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What Disney Teaches Us About Adulting: Looking After Ourselves

This blog series is adapted from my panel at the 2018 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. For those who were unable to make it, here’s what you missed!

According to Dr. Frank Pittman, in his book Grow Up: How Taking Responsibility Can Make You A Happy Adult, at the core of being an adult is the ability to look after yourself and someone else.

Part of growing up is the transition from being entirely reliant on our parents or guardians to fending for ourselves and those around us. This is the crux of adolescence, the struggle for independence and self-determination against the control of our parents or guardians. Ariel, in The Little Mermaid, cries out to her father, “I’m sixteen years old. I’m not a child anymore.” Princess Jasmine similarly pushes back against her father’s control: “Father, I hate being forced into this. If I do marry, I want it to be for love.”

So, if we are to be looking after ourselves, what does Disney actually tell us about being self-sufficient adults? And does the Bible have anything to say?

 

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Inside Out:

The first Pixar film in our study. Inside Out deals with the often neglected aspect of our health: our emotional wellness.

The Bible tells us that “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” (Prov. 17:22). Do we think about that?

We all know that we should eat our broccoli and maybe get on a bike every now and then, but how many of us actually take regular time to check in with out emotional self? Do we have memories that are eating away at our wellbeing? Do we carry grudges and fears?

Seeing as half of our population will deal with depression or an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives and up to a third of us reading this post are dealing with one of those right now, we really need to take a look at how our emotions are affecting us.

Do we, like Riley, have Joy as our emotional leader? Or does Anger have the controls, destroying intimacy and relationships left, right, and centre? Does Disgust keep us from enjoying the little things in life? Does Sadness threaten to overwhelm our life and keep us blue? Does Fear keep us from trying new things or making new friends?

Ultimately, we see in Inside Out that we need a balanced emotional life to thrive. Joy brings hope when our days get hard. Sadness allows us to mourn when life gets painful. Anger propels us to fight against oppression and can help us overcome life’s obstacles. Fear keeps us alive, often quite literally. And Disgust can keep us out of trouble, if we train her well.

Yet, of the five of these emotions, only Joy makes it into the list of spiritual fruit found in Galatians 5. Perhaps we should cultivate Joy while keeping tabs on the other emotions (of which, to be fair, there are far more than five. The five in Inside Out should just be a starting point.)

 

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Big Hero 6:

Unlike Hiro Hamada, few of us have access to a lovable robot nurse that knows exactly what we need for optimal physical and psychological health. But if we look at Baymax’s suggestions in the film, we can learn a few practical tips:

“You have a slight epidermal abrasion on your forearm. I suggest an antibacterial spray.”

“It is alright to cry. Crying is a natural response to pain.”

“Puberty can often be a confusing time for an adolescent flowering into manhood.”

But ultimately, we need to know that sometimes, as an adult, we need to take the advice of others. If we become so proud that we cannot listen to expert opinion, we run the risk of isolating ourselves and ignoring possible life-saving information. The Proverbs agree, letting us in on this tidbit: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counsellors there is safety,” (Prov. 11:14). Hiro ignores Baymax’s suggestion for emotional healing and instead focuses on revenge. It’s only later that he discovers that revenge won’t make him feel better.

 

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WALL-E:

Generations of people who seek only physical comfort and fast food lead to something like this:

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1 Cor. 9:27 tells us: “But I discipline by body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Let’s just make sure we go for a walk and eat our vegetables, shall we?

Blessings

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What Disney Teaches Us About Adulting: Getting a Job

This blog series is adapted from my panel at the 2018 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. For those who were unable to make it, here’s what you missed!

Last week, we talked about 7 Markers of Adulthood that society uses to let us know when we’ve achieved the status of “Grown Up.” Today, we’re going to look at the first, Getting a Job!

