Monday, December 31, 2007

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

"Blessed is the man who fears the Lord. His family will be highly regarded upon the earth and every generation will be blessed. Wealth and riches wil be in their house, and their generosity will endure forever." Psalm 112:1-3

In National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Benjamin Gates (Nicholas Cage) is a true family man. More than riches or love, he values his family and its reputation more than anything else.

As we catch up with Gates in this second installment in the National Treasure franchise, he has moved out of the estate he bought at the end of the last movie and lost the affections of his girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). But he still continues to defend his family's name alongside his father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight).

Once again, Benjamin and his dad are off on another chase; but instead of finding a lost treasure, they are on the move to restore the reputation of the Gates family name (which another sinister character played by Ed Harris has tied to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln).

To clear any implication that the Gates family has involved in the dirty deeds of America's past, the family (along with Abigail - who seems to love the adventure as much as Benjamin - as well as the trusty sidekick Riley, played by Justin Bartha, and Benjamin's mother, played by Helen Mirren) head off to Paris, London, Washington DC, and Mount Rushmore to find the book of secrets which will clear the family of any wrongdoing.

National Treasure is a fun thrill ride of a movie that leads you from one adventure to the next. But the core of the film lies in a converation that Benjamin Gates says to the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood). He tells him that it is only right to honor, not ignore or destory, those who give the last full measure of devotion to a noble cause. This is why Gates does what he does: to honor his ancestors for their service and righteousness.

We, too, are called to honor our family, and to create a legacy for future generations to be proud of. Like the Psalmist says: "Blessed is the man who fears the Lord. His family will be highly regarded upon the earth and every generation will be blessed. Wealth and riches will be in their house, and their generosity will endure forever." (Psalm 112:1-3).

My grandmother was saint of a woman. She was generous to all who came to her, and she invited so many people into her family, whether they were blood-related or not. She was a humble, prayerful woman who lived in service of those around her. It makes me proud to be in the same family as her, and it is my goal to keep her legacy alive in my own actions and words.

Perhaps you have someone in your family that you are proud to claim as your own. Perhaps there is someone who inspired you, who loved you unconditionally, or who raised you to become to the person you are today. Like Benjamin Gates, we are challenged to honor their legacy - not just defending the family name, but by letting the great spirit of our ancestors live within us.

Thomas Gates was the man Benjamin was proud to claim; he, too, was willing to give the last full measure of devotion, as Thomas did, for what he believed was right and honorable in this world.

How can you and I live up to and become the embodiment of the spirit of those who have gone before us? How will our own actions today inspire future generations tomorrow? I pray that each of us will find greater purpose to our lives through the great and honorable lives of our family members who have made us so very proud.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I Am Legend

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone."
Isaiah 9:1

When I watched I Am Legend, my heart raced, my hands shook, and my teeth rattled a bit, never knowing when something would jump out at our hero in the dark.

I Am Legend is basically a story of the daily survival routine of Army captain and scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith), who appears to be the only man in New York City (perhaps also the world) in the year 2012 who is immune to a deadly virus that destroyed humanity in 2009.

In the three years since the virus mutated the human race into rabid creatures, Neville has been trying to investigate and potentially cure this plague. It's not an easy task, though; he must seek out animal and human subjects by night to test his theories. And at night, in the bleak darkness, these creatures rabidly feast on blood, making this much more difficult than your average science experiment. (it seems the mutants cannot live in the light; their skin burns alive when exposed to any light source).

Regarldess of the threat to his life, Neville remains stationed at his post in Manhattan, determined to save humanity from the virus that destroyed it. Even though he has lost his faith in God, he stays committed to helping the very creatures that want to eat him alive.

As I watched the film, my own survival mode kicked in. As I said before, there were times that I was truly frightened of the world in front of me on the silver screen. I was hoping that Robert Neville would pack up, forget the medical station, and go elsewhere. But he didn't. Even when another non-infected human finds Neville and tries to get him to join them in their run to a survivors colony in Vermont, he refuses to leave his post.

One might call this man suicidal, but I Am Legend shows that this is the life of a true hero.

The hero takes responsibility for not only his or her actions, but the actions of all humanity. The hero must oftentimes run alone, distant and apart from the world. The hero remains committed to their mission and vision. The hero acts with unconditional compassion towards all, even those that despise, hate, and even want to destroy them. And most importantly, the hero gives their life for the sake of the rest of the world.

Our lives may not be filled with blood-feeding zombies and we may not live in a post-apocolypic wasteland, but we are still called to be a hero. Isaiah 9 speaks of the hope this world has of its heroes: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone." (Is. 9:1)

If we are to be heroes, if we are to help one another, we must be prepared to live as Robert Neville and shine brightness in the darkness. Compassion, dedication, service, and selfless sacrifice are what defines a hero. Each of us is called to live like we were the last person on earth, and the fate of the planet depended upon us. It sounds outrageous and over-the-top, but if we could point our compass towards that goal in our everyday world, imagine what we might be able to accomplish.

It's probably not going to be easy, as it wasn't easy for Robert Neville, but there is light at the end for those who dare to go there.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sweeney Todd

"Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have with one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you." Colossians 3:13

This review contains spoilers. Be warned.

All Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) had to do was forgive. Because he did not, a chain of unfortunate events led him (and many others) to a tragic death.

In Sweeney Todd, Barker was falsely accused and imprisoned for fifteen years for a crime he did not commit. Meanwhile his wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) was raped by a jealous judge (Alan Rickman), and his daughter (Jayne Wisener) was imprisoned by the same man. While it may have been hard to do, all he had to do was forgive.

Instead, Barker morphs into the vengeful, brooding Sweeney Todd, a barber whose lust for blood is perfect for the sinister Mrs. Lovett (Helen Bonham Carter) who uses Todd's dead victims for her mincemeat pies. But this bloodlust leads Todd to accidentally murder his own wife, and eventually to his own death.

But had he forgiven the injustices to him (severe though they were), he would have avoided this sad twist of fate.

Jesus said "Whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven." (Matt. 18:18). In other words, since Benjamin Barker was bound to his hatred, the very hatred was bound to him. He led a dark, unhappy, friendless life and died a tragic, loney death. Had he loosened his anger, maybe his new life would have been less tragic, perhaps even joyous?

Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things for us to do. Anger and hatred are our human response to the injustice in this world and to ours very selves. When we are hurt, our body naturally wants to react against it; it is our primal nature. But Christ came to show us that we are better than our primal nature. Forgiveness goes against the laws of nature, for it shows us a glimpse of the laws of heaven.

Paul begged the Colossians to "bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you have with one another" just as "the Lord has forgiven you." (Colossians 3:13) I love the translation here: "bear with one another" - sometimes it simply comes down to this. We may not like forgiving each other, but we must grin and bear it - for it is the essense of the kingdom of God.

Benjamin Barker had much to be angry about. His life and all that was precious to him was taken from him in the blink of an eye. More than that, he could point to the very people who put him in this place. It is understandable why Barker become the vengeful Sweeney Todd.

But that is not our calling, if we are to be followers of God.

No matter what harm or injustice befalls us, we are commanded to forgive. For if we don't, we might be bound to the hatred that overwhelms us and our lives may never be the same. I am not saying that those who forgive will lead sunny, perfect lives; but I am saying that those who do not forgive will never lead sunny, perfect lives. Psychologists have even discovered that those who don't forgive are tortured throughout their lives, and that torture eats away at their pysche. Sweeney Todd is an extreme example of this proven phenomenon.

Jesus ceaselessly preached forgiveness. It is one of the major themes of the four gospels, not to mention countless other religious texts from around the world. Two thousand years later, we still haven't heard it enough, for vengance and hatred are still present in our world.

What freedom, what joy awaits us when we let loose our anger. Imagine what joy the world might experience if everyone did the same. What great possibilities await those who forgive!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

"If you walk amidst the burning flames, you shall not be harmed. If you stand before the power of hell and death is at your side, know that I am with you, through it all. Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come follow me,and I shall give you rest."

- Be Not Afraid (Catholic Hymn by Bob Dufford, S.J.)

In a quiet Colorado town, "Aliens" and "Predators" have crash landed, and the humans are once again caught in the middle of their fight.

This is the basic premise of the film, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, the sequel to the first Alien vs. Predator movie, which itself is a symphony of two successful alien-monster franchises from the past thirty years.

ven though both are extraterrestial, the "Aliens" (as they are called) are a parasitic, insect-like species whose only purpose is to procreate and eat, whereas the "Predators" are a humanoid hunter species who simply enjoy the game of the hunt (and the "Aliens" are their favorite sport). They crash land on earth by accident, but the "Aliens" have no problem making Colorado their new home.

Caught in the middle is the human race.

We didn't start the fight, but we are definitely in the mix.

In fact, the devastation is so severe that the townspeople in Colorado are being eliminated one by one until there are barely any survivors. For the few that make it half-way through the movie alive, their only concern is survival.

In our world (our real world, that is), we aren't being picked off by "Aliens" or "Predators." But often, we find ourselves surrounded by chaos we didn't even start. So often, on Election Day, I hear people say they won't vote because they didn't have any say in picking the candidates; I also hear from young adults who say that they want to quit their jobs because the corporate corruption or the negative culture overwhelms them. Today we live in a war-torn world in a battle the everyday Americans like you and me didn't start, and it leads us to throw up our hands and give up. Nothing you and I can do will make a bit of difference, right?

