Good Improv and the Christian Life

I recently read an interesting thing about what makes improv comedy work… and it actually has something to do with the Christian life.

One of the most important of the rules that make improv possible, for example, is the idea of agreement, the notion that a very simple way to create a story—or humor—is to have characters accept everything that happens to them. As Keith Johnstone, one of the founders of improv theater, writes: ‘If you’ll stop reading for a moment and think of something you wouldn’t want to happen to you, or to someone you love, then you’ll have thought of something worth staging or filming. We don’t want to walk into a restaurant and be hit in the face b a custard pie, and we don’t want to suddenly glimpse Granny’s wheelchair racing towards the edge of a cliff, but we’ll pay money to attend enactments of such events. In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action. All the improvisation teacher has to do is to reverse this skill and he creates very ‘gifted’ improvisers. Bad improvisers block action, often with a high degree of skill. Good improvers develop action.

…“Good improvisers seem telepathic; everything looks pre-arranged,” Johnstone writes. “This is because they accept all offers made—which is something no ‘normal’ person would do.” [1]

He explains how, when one improv actor makes a “suggestion” or a statement in the act, the other actor can either go with it, or shut it down, but in order to keep the scene going and in order for it to work or to be any good, the only choice is to accept every offering. So, he explains a scene where actor A (a doctor) says he will have to amputate actor B’s leg which is giving him trouble. Actor B, rather than accepting that scenario, said, “You can’t do that.” Immediately the scene began to fail. Where do you go from there? They redid the scene and Actor B committed to “agreement” and so, instead of rejecting the amputation, he went along with it and replied, “It’s the one you amputated last time.” This left an opening for more dialogue from the “doctor” (who also had a choice, to say that’s not possible, or to agree with what was said and move on, which you can see, he chose): “You mean you’ve got a pain in your wooden leg?” And the scene hilariously continued.

WHAT on EARTH does this have to do with the Christian life, you ask?! Life is an on-going, in-escapable improv and God is our co-actor/director, throwing out scene ideas, curve-balls, and various scenarios to us. We have a choice in how we respond to those offerings. We can reject them, or agree with them and roll with it. When we reject them, we shut down our dialogue with Him, but when we agree with it, it opens up more dialogue, more relationship, and more flow. It opens up possibilities in our lives. We have the opportunity to lob one back to Him. “Oh, yes, I’ve lost my job, but somehow you have good things in store, so where are they? You have a purpose, and can make good things out of anything. You can resurrect the dead… so… I’m just tossing that back at You to see what You do with it.”

A Christian life well-lived is a lot like improv well-played. It’s about agreement. Agreeing with what God says over our lives. Agreeing with His promises, power, character. Agreeing, as Job did, with whatever hardships come our way. It’s saying “It is well with my soul” after you have lost your job, your home and your children to tragedy. You may not know how it is going to be well, but you agree with God by “accepting all things that come from His hand as necessarily the kindest, wisest and best because either ordered or permitted by God himself” (a rough quote from Hudson Taylor after some awful things had come his way). You accept what He allows and then your response can even be a challenge back, a reminder of HIS character and promises that He will, in turn, have no choice but to agree with back to you—because God will never not agree with Himself or His Word.

And THIS becomes a life well-lived. Poetry in motion. Improv at its highest and finest.

 

[1] Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. New York: Hachette Book Group. (p196-199, emphasis added)

Advertisements
Posted in Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Rabbit – Movie Discussion

It’s your classic Beatrix Potter with a bit lot of Home Alone thrown in, and The War[1] (but for a much younger audience). I was skeptical because of that. The previews looked like a lot of animosity and fighting and ill-will, and not in a good vs. evil kind of way, but between two decent beings. And it was. But isn’t this also reality? Sometimes it is a Home Alone kind of thing, where you are defending yourself against harm and it’s a definite good vs. evil. The reality, however, is that far more often we find ourselves in Peter’s shoes, embroiled in a battle against someone who is not the enemy. They aren’t evil, we just feel that they are. And then, because we see them as an enemy, they become one. Wars are like that. They escalate and they change people and they create enemies. I was skeptical, but having seen it, I stand corrected, or at least converted. Peter Rabbit is all those things, but it is all those things to make a point, a few points, perhaps, that are worth making.

In a nutshell, Peter and his siblings are orphaned because of Old Man McGregor who is portrayed as a mean old man—you know the story. (To be fair, however, the rabbits were coming on to his property and stealing from his garden. So, he felt justified in defending his veggies and his property from the rodents.) After his death, Peter felt he (and all the animals) should have the full rights to and free reign of the garden and all its bounty. McGregor’s nephew showed up, Thomas, who was pretty like-minded with his uncle. He wanted to rid the garden of the animals, too.

Peter could have tried to win over Thomas and make an ally out of him as he had done with Beatrix Potter next door, “Bea,” (or maybe she made a friend out of Peter—either way they were friends). But he didn’t. He, instead, determined to rid the neighborhood of McGregor. Two alpha-male types going into war, one-upping the other, justifying their actions by the “facts” of the injuries and insults they endured from the other. It was a vicious cycle, as all such fights are. Both were, in equal measure, motivated and blinded by pride.

At the heart of the fight was Bea. I mean, yes, the garden, and principle, and all sorts of things, but really, for Peter in particular, he finally saw that he had been lying to himself. He told himself that he was trying to protect Bea from Thomas (the two had formed a romance), but what it really came down to was that he didn’t want to share her. He was jealous. He had an orphaned heart that was afraid there would be less love for him if she gave her love to Thomas. Thomas didn’t want to share the garden; Peter didn’t want to share Bea. Stinginess creates wars.

As their war escalated, things got way out of hand, and in the process, the bunnies lost their home, and Bea’s heart was broken. Sometimes, you are so driven by bloodlust you don’t see the destruction until the losses are staggering. Peter had a dream one night of his dead parents, calling him out on the truth, that he was afraid to share Bea with Thomas. And they reminded him that they didn’t love him any less when his three siblings were born. Love multiples, it’s not a finite resource we need to hoard for ourselves.

When Peter set about making things right, it wasn’t just Thomas that he had to confess to. Thomas knew the truth. They were both to blame. And Peter certainly had to ask for Thomas’ forgiveness. He hoped he could stop there, however. He did not want to have to tell Bea the truth as well. Bea had sided with him, after all. She had believed him innocent and incapable of scheming. He was a dear, mute, little bunny, after all! She thought Thomas was crazy when he accused Peter of sabotaging his home. For things to be right, however, Peter had to confess. He had to come clean, about all of it. AND ask for her forgiveness. Which he did. Such a great message to see! We can fail terribly and recover. We can admit our faults and still be loved. We can find restoration and healing. Sometimes it’s hard to admit we are wrong because we don’t if anyone can love us if we are flawed.

This has SO many applications for us all, but I have to think specifically this movie is a great opportunity for parents and their children to talk through family changes—whether it’s the addition of another sibling, or a single parent who is trying to introduce a new spouse to the equation.

