Month: March 2014

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 23 – SONG #18 – “COLORS OF THE WIND” – POCAHONTAS – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days of Disney” – Day 23

Song #18 – “Colors Of The Wind” – Pocahontas

For fans like myself, Pocahontas, though well received and well reviewed, marked the beginning of the decline of quality disney musical animations in the 90’s.  I remember being in elementary school learning about the original American colonies when the film came out and being so disappointed in Disney for portraying a romance between Pocahontas and John Smith rather than her husband, John Rolfe.  Nevertheless, having grown just a bit since that fateful day in 4th grade, I have come to embrace some of the greater themes present in the film.

In “Colors of the Wind,” Pocahontas sings about the arrogant naivety of the English settlers, singing the prophetic words, “You think the only people who are people are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”  These words are not just simple, “walk a mile in their shoes” sentiments, but part of one of the great truths contained int the Word of God.  There is a danger when we define people as “other,” typically implying they are lesser than us, not part of the inside crowd, because they don’t look, think, or act like us.  This is probably why, in Psalm 23: 6, God prepares a table for us, “in the presence of our enemies.”  God will always provide everything we need, and his grace will always be present for us, but his love extends to “strangers” and to “enemies” as well.

Lord, help us to “love the stranger” as much as we “love ourselves,” confident that your grace has been poured out on all of creation, for us and for our neighbors, even our enemies.  Amen.

In Defense Of “Noah”

In Defense of “Noah”
by Kyle Durbin

By now, if you’re a pastor or a parent of a youth that went to the movie, “Noah”, you’ve already been riddled with questions about “rock monsters,” “fallen angels,” and “Hermione giving birth on the ark.” If you are an adult that has, or has not, seen the film, you’re opinion has already been biased by an onslaught of reports from the Christian community lambasting the film for its biblical inaccuracy. To say I have been “disheartened” by these reviews is to put it mildly at best.

So let’s get on with it. Before the movie was even released, many in the evangelical church were writing scathing reviews simply in offense to the fact that the film was directed by an atheist and a Jew. For starters, lets remember that “Noah.” the biblical story, is from the “Hebrew Bible,” and was told long before the Gospel ever came into being as Word and flesh. The story of Noah is a rich part of the Jewish tradition, and to have the insight of a director who shares that experience should be considered a blessing. Furthermore, if the director is an atheist, and he fully invested himself in a film called, “Noah,” does that not mean that he would have needed to have spent countless hours pouring through the text of the Bible, not just the few chapters where the story of Noah is concerned, but at least the entire book of Genesis? Shouldn’t Christians be celebrating this exposure from a self-described atheist experiencing one of the means of grace?

Then there’s the community criticizing the film for its financial success. Seriously!? So Roma Downey and Mark Burnett can film a ten week series called, “The Bible,” market it through Christian franchises more than the actual Bible itself, and then simultaneously create a film called, “The Son of God,” that uses the same script, the same location, and the same actors, send that to the silver screen, and they aren’t trying to turn a profit!? What’s more exploitative? A film produced by a Christian company making money off of the Gospel, or a secular film by a secular producer trying to make money in a secular market?

Let’s back up, “The Bible,” that ten week mini-series on the word of God, was produced on “The History,” Channel, the same show that has series about “Ancient Aliens.” However, unlike “Noah,” it was marketed as if it was a literal account of the writings of the Bible, and because it was on a channel that explores historical fact, was intended to be regarded as accurate. However, my Sunday School class, which is studying this film, has already witnessed that this account skips over the stories of Jacob and Joseph in entirety, gives no mention of Judges such as Deborah or Gideon, and somehow combines the prophet Samuel and the priest Eli into the same person. I’m not saying there aren’t biblical truths still present, I’m just saying it’s no substitute for the actual Bible. Meanwhile, the directors of “Noah,” from the start, have said that it was intended to be an artistic interpretation of the account found in the Bible, with considerably liberties taken in filling in the gaps vacant in the book of Genesis (an account, which, by the way, was written by two separate authors, creating a single story told simultaneously from two [sometimes conflicting] perspectives). So which is a bigger threat to our understanding of Scripture, an inaccurate telling claiming to be faithful, or a fantastical interpretation admitting to be an exploration?