Those few humans in Aliens vs. Predator could have also given up - they were surrounded by enemies on every side and all looked hopeless. Their story is an example for us.

I am reminded of a familiar Catholic hymn, Be Not Afraid, when I think of this movie. In the song, God encourages us to rely on Him, and when we do, we can make it through anything, and we can even come out victorious. In this film, the few brave humans let go of their fears and worked together to overcome the impossible.

We don't have to worry about "Aliens" and "Predators," but God calls you and me to never think anything is too big for us, and to never disengage ourselves from the world, even if we didn't have a hand in causing the world's troubles. Like the surviving humans in this story, we need to stick together with good people who share our vision, and trust that God will be with us through the worst of times.

That is God's promise to us: "Be not afraid. I go before you always."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Dreaming in a Postmodern World

Can a storybook romance survive in our real world?

In the cynical, postmodern world of today, the skeptics would say "no, it can't." Real life seems to indicate that "happily ever after" is an impossible, foolish dream. Prince Charming does not fall out of the tree into your lap, and true love is not something that happens overnight.

In a sense, the skeptics are right. But Enchanted, the newest fairy tale movie from Disney, shows us that in the postmodern age, we might need to redefine what we mean by a storybook romance.

In this story, Giselle (Amy Adams) is sent to a very modern New York City from her cartoon paradise. Her prince (James Marsden) chases after her, but finds her too late; she is already smitten with newfound love Robert (Patrick Dempsey), who also happens to be engaged to a lovely, real-life New York woman (Idina Menzel).

What makes Enchanted more than a fairy tale is that Giselle and the Prince must let go of certain fairy tale misconceptions (that true love requires work and mutuality instead of being an overnight sensation; that evil henchmen aren't just evil, they might also be misunderstood or neglected; or that anger and frustration aren't just emotions experienced by the "bad guys" but that we all have good and bad moments throughout our lives).

On the other hand, Robert (and other "real world" characters) learn some valuable lessons: that chivalry and romance is still honorable in our world; that we must let go of our insecurities to truly experience life and love; and most importantly, that we cannot be afraid to dream.

In a cynical world, dreaming is considered foolish. But we must remember that the world is built on dreamers. From Joseph with his coat in the Hebrew Scriptures to Joseph with his child Jesus in the New Testament, from the dreams of Columbus to Martin Luther King Jr., we are inspired to follow and look up to the dreamers of history.

Whether we dream big or small, whether we dream of career or marriage, or whether we dream about our destiny or a peaceful destiny for the whole world, we should not be afraid to dream.

"Ask and it will be given to you," said Jesus, "Seek and you will find." (Matt. 7:7).

If you call it praying, or if you call it dreaming, or both, Jesus tells us to do it no matter what the odds might be. Perhaps our answers and our dreams won't look exactly as we envisioned them (for Giselle in Enchanted, she dreamed about true love's kiss, but it wasn't from the prince she thought it would be from). We also have to be humble enough to accept the fulfillment of our dreams as God intends it to be.

Enchanted challenges us to live our lives with one foot planted in reality and one foot on the clouds. With reliance on God to answer our dreams and prayers, we can always be assured that, one way or another, we will live "happily ever after."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Golden Compass

Lyra's Sad, Sad World.

There has been much controversy surrounding the release of New Line Cinema's Golden Compass, the movie based on atheist author Philip Pullman's first novel of the fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials. But upon seeing the film, I am more saddened than angry.

What a sad universe these movie characters live in.

What most disturbs me about The Golden Compass is that it has a rather childish look at authority, government, and institutions.

The author projects himself into the young heroine Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), who seems to do the opposite of what anyone asks of her - just because she has the free will to do so. What is dangerous about this is that the book and film seem to suggest that free will means having the ability and the right to refuse the advice, counsel, or instruction of anyone else, and that any teaching from authority figures is usually wrong and abusive.

Throughout the film, Lyra disobeys and ignores everyone from the evil Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) to the friendly polor bear Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellen). Then the storyline seems to reward Lyra for each of her choices of disobedience and mistrust.

The plot also paints the world into two extremes: either you submit like a slave to any authority figure, or you run free, disobeying everything and charting your own course. The one extreme is represented by a malacious theocracy called the "Magisterium" while the other is represented by the plucky (and rather annoying) twelve-year old Lyra.

While the movie does not come out and blame the Catholic Church for all the evils in this world, it does have an undercurrent message that most authority figures are to be mistrusted. It also has an overly simplistic understanding of moral teaching.

When churches, governments, or institutional religion talk about ethics and morals, they are offering guidence and wisdom, not a fascist conscription, as the movie seems to suggest.

Yes, the film does warn against the abuse of authority, which is always good to remind ourselves. And while I would love to say that the movie suggests we should follow our consciences, it actually does not (Lyra's "conscience," represented in the form of her daemon or animal, warns the girl on numerous occasions to go the other way, which she quickly refuses).

There are other hypocritical and contradictory moments in the film: while Pullman has complained in interviews that killing in the name of religion is wrong, he seems to have no problem killing off a number of innocents in this movie (hence the PG-13 rating). On that particular point, the film has a number of battle sequences in which the daemons of the fallen create a spectacular fireworks display, dazzling the audiences with a great light display; but then you realize that every sparkle represents a life being taken - which is quite disturbing.

Even though the movie has stripped much of the religious references of the books, it is still sad to think how limited Pullman's world has become. Does he really think churches are designed to take away its believers' identities? Does he really think that listening to the wisdom of the church means that we have no soul? Does he really think that the church seeks out children to abuse them? How sad if he does.

I pray that those who see this movie have a deeper faith than that. I pray that this movie does not push others away from a loving, benevolent God or a welcoming community of faith.

Finally, and ironically, despite the author's best efforts to keep Him out, God does show up in this movie after all.

Perhaps not fully in Lyra, and surely not in the exaggerated "Magisterium" or the icey government operative Mrs. Coulter.

Rather, a glimpse of God can be seen in the kindly and nomadic Texan aeronaut Mr. Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot) whose role in the story is to protect Lyra and the other children from harm. Despite how negative Lyra can be, he still takes an oath to protect her and her friends. Scoresby serves as the only character in this movie to scoff at war, a brave, nonviolent position amongst the battle-hungry polar bears, the vengence-minded Gyptians, the war-mongering witches, and the disobedient Lyra.

Even though our world is much nicer than Lyra's world, sometimes we feel like Lee Scoresby, all alone in our gospel values among violence, anger, vengence, and fear. Sadly, the plot of this particular story (and the forthcoming sequels) will prove Mr. Scoresby wrong, but the plot of our story - authored by a wonderful creator God - will prove that Christ-like people are always on the side of true (never haughty) righteousness.

If we could pray for fictional characters, I would pray for Lee Scoresby, that might find a home with us, in our universe, and with our God whom he seems to channel so very well.

As we approach Christmas this year, let us thank God for creating such a wonderful world, where ethics are beautiful guideposts on the road of life, not stumbling blocks as they are for Philip Pullman and his Golden Compass.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


"All in good time, we will reap what we sow." Galatians 6:9

What's ironic about the new film version of Beowulf is that it warns against the very things that made the original Anglo-Saxon poem so popular in the first place.

Reputation and legacy were the foremost concern of the old English, who wrote the epic story of Beowulf ten centuries ago; but in the movie, reputation and legacy are the very things that weigh down and eventually destroy the hero. That said, it's probably a good thing we have evolved as a culture.

We first meet Beowulf (played by Ray Winstone) as a warrior who has built his own legend, supported by the adoration of his countrymen and reinforced by his own suave storytelling. He comes to the aid of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) as his kingdom is being torn apart by Grendel (Crispin Glover), a hideous, deformed monster who eats people because he cannot stand the noise of merrymaking. But Beowulf does not come to help because he wants to help the frightened people of the kingdom; he comes because of reputation.

This proves to be his undoing. Because of this reputation, he won't rest until his legend has been written. Even love of the queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) cannot stop Beowulf from securing his legacy. While this chain of events leads the hero to establishing his own kingdom, it also leads him to a life of unhappiness.

Beowulf sowed the seeds of reputation, pride, and power early in his life. In ancient days, this might have been admirable or noble. But to what end? By the end of his life, he reaped what he sowed: a harvest built on dishonesty, deceit, and cowardace? In the film version of this epic tale, we find that Beowulf must literally reap what he had sown - his own son (a spectacular dragon birthed from an illicit affair with Grendel's mother, played by Angelina Jolie).

If we are destined to reap what we have sown, what seeds have we already planted that we must account for? Did we build our careers on the backs of others or through hard work? Did we come to the aid of others for our glory or out of love of neighbor? Do we cover up the secrets of our past from those we love or are we honest and forthright? Are we more concerned about our own legacy, reputation, and image than about the world around us?

In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he reminds the readers, "If you sow in the fields of this world, you will reap a harvest of corruption; for if your seed-bearing ground is the Spirit, you will reap an everlasting life. Let us never grow weary of doing good in our day to day lives. So long as we keep up our good efforts, all in good time, we will reap what we sow." (Gal. 6:8-9)

While God is merciful, we cannot rely only upon that mercy for last-minute help. We cannot say, "One day, when I settle down, I will do the right thing." We cannot say, "I can get away with this for now, and make it up later." We cannot say, "It's just one little lie, one little fib." Each and every day, with each and every action, we plant the seeds of our life. If we plant bad seeds now, imagine what we will have to contend with in the days to come.

