Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Messiah

Planet of the Apes (1968)

planetofapesadvancehestonWhen it was released in April of 1968, it was not well received by many critics. However, Planet of the Apes would go down as a classic sci-fi film. Charlton Heston is George Taylor, an American astronaut who, along with his crew, crashes 2,000 years in the future on an unknown planet. Everything on this planet seems to be turned upside down. In this strange land, apes rule, and humans are hunted, caged, and enslaved.

At first, Taylor is injured and unable to speak. He tries various things to get the apes to understand that he is as intellect as they are. It is Zira (Kim Hunter) who sees something special in Taylor. At first it is evolution. She and her fiancé Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) want to study Taylor to see how humans are evolving. The dialogue, with intent, is similar to conversations humans have had about studying apes. After they get to know Taylor, a theory that was being forgotten returns to the surface. Cornelius’ archeological studies suggest that humans existed on the planet in a more civilized society than apes currently do.

It is perfect and brilliant commentary on the modern human condition. In the beginning of the film, in one of Taylor’s speeches, he says, “Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox that sent me to the stars, still make war with his brother?” A question, no doubt, theological and philosophically debated in 1968 in the midst of a war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. The effects of which were not lost on the film’s crew. Michael Wilson rewrote the original script by Rod Serling (the ending was the only contribution of Serling’s that Wilson kept). Wilson, like so many during the 1950s in Hollywood, was blacklisted for allegedly being communist. The Cold War and the changing tides of culture and thought and its effects on society hit close to home.

Final Scene - Planet of the Apes

Nor is it a surprise the role of nuclear destruction (a great fear of the Cold War) plays in the film. Taylor’s longing for a war-free world is only met with a world destroyed by war. The iconic ending, with Taylor on his knees in the sand, yelling, “Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” reveals the truth. Don’t be mistaken, Taylor is not referring to the apes, but the humans he left behind. Taylor has not been on an unknown planet. He has been on his own, war-torn planet where everything has been turned upside down.

1968 was a turbulent time, as well, for people of faith. Many were trying to reconcile being at war for so long. Others were struggling with new laws of desegregation. Suddenly lives where changing, and not everyone was handling it well.

Since the beginning of time, religion has played a significant role in societies. It is appropriate that Planet of the Apes includes this as part of the story. The sacred texts, though only talked about and not seen, are a character in the film themselves. Dr. Zaius (Defender of the Faith and Minister of Science) and the others are the ape versions of Pharisees. While watching the film we know that Dr. Zaius is wrong in what he is doing.

And yet, how often do we do the same thing?

Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) and others like him, do their best to dissuade Cornelius and Zira from following these loftily ideals of humans being intelligent. They call upon the sacred scrolls to reason why the humans should stay in their place and things not change.

When we are scared of something or uncertain about changes in society, we use our sacred texts to justify who is considered “us” and who is considered “them.” The scriptures become security blankets for why we do not welcome those who are different from us. Planet of the Apes warns us against this narrow thinking. Dr. Zaius clearly understands that there is a truth and a reality beyond the boundaries of their land. It is safer if everyone believes what they have been taught. Only danger awaits them when they step outside the boundary. It could be argued that because Dr. Zaius knows about the destruction of humanity’s civilization by humanity, that they do not want to repeat history. That they want to be smarter than the humans and not make the same mistakes, and so they hide behind their religion.

It is safer when we hide behind our sacred texts.

As Christians, we follow a boundary crosser. We follow a Messiah who stepped over the social lines of division. Jesus sat and had lunch with the tax collector. He talked to the Samaritan woman. He touched the lepers. He healed the blind and made the lame to walk. All of those who were different and (sometime literally) isolated from the rest of society. It was taught that Jews and Samaritans did not interact. Jesus broke that “rule.” It was taught that you avoided lepers and bleeding women. Jesus broke that “rule” on both accounts.

And Jesus did so with love.

Planet of the Apes could have easily been a silly film about apes on Earth. Instead, it is filled with cultural commentary about the world in which we live and could live. And though the film has a few moments that are clearly reflection of the 1960s, it is a film that is ageless. Its message of peace over war, unity over segregation, balance of religion and science, is still a message to be heard today.

Palm Sunday: Occupy Jerusalem

Read Matthew 21:1-11.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comToday is Palm Sunday. It is a joyous and celebratory Sunday as we praise Jesus as the Son of God. We process into the sanctuary with palm branches waving high. It is a special time. But, Palm Sunday is also the hinge in the Jesus Story. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, when the story takes a dramatic turn.

History tells us that there were two processions that day into Jerusalem. From the east, Jesus entered on his humble donkey, and from the west Pilate entered with his array of imperial power. It was a visual reminder of who was in charge. The soldiers, the chariots, the swords, and the bows- all instruments of war – reminded the people of Jerusalem that Caesar was King.

And not just King. The imperial power came with an imperial theology that clearly stated that Caesar was Lord. Caesar was a son of the god Apollo. Pilate’s procession did not only bring a political reminder, but it also brought with it a theological reminder – that all this talk about a Jewish Messiah was nonsense because the people already had a son of god in Caesar.

Jesus’ procession, which we know from the Gospel text, was planned. Before arriving to Jerusalem, Jesus gives his disciples the instructions to prepare the donkey and her colt. Did Jesus know that Pilate was processing in from the other end of town? Assuming that he did (he is Jesus), it is yet another incident when Jesus turns the world upside down.

Jesus offers an alternative to Rome. Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem is one of peace. Jesus – the Christ – the long awaited Messiah – will drive out war with love and peace. The instruments of war will be replaced with instruments of peace.

Pilate’s procession represented the kingdom of Caesar, while Jesus’ procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God. This is the conflict that is Holy Week.

Some scholars have referred to the Palm Sunday procession as a political demonstration. A few years ago, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations received a lot of publicity. There have been Occupy movements before and since then. These movements, according to Wikipedia are about “social and economic inequality.” Instead of the 1% getting all the good stuff, while the 99% struggle to get by, there should be equality across the board, rather than a hierarchy. Some of you may remember this image floating around social media at the time:

Jesus_Occupy Wall Street

No matter where you stand on the whole Occupy thing, Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem with so many people boldly proclaiming him as the Son of God (and not Caesar) was certainly seen by many of the day as a political demonstration. But when we read the rest of the story, we know that the proclamation and the praise turns into threats and cries for blood.

Palm Sunday reminds us of the tension that is the conflict between the earthly kingdom of power and war and the peaceful Kingdom of God.

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