Here are some (nine) themes that stand out in the movie:

  1.  Preconditioned—Peter was preconditioned to see the new McGregor as an enemy by his past. (His parents were killed by the last McGregor, for starters.) It’s easy to take offense when someone treats us as an enemy before they get to know us, but rather than taking offense, we might stop to wonder why. What have they gone through in their past to precondition them to see us in that light? Is it possible that our actions have supported those prejudices in their heart? How can we disarm them, and change their prejudices without entering into a battle and/or furthering their convictions that they are right to see us in that way? Also, consider the reverse scenario. When are we acting like Peter, assuming things about someone without getting to know them first? How are we preconditioned to see people negatively? What people (or circumstances) are we negatively biased against? Do you have people in your life who can let you know when you’re acting like Peter and not giving people the benefit of the doubt, judging them based on your past, rather than who they are?
  2. Defending our rights—Peter and Thomas both felt justified in the war they were fighting because they were just defending their rights. This pretty much always causes wars, and it never brings peace. Jesus tells us to love your neighbor as yourself. This means we don’t look only to our own rights, but also to the rights and perspectives of the other person. When we see things from their point of view, and value that point of view equal to our own, we bring peace. Bea did this. She didn’t just think about her rights to her property. She also thought about the animals and their needs for food and shelter…and their rights to the land. This affected how she treated the rabbits and opened her home to them…and it brought peace. When has defending your rights caused a fight in your life? Has it ever brought peace? Have you ever laid down your right to something in an effort to create peace?
  3. Orphan spirit—Peter was literally an orphan, but he also had an orphan spirit. He operated from a place of fear and stinginess. He was afraid he would lose Bea, too. When he finally realized she could love them both, things changed and he was able to love Thomas rather than see him as a threat. Have you ever been afraid that someone else was a threat to the love you receive from someone? Have you ever been motivated by fear and control and stinginess? How is that different from being motivated by love?
  4. Usually, there is blame to go around (part 1, for those in the fight)—Rarely are wars simply one-sided. When they are, we don’t call it a war, but abuse and bullying. Thomas and Peter both wanted to claim they were victims, but the reality is, they were in a war and in a war (unless it is truly a war between good and evil, but let’s face it—those are rare), there is plenty of blame to go around. As Thomas said, “[Peter] poked at me and poked at me until there was nothing left to do…” He said the truth, that Peter poked and poked and pushed him into a corner. He was wrong in saying that he had no choice. There is always a choice. He could have chosen to see Peter as a friend to be won, rather than an enemy to be conquered.  In the end, reconciliation happened when they both admitted their part in the wrongs. Have you ever wanted to say that you were the true victim, but if you were honest, you had to admit you were to blame as well? What did you do?
  5. Usually, there is blame to go around, (part 2, for those observing the fight)—Not only did Thomas and Peter have to admit they both were to blame, but Bea needed to see that, too. When she was blind to Peter’s guilt, she covered for him and that caused even more problems because it infuriated Thomas. It seemed unfair and made him all the more determined to reveal the truth about Peter. Sometimes in our naivety we are part of the problem (fueling the problem) without even knowing it. We don’t have to be in the war to be a part of the war. It’s important for us to realize that usually both sides are at fault so that our eyes are open to the truth, lest we cover for one and infuriate the other.
  6. Creating enemies vs. creating allies—We always have a choice. Everyone we meet is either a potential friend or a potential enemy, depending on how we treat them. It’s not so much about how they start out in our lives or how they treat us, but about how we treat them and what they become. Thomas and Peter started out as strangers. They could have gone either way. Their actions created enemies of each other. It would have been easy to assume that could never change, but Peter made a shift. He determined to make a friend out of Thomas for the sake of Bea. This is what Jesus did when he decided to love His enemies. He made friends and family out of us for the sake of His Father. The truth is, we can’t control people’s responses, but we aren’t called to. We are simply called to do everything we can do to be at peace with all men. But, when we do that, most people will respond in time. Have you ever won over an enemy and made a friend out of them? Has anyone that you didn’t really like ever chosen to be kind to you so much so that you ended up becoming friends with them? Have you ever realized that everyone you meet is either a potential friend or potential enemy, based on the way YOU treat them?
  7. Stinginess creates enemies (and wars)—Peter was stingy with Bea. McGregor (both of them) was stingy with the garden. Had either of them treated the other with generosity rather than stinginess, nothing would have escalated and probably, they would have become friends and allies much sooner. How likely are you to get in a fight with someone who is generous? What about with someone who is stingy?
  8. It’s never too late to do the right thing and at least try to make things right—Sometimes we chicken out of doing the right thing because we assume it’s too late. We never know until we try. Peter didn’t consider if it was too late or not, he simply set out to do all he could to fix things…and fix things he did. One of my favorite things about God is that it’s never too late with Him. In Ezekiel 37 he takes a valley of old dry bones and makes a living army out of them. If it’s not too late for those dead people to come to life and fight a battle, then it’s never too late when God’s involved. No one is ever too far gone or too out of reach. We need to focus on what is the right thing to do, not whether or not it seems possible anymore. Are there any situations or relationships in your life that seem too far gone to bother with fixing?
  9. Confession and asking for forgiveness are not the same but they ought to go together—Sometimes we think that we confessing our wrongs is enough, but it’s not. (Or perhaps we are willing to ask for forgiveness but never actually admit what we did wrong.) Confessing involves admitting an ugly truth about ourselves, and asking for forgiveness involves humbling ourselves to someone else—both are hard. In Peter Rabbit, their way of asking for forgiveness is beautiful. They bow their head (which is a sign of humility) and then they touch their forehead to the person they are asking to forgive them, which is a sign of connection. In this way they both verbally and physically are being humble and restoring connection. It also means the other person is responding and restoring that person (or bunny). It’s beautiful. To have restoration after a falling out, both steps are needed. Do you find it easier to confess or to ask for forgiveness? Have you ever thought about your need to confess your sins to the Lord, and ask for His forgiveness…and restoration through Jesus’ death on the cross?

 

Read quotes from Peter Rabbit, here.

[1] If you haven’t seen The War, with Kevin Costner and Elijah Wood, 1994, it is one of my all time favorite movies. SO powerful.

Posted in Movies, Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are we Really Called to Greatness?

I saw an article today about how to help your kids grow into leaders that made my hackles rise. It was a Christian article and a second reading of it softened my initial response a bit. The author did say it wasn’t a how-to on chasing fame or money, but on instilling a desire for excellence and dreams in our kids. Good things. And his final step was about teaching kids to serve. Everything about it seemed good and pursuit worthy.

Nevertheless, if I’m honest, when I first read the article something fierce came up within me that I think might be worth sharing. Not because the article was wrong—as I mentioned, a second reading showed me that perhaps I was a bit harsh at first. The point isn’t really that article and whether or not he is right about how to develop leaders (so I’m not referencing it specifically), but this idea of what to instill in our kids.

Here it is: I’m not sure what I think about this idea of training up our kids to be leaders—probably because our idea of leadership is so very American. Of course it’s a good thing, right? We don’t even question it. We have entire departments in our bookstores (Christian and secular) dedicated to this concept. But is it really a Biblical pursuit? A Christian ideal? Or is it an American ideal—one that is so closely connected to our Christian ideal we have never even questioned it?

As there are entire book departments dedicated to this concept, so I’m not going to defend the pursuit of leadership from a Biblical perspective. Certainly, it can be done. And yes, we can make a big impact on the world as a leader. It’s not a bad thing, per se.

But can I just take a minute to maybe add a little different perspective on this? Here is the note I wrote to a friend in response to the article. It’s not thorough nor entirely well-thought out. It’s purely off-the-cuff.

I’m not sure what I think about this article. I think it’s a very “American” mentality—this idea of being “great”. Christ says to be the least. Pick up your cross. He didn’t tell the rich young ruler to be great for God, use his position and his money for good and/or for God… He said to get rid of it all.

I think part of our problem is this pursuit of greatness over a pursuit of obedience. We pursue impacting the world for Christ, which isn’t bad, of course, but in our strength with our methods… Are we willing to be nothing for God? I think of that movie, A Knight’s Tale, where all the knights promise to win their contests for Jocelyn. She challenges William (Heath Ledger) to show her he loves her by being willing to lose for her. By giving up his claim to fame and power and greatness. Then she would know that he loved her more than he loved his self and his ego.

I think Christ asks the same of us. We can be great, but the way to greatness isn’t necessarily a pursuit of it. It’s through the wilderness, through loss, through the cross and dying to self, through sacrifice and service. It’s through obedience.

Do we teach our kids that?? Or only that they should aspire to greatness?