Beowulf thought like this, and it got back to him in the end. We do not know when our time of judgement will come. We do not know when the harvest will come in. What we do know is what seeds we've planted, and what we need to do to make it a beautiful harvest.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fred Claus

Everyone gets a second chance.

Santa Claus isn't perfect. He may be a saint, but he's not perfect.

In Fred Claus, a light-hearted holiday movie with Vince Vaughn as the titular character, the older brother of Santa (played by Paul Giamatti).

We learn that Fred, a Chicago repo man, lives a sad life, angry to live in the shadow of his infamous brother since the time the two were kids growing up long ago. But despite his imperfections, Fred possesses great wisdom - some even greater than Santa himself.

When we catch up with Fred in this movie, he has been thrown in jail for stealing money from the Salvation Army Santa on Michigan Avenue; his relationship with girlfriend and meter maid Wanda (Rachel Weisz) is down the tubes; and he's desperate for money. Santa says he'll bail out his brother and get him some cash if he just comes up for a visit to the North Pole.

When we arrive at Santa's village, we learn of the black-and-white world of "naughty" and "nice." Fred is put in charge of stamping letters as one or the other; the "nice" get presents while the "naughty" get nothing (and just where does Santa draw the line between the two?... it's a philosophical question, don't you think?).

Philosophy aside, Fred simply can't take it. He stamps all the kids "nice" so that everyone gets a gift; unfortunately that haults production at the North Pole and due to this backlog, the sniveling efficiency manager Clyde (Kevin Spacey) shuts down the whole Christmas operation altogether.

But there is great wisdom in what Fred has done. While he hasn't excused the bad deeds of the "naughty" kids, he has given them a second chance. What Fred understands and what Santa doesn't is that sometimes kids need to be loved, to be told they're special in someone's eyes, to be given a second chance. Even Santa repents, and ends up giving long-ago "naughty" kid Clyde his Superman cape, showing him that love and compassion is the perfect answer to jealousy and hate.

Fred reminds Santa that the world is not black-and-white. "Nice" kids can sometimes be naughty, and "naughty" kids have the potential to be really nice.

Santa wasn't perfect, but thanks to his big brother (who needed a second chance himself), he was able to treat all children as he treated family.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, let's vow to love our enemies and any "naughty," unlikable people we know. Perhaps that love might be the second chance that might turn their lives around. Jesus told us (in a rough translation), "If someone wants to battle you over what you deserve, give them half your stuff anyway" (Matt. 5:40).

Give freely to all people, even the "naughty" ones - this is the gospel message that Fred Claus gave his brother, and that Jesus gave to us. Let's pray we will be able to follow it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Life is beautiful.

The movie Bella, a low-budget international film which debuted over a year ago at the Toronto Film Festival, was recommended to me through several pro-life groups around the Diocese of Joliet, where I work.

Intially recommended to me as an anti-abortion movie, Bella turned out to be so much more than that.

In a nutshell, Bella is a story that takes place over twenty-four hours - it is the journey of Jose,(Eduardo Verástegui), a restaurant chef and former soccer star living in grief, guilt, and self-loathing; Nina (Tammy Blanchard), a just-fired waitress who finds out that she's pregnant that morning; and Manny (Manny Perze), the restaurant owner and Jose's brother.

Jose, Nina, and Manny are stuck in their own lives, afraid to connect with the outside world. Manny is lost in his business, Nina is lost in her confusion, and Jose is lost in his past.

Over the course of the 90 minutes of this film, Jose and Nina leave the restaurant and help each other out of their fears, while Manny learns the lessons of isolation the hard way when his best chef and his best waitress quit on the busiest day.

Jose draws Nina out of her dispair and challenges her to make the right choice for her child. Nina gives Jose new life after living in horrible guilt over an involuntary manslaughter several years back. Jose and his family help Manny remember to see people as more than workers in his restaurant.

This is a film about relationships and opening up.

This is a film about overcoming our past and facing our future.

This is a film about the beauty of life - all of life.

Earlier in his life, Jose accidentally took another life in a tragic car accident. Manny drives the life out of people through his actions and negativity. And Nina has the choice to bring new life into the world through an unexpected pregnancy. And through it all, through the building of new relationships, the dignity of life is re-established for these characters.

Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, past Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, spoke often of the "seamless garment" of life - that we ought to concern ourselves with the preservation and love of all life - from unborn children to the homeless, depressed, and sick, from the criminal on death row to the elderly and fragile. Bernardin taught that our passion for defending life should be seamless, that it shouldn't just be for one issue, but every single aspect of the human experience.

On this earth, we are called to care for ourselves, for each other, and for each other's lives. Just because we cannot see and interact with an unborn child does not mean we should not take care of it. Just because we aren't living near an Iraqi insurrgent does not mean we have the right to kill them in war. Just because we have authority over other people does not mean we can strip them of their dignity. Just because we hate the crimes committed by a murderer does not mean we should become killers ourselves and support their capital punishment.

In Bella, Nina was called to care for Jose. Jose was called to care for Nina and her unborn child. Nina, Jose, and their family were called to care for Manny. And Manny was called to care for each and every one of them, too.

Each of us is called to care for all of life, even those we don't know and even those we don't like.

When we see our lives with the purpose of caring for all life around us, when this "seamless garment" ethic becomes ingrained in our souls, we won't have to worry about abortion, war, capital punishment, poverty, disgrace, rape, or hatred and prejudice.

Life is beautiful.... bella. All life, everyone, everywhere, everytime.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

American Gangster

"Persevere." Matt. 24:13

American Gangster is an unsettling film.

This is the real life story of Frank Lucas (played here by Denzel Washington), an African-American Harlem mob boss who rose to power in the late 1960s and 1970s.

American Gangster treats Lucas' story as a grittier version of The Godfather, but in this movie, you don't feel affection for the crime lords; in fact, you can't wait until this man is put away. But for two hours, you watch a killer live a life of luxury and comfort while kids die in the street from the drugs he sells and while he and his soldiers brutally kill innocent men and women.

Watching the worst of the worst get away with murder, and then watching the cops around him do nothing because of their own greed and corruption, was a very unsettling, unpleasant experience watching this movie.

Add to that the story of Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), an honest New Jersey cop who lives a life of truthfulness, righteousness, and innocence partly due to his own search for redemption for his past - his womanizing, his cheating, his bad marriage. The road to redemption is never easy for Roberts, who is assigned to the Lucas case to track down the mob boss.

Both Roberts and Lucas are men in need of redemption. But only Roberts succeeds.

This movie is a reminder that living honestly is not going to be luxurious, living innocently is not going to be easy, and living the gospel will probably mean suffering in one way or another. This movie is also a reminder that, sometimes, the "bad guy" gets all the perks, and even gets away with murder (at least in this life).

In Matthew 24, Jesus describes times of tribulations for his disciples. Jesus said it wouldn't be easy, but at the same time exhorted his followers not to take up arms against it, but "the one who perseveres to the end will be saved." (Matt. 24:13).

This movie is one giant tribulation. And while Lucas finally faces justice (to the melody of "Amazing Grace," no less), we find out that his punishment was minor compared to the murders, corruption, drug-trafficking, and horrors that this man committed. We might get discouraged that justice wasn't truly done for all that he did.

But that's just part of tribulation. In the end, the punishment of this world won't matter much to God. It will be in His hands then. But if we persevere in honesty, truthfulness, honesty, gentleness, kindness, compassion, and love, it won't matter how this world treats us.

We are all like Roberts and Lucas, in desperate need of redemption.

But we are called to be like only one of them: Richie Roberts, enduring the hardships that go along with being gospel-driven people. It might be rough, tough, and unsettling, but God prays for us that we will persevere regardless, and come out clean on the other side.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bee Movie

Is that it?

In Bee Movie, Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld) is destined to be another typical worker bee in the hive, but that destiny is something he desperately wants to avoid. When given a tour of the hive and its honey manufacturing, he wonders "Is that it?"

Too often, we also ask this of ourselves, especially when we're stuck in the same routine day after day, month after month, year after year. "Is that it?"

So Barry got creative and snuck out with the flight squad so that he could see what else is out there. He winds up stuck on the outside, with no other option than interact with humans. While "bee law" forbids conversations with humans, Barry still decided to go for it. The first person he speaks to is the florist Vanessa (voiced by Renee Zellweger), with whom he makes an instant connection. But he keeps asking "Is that it?" Not only does Barry want to go out of the hive, not only does Barry want to talk with humans, but Barry still wants more. He wants to develop a serious relationship with Vanessa. He wants to make it big in the real world. He wants to crusade against human honey production, a trade that we've had since the dawn of time.

But this is where it gets bad for Barry (and the rest of us). Because of his constant uncomfortability with his present circumstances, he ends up destroying our ecosystem and its balance of nature. The honey stops, the flowers die, the world becomes lifeless.

Unfortunately, Barry was selfish, always unsatisfied with the world around him. His goal in life was to find "greener grass" on the other side of the fence. It wasn't until he realized that the gift of honey was not to be hoarded and hidden, but to be shared. He realized his life wasn't meant to be leaving the hive all alone, but to be shared with old and new friends alike. He realized that he couldn't keep Vanessa to himself, but he had to share her with the world.

