While I realize the Kung Fu Panda movies have a bit of Eastern religious ideology on the surface, you don’t have to look too much deeper to see that they actually have fantastic parallels with Christianity. For example, the second KFP movie was basically the story of Moses. This time, the connection may not be quite as specific, but it’s still there, and perhaps even more powerful.
Po is an orphan panda, raised by a goose, who fulfilled a 5,000 year old prophecy and became a ninja warrior who saved` the kingdom. That’s the first movie, but it is a running theme through all three. The second movie is the story of his origin, about how an evil warrior wiped out the panda race (trying to prevent the prophecy from happening). Po was saved in a basket. In this third movie, Po meets his father—he’s not dead, after all!
Meeting his father changed everything, for Po. Up till that point, he was getting a lot of things wrong. He had become a decent warrior, but had lost sight of what it was all about. As his master, Shifu, said, “Punching and kicking…and you think that is what a 5,000 year old prophecy was about?” Po had saved the kingdom twice from invaders, and began to get cocky. He had reached a place where he was comfortable with his super-hero status and had largely quit growing, quit learning. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he’s like most of us, he misunderstood the point of things—especially the prophecy.
Prophecies are tricky things. They are usually true on a variety of levels. So, a people at one time will understand it one way, and they won’t be wrong, but another people at another time will understand it at another level. This happens throughout the scriptures. When Jesus came, he was the fulfillment of many prophecies, but people misunderstood. They expected him to come reign, to do some punching and kicking, as it were. They expected military and political victories. They didn’t understand that what he was fighting was something far more powerful. He was out to defeat Satan, and to rule in our hearts. I wonder if he didn’t want to tell the people of his time, “Political victories, war… you think that is what a 5,000 year old prophecy is about?!”
So, Po was missing a few things about his role as the savior, but part of the problem was that he was still struggling with his identity. He didn’t know what pandas are—he’d never really known any. He was raised by a goose and was surrounded by warriors—none of which were like him. They were all energetic, athletic creatures. He was a panda. He worked hard to become more like them, but it was not easy for him—he was a panda, not a tiger. And that distinction isn’t just physical; it’s mental and emotional and spiritual as well.
This is why meeting his father was so critical to his growth, to him understanding the prophecy and becoming the hero he was meant to be. His father took him to live with pandas, to learn what being a panda really meant. He had learned a lot about fighting already, what he needed to learn, the thing he was lacking, were panda-y things… like how to rest and how to eat and how to play.
Amazing how easy it can be see something in a movie but how hard it is to see it in our own lives. How many of us have been working really hard to become better workers, more productive, more impressive in various ways, etc., when what we really need is to learn how to laugh, rest and play?
Po had been dieting so he could be a more stealthy warrior. When he sees how panda’s eat, you hear him saying over and over, “I always felt I wasn’t eating up to my full potential!” His dad says, “Panda’s don’t do stairs,” and Po’s heart rejoices! “I’ve waited my whole life to hear those words.” There is such relief for him in being given permission to be what he really is.
Po had learned a lot of skills his body needed to know as the Dragon Warrior, but a warrior isn’t just about what you do, it’s about who you are. It’s about having a soul at rest, that can remain peaceful even in times of great stress. The things Po lacked in his training weren’t matters of skill, but rather of the heart and soul.
Identity. Rest. Joy. Fun and Laughter. Those were the things Po was learning, but they are things we as believers need to learn as well. It’s tempting to think that being a Christian is all about doing good things, knowing how to study your Bible, learning how to share your faith, taking care of the poor, etc. But it’s not just about becoming a “Christian soldier,” it’s also about our identity. Learning who WE were meant to be (and for Po as for us, that begins with first learning we have a Father and getting to know Him). There are a lot of amazing people in the world, but who did God make YOU to be? That can be a tough question, but it’s important, because it shapes how you do things, and what you do. Some people are made to fight battles, others to tend to the wounded, for example. Even among fighters, there are different styles and techniques—some fight with strength, others with stealth and subterfuge.
There are other ways to fight, however, ways that are usually overlooked…ways that KFP 3 points out so beautifully. The battle they get involved in seems like a physical battle, but they learn it’s so much more. It’s also spiritual battle. Their enemy is supernatural. He shows up in earthly form, but he’s more than that. (Again with the parallels—see Ephesians 6:12…this is our story, too.) He’s taken all the traditional warriors, all the warriors who fight with might and skill, and all that remain are Po and the pandas. Aside from Po, the pandas have absolutely no fighting skill.
Had Po been with his fellow warriors, he would have fought with them, as them, and been lost as well. But, he had been pulled away from his warrior life and brought to green pastures. He’d been forced to rest, with others like himself. He’d learned who he was. He’d found joy and laughter. He’d spent time just eating and having fun as a panda—and THAT is precisely what prepared him to fight the most important battle of his life.
