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.