Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Risk and release

So much to do so much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets
You'll never know if you don't go
You'll never shine if you don't glow
As I get ready to offer a film series this summer, I wanted to use some films that had a wide appeal and yet could also offer a teachable moment in the life of Christ that wasn't too "Song of Bernadette." I love films with religious themes, but my sense of most cinematic efforts in this line is that they tend to border on the melodramatic. There is Max Von Sydow's "thousand mile stare of the divine" in the Greatest Story Ever Told. Or, who can forget the great finale scene from Brother Sun, Sister Moon where the Pope himself surrenders the Church to Francis in a grand, if ultimately futile gesture? Or, better yet, that big grey streak in Charlton Heston's beard when he plays Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments...and Edward G. Robinson shouting, "Where's your messiah now?" Or, perhaps #1 in my own personal pantheon of great moments in religious films...when Anthony Quinn as Pope in the Shoes of the Fisherman pledges the Church's wealth to feed ALL the hungry in the world.
There are any number of religious films out there, and I am a personal fan (as well as professionally interested); but in the end I find that what I resonate to on a more consistent basis is how the divine is revealed in human beings experiencing transformation within the narrative of a "secular" film. When the human story is told, God-I find-is not too far off camera. The series I am working up now for my church is one that looks at three films, Galaxy Quest, Casablanca and Shrek. Each one has nothing, literally speaking, to do with a explicit question of how we relate to God...but all of them beg the question of what it means to be human and to be in relationship with other human beings while at the same time struggling with that ineffable feeling of walking as a temporal being in the presence of Eternity. Shakespeare is right, "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy..." Not quite the Mount of the Transfiguration, but close enough for us to see that in these narratives and the characters' personal arcs in the story line there is something more than just a mundane journey to maturity.
I was watching Shrek at the end of the weekend with Laura, and the song lyric from the title track kept working its way around in my psyche...and it has continued to do so for the past few days. Shrek the Ogre is on a classic hero's quest...but the real transformation comes when he (and Fiona, the Princess...and Donkey...and pretty much everyone else) learns that true beauty and relationship arise from our willingness to be in relationship as our true, authentic selves. Projections and transference just get us into trouble when they proceed unchecked. An Ogre will always be a menace until he/she/we realize that they are just what they are: a large, green-skinned, enormously strong and slightly smelly person trying to make their way in the world. Time to look past color and appearances to something deeper? Yes. Time to take the time to see that the journey, the quest, is more important sometimes that arriving at the destination? Yes. Time to embrace relationships as they are given to us instead of trying to control them into something more personally reassuring and comforting? Absolutely.
So, Shrek is about a radical acceptance of self and other that also understands and preserves personal autonomy. We are given the chance to choose to be with others...and to allow ourselves to evolve and grow in relationship with them.
Quite close to the call Jesus issues to the disciples Peter, James, John and Andrew as they sit int their boats reparing the nets and tools of their lives as fisherfolk: "Come, I will make you fishers of human beings." He is saying to them that God has more in store for them than they had originally dreamed of...and that the key to finding that purpose is to embrace both the journey away from the familiar while becoming themselves, only more so.
Hey now you're an
All Star get your game on, go play
Hey now you're a Rock Star get the show on get paid
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold

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