I am not saying greatness, leadership, success, having an impact on the world, etc. are bad things. I do not, for a second, think God intended us, who are made in HIS magnificent, glorious image, to be mediocre, to be anything less than the full expression of who He created us to be. (Certainly, the Bible tells us to do our work as unto the Lord, so that rules out sloppiness, laziness and mediocrity as it calls to excellence in ALL we do!) I think what I am questioning here is, what is it that we are pursuing (and/or teaching our kids to pursue). Should greatness be the pursuit or the by-product of an even higher pursuit?

I believe that if our highest aim is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (which is the first and greatest commandment), then everything else will fall into place. We will live the greatest version of our lives we possibly could. We will probably end up following in Jesus’ path who gave up riches, fame, power, control…and suffered and died…and then rose again and saved the whole world. I would argue that Jesus didn’t actually pursue leadership or greatness. He only pursued the Father. His sole purpose in life was to love the Father and be obedient to do His will. That’s it. Through that, He found his life’s purpose. He could be nothing but excellent, but that leadership and greatness was a by-product of a higher-pursuit.

See how Paul explains Jesus’ journey (and encourages us to follow it) in Philippians 2:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Do you see it? Jesus did impact the world, obviously, and He was the greatest of all of us. And yet, His path to save the world wasn’t the expected route. He got there through obedience and humility and death. His exaltation by God came as a result of His pursuit of obedience to the Father. It was a by-product, not a primary focus.  The same “formula,” if you will, is written about it 1 Peter 5:6-11 where we are told, “humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…” (emphasis mine). It goes on to discuss how to handle the interim time, that time of humbling and waiting and struggle and even persecution and attack from the enemy we will almost certainly endure. It then concludes with a clearer understanding of what happens when God exalts us at the proper time, saying, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strength and establish you.” Again we see that yes, we are called to God’s glory, but that it’s not something we try to attain for ourselves. It’s something He personally gives us when we are ready for it, and it comes after we have humbled ourselves and suffered.

It’s a matter of primacy. I fear that some of our American ideals about being great, impacting lives, pursuing a purpose, (and so forth), while good things to consider, have become dangerous ideals because, 1. They serve our ego. And 2., they have become primary in our thinking. They have become idols. They have become our primary pursuits when our primary pursuit should be our relationship with the Lord. Period. Not what we do for Him, but just a relationship with Him.

And in the course of that relationship, don’t be too surprised if God asks you to give up your pursuit of greatness and leadership altogether, at least for a time. What if He asked you to show your love for him by putting aside all your ambitions to do big things for Him? (Again, reference A Knight’s Tale.) Oh that stings, just to think about. Do I love God enough to be great for Him? Sure. But do I love Him enough to be nothing for Him? Am I willing to follow Him into obscurity if He should ask me to? To be a person who dedicates her life to prayer and intercession for others behind closed doors, perhaps? That person may be mighty in the Kingdom of God, may have won many significant battles in prayer, but may never know of a single victory, never know the difference she has made…and also may never be known by anyone but her Savior. Is that enough for me, if He calls me to it? Is it enough for you? And what about your children? Not only are we raising a generation for whom that will be enough for them, but will it be enough for us to let them follow the Lord, thus?

This is hard for me to write. I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes because it pricks at my pride. I so desire to make a difference in the world. I was taught to dream big, and that’s a good thing. He wants us to be like those who dream dreams. It’s just that we need to learn to think as a bride. A bride’s first and highest thoughts are relational. She wants to be with her husband, to love him, to know him, and to be known by him. Those are the first and highest things. How sad if, rather than longing to be with her husband and to know him better, all she can think about is how to impress him and do good things in his name. Admiration and love aren’t the same thing. God doesn’t describe himself as a coach (to work hard for and impress so that we get to play in the game and be the MVP) but as a groom, who isn’t looking for a good performance, but a loving relationship. He wants love, not striving.

So, while leadership isn’t a bad thing, is it serving our egos, instead of our relationship with the Lord? Are we teaching our kids the wrong focus? Should we maybe emphasize a relationship and obedience to whatever He asks, rather than leadership, impact and greatness as our primary pursuit? Just something to consider.

“You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
38 This is the great and first commandment.” Jesus, Matthew 22:37-38

“He must become greater; I must become less.” John the Baptist, John 3:30

cross

Posted in Uncategorized, Cultural Commentary, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Firecracker and the Fence

Firecracker1When I bring the feed buckets out and my horse doesn’t come to eat… something is wrong. So, when I went out to feed on Monday and I could see her, looking at me from the corner of the fence, but not making any moves to come eat, I went over to see what was wrong. She had somehow managed to get her front feet half-way through the wire fence. When I say half-way, what I mean is, not only was the front half of her body in the fence and the back half not, but she had some wires behind her front legs, and a few in front of her legs. She was half-way through the fence in every possible way.

Fortunately, she has a great head on her shoulders and, realizing she was in a pickle, she didn’t opt for the standard fight or flight responses—she stood stock still until help arrived. Good girl!!!

Now you would think that, with that much common sense, the rest of the morning would have gone easily. You would think…

I got her out of the mess she was in easily enough. Fixed the fence. And then went to doctor on her wound. Considering what it could have been, it was nothing, really. But she definitely had cut her leg up on the wire before she realized she was stuck and it needed some attention. This is where things got difficult.

The same horse that so patiently and gently trusted me to help her out of predicament, would not trust me with her pain. She wouldn’t even let me touch that side of her body.   She struck out at me with her front (wounded…so obviously not too wounded!) leg, swung her body into me, bit at me, reared up, pulled back… You name it.

Now, to be fair, she didn’t actually try to make contact with any of this – they were warnings, not an intent to harm.   But it was a very serious warning.

At first, I got annoyed. “Knock it off!” “You know better than this,” I’m thinking…and probably telling her. Clearly though, she wasn’t really thinking rationally in that moment. And I wasn’t going to be able to rationalize with her anymore than I was going to be able to force her to be still.

It was tempting to be angry that she wasn’t behaving. It was tempting to take it personally and take offense—you know, the old, “I feed you and take care of you ever day… I have never once hurt you… Why don’t you trust me?!” line of thinking.

But then I took a step back and tried to see things from her perspective. It’s not that she was hurting all that badly (again – it wasn’t a deep or very significant wound; she wasn’t limping or sore, and she felt good enough to use her leg as a weapon) it’s that she was aware it could hurt. She knew she had a wound. She knew she was vulnerable there. She was afraid that she would hurt and so she was just protecting herself. All of her actions were about her fear, her lack of trust…they weren’t about me at all.

They weren’t about me, except for the sad reality that we don’t have enough of a relationship yet that she trusts me with her pain. I haven’t had her all that long and we haven’t ever been in this situation before. Not to mention, she is very much a lead mare—which means she is the one the herd looks to for leadership, protection and safety. Contrast that with my geldings who are used to trusting in the lead mare—it’s easier for them to trust in me, too. She isn’t used to trusting in anyone, and I’m asking her to trust me, not only when she’s stuck and has no choice, but also where she is hurting, when she does have a choice.

And here I come, trying to just get the job done and being a little pushy, not really listening to the heart issues going on. So I slowed WAY down. I started to just love on her, on her “good” side, where she didn’t feel threatened. Then I moved to the wounded side, but stayed away from the wound. Let her feel that I wasn’t going to push her to be vulnerable before she was ready. It took some time for that to be okay, but she got there.

I was tempted to just let it alone. It would probably heal just fine on its own, anyway, and I had a lot to do that day. But I felt that, even though the wound care itself wasn’t that critical, what was critical was that she learn that I could be trusted with her pain. It was critical that she learn that I could be gentle and loving…that she could be safely vulnerable with me. This was an opportunity to help heal that area of mistrust in her heart that I didn’t want to miss. An opportunity that would only come through injury. I was surely never going to cause her harm to get there, but now that it had happened, I was sure going to use it for good.

