and failed) to walk on water in the middle of a storm, it was only by grasping the firm arm of Christ that he did not drown (cf. Matt. 14: 29-31).

Dumbledore gives us similar advice in that, at troubling times like this, we need to choose a side and stick to it: “We must choose between what is right and what is easy.”

When Voldemort appears in this film, Harry must rely on the things he believes that are right, even hard – the sacrificial love of his mother, the loyalty to friends (even when they are rivals), and trust in his mentors and teachers – to escape the curses of his enemy.

Hold your head high. Stick to what you believe in. Be firm in your faith. By this, we shall be saved.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Weather Man

"For I know well the plans I have for you, says the Lord: plans for welfare, not for woe; plans for a future filled with hope." Jeremiah 29:11

Chicago winters are brutal. I know them well.

Since I was a kid growing up just south of Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana, I know that the chills of the winter season here can make or break you. The Weather Man chronicles the story of David Spritz (Nicholas Cage), the fictional equivilent of Tom Skilling, as the primary weather forcaster for WGN-TV in Chicago.

However, contrary to the title of the film, the movie has very little to do with Spritz's meteorological career. The Weather Man is actually about carving out an identity.

We all have struggles with naming our identity, because that too closely reminds us of "labels." We don't like labels because they limit us. It's why nicknames give us so much trouble - because we are reduced to one adjective, one descriptive element of who we are. This is the struggle that we see David Spritz experience in this movie.

Are we more than our job? Spritz wants to believe so, because being just the weather man of Chicago denies all the other things that makes David the person he was created to be. Being the weather man doesn't say what kind of husband, father, son, friend, or even what kind of weather forcaster that David feels he is beneath the television personality.

Of course we are more than our job, God tells us. In Jeremiah, God tells the prophet, "For I know well the plans I have for you; plans for welfare, not for woe; plans for a future filled with hope." (Jer. 29:11).

God is telling us that our identity is more than a label. In fact, identity may have very little with us, but very much with God. He created us with spiritual gifts to make an impact on the world, and our life's pursuit is to a) find and name those gifts, and b) figure out how to use those gifts to better the world around us. That is the journey of The Weather Man.

Once Spritz identifies those gifts, symbolized very clearly by his archery abilities he never knew he ever had, he is given a peace of mind that doesn't mind whatever label or title the world wants to give him. It's not an easy journey, the movie reminds us, filled with ups and downs and countless uncertainties. But it's the journey we are called to take on in this life.

In this film, the weather itself is a symbol of the inner battle we have in understanding our gifts and their place in our world. The weather is just plain "blah," like a Chicago winter. Weather like this makes us want to give up, to stay indoors and avoid the world. That is the challenge that life gives us in our search for our gifts. More often than not, our biggest obstacle in life isn't a major storm - rather, it's the cold, damp, dark winter of indifference, routine, and inaction.

Only when we can overcome these winters can we achieve the peace we seek.

The Legend of Zorro

"Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know my integrity." Job 31:6

It's 9:30 at night, and I am, after an already long day, still sitting at my desk, staring into my computer screen, putting "just one more finishing touch" on the project I am working on. This happens all too frequent for me, and in my experience working with other 20- and 30-somethings, it happens all too frequent for most people I've met.

Balancing life is everyone's issue.

For many, it's the tug-of-war between their work and their home or family. How much time do we spend at the office compared to being away from work? If you're answer puts your work time over play time, then you know what this tug-of-war is all about.

The Legend of Zorro captures this tension in the character of Alejandro de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) who is caught between his life as Zorro and his life at home with his wife Elena (Catherine Zeta Jones) and son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso).

Elena begs Alejandro to put aside the mask since he has seemingly missed the first ten years of his son's life and their marriage. Zorro's "job" is not a bad job, let me say. It's a noble task of defending the defenseless and bringing justice to those who do harm to the people of California. The Legend of Zorro is a great superhero sequel with a great superhero dilemma: Now that you're "Superman," what happens to your life outside of saving the world?

But many of us who find our work rewarding share the superhero's dilemma... how do we balance the work we find good and beneficial to others with the home life with our friends, spouse, family, and our own selves?

It's a good question, but the answer to which Job, in the Hebrew Scriptures, claims is the test that God will give us to judge our integrity, our value in the world.

No matter how great and meaningful our career may be, the judgement of our character will be based on how well we balanced everything God blessed us with: family, friends, marriage, and our own selves, our passions, our interests, our enjoyment of creation.

So how do we do it? Live with integrity.

"Integrity" means that every aspect of ourselves is honest with every other aspect. To set down the road to good balance, Alejandro had to be honest with his wife and son, about his identity, concerns, and joys, and had to remember his own role as a husband and father. Elena and Joaquin, likewise, had to be honest about their own concerns and be willing to understand the needs of the people whom Zorro serves in his work. In other words, the relationship must exhibit integrity - on all sides.

Doing good work is very important to us, no doubt about it. Being a good friend, son or daughter, husband or wife is also important to us and our relationships. But balancing our life that we've been given is the most important to God.