Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Christ-like (page 1 of 2)

Guest Post: God Protects

by Minoka Gunesekera

washing_3262c-2Read Exodus 12:1-14

Many times when I go home from seminary I eat with my closest friends and family. It has become almost a ritual. The food and the actions may not be very unique, but when my community gathers for a meal it shows me an example of God’s love and devotion. And those moments of love I hold in my heart when I am away and I feel like I am about to walk into an “impending plague” or a time of trial. Just like the memory of these meals, God’s protection follows us when we feel like we need to be rescued, not because we did anything to deserve it but because that is God’s expression of mercy.

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White Christmas (1954)

It’s the unofficial sequel to Holiday Inn that became a Christmas classic.

whitexmas-950_0

Bing Crosby first sang Irving Berlin’s ballad about the holiday in the film Holiday Inn. The song, more so than the film, was well received. It was no surprise that the studio wanted to market the song as much as they could, so they began plans for a new film featuring this poplar song.  It took almost a decade before the film became a reality. Fred Astaire, who co-starred with Crosby in Holiday Inn, was slated to join the film as Phil Davis. Astaire turned the role down, and it went to Danny Kaye, perhaps a better choice. Continue reading

VeggieTales: Beauty and the Beet (2014)

Beauty-and-the-beet-cover-art“There are some who are hard to love.”

The family musical group The VeggieTones are starting to make it big when they get the invitation to play at Vegtable Square Garden. On the way, the family is forced to pull over due to a fierce snowstorm. They seek shelter at the inn owned by Mr. Beet. However, they have no money. They have to do chores around the hotel, including being the entertainment each evening.

This VeggieTales story is based on the classic Beauty and the Beast story.  Here, the Beet, much like the Beast, has walled himself off from other people – uh, veggies. His staff is timid around him, careful not to anger him. His inn has received poor reviews (only one star) because of his lack of hospitality.

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Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Hotel RwandaRwanda is a tiny country in central Africa. In 1994 millions of people who belonged to the Tutsi tribe were killed by those who belonged to the Hutu tribe in a massive massacre. The film is not a story about the massacre or the genocide. It is, instead, the story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a hotel manager who risked his own life for 1,200 people by being a good hotel manager. During this genocide, the rest of the world turned its head, looking away, exposing the corporate and systemic sin of so many.

Paul is a quiet man, who is steady in the midst of chaos. He has developed over the years his skills in bribery, flattery, apology, and deception. And these skills come in handy as he cares for a hotel full of strangers.

When the film premiered at Toronto 2004, it was criticized for not being a film about the genocide, an act that in 2004 people were outraged about. Yet, under the direction of Terry George, using the script he co-wrote with Keir Pearson, the film is just right. The film has very potent moments where the reality of genocide moves us. There is the moment when Paul’s wife, a Tutsi, along with other refugees are attacked while in a UN truck. Or the moment when the Hutu army shows up at the hotel’s door demanding the names of all its guests, and Paul is able to distract them long enough to call in a favor. Or the moment when Paul is driving back to the hotel with supplies, and the hotel van drives over bumpy roads. Paul, thinking the driver has gone off the road, makes him stop the van and gets out. The whole road is filled with dead bodies.

The film is Paul’s story about being a hotel manager in midst of genocide, is based on a real story, which is a powerful story of a man who cannot leave behind those who are suffering. Paul, along with his family, are awarded (because that is what it feels like) VISAs to leave the country. As he climbs into the UN truck, he is filled with compassion and in a split second decides to stay at the hotel. And it is a good that he did.

hotel-rwanda-02

Everything about Paul is Christ-like. He is compassionate, never thinking twice about taking in refugees. Every action and decision he makes is focused on fulfilling this calling in his life – to care for those whom no one cares for.

Paul: You do not believe you can kill them all?

Colonel: Why not? Why not? We are halfway there already.

The hate seems to be a way of life. It seems so natural. And yet, for Paul, the opposite is true. Love, justice, and compassion is what comes natural. A cameraman, Jack Daglish (Joaquin Phoenix), who is staying at the hotel, meets two young women. One is Hutu and the other is Tutsi. He cannot tell them apart. Neither can Paul. The differences are not a curse, the differences are blessings.

During this season of Lent, let us remember to interrogate our hearts in order to examine how we participate in systemic sin, and strive to be like the hotel manager, welcoming those who are not.

E. T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

ET PosterIt was the summer of 1982. It was the summer of Speilberg’s E.T.

I would have been three. My mother took me to see E. T., though she remembers my brother being with us, which means that it was probably when the film was released in 1985. My mother remembers me watching intensely through the whole film. I was taking, she recalls, everything in.

I don’t remember going to see  E. T. as much as I remember the E.T. doll I had.

ET doll

Or that something sacred and spiritual can happen in a movie theater. My love with movies started with E. T. And frankly, it was a good movie to start that love affair, if you will.

Speilberg’s film is one of the most watched and beloved film of our time. In 1994 it was added the Library of Congress National Film Registry and is number 24 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Films.

The story is quite simple, actually. Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his family are hanging out one night. They hear something in the backyard, and think that it a coyote. Elliott, however, feels like there is something else going on. Using Reese’s Pieces candy, he lures the creature out. He comes face-to-face with E.T.

