Becoming Men and Women of Mercy: A Les Mis Reflection by Bill

les mis

Becoming Men and Women of Mercy: A Les Mis Reflection by Bill

I am a BIG musical fan and have seen Les Miserables three times in the theater…but it took a movie to bring the themes of this musical home to me.  Les Mis, which has garnered numerous Golden Globes already, is one of the most Christian movies I have found out there!  The themes in this movie are not hidden as they are in many movies, but stand out and center you on them.  Like a good sermon that wraps your head and your heart around an idea until that idea becomes a part of you, Les Mis does the same.

It’s theme?  Mercy!

It begins when a bishop shows mercy on Jean Valjean.  From that moment on, Jean becomes the “man of mercy.”  Opposite him is Javier…the man of judgement.  He sees the world in black and white and longs for justice.  There is no place for mercy for him.

The theme of mercy weaves into the story of Les Mis as it wrestles with the questions like: What happens when mercy is denied by one who is the “Man of Mercy?”  What amends can you make when you have previously denied mercy to another?  How far does mercy go?  What happens to your enemy when you show them mercy?

All these questions, and more, are examined in the story of Les Mis.

Through these reflections, I have come to see how easy judgment is and how hard grace is.  To judge is an easy task!  Anyone can do it.  Just walk up to someone and notice something wrong about them and…voila!… you’ve just judged them!  But to show them mercy…to be graceful to them?  That’s hard!  And where does that grace end?  Does it end at one act of grace?  Two?  Do you go above and beyond with grace and mercy?  Or is there a line you draw that says: “No more!”  And what about the one who’s been your enemy for so long?  Do you show them grace and mercy?  Or judgment and hate!?

Jean in the end becomes the Christ figure of the story, bestowing mercy on everyone he meets.  Through the act of mercy at the beginning, Jean becomes mercy incarnate the rest of the film!  He is merciful to Fantine’s daughter, adopting her as his own, spending a fortune just to ransom her from the innkeepers.  He shows mercy to Javier who is out to bring him to justice.  He shows mercy to Thenardier, a man who is in love with Cossette.

And finally, the one who is mercy is shown mercy at his deathbed.

For me, despite the terrible cinematography that moved from one close up to another and made it almost unbearable to watch on the big screen and some inappropriate content, the theme of Les Miserables and the story stands out strong.  I will be buying this when it comes out on video.  If only just to let the music play on in the background.

The Church in The Hobbit: A Reflection by Bill

The-Hobbit

I have often struggled with finding an image that captures what the church is. I read “It’s a body” and “It’s a family” in Scripture, but they just don’t capture it all for me. There’s another…stubborn…element to the church that isn’t captured in any of these metaphors. There’s something humorous about the church that isn’t really mentioned Scripture.

Maybe that’s why The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey appealed to me. It’s the church!

Not the whole movie, true. The church doesn’t kill orcs or anything like that, but the church is very much like the band of dwarves that recruits Bilbo on their quest. How you may ask? Well…

• Like the dwarves, we too follow a king! The true King in fact. And this king, it seems, hasn’t come into his kingdom just yet either. And so we pray “Your Kingdom Come” in the Lord’s Prayer in our quest to further God’s Kingdom.
• Like the dwarves, we too have answered the call. The dwarves came because Thorin had summoned them. We come because our King has summoned us.
• Like the dwarves, there aren’t that many of us. One of my favorite parts in the Hobbit is when they mentioned this and Thorin says: “You have come because I called. And that is enough.” I think Jesus says that about us too…as he’s scolding us for looking at our small numbers as a “way out.”
• Like the dwarves(and Bilbo) we are faced with chances to show mercy, pity, and compassion. It is Bilbo’s mercy that ultimately saves Middle Earth.
• Like the dwarves, we are a colorful lot! Sometimes I wish we could show just how colorful we are to the world. I think they’d laugh! The world sees us as a hypocritical lot. Maybe if we showed a bit of our color to others, they’d see just what a grand group we truly are.
• Like the dwarves, we don’t know how to treat visitors and those new to our assembly. Thorin frowns on Bilbo’s inclusion in the company. So do many of the other dwarves. And, if we’re honest, we’ve had the same reaction too when “new people” have come to join our assembly. We can relate.
• Finally… like the dwarves… we are journeying to our home…a journey that at times seems hopeless, full of despair and grief and pain and suffering…but a journey that will take us home to a city covered in gold!

The Hobbit might not be an Academy Award winner…but it’s a winner in my book…for through its lens I’ve seen the marvels of Christ’s church and the people he’s planted around us.

The Father-Child Bond: A Reflection by Bill

It’s not often that I get to see two movies in the same weekend.

And, not only that, but two movies that have so much in common with each other…but lead me to the same reflection.

This weekend started out with a trip to see “Trouble with the Curve” with my darling wife.

The movie was good…if a little predictable.  Though the backdrop of the movie is baseball(the Atlanta Braves team to be exact) the movie focuses on the relationship Amy Adams’ character has with Clint Eastwood’s character.  These two share a unique father-daughter bond…though one might wonder what sort of bond exists between them since the father abandoned the daughter and the two have few words to say to one another.  Both of them have trouble with feelings.  Both mean well…but you get the feeling that neither of them understands the other.  In the end their relationship is restored…in a way…but I still left wondering what problems they might face(and ignore) together.