Oh yeah, another thing I heard over and over again was how there was no mention of the word “God” in the film. Well, about halfway through the story, Noah’s son, Ham, says, “The Creator is God.” So…there’s that. And what’s really so wrong with God being referred to as “The Creator?” Don’t we do it all the time? And in truth, what had God done up until this point in the Bible? God created! That’s one of the primary ways people of this time would have understood God! Remember, the divine name isn’t revealed until Moses in the book of Exodus, quite some time later.

Speaking of God creating, there is a moment in the film, while on the ark, that Noah tells his children the story of Creation. His lines, like many others in the film, are pulled directly from scripture. So why does Noah tell the story of Creation while on the ark? Why is God referred to as “The Creator,” in the film? Because, finally, a film told the story of the flood for what it is. As Noah says in the movie, “fire destroys all, water cleanses.” There is a baptismal message in the biblical flood story. The story of Noah is not a story of death and destruction as it is so often portrayed (and yes, there was plenty of that in the film), but it is a story of “Re-creation,” and new life. The juxtaposition was explored beautifully in “Noah.”

Now for some things I didn’t like. There are no “rock monsters,” in the Bible. There are, however, Nephilim (i.e. celestial being, “fallen angels), or Giants, referenced in 6:2, and there is a clear relation to the necessity of the flood indicated, but I’ll go ahead and say creatures from The Lord of the Rings voiced by Optimus Prime is a bit of a stretch. Let’s see…Methuselah was an old guy but there’s no reference of any conversations with Noah. In the biblical account, God spoke directly to Noah, there was no deep internal struggle, and Noah was considered “moral and exemplary,” (Genesis 6:9), so I’m going to guess he probably never desired to kill any members of his own family, born or unborn. Also, the only people on the ark were Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their three wives (Genesis 6:18), so, even though it makes for a nice romantic aside, “Hermione” was already married to Shem when they boarded the boat, and any children wouldn’t have been born until after the floodwaters receded. Noah was also never concerned with “justice,” as he declared in his best Bruce Wayne imitation in the film. But then again, Moses never said anything about proclaiming “liberty throughout all the land and to all the inhabitants thereof,” like he did when Charlton Heston quoted the Liberty Bell (not the Bible) in “The Ten Commandments,” but I don’t hear anyone complaining about that! However, that part where Noah gets drunk, Ham sees him naked, and Shem and Japheth cover him up with a robe? That’s straight up biblical, and no, it doesn’t make any sense to me either. So all the Christian communities that are upset about that scene too, you don’t have to like it either, but go check out Genesis 9:18-29 and see if you change your tune.

There is an ancient, Jewish, rabbinical practice known as thought pertaining to the pages of scripture that discusses “black fire on white fire.” The thought is that the pages of the Bible were written with “black fire” and “white fire.” The “black fire” is the ink that goes on the page that forms the words. The “white fire,” then, is the rest of the page. Anyone who looks at the pages of the Bible can see that there is a lot more “white fire” than “black fire.” Out of this thinking came the tradition of midrash, where the ancient rabbis literally filled in the blanks, doing their best to interpret and explain the “white fire,” in a way that was faithful to the text, conveying the deeper messages of truths of God, while taking any liberties they felt necessary. This is, essentially, what we have with “Noah.” It’s a film that takes artistic liberties, some better informed than others, at filling in the gaps left out of the biblical account. Let’s be honest, it would be hard to stretch out a few chapters in the Bible into a three hour epic movie without doing a little midrash. And so, while we have some elements that are not present in the Bible, we can better understand the intent of the director who was trying to create a world that was very “real” in the minds of the authors of the book of Genesis and the accounts of Noah, things like maniacally violent rulers and supernatural giants, even if these things were not real, factual, or historical.