It’s been a few days now, and the change is dramatic. She is very aware that she is wounded there, very aware of what I’m doing, and a little cautious, but trusting. She has not once been aggressive. She lets me take off the dressing and inspect it and touch the area to check for fever, etc. She lets me put on medicine and new bandaging. The thing that stands out the most, however, is how she is when I’m done. All the while I’m working on her, she lets me, but isn’t completely at ease. She is choosing to trust, but nervous. She is being VERY brave, putting her wounds in my hands. And afterward, after I’m done and she realizes that, once again, she was safe, once again, her trust paid off—she is so tender with me. She is affectionate and humble with me in a way she’s never been before. I truly believe that she is aware that I am trying to help her heal, and she is grateful for it.

Maybe I’m reading too much into things. Maybe. I confess a total annoyance at those Facebook videos about animals where they emotionally manipulate you and tell you how the animals feel—“And now Sparky is grateful for his new forever home and knows he never has to be afraid again.” I mean—yeah, maybe, or maybe you’re just anthropomorphizing to manipulate your audience. And here I am, totally doing the same thing. Except, I truly don’t care to manipulate anyone’s emotions.

So maybe I am reading too much into her responses, maybe I’m not. Actually, I don’t really care to make a point about my horse, or horse training, or human-horse relationship dynamics…. That’s all great, but what I do want to do is to draw some parallels to our relationship with God. And in this context, maybe you can grant me a little leeway with the anthropomorphizing, because I’m really not talking about the horse, so much as I am using her as an example to talk about us and our response to God.

But first off, let me interject for a second here something about our relationships with each other. So often we get around someone who is lashing out at us, and we want to get annoyed, angry, insulted… any number of hostile reactions in response. The thing is, maybe it isn’t about us. Maybe it’s about their pain and their vulnerability. We may not even see the wound (we probably won’t) but sometimes we are getting too close to it and they go into self-protect mode. It can look like they are being aggressive towards us, but often they are just warning us to back off and leave their pain alone. If we can begin to see that, we can change our tactic, our approach, see things from their perspective, and give some grace.

So, what about when we are the ones who are hurt?

We may find it easy to trust God when we are stuck and have no choice. We may think that means we really trust Him. But it’s important to realize that trusting God when we are stuck and have no choice is not the same as trusting Him with our pain. All the more so when we have a choice—because with our pain, we often have a choice. We can face it and look for healing, or we can ignore it, hide it, hope it goes away on its own.

God doesn’t cause our pain, but He will gladly use it to teach us that He can be trusted with our vulnerability and our hurt.

God may be relentless (from our perspective) in wanting to address our wounds—wounds which we think aren’t such a big deal and will heal on their own. The thing is, He knows it’s more important to build trust between us than it really is to dress that wound. He also knows that the wound is a golden opportunity to build that trust. It’s His love and wisdom that won’t let these little opportunities go. Not only does He love us enough to want us to heal well and quickly, but He loves us enough to persist in gaining out trust.

When we do finally let God near our woundedness, and find that He is gentle and tender and patient and kind with us—our natural response will be gratitude and humility…. It will be love. Is there anything that softens your heart and breeds love towards another like finding they are tender and trustworthy with your brokenness?

God is the great physician. As I work with my horse each morning, and as I see the sweet changes in her affection and yieldedness towards me, I am being gently prompted by God to bring Him MY hurts. I think I feel him whispering to me that it’s not just about healing those wounds, but about our relationship. He wants to show me how tender He can be with me. He wants to bring forth that sweetness in me towards Him, that sweetness of gratitude knowing I can trust Him with the most tender, painful, vulnerable parts of me. He wants me to love Him more. We can respect and admire and even obey the Lord without this process, (just as my girl obeyed and respected me). But love – LOVE comes when we see how He handles our woundedness. Love comes when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with Him and find that He is safe and kind and tender. And if I can learn to do this with the small wounds that don’t really hurt that bad, it will be easier to do with the wounds that are excruciating. It will be easier to trust in His love when the treatment itself is painful.

Sometimes I confess the practical side of me kicks in when I realize how important it is to learn this now…because no doubt there will come a time when I have a wound that is serious. Something which must be treated lest it consume or kill me. And If I haven’t learned to go to Him with these little things, how will I trust Him with the big ones?

I heard of a woman, a friend of a friend, whose husband died. The cops came to the door to tell her the news and her first, immediate response was: “Please excuse me. I know Jesus and I have to go talk to him right now.” This is someone who had learned to trust God with her pain. Someone whose first response was to run to Him with her wounds, trusting Him to treat them.

I see that motivation. It’s been one I have thought of before. I’m practical like that. I want to do the right things and I see that this makes sense…learning to trust God with everything. Preparing for bigger problems by learning to handle these smaller ones well. But what my horse awoke in me this week was the longing for love. The longing for that affection and tenderness between two people that only happens when we put our hurts, fears, woundedness, brokenness, shame…everything about us that hurts, everything about us we may prefer to hide…when we put THAT in someone’s hands and find we are safe, loved, and even helped.

Firecracker2

Posted in Horses (and other animals), Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Man Who Invented Christmas – Movie Discussion

The-Man-Who-Invented-Christmas-UK-poster.jpg

The Man Who Invented Christmas is the charmingly told backstory of Charles Dickens and how he came to write A Christmas Carol. Thematically, as you would expect, it overlaps greatly with A Christmas Carol—forgiveness, caring for the poor/generosity, forgiveness, love, redemption, family, change, etc.—except you understand where those themes come from in Dickens’ life at a greater level. (For instance, he was forced into child labor himself because of his father’s poor financial decisions—so you can understand his deep hatred of the work houses and great compassion for the poor.) The story was captivating, fun, wholesome, inspiring…perfect for the family and perfect for the holidays—everything you might hope and expect about the making of the quintessential, classic Christmas story.

Since so many of the themes overlap with A Christmas Carol, (and therefore you likely don’t need help thinking of how to have faith driven discussions with those themes), I’m going to focus on something different for discussion—the difference between faith and insanity.

We have all heard (ad nauseum) the quote that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Agreed. Except, the stubborn, strong-minded questioner (maybe rebel??) in me kept thinking of times in my life where I felt compelled by God to keep going on some path that wasn’t producing results…and trust that they would someday. So I secretly chaffed a bit at that phrase. I kept that mostly secret though, because, I mean, everyone knows that it’s crazy do keep doing the same thing and expect different results—right? Which is why my soul rejoiced when I heard Kris Vallotton point out that “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity…and it’s also the definition of faith.” YES!!! This is why the Israelites could march around Jericho day after day with nothing happening, and yet expect the walls to come down. It’s why the disciples could cast their nets all night long, catch nothing, and throw them out one last time, hoping for a harvest.

As I watched this movie, this fine line between faith and insanity is what I couldn’t stop thinking about. Charles’ father spent money when he didn’t have it. He spent to create an image, impress investors, create more wealth. He spent to delight others, as well as himself. He spent it as if he had it, and in the end, his family suffered dearly for it—Charles as much as anyone, as he ended up ripped from his family and forced to work in the poor house as a young boy. Charles was bitter and angry at his father for his selfishness and irresponsibility. Yet, we also see Charles spending money he doesn’t have to create an image and garner more investors and create more wealth, as well as to help and delight others. (The one area where Charles and his father are vastly different in this is Charles was frugal towards himself, but generous towards others. His father was far more generous towards himself.) It was literally painful for me to watch Charles spending money his family didn’t have, knowing he was putting them all at risk. In many respects, Charles’ spending habits were like his father’s, and yet, he was expecting different results.

