Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Good Shepherd

“…a good, honorable, and righteous man…” Matt. 1:19

Being ethical, doing good works, acting with justice and charity, spreading kindness all sound wonderful, but when it comes to the daily grind of life, at work or at home, they can seem insurmountable tasks. It’s easy to do all these things in a vacuum, but not so easy in real life.

In The Good Shepherd, which has nothing to do with the parable in the gospel of John, is a story of fictional CIA agent Edward Wilson (played by Matt Damon), who truly tries to do good works in a political culture that seemed anything but good.

In this film, we see that this desire to do good works is not always met with reward; but no matter the odds or difficulties, he continues to do them. He does what was honorable and right (i.e. marrying a woman whom he does not love because a son needs to have a father; i.e. turning his favorite poetry professor over to the authorities because he might be a Nazi supporter), even though he is never thanked or embraced for doing it.

In a way, Edward reminds me of good St. Joseph, the unappreciated earthly father of Jesus, who did what was honorable and right (cf. Matt. 1:9) despite his poverty, his social status, or even being an outcast for raising a child out of wedlock. Even today, all the good that St. Joseph did is all but forgotten.

In a way, this fictional CIA agent lives a thankless life as well. Like St. Joseph, Edward is a father-figure (a “shepherd,” as the title suggests), who constantly looks out for the people of the United States and, in a special way, for his own family. Many of his colleagues are unethical, corrupt, and violent people, but he never seems to cave into that reality. And just like St. Joseph, he holds himself to a higher standard but he also never seems to get his due. No one sings Edward’s praises. No one sang St. Joseph’s either.

Many of us feel like Edward and St. Joseph: unappreciated for doing the right thing. Some of us work in jobs like Edward, where everyone and everything around us seems to be corrupt or unethical; we are tempted to give in, just to get ahead or just to get noticed.

In The Good Shepherd, Edward never gave into that temptation fully, and we are called by Christ to stay on that same path. In a way, we might read into the eighth beatitude of Jesus a new meaning: “Blessed are you when they ignore you, overlook you, and pass over you because you are a good, righteous, and honorable person, for you will be first in the kingdom of heaven.” (based on Matt. 5:10).

So if you read this and say, “hey, that’s me… unappreciated but honorable all the while,” then know that God is watching you, smiling at you, and waiting with baited breath to give you your just reward in the kingdom of heaven. Know also that the person writing this blog, in a spiritual way, knows that you do that and thanks you for it.

It’s thankless, yes, but this is the making of real sainthood, and you’re already on that path.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Night at the Museum

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Matt. 5:9

In Night at the Museum, a truly fun popcorn flick, the new museum night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) discovers an unknown world at the museum in the midnight hour.

The premise of this movie is that, because of an Egyptian curse of some sort, everything in the museum comes to life in the middle of the night, from the towering Tyrannosaurus Rex in the lobby to the smallest monkeys in the Africa exhibit hall.

Daley is set up to fail at this daunting (and very strange) task, but how he handles himself is both fun to watch and inspirational to anyone confronted with an unknown danger. Our hero is the victim of typical passive aggressive behavior, which is so rampant in our society today. It is true that people in our century are more civil to each other, but even though many of us would prefer to avoid conflict, we still resort to passive aggressive tendencies to assert ourselves. The retiring museum guards, Daley’s ex-wife, and even Daley himself are all passively aggressive to each other in an irritating cycle.

And what about the unwieldy situation Daley is put in each night at his job? The dinosaurs, Huns, miniature cowboys, Romans, and Mayans, cavemen, Civil War soldiers, Egyptian guards, and African animals, among other creatures, are all out to destroy one another each evening. They are anything but passive, but they are certainly aggressive.

Not only must Daley navigate his own passive aggressive issues, but he must figure out a way to stop the museum inhabitants from internal combustion.

The gospel challenges us to rise above the conflicts (passive and pro-active alike). “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus told us. “…for they will be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9). Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) reminds Daley that he has been thrust into the role of being a peacemaker, and in a way, Jesus reminds us in the Scriptures that each one of us are offered this role by our God.

Will we accept this role and rise above petty conflicts, or will be succumb to the whims of the world and keep on completing the cycle of passive aggressive behavior? Daley wanted to run away, but choose wisely not to give up. We, too, want to run away from such a daunting task (over the centuries, so many of his disciples have fled from being a peacemaker), but I believe Christ holds out hope for us.

Will we rise to that challenge or will we run from our greatness? We may not be called to wrangle dinosaurs and cowboys, but we are called to rise above aggressiveness in all its forms and help others make peace. Then and only then will we be called “the children of God.”

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” Declaration of Independence, 1776

In writing this infamous passage in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson made a significant change in the original wording (written by John Locke) from “life, liberty, and property” to the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

It is significant because, in our world today, we seem to have gone back to John Locke’s image of inalienable rights instead of Jefferson’s.

Jefferson is no theologian, but he seemed to be right on when he wanted us to understand that in this world, we aren’t entitled to money, land, or possessions; rather, he sensed that God gave us three greater gifts: the gift of life, the gift of free will, and the gift to dream.

The Pursuit of Happyness, staring Will Smith as Chris Gardner, captures that understanding. There is one scene in particular that caught my attention; Gardner is walking by a stock broker on his way into work and notices his happiness (not to mention his shiny red sports car), and sees how all his colleagues going in and out of work have a general sense of happiness. It is at this moment in the film that pushes Chris Gardner to aim not towards money or a solid career, but towards happiness.

St. Paul reminded his Corinthian audience, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.” (1 Cor. 9:24). Gardner, like the rest of us, are in the race of this world; but what prize are eyes fixed on?

Unlike his peers, Gardner was not after the fancy cars or even the financial security. What Gardner seemed to be after was true happiness. That was his prize, and like St. Paul says “we race to win an imperishable crown and in so doing, I never run aimlessly.” (1 Cor. 9:25-26).

What are we racing towards? Too often, we race for John Locke’s image of life: that we are in pursuit of property, wealth, and selfish ends.

Why do we have our jobs? To put food on the table? To pay the bills? To one day become rich or have a nice house? Or do we have a job so that we can be truly happy with our purpose on this earth?

Why do we get involved with church ministry or civic organizations? To meet others? To gain friends? Or do we get involved so that we can find happiness in our interests or in our faith life?

This film reminds us that we need to pursue happiness – or a more Scriptural term, “joy.” In the Christmas season, we are constantly singing about “joy to the world.” Joy is not just an empty satisfaction, but an experience of all being right with the world. Joy is not getting gifts at Christmas, but giving them away and seeing the smile on another’s face. Joy is not sitting down, propping up our feet, and relaxing over the holidays, but getting out there and making a difference in our world through our actions. Pursuing any of this is never easy, but the end product is a joy beyond compare.

What is our life directed towards? For what do we race through this world? Are our eyes truly set on the real prize? Property or happiness? I hope we all choose happiness a bit more often in the new year ahead.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Nativity Story

“The child Jesus grew up before Joseph and Mary and became strong, filled with wisdom and knowledge, and the favor of the Lord was upon them.” Luke 2:40

Poor St. Joseph…

In most nativity scenes, in Christian tradition, and even in the pages of Scripture, Joseph has been nearly forgotten for centuries. His role is often portrayed as a supporting character, an also-ran to the Christmas story. But in The Nativity Story, Joseph finally gets his due.

This heart-warming religious film gives us a look at the familiar Christmas story through the lens of the two characters at its center, namely Mary and Joseph. The movie suffers only when it tries to be everything to everybody (the scenes with Herod and the wise men are interesting, but detract from the captivating story of the relationship between Jesus’ parents), but we get enough good scenes with Mary and Joseph that make it worthwhile.

The line that sums up the struggle that faces Joseph is a line he says to Mary on the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, when he realizes this child will be divinely special: “I wonder if I can teach him anything.” Poor St. Joseph, worrying about his discarded status even before we get to the manger.

I think this is the struggle for any of us, whether we’re parents or not. We wonder if we can ever be teachers, mentors, or guides to anyone. I hear many young adult parents worry about how they can pass on anything when they themselves are still learning.

The film, however, gives us hope.

When we see Joseph accepting a wife who could be stoned for adultery, we wonder if Jesus learned from him how to love the sinners and marginalized. When we see Joseph angry at the money changers and Temple merchants in Jerusalem, we wonder if Jesus learned from him how this Temple is supposed to be a house of prayer. When we see Joseph and Mary helped by a good shepherd on their way to Bethlehem, we wonder if Jesus learned from them a model of selfless, compassionate leadership.

As the Scriptures say, “The child Jesus grew up before Joseph and Mary and became strong, filled with wisdom and knowledge, and the favor of the Lord was upon them.” (Luke 2:40) We can see from this, too, that it may very well be that Jesus learned how to do all the things we love about him from his own parents. It’s a perspective that even though it’s not directly stated in the Bible, seems to show the value of relationships with family, with our mentors, with our role models, and more specifically, with our parents.

