Sunday, May 31, 2009


"Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?" Acts 1:11

Have you ever had the experience of watching someone on television half your age who has accomplished so much already? I know I have, and it leaves me with a frustrated feeling that I have not really had the chance to leave my mark on this world.

That's what old Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) felt, too, in the Pixar film Up. Sure he enjoyed his life, but he never realized all the dreams that he and his wife Ellie had over the years. The two of them always wanted to explore Paradise Falls in the jungles of South America, but life got the best of them.

In a scrapbook, they never got to fill in the pages marked "Things I'd Like To Do." And after Ellie dies, Carl dwells alone in his frustration.

But soon, adventure calls - when the city wants Carl's house torn down and Carl put into a retirement village. With thousands of helium-filled balloons, Carl charts a course for Paradise Falls, away from everyone but his happy memories.

I kept thinking back to Carl's scrapbook throughout the movie. How many times have I daydreamed about all the "Things I'd Like To Do" too? And how many times have I fallen short of those dreams because life happens to get in the way? For me, it's been far too many to count.

Carl and I kept thinking back to all the things we haven't been able to do - instead of focusing on what we actually did. Carl learns this lesson when he becomes a surrogate father-figure to a lost Wilderness Explorer Scout named Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai). Russell thinks back to his own dad and how he misses the "boring stuff" - sitting by side of the road with his dad counting cars that go by, heading out for ice cream, camping in the backyard... and this causes Carl to wonder what things he might have missed staring at the sky and daydreaming.

A movie like Up reminded me to take notice of all the "boring stuff" of life. And in this economy when we can't afford luxary vacations and exotic activities, perhaps God is giving us a chance to stop and look around us - and enjoy some of that "boring stuff" of everyday life.

In the Scriptures, when Jesus ascends to the heavens, the apostles stare endlessly into the sky. But angels come down and ask them "Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?" (Acts 1:11). Instead, they tell them, go into the real world and find Jesus there. So they did exactly that, and in the poorest person, they saw the face of Christ, and in the most common meal, they experienced the presence of God. It was in the "boring stuff" that they found their dreams.

So when my wife and I got home from the movie, we took a nice long walk. It was a beautiful sunny day and we strolled around the neighborhood and taking in the sunshine and nature. Sure, it wasn't a walk on a Hawaiian beach or in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, but it was perfect in every way.

How many other times have I done some of that everyday stuff like a walk in the neighborhood, and missed the fact that every moment is a gift from God - not just the exotic and the exciting?

It's fine to dream and hope, so long as we don't lose track of the world around us. Carl had a great life with his wife Ellie, and that was the exciting adventure of his life - no matter if it was in the South American wildlife exhibit at the local zoo rather than the actual South America.

Stop and look around you every now and then, and thank God for all that "boring stuff" that makes our lives so rich and blessed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terminator Salvation

"I call heaven and earth today to witness against you. I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live." Deut. 30:19

What is the difference between man and machine? That's the question that Terminator Salvation asks as it continues the story of John Conner (Christian Bale) in his fight to save humankind from technology that has turned against its maker.

At first glance, it's a silly question. What's the difference between me and my lawn mower? or between my friends and my laptop? Of course you can tell the difference. Or can you? Terminator Salvation shows us people who act like robots and robots who act like humans.

On one hand, you have the army general in this movie who wants to effeciently win the war against Skynet (the "motherboard," for lack of a better term, of the machine world) regardless of the human life that will be lost in the battle. He's the guy who clearly thinks like a machine. On the other hand, you have Marcus Wright, the hybrid terminator (a mix of human tissue, data processors, and a metallic skeleton, played by Sam Worthington) who has not yet been programmed to do harm, that tries to protect the very people who seek to unplug and destroy him. He's the robot who clearly thinks and acts like a human.

It's more than metal that distinguishes you from your computer. It's the ability to make moral decisions wisely.

In this film, Skynet manufactures Marcus Wright from remnents of his former human self, including his beating heart. He was designed to infiltrate the human resistance, but what the machines did not realize was that they left his conscience in place - a conscience God gave each of us to act human in the best possible way, if we choose to follow it.

Our consciences show us the way. They allow us to know good from evil, and encourage us to choose the better route, even if that is less efficient, more troublesome, or even sacrificial.