Add to that, after Charles’ great success with Oliver Twist, he wrote three flops. He’d written three complete failures, and yet was convinced he should write again and this time it would be a success. So much so, he was risking all his money, his financial stability, his family’s future, everything on it. Faith or insanity, I ask you??? It looked like insanity as I watched, as much as it looked like bold, crazy faith. In some ways, the answer we have to that question as we watch is largely based on the results. If it had flopped and his children had ended up in the poor house, we would probably say he was insane. As it was, Dickens pretty much changed the world with that book. In six days all his copies sold out and overnight, charitable giving soared as a result of it. His book changed catapulted Christmas from a relatively minor holiday into holiday stardom. He changed the culture with his book—the book he was willing to risk everything for.

I would love to say I have some formula, some sure-fire way to distinguish faith and insanity. Or to ensure that faith will equal success. I think of Daniel’s three friends who were thrown into the fiery furnace. Their faith looked like insanity, too. And they, too, risked everything for their faith. I love their response, “Our God will rescue us, but even if He doesn’t…” (Daniel 3:17, paraphrase and emphasis mine). That is faith—it’s obedience no matter the result. And that is the key thing—obedience. I suspect that is the major difference between Dickens and his father. One spent money for image and personal gain (primarily) and the other was far more motivated by generosity and kindness. Charles Dickens’ greatest desire was to do good in the world. The movie doesn’t focus on faith in God at all, but in as much as the Bible teaches that whatever we do to the least of these, we do as unto the Lord, we see a great deal of obedience to the heart of Jesus in Dickens. He wasn’t writing the book to increase his family’s fortune, he was writing it to help people change, to teach them to lighten the load of their fellow man, to inspire them to open their hearts towards one another—and he was compelled to do it. He was compelled to risk everything for it. That feels a lot like obedience and faith. And I suspect that even if this book had flopped, too, he would not regret having told the story he had to tell—because faith is about obedience more than results.

One final point of interest—Dickens couldn’t get the story to come out right, couldn’t figure out the ending…until he forgave his father. I find this intriguing. He was completely blocked with the character of Scrooge, seeing no hope for change in him (and therefore greatly disappointing his proof readers with a tragedy wherein Scrooged never changed and Tiny Tim died instead of the Christmas comedy that it became)—until he was able to see that there was good in his father. Yes, his father made huge mistakes, but for all those, as his sister pointed out, “You won’t find a kinder man.” When he was able to give grace to his father, he was able to give grace to Scrooge.

Concurrent with that, forgiving his father allowed him to confront his own, deeply embedded fears and find grace for himself. His time in the workhouse had scarred him. He was haunted by the voices of people telling him he was useless. His inability to forgive his father was keeping him from forgiving himself. Thinking his father could never change, or that the harm he had done negated the good he had done—those things were judgements he held over himself (and therefore over Scrooge) as well. Forgiving his father was a lynchpin to setting himself free…and to the ending of his story. What a great reminder to us all.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How are faith and insanity similar? What do you think makes them different?
  • What are the similarities and differences in Charles and his father’s attitudes/behaviors towards money?
  • Why do you think Dickens couldn’t finish his story at first? What do you think changed things for him?
  • How did forgiving his father set Charles free?
  • Do you think people change?

Read quotes from The Man Who Invented Christmas, here.

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coco – Movie Discussion

cocoposter

Curses and blessings—Coco centers around curses and blessings as much as it centers around family and aspirations (specifically aspirations for a musical career). Given that, it’s not hard to see how the movie can provide some rich opportunity for good discussions about faith and character.

The movie starts with Miguel saying he thinks his family is cursed. He goes on to explain his generational backstory, one in which his great, great grandfather left his family to pursue his career as a musician. Imelda, his great, great, grandmother at that point went on to forge her own career as a shoe-maker, providing for herself, her daughter and future generations. She was bitter, however, never loved again, and never allowed any music in the family again, blaming it for her husband’s loss.

As the movie goes on, it’s tempting to feel that the generational curse was passed down from a man who chose career over family, but the real curse is in Imelda’s unforgiveness. Her bitterness made her a controlling, dominating, bitter matriarch who stifled her offspring unless they fit into her mold. She was fearful and ruled her family with fear, fear of being abandoned again.

Miguel loves music, but has to hide this from his family. On the Day of the Dead, he ends up in the land of the dead, and in order to return to the land of the living, he needs Imelda’s blessing. She decides to give it ONLY on the condition that he give up music forever. This raises some interesting questions about blessings. She is clearly selfish and using the idea of a blessing to control and manipulate – which is clearly wrong. However, we see in the Bible where God promises blessings to those who obey His commands, and curses to those who rebel (see Deuteronomy 30). This isn’t about manipulation, however, but about consequences. I’ve been wrestling with this—what exactly is the difference? When should a blessing be freely given, and when is it acceptable for it to be attached to a condition? I don’t have a clear answer for this, but to be sure, Imelda’s motives are selfish and that is a good indicator that something is wrong.

It’s easy to see that Imelda was wrong, especially as we find out that she falsely judged her husband all those years. It’s not, however, as easy to see how wrong Miguel was. If she’d given her blessing to him at first, he would have felt justified in following after his hero whose motto was “Seize the moment [no matter the cost].” He didn’t value his family as he should have, because he felt they were holding him back. He had elevated music (career, passion, aspirations) over family and relationships, just as he’d been told his great, great grandfather had. It took meeting his great, great grandfather for him to begin to see the value in family, the cost of regret, the hollow pursuit of fame. He had made music a god to be served over all else in his life. Once his priorities were realigned, and music became a tool to serve him (and not the other way around), then it was something that could be a blessing and not a curse in his life. THEN, he could receive Imelda’s blessing without conditions.

The Bible says to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). In the movie, family relationships are the most important (this is very much a cultural value), and family relationships are important, but they aren’t primary. The lesson is valuable, but we need to replace it with our relationship with God. Not everyone has a good family like Miguel had. And even good families cannot be first in our lives—God comes first, above everything. But the principle is good—once Miguel got his priorities right and put relationships first (should have been his relationship to God and obedience to His will), THEN music and everything else could be added to him. Had he not gotten his priorities right, however, giving him music would have been destructive to his life.

One final thought about forgiveness and assumptions. Imelda assumed the worst about her husband. That assumption caused bitterness which held her and her family in bondage for generations. And, in the end, to make matters worse, she was wrong. Love does not assume the worst, it hopes for the best and it covers over wrongs. Had she acted in love towards her husband, she would not have brought generations of pain and bitterness to her family. When we assume the worst about people, when we judge them harshly and take away a woundedness from our disappointments, we hurt ourselves and everyone around us. We become the living dead. Grace and forgiveness sets us all free and brings life.

The great, great grandmother held a grudge against her husband and music that she passed down through the generations (so strongly that Miguel would say they were cursed), all because she assumed the worst about her missing husband. She was wrong about him. Not only did her false assumption hurt herself, but it hurt her family for generations. When we assume the worst about people, when we judge them harshly and take away a woundedness from our disappointments, we hurt ourselves and everyone around us. We become the living dead. Grace and forgiveness sets us all free. It brings life. It is interesting to note that she wasn’t able to give Miguel her blessing until she had forgiven her husband and been healed from her bitterness. The call to love others, to hope for and assume the best, to even cover over their wrongs…it’s not just about setting us free and bringing life to us…it’s about those around us. This is one of those conditional blessings…when we do this, we are blessed and able to bless others. When we don’t, we bring curses upon ourselves and others. And those blessings and curses, they last for generations, so, as Deuteronomy 30 says, “God sets life and death, blessings and curses before us, so choose life so that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

 

Questions for Discussion:

  • What does it mean to be part of a family / IN a family?
  • When is it okay to have conditions for blessings, (i.e. I’ll pay for college if you keep your GPA at an acceptable level), and when is that a wicked manipulation (i.e. Imelda saying she’d only give her blessing to Miguel if he gave up music)?
  • How might it have been bad for Miguel to receive Imelda’s blessing earlier in the story, before he’d seen the true ugliness of his hero?
  • The Bible says to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and then all these things can be added unto you. What does that mean? How does Miguel’s journey follow this verse? What things are you tempted to seek first in your life?
  • How might things have been different for Miguel’s family if Imelda had hoped for the best in her husband (i.e. if she had considered that it was possible he wanted to come back but something happened to him)? Is there a time you can think of when you have assumed the worst about someone, and then realized you were wrong?
  • Is there any bitterness in your life? How is it affecting others around you? How can you choose to love (i.e. hope for the best, and/or cover over the wrong) and how might that set you free and bring life to you and people around you?

