Monday, July 27, 2009

Shrek and the journey to the true self...

This past weekend, we concluded our summer movie series with a screening (well, a partial screening) of the movie Shrek. After our 5 PM Saturday evening service and the parish's summer picnic, some stalwart souls gathered in the Parish Hall for some time viewing what is/was probably one of the most innovative animated movies of the past decade. It's advent on the scene of contemporary cinema brought the "bridge" culture of some of the best cartoons from ages past to bear. There are colors, jokes and stories for the youngest of children, while at the same time the movies possesses a healthy dose of adult themes and humor to keep the more "mature" entertained at the same time. This is NOT an easy equation to balance, and so Shrek stands as true example of what is the best in story telling. It takes fairy tales and legends, updates our experience of them and then, concurrently, gives us a healthy dose of reality.

Here's the movie in a nutshell for those who have not seen it: Our hero, Shrek, is an ogre who lives a solitary life. He is large, green and does not live a lifestyle that conforms to human sensibilities. So, in a little slice of swamp off the beaten path he makes his own way. That way is disrupted by the actions of Lord Farquad, a local ruler who decides to purge his demesnes of fairy tale creatures in an attempt to build "a perfect (read, orderly) place." This constricts Shrek's world and challenges his world view. He can't continue to live an isolated life and is forced to confront Farquad. This leads him to accept a quest to rescue a princess. All is not as it seems with her...and eventually the main characters are all forced to see themselves, not only as they would be (and as they would expect others to see and react to them) but also to find within themselves the strength to accept that life is as it has been given to them, relationships are only worth what you invest in them and it really is an acceptable thing to be happy with what you are given and with whom you have been created to be by God (though God doesn't really have a speaking role in the movie!).

What I like about this movie, and what draws my eye to it as a vehicle of theological and moral reflection is the way Shrek, his companion Donkey and Princess Fiona are all forced to confront both their own expectations of life and others (which are invariably disappointed and disappointing) and how a willingness to be transformed by being in honest relationship to each other gives them the ability and fortitude to ultimately triumph over forces that decry them for being different and out of the norm. Of course, it is also cathartic when the "bad" guy gets eaten by a dragon in the end...but that is the joy of a "happily ever after" ending, eh?

Still, this is not a trite movie. The honesty of being "human" pervades the narrative. The characters are both cranky AND noble. The "good" guys tend to overlook our hero and assume that because he is large, green and smells funny to them that he is not at heart the right man for the job who can set things right in the end.

At the core for me is a conviction that God has a great deal in store for us, both as individuals and as a whole community. There is a Collect of the denomination I serve that has in its text the prayerful acknowledgment that God works in and through us "infinitely more than we can ask or imagine." That is Shrek in a nutshell. He is the ultimate reluctant hero. He doesn't want to be the good guy, not at all...but by his created nature and the confluence of forces outside himself he not only gets the opportunity to offer his gifts up to the world, he gets the chance to succeed. That is something not many of us get a chance to experience in this life. It helps that he got the benefit of good writers and animators for the purpose...but still, a story is meant to offer up those points of view. So, just like St. Paul, Shrek gets his moment in the sun...and the gift of a reality where he discovers that none of us can ever, really be alone and apart, without relationship or responsibility to others.

In that, he proves his own descriptive to be correct...."Ogres are like onions...they have layers!"

From my perspective, that is what God has invested us with as community with each other and with Christ we discover our true selves and in that revelation we gain the opportunity to do what God intends--something that is "infinitely more than we can ask or imagine."

Good on you, Shrek. Who knew you could be a model of Christian virtue!

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