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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Fear

Faith and Film: Zootopia

My wife was away at a retreat this past weekend, which gave me the opportunity to spend some time with my boys. We had a lot of fun running around, playing Pokemon Go, and getting some new Lego. On Saturday night, we decided to have a movie night, and my eldest wanted to watch Disney’s Zootopia.

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Now, we had watched this movie before, but I had thoroughly enjoyed it and so agreed. Watching it again in light of recent events gave the film a completely new layer of meaning. I want to discuss that today.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, Zootopia follows a young, optimistic bunny named Judy Hopps as she becomes the city’s first bunny cop. She has to overcome others’ prejudices (and her own) to solve a series of missing mammal cases. In the end, we find out the main villain has been causing division amongst the population of Zootopia and using fear to take and maintain power.

Sound familiar?

A lot of people I know are scared right now. Those of the fringes, the marginalized and vulnerable, don’t see the future as particularly positive. Even as Canadians, many of us are waiting anxiously to see how the actions of our southern neighbours will turn out. With a dual-citizen wife, the events are closer to home than I would like.

But perhaps we can find hope and instruction in a children’s movie about talking animals.

The first issue that Zootopia addresses is the prejudices we carry around with us and the judgements we make against people who were born differently from us. In the film, the predator and prey animals live together peacefully, but tensions are high. Bunnies are too soft to be police officers, foxes can’t be trusted, and predators can “turn savage” at any moment, threatening the safety of smaller, more vulnerable species.
Except, they don’t. There is nothing inherently savage about the predator mammals, foxes can be trustworthy, and a bunny makes an excellent cop.

The tragedy of these stereotypes plays out in the life of Nick Wilde, Judy’s unwilling Fox partner. After being treated as untrustworthy throughout his childhood (despite a sincere desire to be friendly, honest, and worthy of his friends’ trust), he eventually accepts the role that his society thrusts upon him. Although he eventually finds redemption, he goes through much of his life living out the role given to him by his peers.

What happens, then, when we start to tell every young Arabic or Muslim person that everyone like them is a terrorist? How do they feel, knowing that society at large believes them to be terrifying, regardless of how they actually act? We keep hearing more and more about radicalization, but when are we actually going to do something about it? When are we going to start trusting people?

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The second issue, that we really only get to see near the end, is how those in power can utilize fear to maintain their position and control. In Zootopia, Mayweather convinces the prey animals that predators, including their mayor, cannot be trusted. The prey band together against their perceived threat and begin to marginalize the predators. What they are left with is a fractured society on the brink of disaster. A far cry from the utopia that Judy Hopps hoped Zootopia would be.

Fear is not a path to peace.

Let that sink in. Hope, faith, trust, sacrifice, love, teamwork, and selfless abandon are all pathways to peace, but fear never will be. We cannot build a society worthy of our calling on the foundation of fear and marginalization. If others are not allowed to join us, if we can’t learn to live with each other, if we force some to live on the outside, we will never have peace. Humankind is not our enemy. We are all beloved bearers of the image of God and we need to treat each other as such.

We are called to peace. We follow the Prince of Peace.

This post has been a little long, but I just want to wrap up with a challenge for you this week:

What fears are you allowing to turn you against your fellow image-bearers? Are you allowing the media to shape how you view other people and steep your days in fear of the “other?” If so, spend some time thinking about how that must feel from the other side. Pray, meditate, and try to live a life of trust.

Blessings

Face Your Artistic Fears, Artistically

Hello everyone!

It’s that time of year for us where we begin to discuss what our Easter services are going to look like. We’ve spent time narrowing down our themes and aesthetics and are looking at how we want to portray the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s a heavy, yet jubilant season, and we want to do it well.

But in the past couple of weeks, I was challenged like I haven’t been since I took the role of Drama Ministry Coordinator. One of my dear colleagues (and good friend) suggested a presentation that would take the entire team’s input and direction throughout the process to pull off. I wouldn’t be able to go and create my part and put it together with everyone else’s later. We would be breaking new ground with what we’ve done artistically, technically, and organizationally.

My initial thoughts included: “Yes! That’s so cool!”

My subsequent thoughts included: “Can we even do that? I really don’t know if we can.”

This is a terrifying and exhilarating place to be. If we move forward with this idea (which I’m not going to spell out. You’ll have to come and see the service if you want to see), it will challenge me and the team to step into ground that is out of my comfort zone. Which, I believe, is exactly where we need to be.

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Can you imagine Michelangelo, suspended under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, brush in hand, about to place his first stroke? That could not have been an easy project to start. So much empty canvas in one of the most important churches in the world. And HE had to fill it. Failure would be unacceptable. Mediocrity would be disaster. Michelangelo HAD to step up.

And he did. With, quite literally, flying colours.

It can become easy, especially when have a stable, creative job on staff somewhere, to stick with what works and what you know. Often the drive to create comes from someone else: a boss, a co-worker, a ministry partner. I get to stretch my creative muscles, but I am not creating something from the depths of my own soul with the frequency that many artists keep. My own projects get built slowly in my spare time (or occasionally get matched up with the needs of the church…those are wonderful days!) while I work on what the church needs.