How often do we keep thinking of ourselves like Barry? How often do we get down on ourselves because of the hand we're dealt in life? How often do we ask "Is that it?" instead of thanking God for the "it" we've been given?

Do we trust God enough to know that he will take care of us? Do we trust God enough so that we won't have to look at our lives now and ask "Is that it?"

If God so loves the bees (and the birds and the lilies of the field, as in Matthew 6:26-30), and provides for all their needs, will he not do the same for us? God has provided and will continue to provide enough for us in this life so that we never have to ask "Is that it?" ever again.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Michael Clayton

What would it take...?

It seems morbid to ask this question, but as I began watching Michael Clayton, I was left wondering (about the main character, played by George Clooney, but also about myself): "What would someone have to do to be the target of an assassination plot?"

As I said, it sounds downright morbid, but that is the question we are left wondering for the majority of this movie, most of which takes place in backstory.

In this film, Michael Clayton is a legal "fixer" in a major New York law firm whose car gets blown up in the first ten minutes of screen time. The rest of the movie explains what Clayton had to do to become the target of that explosion. In the backstory, we find that Clayton found some inspiration from his colleague Arther Edens (Tom Wilkenson) who himself discovered that he was engaged in lies and deceit to win a case for their client U/North and litigator Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton). But U/North and Crowder can't lose this multi-million dollar lawsuit either. With money figures like that, it's rather "inconvient" for Edens and Clayton to develop a conscience.

But that is what propels this story on. This is the story of two men's search for the truth, and finding that the truth isn't what they expected.

This film reminded me of the number of young adults whom I work with who tell me that they are stuck in jobs that make them compromise their integrity, lest they lose their job, money, or even their livelihood. Michael Clayton can serve as a source of inspiration. Like many of us, Clayton is far from being a saint - and doing the right thing isn't always the first choice when our jobs and our financial security is on the line.

But what would it take to make us hated, even to the point of death, for living with integrity? What would it take to put us in Michael Clayton's shoes? This movie reminds us that this life is not one that is comfortable, easy, or ends with a glossy Hollywood ending. Instead, doing the right thing will probably lose some friendships, affect our careers, and mess with our finances.

But at what cost?

"Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me and the gospel is not worthy of me or my gospel. In fact, whoever keeps his comfortable life will surely lose it; but whoever loses that kind of life for the sake of the gospel will ulimately find it again." (Mt. 10:38-39).

This is the hard and difficult passage I am reminded of after seeing Michael Clayton. I don't really like it, to be honest with you. As I sit comfortably at my computer writing this blog entry, I don't that that prospect. However, this is the challege I feel God calling me to once again. I suppose that is why the symbol of my faith is a cross, not because it looks good on jewelry, but because this is the goal we are all asked to strive towards, like it or not.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

"He who pursues justice and kindness will find life and honor." Prov. 21:21

In the film 3:10 to Yuma, we follow the characters on a journey through the West and through their own souls.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is the leader of an outlaw gang, who is admired by his followers and feared by his rivals. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is the opposite: a down-on-his-luck, un-noticed, handicapepd (one wooden leg due to an injury in the Civil War) husband and father, looked upon with distaste by his own sons.

One man (Wade) sits on the top of the world, while the other (Evans) is squeezed to the bottom.

But when Evans accidentally stumbles on Wade (and soon after is instrumental in capturing him), he finds a one-of-a-kind chance to rise above it all. The reward for getting Wade to the train (the "3:10 p.m. train to Yuma", hence the movie's title) is $200, which would surely help Evans and his poor family out of a financial mess.

Evans' actions might be motivated by money, but he soons finds he is motivated by another cause: to show his sons and his family (and the world) that doing the right thing is the real joy of this journey through the West. His character finds great wisdom, perhaps inspired by a Biblical proverb like "He who pursues justice and kindness will find life and honor" (Prov. 21:21).

Wade's charcter, too, goes on a journey in this film. Starting out as a wild outlaw, he is almost inspired and touched by Evans' conversion of heart; in the end, he finds that honoring someone who showed him great kindness is of greater value than escaping the prison train to Yuma. While the violence of Wade (even in the final scenes) is inexcusable, he does have his own conversion of heart and realigns his loyalties to those who pursue justice and kindness, rather than those who pursue self-gratification and greediness.

Whether we're motivated by craving selfless honor or by the example of another, we are all on a journey in this life. Sometimes that journey takes us all over the wilderness, through unchartered territory, and alongside less-than-admirable companions (as it literally did for both Wade and Evans in 3:10 to Yuma).

But will we make our final train? Will we turn back in fear of where the train leads or will we have the courage to potentially sacrifice ourselves for a greater purpose?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Kingdom

"You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I tell you: offer no resistance to one who is evil."
Matt. 5:38

The Kingdom troubled me. But will it trouble others, too? We can only hope.

Advertised as an action film about the current situation in the Middle East, this movie was meant to get action-film fans into the theatres and pack them with a troubling message about the war overseas. It meant to convey an real-life, gruesome, Saving Private Ryan-like bloody image of war, hoping that action fans would think twice about this quagmire we're in over there.

Unfortunately, I don't think it had that effect. As I sat in the theatre, audiences cheered loudly when Jennifer Garner's character brutally killed a Saudi insurgent. I am not excusing the terrorist for their actions in the film; however, the message that violence begets violence seemed to delight the audience instead of repulsing them.

Perhaps it is an indication of the spiritual journeys of where we all were in the audience. War and violence sickens me. Even the so-called "just war" is disgusting in my eyes.

So to see the downward spiral of violence in this movie, with one act of war followed by a greater response, which in turn propels an even worse response, leading to even worse retaliation, and so forth. The Kingdom shows us just that. But what is our reaction to that sickening cycle?

This seems to be the way of things in our world outside the movie theatre, too.

Overseas, suicide bombers and sharpshooters are killing American soldiers and people throughout the Middle East because of the United States war there for the past six years. And that war was launched because of the attacks of September 11th. And that terrorist attack was a response to American foreign policy in the Middle East in the late 20th Century. And so on and so forth, a real-life downward spiral.

The Kingdom is a fictional snapshot of how that all unfolds. Even the final words of the film show us that this crisis may never end: both Jamie Foxx's character and a Saudi terrorist cell leader both confide that their whole motivation for their actions in this movie were simply out of retaliation - an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

This movie reaffirmed my stance on war and violence, which stemmed from my reading of Matt. 5:38: "You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you: offer no resistance to one who is evil." Jesus commands me to love my enemy, even if he or she hurts me. No matter how much pain others cause, his challenge is to love, not retaliate.

In my own life, I try to live by that standard. And in this nation, I pray that more people (especially those to whom elected office has been given) find inspiration in this standard as well. I fear, especially as I sat in that theatre a few days ago listening to the hoots and hollers of a delighted audience, that we are living in an eye-for-an-eye world. Can we ever get people, starting with actual Christians, to think as Jesus thought?

If we don't, I fear what this downward spiral might one day bring.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

"They can kill the mind and body, but they cannot kill the spirit." Matt. 10:28

In the The Bourne Ultimatum, we finally figure out who Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) really is. After three movies of suspense, mystery, action, and adventure, it seems that Jason Bourne is a man of faith.

Near the end of this movie, Bourne has a flashback of his first day on the job as a CIA operative and we get a quick glimpse of his military dogtags. Clear as day, under the name "David Webb" (his original name) is the word "Catholic."

I think it's that one glimpse that answers so much about the Bourne movies.

Here's my theory: As a young adult, Jason Bourne was a Catholic who fell away from his faith and instead put his trust in a secret government agency to bring about justice. But the lessons of his Catholic faith wouldn't subside - and found himself remembering "thou shall not kill" and "what did you do to the least of my brothers and sisters?" in the midst of his covert ops. When Bourne had a chance at a new life in The Bourne Identity (when he lost his memory), he resorted to the ethics and principles that had remained lodged in his subconscience. He may not have been able to remember his CIA training and kills, but he could never forget his morals.

I imagine that Jason Bourne had a Catholicity like many young adults today. The rituals and requirements, pomp and circumstance of the Roman Catholic faith did not connect with his everyday life, so he abandoned it for the ways of the world. However, what did connect was the Church's teachings on social justice, ethics, the dignity of life, forgiveness, compassion, and repentance. Those basic gospel values rang out loud and clear.

Jesus told his disciples this warning when he sent them out into the world, "They can kill the mind and body, but they cannot kill the spirit." (Matt. 10:28) As long as deep within us resides a spirit of justice and gospel values, those values will find us once again.

I wonder how many other people out there have fallen from the practice of their religion, but still hold true to the core of their faith?

How many other people are stuck in jobs and lives that lead us away from gospel values?

How many other people have sought out justice from the world, but found it lacking?

How many other people are trying to find out their core identity and their purpose in life?

At the core of Jason Bourne there wasn't just a guy named David Webb who once applied for covert operations at the CIA headquarters. At the core of Jason Bourne was a man of faith, with strong convictions, moral priciples and ethics, and a longing for redemption.

At the core of who we are, what will we find? And who can we encourage out there to search deep within for those values that truly define them in this world and the next?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

The gift of reason.