Part of being a responsible, self-sufficient adult is the ability to provide for your own needs financially. We need food, clothing, and shelter, all of which require money to attain. No longer relying on someone else’s provision, the adult gets a job and works hard for the money they bring in.

There is biblical precedent for this. The first man to be filled with the Spirit, Bezalel (Ex. 31), was so filled so that he could get to work building the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle. Even though God was caring for His people’s physical needs with rock-water and sky-bread, God thought this work was so important that His Spirit dwelt within a man so it could be done.

The Book of Proverbs has more direct urgings to get a job: “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider his ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares he bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8).

What about the New Testament, I hear you crying out. Well, Paul is even more harsh: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10). Sounds like getting a job and looking after ourselves is pretty important.

Now, early Disney characters rarely bothered with the boring routine of getting jobs. When you’re a princess or prince, you don’t really need one.  However, more recent films have dealt with people finding, keeping, and growing in their jobs. Let’s see what they say:

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Pinocchio

 Here we find the one early Disney protagonist who get’s a job. Which job? Show business!

In Pinocchio we learn that jobs are dangerous. If your boss is anything like Stromboli, he or she will likely try to screw you over, and its best to avoid getting a job altogether.

Now, Pinocchio is a child of sorts and we have laws against child labour for a reason. We don’t want the Strombolis of the world caging our kids and exploiting them for financial gain.

However, we can also pick up on the truth that when it comes to our job, the interpersonal aspects of the job may be just as important as the actual work itself. It may be more important to have a job we don’t particularly like, if our co-workers and supervisors make life more fulfilling.

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Zootopia:

Judy Hopps has one dream: to become a police officer. However, the odds are stacked against her by the accident of her birth as a bunny.

But Judy believes nothing else will make her happy, so she gives it her all to make it through the police academy despite her natural limitations. It’s a wonderful reminder that perseverance in the face of opposition can lead us to grow and overcome the obstacles that are in our way.

And so, Judy Hopps becomes the first bunny police officer – and is quickly bounced down to metre maid. This wasn’t what she was expecting. But does Judy whine or quit? No, she buckles down and becomes the BEST meter maid in Zootopia, outperforming everyone’s expectations. From there, she earns enough of her boss’ trust to climb the police ladder and eventually become a hero.

Sometimes we have dreamy, romantic visions of what our jobs should be that don’t match our realities right away. That’s okay. Sometimes, we just need to put in the work. Paul instructs us in 1 Thess. 4:11-12 “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” If we can follow in Judy’s footsteps, we can learn to work hard wherever we are, no matter our opposition and be the best we can be.

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The Princess and the Frog:

Finally, we have young Tiana who has the aspiration of opening the restaurant that she and her father dreamed of owning one day. In order to do so, she works two jobs and saves every penny she can.

Sounds like the American Dream to me. Work hard, dream big. Wish on stars and put in the elbow grease.

But in The Princess and the Frog, we learn that this kind of work ethic creates people who don’t dance and who aren’t fun. We learn that work and fun are mutually exclusive. This isn’t necessarily true, and it’s not the best message for a youth just about to enter the workforce. We don’t need to give up on having fun just because we have a job. Actually, the financial freedom that a job brings can allow us to have even more fun than if we rely on the generosity of others.

But, eventually, Tiana works long and hard enough to make her dream come true.

There’s only one problem.

The free market strikes when someone outbids Tiana on the property she needs for the restaurant. We aren’t even told who ruins the dream, just that he or she has a lot more money than Tiana. So, we learn that sometimes working hard doesn’t get you what you want. Sometimes the lack of privilege bites you in the backside. A nugget of truth that we need to keep in mind when we set out into the workforce.

In all of this, we need to remember that God is sovereign. He may have a job in mind for you, or He may have a season of utter dependence on Him in mind. Remember, “the heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” (Prov. 16:9)

So, work hard, but allow God to lead you. Even if it’s outside your plan.

