Monday, August 01, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

"Go first and be reconciled with your brother and then come back together..." Matt. 5:24

Cowboys & Aliens juxtaposes two longtime movie favorites (rugged men of the Old West and extraterrestrial visitors) - and throws them together for a fun story that most fanboys will love. But there is certainly more to this flick than two hours of popcorn and air conditioning.

From the title to the minor plot details, this film enjoys the collision of opposites. The two main stars of the show, Jake Lonergran (Daniel Craig) and Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), are pitted against each other - one an outlaw, the other a businessman - yet find that they have more in common than they'd like to realize. Lonergran and Dolarhyde are both shrewd and intelligent; they both have hard exteriors but hidden soft spots for love and family; and both are played by Hollywood action heroes with their own major movie franchises (Bond and Indy).

In addition to the two leads, the film treats us to more dichotomy:

a confident and gun slinging preacher (Clancy Brown) partnering with a uncertain and gun-shy agnostic (Sam Rockwell); the town's mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde) who knows more than she lets on and the town's sheriff (Keith Carradine) who knows less about all the happenings than he wants to admit; the brash band of cowboys and townsfolk who go in with guns a-blazin' and the Apache Indian tribe who patiently wait and watch; and of course the aliens with their superior technology set in contrast to the people of the late 1800s prior to their own industrial revolution.

With all these opposite forces colliding, it is no wonder then that the town at the center of the movie is called Absolution. This word calls to mind the final stage in the sacrament of reconciliation when God offers forgiveness for the strife one has caused in their life.

But Jesus reminds us that it's not easy to get to that point. In the Scriptures, he tells his disciples, "If you come to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, go first and be reconciled with your brother and then come back together to the altar." (Mt. 5:23-24). Before absolution comes reconciliation.

Reconciling with those who offended us and hurt us can be difficult. Reconciling with our own failures and shortcomings can be even harder. Yet God is much like the Cowboys & Aliens' filmmakers: He loves to bring the opposites together.

It is tempting to stay locked in combat like outlaws and Native Americans, but this conflict gets us no where. It's tempting to stay there because being against something or someone helps to define us ("at least I'm not like them..."); we fear that reconciling and coming together might compromise our identity or expose us to our own insecurities and doubts.

In the first decades of the 21st century, this polarization has crippled the United States. On a variety of topics, nearly everyone thinks of themselves as a heroic cowboy in juxtaposition to some mistrusted alien. Politics, religion, and culture itself seems divided to the breaking point.

Yet still God calls out to us, locked in such dirty combat: "Go first and be reconciled..."

If we ever hope to truly live in the town of Absolution (which Jesus proclaimed as the "Kingdom of Heaven"), we have to wander in the wilderness and make amends, confess our sins, and extend love, service, and compassion to those we would otherwise spend a lifetime hating.

Who in our lives do we dislike, despise, or feel that we're on opposite sides of whatever spectrum we're going through? Who do we pit ourselves against saying, "at least I'm not like them"? Who has caused us pain and hurt - and who have we yet to forgive? If we ask what the first step in the road to Absolution might be, the answers to these questions might give us a clue.

Even before we run to prayer, Jesus challenges us to first seek reconciliation with the cowboys, aliens, and polar opposites in our lives.

Perhaps this is why the movie title did not say "Cowboys vs. Aliens" but left it intentionally vague with the "&" between the two. In our own lives, God, too, desires that between all His people, the "vs." be replaced by "&"... and it all starts with us. Blessings on that journey ahead.

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