Click here to read quotes from Coco.

 

Posted in Movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murder on the Orient Express – Movie Discussion

murder - long

**Spoiler Alert**

While the movie is, on the surface, a murder mystery, at a deeper level it’s really about the growth (or perhaps “changing perspective” is more on point) of the main character, Hercule Poirot. He is a man of absolutes. He “sees the world as it should be, so the imperfections stand out.” In his perspective, “There is right. There is wrong. There is nothing in between.” By the end, however, his black and white world is dismantled. He finds the killer, but also finds compassion and understanding for what was done. “There was right. There was wrong. Then there was you. I cannot judge you for this,” he says. “What is justice here?”

What changed? How does a man like Poirot go from black and white, right and wrong—an absolutist standpoint—to one of moral relativism? In his words, “I have seen the fracture of the human soul… until one crime became many. I depend on order… but now, perhaps I am asked to listen to my heart. I have understood in this case that the scales of justice cannot be even weighed.”

Poirot’s journey is very much the journey of our modern world. The black and white moral absolutism we used to adhere to was too narrow. It didn’t allow for understanding, for gray, for complicated realities. So, the pendulum swung. The new generation rebels against it’s predecessor and goes to the other extreme until we are so sympathetic to people’s why we aren’t able to judge the what any longer. This is what happened to Poirot. He so understood the why of the murder, he couldn’t say that it was wrong.

The problem is in the extremes. Focusing on the what without understanding the why makes us intolerable and harsh. Focusing on the why without ever judging the what makes us a lawless and dangerous society. Someone in the movie said, “They’re not killers. They’re good people. They can be good again.” The thing is, they did kill. They may not do so again, but they did—in a personal and violent way, each sharing the knife and stabbing their victim. I would also like to point out the obvious issue of semantics here—that when you say someone “can be good again” you are also admitting they have lost that goodness. Yes, they can be good again.   And yes, they aren’t killers in the sense that some people are, with a thirst for blood, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they did kill in cold blood.

The movie seems to want us to agree with Poirot. It wants us to come to a place of relativism, too. To agree that murder can’t be judged as such when it’s justifiable revenge. But this is craziness, because let’s face it, everything seems right to us in our own eyes. We always think our cause, our pain, our revenge…is justifiable. We are not good judges of our own hearts. For a godless people, this is all they have, perhaps. But for those of us who know the Lord, we have a different hope. We don’t have to fight for our justice, because He defends the oppressed. He takes responsibility for vengeance. He is a perfect and just judge who can perfectly weigh in the balance both the what and the why of our actions…and of everyone else’s. He will fight for us. We don’t have to do that. We only have to be obedient…and “do not murder” is a BIG point of obedience. It IS wrong. Just because something is understandable, does not make it right.

Poirot did, perhaps, need to learn some compassion. It was probably good for him to gain some understanding of why people were led to murder. That doesn’t, however, mean that he therefore had to justify their actions. As my elementary principal used to say, “You can explain it, but you can’t excuse it.”

This is what makes Jesus so astounding. His ability to say, “Has no one condemned you? Go and sin no more,” without becoming a moral relativist. He gives incredible grace because He understands, better than we do ourselves, our own weaknesses. And yet, his standards are perfect and unchanging.   He judges sin and demands it be atoned for, not simply swept under the rug. He also, in His great mercy, love and understanding, decided to pay for it Himself so that we could go and sin no more. Like Poirot, He wanted us to be declared innocent. He wanted us to become good again. Unlike Poirot, however, He never tried to deny our sin. He didn’t cover it up or ignore it. He paid for it. He doesn’t say, You aren’t really killers, this was a justifiable and isolated incident. He does say, You are guilty. You should have trusted me instead of taking things into your own hands, but I’ve paid your debt. I love you. I want to wash your sin and stain in my blood so that you can be clean again.

We are like those passengers on the train. We have all sinned. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. And our sins have been found out. We are guilty. Thanks be to Jesus who was not puzzled or at a loss as to what to do with us. His world view wasn’t thrown into chaos by His understanding. Rather, He made a way for us to be made clean again and brought back into right standing with Himself and the law.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26

Questions for Discussion:

  • How do you think the movie should have ended?
  • Would you have found the killers innocent or guilty? Do you think their actions were justified? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Poirot’s shift from absolutism to relativism mirrors our society and it’s shifting pendulum?
  • How easy is it for you to justify your own actions?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the statement that “no one is righteous” and/or “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”?
  • Whether its justifiable or not in your own mind, how does it make you feel that Jesus never denied your sins, but He did pay for them so that you could be washed clean?

Click here for quotes from Murder on the Orient Express.

Posted in Movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wonder – Movie Discussion

wonder.jpg

Maybe if we knew what everyone was thinking we’d know they’re not so ordinary and we all deserve a standing ovation once in our lives. – Auggie

Wonder is a one of those rare, truly-good-for-the-whole-family movies. Not only is it clean and fun and touching, it’s also inspiring and convicting. One of those movies that will encourage you to grow as a person. If some movies are like eating dessert, they taste good but offer no real nutritional value for your soul, and others are like eating vegetables, they may be good and healthy for your soul but aren’t quite as delicious going down…this one is like eating a fabulous piece of cake, and then finding out it’s actually chock-full of vegetables and protein and things that will benefit your soul. That’s a rare find! And on top of that, for those of us literary types, it’s actually a brilliantly-crafted, well-written story.

It’s the story of Auggie Pullman, a young boy whose birth defects accounted for countless surgeries and much physical deformity in his face. Previously homeschooled, he is forced to finally brave public school as he enters the fifth-grade (as if middle school isn’t hard enough on any kid!). He suffers betrayal and meanness and gossip—all amplified by both his physical deformities and his insecurities. And yet, as his sister Via points out, “School sucks and people change. So, if you want to be a normal kid, then those are the rules,” indicating that his experiences in Jr. High aren’t about him being different, they are actually just a part of his being normal—a thing he longs for. Her solution for this, besides simply accepting these things as a normal course of life? Embrace family. “So… we are each other’s best friends,” she says.

This is part of the movie’s genius. We see how unkind the world is to Auggie, and yet, his experience, though heightened, is still very normal. It puts things in perspective. It shows us how extraordinary and yet how normal we ALL are, and our experiences ALL are. This is the point Auggie comes to at the end of the movie as he not only survived fifth-grade, but thrived in it. “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle and if you really want to see who people are, all you have to do is look,” he says. “Maybe if we knew what everyone was thinking we’d know they’re not so ordinary and we all deserve a standing ovation once in our lives.” It’s almost oxymoronic to say that everyone is extraordinary, because extraordinary sort of precludes the possibility of everyone—it’s extra, beyond, not normal. And yet, we can all be extraordinary, not normal, in different ways. We are heroic as we fight our own unique battles. Everyone fights them, which makes it common, but the battles themselves are unique, which makes us extraordinary.

This is another part of the movie’s genius—and I dare say the most significant: it doesn’t just showcase Auggie’s struggles (and his greatness); it shares several character’s private battles (and their greatness). It’s brilliant. It may revolve around Auggie’s story, but it doesn’t only tell Auggie’s story. As the earth rotates around the sun, different parts of the earth are highlighted, exposed, displayed for all to see. It’s a metaphor Via uses to describe her family— “Auggie is the sun. My mom and dad and me are the planets orbiting the sun.” Her point is that everything in her family is always all about Auggie. (And this is hurtful to her as she never feels like she is the center of her parent’s attention.) What she misses, however, is that as her family, and the story as a whole, rotates around him, the light of Auggie and his struggles is what illuminates her and the other people in the story. Her beautiful character is revealed by him.