Blessings

A Defense of Noah

For everyone unaware, Hollywood’s next big biblical epic is coming out next year. Darren Aronofsky (director of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream) is set to release Noah in March 2014. With a star-studded cast, including Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson, this marks a return of the serious, big-budget films that explore the biblical stories for a new generation. I have loved the epic biblical movies of yesteryear, such as The Ten Commandments or Samson and Delilah, and more modern retellings, like The Bible miniseries, so this new film makes me very excited. If you haven’t checked out the trailer, you can see it here.

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However, not everyone is excited for this film. I started my day this morning with an article by a fellow Christian railing against the danger of Noah. As the rest of my post is going to be refuting this article, you should probably go read it first:

http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2013/11/19/dont-be-taken-in-by-the-noah-movies-promotion/

Now, I have several issues with this writer’s challenge right from the start. The author claims that he has “various sources” who have given evidence that the film is not biblical. I am skeptical of such vague claims about the source of the plot points he attacks later. Without knowing who these people are, I have no way of knowing their intentions, or even their qualifications for judging the biblicalness of a film. Are they film critics, biblical scholars, or just a couple of crew from the film who are harbouring because Aronofsky took the last cucumber sandwich from craft services? I have no idea. Yet, for the sake of argument, we will continue as if the following claims are true.

I have no idea what the inter-personal relationships are going to be like in the film, but I would bet quite a lot of money (if I was the gambling sort) that much of the dialogue is not going to be taken from the Bible. Before my conservative friends get upset, let’s have a look as to why. In the entire Flood story, from Genesis 6 – 9, only one person says anything at all: God. After Noah is told to build the ark, the Bible tells us “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (Gen. 6:22) God then gives Noah directions about which animals to bring on the Ark, and we are again told, “And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him. (Gen. 7:5)  Not exactly riveting cinematic material.

If Noah adds characters and interpersonal issues for dramatic reasons, we should not jump to the accusations of “unbiblical.” The artists are merely telling the story in a different way than the Bible has. We will return to this idea in my conclusion.

The issue of Noah’s character, again founded on vague details like “Noah said essentially…” is also hard to build a strong case for. In Genesis, we are told that Noah was the only righteous man of his generation, but we are also told that he passes out, drunk and naked. The first words recorded of Noah’s are curses against his son. Definitely a person of complicated spiritual and emotional well-being. The author of this article seems to balk at the idea of a mentally strained Noah, but I believe there is evidence that the patriarch may have been affected by the ordeal.

After a staggering list of unsupported claims about the plot and trivial detail differences, the author attacks the editors for the “con-job” they have pulled by stringing together enough of the film to make Christians and Jewish people willing to see the movie. This theory makes the filmmakers seem far more sinister than I think we can accuse them of being. Even if it turns out that this movie has very little in common with the biblical story, every trailer editor has the job of making the movie seem exciting and worthy of our fifteen or twenty bucks at the theatre. Of course they want us to be excited to see the film, because Noah needs to make money or else Aronofsky will have to stop making movies.

Finally, our friend asks if we want our children and families to watch a movie that inaccurately portrays such a pivotal part of the Bible’s narrative. My answer is yes. I want my kids to know what the world is saying about our faith. Am I worried that they will be lured away from the true account into believing what Hollywood tells them about the Flood? No, because I am not leaving the spiritual education of my children to Hollywood. It is my job to instruct my kids in the truth of the faith. When they see this film, they will know how the Bible tells the story.

This should be true for all Christians and Jewish people. If you are leaving your spiritual formation to big screen movies, you may need to start afresh. I don’t think a retelling of the Flood story is going to lead any away from God.

As for those who do not know the story, I believe that this movie could be a huge blessing. After watching what appears to be an epic film with an incredible story, perhaps people will go “read the book.” I did that with The Hunger Games, so there is no reason to expect this situation to be any different. And anything that gets more people reading the Bible is good in my books.