This film gives us hope, and a challenge, that we are called to be like the Holy Family, and using the experiences and lessons from our lives to pass onto others, whether they be our children or simple people who know and respect us.

Sure, it’s human to worry that we’re not knowledgeable to pass on anything, but that’s what God wants from us. God calls us to use our flawed, human, but wonderful life experiences to help others, to teach others, and to guide others in their own lives.

It’s what the flawed, human, but wonderful Holy Family did, as we see in The Nativity Story, and it’s what we are challenged to do, too.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Casino Royale

“Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” Matt. 10: 16

How much time do we spend at work? According to recent statistics, most of our week is spent behind the desk, commuting to or from the job, or even thinking about or doing extra work while we’re at home or on the weekends. Combined, the effort we put forth for our jobs is astronomical. Even when people have trouble sleeping, chances are it’s because we’re thinking about work.

On the flip side, one would expect that job satisfaction is at an all-time high in the United States because we spend so much time there; however, that’s not the case... for we are a very disgruntled people in regards to our day-to-day work.

In society today , we have lost the idea of a “vocation” or being “called” to a particular job or career. Strangely enough, Casino Royale, the latest James Bond thriller, reminds us about the notion of a calling in our daily work.

In this installment, we learn how Bond (played this time by Daniel Craig) started his adventurous career as a British secret spy. Bond is truly called to this line of work; it fits his gifts and goals in life. Throughout the movie, he suffers difficult tasks, torture, and even death for the sake of his “vocation.” When we see this movie, we wonder if we, too, would do the same for our own job.

We believe that God has a plan for each of us, that we are all given gifts and aspirations to make a difference in this world. Our job should be our way of making this world a better place, one day at a time, whether our job be a trash collector or an undercover spy for the British intelligence agencies.

We also believe that Christ sent us out into the world to live the gospel values; he did so with his disciples as he said “Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10: 16).

In a way, our jobs and careers are a mission into the everyday world. But do we squander this opportunity? Or do we take hold of it, like James Bond, and do it to the best of our ability for the betterment of others? Could it be that, no matter if we are in a career we like or not, God is calling us to transform people’s lives through our everyday work? If that is the case, then how should we look at our commute, our desks, those pesky co-workers, and most especially, the people who benefit from our day-to-day work?

Imagine how our world might be transformed if everyone treated their work like James Bond: we might all have cool theme music playing in the background, and more realistically, we would have a hand in getting this world closer to the Reign of God.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Queen

“If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect?” Matt. 5:46

In a nutshell, The Queen is the behind-the-scenes story of how the royal family and prime minister of Britain reacted to the death of Princess Diana Spencer in late summer 1997, focusing primarily on the experience of Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren, in an Oscar-worthy performance).

In this movie, we see a conflicted Elizabeth who struggles with her emotions in the wake of this disaster; she keeps her sorrow at the death of her daughter-in-law hidden beneath feelings of anger (towards the divorce from her son a year earlier), jealousy (towards Diana who seems more popular than the Queen even after fifty years on the throne), and propriety (that is, keeping quiet and not giving into the demands of her subjects).

While the goings-on of the royal family are far from our own, we, too, can go through very similar emotions and events: Like Elizabeth, we struggle with compassion when bad things happen to people we don’t particularly like. Likewise, we struggle with public displays of emotion in a world that proclaims, “never let ‘em see you sweat.” We also struggle with doing the right thing, going the extra mile, or defending the defenseless because we worry about how it might make us look.

It is an internal battle between looking good and doing good.

In the gospels, Christ and his disciples are constantly “looking bad.” They break the purity laws in public, and eat alongside lepers, sinners, and the lower classes. But Christ does not apologize for this; in fact, he encourages others to do the same.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where reality television has made us nervous of how we look in public. We worry more about how we look than how we act. In this film, the Queen captures this experience as she and her family seem to care more about propriety and image than compassion and emotion.

For Elizabeth, this is further compounded by deep-seeded anger and jealousy. But that makes the need to love and reach out even more important.

In the gospels, Jesus says to us, “If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect? Surely the tax-gatherers do as much as that. And if you greet only your friends, what is there extraordinary about that? Even the pagans do as much. There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.” (Matt. 5:46-48)

Jesus challenges us to love anyone and everyone we meet, no matter if we like them or not – in fact, he wants us to love even more those we don’t like at all. Even when we are faced with tragedy and death, like the Queen in this movie, we must never forget that we are called to value emotion over image, and loving people over liking them.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction


"My soul is sorrowful, even unto death... My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will." Matt. 26: 38, 39

In this great film, the main character Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is upset to find out his life is actually the plot of a great book by novelist Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson). If we were in his shoes, I suppose we would feel that same disturbed feeling, too.

But throughout the course of the movie, Crick goes from annoyance to acceptance, to outright willingness to follow where his narrated life is leading him.

Are we getting a glimpse into the life of Jesus himself?

Like Harold Crick, Jesus of Nazareth knew the life and passion that awaited him, authored by an omniscient narrator he called “Abba, Father.” This film, in some respects, is the Christ story, but it is also a challenge to us to make it our story.

In his letter in the New Testament, James challenges his audience to not just be hearers of the word, but to be “doers of the word” as well (James 1:22-27). It is not enough just to look upon the life of Christ and appreciate it, but to take the mantle of Christ upon ourselves. It is not enough to reflect on the self-sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross, but we must take up the cross ourselves and lay down our own lives, if necessary.

In other words, the Christian goal should be to become “Christ-like.”

It’s not easy, even for Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his death, Jesus begged his Father to “Let this cup pass from me.” (Matt. 26:39). His human side did not want to end life, but he knew the story must go on. The gospel makes it sound instantaneous, but I am sure the next line (“Yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Matt. 26:39) took more pain and agony to deliver than we hear in the gospel text.

If we truly want to be “Christ-like,” we will no doubt encounter this doubt and agony. But the story of the Christ figure is already written for us. Will we, like Christ (and like Harold Crick), accept the cross, or will we run from it? Christ made a choice, and so did Harold, and we believe God gives us a choice as well.

So the question lies with us: How will God write your story?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan


“Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Matt. 24:42

This movie is not for everyone, but it should be.

In this crass and in-your-face comedy, fictional Kazak journalist Borat Sagdiyev (played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen) travels across the United States to learn about and to experience American culture in order to help his fellow countrymen learn about their global neighbors.

However, what really happens with Borat is that we in America get a snapshot of our own country in this, the early twenty-first century, and that picture is not pretty.

This movie reveals that there are people in this country who are still rude, ignorant, bigoted, sexist, racist, homophobic, and as anti-Semitic as ever. It reveals that underneath our niceties and politically correct ways, there are Americans who would condone (and even promote) the killing of Jews, gays, and Muslims, if not others.

When I see this film, putting aside the outlandish and crude humor of the protagonist Borat, I see this as a real-life example of Christ’s warning in the Scriptures: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Matt. 24:42-44).

One of the worst bumper stickers I ever saw for Christian was one with the quote “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” It’s a horrible statement because there is this societal notion that we are modern Jonahs, trying to pretend that somehow we can escape the eye of God in our lives and only live gospel-oriented lives when someone is watching.

Many people try to avoid having to answer for their prejudices, but Borat is like the thief in the night that Jesus warns about; the public we encounter in this film do not know Cohen is coming or what he was doing, and they allowed themselves to expose their true and ugly nature.

I have heard others have been offended by Cohen’s crass actions in this movie. However, I am even more offended by the people Cohen meets in this movie. Those people, not Cohen and his camera crew, are the ones that should be ashamed.

This film serves as a reminder to all of us to heed Christ’s warnings. Where will we be when our opinions are held on the line? It is one thing to have prejudices exposed on movie screens across the country, but what will we say when Christ looks into our eye and seeks us out? For the real people in this film, Borat was like Christ’s omniscient eye; let us pray that we, too, will be prepared at all times and in all ways.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Monster House

Reacting to anger and fear with love and compassion.

While I thoroughly enjoy the holiday of trick-or-treating, I did not see this Halloween-set movie in the theatres when it opened this past summer because it was being released in an odd time of year for such a haunted movie.

So I saw Monster House this past week on DVD, and it was much more rewarding to have waited until the autumn season to experience it.

This computer animated film, about three neighborhood kids who grow suspicious about a “haunted house” across the street (they have eyewitness proof that the house has devoured kids’ toys, a pet dog, and their babysitter’s boyfriend), is, at its heart, simply a story of how we deal with anger and fear.

The kids experience a mix of that anger and fear toward the house (voiced by Kathleen Turner) and its owner, Mr. Nebbercracker (voiced by Steve Buscemi). In this swirl of emotions, the three kids resort to spying, panic, and invasion of private property.

Almost in reaction to their fears, the house itself becomes angry and ultimately eats them (yes, you read that right).

We learn that the house became “haunted” because of an unresolved anger and fear that Constance, Nebbercracker’s wife, had as she died. She was abused and laughed at in life, was killed when she fell into concrete due to that same abuse; she then carried that same resentment and anger into the afterlife, into the very fiber of her husband’s home.

