Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Summer of Discontent

"Woe to those who turn judgment into wormwood and cast justice to the ground... Woe to those who yearn for the day of the Lord! For them, this is a time for darkness without light..."  Amos 5:7.18  

In the summer of 2012, two gritty, bloody shootings have dominated headlines - one during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in a Colorado movie theatre on July 20, another by a white supremacist during a religious service at a Wisconsin Sikh temple on August 5.  Both of these events, and the countless others that don't make the evening news, are tragedies that deserve our attention and our prayers.

On movie screens, meanwhile, the films themselves are fully immersed in an era of cinematic grittiness.  

This has been exemplified by two recent films: Christopher Nolan's third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, itself a reboot of the 1980s/1990s more comic-themed franchise, and Total Recall, a reboot of the early 1990s adventure film of the same name based on Philip Dick's short stories.

Gone are the cartoon special effects of Tim Burton or Paul Vehoeven, as well as the tongue-in-cheek acting of Michael Keaton (or Val Kilmer or George Clooney) and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gone are the fun catchphrases ("Where does he get all those wonderful toys?," "Never rub another man's rhubarb," "Get your ass to Mars," or "Consider that a divorce" to name a few).

Instead, these new films are only a few shades different than the reality from which moviegoers are often escaping.  Their tone is darker, their violence more bloody, the fear more gripping.  Such parallel moviemaking can make it hard to tell the difference between a real-life terrorist who donned a gas mask to kill innocent moviegoers and the fictionalized terrorist Bane who dons a gas mask to kill innocent citizens of Gotham City.

Yet both films also offer a lesson, even if veiled in grittiness and frustration:  The Dark Knight Rises says that true heroism comes not from masked vigilantes with fancy weapons, but from the kindness and compassion of everyday people; Total Recall challenges us to appreciate and live for the present moment instead of pining for the past or escaping to some idealized vision of the future or reality.

If we hear these messages, we are called to reject injustice in all forms, violence in all manner, and apathy and indifference to the difficulties before our very eyes.  

As the prophet Amos declared with fiery zeal, "Woe to those who turn judgment into wormwood and cast justice to the ground!" (Amos 5:7), taking to task those who discriminate, terrorize, and kill for their own selfish gain or prejudice.

Again he says, "Woe to those who yearn for the day of the Lord!  For them, this is a time of darkness without light!" (Amos 5:18), pointing at those who prefer to look to their own comfort, especially those who spend more time praying for themselves than using their resources to help those most in need.

Terrorism, escapism, evasion, and hatred have no place in the Reign of God.  Yet when the world feels overwhelming, when morality seems to be diluted, when all we want to do is run away, it is understandable that people move in such negative directions.  It might seem, to some, to be the only direction they can go.

This is not to excuse those who fall into the temptation of giving into these sins, but when the world seems as gritty as a Christopher Nolan film, it offers us a better sense of what's at stake.

The films of the first two decades of the 21st century have moved away from the comic escapism of late 20th century movies, in an attempt to better mirror the reality in which we live.  Should we return to the innocence of those simpler days?  Should we, like Amos warns, yearn for a "Day of the Lord" when God will just smite those who think differently than us?   Neither option seems viable, let alone healthy in building the Reign of God.

Instead, we look to what these two films challenge us to do: first, to put down our arms (consider how many times Christian Bale's Batman rejects the use of weapons) and work towards peace through compassion and social justice (consider the actions of Rises' real hero, John Blake played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt); secondly, to not pine for a life other than the one God has graced us with, and to live in the present moment, fully aware of its flaws yet fully infused with a sense of hope for those who suffer and are in need of our love and support.

Nonviolence, peace, compassion, justice, presence, and hope.  In the face of the horrible tragedies in Colorado and Wisconsin, we need all those tools in our bat belt to make it through - and one more that wasn't quite so pronounced in these two films:  forgiveness.

Without forgiveness, peace will be shallow and fleeting as division and envy will surely bubble up to the surface once more.  Without forgiveness, we will fall into an obsession on the missed chances in the past or seeking vengeance in the future.  Without forgiveness, hope begins to fade.

In this summer of discontent, we can debate the origins of the shooters or argue over the next course of action (gun control or greater accessibility to them?), but if we lack forgiveness, these discussions will go on endlessly until the next horrible event.

Forgiveness is key.  It was not highlighted as well as it should have been in Total Recall or The Dark Knight Rises, but that doesn't mean that the movie of our own lives cannot have this underlining theme.

Let us pray and struggle towards the forgiveness of these shooters, as well as all those who hurt us personally or societally.

When we do that, the grittiness of everyday life will start to slip away, and we can together work towards a real Hollywood ending in the Reign of God on earth.

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