In the end, this is a question of the place of an artist in telling God’s story. Are we allowed to change details for dramatic effect? How important is the number of Noah’s sons for the Flood story? In the context of the Bible, you can argue that it is very important, for each son’s lineage is traced further in the book. Yet, in the Flood story, the important detail is that Noah and his family were saved by God for His purpose. The number of animals, the size of the boat, the opposition that the family faced are all secondary to the main idea: that God saves. If this is captured, then the story is told.

Actually, my only qualm about this film so far is to be found on IMDB. Under genre, Noah is labeled as a fantasy. I understand that to a secular person this may be considered true, but to the faithful, this is a little insulting.

But people are making good art about God. Perhaps this should be celebrated and not condemned. If we do that, maybe we will see more good art about the Creator in the future. Maybe.

Blessings

Why the Bible is Actually a Romantic Comedy

This is probably going to offend a few people, but hear me out: the Bible is the ultimate telling of the romantic comedy genre.

Now, we all know that almost all romantic comedies follow a very set formula. Swap out the Hollywood leading man and the young, relatable ingenue, throw in an urban or exotic locale, and you have a brand new movie. The film industry makes millions each year because something within many women (and probably more than a few men) is drawn to the simple boy-meets-girl story.

This genre strikes such a deep chord within many because it is the ultimate story of our existence, from the very beginning of humanity until the end of time. It might not look like it now, but that’s because we’re stuck in the middle, when things seem to be going all wrong.  But trust me, it ends up alright.

If we start in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, we find the introduction to any good RomCom: boy meets girl. In this case, God meets Humanity. Now generally, Hollywood does not have the guy CREATE the girl, but bear with me. We see God (perhaps played by Paul Rudd) and Adam and Eve (maybe Katherine Heigl) first becoming acquainted, and everything is magical. The lighting is just right, the location is amazing (imagine Greece, India, and Central Park, all rolled into one), and the animals are grazing peacefully nearby. It appears to be the beginning of a wonderful love story.

However, someone else shows up. The snake (James Marsden or Matthew McConaughey) arrives to put a wrench into God’s plan. Humanity takes the bait, screws up, and everything falls apart. They leave Eden (replaced by the dull grey of inner-city Boston), and are forced to quit their dream career in Animal Naming. Things turn from bad to worse as Humanity starts coming apart at the seams. After a death in the family and a terrible trip on an old boat, it doesn’t look like God and Humanity are ever going to get back together.

But there is hope.

Like any romantic guy, God decides to take the situation into his own hands and pursues his love. He makes over-the-top promises about creating a new place for the two of them to live (a land flowing with milk and honey? Who wouldn’t take him up on that?). He bails her out of jail with the help of his good friend Moses (played by Michael Caine). When she still won’t listen to him, God sends several of his friends (the prophets) with messages, which she quickly ignores.

Finally, God realizes that if he is going to win back the heart of his love, he is going to need to get in the ring himself. Jesus (still Paul Rudd) comes to the earth to pay the cost for all the hurt that has been done throughout the story. He sacrifices everything for Humanity, giving Humanity the chance to turn around and find God still waiting patiently. Tears streaming down her face, Humanity runs back to God (probably in the rain) and they embrace.

We are now at the point in the story where God and Humanity begin working together to put Humanity’s broken life back together. A montage of them paying bills, cleaning the house, getting a puppy. This is where you and I are in the grand meta-narrative of the world. It’s hard sometimes, but we’re at the point where, with God’s help, we can make things better.

In the end, the two lovebirds get married. Revelation shows the bridal feast of the Lamb (Paul Rudd wearing white, maybe with a red tie) and the Bride (Katherine Heigl, in a gleaming white gown). Everyone important from the film shows up again, and the credits roll as the party continues into eternity. They truly live “Happily Ever After.”