The second movie I saw with my kids and that was “Hotel Transylvania.”

If someone told me that these two movies were alike in any way, I would have laughed.  But it’s true!  Both movies dealt with the father-daughter relationship.  In Transylvania, the father was over the over-protective sort.  Never letting his daughter out of his sight, he tried his best to protect her from the outside world.  That is, until the outside world came to him and a young human boy swept his daughter off her feet.  Then Dracula went into damage control, trying his best to control his daughter and prevent her from getting hurt, he manages to drive the young man away and isolate her from the world.  Of course that’s not the end of the story.  (That would be a sad cartoon if it was.).  Dracula learns that humans are not all bad and gets the young man to return to the castle.

So…what reflection could come from two very different movies??  Just this.  I wonder: Which of these movies characterizes God’s relationship with us?  If God is our Father(as we say each and every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer) than it makes me wonder what sort of father God is?  Is he the distant father who sends us away to live with our uncles “for our own good”, who never apologizes for what he does and is distant emotionally as well as physically?  That is the kind of God many people choose to believe in.  A God who isn’t really involved with our everyday lives.  A God who is there on Sundays and when we need him.  Or is God more like Dracula in the Transylvania movie?  Is he the overprotective father, always trying to shield us from the world.  A Father who is afraid of what lies “out there.”  Is God that kind of Father?

Or maybe God is something between the two?  Both distant and close?  Perhaps God sends us out into the world, where God is already working?  Perhaps God who seems to be so distant and aloof, is also closer than our every breath?

In any case, these movies lead to many such reflections.  Go and see these two excellent movies and see what thoughts of God come to you…

Avengers and the Church: A Reflection by Bill

Sometimes I think I am crazy…looking for faith in the darkness of a movie theater. Why would God place such clues to faith in the movies?  But they’re there!  And this week I found it. I found the Church…in the Avengers.

Let me show you…

  • The Church is made up of imperfect people…just like the Avengers! The Avengers feature people as different and unique as a big green guy with anger problems(Hulk), a fallen god(Thor), an old man just awakened from cryogenic slumber(Captain America), a woman with a history(Black Widow), and an egotist(Iron Man). What a varied, imperfect lot is assembled!  Just like the church.  For, though we are forgiven, we are just as imperfect as these heroes are.
  • Each of these people come with different gifts. From technical aptitude to strength, to knowledge of the world, to everything in between. Not one of them is unique. Just like the church! “There are various gifts but the same Spirit!”(1 Cor. 12:4)
  • The fight they have is ultimately with powers much larger than they…Paul tells the church: “We do not fight against flesh and blood but against the powers…of this present darkness.”(Ephesians 6:12)  Sin, death, and the devil are our Lokie and alien horde.  Our fight is not against each other or against anything native to this world, but against what truly separates us from God.
  • The heroes fight…with each other! From the fight Thor has with Iron Man, to Captain America and Tony Stark’s bickering, these Avengers like to fight with each other!  And boy, we Christians are good at fighting against each other too. Sometimes in the same church. Sometimes in different churches! If you find the fighting between the Avengers weary, maybe you should take a look at your church. We do a whole lot of fighting amongst ourselves too!
  • When they do come together, though, the Avengers are unstoppable!  At the end of the movie, they do put aside their differences.  And they are able to save the world against unspeakable odds!   The Church is the same way! I wager if the church universal could set aside its differences and focus on Christ, oh the marvels the Holy Spirit would do in this world! We can already see that true when one or two churches get together to accomplish something…or when people in the same church focus on something outside themselves.  When we set aside our differences for a larger goal, the effects can be felt throughout the world.
  • Finally…the place we end up meeting is at the dinner table.  For this one you have to stay to the very END of the credits.  There you see the Avengers sharing a meal of Shawarma together.  The words have all been said.  The fighting is over.  All that is left is the meal.  We too, in the church, after all the fighting is done, we too find ourselves together at the table of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When all is said and done, we will meet together as one church at the wedding feast of the Lamb…perhaps eating Shawarma with the ones we disagreed with just moments ago in life.

So there you have it.  The Avengers as the church!  Not a perfect metaphor, but one nevertheless.  And, I have to admit, at the end I got a little teary eyed.  I almost wish we were the Avengers.  At least they can seem to get along(finally) at the end.  Maybe we have to realize that we’re in the middle of the movie.  The defeat of sin and death and the devil, though accomplished on the cross, hasn’t caught up with us yet.  We’re still in the fight.  We can only look forward to the meal at the end that will be out of this world!

What Makes A True Savior? – Bill’s Reflection on John Carter

What makes a savior, truly, a savior? And why is it that we gravitate so much to saviors that are quite the opposite of our True Savior?

My kids and I went to see the new movie John Carter. Now, I can almost anticipate what my co-blogger will write here, about the movie not being well acted, the script was scarce at that, and the plot predictable. All of which I would agree with.