This non-stop reactivity between the neighborhood kids and the haunted house has fed into a seemingly endless and vicious cycle. That is, until one day when one of the kids realizes that compassion and understanding are what is truly required for all of this to end.

In our own lives, we experience much of the same. We are tempted to return anger for more anger. Sometimes we interpret Jesus’ message to “do onto others what you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31) as “if someone doesn’t like you, you don’t have to like them either.”

What’s so bad about that, you might ask? On the global stage, this cycle has erupted into Shi’ite and Sunni infighting (or Israeli and Palestinian wars) in the Middle East, or in our country, the polarization of Democrats and Republicans in Washington D.C., especially right around national elections like we have this very year.

The cycle, whether personally or in the world, ends when hatred is greeted with compassion.

It’s not easy, though, as the film suggests. In the movie, we see that the compassion of the kids was rejected by the house; the home gets even more angry and tries to kill the kids and her husband. It would have been easy to give up the compassion route then, but the kids and Mr. Nebbercracker continued to fight fire and anger with water and love.

It eventually paid off in the end of the story, but it took serious effort and unconditional understanding. This is what forgiveness is all about, and this is the very principle that Christ died for, and continues to offer up to us: stop this vicious cycle, forgive one another, offer compassion for hatred and understanding for anger and fear, thereby leaving any vengeance to God, and we can be busy working for peace and justice.

This and only this is the true way of the Gospel.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Departed

“…when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you.” Matt. 5:11

I won’t give anything away about The Departed, but I will say that its ending was a letdown.

Up until the final scene, this was a well-acted, well-directed movie about two double agents (Leonardo Dicaprio and Matt Damon) who work for two leaders in the Boston community, one a police captain (Martin Sheen), another a mob boss (Jack Nicholson), whose agents go undercover in the other’s organization. It sounds confusing, but it works for a great work of cinema by one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Martin Scorsese.

In the days following seeing this movie, as I was wrestling with its letdown ending, it occurred to me: life is not really full of happy moments that wrap up neatly in two hours.

Life has awkward, difficult, and challenging moments, and resolutions don’t come for days, weeks, even years. In the meantime, the road can be hard.

When Christ talked about the Kingdom of God, he did not talk about harp-stringing angels and cloudless sunny skies; instead, in the weeks preceding his death, he talked to those in Jerusalem about the coming persecutions and even prepared his disciples for these times: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven will be great.” (Matt. 5:11-12).

In life we aim for the resurrection, as Christ did in his ministry. But resurrection cannot be achieved unless there is sacrifice, hardship, and even death to self. At any moment in our life, we can get discouraged because, like The Departed, it isn’t wrapping up nicely.

As I write this, it has been weeks since we have put our house on the market to be sold; in those weeks, very few people have visited and we are far from selling our home. Every evening I come home from work without having sold our place, it seems like a bad, uncomfortable, awkward ending to the day. That’s how life is, in big and small ways.

I know I have wanted to just give up at times like that. It’s natural and it’s human to want to do that. But we are called to higher standards. We are called to hope in our own resurrection.

These pain, suffering, and death experiences in our lives are known as “the paschal mystery,” mirroring our life with the life of Christ who at his last Passover, had to suffer and die before rising again. When our lives are judged, we will not be judged for having bad days, but how we got through them and how we believed in the hope of resurrection.

The ending of The Departed leaves us hanging, leaves us wanting more. That’s great. That’s life. When we go to bed tonight, we will have some issues in life that we have not yet resolved; however, we live our lives in hope because we live for something more.

At times like that, we are called to rise to the occasion and gladly experience the passion; only then can we get to the resurrection that awaits each and every one of us.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Man of the Year

“Ephphatha! Be opened!” Mark 7:34

Politicians hear a lot of voices. It’s getting near to a national Election Day, and I can see this reflected in the hourly newscasts. Politicians and elected officials hear the voices of the voters and their families for sure, but also their special interest groups, their advisers, the other politicians, the media, and their donors and fundraisers.

But do they ever truly listen?

In Man of the Year, Robin Williams plays Tom Dobbs, a Jon Stewart-inspired late night comedian who decides to run for the Presidency of the United States. He hears a lot of voices swirling around him, including an unwelcome one from a woman who wants to inform him of illegal voting issues. His advisers tell him this is one voice he should not listen to. But Dobbs is an honest politician, and he decides to listen anyway.

What is inspirational is that this upstream voice is telling him that he shouldn’t even hold public office, and even more inspirational is that he actually listens to it. (Remember this is a fictional story of politics; we can only pray to God this can actually happen!).

In a world where we have talking heads on every cable channel, and where we are constantly talking and talking, where, when, and how is there time to listen clearly?

In the gospels, Christ opens the ears of the deaf on more than one occasion. But these miracles are not just medical breakthroughs, but a life lesson to those around him. By giving the deaf the gift of hearing, he is telling those around him: Open your ears, shut your mouths, and just listen for a change. And when we read those gospel passages, I think Christ is still imploring us to do the same, now more than ever.

So what are we listening for?

We stop to listen for the wisdom in others’ voices. Christ can use others to speak to us; therefore, the words of Christ might just be on the lips of the next person we run into.

In my life, I find that God speaks to me not through visions or even at Sunday mass, but more often than not, he speaks to me through those I meet in my daily routine. Perhaps it was the person behind the counter at Starbucks or the one sitting next to me on the train to work, or my wife when I come home from a long day at the office. God can use any of us to be the conduit through which he speaks.

We are called to open our ears, close our mouths, and let God through.

Postscript: We are also called to listen to all voices, even the ones we don’t want to hear. At election time, there are too many people listening only to voices that they enjoy hearing; we are challenged to hear what else might be out there. Unless we appreciate what all sides have to say, how can we truly make a well-informed vote or even a well-thought-out decision in our daily lives? Let’s challenge our own selves to, as Christ said, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” (Mark 7:34) and open our lives to all that God might be calling us to do.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Open Season

Is there life outside your comfort zone?

This film, aimed at younger audiences (but able to be appreciated by any age), gives us a valuable lesson we all need to hear: When we encounter change, sometimes we simply need discover our new selves.

Each of us is unique in that each of us has a purpose in life that is different than anyone else’s mission or vocation. But unless we break free of our comfort zone when change hits us, we might never discover that uniqueness which God so richly gives us.

Open Season
is the story of one bear’s journey to find his own special calling.

For years, a human trainer (voiced by Debra Messing) cared for Boog the Bear (voiced by Martin Lawrence) and attended to his every need and desire; by an accident of fate (that is, meeting up with Elliot, a one-antlered mischievous deer voiced by Ashton Kutcher), Boog is forced out in the wild to fend for himself for the first time in his life. The unlucky coincidence is that he has also been released during open hunting season in the mountains. It’s his own baptism by fire.

At first, Boog hides from the dangers of the wild, and clings desperately to the home in the valley he once knew. The same goes for all of us when things change in life. We wish things could go back to the way they’ve always been. We wish we could press “rewind” on our lives and re-think the decision that caused this unwelcome change.

Slowly, as Boog discovers those hidden gifts, he finds his home is actually in the wilderness all along. He becomes the protector of the forest and of all the other animals; his God-given gifts are his leadership skills and, during that year’s open season, Boog leads his fellow forest critters to stand up to the vengeful hunters.

Had Boog not discovered his gift, he would have never been able to save the forest creatures from certain death. Not only did his newfound vocation and calling benefit him, but it helped so many others as well.

When we, too, experience change, we can be tempted to stay in our comfort zone.

But God challenges us to live our lives not for our comfort, but for others. God has a unique purpose for each of us, and sometimes change is God’s way of nudging us along to find that vocation. What wondrous things await us if we only take on that challenge and find that inner bear.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

"In my name, you will pick up snakes in your own hands and drink deadly poison, and none of that will hurt you." Mark 16:18

Even in the midst of snakes, there are no excuses.

Snakes? Well, Biblically-speaking, one of the most common animals in the Scriptures is the snake. Beginning with the Garden of Eden where the snake was "the most cunning of all the animals God had created" (Gen. 3:1) and continuing through Revelation where John saw in his vision "the ancient serpent which is the devil" (Rev. 20:2).

Snakes are everywhere.

Moses turned his staff into a snake (Exodus 4), then turned one into bronze in the desert to help heal the Israelites' snakebites (Numbers 21); Isaiah prophesized about the day of the Lord when children will play in the snake's den (Isaiah 11), and other prophets (Micah, Jeremiah) spoke of God's punishment in the form of serpents. Jesus gave his disciples the power to pick up snakes with their bare hands (Mark 16, Luke 10), which is literally fulfilled when Paul is bitten by a poisonous snake but feels no pain (Acts 28).

Snakes are everywhere. And now they've made their way from the pages of the Bible to the overhead compartments of our airplanes.

Snakes on a Plane, one of the most anticipated films this summer, is the story of a brave FBI agent (Samuel L. Jackson) who confidently leads a planeful of passangers in a test of survival when a crate of snakes are let loose on a red-eye flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles.

