Sunday, June 03, 2012

Men in Black III

"Let your patience be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  James 1:4

In our instant access culture today, we want everything at our fingertips - and we want it now.  The "Google phenomenon" allows us to know all we ever wanted to know about just about anything, and with our various devices and technology, we can connect to that information anytime, anywhere.

At first glance, the story and the experience of watching Men in Black III fits perfectly into that world.  Like its predecessors, MIB3 is fast-paced, quick-witted, and is set in a secret government installation that, because of its work with locating and monitoring extraterrestrial life on earth, can get access to just about anything, anyone, and any place its agents need to find.

First glances, though, can be deceiving... and more often than not, because a "glance" goes by so quickly, those initial impressions lack the depth that lies within.  What's called for, then, is patience.

For fans of this film series, it has taken a lot of patience since the first movie was released in 1997, the second five years later in 2002, and the third ten years after that in 2012.  

In the story of the film itself, the passage of time is acknowledged as Agent J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) talk about the fact that they've been tracking aliens and intergalactic threats as MIB partners for the past 14 years.  In our seemingly disposable and easily bored culture we live in, it's refreshing for a film (albeit a comedy) to feature people who have been consistently working in their field for as long as that.

But the real test of patience in the arc of these three films, it turns out, rests on Agent K.

Quick backstory of the movie:  the latest alien bent on destroying earth, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), has decided to go back in time from 2012 to 1969, so that he can stop a young Agent K from stopping him in his plans to invade the planet.  In a singular moment in the present day, Boris' time travel plot seems to have worked, as the Animal's Boglodite species begins its destruction of the earth and there is no protection since Agent K supposedly died over forty years ago.  It is up to Agent J to save the day.

In short order, Agent J travels back in time and meets up with the younger incarnation of his partner K (played here by Josh Brolin).  Together they work at stopping Boris before he can alter history.

Under all this quick-witted action, though, is the relationship between Agents J and K.  In present day, J has always been annoyed by K's reluctance to engage with him on a personal or even conversational level.  Above and beyond the extraterrestrial menace they must stop, J is most interested in discovering why his partner is so closed-off to him.

"I promised the secrets of the universe, nothing more," Agent K tells J in the present day, indicating (we eventually come to find out) that his silence is based on not revealing secrets that go beyond the facts and intricacies of space and time... or what we of faith might call the secrets of the Kingdom of God.

Because of this (and I won't reveal more for fear of spoiling the movie), Agent K has had to patiently wait over 40 years to reveal those other secrets, and Agent J has come to learn the patience he has rarely had in his work at MIB.  Good things come to those to wait.

Patience can be difficult for all of us, especially in our postmodern culture where, even though we are living longer and have more time available to us due to the conveniences of technology than previous generations had, we want to know everything - and we want to know it all right now.  Because we can quickly access when Men in Black III will be playing at our local theatre on our mobile devices, we think every aspect of our lives should be so accessible and quick.

It would do us well to learn the art of patience.  As St. James says in his letter, "Let your patience be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:4), indicating that the more we learn to wait, the more we will ultimately know - quite opposite of conventional wisdom today.

Agent K could have revealed his inner secrets to J over 14 years ago when they first started working together, but it wouldn't have had the impact necessary when the time was right for J to know those secrets.  We, too, must trust that God knows the plans he has for us (cf. Jeremiah 29:11).

The journey is just as critical as the destination, and if we rush down the road towards the end of the line, we miss all the opportunities along the way.  "See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  You, too, must be patient.  Make your hearts firm, because of the coming of the Lord is at hand." (James 5:7-8)

What is it that we are anxious about?  Which of God's secrets do we want to know right now?  Perhaps where we will go next?  Who we will meet?  What our purpose or direction in life might be?  When we try to rush those answers, we can find ourselves in a situation later when we wish we could go back in time like Agent J and change things.  More often than not, we might tell our younger selves to be patient and to put aside our anxieties, because good things will come to those who wait.

We need a bit more patience in our lives.  The next Men in Black movie might not come out for another 20 years or more. Maybe never.  We may never know, but what is required is patience and trust.

Let us trust in God that the road upon which we walk is worth the destination.  Let us not pester God and others in our lives, as J pestered K all those years, to reveal the secrets of the universe (and beyond) to us right here and now.  Let us, instead, be patient - and in our patience, as St. James says, we will truly be perfect and complete.    

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