Except… Except. This movie is a Savior story at its heart. The book its based on predates Avatar and all the rest of the modern day Savior-Hero movies, but the plot remains the same.

The hero(John Carter in this instance) comes from the outside(Earth) to rescue the poor natives who can’t rescue themselves. He comes with superpowers(in this case the ability to jump HIGH and hit HARD). And he comes to rescue those who can’t do it themselves. To unite the natives under one banner. And to save people with violent force.

In the end he is forced to ascend back to Earth…only to rediscover a way to return and claim his rightful place in Martian society.

Typical savior movie…right?

So why is it so appealing to watch? Why do so many of our stories center around what Christians might call a “false Messiah”, and someone who works out the problems by force?

Maybe its because we really still don’t get what Jesus did for us. Or continues to do for us. Maybe we’re still waiting for Jesus to return, like John Carter does at the end of the film, to rescue us from the world and take us away to some far away planet called “Heaven”. Maybe we really can’t believe that Jesus really did conquer sin, death, and the devil two thousand years ago on a cross, so we’re waiting for him to take up his sword and do it right sometime soon. Maybe that’s why, even we Christians, gravitate toward such stories.

The fact remains, though, that, as hard as they are to watch for some, movies like Avatar and John Carter can provide a means to witness to the true Savior of the world. The one who comes with all the power in the world and lays that power down at the cross. The one who took on death itself to save us and defeat the powers of darkness once and for all. And who will return, not with a sword, but with a new heaven and a new earth!

That’s the story worth telling. And if we need John Carter to help us tell that story…so be it.

Un-Happily Ever Afters: Bill’s Reflection of The Secret Life of Arrietty

Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead

I have to laugh.  Though I love watching the Oscars, I never get around to seeing most of the movies that win the awards! It’s so good to blog with someone who is in-touch with all of that.

Instead I’m here to talk about another kid’s movie. Last night my wife and I took our daughter to see The Secret Life of Arrietty. An animated movie, it is based on the book called “The Borrowers.” (The same book which inspired another movie called “The Borrowers” and an 80’s cartoon series called “The Littles”)  The story follows an odd friendship between a little person(Arrietty) and a larger human boy (Sho) who meet when Arrietty is discovered “borrowing” something from his home.

The story is pretty predictable.  The boy promises not to tell anyone about the borrowers, but the housekeeper finds signs of them, kidnaps Arrietty’s mother, and has to be rescued by the boy.

What got me, though, was the lack of a real “happy ending.”  When I think of children’s movies, I think predictability is key.  As is a happy ever after ending.  Watch most Disney movies.  They follow the same pattern.  Girl meets boy.  Boy rescues girl.  Girl and boy marry or stay friends for the rest of their lives.

That pattern holds…except in Arrietty.  In this movie, the happily ever after is foiled.  Everyone escapes, but the Borrowers must leave their home.  Even with a dollhouse that could house the little people, they dare not risk being exposed in the home.  So the friends part.  Arrietty and Sho must say goodbye.  And this goodbye is forever.  “I never saw her again,” the boy says at the end.

It almost made me cry.  I felt robbed.  What happened to my happily ever after ending?  What happened to them remaining friends always?  I KNOW this is what life is like.  I KNOW that from experience, but I don’t need to be reminded of reality.  Especially not in a kid’s movie!  I want the fairy tale.  I want everything to be alright.

My daughter had fun at it and didn’t really mind the unhappily ever after ending, but I did.  Maybe she’s a little deeper than I am.

Real Life Adventures: Bill’s Triple Recommendation & Reflection

Why are “true to life” movies so great? Why do they all leave me in tears, grabbing the tissue, wishing for more? Of all the movies that I love, why do true movies touch me so deeply.

Take these three family friendly true to life movies.

The first… “We Bought A Zoo“. Now… I wasn’t the most excited one in our family to see this movie, but see it we did. And talk about good. And fun. And family friendly on top of it! This is the story of a family who accidentally buys a zoo. And how they turn this zoo into the top ranking animal park it is today. Though it was a feel good movie…it still left me in tears with hope that good things do happen in life.

The second movie is out on DVD already. We showed “Dolphin Tale” to our youth group this past weekend. I brought it home too to watch with my family. This is a movie made around a disabled dolphin and the remarkable way his keepers(and this 11 year old boy) never gave up on him! It’s an outstanding movie… And again I was in tears. Especially when this little girl who lost her leg sees the dolphin and tells her mother: “He’s just like me!”

Finally, we saw the newest true-to-life movie in theaters, “Big Miracle.” This is the story of a family of whales stuck in the ice in Alaska and how the country rallied around this family and brought them to safety. A warning, though, there are sad moments in this movie too. But overall, it was a heartwarming tale!

So… why are true-to-life movies so…good? Maybe it’s because hope, true and pure hope, can’t be manufactured. Hope is something that comes from God in life with all its ups and downs. Most true stories I’ve seen have captured that hope in a powerful way, making you realize that, Yes! God is alive! Yes! We are stewards of the world around us. Yes! We should care about what happens to animals, to creation, to everything! And yes! It’s already happening here!