From the Scriptures to this action-packed movie, snakes continue to represent our deepest fears and the most dangerous situations imaginable. To be trapped in a pressurized cabin thousands of feet in the air over an endless ocean in the middle of the night with hundreds and hundreds of poisonous, charged up, hungry snakes? Talk about the epitome of fear and danger!

So in the face of danger and when we are paralyzed by fear, are we allowed to simply go into survival mode or are we still called and challenged to live the Gospel values?

In the movie, we see images of self-sacrafice in the face of deadly snakes, the same self-sacrfice Christ calls us all to: a flight attendent walks into a nest of snakes to save a baby; a passanger throws a woman on his back to save her from snakes in the aisle. Even our hero, Samuel L. Jackson, risks his own life in the underbelly of the plane so that he can turn on the air conditioning, without which the passengers will suffocate or die from heat exhaustion. Some of these brave people survive, some don't... but acts of heroism, sacrifice, and selflessness abound in all this slithery turmoil.

On the other hand, there are those who go into survival mode and care more about themselves than others. Snakes on a Plane is clear about what the fate awaits these people: some of the film's most grusome serpantine encounters are care of these selfish individuals.

Our own world may not be riddled with snakes in confined aircraft, but more often than not, even the smallest amount of trouble, fear, and anxiety tempts us to put our core gospel values (compassion, understanding, justice, selflessness, sacrifice, heroism, leadership, love, service, generosity, etc.) on hold until "things clear up."

But Christ constantly challenges us to rise above that spiritual laziness and procrastination... and start acting like Samuel L. Jackson in a pit of vipers.

From the everyday troubles we face to the improbable scenario of snakes on a plane, we don't have any excuse to avoid living to the highest standards and to being the best we can be.

Having a horrible day? Is life too busy? Worried and anxious? Got your own problems? Caught up in your own troubles? Sure, but do we use these as endless excuses to avoid living as Christ did? I know I fall into this trap from time to time.

But when I hear Jesus in the Gospel of Mark saying, "In my name, you will pick up snakes in your hands and drink deadly poison, and none of that will hurt you." (Mark 16:18), I hear him telling me that nothing, not even snakes on a plane, should come between me and the core gospel values that God has given to me.

There are simply no excuses, even in the midst of the worst fear and danger, to do the right thing, to love one another, and to transform the world through action and renewal.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Clerks II

"A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price. No sum can balance his worth." Sirach 6:14-15

Let me confess that I myself am a huge fan of Kevin Smith. Yes, his films are crass, rude, and full of every sex and fart joke out there. But at their core, the anthology of Kevin Smith movies (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back) have levels of spirituality that's relevant and brutally honest.

Many of his movies seem like Kevin Smith's own autobiography on celluloid. The writer/director and his characters are the young adults of today, men and women in their late 20s and early 30s, betwixt their youth and middle age. Like other young adults, he feels at a standstill between the high school and college years still remembered and the adult life ahead. The one constant, however, in all his movies is the incredible gift of friendship.

Whether it's between two relationship-starved guys (Mallrats), two cartoonists (Chasing Amy), two angels (Dogma), two dope-peddling slackers (Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back), or two clerks (Clerks and its sequel, Clerks II), friendship is the central theme of the View Askewniverse (named for Smith's production company View Askew).

Clerks II carries that mantle well. Like all the other films, the other factor in the mix is relationships beyond the buddy. Perhaps it is Smith's own struggles with balancing friendship with relationships, but this theme continues on in this newest movie too.

This film is about the two titular clerks Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) and their struggle with growing up. Dante thinks he's figured out the answer in the act of escaping to Florida with a rich fiancee he does not love. What he would abandon for this prize is his true loves: his friendship with Randal (and with his supervisor Becky played by Rosario Dawson), his native New Jersey, and his beloved Quick Stop convinience store which burns down in the opening act of this movie.

Like the son of Sirach states, "a faithful friend is beyond price." (Sirach 6:15a). Dante soon discovers that he doesn't need to run from his Star Wars-theorizing, go-cart running, and girl chasing past, he just needs to balance it with his adult life.

For Randal and Dante, it means understanding the value of their friendship, being true to their roots, and being at peace with their reality that being simple (i.e. clerking) is not failure; no, it's just simplicity. They don't need to live in the past, but they do need to use it to live in the future. There is a moment in the film with Randal confesses his need for their friendship, and it wakes Dante up to a new awareness.

Finding a faithful friend these days is truly a treasure beyond price. In a sense, no matter what we do in life - from being the CEO of a major company or simply clerking behind the counter at the local Quick Stop - the real goal is to have good, solid relationships with those around us. In a world obsessed with success and financial gain, sometimes we need a Jersey slacker to remind us to focus on the real priorities God has laid before us.

...even if he has to use a few sex and fart jokes to make this deeply spiritual point.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion

"You yourselves know that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." 1 Thess. 5:2

Garrison Kellior's A Prairie Home Companion is a simple film. No big explosions. No epic love story. No car chases or evil villians. It's a movie about endings and new beginnings showcased in the story of the last night of a small Midwestern live broadcast radio variety show.

Every now and then, we need a movie like this. The film does for moviegoers what the film's story is all about: take a moment to stop and smell the roses. It was telling that the theatre in which I saw this was squeezed between the theatres for two summer blockbusters. Through the walls of a quieter film like this you can hear the bass of the explosions or car chases on my right and on my left.

But this film was a quiet afternoon reprieve from the adreneline.

In our world today, we often go so fast we miss little treasures like this. We move with a pace never experienced in the history of our world. Not being one to point fingers, I must confess that I, too, go at this pace... and when the job is done or whatever project is accomplished, I look back and wonder if all the running around and worrying was really worth the end result.

A Prairie Home Companion, through an all-star cast (Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lindsey Lohan, Virginia Madsen, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, among others), shows us characters who spend their careers on this show, stopping and smelling the roses. One character passes on, but there are no regrets. They enjoyed each others' company while he was alive, and his passing is more of a celebration than a tragedy.

In our lives, if we run too fast, we may miss if someone passes on. We may be too busy to even care. It's harsh, but that's the kind of world we seem to live in today.

It's ironic that in the 21st century, when it is so easy to get in touch with people (email, cell phones, pagers, multiple phone numbers, faxes, blogs, whatever), I hear so many people tell me how they just lose touch with old friends. It makes no sense, except the fast pace is not helping us, it's hurting us. Just imagine if we lived life smelling roses more often - maybe we wouldn't lose touch with those old friends, maybe we would have more friends in general.

Studies just came out saying that the majority of Americans today have few if any real friends. We are so disconnected as a society. We care more about the "things" of this world than the "people" of this world. With all the violence overseas and the divisions in this very country, I think there might be a connection with that and this erosion of relationships.

We don't know when our time will come, when God will come for us like (as Paul says) "a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2). So let's live life as if it might come anytime. Let's treat our friends and the people we know with more respect, even just more attention. Let's care a bit more. Let's learn about one another more than a name and cell number. We are all created to be worth more than a passing aquaintance.

So let's stop and smell some roses. I think we'll be glad we did.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest

"What profit is there if a man gains the whole world but loses his very soul?" (Mark 8:36)

In the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, the uniquely charming and child-like Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) was introduced to the British colonies in the Caribbean and to movie audiences everywhere. In this sequel, Dead Man's Chest, the Captain is back but still has yet to grow up.

It's part of the charm of Jack Sparrow that he looks at the world through a kids' eyes. But now he begins to learn that charm can't get you out of every situation.

Since it's a Disney movie, the villian must be an over-the-top 'bad guy.' Pirates 2 does not disappoint this regard. In this film, it's Davy Jones (played by Bill Nighy), a man with a squid face who has bought total control of the seas (and the monsters and other unlucky souls therein) in exchange for his very own heart.

Both the main character and his archnemesis have much to learn... but then again, they are pirates.

What sets Captain Jack apart from the squid-faced Jones is not only better looks, but in this movie, Jack - through the support and encouragement of his friends (Elizabeth Swann played by Keira Knightly and Will Turner played by Orlando Bloom) - opens himself up to a bit of redemption. He finally learns to be an adult pirate, and in so doing, learns that requires some selflessness and sacrifice.

On the other hand, Davy Jones has no desire for redemption, just to make sure his heart is secure in the "dead man's chest." But at what price? He is a walking, talking example of what Jesus taught in the gospels: "What profit is there if a man gains the whole world but loses his very soul?" (Mark 8:36). Jones literally loses his heart so he can gain the whole world (for a pirate, that would be the sea).

What kind of life does Jones have? He lives in constant worry of people stealing his power. He lives a life without being able to walk upon the land. He is surrounded only by other people who are equally devoid of compassion and maturity. There is no profit in this.

We, too, run the risk of becoming like Jones. When we trade our principles for power; when we offer up our morals for control; when we exchange our maturity for money.