Elliott hides E. T. in his room for a few days before showing him to his older brother Michael. Elliott knows that not everyone is going to understand what he has encountered. At first Michael (Robert MacNaughton) doesn’t either, but he comes around. Perhaps one of the reasons that Elliott and E. T. connect is because they share similar views of the world. E. T., like ten-year-old Elliott, explores the world with a child-like curiosity. For a huge part of the movie, you never see above an adult’s waist, expect for Elliott’s mother (Dee Wallace).

This is why we can connect with Elliott. We have all been able to relate to Elliott. We have been too old to hang out with our older siblings or the grown ups, and too young to enjoy the play of our younger siblings. We know what it is like to be stuck between two worlds.

Enter E. T. A stranger from another planet. Immediately a man with a huge ring of keys pursues E. T. and his fellow aliens. The man with the keys and his people know of E. T.’s arrival. We are led to believe (and later mostly confirm) that their intentions are not good.

Elliott hiding E. T. in his room is a means of keeping E. T. safe from those who which to harm him (i.e. do scientific testing on him.) It is more than just Elliott bringing home a stray pet. He has encountered something almost divine.

ET Stuffed Animals

To say that E. T. is a Christ-figure is not anything new. It has been said before. E. T. does a miracle when he points to a dying house-plant and it begins to grow again. He gives the plant new life. When he is watching Sesame Street and learning to talk, the first sentence he says is, “Be good.” I can’t think of a better way to put Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as found in the gospel of Matthew. E. T., like Jesus, shares a message of being and doing good.

Elliott and E. T. develop a means of sharing telepathically their feelings. Some of the film’s most comical scenes. While Elliott is at school, E. T. is at home exploring the house. He discovered beer and enjoys it. While E. T. is getting inebriated, Elliott starts feeling (and acting) the way E. T. is, while he is dissecting frogs in his science class. E. T. reads a Buck Rogers comic strip that gives him an idea to contact his people (“phone home”). When this happens, Elliott gets the idea to release the frogs. It is symbolic of what will happen to E. T. and what Elliott’s role will be. It is an encounter that changes them both.

The season of Lent is a time when we contemplate our own encounters with Jesus. When we first encounter Jesus we aren’t sure what others will think. We take Jesus up in our rooms and hide him among our stuffed animals. We don’t know how our older brother will respond, but we are pretty certain our parents might freak out. When Elliott’s mother finds out about E. T., it is when E. T. is starting to get sick, and she rushes the children out of the house. Because E. T. and Elliott share feelings, Elliott is getting sick too.

As Michael opens the door, men in NASA suits make their way inside – more people who do not understand. They are coming to take E. T. away. E.T.’s sickness seems to be brought on due to his separation from his people. The scientists who come in, whose faces we mostly do not see, want to dissect E. T. Elliott is crying out to save him, but cannot.

Elliott is not the one doing the saving.

Earlier in the film, when Elliott is hiding E. T. in his closet, they are listening to his mother read Peter Pan to Gertie (Drew Barrymore). In the story Tinkerbell drinks poison in order to save Peter’s life. Gertie and her mom start clapping with Peter Pan to save Tinkerbell. As they listen to the story, Elliott and E. T. embrace. As a side note, the scene where Elliott and the other boys are riding bikes with the moon in the background, is homage to the scene at the end of the Walt Disney Peter Pan film where pirate ship sails across the moon.

ET saves ElliottThe concept of Tinkerbell sacrificing her life to save Peter’s is mirrored by E. T. sacrificing his life for Elliott. Which is the theological idea of the Messiah – the Christ, whose life and death we remember during Lent. Jesus sacrificed himself “even to death on the cross” (Philippians 2) to save mankind. We, like Elliott, cannot save Christ, but Christ is the one who saves humanity.

Lent prepares us for Easter, when Jesus rises from the dead. The power of Easter is the promise of new life. As E. T. dies, Elliott comes back to life. Everyone comes to terms that E. T. has died. They place him in a coffin like container, to be dissected at a later time. Gertie is carrying the house-plant that E. T. healed earlier in the film. She sits near Elliott. When the plant comes back to life, Elliott knows that E. T. is alive! E. T.’s heart is glowing red inside the container. Elliott opens it, wraps E. T. in a white cloth, closes the container and pretends to cry over it. Enlisting the help of his brother, Michael, and his friends, they use one of the scientist vans to drive E. T. to the forest. Once the forest, they await for the space ship to descend, good-byes are said, E. T. boards the ship and the ship ascends.

John Baxter, in his book on Steven Spielberg, shares this quote from the novelist Martin Amis:

“Towards the end of E. T., barely able to support my own grief and bewilderment, I turned and looked down the aisle at my fellow sufferers; executive, black dude, Japanese businessman, punk, hippie, mother, teenager, child. Each face was a mask of tears. And we weren’t crying for the little extraterrestrial, nor for little Elliott, nor for little Gertie. We were crying for our lost selves.”

The good news is that at the end of the desert of Lent, there is the promise of Easter. Death gives way to Life. Grief gives way to Joy.

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