Friday, January 30, 2015

E.T. vs. The Thing, 1982

"El-li-ott.. Pull my finger."
I was sitting in the theater for the second time, only now with my girlfriend Christine Lantrip. We were watching little E.T. die on the operating table. She started crying. I started crying. [This was my first lesson in sympathetic reaction; I knew he'd be O.K. but dadgum it, when you're seventeen in a theater with your first girlfriend, you don't get a chance to veto your emotions!]

You know what happened that December of 1982: E.T. "phoned home" and millions of moviegoers were touched by this little ugly visitor from another world with wondrous abilities. It became one of the highest grossing films of all time.

Two weeks later, John Carpenter's remake of the sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World was released. Based more truly on the novella, "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr., it starred former Disney kid Kurt Russell as Macready, a helicopter pilot trapped in frozen Antarctica with a team of scientists and workers who have unwittingly allowed a shape-changing alien into their midst.

This doppelganger unearthed from the frozen tundra is thousands of years old, has absorbed hundreds of lifeforms across the galaxy and can re-form to any part or parcel of them that will allow it to survive, to hunt, to assimilate and to destroy.

I did not see this one in the theater. Most Americans didn't either. I saw it later on cable, streamed right into the color Magnavox mounted on my hotel wall while vacationing with my family. [We did not have cable in our home. Too un-Christian.]

I will never forget my reaction to the alien on the operating table in this film, either.

Nor the head plopping off. Nor it sprouting legs to run away.

Nor the most carnal, most apt, most apropos line ever uttered in sci-fi monster history: "You gotta be @#!&^$ kidding!"  - just before the skittering Spider-Head Creature was burned to death by Kurt Russell.

That was not  sweet little E.T. in any sense, form or fashion.

Rob Bottin did the special creature effects with a minor last-minute assist from Stan Winston. They made film history. Even today, it is not for the faint of heart.

E.T. made over a billion dollars. The Thing did not make five million in profit.

Obviously, the viewers voted for love, hope, healing, magic, mystery and joy. It has been said that E.T. was, quite by accident, the story of Jesus. When pointed out to the Jewish filmmaker, Spielberg was himself surprised; he'd pulled much of Elliot from his own feelings. He wanted a friend to help him through all the difficulties he faced when his parents got divorced, including his abandonment by his father.

E.T. was the answer to that. He was a Christ figure, complete with healing, death, resurrection and ascension.

So if E.T. was Christ - and everyone loves Jesus - what was The Thing?

The devil, you dummy. The enemy of mankind.

Jesus told us what he is like in John 10:10a: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy..." and when blasting the religious leaders of his day, He said: "You belong to your father, the devil... He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." [John 8:44]

The Thing does all this marvelously, using deceit and perfect mimicry to murder every animal, every man it touches. Grotesque and gargantuan when revealed at last there is nothing good in this monster once it is uncovered by fire.


John Carpenter not only tapped into this to give you a horror that you truly feared, he tapped hard on the very nature of a fallen world: isolated, cold, alone, wounded, we have to face an ancient evil that can be found hiding in anyone.

"Man Is the Warmest Place to Hide." said one poster tagline.

This is what we do not want to hear, what we do not want to face: evil can be  within our homes, our community, our very selves.

Who can you trust when all around you are not what they seem?

Kurt Russell's character, Macready answers this in the film. Sure, he means it as a cynical remark, but maybe... well, maybe he's not as flippant as we might think.

When Doc [likeable Wilford Brimley] has destroyed any chance of anyone leaving the base -, he confesses why to Macready as he's being locked up, "I don't know who I can trust, Mac!"

Macready replies "Trust in the Lord, Doc."

When it gets cold outside and the winds howl by, kids, and you have things that just may swallow you whole, do that.

Trust in the Lord.

Amen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Heaven Is For Real, Unorthodoxly Orthodox

"Dad - are going to see Jesus?"
"Yes, or Kevin Costner at the least!"
After finding out that The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was a piece of fiction, a dear widow I know called me to make sure I heard the scandalous news.

Since she already suspects we are "less-than-orthodox" in our view of scripture and Christ's redemption, I knew the moment I heard her polite voice what the topic would be.

I pretty much jumped in and said "Yes, I heard all about it online. But that was his book, not Heaven Is For Real. Yes - the one where he said he saw his sister who died in the miscarriage? Yep. That one. No - I think the Colton Burpo account is true. Lots of little reasons, honestly."

As I suspected, she had gotten confused and conflated the two books. Predictable. After a few minutes of clarification, in which I also pointed out that many prophets in the Bible did not die yet saw heaven and its glory one way or another. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, Paul, John... need I go on?

You see, you don't have to die to see heaven. You have to let go of your body, and usually we just don't mind staying. Why go back? You are in heaven!

Some do come back, however, and what they tell us is amazing.

But we need a litmus test or two to verify we are not getting hoodwinked.

Let me tell you a big one: the people come back talking about God's love. They are different than before the event. They change. They are not just "informed"; they are overwhelmed.

Their words are verified by others who've had direct revelation: i.e. those guys in the Bible.

They also point unerringly to Jesus as a living, loving Lord. They point out His sacrifice and gentleness.

I met a White Witch who claimed to he spoke with God. The cincer in his testimony was that even though he could, God said to him "Have you gone to my son, Jesus?" That is so unorthodoxly orthodox I got nothing to add. I'm still laughing.

You see, God cannot be put in a box. And I think when someone says "Hey, I met God!" all the evil of men's pride rises up. "Pride," writes C. S. Lewis, "is essentially competitive." Are we really trying to be discerning and wise when we take shots at them? Why are we upset?

We are upset that they have something we do not. We think they are putting on airs or puffing themselves up, when in fact, they are trying to be humble and speak the truth, testifying to God's kindness to them.