It's interesting how small characters can truly double in size on the big screen. The Simpson Movie does just that.

Simpsons' characters like Homer, Bart, Marge, Maggie, Lisa, as well as Ned Flanders, Moe the Bartender, and Mr. Burns are monumental in size, more monumental than they've ever been on the television screen. And like their visages, their personalities seem to double in size too.

On the big screen, Marge seems ever more nagging, Burns seems even more evil, Bart a bit more mischeveous, and unfortunately, Homer seems even more dumb.

In 30-minute increments, Homer's stupidity is more easily forgiven (for the sake of running time, he has to - he needs to do something stupid and repent in just a few minutes). But for 90-minutes of film time, his stupidity is magnified and the time until his realization is much longer. Even having a series run of 17 seasons magnifies the issue: you'd think after all this time, Homer would stop being dumb. It's like every episode (and now every movie), he has to be reminded how to act and speak again and again.

I pray that Homer Simpson is not the "everyman" that he once seemed to be. I pray that Americans aren't as dumb as he is or as forgetful of the people around him.

In The Simpsons Movie, Homer's misdeeds come because he thinks only of himself. He is a horrible father, a wayward husband, and a selfish person overall. Because he wanted a donut, he polluted a lake with toxic waste; because he always wanted a pet pig, he neglected his own son; because he only thinks of his own dream, he disregards the Springfield residents who (over many many episodes) have come to selflessly help Homer out in the past.

Even his "epiphany" in this film is shallow. He learns to care about others but only because by helping others, he will help himself. Helping others, in his "epiphany" is not about self-sacrifice, it is not about loving one's neighbor, it isn't even about being grateful for all the good things your neighbors have done for you. It's still just about him.

On the small screen, I love The Simpsons. It's a wonderful comedy about families and sticking together. But in the movie theatre, I hoped and prayed for more. I hoped and prayed for the honest social and moral commentary the show once had. I hoped and prayed for a Homer, who after so many seasons on the air, finally "gets it." I hoped and prayed, even in the course of this movie, that Homer would realize what he had done, repent, and do good for others because he truly cares for others - not just because, in saving Springfield he'll save himself.

This movie makes you think about how people like Homer don't think.

Approaching our relationships with others through the perspective of our hearts is wonderful; but we also need to use our head as well. We need to think a bit more about what we've done, what we're doing, and where God is taking us. We cannot reply on auto-pilot all our lives, and do things the way we've always done them or that way we're comfortable with. Living good lives involves some real brain power, something poor Homer does not have.

Let us pray for anyone we know like Homer, that they may learn to think before they act. God gave us all the power to reason; let's use that gift wisely.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix

"It's alright te be angry, but it's never alright to act upon it. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and never leave room in your heart for the devil." Eph. 4:26-27

Harry Potter, in this, his fifth movie, The Order of the Phoenix, is getting more and more angry.

The movie begins on a dark and stormy afternoon as Harry (played by Daniel Radcliffe) sits alone on a playground, deep in his own thoughts and mulling over his anger.

He is angry because his friends Ron and Hermione, as well as his godfather Sirius Black, haven't written him all summer. He is angry because he saw a Hogwarts classmate get killed by his archnemesis Voldemort just a few months earlier (as we saw at the end of The Goblet of Fire). He is angry because he has no friends when he comes home for the summer. He is angry because it seems nearly everyone in his life has rejected him.

Into this anger come two dementors, the hooded death-like guardians of the wizard prison Azkaban, have come for him, to suck out any remaining happiness from Harry's life.

While he is able to fend them off, this just leads to more anger.

We learn later that because of the connection between Harry and Voldemort through his lightening bolt-shaped scar, Harry feels what Voldemort feels - anger, hatred, and jealosy, among other negative emotions. As the movie goes on, Harry must resist reacting to his own life situations as Voldemort would react.

To counteract the negativity within him, he starts to rely more and more on his friends. He forms "Dumbledore's Army," a group of kids from Hogwarts who want to learn how to defend themselves against trouble (since their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and Hogwarts' new High Inquisitor, Dolores Umbridge, wonderfully portrayed by Imelda Stanton, refuses to teach such 'unnecessary' actions).

Through "Dumbledore's Army," the students learn how to effectly defend against evil, and Harry himself learns to work with others and not just do everything on his own. He even learns about handling relationships as he has his first kiss after one of the classes. By the power of friendships, he is able to control his anger.

And when Harry is about to head off alone to face Voldemort and his Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic, his friends give him another lesson in togetherness. They insist that they go with him, despite Harry's objections. Like the previous generation who banded together to form the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and his friends are a new generation who have learned that only when we act together, can we truly defeat evil.

In our own lives, we have many reasons each day to be angry. Things don't always go our way, or sometimes it's just as simple as someone cutting us off in traffic. When we are alone, these feelings of anger and resentment can overwhelm us, causing us to act upon them in sinful ways.

But when we have a support system, when we have friends and family to lift us up, we feel less inclined to act on those impulses. Our friends remind us why we should never do that.

God has given us to each other, not just for company on this planet, but also because to deal with anger, hatred, and fear, we need one another.

Voldemort, in the Harry Potter films, acts alone (his Death Eaters are his servants, not his friends); but Harry Potter and his allies act together. No matter which film it is, Harry always has Ron and Hermione, Dumbledore and even Severus Snape (teaching us that sometimes we need to work with people we don't particularly like all the time).

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians reminds us, when we're alone and angry: "It's alright te be angry, but it's never alright to act upon it. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and never leave room in your heart for the devil." (4:26-27). One might imagine this is what Jesus himself had in mind when, at the Last Supper, he told his disciples, "I no longer call you slaves... I call you my friends." (John 15:15) With friends, Jesus was able to transform the world. Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix calls us to the same.

So who is in your own Order of the Phoenix? Who is there when we grow angry and desire to act on that anger? Who is it that God has called you to work together with to transform the world and overcome evil? I pray that we all find our own Order of the Phoenix.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


There's more than meets the eye.

On the surface, Transformers is simply the new action-packed film featuring alien beings who transform themselves into our cars, trucks, planes, and electronic devices (so keep an eye on your ipod or your dvd player lest they get up and start walking around on their own).

Like the film itself, the message of the movie gets clearer once you peel away the ear-popping explosions and eye-stimulating special effects.

Ironically, Transformers, a mid-summer popcorn movie, is really a film about going deeper.

On the surface, our characters have a certain perception to others around them: Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LaBeouf) is just your average, picked-on teenager; Mikaela Banes (Meghan Fox) is just your average, good-looking, hangs-out-with-the-popular-guys kind of girl; and Sam's car is just a beat-up 1977 Chevrolet Camero. On the surface, that is.

But like the car, which "transforms" into Bumblebee, a mute Autobot with a talent for bringing young lovers together, Sam and Mikaela are much more than meets the eye.

Sam is an Ebay regular, a fun-loving but devoted son, who wants to seek out the truth about and one day grow up to be like his grandfather and his epic adventures in the Artic. Mikaela is someone escaping her past and her tragic family story, but also a girl who knows more than most about cars, driving, and engines.

If we didn't get to know them, we'd have written them off as run-of-the-mill teenagers, as the lovable geek or the hot cheerleader-type. And if we didn't know better (and we weren't in a Transformers movie), the 1977 Camero would just be someone's beat-up first car.

Sam, Mikaela, and Bumblebee (not to mention Autobot leader Optimus Prime, Australian computer genious Maggie Madsen, or Army Captain Lennox, among others) are just like us. Sometimes we feel like we're judged on who we appear on the outside, without anyone noticing our deeper stories, our real motives, or our fascinating past. Sometimes we believe everyone else who says that's all we really are.

Society today even reinforces our stereotype and the perceptions people have. We're put into demographic "boxes," but what angers us is that those "boxes" don't fit. They aren't us.
We easily classified by our jobs, our marital status, our towns, our economic bracket, our appearances, our clothes, our skin color, our religious preferences, our political affiilation, or whatever other "box" they have put us in.

Even if the world looks at us like this, God doesn't. And people of God shouldn't.

If we are to become people of God, then we need to look at others as "transformers" too. Like us, everyone else has a complex backstory and an incredible future ahead. We need to see others beyond their "box" and imagine what marvelous things we'll discover. In the Scriptures, Jesus even says, "Aren't you more than the food you eat or the clothes you wear?" (Mt. 6:25)

Our responsiblity is to believe that we are more than meets the eye, and to believe that everyone else is, too.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

that guy...

We all want to be "that guy." Each summer at the movies, we encounter a number of "that guy's" and in Live Free or Die Hard, we re-encounter the guy that started it all: Bruce Willis as John McClane.

McClane is the cop that goes above and beyond to save the day. Whereas the normal guys in blue just rush to the scene of a crime, John McClane is "that guy" who runs headlong into the action, saving the day from within. His is an inspirational story for heroes everywhere. To go into the heart of darkness without waiting for backup is admirable, risky, and courageous.

With three movies of that behind us, we enter Live Free or Die Hard. It seems like the characters in the movie have actually seen the previous Die Hard films, because it is Matt Farrell (Justin Long) who comments to McClane, "I'm not 'that guy' like you..." Matt is just a wide-eyed, out-for-the-common-man, computer hacker - he saves the day like a techno-Robin Hood of stealing from the rich and powerful for the sake of the rest of us. But he's far from admirable or courageous - he does his work behind a computer screen and doesn't exactly give back to the poor or anything.