Oh, this is hard for us as Americans to grasp. We have lost the concept of Sabbath, a day of rest. We think we get ahead by working harder and longer and more, more, more. We think we have to be stronger, faster, harder, smarter—“more” in any number of forms. But God’s kingdom isn’t like that. Look at God’s battle strategies in the Old Testament: march around the walls and praise me…don’t fight…and see the walls come down; those are too many men, use less, less, less; go up on the hill where you can see the fight and raise your arms and pray to me, and as long as your arms are up and you’re praying, you’ll win. I could go on, but rarely does God use might and strength to win a battle. His favorite methods and praise, prayer and rest—resting in HIM to do the work. And joy—we don’t see joy mentioned as a battle strategy directly as often, but we see that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Po was good as a warrior, but he was limited. In fact, he was often criticized. A passerby told him, “What was Shifu thinking? … You’re a loser.” And in many ways he was a loser, if the standard was being a warrior in the sense that Tigress was. BUT, he was chosen by the prophecy because he was a loser by those standards—because those standards would never be good enough and he needed to learn not to rely on his own strength. He was never going to be great at stairs, but with a little training, he became great at resting, peace and joy (mastering that long before even his Master Shifu was able to). From these he found his strength.
The movie doesn’t stop there, however, with Po fighting the enemy and winning. A couple cool things happen along the way. First, he teaches the other panda’s to fight and do their part—not by becoming traditional warriors, but by doing what they were naturally gifted at. It’s not a cookie-cutter warrior training school; there’s no punching and kicking. They just learn how to use their gifts more intentionally.
They all fight, but to win Po has to sacrifice himself. (Again, see the Christian themes?! “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13.) He seems lost, but his fellow pandas get together, raise their hands, and pray for Po. They come together in agreement and intercede for his life, and he is restored. It’s beautiful. I know, they don’t say they are “praying”, they are finding their chi or some such eastern idea, but it sure looks like prayer, and, knowing the power of prayer and intercession, it challenged me to join with others and take intercession more seriously.
The villagers taught Po a lot, but he also taught them something. Sometimes we don’t see value in the things that make us who we are. The villagers had a lot of talents that seemed really unimportant, especially in the face of Po, the great Dragon Warrior. It would have been easy to be embarrassed when your great talent is being a hugger or juggling dumplings, but Po showed them the strength and power in their gifts. “Po, you taught us who we were meant to be. A father…a friend..a dumpling kicker…a hugger…a family…” These things have more power than you’d expect, largely because they are sources of joy and rest.
As I’m writing this, Psalm 23 keeps coming to mind. Maybe this movie doesn’t follow a Biblical person’s life like the second one did, but it actually follows Psalm 23 pretty well. I know the movie talked a lot about chi and finding inner peace and such – but see if this isn’t exactly what we see God giving the Psalmist in this passage.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.[a] 3
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
all the days of my life, and I shall dwell[f] in the house of the Lord forever.[g]
Before the David goes through the valley of the shadow of death, before he faces his enemies, FIRST God takes him to green pastures and makes him rest. Look at it! He rests, he drinks, he eats (of the green pastures), his soul is restored and he learns the ways of righteousness. He doesn’t learn traditional battle tactics, isn’t doing strength drills and learning to fight. He’s learning to rest. His soul is being refreshed. It’s from there, from a place of rest and restoration that he is able to go into places of danger and battle. And as he is in the presence of his enemies, he eats. He has such peace and rest that he is able to feast in their presence. That’s some kind of chi!
I mentioned that there are different ways to fight than fighting. I once heard a teacher say that we can out rest our enemy. That rest is a way to fight the enemy. He works to make us worried and stressed, and when we can respond to all things with rest, with peace, we defeat him. The same with joy. In fact, any of the fruit of the spirit become weapons in the spirit realm, because they are fruit of God’s spirit, and the enemy cannot stand in the presence of God. So we defeat our enemy when we love, when we have joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and/or self-control. These things are all weapons in the spiritual world. In so many ways, we catch a glimpse of the truth of that in KFP3.
Questions for Discussion:
- How did understanding his identity help Po become a better warrior?
- How did the villagers help save Po in the end? How important do you think it is for you to pray for others?
- Do you think it would have been as powerful if the pandas had each tried privately to pray for Po, or was there power in their doing so together? How do you think that might affect the way you pray for others? Do you think it might be important for you to pray together with others for those in need?
- How were rest and joy important for Po as a warrior?
- How is KFP3 like Psalm 23?
- Do you ever feel like your gifts and talents aren’t really that important or impressive? How might you think differently about them having seen this movie?
- Do you think God can use any of your gifts and talents to do good in the world?
- Have you ever tried to be good at something that just wasn’t natural to me? How did it feel?
- Have you ever been like Po when he met the Pandas…relieved to receive permission to be who you actually are?