In the Scriptures, God lays out this choice to the people of Israel before they entered the land of Canaan. God told them: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you. I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him." (Deut. 30:19-20)

As our technology rises in our own world (eerily similar to the rise of technology in John Conner's fictional world on screen), we can start to act like the machines that make our lives easier today. We can make our choices based on efficiency, ease, and self-preservation (like our Blackberry or our toaster oven), or we can make them based on the Gospel.

Acting with compassion, forgiveness, patience, understanding, and selflessness may not be the most efficient route. It might be troubling and arduous to act this way. It might even mean we must sacrifice our time, money, energy, or life for the good of another. But making these choices is what makes us the best version of humanity that we can possibly be.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angels & Demons

"Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that you make war among your members?" James 4:1

There's been a lot of passion and anger on either side of the new movie Angels & Demons (a companion film to The Da Vinci Code, also based on a Dan Brown novel), and interestingly enough, this conflict exists within the plot of the movie itself.

In the film, the Catholic Church (and specifically the Vatican) is under attack from a secret society, the Illuminati, on the occasion of the conclave to select a new Pope to lead the one-billion million Catholics around the world. And so the Vatican turns to an old adversary, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) to consult on resolving the mystery.

What Langdon soon discovers is that the Illuminati (the "enlightened ones," as they call themselves because of their love and appreciation of science over religion) are striking back against the Church because of the conflicts and divisions they have had in the past. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," seems to be the motive behind the threat to destroy the Vatican, getting revenge for scientific oppression.

At the same time, the young Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor) in temporary charge of the Vatican while a Pope is being selected seems to be up to the Illuminati's challenge. He believes that war is upon them and the Church must act as "God's warriors" against this elusive threat.

Division and strife often create even more division and strife. War begets war. Hatred is matched with hatred. These truisms are not just apt for the plot of Angels & Demons, but also true about our very own families, workplaces, neighborhoods, countries, and yes, even our sacred religions.

One side of any division demonizes the other. Just like the title of the movie, internal conflict can draw stark contrasts between us and the other side. We are angels, righteous and true, while the opposite side must be demons, irrelevant and ugly. Of course, this drama sells a lot of books and movie tickets (and Dan Brown has profited much from creating this mess).

In the early church, there was already disagreement and division. In a letter we now have in our Bible, St. James asks the first-century Christian community, "Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that you make war among your members?" (James 4:1) He implores them to "not speak evil of one another" (cf. 4:11) and to make peace, not war.

Even in the release of this film, there has been some hateful accusations being hurled across the aisle (from both sides). Just like the characters of the movie, the opposing sides prepare for war.

"Put away your sword!" Jesus tells his disciples when they see themselves as God's warriors (cf. Matt. 26:52, Luke 22:38). Christians are meant for peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, not war and infighting. In Angels & Demons, the Vatican Chamerlengo believes a warrior Pope would be ideal for the Church. But this crusading philosophy has no place in a faith founded by the Prince of Peace.

Within our own struggles in life, whether it be in the workplace, in our families, or in our politics, how quick are we to make angels and demons of the two sides?

"Put away your sword!" Jesus implores us, and seek a peaceful common ground on which to build the Kingdom of God. Let us pray we will all seek that peace our world so desperately needs.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek

"I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away... and the one who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.'" Rev. 21:1,5

When I first saw the new Star Trek, I was a bit saddened. I was sad because the Spock and Kirk I knew from my childhood have gone away, and something new was emerging.

I grew up watching William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy race through space, in the television re-runs of the original series, or in the movies of the 1980s and 1990s. I remember the excitement of The Wrath of Khan and those lovable whales from The Voyage Home. But after I finished watching J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek, I realized I would need to put that behind me.

Even though the characters are the same in this new movie, things have changed. The story begins immediately with a new change: a Romulan ship was forced from the late 24th Century to the mid 23rd Century through a time-travel wormhole, altering the events of the past and thus creating an alternate timeline. This not only means the lives of our characters are forever changed, but it means that moviegoers' expectations have to be changed as well.

In this new timeline, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) takes a different route to Starfleet, and his relationship with Spock (Zachary Quinto) begins more rocky than we had previously known. This also means that nothing can be assumed (and even characters we know and love from Star Trek's previous television shows and movies could possibly die in this new timeline).