We might see ourselves like Matt, too. Perhaps in our world, if we met John McClane, we might say that we're just a normal, cautious (even scared) person. We're not the kind of guys or girls who would save the day from within the heat of battle; we pray that trained professionals will get that job done.

But Matt and McClane move this fun movie ahead because both teach each other (and us) a valuable lesson.

Matt teaches McClane that others can help, too; he teaches him that brawn and muscle also need a bit of brain and smarts (especially in our 21st century world with computers and technology). On the other hand, McClane teaches Matt to step it up a notch - that being careful and cautious and not taking risks can lead to nothingness, too. He teaches him that sometimes we have to emerge from anonymity and become a leader.

And through this combination, both guys become "that guy".

We, too, can be "that guy" - perhaps not with nuclear weapons or giant computer viruses at stake - but we can step up behind the wall of anonymity and risklessness. If if we're more like Bruce Willis, we can take a step back and learn to work with others, especially those who have the gifts we don't have.

God calls us all to become extraordinary - or "that guy." Jesus was "that guy" who took risks and saved the day, but the disciples eventually became "that guy" too after the Resurrection. As Scripture says, they hid behind closed doors and tried to save the world that way; but it was when they came from behind the wall on Pentecost that they truly became "that guy."

We, too, are called to be extraordinary... like Jesus, like the disciples, like John McClane, and like Matt the computer hacker too.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Evan Almighty

"The Lord said to Noah, 'Make yourself an ark..." Gen. 6:14

This movie would seem like a no-brainer when it comes to finding God in Evan Almighty.

And yes, the movie has a core theme of helping to make the world a better place instead of focusing only on one's own self. There's also several sub-themes including fighting against corruption, standing for the environment, following your beliefs, and paying attention to your family.

However, the movie's plot and story actually cancel out these valuable moral messages.

In this movie, Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell) reprises his role from Bruce Almighty (2003); this time, though, Evan has been elected to Congress and takes his family to live in Washington DC. His campaign, won on the premise of making the world a better place, comes back to haunt him as God (Morgan Freeman) comes to cash in on that promise.

At this point in the movie, it's great. We sit in our church pews each Sunday and talk about the poor, the hungry, the dying people overseas and in our inner cities. We jump onto the newest charity or social cause (the environment, Habitat for Humanity, the tsunami, 9-11, etc.) but often times forget about it once the "fad" wears off. This movie, it seems, wants to remind us that God expects us to be truthful, consistant, and committed to the causes we profess.

But that's when the movie cancels out its fantastic message.

Soon, the film turns into a comedy riot watching Evan grow a long beard, don Biblical attire, and literally building a giant ark, probably an exact replica of the one featured in Genesis 6-8. In all this excitement, the audience forgets about the core message.

In a way, this movie contradicts itself. It seems the only way to change the world is to start talking, looking, dressing, and acting like someone from centuries-ago Palestine. In fact, as Evan becomes more Noah-like, he starts talking like he just memorized his Bible. Normal people with everyday lives, it seems, don't bring about change - only special saints are allowed to do that.

This movie is a radical departure from Bruce Almighty, which had an opposite premise: only when Bruce acts like a real human does he truly act "divine." Bruce is an accessible saint, one that we can all imagine ourselves in. Evan is aloof from our experiences (unless, of course, we have a spare ark in our backyard or talk with a Morgan Freeman-lookalike on a regular basis).

Imagine how it would have been if Evan was an ordinary guy who learned to save the environment or at least fulfill his campaign promises? These are the stories to inspire. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington felt more divine than this movie, and that one didn't need millions of dollars spent on training baboons and elephants.

So after seeing this movie, I went back to the first few scenes where I was hopeful for something great.

The message I took from this that we are called not just to say we're going to save the world, but to actually do something about it. Words mean nothing until we "cash them in" with God through our good works.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

How fantastic are you?

As opposed to many of the other superhero movies this or any summer, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer once again gives us at least four unique heroes with comic-book powers and equally comic-book personalities.

When we watch this film, we may find ourselves connecting with one or another of the characters. We start to see the movie's plot, situations, and challenges from the perspective of that character. We invest in that character, hoping their journey will be a worthwhile one by the time the credits roll.

So which of the main characters of Fantastic Four are you most like? How fantastic are you?

Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd)
Richards' ability is to stretch his body into all sorts of shapes and sizes, but what sets him apart is his superior intellegence. His mathematical and scientific skills led the Four to track and find the mysterious Silver Surfer, and escape in a brand new airplane. But what weakens Richards is his overconfidence in his smarts and forgetfulness of the relationships around him (including his fiancee Sue Storm). Are we like Reed Richards? Are we so consumed with our work that we forget to stop and smell the roses? Are we so obsessed with ourselves and forget the life-giving relationships all around us? Do we feel so 'stretched' that we cannot give enough time and attention to our loved ones? If so, maybe we're Mr. Fantastic, too.

The Invisble Girl/Sue Storm (Jessica Alba)
Sue Storm has the gift of turning invisble and creating a protective forcefield around her and others. In this movie, she yearns to give it all up just to enjoy her soon-to-be married life. She seems quite focused on preparing for the future in spite of the present. Regardless of what's going on right now, her attention is on what lies ahead. Are we like Sue Storm? Are we waiting for the perfect "tomorrow," frustrated with "today"? Do we just want to turn invisible and escape our life right now? If so, maybe we're just like the Invisible Girl.

The Human Torch/Johnny Storm (Chris Evans)
Flaming up and flying away in a firestorm are the powers of Johnny Storm. Just like his illuminating gifts, Storm is a fiesty pistol, enjoying life just a little bit TOO much. He moves from girlfriend to girlfriend, never feeling good enough to settle down. Are we like Johnny Storm? Are we all talk but no one really knows us deep inside? Do we draw attention to ourselves, so that no one notices the real issues lying within our soul? Are we lonely even in a crowd of people? If so, maybe we're torching up like Johnny Storm.

The Thing/Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis)
Grimm's unwelcome reaction to nuclear exposure in the first movie made him into a super-powerhouse rock man. Unlike the other three, Grimm's ability never turns off - in fact, it's almost akin to a deformity. While he's physically strong, Grimm is a soft guy at heart. He bemoans his fate as the rock-laden "freak" amongst his picture-perfect colleagues. But in this sequel, through the love of his girlfriend Alicia, he's the one who has it all together. His was the character I most identified with myself; even though I feel imperfect and awkward at times, sometimes feeling less important than others around me, it is through the love of my wife and my friends and family that makes me feel like a superhero. Are you like The Thing too? Do you have feelings of inadequecy? Do you feel like an outsider? But do you feel the power of the love of your friends and family lift you up beyond your own abilities? Maybe, like me, you're not unlike the rock-hard Ben Grimm.

The Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne)
In this film, the Silver Surfer is the quiet outsider who comes to earth to destroy it, but finds that our human love and compassion make this planet truly worth saving. The Surfer undergoes a conversion experience like Paul of Tarsus, whose original mission was to destroy the Christians but then became the new savior of this new movement. Are you like the Silver Surfer? Have you had a conversion experience that has changed your mind about your world? Do you find yourself light years away from where you once were, before you "saw the light"? Are you called to save the world? Then just maybe you're another Silver Surfer, too.

Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington)
One of the most underappreciated heroes of Rise of the Silver Surfer is someone unexpected, someone without a single superpower. Alicia Masters is the blind girlfriend of Ben Grimm, who loves The Thing despite the fact that her man is made of rock. She doesn't let her disability stop her from loving. She doesn't let the world tell her what to do with her life. Are you like Alicia? Are you someone who sees beauty in all things, regardless of their appearance? Are you someone who isn't going to let anyone impose their expectations on you? Are you living your life to the fullest, giving your love freely to all God's creation? Perhaps, then, you're just like Ms. Alicia Masters, the real life superhero of Fantastic Four.

What unites all these fantastic people is that they all struggle, but they go above and beyond their shortcomings, their problems, and their limitations. What makes these characters really fantastic isn't their superpowers, it's who they are inside.

Just like you and me: what makes us fantastic isn't what we can do, what our job is, or what strengths or skills we've been blessed with. What makes us fantastic is who we are deep down inside, and the person God is calling us to be - so that we, too, can save the world.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen

Rooting for the bad guys?

When I watched Ocean's Thirteen, I cheered the movie's "heroes," Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), and Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), as well as the other nine.

Then I caught myself... was I was rooting for thieves and criminals, and rooting against their target, Willy Bank (gleefully played by Al Pacino)? How could I, a professed Christian, cheer on the pickpocket and marvel at the downfall of a victimized man?

Why? Because even though Willy Bank is the "victim" of the film's heist, the larger crime really lies with him.

In this movie, Bank nearly killed his longtime partner Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) by cutting him out of a major business deal; he went against the Vegas "code," which is sort of like the "Golden Rule" except that it goes something like this: "Do unto others (who shook Frank Sinantra's hand) what you would have them do to you (who also shook Sinatra's hand)."

Reuben is left for dead and Bank breaks this time-honored "code."

To put things back in place, Danny Ocean offers Willy Bank a chance to redeem himself for such a senseless act; when Willy refuses, Ocean gathers his team together to even the stakes.