This movie gives us an example of what life that leads to, and shows up that we all have a chance for redemption, as Jack Sparrow did. Who do we want to become? The squid face or Johnny Depp? Being innocent and wide-eyed isn't necessarily a bad thing, but every now and then we are called upon to take a step into real adulthood and maturity for the good of others. I pray we respond like Captain Jack when that happens to us.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Superman Returns

"The true light, which enlightens everyone, is coming into the world." John 1:9

From the outset, let me say that I feel Superman Returns is one of the best movies I've seen in awhile. Not only were there spiritual moments (in fact the movie could be subtitled According to St. John), but there was great comic book action and, according to my wife, a romance story that would make any girl swoon.

So I could go on for pages on its merits (and there are many), but for the moment I would like to focus on those spiritual elements to this story.

As this story goes, Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to earth after a five-year break when he went to find out about the remains of his home planet Krypton. In five years, a lot has changed. Not only has his former flame Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) gotten hooked up with a new guy and raised a child on her own, but she has finally won her Pulitzer for an article entitled "Why the World No Longer Needs Superman."

But ironically, just as she is about to get the award, the world starts to need a superman.

This film actually parallels another unlikely movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, when Jesus was tempted to focus inward, on what made him happy (namely a family and children). Superman here faces the same temptation and frustration. For both Jesus and Kal-El (Superman's Kryptonian name which, coincidentally, includes "El," the Hebrew word for "God"), their calling is to transform the world, not themselves.

Despite all the technology at our disposal and our own ingenuity, the world needs supermen (and superwomen). The world craves leaders who will, like the example of Christ and the fictional Kal-El, rise to the occasion, sacrifice their own desires and even their own lives, and in so doing, save the world. We are called to be those leaders. We are all called to rise above the fray and transform the world by our leadership and sacrifice.

We don't need to have laser beams shooting from our eyes or the ability to fly above the clouds to be a real hero. The only qualification is to be selfless enough to show others the light.

The paradox is that the world will follow a leader only when one rises to the occasion. When leaders are absent (like Superman in the past five years) or treat their leadership with selfishness (like Lex Luther, played wonderfully by Kevin Spacey), people will lose hope and grow cynical. Ironically, without a leader, people will say they don't need one. We seem to live in those times today. We seem to live in a world that says it doesn't need leaders.

But we are all capable of being those leaders. In fact, according to Martin Luther King Jr., we all have an inner instinct that desires to be the leader (the drum major of the parade, he called it). But we don't know what to do with that instinct, so we spend it on pursuits of power, prestige, and money. But Jesus, King says, gave us a new definition of greatness and leadership. If you want to be a leader, Christ said, then you must be the servant. If you want to be the greatest, then be the least. Put aside your wants and desires and rise to a new level of greatness.

Will you and I be those leaders that God wants us to be? Will you and I be able to show the world the light? The film convinced us the world really does need supermen and superwomen, but will you and I take on that role? I think we can, and I pray we will will.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Over the Hedge

I have not had the opportunity to see Over the Hedge this summer, but another blogger has. In the film, she found a valuable lesson on the meaning of family beyond blood. It recalls the story from the gospel: "Jesus said, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' Looking around at the disciples seating in the circle with him, he said, 'Right here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my true brother or sister or mother." (Mark 3:33-35).

This is her review of Over the Hedge, which I have reprinted here:

The theme of friendship in films

If you are looking for an inspiring movie about friendship, I would recommend viewing "Over the Hedge." I think it gives a good portrayal of friends and family not having to neccessarily be blood-related, through following a group of animals, who want to know what big adventure lies on the other side of this hedge. The movie has a lot of truth to it about humans and food, as well.

In my opinion, a lot of society revolves around food. When I am riding in the car, I see a McDonalds on almost every corner, and fast food is anything but healthy for the most part.

Anyways, there is another part to the plot. One of the main characters is a raccoon, and he has to pay back this bear with food. So, he comes upon a group of animals, and pretends to be their best friend, when really he wants to protect himself. I thought the characters were just hilarious.

I have sometimes felt like one of these animals myself. I want to know what is in this big world of ours, and I find myself feeling "small."I felt the end of the film was what really puts things in perspective for me.

Here was this lonely raccoon, who had made good with a bear, not realizing that he already had the best gift in the world, right in front of him. He just wasn't looking hard enough. These animals were a family all their own, and if only the raccoon had asked, then he would not have had to be such a "con" and they would have worked together as a team to re-pay the bear.

There was one line that really stood out and that was when the turtle asked the raccoon, if he would like to be a part of their family? I find that to be just so inspiring, because so often people just don't know where to find true friendship or love within a family.

I am thankful for movies like this, that just make me grateful for the friendships and family I have. I know what it is like to be the "outcast" and I hope everyone finds someone who will reach out and encourage them.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Cars


Winning isn't everything.

In our consumer driven society today, to win is the greatest thing ever. Winning itself has become our national pasttime. To win isn't a bad thing, but when the desire to win supercedes everything else, it can become an epidemic.

Cars, the Pixar film staring the voices of Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Paul Newman (Doc Hudson), Bonnie Hunt (Sally), Larry the Cable Guy (Mater), among many others, is a film about many things about which we need reminding: to take life a bit slower; to stop and smell the roses; to never overlook the 'little' people; to respect those who have gone before us; and perhaps most importantly, that it's not about winning.

McQueen is the rookie sensation whose biggest dream in life is to win at the races. But in his rookie year, he ties for the big prize (The Piston Cup) and, to win it all, he has to race in a tiebreaker contest in California. On the way there, he and his driver doze off on the road; in so doing, he rolls off the highway into a little one-stoplight town called Radiator Springs.

While there, he learns some lessons in humility and friendship from the other cars. He learns that life isn't all about racing, and that real happiness doesn't always end in the Piston Cup.

In the end, when he leaves Radiator Springs and gets to California's tiebreaker race, he finally gets it. He understands that it's more than winning, even more than how he plays the game; what it's really all about is sacrificing for another when they need it most.

What's it really all about?

Jesus said it plainly. It's not about winning because there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend or even, someone against whom you are competing. And in that act of defiance against the way of the world is the real victory.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Superman Preview

I have not blogged in awhile because my work has actually kept me from going to the movies lately. However, over the weekend, I got the chance to see Cars and The Lake House. I will be blogging on those later this week.

In the meantime, I have posted this excerpt from TIME magazine by film critic Richard Corliss on the connection of Superman Returns with the story of Christ from the New Testament. It has a few spoilers, so be warned. Through next week, I will be blogging more about this expected summer blockbuster and its biblical allusions. Until then, enjoy this preview.

The Gospel of Superman
by Richard Corliss, TIME Magazine
(excerpt from the June 26, 2006 issue)

"Earlier versions of Superman stressed the hero's humanity: his attachment to his Earth parents, his country-boy clumsiness around Lois. The (Bryan) Singer version emphasizes his divinity. He is not a super man; he is a god (named Kal-El), sent by his heavenly father (Jor-El) to protect Earth. That is a mission that takes more than muscles; it requires sacrifice, perhaps of his own life. So he is no simple comic-book hunk. He is Earth's savior: Jesus Christ Superman.

"Using snippets of Marlon Brando's performance as Jor-El from the 1978 Super-man movie, in which Brando passes on the wisdom 'The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son,' Singer establishes his own film's central relationship. It is not romantic, between Lois and Clark. It's familial--the bond of two sets of fathers and sons: Jor-El and Superman, then Superman and Jason. Each parent tells his child that he must surpass the old man's feats, improve on Dad's legend. Poignantly, this strength, this divinity, isolates Superman from Earth's humans. He can save them but not be one of them. Lois can love him but never understand him.

"The movie cogently ransacks elements from all kinds of myths, classic and modern. Superman is the god who fell to Earth, enduring a cycle of death and transfiguration. And since he has sired a boy who is part human, he could be the Jesus of the Gnostic Gospels. And Lois? Mary Magdalene!

"...The best Hollywood movies always knew how to sneak a beguiling subtext into a crowd-pleasing story. Superman Returns is in that grand tradition. That's why it's beyond Super. It's superb."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

X-Men 3

"To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit." 1 Cor. 12:7

Twice in this movie (in the very first scene and in his most climactic scene), Dr. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) gives a great piece of advice that sums up the spiritual popcorn of this film: "Either control your power, or your power will control you."

In both cases, Xavier is speaking with Jean Grey (as a young child, played by Haley Ramm, and as a resurrected version, reprised by Framke Janssen), whose inner unchecked mutant power is an uncontrollable telekinetic force able to destroy anything. To help her control it, it seems Xavier has taught her to only use it for good.

This is what we are all called to do.

In a sense, we are all 'mutants,' like the X-Men 3 characters. We each have gifts, abilities, and experiences that make us all unique. Perhaps we cannot walk through walls or bend metal with our minds, but every one of us has the ability and the gifts to do things that others cannot. In the Scriptures, St. Paul says, "To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit." (1 Cor. 12:7)

In the third film of the X-Men franchise, the American government has found a 'cure' for mutants intended to make them normal humans again, to rid them of their mutant gene once and for all. The two sides of the mutant world, one led by Xavier and the other by Magneto (wonderfully played by Ian McKellen), oppose this measure. Xavier fights for peace and reconciliation between mutants and humans; Magneto, on the other hand, fights for seperation between them, and reminds his fellow mutants that their abilities make them superior.

