Saturday, July 25, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

"He who fears the Lord honors his father and serves him... Even if his mind should fail, be considerate towards him, and with all your strength, do not revile him. For kindness to a father will not be forgotten - it will serve as an offering to God and take lasting root." Sirach 4:7, 13-14

For six years, Harry Potter has struggled to find (and keep) a father figure since learning about the tragic death of his parents to save his life. Characters like Hagrid, Lupin, and Sirius Black have served as temporary guardians over the course of six films, but none has had the lasting impact as Hogwarts Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.

In this sixth movie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Price, Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) has decided to stop the games and start sharing important lessons and memories with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) - so to prepare him for what must come next.

Up until now, Harry and the Headmaster have had a challenging relationship. In past years, Dumbledore stayed distant from his prize student to protect him from harm - although Harry incorrectly interpreted this as indifference. Now in Harry's sixth year as a student at Hogwarts, Dumbledore must become the father figure and mentor that Potter deseprately needs.

This caused me to think back to the teachers and father figures in my own life - the people who have passed on their wisdom through their words or deeds.

I recall the charismatic pastor of my church growing up, who exemplified what it means to serve others and lead with inspired vision. He baptized me as an infant and was a powerful presence in my childhood and adolescence - and remained a role model in my young adult years. Sadly, he passed away a short while ago. What I regret is that I am no longer able to learn from him or watch his example. That priviledge I enjoyed as a youth has been taken away from me.

What role models and mentors do you have? Who has had a profound impact on you? And who continues to make a difference in your life story? - in other words, who is your Dumbledore? As you reflect on this, ask yourself if you spent enough time "at the foot of the master," whoever that might be for you. Are you living up to being the person that your role models and father figures would expect of you?

On the flip side, are you a Dumbledore to someone else? Perhaps you are, but don't realize the mark you have made on others' lives. How have you helped someone else, and even more importantly for you, what have you learned from those you lead?

In addition, when people come to you with questions or the desire to be guided, do you shut them off or do you embrace that relationship? From my personal experience, I have had other role models in my life who have been "too busy" to teach me. This has caused me some distress and uncertainty - so if you find yourself doing that to someone, be sure to heal those wounds.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, The Book of Sirach (a lesser-known work found in Catholic Bibles and in the Apocrapha of Protestant ones) talks about the lessons of one generation to the next. In it, the author states: "He who fears the Lord honors his father and serves him" (Sirach 4:7). Honoring past generations and teachers is key for those of all ages.

"Even if his mind should fail him, be considerate towards him, and with all your strength, do not revile him," says the author - bringing to mind a key climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. "For kindness to a father will not be forgotten - it will serve as an offering to God and take lasting root." (Sirach 4:13-14)

Be kind to the generations who have gone before you. Learn from them. If you have a mentor or father figure, cling to them and listen to what they have to say. If you do not have such a person in your life, find one before they pass by. And if you have lost touch with that teacher, reconnect before it's too late.

I wish I had another moment with the one in my life who passed away too soon. But God has given us memories to guide our way when we're on our own. Like diving into the Headmaster's Pensieve in the movie, take time to reflect on the past and continue learning from it. As Sirach says, let it take lasting root - and you will be forever changed.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Going deeper with the dinosaurs...

When I advise people on figuring out what God might be saying in the movies, there are a five major things to look out for: the plot, the characters, the setting, the overall movie-going experience, and a fifth option: the thrill of the sights and sounds.

For Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, what connected to me was the fifth item: the excitement of seeing dinosaurs rumble around on screen.

When I was a kid, one of the things I wanted to do when I grew up was become a paleontologist, a scientist that digs up and studies dinosaur bones. While I never got into the scientific stuff, I still to this day enjoy a good dinosaur tale -and this film is no different.

In this Ice Age movie, the familiar woolly characters Manny (Ray Ramono) and Ellie (Queen Latifah), the anything-but-slothful Sid (John Leguizamo) and the sabre-toothed Diego (Denis Leary) stumble upon some tyrannosaur eggs (don't mind the fact that millions of years seperated these creatures; we are led to believe, in this movie, that a whole "lost world" of ancient dinoaurs exists under all that ice in the ice age).

As the film progresses, the eggs hatch and little tyrannosaurs pop out, and of course, the mother Rex comes to reclaim her hatchlings - along with Sid, which causes the rest of the ice age team to race after their friend and have their own adventures underground.

But the plot didn't really matter. I just wanted to see the dinosaurs.

So how is this spiritual? Well, when it comes to the sights and sounds, it's very much about a personal experience. What is it about that fun, quirky sight or sound that gets to you? And why might your mind keep going in that direction?

For Ice Age, the fun-loving strool through the Mesazoic Era reminded me of my own childhood, and why I was so captivated by these age-old monsters. For me, the dinosaurs were my imaginary protectors - and no problem was too big that a T-Rex couldn't solve. Well, I've grown up and I now realize that dinosaurs aren't coming back anytime soon.

So I pray on this. And then it occurs to me that I still have a Tyrannosaurus in my corner. My Rex is God, who is truly larger than life and can devour any problem the world might bring.

That leads me to the Scriptures where I read the psalmist as he says, "Tremble before Him, all the earth and say among the nations, 'The Lord is king.' He has made the earth firm, not to be moved and governs all creation with equity... Then shall all the trees of forest and the creatures of the earth exult before the Lord, for He comes to rule the whole earth." (Ps. 96:9-10,12-13).