Their "crime," then is to put right what once went wrong. Their "crime" was to do what was fair, . Their "crime" was to stand up for a friend, even if it meant throwing away their own money.

No matter how big the film's theft was, the bigger villian we watcjed on screen was the one walking in plain sight. Willy Bank looked perfect with his awards and diamonds, but deep down, his heart was filled with greed, selfishness, and injustice.

To root against him, it seems, was the right thing to do.

Like the Latin American freedom fighters who believed in a "liberation theology," that God stands with the disadvantaged and marginalized against the corrupt and powerful, Danny Ocean and Co. are pouring their hearts and minds into their own image of justice.

Who do we stand with? What do we stand for?

By not standing up, the corrupt and powerful will always win. If we are people of inaction, then those that break the "code" will find no reason to stop.

If thirteen guys would lay down their fortunes just to help out their mentor, how much more should we lay down our good fortunes for the sake of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the outcast, the unloved, the sick or the dying?

We root for Danny Ocean because he is a man of action. Will people one day root for us? If we become people of action and justice, then yes, I think they will.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to all people, and to set the captives free." Isaiah 61:1

In their grand explosive finale, the producers at Disney have finally given us a very spiritual conclusion to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with its third installment, At World's End.

But contrary to the advertising and buzz, the hero to watch in this story is not Captain Jack Sparrow (wonderfully played by Johnny Depp). Sure, Captain Jack is on his way to a hero's journey; but the real one you'll want to watch is Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Like any good hero story (including the many we find in the Scriptures), the one whom destiny has chosen comes from the sidelines, not center stage. So while Captain Jack might entertain us for a few hours on screen, the true miracle of Pirates of the Caribbean lies with the handsome swordsmith from the first film.

"Destiny awaits you," declares vodoo priestess Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) to Turner in the second movie, Dead Man's Chest. But so what? Will Turner does not want destiny; all he really wants is to redeem and free his imprisoned father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and spend the rest of his days in love with Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly). Destiny, as he sees it, is something he doesn't really care about - all he wants is happiness for others.

Ironically, the very people in this film who want power are the ones for whom destiny has forgotten. Captain Barbossa (Geoffery Rush), Admiral Norrington (Jack Davenport), Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, underneath the tentacles), and especially Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) all crave power over others; all eventually will lose it.

Destiny has a funny way of choosing those who don't choose it. The prophet Isaiah among many other prophets tried to escape their destiny, but God has a funny way of choosing people like that.

Near the end of Isaiah's magnificent work, he reflects on his life and all those who are destined for true greatness: "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to all people, and to set the captives free." (Isaiah 61:1). If we, like Isaiah, the prophets, and blockbuster heroes like Will Turner, keep our eyes focused on freeing the captives and bringing good news to the poor and brokenhearted, God's grace will be upon us.

What makes a real hero? Ironically, one who doesn't even really he or she is a hero. Will Turner's goal in this perhaps-too-long third film is to simply free the captives (his dad) and love the brokenhearted (Elizabeth); but in the end, this selfless devotion to a higher good is what makes him the real hero of this story. And in a Christ-like allusion near the very end of the movie, Turner ends up doing more than save a few souls - he is able to save the world (well, perhaps just the Caribbean).

This summer, perhaps I need to be concerned less with being a hero like the ones in the movies, but rather be concerned with bringing good news to the poor, saddened, hungry, poverty-striken, alienated, margainalized, beaten down, meek, and grieving. Who knows? Perhaps that is just what it takes to be the real hero.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Shrek the Third

Are you a person of action?

Mature responsibility is a heavy crown, one that a lot of people avoid.

In Shrek the Third, the titular green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) is thrust into a world of responsibility that he has either avoided or rushed through over three movies. He now has to grapple with the heavy responsibility of possible kingship and an even more important role of being a new dad.

But Shrek would rather stay content in his swamp, letting the days fly as the mud and swampgrass hang from the trees – and most importantly – devoid of responsibility.

Even the “villains” of this movie (led by Prince Charming, voiced by Rupert Everett), want to experience all the glory of being “heroes” without the responsibility of caring for the people of the kingdom. Almost everyone, it seems, wants to escape responsibility.

Except, perhaps, Fiona (voiced by Cameron Diaz), the true heroine of the film.

Fiona is one of the few characters not succumbed by a fear of maturity, but unfortunately for her character, she is a woman and subjected to a supporting role in the film. In a sense, many of the women in real life have to endure similar roles; they tackle and accept responsibility, but society seems to favor the journey of the man rather than the woman. Shrek the Third redeems itself by making the women with Fiona the most exciting collection of heroes to watch.
Responsibility is something many people shrink from. Responsibility is the calling card of the hero or heroine in any life situation. Responsibility means sacrificing our time, energy, and even our very selves (reputation, image, and even life) for others or for a task laid out before us. Responsibility may not be easy, but in the end, it’s always worth it.

But often times, doing nothing is the easiest thing to do.

Doing nothing means we are free from action. Doing nothing means we free from having to answer for our faults or failings. Doing nothing means we have put ourselves before others, and that others can take care of things instead of us. Doing nothing is throwing away our God-given responsibilities.

Doing nothing is what got Shrek in trouble, and it’s what got the classic fairytale “villains” into their own rut. Doing nothing never amounted to – well – anything. Because when we do nothing, we allow injustice, hatred, and selfishness to creep into life (represented in the film by a misguided Prince Charming).

In the New Testament, Jesus never tells his apostles to do “nothing.” He’s always calling them to action, to going the extra mile, to making a positive influence upon their world. In other words, he calls them to mature responsibility – for the sake of others and for the sake of their own souls.

In a sense, the old adage, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop” rings true for our very selves. If we allow ourselves to slip into a life of inaction, of hoping someone else does what we choose not to do, then we fall victim to the fate of Far Far Away Land.

What actions can we do (even simple actions) to make a real difference in the world? What steps can we take to be a hero? What responsibilities are we shying away from that we need to recapture? How can we be people of action in our own ways?

Be people of action. Be people of responsibility. Be people of God.

Friday, May 04, 2007

SpiderMan 3

“This feels good.” - Peter Parker

How many of us just want to make it through each day feeling good? We usually want to avoid pain, anger, sadness, or anxiety. We just want to feel good. We’ll have enough pain in our life, so why not enjoy feeling good? Come on, who can argue with this?

SpiderMan 3 features several characters that have been through a lot (two previous movies, to be certain); they have had a lot of loss, pain, and anger in their fictional lives. We can feel for them: they just want to feel good for a movie.

Take Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), our web-slinging superhero; as we’ve seen in past films, he began life as an ignored, pushed-aside, picked-upon geek. He’s never been appreciated by anyone beyond his immediate family and few friends. Now, two movies later, he has been endowed with incredible super powers, a stellar city-wide reputation (capstoned by a big rally in the middle of New York City), and the loving affections from the woman of his dreams (Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirstin Dunst).

In SpiderMan 3, life is finally looking up…

But over time, Peter focuses more on the achievement and celebration of his happiness and slips into a dark side (physically manifested by some black “goo” from outer space, strange as that sounds) and becomes a black-clad evil version of himself. With this “goo” possessing him, Peter starts living life based solely on this happiness. Over the course of the movie, his friendships start to fray, his relationship with Mary Jane falls apart, and his reputation in the media becomes negative. Perhaps, life isn’t looking up after all…

The villains of this movie aren’t all that different, either.

Flint Marko (played by Thomas Haden Church) finds himself running down the slippery slope into his own dark side: He began his life of crime by simply trying to find money for his daughter’s medicine. Now Flint is caught up in acts of revenge against those who stand in his way, even including murder. One act builds upon another until he eventually becomes the indestructible Sandman.

Harry Osborn (played by James Franco) began his journey through these films in a deep sadness at the death of his wayward father (from the first SpiderMan film, played by Willem Dafoe). Over time, he becomes obsessed with finding his father’s supposed killer, so much so that he becomes equally obsessed with becoming just like his father, letting reason and compassion fall by the side as he marches toward this goal.

Eddie Brock (played by Topher Grace) just wanted to impress his new girlfriend Gwen (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) with his new job as a snap photographer for the Daily Bugle. However, because of this simple need for love, he took on the persona of Venom, also possessed by that pesky black “goo” from outer space. Not only that, he treats others as insignificant people to step over on his way to an impressive young career.

Each of these “villains” began with wanting to feel good, but become overwhelmed. What makes the dark side so enjoyable that we end up going there?

For Peter Parker, attention and acceptance was so craved that he slipped into a life of being the power-hungry, self-obsessed superstar superhero.

For Marko, desperation for money and medicine was so strong that he slipped into a life of doing whatever he had to get his way.

For Brock, the need for a meaningful relationship and a good job was so strong that he took advantage of anyone he met to get ahead in his career and to have this relationship.

But SpiderMan 3 does not just teach us about our personal slope into darkness, but also about how we treat those going down that slope. How often do we discriminate against these “villains” or those who think or act differently than we do? Is Harry Osborn really a bad guy, or is there hope? Is Eddie Brock really that disgusting or does he have a human need for relationships that has just gotten the best of him? Is Flint Marko a criminal, or has society put him in this position because of poverty and high medicine costs? In that case, who is the real villain here?

