Like the first LEGO movie, Ninjago returns to theme of fathers and sons. In the first movie, the son portrays his father as evil because they don’t know how to see eye to eye, but they are both good people who need to learn how to connect. In this movie, they take that idea to the extreme and Lloyd’s dad really is evil—the kind of evil that “levels cities and kills innocent people.” Lloyd is persecuted everywhere he goes because people assume he is like his father, and that somehow his father’s actions are his fault. (Which, how many kids do feel that their parents’ actions are somehow their fault? It’s a good opportunity for discussion about what we are actually responsible for in this life.) People do not know that he is the green ninja, the savior of the city or that he objects to his father’s actions. They also don’t realize that he is like any other boy, still longing for a relationship with his father.
As the story progresses, Lloyd and Garmadon (his father) end up on a journey together to “the temple of fragile foundations,” aka Garmadon’s childhood home (that was pretty brilliant). They get to know each other for the first time. And as that happens, they begin to like each other and enjoy each other. Garmadon gets to be a father for the first time in his life, teaching Lloyd to throw and catch, for example…something he has been missing in his life. Lloyd gets to have a father, to be validated by one and to know where he came from…things he has been missing in his life.
Garmadon kind of misses the point, however, and thinks he can hold on to that joy by making Lloyd his #1 general. “I’ve realized, we don’t need to fight each other when we can fight alongside each other!” That’s not an all bad idea. The world is full of battles we will need to fight, and definitely better if we’re fighting alongside our loved ones than they become the battle and we fight with them. We need to know our loved ones are on our side, fighting alongside us. The problem, however, is when we reduce those loved ones to teammates or fellow soldiers, or co-workers… when they should be SO much more. Lloyd saw that immediately. He didn’t want to be Garmadon’s general #1. He wanted to be Garmadon’s son. Garmadon fired his #1 generals any time they disappointed him. They were disposable. Garmadon was excited to find a better version of a general, but Lloyd didn’t want to be disposable. He wanted sonship. Unconditional love. Permanent relationship. No matter what.
Lloyd is a remarkable character. He was able to fight against his dad and yet, all the while keep trying to reach his dad. He gave remarkable grace. Not only to his evil father, but also to the world around him that continued to judge him. It is hard to be the son of an evil man. It is hard not to let your father define you, or to be defined by the people who judge you. It’s hard to give grace when people hurt you and misjudge you. It’s hard to open up your heart to someone who has repeatedly rejected you. But Lloyd, as so many children do, chose love and hope over and over again.
Lloyd works alongside a group of ninjas who each have a special power—earth, fire, water, etc. Lloyd’s special power is green. Cryptic, unimpressive and disappointing to his thinking. His teacher tells him that he has to “play the part that only the son of Garmadon can play.” Also cryptic, until the time came. Then he realized that his power is the power of life. He realizes that he has the power to hold people together, to connect. What they don’t say but is also very true, he has the power of forgiveness and love—which is part of life. He sees the good in people. Listen to what he tells his father in the end:
I know it, I know it. You didn’t want to destroy everything. When people look at you, they see a monster, but I know that you just feel scared and alone and I know how that feels – to be judged unfairly. So I just want to say that I forgive you and I’m sorry when I said I wish you weren’t my father. I didn’t really mean it. What I should’ve said is I wish we didn’t fight all the time. I wish you could’ve been there… seen what I’ve gone through… I just, I need my dad.
For Lloyd, this works out well. But in real life, let’s be honest, not every evil father is going to change into someone good. Some people have fathers (or sons) who are dead. Not everyone gets to fix that father/son relationship. But here’s what we can learn from Lego.
- We need to try. We need to do what we can to be at peace with others, especially our family. The Bible says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
- As much as we may want peace with others, sometimes it is out of our control. Lloyd kept reaching out to his father, but didn’t take responsibility for things that were out of his control. He also didn’t compromise his beliefs or standards in order to have a relationship with his dad. If you look at Romans 12:18 again, it only holds you accountable for yourself. “As far as it depends on you.”
- God provides fathers for the fatherless. For the years Lloyd’s father was absent, he had an uncle who fathered him and taught him and stood in the gap. Sometimes we need to be thankful for what we do have, rather than only seeing what we don’t have.
- You can both love someone and oppose their bad deeds. Lloyd continued to love his dad all the while he was fighting to stop him from destroying the city. Jesus opposed our sin, all the while he was dying for us to pay for it. Love doesn’t always mean acceptance.
- When people are angry, hostile and destructive, it’s often a sign that they are scared and alone and hurting. Sometimes, rather than being called out on their sins, what they really need is for someone to acknowledge their pain, speak to the good in them, and apologize for the ways in which they’ve hurt them. Paul writes in Romans 2:4 that “it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.” We are so tempted to think that we need to show someone their faults, but in reality, most of us know our faults. What we need is kindness to break us and lead us to repentance. Is there anything quite as devastating as receiving kindness and tenderness when you know you deserve a lashing?
- We need to be careful not to judge someone by their parents.
- With family, it’s not enough to be coworkers or partners, we need to be family. LOVED ones. We want a different and deeper relationship with them that what the rest of the world has. We want unconditional love. Permanent relationship. No matter what. We don’t want something that is based on performance. THIS is the relationship God wants us to have with him. He doesn’t want us to try to perform or earn anything with him. We are sons and daughters and that is different than being servants.
- Our homes give us a foundation for life, and that foundation may indeed be fragile, but we have another Father and another home we can call our own—and they are the ultimate stability.
- Sons may not be able to have a relationship with their fathers. And fathers may not be able to connect with their sons. BUT – our triune Godhead has both a father AND a son, so fathers can have a relationship with THE son, and sons with THE Father. What a sweet, tender mercy that is!