It’s a wonderful place to be, but it doesn’t push me artistically very frequently. Yet, it is in the pushing that we grow. There is a place for repetition and practice. There is another place for stepping outside what we’re know to see what’s on the other side.

This is one of the big points Ed Catmull makes in the book Creativity, Inc., which uses the story of Pixar to teach about creating creative cultures. We need to balance one foot in the known while stepping out into the unknown if we are going to tap into our best creativity. If you haven’t read this book, I suggest it.

So, this project may fall flat on its face. We may realize it’s too big for us right now and pull the plug. Or, we may realize a dream and step into a new era of creativity at RockPointe.

I like that last option.

So, when you are faced with challenges that seem beyond you, remember that each one gives us the opportunity to lean into God, who is FAR bigger and FAR more capable than we will ever be. He who created the cosmos lives within us. If we can tap into what He is doing, we will be able to create FAR beyond what would otherwise be possible.

I challenge you to look at what you are doing with your work this week. Does it challenge you? Are you keeping both feet firmly planted where it is safe and secure? Or are you ready to step out, in faith, to push back the boundaries of the new and the safe? See what happens. Maybe God will step into those moments alongside you, and what you are left with will be a legacy that can be placed alongside the Sistine Chapel.

Who knows?

Blessings

Faith and Film: Rise of the Guardians

Today I am starting an ongoing series of posts that aim to find the spiritual truths hidden in secular films. I will often sit with my wife and sift through the movies we see to find the metaphors and analogies that are bigger than the film. I love analyzing movies like this, and I hope that by reading these posts, you will start to see the metanarrative as it plays out on the big screen.

This is not a review. If I’m writing about a movie, then I probably really like it. However, you may not. If you haven’t seen the film and wish to, then I would suggest you stop reading and go watch it. Come back when you’re done. I’m just giving a heads up that I may give some spoilers in my attempt to explain what I’m talking about. You’ve been warned.

I just recently watched Rise of the Guardians for the second time. I was thoroughly impressed with the film in theatres, and was delighted when my wife bought it for me for my birthday. We tend to watch a lot of animated films because it’s getting harder for us to find live action movies that we enjoy. Yet this film floored me with the messages it gave.

I argue that the story of Rise of the Guardians is really about trying to find the meaning of one’s life. Jack Frost, called into being by the Man in the Moon, is left to figure out his existence on his own. Completely cut off from the rest of the world, he struggles to understand why he was made. Jack’s creator is frustratingly silent on the subject of his purpose, so Jack must take leaps of faith, trusting in the wisdom of others and confronting his past to find out who he really is.

Who hasn’t felt the angst of purposelessness? Jack can stand for everyone on the spiritual journey who has ever wrestled with the question “Why am I here?” God, like his lightly veiled metaphor, the Man in the Moon, is often not as forthcoming about the specifics of our purpose as we would like. It is only as we pursue this question and take risks to figure out the answer that we find our true callings. We can be helped along the way if we open ourselves up to the aid of mentors and fellow people of faith. It is often in relation to other people that we find our true purpose.

Perhaps my favourite part of the film was the characterization of several themes, like hope, wonder, dreams, and fear. I feel like this is the gold mine from which we can get much of the wisdom of this film.

Pitch, the main antagonist, is the embodiment of fear. He is the bogey man, creator of nightmares. Throughout the film, we see fear poison the dreams of children, something that happens all too often to children and adults alike. We allow our fears to corrupt our dreams, make short work of our hopes, memories, and wonders, and eventually destroy our faith completely. Fear can sap a person of strength and kill any belief in a better tomorrow.

Yet humanity is not without a chance in this fight. Arrayed against the forces of fear are the Guardians, embodiments of Hope, Memory, Wonder, Dreams, and (eventually) Fun. They shine like a light in the encroaching darkness, ready to sacrifice all for the sake of the children.

Each of these Guardians are also powerful tools in the real world when combating fear. Memories can instill a sense of confidence in the face of new situations. Seeing our situations with childlike wonder can take the fear out of any challenge. Hope can carry us through the darkest of times. Dreams can help us focus our efforts through the struggle. And maintaining an attitude of fun takes the fear out of any adventure.

Fear may cripple these Guardians in our lives, but it cannot destroy them. If we put faith in these tools, they can rise, like Sandy, from a place of apparent death to eventually overcome the fears. We need only trust that they, with help from above, can do their job.

In the end, we must look at our giftings and personalities to find our calling, our “centre.” If we can figure out how to work within our calling for the good of humanity, purpose is sure to follow. Like Jack, we can embrace our God-given potentials and perhaps battle back against the darkness that is encroaching on our world. With love, humility, and teamwork, we can all make a difference, no matter our age.

What do you think? Are there other themes we can draw from this film that I haven’t talked about? Or do you completely disagree with the ideas I have pulled out of Rise of the Guardians? Let me know!

Blessings

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