Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: sinners

Book Review: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

 Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News, Brian Zahnd, Waterbrook, 2017.

Brian Zahnd has been on a theological and spiritual journey. And thankfully, he has taken any who are willing to go, with him. Much of this journey has been documented in his earlier books and through his sermons at Word of Life Church.

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God continues to take us on this journey. Here Zahnd turns a traditional theological understanding of a vengeful God on its head. That is, the idea that God has utter contempt for humankind that was introduced by Jonathan Edwards in 1741.

Edwards’ sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which I read for the first time in an American Lit class in college, is the main vehicle of this idea. A Puritan classic, the sermon is one of the prominent influences on American evangelicalism. Zahnd provides plenty of quotes from Edwards’ sermon in the opening chapter as he prepares the reader for the shift he is about to make.

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Maleficent (2014)

Maleficent Let’s get this out of the way. Disney’s Maleficent was no where as good as we were made to believe. The character of Maleficent has captured the imaginations for decades. The film goes from Once Upon a Time moments to more, darker Grimm moments. To finally see her in a live-action film was an opportunity to create an amazing film. However, the film, while good, is not amazing. In short, it could have been better – I had hoped it would be better.

Maleficent attempts to be an origin story of its title character, which seems to be the post-Wicked norm. The story begins with Maleficent as a young girl, complete with horns and wings. She is a peace-maker in her world. When the other creatures have disagreements, Maleficent (played by Angelia Jolie) finds resolution. There is a great concern when a human child is discovered in their world. Maleficent is the one who shows the child, a farm boy, grace, even though he was trying to steal a crystal. The two children become friends and as they grow into teenagers, the fairy and the human share a kiss – “true love’s first kiss.” At this moment, it is like any other Disney film.

But as the two get older, they grow apart. The boy stops visiting the forest. The boy, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), as an adult works for the king. He overhears the dying king promise his throne to the one who kills Maleficent. What was that about true love?

Stefan becomes a trickster as he woos Maleficent into his arms and then gives her a sleeping potion. While in a deep sleep, he cuts Maleficent’s wings off. He returns to the castle with the wings as his bounty to the dying king. And upon the king’s death, Stefan takes the throne.

The moment when Maleficent awakens to find that her wings – her freedom – has been torn from her, is possibly the most deeply disturbing scene while also the most captivating. Even though your gut tells you to turn away, you cannot take your eyes off the screen as Maleficent screams out in anger and sorrow. Something that was so precious to her and apart of her identity was violently taken from her while in a vulnerable state. The allusion to sexual violence may not be a mistake.

The assault transforms Maleficent into a villain. But this villain is not soulless. We have seen her extend grace to those who are different, welcoming all. While Maleficent literally gets darker, the grace in her soul never really escapes. That part of her never really leaves her. She places a curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning).  On the edge of the forest one day, Aurora encounters Maleficent and says, much to Maleficent’s dismay, that she knows who the fairy is.

Aurora: I know who you are.

Maleficent: Do you?

Aurora: You’re my Fairy Godmother!

Maleficent: What?

Aurora Aurora senses that some being has been watching out for her during her childhood. She believes, and rightly so, that Maleficent is the being who has been doing so. Aurora, instead of seeing the evil villain all of us have come to see in Maleficent, sees a somewhat holy and innocent being who is filled with compassion and grace.

This isn’t quite the 1959 Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. But, this is one reason why Maleficent is fascinating. It is rich with themes about things not being quite what they seem, which I think may have attracted Jolie to the film. There is talk about evil throughout the film. Maleficent tells Aurora a time or two that there is a great evil in the land. She is, of course, talking about herself. She knows the evil that dwells within her. Yet, at the same time, Aurora sees the grace in Maleficent. The grace she cannot see in herself.

It raises the issue that films like The Dark Knight Rises rose before it. What is the face of evil? Is evil as black and white as we want it to be? (I don’t have answers to these, just want to raise the questions.)

evil in this worldAngelia Jolie is able to make us fear Maleficent, while also extending empathy. We connect with her conflicted feelings of doing what is right and doing what is wrong (Romans 7). And while at first she is pretending to go along with Aurora’s assumption that she is a godmother, she plays into the role. Aurora’s love for her is strong enough to melt away the rage, hate, and sorrow at being mutilated by someone who declared love for her.  This is true love, love for another that knows no boundaries. It is not romantic in the classic Walt Disney sense. It is authentic and real. It is Christ-like love.

