Monday, July 25, 2005

The Island

"I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)

What does "abundant life" mean? What makes a life "abundant"?

Does it mean living longer or more healthy? The Island is a movie that supposes that people in the near future will want to live an "abundant" life by harvesting clones to supply us with new organs if we get sick or injured or need something new in our lives.

The premise in this film is that these harvested clones live their lives in a controlled environment with all their meals, clothes, education, medicine, and housing provided for them. Is this "abundant" life since it is the dream of all of us to live this way?

In the end, we see that neither the original humans nor the clones are truly living "abundant" life in this futuristic world.

Enter Lincoln Echo Six, who serves as the Moses character in this Exodus story. Lincoln is a clone who thinks beyond his programming, who develops, for lack of a better word, a "soul." He sees the truth of his captivity, escapes from his "Egypt," and makes his way into a new world. He becomes a Moses character by returning into this oppressed world to free his people from their captivity as well. He has seen what real "abundant" life looks like, and wants to share this with others.

Today, we need more Moses characters in our world. We live in a society where we all walk in one direction, where personal safety and individual concerns are worth more than anything else, and where we fear going against the grain or bringing unwanted attention to ourselves. Yet we fool ourselves into thinking this is "abundant" life.

But Christ calls us to live his kind of "abundance." Beyond our health, beyond our safety, beyond our very selves, we are called to live "abundantly."

Christ called us to live the Reign of God, to live for one another instead of just for ourselves, to forgive as we want to be forgiven, to stand for justice and against oppression. That, to me, is what He meant by life in abundance. We are called to find that for ourselves, and when we do, to be like Moses and share it with the world, no matter what the odds may be.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Tim Burton’s re-imagining of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most quintessential modern parables. In general, movies are, in a sense, stories that tell a deeper truth, but Charlie is so much so that it sounds very similar to another parable:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came to eat it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold! (Matt. 13:1-8)

Likewise, this film (which, before the 2005 movie, was originally a 1964 book by Roald Dahl, and then a 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder) is the story of a couple of “bad seeds” and one “good seed,” namely the title character of Charlie Bucket, and their quest for a grand tour of the chocolate factory by the eccentric and excessively private Willy Wonka.

In a sense, the factory can be likened to the kingdom of heaven, the one that Jesus speaks about so often in the Gospels; the golden tickets are the invitation of God to that kingdom just as the seeds were an invitation to the ground in this parable.

There were four seeds that landed on four types of soil in Christ’s story. Similarly, there are five golden tickets that were discovered by five different kids in Willy Wonka’s story:

Veruca Salt
The rich girl who bought her way into the factory fit perfectly in our world today, when we are led to believe that we are able to buy everything (even happiness). Ironically, we are never truly satisfied with anything either, and want even more. Let us pray to recognize that God and God alone can give us all our heart desires.

Augustus Gloop
The boy who over-indulged himself on chocolate to get into the factory is an example of the one who spiritually over-indulge themselves to get into heaven, who hole themselves up in churches instead of living in the world God gave us. Let us pray not to become so self-absorbed so we can see the wonders of creation.

Violet Beauregarde
The champion girl who competed her way to the factory sees the world, as many young adults in the working world do, as a “rat race.” If we see one another as competitors in the world, will we ever see one another as equals as God sees us? Let us pray that we might live life for each other instead of against all others.

Mike Teavee
The smartest of the kids was the one who engineered his way into the factory. He is emblematic of those who want to interpret or engineer the word of God to fit their wants, or who worry more about ‘knowing’ God than ‘experiencing’ God. Let us pray that we might surrender our need to control to the will of God’s Spirit.

Then there’s Charlie Bucket, the boy who wanted so much to get into the chocolate kingdom, but not enough to get in by deceptive, greedy, or over-indulgent means. He allowed the Spirit to blow where it may, and in so doing, God was able to grace him with the keys (in this case, the last golden ticket) to the kingdom.

Charlie is the cinematic embodiment of the beatitudes, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of heaven is yours, and blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.” (Luke 6:20-21) The kingdom was given him without him even asking.

At the same time, we must also be willing to accept the gifts that God gives us. When he found his invitation, his golden ticket, Charlie wanted to give it away so that his family could have money to survive. While this is a noble and selfless act, his grandfather reminded him that sometimes we have to accept what we are given, and to use it wisely. Money is everywhere and the world is full of possessions, he says, but not everyone has an invitation to the kingdom. This dialogue is more profound than I think Tim Burton realized, for it gives us a better understanding of this difficult story from Scripture:

When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head. There were some who were indignant. “Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages and the money given to the poor.” They were infuriated with her. Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me.” (Mark 14:3-7)

Sometimes God wants us to experience his gifts and, in so doing, his presence. We must be open to accept them and to use them for others, even if we find ourselves unworthy. When Charlie did this in the film, a new world unfolded before him. Just imagine where we can go when we allow God to grace us with his plans for us.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Fantastic Four

"A leper came to him, kneeled down, and begged him, saying 'If you wish, you can make me clean.' Moved with pity, he stretched forth his hand, touched him, and said to him, 'I do will it. Be made clean.'" Mark 1:40-41

Throughout the movie, Fantastic Four, my heart went out to the character of Ben Grimm (a.k.a. The Thing), the guy who is caught up in a solar wind and whose DNA subsequently makes his skin and internal organs turn to rock. When he transforms, his fiancee immediately rejects him, his friends are shocked at the sight of him, and the general public is terrified of him.