Christ calls us to love our enemies, but do we ever ask why he said that? I feel he called us to do this because we just don’t know. We just don’t know where our enemies are coming from. We just don’t know if they are just responding to a deeper hurt or life situation. We just don’t know why they do what they do. And because we just don’t know what we don’t know, we need to be careful how we react. Christ called us to this love because he always wanted us to err on the side of compassion, not vengeance.

This is the problem that the “villains” in this movie had to deal with – they didn’t act with compassion, just selfish vengeance. If we don’t want to end up where they were in this movie, we are called to love our enemies.

We are also called to dialogue with people, not just assume and act on that assumption.

We are also called to help those people and the society around them, not allow the hurt to continue.

And if we find ourselves in a “villain” position in life, we are called to seek redemption because, even if no one else on the planet sees us as good, God still does. And that’s worth working toward. SpiderMan 3 reminds us what it means to be on either side of goodness. And being good is a better goal for us than just “feeling good.”

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Spiritualiy of Not Blogging

Until recently, I have avoided the movie theatre and consequently, I have not blogged on movies for quite some time. For those of you who read this blog, I sincerely apologize.

But not going to the movies and not blogging has allowed me to refocus on those non-virtual experiences that are integral to my life. During the hiatus, I moved my home from the north to the south suburbs of Chicago; during the hiatus, my ministry role in the Diocese of Joliet has expanded and developed in new and exciting ways; during the hiatus, I was able to spend time watching the small screen (television) and the closing arc for this season’s LOST, Scrubs, My Name is Earl, The Office, and my favorite, Heroes.

Those small shows have given me a new appreciation of serials, a storytelling device that allows viewers to verge into a cliff-hanger suspense experience, as opposed to two-hour films that wrap up rather quickly (with the exception of intentional sequels, trilogies, and sagas).

By not blogging, I have been able to rekindle the spirit and excitement of this ministry and this exploration of faith and film. I encourage you, this summer (when I will be writing non-stop because of the great summer movies ahead) to take your own break and rekindle whatever it is that fires you up.

Monday, March 12, 2007


"Put your sword back in your sheath, for all who live by the sword shall die by the sword." Matt. 26:52

After seeing 300 a few days ago, I am still wrestling with reconciling its glorification of war, brutality, and violence with the fact that it was a really captivating, exciting, adreneline-rushing movie.

This film follows Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and three hundred Spartan warriors as they take a stand against an invading Persian army and hundreds of thousands of their fiercest troops at Thermopylae in 480 b.c.e. Regardless of being excessively outnumbered, Leonidas and his men fight to the death to keep these invaders from overrunning his homeland.

300 shows us that heroes take a stand no matter what the odds are, never letting size or numbers frighten them into submission or surrender. As the Psalmist sings, "Countless dogs surround me, fierce bulls encircle me... but the Lord is never far away." (Psalm 22:13, 20)

The legend of these three hundred Spartans is an example of active resistance to those that would put us down. Leonidas put the dignity of his people ahead of his own life; he knew his soldiers were outnumbered, but he knew that the people of Sparta would be enslaved, victimized, and terrorized if he did not take an active stance.

One could argue that this gives amunition to the agrument for war; if Sparta could wage a pre-emptive strike against the Persians, why can't the United States do the same to Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, or North Korea?

Why not? Simply put: we've evolved as a human race since 480 b.c.e.

In 2007, we have the priviledge of reading the non-violent teachings of Christ in our Bibles and of witnessing the examples of non-violent heroes of the past 100 years such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. But Christ and these great warriors of social justice were doing the same thing King Leonidas did, taking a stand when all hope was lost and when death and sacrifice seemed inevitable.

In the New Testement, before Jesus was taken away by the violent Temple guard and the Roman military garrison, the disciples asked if this would be the one exception to Jesus' command of nonviolence. If ever there was a worthy cause to take up arms, wouldn't it be to defend God in human form? But even then, Jesus said, "Put your sword back in your sheath, for all who live by the sword shall die by the sword." (Matt. 26:52)

In 2007, two millenia after these words of non-violence, are we finally capable of being a more intelligent, more compassionate, more peaceful human race? In 2007, do we still have to resort to violence, aggression, and war to take a stand or make a point?

The movie 300 gave us a flurry of excitement and adreneline, but perhaps it wasn't because decapitations and slow-motion swordfights are fun to watch on screen.

Perhaps the flurry of excitement and adreniline that has entralled audiences is so riviting because we, too, crave to take a stand against those who take away human dignity. Perhaps it can give us strength and courage to take that stand, even if we stand alone.

And now that we are a human race that can solve its problems without war and violence, just imagine what we can do when we attain the courage that once permeated the battlefield at Thermopylae in 480 b.c.e. and that God now graces us with today.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Prestige

"Do not obsess about your life." Matt. 6:25

Competition feeds our society. Whether it's sports, politics, academics, or daily work, we are driven to compete against our peers and succeed no matter the cost.

The Prestige follows two illusionists Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) in their life's journey to outwit each other. The setting of the film is that Borden is accused of killing Angier in a magic trick gone wrong, and we follow their memories to see what has led to this disastrous end to two illusionists' lives.

What we see is that an obsession has overwhelmed both men. Stemming from jealosy and a refusal to forgive, the two illusionists carve out their careers in order to one-up the other. In caring more about their art than their lives, they push away and lose those who love and care for them. They destroy all things of value so that they can achieve their final success.

In today's society, this desire to outwit others and an obsession to win can kill us as it killed Angier and Borden. I am not saying that all competition is bad, but when we care more about winning than playing the game, we destroy ourselves.

In The Prestige, Angier's motivation was pleasing the crowd; he wanted to look good and get the applause. Borden's motivation was to do so well that no one could ever figure out how he did it; he lived a life of total secrecy from everyone.

What is our motivation to do our best work or to win the game? Is it because we want to prove something to others? Is it because we are so proud of our talents?

Competition for competition's sake is misguided. When we compete, let's pray not to become obsessed with winning. Let's not sacrifice our very lives for our jobs, our education, or the game itself. In the film, both men challenge each other to "get your hands dirty."

But at what cost?

Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie) advises Angier, "Go home. Forget this thing. I can recognize an obsession and no good will come of it." When Angier challenges Tesla because his own life was built on obsessing over his work, he responds, "I followed by obsessions too long. I'm their slave, and one day they'll choose to destroy me."

In the gospels, Jesus warns his disciples against their anxiety of succeeding; he told them, "Do not obsess about your life. Do not worry about what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you wear, what you look like. Is not life more than food and your body worth more than how you look?" (Matt. 6:25).

Jesus added, no one ever added a moment to their lives because of their obsessions. Psychologists today tells us the opposite is actually true: by being so anxious about these little things, we might end up living a shorter life.

If our lives are caught up in our work, our education, our competitions, our obsessions, then we will have wasted the life God gave us. Instead, we are called to let go of these obessions, and then we will have a clear focus on our interpersonal relationships, our family and friends, and we will have time to make this world a better place to live.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Wild Hogs

God will always find you.

In the movie Wild Hogs, four middle aged men (John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H. Macy, and Martin Lawrence) are in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Each of them is wondering where their younger selves have gone. They've gotten slower, more cautious, more timid, and much more frustrated with the way their lives have taken them.

So they plan to escape their suburban existance for a week on their motorcycles and take a road trip cross country. They reunite their old biker gang, the "Wild Hogs," and head west.

But while they can escape the daily grind, in a small highway town called Madrid, New Mexico, they find they cannot escape their destiny. Because of a run-in with an aggressive biker gang near the town, they must confront this nasty group of angry bikers or else this quiet town will be terrorized and destroyed.

And even though these four men aren't dangerous and strong-armed by nature, they find within themselves the call to stand up for what is right, and defend the peaceful townspeople.

This movie reminded me of the Old Testament prophet Jonah. In this recognizable tale, God calls the middle aged Jonah to action, but he tries to escape the Lord's request. He sails out west into the open sea, but God still finds Jonah and brings him back (through the help of a large fish). God wanted Jonah to preach to the ancient culture of the Ninevites for some special reason; perhaps Jonah was a skilled preacher or teacher, but whatever the cause, God saw in Jonah what he didn't see in himself. And because Jonah finally stood up for the Lord, a city was saved.

When God needs us, he will find us. And when he finds us, he calls us for a reason. And when we answer that call, great things can happen.

Like Jonah, God sees something deep inside ourselves that even we don't often recognize or acknowledge. God knows we are called to something greater, like the four suburban "Wild Hogs" were called to be brave and compassionate for the defenseless. God knew they had something deeper inside themselves: a strength that no one else could see.

And in the far west town of Madrid, they were able to prove God right.

The William H. Macy character especially embodied this spirit. He wasn't the most suave or the strongest of the group, but because he felt called to protect the townspeople (and in a special way, the local diner owner and his newfound love interest, played by Marisa Tomei), he stepped up to the plate and stood up against the rival biker gang.

So what is it that God is calling you and me to do?

Yes, life can be hard, and we are tempted to escape the pressures of work, home, and relationships and run away like the "Wild Hogs" did. But we cannot escape God, because he will always find us.

And when he finds us, what is it that you and I are called to do? Who are we called to protect? And where and when are you and I called to stand for justice? Wild Hogs teaches us that there is no better time to understand this message than right now.