Once Maleficent realizes what she has done, placing a curse that can never be broken because true love does not exist, she feels remorse. She is responsible for Prince Philip coming to the castle to awaken Aurora from her deep sleep. Yet, the kiss does not work. Maleficent stands over the sleeping beauty’s bed and whispers an apology:

I will not ask you for forgiveness. What I have done is unforgivable. I was so lost in hatred and revenge. I never dreamed that I could love you so much. You stole what was left of my heart. And now I’ve lost you forever.

She kisses Aurora on the forehead, and the princess awakes. Like in Frozen, Disney boldly transforms what true love means, as well as the face of evil. It is a more realistic portrait of the human condition. We are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) who strive to resist evil, but often times fail. At the same time we are created in the image of the Creator, and as such we are grace-filled beings. We don’t need magic kisses from princesses and princes. No, the only “magic” we need is the Christ-like love we share with one another.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

who_framed_roger_rabbit_movie_poster_by_expofever-d7tk5akIt’s hard to believe that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is twenty-five years old! The film hit the big screen in 1988. I was eight when I saw the film. Three of my cousins and I along with our Papa went to see the film. An amazing thing to see at the time on the big screen. These actors and animated characters sharing real space with one another.

The film is set in 1947 Hollywood, where Marvin Acme, the gag-gift king of town and owner of Toon Town, is murdered. The police come after animation film star Roger Rabbit as their main suspect. Private Investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) gets caught up in the middle of it, and eventually figures out that Roger is being framed. But by whom? And why?

Everything about this film – the plot, the dialogue, the look, the feel—is a 1940’s crime film. Everything, that is, except the Toons. Roger Rabbit is the first film that flawlessly combined real actors and animated cartoon characters. Walt Disney studios collaborated with Steven Spielberg (a known lover of animation) to make this flawless presentation possible. With direction by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and animation by Richard Williams, we get a film that presents the animation in such a convincing way that it doesn’t distract from the plot. And that is the brilliance of this film. On the surface, it has a pretty seamless plot, but combined with new technology, it is nothing short of a masterpiece. The cartoon characters appear on screen occupying real space, just as the human actors do. And we are not talking about computer animated cartoon characters, these are hand drawn cartoon characters. The real deal.

Toon Town is a ghetto. When Eddie visits a club, where is going to snap some pictures of Acme and Roger’s wife, Jessica. There is sense that the toons who are working there are doing so for the humans. In fact, Toons are not allowed to patronize the club, though they serve drinks and provide the entertainment. R. K. Maroon tells Eddie at one point that Dumbo is working for him, on loan from Disney, and he works for peanuts, as he throws peanuts out the window. There is a certain level of prejudice and injustice directed towards the Toons. In fact, Acme is the one who owns Toon Town.

Eddie has had a strong dislike for Toon Town and its residents, holding on to his own bit of prejudice. It all stems from his brother being killed by a toon. You can see Eddie’s discomfort in the mere fact of Roger’s presence, not to mention working with him. But as the film continues, Roger grows on Eddie. Eddie learns that he cannot continue to hold a grudge against a whole population of “people” because of the act of one. Where grief had left him bitter and angry, his developing friendship with Roger helps Eddie learn to smile again, to enjoy life, and to see individuals—human or toon—for who they really are. In the course of it all, Eddie is finally able to make peace with his brother’s death.

It is through spending time and getting to know a Toon, that Eddie’s prejudice is curbed. Eddie’s own perspective of Roger and Toon Town changes, and he helps them assure the rights to Toon Town. Eddie is a lot like Jesus. Jesus spent a lot of time in his earthly ministry with sinners, outcasts, and the poor. Jesus spent time with and got to know the people that nobody cared about. Jesus saw past the social labels of individuals and saw the person. Eddie’s journey with Roger Rabbit empowers him to do the same.

Who have we restricted to a ghetto? Who do we need to spend more time with and get to know?

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