Each of us, too, has been given a gift from God to transform our world. But often times, we are tempted to be "normal," to blend in and not make waves.

Xavier's wisdom calls us, too, to use our gifts - but to not let them control us, but to let ourselves control them to better the world around us. But like the mutants in X-Men 3, not all gifts are fun.

Some of us are unique because we are physically different than others - if we follow Xavier's advice, we will not let these differences define who we are. Whatever our gifts or differences may be, we must control them but, at the same time, find how we might use them to help others.

When I was younger, I was different from my classmates (for reasons I won't go into now), and consequently, I was rejected and made to feel like an outsider. I could have allowed this to overwhelm me, to take control over me. But instead, as I grew up, I used this experience to help others who shared in a similar discrimination. Instead of just trying to forget it, to "cure" myself of my gifts to blend in, I chose to use it to make a corner of this world a little better.

That's what we are all called to do. Accept that we have differences, that we are all mutants of one kind or another, but do not accept that we have to change.

God created each of us with our uniqueness for a reason. Instead of running from the differences, He challenges all of us to use what he has given us to build up His Kingdom on earth.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

“Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” Matt. 10:26

Everyone's talking about The Da Vinci Code. It’s amazing how much is out there about this movie. Some say it’s blasphemous, some say it discourages people from the church, and some even saying it’s heresy. Then again, some are saying this phenomenon has given them a new, more relatable image of Jesus Christ, and others are just captivated by the book and want to see how Ron Howard brings it to the screen.

This past week, I received a great number of mass emails telling me to boycott the film, to put my money elsewhere because the movie is a modern day heresy.

So just why is a film like this so controversial? Why do people get up in arms about this movie? Why are people willing to kneel in protest on the red carpet and create a nationwide boycott? Not since The Last Temptation of Christ has a cinematic event gotten people so revved up that they can’t think of anything else to talk about.

After seeing it this week, I have to say that the movie carefully follows the book, almost religiously (no pun intended). Nearly all the details of the book can be found in the film version, except for a few occasions when the screenwriter inserted doubts into the mouth of the protagonist, Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks), in his conversations with Sir Leigh Teabing (played by Ian McKellen); these doubts are Ron Howard's answer to the criticisms raised by churches and academics in the years since Dan Brown’s book was first published.

The essence of this controversial story is a treasure hunt. Even more so, the book and the film are treasure hunts for the truth about the Holy Grail and a non-stop search for justice in the murder of Louvre curator Jacques Sauniere.

Beyond the Controversy

From the outset, it should be known that contrary to the emails I have received, this movie is not blasphemous. It is not evil. It is not a heretical work of dogma against the Catholic Church or the Christian faith overall. Like X-Men 3, Pirates of the Caribbean, Cars, and Superman Returns, The Da Vinci Code is simply a summer popcorn movie. Nothing more, nothing less.

At its core, The Da Vinci Code is a story. It’s a work of fiction. It follows the journey of two fictional characters as they race across Europe in search of the Grail.

Yes, some of the characters mix historical fact (facts include that Mary Magdalene was indeed not a prostitute; the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip and Gospel of Mary do in fact exist; and the Emperor Constatine did convene the Council of Nicea) with historical fiction (the aforementioned Gnostic gospels do not really present a human image of Jesus; Magdelene was not married to Jesus, nor was she the mother of his child; and the Priory of Sion is not a one-thousand-year-old secret society, but an organization created by Pierre Plantard in 1956 because he wanted to be descended from French royalty and in the company of the great minds of history including da Vinci, Issac Newton, and Victor Hugo). A good look through a few web sites will clear up what’s fact and what’s fiction, but the movie even more so makes these ‘facts’ of the book into ‘big theories’ of Sir Leigh Teabing (SPOILER: who also happens to be the villain; the sure-fire way to discredit a theory in a film is to put it into the mouth of the bad guy).

This is also a story about family issues, and discovering what the word “heritage” really means. ANOTHER SPOILER: In the film, the character Sophie (played by Audrey Tautou) is discovered to be the last heir of Jesus of Nazareth. What is most important is that to truly be related to somebody, you must not just keep the DNA bloodline, but keep the honor of your family and of those who have gone before.

Much has been made about the fact that it’s scandalous to think that Jesus had children and had a bloodline that ran through the French monarchy beginning with the Merovingians. But even if that were true (which I highly doubt and which has no historical evidence whatsoever), would it even matter if Jesus had children? Would that make him less of a savior? Even more so, what if these fictional children of Jesus did not have the "spirit" of Jesus? Divinity cannot be not passed down through genetics; but the spirit of Christ can be. In the gospels, Jesus declares: “Whoever does the will of my father is my real family.” The true test of family is not DNA, but how you live today – do you honor your family through your actions? That is what's really important. We are called to be sons and daughters of Christ by how we live what he taught us.

In this film, there are also issues of honesty and integrity. Look at the example of the juxtaposition of the Opus Dei bishop Aringarosa (played by Alfred Molina) and the French cop Fache (Jean Reno). At the beginning of the movie, we are led to believe that the French cop was corrupt and sinister. But in the end, it seems the reverse is true. The cop was the one who was out seeking the truth, whereas Bishop Aringarosa was out seeking his own selfish reward. We are all called to be people of integrity, no matter what we do in life - bishop, cop, whatever.

These are the lessons we can learn from The Da Vinci Code. If you get past all the controversy, all the hype, we might be able to uncover, just like Robert Langdon, the secret of the Holy Grail, the secret of what Jesus wants us to hear: “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known” (Matt. 10:26). This is fictional story with some great lessons imbedded in this two hour treasure hunt.

The Human Jesus?

Some readers and filmgoers have said that The Da Vinci Code presents a more human picture of Jesus than they've ever seen before. Maybe the Church, maybe those of us working in the Church, need to stop and look at that. Maybe we need to stop and say, “Hey, why don’t people like the Jesus that we portray? Why don’t people trust the Church we have built? Why don’t people listen or care about a faith based in this same Jesus?”

Maybe this movie is a wake-up call to Christians and Catholics alike to stop relying on the fact that people will just become Christian or Catholic because there compelled to or out of loyalty. Maybe people are just looking for a reason to embrace a human Jesus... a relatable Jesus to their everyday lives.

Many times, faith leaders present a Jesus that is not actually relevant to the lives of the people. Sometimes we present a Jesus who is aloof and out of touch, one who is distant from us, and a God who doesn’t even know what it’s like to live our lives.

There have been several times in my own life when I have wondered if I could really relate to Jesus as the Church has taught him to me.

Did Jesus ever lose a job? Did Jesus ever feel abandoned? Did Jesus ever feel lost in love? Did anyone ever break up with Jesus? Did anyone break his heart? Did Jesus know the meaning of the word 'downsizing'? Did Jesus know when you couldn’t pay all your bills? In my head, I know the Gospels say he knew struggle; but in what I see in how we preach about him, he is this perfect God-man who knows none of this. His life looks very little like my life.

I am guessing that is what many people go through when they read or watch The Da Vinci Code. Perhaps that's why people are lining up at the movie theater to see this film. That might be why this book has been on the best-seller list for ages.

I don't believe that all these people who have read or watched this really want to tear down the truth or the tear down the Catholic Church. That’s not what people honestly care about. But what they do care about is their own lives. They care about their relationship with God, and the sad reality is that the God the Church has given them has not sufficed.

Maybe this movie is a wake-up call for us to give the world an image of Christ that we can embrace, that can relate to us right where we are.

It seems that, out of the void we have created, Dan Brown was more than happy to fill it. Maybe Dan Brown had intentions to challenge the Church, but the people who read it don’t really have such intentions. After seeing this movie, I don't think Tom Hanks or Ron Howard do either. They all just want to find a Jesus they can relate to. More than just wanting it, that’s also what all these people so desperately need.

While this is certainly not a historically true image (i.e. marriage to Magdalene, having a kid, etc.) and while the evidence that Dan Brown presents is incredibly weak (the source material was declared a forgery several years back), this is the Jesus that people are clamoring to see and experience: a human, relatable, relevant, real Savior.

The image of Jesus as father and husband (and consequently having quite human experiences) is something that people are craving. Let's put aside for a moment the fact that church dogma and church teaching declare that God is equally divine and equally human. Let's put that aside for a moment, and see that what matters to people is a God that can feel their pain, share in their joy, understand their everyday.

If we have to put aside Jesus’ divine nature in our teachings just a little bit so that he might appear more human to the general public, so be it. If we have to put aside the miracles, the wonders, the angels, and the hymns to get a Jesus that, once again, means something to people, so be it.