It is how the story functions. He is the center, but we don’t only get his point of view. As the story rotates through its orbit, various characters are highlighted and we get to see and hear things from their point of view. Yes, it is all in the light of Auggie, but that’s because he is the light that is highlighting their struggle. We see how Via struggles because she thinks her family cannot handle one more thing on their plate. She feels like an only child, abandoned by her parents, and yet—she fully understands that Auggie needs them. Via’s best friend is jealous of Via’s loving family. Auggie’s friend Jack Will struggles with wanting to be friends with Auggie, but also wanting to be cool with the “cool kids”. And so it goes. Everyone is fighting their own difficult battle. They make mistakes. They do cruel things even, and yet, when their story is illuminated, we see why and we are moved with compassion. It makes our rejoicing over their course corrections later even greater.

The writers could have accomplished this in other ways, I’m sure, but the beauty of this movie is that both the message and the means of learning that message are instructive. They don’t simply point out that everyone has their own struggles. They don’t just tell us to be compassionate and forgiving towards others. Instead they go beyond the message and give us a method to get there. As they take time in the story away from Auggie’s journey to hear what’s going on with everyone else, they are teaching us by example to be less self-centered. They are teaching us to pause and watch and listen to those around us. They are teaching us that everyone has their own perspective, their own way that they are being affected by your collective experience. You may be going through the same circumstances, but you will experience them differently, be affected by them uniquely.

Most stories have a third-person point of view (often an omniscient narrator). Many have a first-person point of view (like the way you see your life—it’s through one person’s perspective). Not a lot of stories have a multiple first-person point of view (Hoodwinked is another example). Wonder chose the latter because it isn’t just telling Auggie’s story; it’s telling us that every person’s story is worth telling and worth a standing ovation at some point.

Near the story’s end, Via is in a play and her monologue gives insight into another nugget we are supposed to take away from the story. She laments, “All that was going on and we never noticed??? … Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you.” There is so much going on in the world around us and in people’s lives all around us…and we never notice. When we do have a moment of clarity and insight, when we do see the heroic struggles within each other, when we do see the beautiful tapestry God is creating, we are compelled to say with Via, “It’s too wonderful for anyone to realize.”

And then the story circles back to its center, to Auggie—the boy whose deformities and struggles and beautiful wit and character and brilliance and kindness shone a light on all those around him, highlighting and bringing clarity to their own stories. At his fifth-grade graduation his principal, Mr. Tushman, quoted Henry Ward Beecher and said, “Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.” I’m here to award the Henry Ward Beecher award to the student whose great strength has carried up the most hearts.” And he awarded it to Auggie.

Auggie’s story wasn’t just about himself. He had the wonderful ability to see other people, to see things from their perspective and put himself in their shoes.  He said, “If Chewbacca went to school here, I’d probably stare, too. [Aside to Chewy, imagining him there:] Hey, I’m sorry if my staring made you uncomfortable.” This is how he is able to forgive meanness in others—he imagines being in their shoes. Mr. Tushman told the school bully, “Auggie can’t change the way he looks, but maybe we can change the way we see.” And at graduation, he said that Auggie “carried up the most hearts”—Auggie did that by changing the way people saw, and that started with changing the way HE saw.

The messages in this movie apply to everyone—it’s about being the best sort of human imaginable. I haven’t brought Christianity into the article yet, but it’s there. Jesus came to teach us all how to be the best sort of human imaginable. It’s just that sometimes, we’ve made Christianity about something other than being fully and best human. We’ve made it about rules and religion and snobbery. But with Auggie, there’s nothing snobbish…and he is very much like Christ. He forgives his enemies and is kind to those who persecute him. He lifts up those around him and makes them better people… I could go on, but isn’t that exactly who Christ was? Someone who carried up the most hearts by the attraction of his own? God may not be mentioned in the movie, but there are books in the Bible where He isn’t mentioned either. Just because His name isn’t spoken, doesn’t mean He isn’t still throughout the story. He is all in it for those who care to look for Him.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How did hearing other people’s stories and points of view change your perspective of them in the movie? Would it change things if you could do this in your own life—learn to see other people’s points of view? How could you do that?
  • In what ways did Auggie “carry up the most hearts”?
  • In what ways is Auggie like Jesus?
  • What does it mean that, “Maybe if we knew what everyone was thinking we’d know they’re not so ordinary and we all deserve a standing ovation once in our lives”?

Click here to read quotes from Wonder.

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Star – Movie Discussion

the star long.png

The Star follows the familiar advent story except it does so through a different (and fun but fictional) perspective—that of the donkey who carried the pregnant Mary on his back into Jerusalem. Here are 10 lessons (with discussion questions) we can take away from the story.