My prayer is complete. The might and power of the dinosaurs still live within my world, only this time that strength comes not from the fossils, but from the heavens. God is the one that will protect, defend, and rumble beside me.

This conclusion reminds me that no fun sight or sound that appeals to me in the movies is too trivial, and all thoughts can lead to a deeper spirituality. I learn never to underestimate the smallest aspect of an enjoyable film, for God is so big he can roar through anything.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Public Enemies

If we do not learn the lesson of history, we are bound to repeat it.

Public Enemies takes place during the Great Depression of the 1930s, which we watch today as we sit in our movie theatres in another time of great depression.

In fact, the irony is not lost on us when we watch John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) cool off from the summer heat by escaping to see gangster movies, just as we, the audience, cool off from our own summer heat to watch this particular gangster flick in 2009.

For me personally, this movie was like taking a stroll down memory lane. I grew up near Crown Point, Indiana (where Dillinger escaped from prison with a wooden gun), went to college not far from Michigan City (where he staged another escape), lived for a short time after college just off Fullerton Ave. where I used to see movies at the Biograph (the exact spot where Dillinger was gunned down), and now live and work in some of the areas where the movie was filmed (in fact, every day on my way to work, I pass by the prison seen in the first scene of Public Enemies).

All these connections point to the old adage: If we do not learn the lesson of history, we are bound to repeat it.

In Dillinger's time, the economy was so horrible that some people turned to a life of crime just to stay afloat. Added to that was the blatant corruption in law enforcement at the time. The police did little to stop the outlaws because they were bribed, which paid more than their salaries. In fact, the Feds did not include Chicago Police in their raids against Dillinger because so many people in the department were being paid off.

Added to this was the rise of celebrity culture in the 1930s. Dillinger and his gang were public heroes, not public enemies, to the masses of people desperate for some entertaining distraction from their misery and strife.

To counter this growing threat, the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) thought the only tactic was to capture the gangs "by any means necessary," according to J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). Torture and brutality were now acceptable means of justice.

If we do not learn the lesson of history, we are bound to repeat it.

In the Scriptures, the prophets are constantly reminding the people of Israel of this adage when they kept repeating the sins of the past over and over again. Their words even ring true today.

When Amos declares, "Woe to those who turn judgment into wormwood and cast justice to the ground!" (Amos 5:7), he could be talking to the high priests and aristocrats of his day, to the corrupt police and FBI torturers of the 1930s, or to corrupt politicians in our time.

When Amos admonishes, "Because you have trampled on the weak and stolen from them their treasures, even though you built elegant houses and counted your money, it will all be taken away from you! Even though you planted your vineyard, you shall never drink from its wine!" (Amos 5:11), he might be speaking out against the hierarchy of ancient days, or the outlaws like Dillinger who steal what little money was left in the Depression, or to those who take advantage of the middle class, the worker, or the everyday people trying to live within their means in the 21st Century.

Perhaps the movie is titled Public Enemies in the plural rather than the singular to show that it was more than a single person that we should learn our lessons from. In this movie, we need to look carefully at all the parties involved - the gangsters, the corrupt police, the vengeful FBI, or even the clueless public preferring outlaws over justice.

We are once again faced with economic trouble, yet another time ripe for the events of this movie to unfold again, but this time around, let us pray that we are up to the challenge and might face this new era in gospel-inspired ways.

Then, when we face this crisis anew and learn our lessons this time around, Amos promises something greater as he prays to God: "Let justice roll down like water and righteousness as a mighty stream!" (Amos 5:24)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

"I am the resurrection and the life..." (John 11:25)

There is a lot of noise and computer-generated effects in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but at its core, this movie is oddly about a quiet and sure hope in the resurrection.

Since the events of the first Transformers movie, the autobots, led by Optimus Prime (wonderfully voiced by Peter Cullen), have become a secret government agents, using their advanced technology to help root out evil around the world.

Meanwhile Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is off to start a new life in college while trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox).

The action of the film takes off when the global-domination-bent decepticons resurrect their fallen leader Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), who comes to take revenge and extract valuable information from Sam. At the last second, the gallant Optimus saves his human friends and sacrifices himself so that Sam and Mikaela can escape unharmed.

From this point forward, Sam must have faith that hope is not lost and Optimus is not truly gone. It is this faith in the resurrection of his savior that motivates Sam to overcome all obstacles and survive a vengeful robot attack on the earth.

Sam's faith challenged me to ask myself, "How much do I really believe in the resurrection?" DO I really have hope in something greater than the present world?

In the Gospels, despite being around Jesus for years, the disciples Martha and Mary question their own hope in a better future when their brother Lazarus dies. Jesus tells them with conviction that "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who believes in this hope and in me will never die." (John 11:25-26).

To believe in the resurrection means to believe that death is not the last word. On a smaller scale, to live in a resurrection-based faith means to live in hope, that no situation will ever end in defeat, in negativity, in crisis... that there is always something greater that lies just beyond.

Do I believe this? Do I live in a hopeful way? When times get tough, do I give up or do I strive onward, with a belief that things will get better.

Jesus showed us that resurrection is real and that life and goodness always have the last word. So no matter how bad it seems, even if killer robots from outer space come to extinguish our sun and try to destroy all life on earth, having hope in the resurrection is the best thing for us.