So, was “Noah” a biblical film, so far as it adhered to the strict confines of the short Hebrew text where it is found in the pages of Genesis? No. But was “Noah” a biblical film, insomuch as it explored some of the deeper truths about God and human nature found in the in the flood story of the Bible, themes of “re-creation,” “mercy and love,” and “free will vs God’s will?” Absolutely. Besides, I’d rather have a far-fetched interpretation of a biblical story cause me to read my Bible for verification rather than a bad re-telling of a biblical narrative leave me simply thinking that’s what actually happened in the Bible. Seriously, if all “Noah” does is get people talking about or reading their Bibles, I don’t think Christians have much to complain about. And for those who don’t like it, they can go eat “Crowe!” (Hehe, see what I did there?)

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 22 – SONG #19 – “I WANNA BE LIKE YOU” – THE JUNGLE BOOK – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days of Disney” – Day 22

Song #19 – “I Wanna Be Like You” –  The Jungle Book

Due to some darker material in Rudyard Kipling’s synonymous book, “The Jungle Book” almost never made it to the silver screen based on some of Walt Disney’s reservations. However, with essentially a completely rewritten, more family oriented script, the film about the young boy raised by wolves, panthers, and bears was released in 1967 and was subsequently the last film Walt Disney ever produced himself.

The song sung by the ape, King Louie, may be about his desire for Mowgli to teach him how to make, “man’s read fire,” but at its heart, the lyrics sing to a more universal sentiment. “I wanna be like you…I wanna walk like you, talk like you too.”  How often do we look at others in envy and sing the same song?  In King Louie’s case, it’s a song about an ape wanting to “learn to be human,” but as for us “humans,” we should constantly be striving to be more like Christ. Paul exhorts this in Philippians 2:5, “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus,” (CEB) in this case, modeling humility, service, and sacrifice.  When we can do that, we’ll be less like apes, and more like God.

Humble Savior, we desire a heart like yours, full of self-sacrifice and service to others, but too often our human nature gets in the way.  Teach us to be more like you, walking like you, talking like you, and most of all, loving like you.  Amen.

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 21 – SONG #20 – “A DREAM IS A WISH YOUR HEART MAKES” – CINDERELLA – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days Of Disney” – Day 21

Song #20 – “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” – Cinderella

Cinderella’s “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes,” proved that, as much as 90’s Disney characters enjoyed singing about “new worlds’ and “your world,” classic Disney loved nothing more than a good song about “dreams,” and “wishes.”  I’m almost surprised Dusty Springfield’s song, “Wishin’ and Hopin'” wasn’t written for a Disney princess!  Nevertheless, in the song, Cinderella sings to her animal friends about her longing for a better life (come to think of it, maybe it could have been a 90’s song after all!)

Cinderella ends her song with a hopeful declaration, “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”  Paul offers a consistent response to this statement in many of his letters in the form of a benediction.  In his letter from Rome, he writes, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 15:13, CEB).  Here, faith means trusting in the promises of God.  For Cinderella, this means God intends for her dreams to come true, to save her from her grieving.  The same applies to you and I, if we just keep on believing.

Compassionate God, we believe.  Help our unbelief.  Assure us, by your Holy Spirit, to trust in your promises of grace and salvation in the life eternal, but also in your desire for us to receive abundant life through your son, Jesus Christ, and your power to accomplish just that.  Amen.

 

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 20 – SONG #21 – “YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME” – TOY STORY – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days Of Disney” – Day 20

Song #21 – “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” – Toy Story

Disney’s “Toy Story,” produced by Pixar in 1995, was Disney’s first ever full length, computer animated film.  While not a musical, per se, it did take home the Academy Award for Best Song, Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” the perfect buddy song for the relationship between Woody, the old toy cowboy, and Buzz Lightyear, the new toy space cadet.  The song defines friendship as self-sacrificial and loving, singing, “when the road looks rough ahead…there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you,” and that no one, “will ever love you the way that I do.”