  1. Accepting God’s Plan—Mary (especially) had to be willing to yield to God’s unusual plan for her life. She had to choose to surrender and yield her life if she was to become the mother of Jesus. Yielding isn’t easy. It isn’t always pretty. But it is worth it. What things have you had to accept from God’s hand that weren’t easy, but worth it? Is there anything God is asking you to surrender to Him now?
  2. God’s Plan isn’t always easy—Mary and Joseph struggled. They had to take a long journey while she was very pregnant. There was no place for her to have her baby. (Just to name a few of the difficult circumstances they faced after they said yes to God’s will. Saying yes to God isn’t any guarantee that things will therefore be easy or simple. It simply means that even your struggles are in the center of God’s will. The movie makes this very clear—listen to their discussion: Joseph: Just because God has a plan doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, and that scares me. Mary: This IS hard. We don’t always think about how Mary and Joseph must have struggled, so I loved this raw honesty. What examples can you think of in the Bible where God’s plan wasn’t easy…in fact, it was scary…for those who followed it? How does this help, challenge or encourage you?
  3. Even the rocks cry out…why wouldn’t we expect the animals to know?! Without a doubt there is a lot of anthropomorphism going on in this movie, but on the other hand, the Bible makes it clear that the earth itself recognized its maker when He came, so it is such a stretch to believe that animals would as well? Well, to be fair, they were a bit like us—they saw the star and knew it was something important, but they didn’t know the baby Jesus was a King until they were told. Still, it’s an interesting question to me, how much revelation did the animals in the stable have? There’s that song, Mary, did you know? But I wonder, Donkeys and sheep, did you know?
  4. Joseph and Mary were very much human…and he struggled with fear of not being able to provide. The movie shows the real humanity of Jesus’ parents. Joseph was a man, a husband, a father…who struggled with the things men, husbands and fathers struggle with—things like not being able to provide for his wife and family. It’s easy to see the cozy nativity scenes with their glowing halo of warming light and see it with such a nostalgic sweetness. It’s good to be reminded (just a little, it is a cute little kid’s movie, after all) of the gritty reality of them and their lives at that time. Did you think about Mary and Joseph and their lives differently because of this movie?
  5. Our examples inspire others…even though we may not know it. Mary was a woman of prayer and her example impacted others. When Bo (the donkey) was in a bind, he imitated Mary and tried prayer. “I could try praying. Um…let’s see… how did Mary do this?” That’s the thing about influence though, we rarely are aware of it. We don’t know who is watching us, who is taking note, or when they might just be desperate enough to follow our example. Bo wasn’t asking Mary to teach him about prayer. He never told her he noticed her praying. He probably wasn’t even all that interested at the time. But a time did come when he was interested, a time of desperation, and she wasn’t there to know about it, but her example inspired and instructed him. Whose example have you followed, been inspired or helped by? Did they know about it? Do you work to live a good example for others to follow?
  6. Our “little” offering may be exactly what is needed. When Mary and Joseph found the stable, one of the animals said, “It’s not much, but there’s plenty of light!” It was a poor offering, and yet, after finding the town hotels all filled up, it was a glorious offering. The animals had no idea how beautiful that little stable was because they had no idea how desperate Mary and Joseph were. Don’t let the smallness of what you have to offer shame you into withholding what you have. Offer it. You never know how beautiful your little gift may be to the one its given to. What do you have to give? Have you ever been ashamed that what you had to give wasn’t enough?
  7. We should have mercy on our enemies. An evil man and his two dogs were in pursuit of Bo throughout the movie. In the end, Bo was in a position to let them die, or save their lives. In the spirit of Jesus (who he hadn’t even met yet), Bo chose the latter. He chose to love his enemies and do good to those who persecuted him. That beautiful act of mercy opened the dogs’ hearts to change. They followed Bo to see the baby Jesus and again, there was a defining moment. The other animals, Bo’s friends, were scared to see their enemies and persecutors come into the sacred space. They easily could have acted in fear and kicked out the bad dogs, but instead they gave grace and welcomed them in to the place of worship, into Jesus’ presence. The story line of these two bad dogs had to be my favorite part of the movie. This was such a pivotal time in their lives—that time when they either decided they were bad dogs who could never change, or when they decided they could change and be good. And a large part of that decision had to do with how the “good” animals chose to respond to them. Would they only see them as evil, or would they allow them to change and be good? Would they welcome them into their circle of love and worship? (This is SO much like the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul and welcome into the body of believers after he had been on a mission to kill them.) It’s hard. It is hard to love our enemies. It’s hard to let go of fear and choose grace, mercy and trust. It’s hard to let someone questionable into our safe space and place of worship—but how we treat them often determines who they become. It’s the way of Jesus, to speak life, even into things that are void, empty, chaotic, dead… It was his very first act in Genesis 1, and one He has continued throughout all of time, and we are supposed to be like Jesus in this. Bo and his animal friends are a great example for all ages! Do you have any “enemies” that you can show mercy to? Have you ever shown mercy, grace, forgiveness and/or acceptance to someone who was an enemy, or at least, not a very good person? Or has anyone ever done that for you? How do you think things would have turned out if the animals hadn’t welcomed the bad dogs to the manger?
  8. Freedom brings choice. Once they were free from slavery to a bad master, the bad dogs had to make a choice, were they going to be bad dogs or try to change? As mentioned, a huge part of that process was that the other animals welcomed them and showed them that they could be good. The other huge part of that process is that the bad dogs themselves had to decide to change, or at least, they had to decide they wanted to. At first, they felt they didn’t have a choice. “We’re bad dogs,” they said. But Bo reminded them, “You don’t have to be. You’re free now.” (Their evil master was dead, so they weren’t slaves to sin anymore—it’s such a cool presentation of the gospel!) So one of them asks the other, “Thaddeus, are we good dogs now?” (Like he wonders if it can be that simple.) Thaddeus answers him, “We have to try.” He understands that it may be a difficult process to change your way of being, but he also sees that they have a choice and that it’s worth the fight. They were slaves to sin and their evil master before, but with their freedom they had choice. They weren’t forced to be good, goodness is a choice. Jesus never forces us to follow Him.
  9. Often we don’t know the importance and/or magnitude of things in our lives until they’ve passed. Bo carried the pregnant Mary on his back, but he didn’t know till after the fact that her baby would be King. Bo carried Mary with a willing, joyful heart, but just imagine if he’d grumbled and complained at the task the whole way. How ashamed would he have been when he found out that he’d been carrying the savior?! The lesson here is, no matter the burden you are carrying, always assume you’ve got a king on your back. Hebrews 13:2 mentions a similar idea, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” I think this is why we are told in the Bible to do EVERYTHING we do as unto the Lord. Because we never know just how significant it may be. Have you ever been surprised to find out that something you did turned out to be a way bigger deal than you knew at the time? How can Bo’s example encourage you to do everything you do as unto the Lord?
  10. Every knee will bow in the presence of Jesus. The movie ends with one of the wise men telling the group in the stable that the baby Jesus was the King. They were all there, all had seen the baby, but not all had fully known who he was until someone revealed the truth. When that happened, everyone—kings, shepherds, animals and even the bad dogs—all knel before the baby Jesus. This is our role as Christians. We are surrounded by people who may have seen Jesus, may know something about Him, but who don’t actually realize that He is King. Our job is to live lives that reveal the Kingship of Jesus (as we also tell people who He is). As we do so, the people around us will kneel, because in His presence, every knee will bow. Do you know people who know about Jesus but haven’t recognized Him as King, haven’t knelt in His presence? How can you be like that wise man who helps others recognize that Jesus is King?  

Click here to read quotes from The Star.Click here to read quotes from The Star.

Posted in Movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marshall – Movie

marshall_xlg

The Lord commanded Moses to solicit his brother’s help.

While Marshall is the story of Thurgood Marshall and his beginnings with the NAACP in a career-defining case, it’s the story of his reluctant recruit, Sam Friedman, that I found particularly compelling and instructive.

Friedman was not a trial lawyer, nor did he have any desire to be. He didn’t ask to be involved, didn’t want to help. He was practically forced into helping Thurgood Marshall, and only agreed because he simply had to get Marshall in the door, and then he’d be done with it all. Or so they all thought. The judge, however, refused to let Marshall speak in court, and required Friedman to try the case. Suddenly, he was roped into something he hadn’t wanted to be part of, something inflammatory that he couldn’t hide from. Something he would certainly be persecuted for (later he was in fact beaten up for his involvement).

As Friedman and Marshall were discussing his involvement, Sam asked incredulously, “You want me to try this case?” Marshall replied, “No. I need you to try this case. The Lord commanded Moses to solicit his brother’s help. He shall be your mouth and you shall be his god.” Friedman was Jewish, so the reference was meaningful. The Bible is full of reluctant recruits. Moses himself was a bit reluctant, if you’ll recall. God is often calling us to something greater than we really want to be a part of—often because we know that His higher call will require us to grow, to change, to work, to suffer. There are the Marshall’s of the world who volunteer, who want that higher calling, who feel an inner compulsion to it.   But I think the majority of us are more like Friedman. We are reluctant, so God eases us in with something a little benign, until we find that we are stuck and compelled to move forward. You might even feel you’ve been tricked into it.

Along the way, however, something began to change in Sam. He didn’t want to get involved, but once he was, even a beating couldn’t sway him. Along the way he became a believer, a crusader. Along the way he realized it felt good to make a difference in the world, to work for something that mattered in the world. Some things you just don’t know until you experience it. This is why God sometimes “tricks” us into things. He knows that once we get a taste of something better, we’ll prefer it.

Marshall saw the change in Friedman. He told him, “I need an army of lawyers like you, Sam. An army of lawyers who don’t even know they want to make a difference… Who I can train.” Once Sam was trained, that reluctant Sam who was literally forced into service, he never left. He became an advocate for civil rights. THIS is discipleship. It’s taking people who don’t even know there’s a higher calling for their lives, and training them. It’s giving people a taste of not just living for comfort and for themselves, but living for a purpose, for the service of God and His Kingdom. It’s bringing in an army of people who will fight against the darkness in the name of the Christ. People who will “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, …set the oppressed free and break every yoke… Share your food with the hungry and … provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, … clothe them, and not … turn away from your own flesh and blood” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Questions for Discussion:

  • Have you ever been forced into something you didn’t want to do, and then found you liked it?
  • How did Marshall “disciple” Friedman?
  • Marshall may be the bigger name, but how important was Sam Friedman to Marshall’s success? How does this make you feel about your role in the world?
  • We don’t necessarily want to be pushy, but is there anyone in your world that you feel you should nudge into something deeper and richer and better? Someone you should be discipling?

Click here to read quotes from Marshall.

Posted in Movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment