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.