The author of the Gospel of John must have had a similar definition for friendship in mind because it is Jesus himself who offers a similar description.  In John 15:15, he tells his disciples, “I have called you friends,” (CEB).  Earlier, in verse 13, he proves he is faithful even to Randy Newman’s definition of friendship, saying, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends,” (CEB).  There truly is nothing that Jesus wouldn’t do for us.  Few of us have experienced earthly friends that are so committed, and perhaps that is why Christ is justified in his one condition in verse 14, “You are my friends if you do as I command you,” (CEB).

Friendly Savior, we waste so much time searching for relationships on this earth based on false precepts when we should be seeking to deepen our relationship with you.  Bless us with pure friendships here on earth, so that we might taste the love you continually offer us.  Amen.

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 19 – SONG #22 – “HAKUNA MATATA” – THE LION KING – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days Of Disney” – Day 19

Song #22 – “Hakuna Matata – The Lion King

Not everyone knows that Disney’s “The Lion King” was modeled after Shakespeare’s, “Hamlet.”  This makes Scar – Claudius, Simba – Hamlet, and Timon and Pumba, the lovable meerkat and warthog – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  In the movie, Hamlet’s…I mean, Simba’s two pals steal the show not only with their comedy, but their feel good Elton John hit, “Hakuna Matata,” which of course, means, “No Worries.”

Simba is an anxious wreck, having just abandoned his responsibilities as heir to the thrown and run away from his home and family, and believing he was responsible for his father’s death.  His worries and concerns are real.  Timon and Punba’s song doesn’t avoid those problems, they just try to put things in a different perspective with their “problem free philosophy.”  Paul offers similar advice in his letter to the Philippians when he explains, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.  Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus,” (4:6-7, CEB).  Faith in God won’t make all of our problems disappear, but it certainly can help with the anxiety they bring, after all, as Paul says in another letter, to the Romans, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (12:31, CEB).

Merciful God, it is easy for us to be consumed with the daily worries of life and the anxieties that test our faith and rob us of any serenity.  Remind us to offer these concerns over to you, so that your Spirit can fill us with your peace.  Amen.

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 18 – SONG #23 – “I SEE THE LIGHT” – TANGLED – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days Of Disney” – Day 18

Song #23 – “I See The Light” – Tangled

Disney’s “Tangled” does irony pretty well.  Much of the drama revolves around a royal crown that is token by Flynn Rider, and then, in turn, stolen by Rapunzel, who uses it as leverage to convince him to take her to “see the lights,” that are released every night on her birthday.  Little does she know, those lights are for her. Little does he know, that crown belongs to her.  And little do they both know, that they are slowly falling in love.

The song, “I See The Light,” captures the realization of this irony perfectly with words like, “never even knowing just how blind I’ve been,” and, “suddenly I see.”  As a matter of fact, this devotional could just as easily be on the song “Amazing Grace,” but that’s only true because so much of scripture deals with the transformation from dark blindness to seeing light.  In the first chapter of John, we learn that the light was “coming into the world,” and that the, “light shines in the darkness,” even when, “the world didn’t recognize the light,” (CEB).  Of course, nine chapters later Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world,” (John 9:5).  In truth, without Christ we are all in some form of darkness, but we have a promise that, “I will make the blind walk a road they don’t know…I will make darkness before them into light and rough places into level ground…I won’t abandon them,” (Isaiah 42:16).

God of light, shine in our hearts so that we can see that path you have chosen for us, and bear witness to your light of grace and love for all who still walk on rough ground.  Amen.

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 17 – SONG #24 – “UNDER THE SEA” – THE LITTLE MERMAID – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days Of Disney” – Day 17

Song #24 – “Under The Sea” – The Little Mermaid

Aside from the typical “princess in love,” fairytale Disney became famous for in the 90’s, at its heart, “The Little Mermaid” tells the story of a princess conflicted between remaining at home where she is safe and comfortable, or risking it all to live in a world of her dreams, not fully knowing the consequences that decision may bring.  It may not be a “Tale of Two Cities,” but there is certainly a tension between two worlds.