The Search for Truth and Justice

As I mentioned, at its core, this film is the story of two characters who search high and low for truth and justice. Their journey is so fast-paced, we have to hold onto our seats as we watch them race across the screen.

Watching them, I wondered what would charge me up to go on such a journey? What kind of truth and justice do I seek that I'd go across the world just to find them? Why do am I sitting on my rear and watch other people search for truth? Isn’t truth and justice something important to me, too?

In a world with so many mixed messages coming at us constantly, we are called to find truth. In a world where war, poverty, and social injustice are so prevalent, we are called to seek justice for those who suffer and are in need. The state of this world is calling us to act and to not let take anything for granted. We are called to action and a conversion of heart in our lives and in the lives of the greater world around us.

God might very well be using The Da Vinci Code to speak to us to challenge each one of us to seek out truth and justice in our world. Perhaps God is talking to us through this film, asking us to find his Son relevant to our lives. If we cannot find it in the Church we go to, if we cannot find it wherever we are in our lives, then perhaps God is calling us to get up and search him out. If something challenges us, we are not to defend our previous way of living, but ask why we feel challenged, so we can more fully know God and experience his presence in our lives.

The Da Vinci Code is a challenge, a calling, and a chance for us to seek truth, justice, and an image of Christ that makes sense in our everyday. And that's no blasphemy or heresy to me.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mission: Impossible III

“Do you trust me?”

Despite the hype about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, their baby and Scientology, I still ventured out and saw Mission: Impossible III It was the first ‘popcorn’ movie of the summer, and it had all the thrills and excitement that I expected from a Tom Cruise film.

Ethan Hunt, the IMF (impossible mission force) agent played by Tom Cruise and who has been the central character of all of the Mission: Impossible movies, and finally, in this third installment, he is a man in search of a better life.

As a secret agent, Hunt’s job and lifestyle is to build up a wall of distrust around him so he can more effectively save the world from the criminals and evil masterminds bent on destroying all that is good and decent. If people really knew him, they might be able to destroy all his work as a government spy. Quite understandable, but also understandable is the movie’s need to begin and end the film with Hunt craving a life where we can finally trust someone.

In the middle of this movie is one scene when Ethan Hunt says to his fiancĂ©e, “Can you trust me?” It takes a lot of guts to trust a secret agent whose life it is to keep all these secrets to protect the country and the ones they love.

But she said “yes.”

By the end of the movie, Ethan has to trust his then-wife, and she has to trust him. And that is what are called to do as Christians. We are called to trust what another because God made the world good. He made the world perfect, and in our innermost selves, we are all trustworthy people.

But we break down the relationships that God has given to us when we don’t trust each other and we aren’t trustworthy. If this movie shows that a wife can trust a secret agent of the government, how much more can we in our non-secret-agent lives be trusted? If Katie Holmes can trust someone like Tom Cruise, how much more can we be trusted and trust each other?

On our money, we say “in God we trust,” but do we really put our trust in God? St. Paul says, “No trial has come to you except what is enough for humans. God is faithful to you and will not let you be tried beyond your strength. Furthermore, with any trial that faces you, he will provide you a way out, so that you may be able to bear it all.” (1 Cor. 10:13). We are reminded here that God won’t give us more than we can handle, and even if it seems overwhelming, there is always a God-given way out. Do you trust God enough to be true to that?

So again, I ask if a woman can trust a secret agent (especially one like Tom Cruise), how much more can we trust God, and by the same token, how much more can we trust those whom God has given us in our lives.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Jesus Movies?

Are you looking for a good Jesus movie this Easter?

Today is Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year for Christians. Today the weather outside in Chicago is a bit unpredictable. It hailed earlier today. It's expected to rain from noon through 3 p.m., according to the Weather Channel. It might also be sunny later. It seems even the weather knows it's Good Friday.

If you're like me, Good Friday and Easter weekend mean pulling out a "Jesus movie." So I thought I would give my recommedations for the best or the most popular "Jesus movies" out there, and what each film might say to you if you watch it. Feel free to comment on this post if you have any other movie suggestions.

King of Kings, 1961
(staring Jeffery Hunter as Jesus)
This pious film is actually one of my favorites. It captures the inner workings of the religious, zealot, and political systems of first century Judea and how each of them encountered the Jesus movement. If you like politics and history, this is a decent overview of the Gospels. The best part of this movie is the inspiring Sermon on the Mount.

The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965
(staring Max Von Sydow as Jesus)
This even-more pious film is not nearly as captivating as King of Kings, and almost twice the length. What makes this movie stand out is the multitude of guest appearances of 60s celebrities, with Sidney Poiter as Simon of Cyrene, Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, Claude Rains at King Herod, and my personal favorite, John Wayne's cameo as the Centurion. The thing that inspires me about this movie is that all celebs come together in honor of Christ, which makes quite a statement in and of itself.

Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973
(staring Ted Neely as Jesus)
The film version of the musical gives the passion story from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, who here is presented as a conflicted, thinking disciple. Slightly but enjoyably irreverent at times, this movie is most inspiring through the song "Can We Start Again Please?" sung by Peter and Magdalene and during the final trial before Pilate concluding with "Superstar," sung by Judas coming from the clouds of heaven. A unique, but fun, take on the traditional story.

Jesus of Nazareth, 1977
(staring Robert Powell as Jesus)
Probably the best version of the life of Christ. Like Greatest Story, this film is very long (over six hours) and has a lot of guest stars (Anne Bancroft, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Quinn, James Earl Jones, among others), but unlike it, it presents a realistic view of Jesus' ministry. What makes this movie stand out is its historical accuracy and realism, and better treament of the teachings, parables, and miracles than most other Jesus films before or since. The interaction of Jesus with the apostles from their calling to Gethsemane are the best parts of this movie.

The Last Temptation of Christ, 1988
(staring Willem Dafoe as Jesus)
The most controversial Jesus film ever made, due both to its positive treatment of Judas (similar to the current Gospel of Judas, it poses the betrayer as Jesus' confidant) and the relationship of Jesus with Magdalene (similar to the current Da Vinci Code, it poses Jesus had special, romantic feelings towards Mary). Despite these issues, Temptation gives an ultra-realitic look at John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus, and one of the most historical looks at the crucifixion. It is a movie that probes the human side of Jesus, even to his last breath on the cross. (special note: the temptation in this film is not Jesus dreaming of having sex with Mary, but rather his temptation to live a normal, first-century Jewish life as a married man with children; too often this is overlooked and the movie is disregarded for this misconception).

The Passion of the Christ, 2004
(staring Jim Caveziel as Jesus)
What makes this film stand out is its use of the actual Aramaic language that Jesus probably used in the first century. This Mel Gibson-directed treatment only covers the passion experience from the garden through the burial, and gives the bloodiest version of Jesus' punishment and death ever captured on film. Its historical accuracy is suspect, and much of the script comes from extra-Biblical sources, but if you are looking for a powerful punch on Good Friday, this movie might be for you.


There are many others where Jesus is regulated to a supporting character such as The Robe (1953), Ben-Hur (1959), and Barabbas (1962), and others with little recognition (therefore harder to find at your local Blockbuster) such as From the Manger to the Cross (1913), The King of Kings (1927), The Gospel According to Matthew (1966), Godspell (1973), Jesus/Jesus Film Project (1979), Jesus of Montreal (1989), Jesus (1999), and The Gospel of John (2003). Even comedies such as Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) gives a light-hearted look at this infamous story and would be an excellent choice to watch.

Regardless of what you choose, finding Jesus on film is a great way to experience the Easter story in your home this weekend or anytime. Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Benchwarmers

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Matt. 5:5

We know them well. Nerds. Geeks. Whatever they are called, we know them. These are the people who are bullied, humiliated, and segregated by others because of their looks, their popularity, their athletic ability, and their intelligence, among other reasons.

They are the "meek" of our day. The "meek" that will inherit the earth, as Jesus says in the beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew.

The Benchwarmers is a film about these bullied individuals, and their quest to inherit the earth (or at the very least, a place on the baseball diamond). It follows three grown-up friends (Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Jon Heder) who take a stand for the little kids who are regularly humiliated and picked on by the popular kids. They take their stand to the baseball field.

Motivated and funded by billionare nerd Mel (Jon Lovitz), the three of them take on little league teams in a tournament where the winner gets a brand new stadium for the kids.

In the film, children around the country tune into podcasts and web sites to watch this tournament. They are inspired and moved by these three "heroes" as they defeat the popular kids' little league teams one after another. Right in front of them, they see the meek inheriting the earth, the dream of those who are humiliated, isolated, and disregarded.

When the beatitudes were first offered in the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus, I imagine there must have been a few laughs thrown at him. Widows joyful? The persecuted happy? The poor become powerful? Who would think of such silly, impossible things? But the beatitudes were signs of hope for people who had none. In Jesus' day, the meek were the lepers, the beggers, the outcasts and unclean, and those who lived in fear of almost everyone else. The Benchwarmers offers a similar hope for those who feel hopeless in our day.

