Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bonus Blog - The Princess and the Frog

I had the privilege of taking my four girls and MrsRev to go see Disney's newest hand-drawn animated film Friday night, The Princess and the Frog. It is a somewhat different take on the old story of The Frog Prince that many of us remember from our childhood. The Princess and the Frog is "A fairy tale set in Jazz Age-era New Orleans and centered on a young girl named Tiana and her fateful kiss with a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again."*
My first reaction to this film was, "Wow! Disney is back." It's been a long time since the Disney company has put out an animated film that wasn't a Pixar production that was this good. I'm in my mid forties and I was a child when it last happened, so do the math. All four of my girls (5y/o and under) were completely enthralled. They didn't fidget, they didn't fuss, and they didn't even have to get up to go to the bathroom.

"Ah," you say, "but where are the theological perspectives?" Well if nothing else, this is a feel good movie. And there is always something of God in just being happy, at least until we human beings pervert it in some way. I did notice one really excellent point about the things that we wish for. Throughout the film we find different characters wishing on the morning star for things that they want. For Christians we don't wish, we pray. But often we pray a lot like the characters in this movie. We ask God for things that we want or things that we want to happen. During the course of the story, Tiana and Naveed learn to wish for what they need instead of what they want. Imagine how pleased God would be if we were to start praying for what we need, and what others need instead of what we want. Imagine how much more God would answer prayers for the needs of the people and ministries around us if we only prayed for those things and not for ourselves. Maybe more of the events that we experience on a daily basis would be happy endings, like every Disney movie that we all know and love.

So if you have small children, especially little girls who love Disney princesses like mine do, go see this movie. And while you're at it, lift up the needs of someone else this Christmas season. Think of the good we can all do this world with a little more selfless prayer.

Oh and BTW, I will be blogging another Christmas movie next week but I also have plans to go see Avatar next Friday. So don't be surprised if you get the double bonus two weeks in a row.
Grace and Peace!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Bishop's Wife - The power of love and prayer

The Bishop's Wife is a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young originally released in 1947. Here is what the DVD cover says about the movie: "Heavenly bells are ringing, jubilant choirs are singing and Christmas joy is blanketing the world like freshly fallen snow. But the Yuletide spirit has yet to warm Bishop Henry Brougham's Victorian home. Struggling to raise funds for a new cathedral, the preoccupied young clergyman has neglected his loving wife Julia, and now only divine intervention can save their marriage! But the powerful and handsome angel sent from above has a mind of his own... and teaching mortal Henry an immortal lesson in romance isn't all he's got planned."
Aside from the obvious theological implications of angels, clergy and cathedrals, there are several good messages in this film. Dudley the angel only appears in answer to prayer. Later he suggests that he can only be dismissed by prayer but remains when the Bishop's prayer is offered for the wrong reasons. This is a nice example of the fact that God knows and answers our needs rather than our wants, no matter what we've asked for.
Another thread of the story involved a rich woman who will donate enough money to build the cathedral, but only if it carries the name of her late husband in very prominent places. Dudley comes along later in the story and simply listens to the woman's expression of grief and loss over her late husband. She later decides to donate the money to missions and charity instead of building the cathedral. This idea perfectly reflects James' words when he wrote, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27) While there is certainly nothing wrong with churches and church buildings, there's something to be said for directing our money toward ministry.
The Bishop's Wife is one of those wonderful movies made when stories were more important than eye-candy and flash. While not quite on par with the best Christmas movie of all time (It's a Wonderful Life), it is well worth your time as a pleasant Christmas diversion.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Muppet Christmas Carol - Fun with a Message

I have to admit up front that I am a big fan of the Muppets. I used to watch The Muppet Show and own several seasons of the show on DVD, The Muppet Movie is one of my favorite films and this is one of my top Christmas movies. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a pretty standard Dickens Christmas Carol interpretation with one interesting twist. Gonzo plays the role of Charles Dickens who narrates and provides comic relief in some of the more sinister parts of the story. Michael Caine portrays Ebeneezer Scrooge adequately enough and Kermit the Frog is the perfect foil as Bob Cratchit. As this is easily one of the most well-known Christmas stories I don't feel a need to give a synopsis. There is little here that deviates from the story that we all know and love. What is different is how much fun this version of the classic turns out to be. There are numerous asides, in-jokes and comedic liberties taken by the Muppet characters while the human characters play straight man every time. Without question, this is one of the best family Christmas movies out there. It comes highly recommended by this rev.

But The Muppet Christmas Carol offers more than just wholesome family fun. There is a message to be found in this picture as well, in fact, several messages. The first message comes across in one of the opening songs. We meet Scrooge walking through the streets as the numerous Muppet characters sing about how bad a person he is. In the song it is implied that he is this miserable because of his self-imposed isolation. Of course we learn later on that his isolation was not always self-imposed. What I find interesting is that if lonliness creates misery then the converse must also be true; presence and fellowship creates joy. As a pastor I find this to be especially true. Being present for people in their time of need brings joy to the person I visit and to me as well. I also find that church people are never happier than when they are in the company of fellow minded folks. Worship time is always a time of joy. And joy always seems to be found where people gather together.

A second message became apparent during another song. When Scrooge is haunted by his dead partners, Jacob and Bob Marley (told you there were inside jokes), they sing to Scrooge about the chains he'll wear in the afterlife. One of the lines in the song says that Scrooge must "change to lose his chains." This might be one of the most compact salvation statements ever put on screen. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus put it this way, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." To repent literally means to turn around. Scrooge is told to turn around from the way he is going in order that he not have to wear the chains he is forging in this life in his afterlife. We are all called by Jesus to change our ways and choose His ways. The Muppets might put it a little differently, but it's a message of salvation none the less.

One last message came out, and this one in a song as well. When Scrooge is traveling with the ghost of Christmas present, the spirit sings a song about the feelings we all experience at Christmas. One of the lines in the chorus says, "Wherever you find love it feels like Christmas." What a wondeful way to express the true meaning of Christmas. This blessed season really is about love more than anything else. It's about the love of families gathered together over a festive meal. It's about the love of friends for one another. It's about the agape love of anyone who gives of themselves to others. But most especially, Christmas is about the love of God for humanity represented in the gift of a Savior in the form of a little child. So indeed, wherever you find love it certainly does feel like Christmas.

So take a little time this Christmas season and enjoy The Muppet Christmas Carol with your family. Share the love. Merry Christmas.

Thinking about what films to blog for the next few weeks...

I've been thinking about what movies to blog about in the next few weeks and it just seems so obvious. I guess I have to look at Christmas movies. I have a few on my shelves, ones that I truly enjoy. But I was wondering if there are any that you really like that you'd like me to take a look at. I'm going to do one today or tomorrow, but the next couple weeks are open to suggestion. Thoughts?