Friday, December 30, 2005

Fun with Dick and Jane

"You shall not steal." Exodus 20:15

Dick and Jane Harper are trying to live the American dream: Work hard, make money, live well. Fun with Dick and Jane reminds us that dreams are not reality.

Dick Harper (played by Jim Carrey) begins this film working hard, following the rules, and climbing slowly (but eventually successfully) up the corporate ladder at Globodyne, a consolidation company of media properties that's about to burst. After following all those rules, Dick is "rewarded" with taking the fall for the CEO (Alec Baldwin) and having his stocks, his finances, and his career plummet with the fall of Globodyne.

The premise of the film is that, after all their assets have been sold off for food and all their utilities shut off, Dick and Jane (played by Tea Leoni) resort to a life of crime to make ends meet. They figure that "playing the rules" and being honest got them poor; perhaps "breaking the rules" and being dishonest will get them some cash again.

As a couple, they resort to Bonnie-and-Clyde antics of stealing from coffee shops, banks, and people's homes. At first, it's for survival, but after they find how profitable this is, they make it their new career and become quite successful at it. Eventaully, the thrill of stealing overwhelms them.

What finally wins the day is taking the high road, and focusing on something other than whether Dick and Jane should or shouldn't steal. Instead, Dick and Jane's life really take off when they GIVE money away (in a pension plan to their former colleagues) rather than worrying about not stealing it.

Fun with Dick and Jane isn't just about not stealing; it about being generous with what we've been given.

When we focus on the commandment of "You shall not steal" (Ex. 20:15), we often forget the opposite command - the one Jesus gave us so eloquently in the New Testament: "When someone asks for your shirt, give him your coat as well" (Matt. 5:40). What Jesus tells us is that stealing may be wrong, but what is more wrong is not being generous.

By making generosity our primary focus, the idea of stealing won't even be an option. When we give, we rely less on taking. So the next time we feel tempted to steal (in big or small ways), perhaps we should more often be reflecting on why we aren't being more generous with what we've been given in life rather than about the ramifications of thievery.

Then and only then can Dick and Jane have real fun.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia

A Christmas beyond our expectations.

According to C.S. Lewis, his book (and now the film), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, is a “supposal,” not an allegory.

Both Lewis and his colleague and friend J.R.R. Tolkein resisted calling their works “allegories.” Allegories, in their opinion, were cheap storytelling because all they did was switch out one set of characters for another set.

And while the media and most movie audiences keep referring to this vision of Narnia as an allegory of the Bible, Lewis would hear none of that.

Narnia is a “supposal,” a term which Lewis coined to say, “Suppose that another world existed where animals – not humans – were the primary inhabitants. Suppose that world also needed redemption from God. What do you suppose that redemption would look like?” The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was the answer to that question.

In this film, redemption for the kingdom of fauns, talking beavers, and centaurs comes in the form of Aslan the lion. The only issue I have with this supposal is that in the world of Narnia, the animals all know and respect the fearsome creature, whereas the redemption of our world came from a direction no one expected.

Before Christ, people expected the messiah to be either a royal king, a victorious warrior, or a most holy high priest. Jesus of Nazareth was none of these. He was a simple Jewish carpenter from a backwards village in Galilee whose ministerial climax was a bloody death in a manner reserved for common criminals. Aslan, on the other hand, was known as the savior before he even entered Narnia. He led his army into battle and all Narnia trembled at his roar.

What makes our world’s savior so wonderful is it comes from a God who loves the unexpected. Christ defied expectations, and in so doing, he transformed the world.

Perhaps this blog comes out of a growing dissatisfaction I have had throughout the month of December. As I sat in the theatre watching The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe a few weeks ago, I felt somewhat disappointed at the end. All the elements of a “Christ story supposal” were there – the Advent prophecies of a coming savior, the Satan figure of the White Witch, the betrayal from within the inner circle, the Garden of Gethsemane scene on the night before Aslan’s death, the abuse and sacrifice of Aslan on a rocky hill, and his subsequent resurrection from the dead. So what was missing?

What was missing was the heart of the ministry and what made a savior so special.

At Christmas time, the celebration of the birth of our own world’s savior, what keeps me going is that this savior, Jesus of Nazareth, was indeed quite special. In the Scriptures, we read about his powerful deeds, his healing touch, and his wonderful words. We know that even in the things we don’t know about what he said or did, he was so extraordinary that this simple Galilean carpenter transfixed the highest authorities of his time, even causing some so much discomfort as to make them conspire against him to keep him quiet.

Narnia gives us a wonderful reference to the Christ story and a reminder to pay attention to what makes this the greatest story ever told. The best thing about a film like this is that it just might get us to open our Bibles and re-read what makes our faith so special.

But let us also never forget that ours is a God who surpasses our world, giving us miracles beyond our imagination, an an Incarnation beyond our expectations.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Good Night, and Good Luck

black and white and red all over...

In my opinion, Good Night, and Good Luck is one of the best films of the year. In stark black-and-white, director George Clooney has given us a response to the black-and-white world we increasingly find ourselves living in.

Today, fundementalist Muslims and Christians are painting our world in stark contrasts where people are either good or evil, and consequently saved or unsaved. This film also points at the political polar extremes that are involving themselves in American politics, historically in the 1950s with the McCarthy red scare and presently in the presidency of George W. Bush.

Political or spiritual, fundemental extremes are dangerous.

CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow (brilliantly played by David Strathairn) took a stand against the red scare tactics of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy live and on the air, a very risky move in his day (and probably a risky move, in some respects, in our day as well).

This marked the first time a major television entity risked it all and spoke out against this witch hunt. No one wanted to touch this, for fear of their own careers and finances. But Murrow did, and in the end, McCarthy was forced to answer for his actions. Had he not spoken up, would another have risen up and speak out? Had he not spoken up, where would we be today?

But history often repeats itself, and Clooney has created this film to remind us of that.

Today we live in another black-and-white world. So what are we challenged to do? Speak up, and speak out. Christ lived in a black-and-white world (either you were submissive to the Romans or you lived as a zealot killing Romans). Christ didn't fit into either camp, and spoke up and spoke out against such fundementalism from both sides. So again we ask, what are we challenged to do in today's black-and-white world? Speak up, and speak out.

Murrow accepted whatever fate befell him (luckily for him, he saved his life, and his job). Good Night, and Good Luck encourages us to accept whatever fate befalls us, if we, too, choose to speak out against what we believe is wrong.