Thursday, May 29, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

"As they age, good men will become temperate, dignified, self-controlled role models, sound in faith, love, and endurance." Titus 2:2

Indiana Jones has aged well. When I was a kid growing up, Indiana was my hero, so much so that I took up Biblical theology in college and throughout my graduate studies thanks to Dr. Jones' inspiration on the silver screen.

It was a risk bringing Indiana out of "retirement" for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but thanks to an incredibly fun performance by Harrison Ford, the adventurer-hero looks great 19 years after his last Crusade.

Set in 1957 in the height of the Cold War, this adventure follows Indiana and new sidekick "Mutt" (Shia LaBeouf) from Marshall College in Connecticut to South America in search for Mutt's mentor Harold Oxley (John Hurt) and mother Marianne Williams (Karen Allen).

What sets Indiana apart from other action heroes is that he doesn't just search for the priceless artifacts or the fortune and glory (as he boldly said, but hardly meant), but he goes on a journey to save others first and foremost, like Oxley and Marianne. On the way, of course, he discovers incredible treasures (like the Ark of the Covenant, the Shankara Stones, the Holy Grail, or in this case, the Crystal Skulls), but even when he finds these, he selflessly puts them back in their rightful place instead of hoarding them in his own private collection.

That's not to say that Crystal Skull, like previous films, aren't a lot of fun. In fact, this movie is two great hours I highly recommend to anyone this summer. From the action-packed opening in Area 51 in Nevada to the motorcycle whirl through academia to the jungle race sequence in the rainforests and waterfalls of Peru, this movie is a non-stop rollar coaster ride.

What makes the movie even more enjoyable is that Indiana Jones is not just exciting to watch with his bullwhip and fedora hat, but he is someone worth looking up to.

In this year's outing, Indy exemplifies Paul's description of the older Christian community on Crete in the New Testament: "As they age, good men will become temperate, dignified, self-controlled role models, sound in faith, love, and endurance." (Titus 2:2)

Crystal Skull shows us a mature, honorable (and incredibly active and fun) Indy that a young adult like Mutt (and any of us of any age in the audience) can aspire to be. Let us pray that we may all grow up to be our own version of Indiana Jones.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Prince Caspian

"Not everyone who says 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Mt. 7:21

Prince Caspian, as part of The Chronicles of Narnia series, has been billed as a "Christian" movie, since the novels upon which these films are based were written as a Christian allegory by C.S. Lewis.

But as I watched the movie, I wondered where in the Gospels Jesus told his disciples to make war on their enemies, murder innocent soldiers, or pray to Him so that other human beings will die a gruesome, water-drenched death.

But in Prince Caspian, that's exactly what happens.

In this movie, we see our "heroes" (the Pevensie children and the titular Caspian played by Ben Barnes) wage a pre-emptive strike on the castle of King Miraz, murdering soldiers in the middle of the night, and then declare war on the very people they are trying to set free. This is hardly "Christian" behavior.

At the Last Supper, when the soldiers were about to arrest and eventually kill Jesus, the disciples had a similar reaction: "Lord, let's strike first. Here are two swords!" to which Jesus dismissed them with a quick response: "That's enough." (cf. Luke 22:38). So what "Christian" behavior is exemplified by such violence?

According to a faithful reading of the pacifist image of Christ, the Narnia characters are hardly being "Christian" in a movie like this.

Perhaps C.S. Lewis was more inspired by the vengeful, smiteful image of God from the Book of Exodus than the radical message of peace of Jesus in the Gospels. Near the end of this film, in fact, King Miraz's soldiers are drowned in a river flood, calling to mind the Exodus story of the Egyptians being destroyed in the Red Sea as they chased down Moses and the Israelites.

Is this image of God healthy for Christians to see in the 21st Century? Perhaps in the 10th Century B.C., but hardly the image we should see today.

In the New Testament, Jesus explains: "Not everyone who says 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Mt. 7:21) In other words, even if we bill something "Christian" does that mean that it is actually "Christian."