This may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but I think it’s important to take a step back from the seriousness of our lives and realize we’re in the middle of a comedy. If you read to the end, good wins, evil loses, and the guy gets the girl. So next time you watch a romantic comedy, remember that God loves the world even more than the shaggy-haired leading man loves his pretty lady.

Here’s hoping you can find God in any story, especially the ones you least expect.

Blessings

Why Artists Need the Church

My post on Monday made an argument for why the church needs art and the benefits of supporting the artists in our midst.  Today, I want to look at the issue from the other side and discuss why artists need to be involved in a community of faith. I know this will ruffle the feathers of those artists who disdain the restrictions and limitations that can come with associating with one particular church. Yet, as beings made in the image of our Creator God, we need to be part of His people for three reasons: to be functioning members of the body of Christ as spoken of in the New Testament, to be nurtured and guided on our spiritual journey, and to find a place where our art can be practiced, challenged, and grown.

One of Paul’s most-used metaphors for the Church is the body of Christ (See Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 3; Col. 1), and as Christian artists, we must accept that we are part of this body.  Just because we do not like how the body is being run, does not give us the right to leave altogether. Christian unity is vital for the Church, and we must join with our brothers and sisters if we want to show the world what it means to be Christian.  If we are living in community, showing love to those inside and outside the church, then anyone who comes looking to the church for answers to spiritual questions will be met by a richer example of the full life that Christ offers.

This is not going to be easy. Churches have their drama, just like any other group of people; we are still living in a fallen world, after all.  But if we can work at our relationships, talk through our differences, and let our needs be of less importance than the needs of others, then the body can function with amazing love and purpose.

This talk of community may sound exciting to some, but to many, the world of an artist is an often-solitary realm.  Painters can spend hours alone, unwilling to show a piece to anyone until it is finished. Songwriters need the space to explore the music they create before it is first performed.  Writers are rarely great conversationalists while they are enthralled in their work.  As I write this blog, I sit alone in my house, drinking decaf coffee with my back to the world outside.  We need time by ourselves to sift through our imaginations before we can bring the gold to the outside world.

But this aloneness can become loneliness very quickly.  The church, however, is a community that meets regularly, giving a reclusive artist an excellent excuse to meet with others on a regular basis.  Weekend services, Bible studies, women’s retreats, and men’s ministries allow us to connect with other human beings and realize that we are part of a greater whole. Joining with others as they celebrate, mourn, question, doubt, live, and worship, is a great part of what it is to be human.  By seeing the world through the eyes of others, we can gain a better view of the bigger picture, for our own sight is limited by the experience of only one life.

It is this shared experience that gives us the final reason to join with others in worshipping God: we are given a place to grow as artists. Gaining perspective on the lives of others will enrich the work of an artist before he or she even begins their next project, for it is in communicating the universal truths of our existence that art becomes memorable. A church can support an artist while the physical and emotional roller coaster of artistic creation takes its toll. It will be there to celebrate the victories, and to help clean up the failures. The church is also a ready-made audience for an artist, and better yet, an audience that wants its artist to succeed. This kind of crowd is far more rare in the secular world.

It is also in this congregational setting that our art can undergo the hard work of growth.  Criticism is the constant companion of an artist, and this truth will not go away in the church. Yet listening to the opinions of our critics can push us to greater and greater works of art. We may also find mentors who can help us train well, and ensure that we stay within the light as we explore the truth of a fallen world. If we push ourselves to create better art, to both glorify God and to uplift our brothers and sisters, then we will find that the results will gradually become more and more stunning. The church can give us this opportunity to push.

Too many artists have left the church because the church has not recognized the value of the artist, or because the artist has not recognized the value of the church. In reality, both artist and the church need to realize that they need each other. The life, beauty, and power that an artist can bring to the body cannot be found anywhere else.  The opportunities for spiritual and artistic growth that a church can provide to an artist should not be discarded or forgotten. For when these two groups, often at odds, come together to worship and glorify the God of all Creation, real beauty is found.

 

Blessings

 

 

 

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