"If you build it," Jon Lovitz's character says with a nod to Field of Dreams, "...nerds will come." And come they do, inheriting a stadium that was never theirs before.

Jesus offers us hope in a world where hopelessness is the norm. Advertising and marketing play on our hopelessness these days. They tell us we are nothing, we are hopeless people... unless we buy their products and find an empty hope there. But God gives us hope even in the most impossible, improbable, and unattainable ways. Because with God, we know that all things truly are possible.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Twister

Perhaps life is meant to be a mess?

The 1996 movie Twister has gotten such negative reviews over the years, but I don't care what the critics say. I actually really enjoy this film despite some continuity errors (there's a whole list of them at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117998/goofs), and around this time of year when spring thunderstorms start appearing throughout the Midwest, I usually go back and watch it again. Call me crazy.

In the film, we meet Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) trying to emerge from his messy life with his ex-wife Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) by solidifying the divorce and marrying a more organized career woman.

Bill is trying to rid his life of the messiness that comes with a life of chasing after tornadoes, driving through cornfields, always eating on the go, and sleeping in vans or cheap motels, not to mention a marriage to a wife who lives life on the edge. He craves some stability, clean clothes, and an organized life. He sounds like many of us, and as a perfectionist, he sounds like me.

Twister reminds us that mess is okay from time to time.

In fact, messiness is probably what life is all about. In his book, Messy Spirituality, author and pastor Mike Yaconelli tells his readers that God doesn't expect us to live perfect, sinless lives, and if we try to accomplish that, we might become more obsessed with trying to live that perfect life than trying to live a real life. When Christ said, "I came so that you might have life, and have it more abundantly," (John 10:10), he wanted us to live our lives to the fullest, not to become a sinless, lifeless, joyless person.

Bill wanted order and stability, but was truly unhappy trying to live a life that wasn't his. Often times, we forget to live a real life when we are trying too hard to live a perfect life, and we become unhappy too.

We are called to live a life of responsible happiness. And each spring, despite the critics and the naysayers, I sit back and watch Twister to remind me of that valuable lesson.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Obi-Wan & Lent

"Amen, amen, I say to you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit." John 12: 24

It seemed like a bad plot idea to kill off one of the central characters two-thirds through the first film and less than one-third through the entire triology. But the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi was essential to the Star Wars saga and, more specifically, to the climax of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Before dying under the light saber of Darth Vader, Obi-Wan tells the Sith Lord, "If you strike me down, I will be more powerful than you can possibly imagine." How true that would be.

Because of this, Kenobi's spirit was able to convince Luke Skywalker to use the Force instead of computer instruments to destroy the first Death Star, and then later in the original trilogy, it was Obi-Wan's ghost that guided Luke to Yoda, and then helped to train and counsel the new young Jedi. If it was not for Obi-Wan's presence in these situations, Luke may never have saved the Empire from the Dark Side.

Kenobi's words echo Jesus' words in John's Gospel in the fifth week of Lent in which he says, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit." (John 12:24)

Here Jesus, in another prediction of his passion and crucifixion, reminds the disciples that the physical presence is nothing compared to the power that lies beneath. You can kill the body but you cannot kill the spirit, because it is that which produces "much fruit."

This is also what is called "the paschal mystery," the fact that our lives are filled with crucifixion moments, but that resurrection always lies beyond the worst. Summerized briefly, the "pascal mystery" is, as Tony Campolo said, "It's Friday, but Sunday's comin'."

God created each of us with an inner power that shines brilliantly when we experience the resurrection moments; before we can achieve that, we must die to the concerns of this life and this body. Then and only then will we be more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine (just like Obi-Wan told Vader).

So no matter what struggle we experience now, there is always something greater, more powerful than we can imagine, waiting for us beyond the worst of times. As John Paul II (whose birth into eternal life we remember this weekend on the first anniversary of his death) once said, "Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are an Easter people and 'Hallelujah' is our song!"

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Superman & Lent

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." John 3:16

These days, the high prices of tickets, the endless advertisements, and the many previews keep people away from going to the movies anymore.

But one 'coming attraction' I saw before V for Vendetta was worth the cost of admission by itself: Superman Returns, scheduled for a summer 2006 release date.

In the preview for this new Superman film, the voice of Marlon Brando as Jor-El echoes across the dark theatre: "Even though you've been raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show them the way. For this reason and above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son."

In the fourth week of Lent, we read of Nicodemus and Jesus' nighttime visit, where Christ declares, "for God so loved the world that he gave his only son" and "the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to the light." (John 3:16, 19).

God did not want send us his son to condemn the world (in fact, he says as much in John 3:17). God does not hate us. God does not want to make us suffer.

It's so easy to think that God is against us. It's so easy to think God has abandoned us when bad things happen to good people.

The Son was not sent as a source of condemnation, as some have made his faith into. The Son was sent to show us the way, to make us realize the great things we are capable of. The Son was the ultimate Superman story: dwelling among us, setting things right, but most of all, allowing us to discover the aspects of our humanity that make us so beloved in God's eyes.

We lack the light, as Jor-El and Christ said, because we refuse to believe in ourselves and because we refuse to see ourselves as God sees us.

Because of that, we live in darkness.

The Gospel this week challenges us to embrace our world as God embraced it. When we see our world as something to be condemned, as something to be fought against, as something evil, then we don't see with God's eyes. When we see our world and one another as capable of wonderful things, then we see as God sees, and in so doing, we live in the light.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

V for Vendetta & Lent


"Jesus said to them, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.'" John 2:9

In January 1941, in his State of the Union address to Congress, Frankin Delano Roosevelt gave an outline of the world beyond times of war: "In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms." The first, a freedom of speech; the second, a freedom to worship; the third, a freedom from want. The fourth freedom, Roosevelt said, was "freedom from fear," where we would have such a reduction in military might that no nation could ever lift up arms against another.

V for Vendetta gives us the story of a masked vigilante "V" (Hugo Weaving) in the year 2020 whose mission is to give the people of his time a chance at this fourth freedom.

One of the film's (and V's) biggest obstacles is the fact that the people don't even realize they are afraid, until someone wakes them up and reminds them of their oppression. In the Scriptures in the third week of Lent, Jesus begins to remind the people of his day of a coming destruction and to release them from their fear.

"Destroy this temple," Jesus declares. Buildings are just buildings, but the idea of real freedom from fear cannot be destroyed. He threw out moneychangers and merchants from the Jerusalem Temple to rid this sanctuary from anything that would seperate the people and their God. On a similar note, V is a hero who believes that the idea of real freedom can never be extinguished, and in his futuristic London, he plans for the destruction of Parliament, a 'temple' of the State which keeps the people from living in real freedom.

The film, and Christ's ministry, have a basic message: you may destroy buildings and you may kill prophets, but you never extinguish the truth.

Fear keeps us from God. Freedom from fear brings us closer to God. This is the truth of Christ, and the moral of V's superhero story. Christianity, it is said, was founded on the blood of martyrs; they were persecuted, their image and reputation were destroyed, and they were killed for believing in an idea and truth that God meant for us to live a life free from fear.

But what stands on the other side of destruction and martyrdom is new life. "...in three days I will raise it up again," Christ said. Not giving anything away about the ending of this movie, I will say that its conclusion, while jarring and somewhat uncomfortable to watch in our post 9-11 world, is a testament to hope in fact that ideas and truth live on beyond destruction.

In the film, the hope of freedom from fear inspires the masses to stand up. Blood was shed, lives lost, but in the end, the idea of freedom rose again and transformed V's world.

In our faith, the hope of freedom from fear is meant to inspire the masses to stand up. Blood was shed, lives lost, but in the end, the idea of real freedom rose again and transformed our world.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Shrek & Lent

"He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white... but then suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them." Mark 9:2-3,8

During the second week of Lent, we read in the Scriptures a preview experience of the resurrection that Peter, James, and John had, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus takes them off alone to show them (and us) what lies ahead of us at the end of Lent. He gives these three disciples a chance to see him as he really is, not as the world sees him.

In the film Shrek, the character Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz) goes through her own transfiguration process between what the world sees and what really lies beneath.

In reality, Fiona is large green ogre. To the world, she puts on the mask of a beautiful petite woman. One evening, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) discovers her dual appearance, and she confides in him, much like Jesus did with the three disciples, her real identity.

We are all like Fiona, and we are all like Christ, in the fact that we live our lives in a tension between our real selves and how the world sees us. We can often get caught up in our public personna, especially if others prefer this side of us in our daily lives.

There is something truly special about each of us, things about us that make us unique.

And like the three disciples with Jesus and like Donkey with Fiona, we invite our loved ones to see this side of ourselves. Our goal, like Christ's goal, was to show this real self to the world; but sometimes the world isn't yet ready for it. But when that real transfiguration happens (for Christ, the resurrection after crucifixion; for Fiona, her revelation to Shrek and all the people in the kingdom), it fuses our real and our public lives. That should be our goal, too.

God made us special, not just so our friends know, but so that we might use this uniqueness to transform our world.