Further on in the seventh chapter of Matthew, Jesus explains that even if we declare that we fight in the name of Christ, Jesus will reject any such action in His name. His is not a gospel of hatred or aggression. His is a gospel of peace. This is the "will of my Father in heaven" that Jesus speaks about.

There is, however, one glimmer of hope in this crusader-esqe movie. Little Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) makes a wise choice, by heading away from battle when all others run to fight. In a way, she is seeking an alternative to violence, pettiness, and aggression. She pursues another option - longing for answers from her mentor and guide Aslan (the C.S. Lewis stand-in for the image of Jesus Christ, voiced here by Liam Neeson).

Her example should be a model for all of us. In the face of violence and aggression, let us run into the arms of Christ, reading His words in the Scriptures and listening to His words in our heart about what we should do.

When we go there, we will be faced with the Prince of Peace who rejects violence in all its forms.

So as we leave the movie theatre, pray that we follow the lead of little Lucy instead of the tempting path of Caspian and most the other characters in this bloody movie.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Iron Man

"We cannot remain silent in the face of such danger. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith."
- The Challenge of Peace (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops)

In the midst of the two major wars our nation is currently engaged in, we seem to forget the fact that behind the military personnel are weapons manufacturers supplying the ammunition to the troops to both sides of the battle.

It's this profound awareness that fuels the first summer superhero blockbuster of 2008, Iron Man.

The central character of the film, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), is the incredibly wealthy industrialist behind the advance weapons systems corporation, Stark International. During a mission to Afghanistan to sell the military there his new "Jericho" missle system (a Biblical reference to the annihilation and invasion of Jericho by Moses' successor Joshua), Stark is himself captured by Afghan terrorists who also happen to own Stark International weapons and plan to use them on the Afghan locals and American soldiers.

It is this humbling experience that transforms Tony Stark from an industrialist to a humanitarian. After escaping his captivity with an indestructable iron suit, Stark returns to America a literal "superhero" determined to end his company's involvement in the arms business.

Through a conversion experience, Stark was able to see how his own ingenuity turned against him and his conscience. He saw firsthand the horrors that military weapons can cause, and resolves that it will never happen again under his watch.

"We are the first generation since Genesis with the power to virtually destroy God's creation." This sad reality was put forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1983 in their statement to the American people entitled The Challenge of Peace. They reminded us: "We cannot remain silent in the face of such danger. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith."

It took a traumatic event in the deserts of Afghanistan to convince the fictional billionare Tony Stark of this. What will it take to convince our elected officials? And perhaps even more importantly, what it will take to convince the American voter?

In an age of nuclear weapons, suicide bombers, and terrorism, it seems the more we fight for the sake of "peace," the farther we move away from that ideal of peace. Does it not seem contrary to the gospel of Jesus that, to secure peace, we must kill and destroy? Does it not seem oxymoranic to fight those who kill out of vengence with a equal sense of vengence?

Living in his own age of terror and oppression in the First Century, Jesus told his disciples to put down their weapons, for "all who live by the sword shall die by the sword." (Matt. 26:52) In his time and in our time, weapons and warfare are the worst parts of our human nature. While our military technology has evolved over the centuries, the basic premise of war is still as barbaric as ever. When we kill each other for oil, land, or vengence, we show the universe that the human race in 2008 is really no different than the human race who emerged from the caves thousands of years ago. Jesus tried to tell us this in the gospels, but did we ever really listen to him?

But we can be "superheroes" like Iron Man if we reject war and weapons, turning our swords into ploughshares, as Isaiah envisioned the future. At the ballot box, in our local communities, or through our faith communities, we can make a difference.

As the bishops said in The Challenge of Peace: "We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus... Respecting our freedom, He does not solve our problems, but sustains us as we take responsibility for His work of creation and try to shape it in the ways of the Kingdom."

SIDE NOTE: I find it an inspired coincidence of the Holy Spirit that Iron Man, a movie that challenges its audience to become peacemakers, was released one day prior to the 25th anniversary of The Challenge of Peace, which was approved by the American Catholic bishops in Chicago, Illinois, on May 3, 1983.