In our own lives, we live with uncertainty. Even though some might imagine that "history repeats itself," it really doesn't. Every new generation brings its nuances and unique vision to the future that lies before them. It can be tempting to assume we can predict what lies ahead of us based on the past, and to a certain degree that is true, but you just never know.

And when things go differently than we had imagined them, we must pray that we can accept those changes and live in that new reality. Unlike Spock and the Romulans from this film, we don't have the ability to go back in time and change things. Instead, we have one shot. Life rarely has "mulligans," so we must do our best to make the best of our situation.

In my work with young adults, I encounter a number of people who dismiss or look down upon those who are younger than they. Or they label younger people as "not there yet." For instance, people will criticize college students because they aren't yet in the working world yet, or see single people as not married yet, or young couples as not parents yet, or young parents as not mature yet, and so forth.

People looked at Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Uhura as "not there yet." But they were. Because, as the Star Trek movie poster beckons, "the future begins now." Something new is happening.

In John's vision in the Book of Revelation, the author "saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away..." (cf. Rev. 21:1). The future had arrived, and God proudly proclaimed "Behold I make all things new." (Rev. 21:5).

We can either stay mired in the past, thinking nostalgically about the way things were - in our lives, in our work, in our families, in our church, or in our world. Or we can follow our Lord, who makes all things new, and embrace the future, uncertain and unsafe as it might be.

In a minor way, I had to adjust my thinking about Kirk and Spock and the Enterprise. Sure, I would always have those wonderful memories of watching those old re-runs or movies, but a new generation has taken command of the bridge, taking me to tomorrow. So I must move on and boldly go where I have never gone before.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


"Not all who wander are lost." - J.R.R. Tolkein

On the back of an elderly couple's pick-up truck in X-Men Origins: Wolverine reads a simple bumper sticker: "Not all who wander are lost." As we read this phrase, on screen we see a wandering Jimmy Logan (Hugh Jackman), dazed and confused and angry, dashing naked into this couple's barn and escaping those who destroyed his life.

Throughout this action-packed movie, Logan is a wanderer. He wanders through 150 years of history, having been born in the 1830s with the ability to age extremely slowly because of his extraordinary healing powers. Over those decades, Logan wanders through the life of a warrior, fighting in the American Civil War, two World Wars, and Vietnam.

But all who wander are not lost. After the Vietnam conflict, Logan and his brother Victor (Liev Schreiber) are conscripted to an elite fighting team filled with people with special powers.

Seeing the brutal descruction his gifts have caused humanity, Logan finds a new purpose for his life. He rejects the violence, to live a life of peace with a beautiful woman named Kayla (Lynn Collins) in the Canadian Rockies, far away from the conflict and agression of the world.

Sadly, William Stryker (Danny Huston), the head of the elite fighting team, manages to find him again and engineers Kayla's death, causing Logan to wander again - this time, back into his fold. With revenge in his heart, Logan agrees to a special project that will turn him into a super-soldier as indestructable adamantium metal is painfully fused to his bones and Logan becomes "Wolverine."

That's where Logan meets this elderly couple, who despite all evidence to the contrary, take him in and compassionately tend to his wounded heart. Seeing their kindness, Logan again finds his purpose - and the one who has wandered for so long is no longer lost.

Stryker wanted to turn Logan into an animal, as he had done with his brother Victor who has become the killing machine "Sabertooth." Stryker believes that, at our core, we are just carnal animals. He believes our history is littered with wars because we are just descructive creatures bent on killing one another.

But Logan is no animal. He is a good man with a kind heart, and even though he has the ability to kill at will and survive any attack, he prefers a peaceful life. This is how he becomes the Wolverine we know and love in the original X-Men movies.

Likewise, we are not animals. Humans have evolved above the rest of creation because we have the capacity to love, serve, and honor one another. We are not meant for war, but rather for peace. Jesus came into our world to remind us and show us that way, and to model for us loving self-sacrifice instead of violence and hatred.

Like Logan, we are all equipped with great gifts - each of them unique to who we are. We can use them for selfishness, destruction, and greed, just as Stryker might predict for us. Or we can use our gifts to better the world, just as Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) might teach us to do. Our gifts can cut people down like Wolverine's claws, but they can also lift them up.

Kayla reminds Logan, "You are no animal." And Jesus reminds us the same thing. He believes we are capable of so much more.