Ben is truly an 'untouchable.' True, the three other members of the Fantastic Four (Mr. Fantastic, The Human Tourch, and The Invisible Woman) are affected and changed, but not nearly to the sad degree of The Thing.

In another scene, Ben is sitting on a bridge, sadly contemplating his new, shocking appearance. This could easily be his own suicide scene, but in the midst of his sorrow, he becomes a hero; he saves the life of someone who is also contemplating suicide, he saves a truck driver from being blown up in his truck, and he pulls a fire truck from dropping off a bridge. In this scene, Ben finds that his deficiency is actually something that can help others.

This is the moral of the story of Fantastic Four: Like the lepers in the Scriptures, our God loves us and reaches out to us, no matter what we look like or what quirks we have, physically or personally. To God, our human appearance means nothing, for we are all beautiful in His eyes.

And we need to look at our quirks as gifts, rather than curses, from God. Ben Grimm may have sacrificed his human look in this movie, but his new form is a blessing to the lives he saved on that bridge in the movie. We need to use what we have, like The Thing who finds he would rather live life as a rock-covered man helping others than anything else.

Furthermore, if we want to be like Christ in the world, we must see others as God sees others. We must reach out to the 'untouchables' in our world every day, just as Christ reached out to those lepers on the streets of Galilee. Reaching out to them means talking with them, inviting them into our lives, and loving them as God loves them. The hero of Fantastic Four in this aspect is a blind woman who takes a chance on The Thing. This, I believe, is a challenge to all of us who do see: accept all God's people as God accepts all His people.

Monday, July 04, 2005

War of the Worlds

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, will save it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?" Matthew 8:35-36

In 1898, H.G. Wells, master science fiction author, wrote The War of the Worlds, to illuminate the issues of British colonization and the class division between rich and poor. In 1938, Orson Welles, regarded by many as the best actor, director, and speaker of the first half of the 20th Century, broadcast his update of War of the Worlds on CBS radio to highlight the country's fears on the eve of the Second World War. In 1953, George Pal produced the first film version of War in a culture of Cold War fears of nuclear war with the Soviets. Now, in 2005, Steven Spielberg has directed the newest War of the Worlds as a self-portrait of post 9/11 America.

The movie reminded me of the terrorists who lived and trained within our own borders, were hiding within our citizenship, and terrorized using our own planes. Similarly, War of the Worlds shows us aliens who hid underneath our very own streets for millions of years, just waiting for the right moment to attack. Chillingly, the tagline of the movie, "They're already here" walks narrowly close to our own reality of four years ago.

In the face of terrorism over the past four years, we are told to run for our lives. Even in small ways, we have been running from fear since 9/11.

In this movie, too, everyone is running. The film follows the story of a blue-collar everyman, Ray Ferrier (played by Tom Cruise), and his family. And like everyone else, he also runs. But running here only seems to lead to more disasters. One of these disasters got my attention: When an angry mob breaks the windows of Ray's minivan, and one person commandeers his vehicle by gunpoint (and then subsequently is killed by the others in the unruly mob). Running has made these people focus more on self survival than self sacrifice, and through this misguided focus, it has made them inhuman, just like the aliens they're running from.

As Ray continues to run, even worse things happen to him. He is even driven to choose between the life of his son and his daughter and barely escapes death at every turn. So he decides to stop running. For the next half hour of the movie, he hides in a farmhouse basement and watches as the outside world is destroyed by the tripods. Worse things continue to happen and Ray is even driven to murder. Sure he's stopped running, but now he's hiding. He has lost almost everything he cared for, perhaps because "everyone who wants to save his life will lose it."

Eventually Ray learns his lesson, and shows us, too, how to save the day. Near the end of the film, Ray comes out of hiding in the farmhouse and confronts the danger. Upon seeing his daughter (played by Dakota Fanning) being attacked by aliens, he makes a stand and confronts the massive tripod terrorizing her. He sacrifices his life to save her and in so doing, saves himself, "for anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it."

Christ challenges us, too, in our terror-striken world: Stop running! When we stop running, we can stand up for what it right. When we stop running, we can finally look beyond our own selves to see the world around us. When we stop running, we can truly break free from terror.

Christ is also challenging our country and our leaders today to stop looking so inward and start looking out for the best for all nations, "for what do we profit if we gain the whole world, but lose our own soul?"

War of the Worlds, from the original H.G. Wells book to this newest blockbuster movie, has always asked us what we do, individually and collectively, in the face of tragedy. Will we live the Gospel message and love one another, or will we be more like the film's angry mob that wants to survive so much that they'll kill to live?

God created us to rise above this animal (or alien) instinct.

At the conclusion of the film, Morgan Freeman narrates, "They were undone, destroyed, after all of man's weapons and devises had failed, by the tinest creatures that God in his wisdom put upon this earth." It was bacteria, the most simple form of life God created, that won the day in War of the Worlds. So, too, will be the end of terrorism, our modern war of worlds. The simplicity of our compassion for one another is our greatest weapon against fear and terror... more than any color code, any security check, or any nuclear defence shield.

Are we prepared to lose our lives for the sake of another?

In our ratrace world, we are running so much we often fail to do this. So Christ challenges us once again through this story to lose everything in our world to gain everything in His.