Enter Sebastian, the good-humored crab trying to keep everyone safe and happy (and do his job).  When he learns that Arielle desires to trade ocean life for life on land with Prince Eric (to whom she has sung, but not yet spoken a word), he gathers his band to perform a show-stopping number for the princess highlighting the joys of sea life, explaining, “up on the shore they work all day.”  Despite the rules and demands of palace life, Sebastian believes Ariel has it better back home.  Moses met with similar conflict on his march to the promised land.  In the same way Arielle realized life on land wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, the Israelites complained to Moses in Exodus 14:12, “It would have been better for us to work for the Egyptians than to die in the desert,” (CEB).  The Israelites didn’t understand that sometimes, God’s blessings don’t always make life easier.  Sometimes, they even require a little bit of work on our end.

Heavenly Savior, we praise you for your faithfulness.  Give us courage to embrace the life you’ve chosen for us, even when your blessings feel more like struggles, knowing you’ve promised us a life of hope and grace.  Amen.

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 16 – SONG #25 – “BE OUR GUEST” – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days Of Disney” – Day 16

Song #25 – “Be Our Guest” – Beauty And The Beast

Not only was “Beauty and the Beast,” one of the most renowned Disney films of all time, it was also the first musical in the original Disney Broadway trilogy, also featuring “The Lion King,” and “Aida,” both with music written by Elton John.  Meanwhile, “Beauty and the Beast,” with original music written by the acclaimed duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, showcased it’s own collection of unforgettable songs.

“Be Our Guest” became the undeniable showstopper of both the film and the stage musical, complete with a singing candelabra, dancing silverware, and “flatware entertaining.”  In the song, the occupants of the enchanted castle try their best to show hospitality to an unwelcome feeling Belle, perfectly modeling one of the cornerstones of the Judeo-Christian religion.  In Genesis 18: 6-8, when Abraham is visited by three strangers, look how he responds; “So Abraham hurried…and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs of the finest flour and make some baked goods!” Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly. Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared [and] put the food in front of them…” (CEB).  Meanwhile, Christ is constantly in table fellowship not only with his disciples, but with the sinners and outcasts of society.  As Christians, our responsibility is to constantly be agents of God’s welcome to any and all people we come across, sometimes with words, sometimes with food!

God of hospitality, teach us to open our doors wider, and to set more places at our table, so that all may feel your welcoming embrace, and be nourished by your bread and water of life.  Amen.

40 DAYS OF DISNEY – DAY 15 – SONG #26 – “YOU CAN FLY” – PETER PAN – LENT 2014

2014 Lenten Devotional – “40 Days Of Disney” – Day 15

Song #26 – “You Can Fly” – Peter Pan

in 1953, Walt Disney Studios adapted J.M. Barrie’s beloved children’s musical, “Peter Pan,” into an animated feature which has proven to be one of the most enduring additions to the franchise, with spin-off’s including the live-action sequel, “Hook,” and the children’s cartoon, “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”  Revolving around the title character, the story centers arounds embracing the joys of youth and believing in fairy tales, two concepts that appear equally present in Christian thought (to particular extents).

In the song, “You Can Fly,” a choral ensemble sings about how, with “a little bit of faith, trust, and pixie dust,” the young Wendy and her siblings can fly through the sky, following the “second star to the left,” straight on to Neverland, as they, “leave this world behind.”  A similar scene plays out in the Bible, after Jesus has been resurrected from the dead and spent 40 more days in ministry on earth, he “ascends,” to heaven.  Christian artists throughout history have literally painted pictures of Jesus “flying” up to heaven, saying in John 16: 28, “I left the Father and came into the world. I tell you again: I am leaving the world and returning to the Father,” (CEB).  Just like Peter Pan, Jesus flies off to “Neverland,” the only difference; instead of returning to take us to “Neverland” with him, Jesus promises to bring heaven to earth with him at his triumphant return.

Eternal Christ, we have experienced your coming and going, but we live with the knowledge that you never leave us.  While our world may be absent of fairy dust, give us the faith and trust to hope in your victorious return, when we experience your kingdom here and now.  Amen.