In the film version of the book, Heaven Is Real, this is addressed head-on when Pastor Todd Burpo [Greg Kinnear] is dealing with Nancy, a senior lady member of his congregation who is upset with little Colton Burpo's revelatory comments about heaven.

They are sitting near the grave of her dead son - a decorated war veteran.

Todd confesses he was inadequate in faith to help her in her time of grief. He then addresses the Big Fat White Elephant in the Room: why did God save his boy and let her son die? [We all suspect favoritism, don't we?]

Todd:  I failed you, Nancy.  Worst day of your life, and I had nothing.  No peace.  No hope.  No comfort…

Nancy:  For a while, pain was all I had.  You didn’t have to take it away.  You don’t have to save the world, Todd.  I believe that’s already been done. [pauses]
 

Nancy:  Why God would give you your son back and take mine away?

Todd:  Do you love your son?

Nancy:  Yes.

Todd:  Do you think I love mine? 

Nancy:  Yes.

Todd:  Do you think I love mine more than you love yours? 

Nancy:  No.

Todd:  Nancy, do you think God loves my son more than He loves yours?

Nancy [tearfully]:  No.

______________________________________

At first, I thought this scene was too... humanistic. Too much about how we feel and not what is real. But I was wrong. It is not.

It is what we secretly fear - that we are not invited to the party. That God simply does not care while we suffer and are loyal and doing the best we can...

...and then someone blithely says "God is SO Good! I just got a miracle!"

You find yourself envious of the grace given to them. You end up denouncing them. You forget that God does not have to answer to you.

You have to answer to Him.

I'm going to cut this short with the frank appeal that Job himself discovered: God is in Charge and Not Answerable to You.

I suspect Colton Burpo was selected to wake us up to the authenticity of ancient texts and the reality they proclaim.

I suspect that Heaven Is For Real was for real, and Colton Burpo was too.

God bless the Burpo family and may there be no malarkey near them.

Amen.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Boy Who Lied and Got Everyone's Attention

You know that very exciting popular book entitled, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven?

It was all a lie, says the young author.

Here's his confessional letter -

An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.

Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. 


I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.

In Christ,

Alex Malarkey
______________________________________



I have a problem with this letter of confession and repentance.

It assumes that the other books are lies. They too need to repent.

I got a real problem with his confession becoming a call for everyone's  repentance. A real problem.

He says some things here that strongly echo a doctrinal position held by conservative evangelicals that are VERY suspicious of any extra-Biblical encounters or experiences with God.

Long story short, these devout men of faith would probably blast Christ when He walked the Earth, thinking they know scriptures but don't - in one case, the Pharisees utterly dismiss Galilee as a place no prophet ever came from. Well, they are utterly wrong. Jonah, like Jesus, was from Galilee: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/19010/was-no-prophet-ever-came-out-of-galilee-sarcastic

They also deny acknowledging miracles because they threaten their status as leaders. You see it in John 11, when Lazarus is raised from the dead.

No, I kid you not. There are some Christian leaders who, in theological certitude KNOW Jesus did not speak to you, that no one ever speaks in tongues and all miracles stopped in the book of Acts.

I always wondered why until I caught on that people hate change and meeting the supernatural makes you change.

I won't rant on that, but such men have made careers out of being the last word on the Word of God, and I think God has to walk around them at times.

I will say I am disappointed to know a deceit has been perpetrated in the name of Christ. We are going to be ridiculed and mocked and scorned for this.

But what is worse is how it has enabled the Pharisees of Today to demand silence and stiffle other testimonies of Christ, accusing them falsely of the same tactic.

That royally ticks me off, this sloppy guilt-by-association.

But if there is one thing the Resurrected Lord of Creation Who Makes Breakfast for His Men After Rising from the Dead understands, it is this:

His friends know Him supernaturally and testify about Him.

John 11:26-27
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. 

Amen.

p.s. Jesus is not bound by the Bible; the Bible is bound by Him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Big Hero 6 [or 'How many times should you see Big Hero?"]

"Mr. Murray, may I talk to you
about Ghostbusters 3?"
Now that Disney owns Marvel and Pixar, it was bound to happen that John Lasseter & Crew would do an animated feature of some Marvel property - and that property needed to be unknown and have good story possibilities.

Lasseter glommed onto Big Hero 6 and we are glad he did.

It is a classic supers origin story, but set in the future city of San Fransokyo - obviously a mega-city conglomeration of San Francisco and Tokyo, though we do not know how, or really need to.

What we need is compelling characters and a great story, replete wtih love, loss, hope, hatred, pain, power, revenge and redemption. The Pixar Storytellers deliver all this and more - I honestly would have paid just to do a virtual tour of San Fransokyo, it was so beautiful and intriguing.

The heart of the story is a young prodigy named Hiro ["Hero"] and his ability to make cool robots. His brother, in an attempt to re-direct his energies away from illegal 'Bot Fighting, introduces him to his university friends, all wonderful and cool and excited about the science and technological applications they are developing. Hiro is amazed and to prove himself worthy of joining the University via open competition, he develops a micro-bot that functions like a swarm of ants or bees, making whatever shapes the controller imagines. At the demonstration, he is fabulously successful and wins entrance into the University.

But then there is a fire, an explosion, and soon all Hiro is left with is his older brother's friends and the simple inflatable medical robot he'd made: BayMax.

BayMax is motherly. BayMax is protective. BayMax is funny. But he is not built for combat. Ultimately, just to serve Hiro's desire to capture the murderer of his brother, he is upgraded to an armored version with a rocket punch arm, flight and a new-program mode: DESTROY.

The Team, in a montage, is seen developing their own superpowered devices to help Hiro. Very nicely done, IMO.

When they discover the Big Bad, things get ugly at the revelation of who he is and how he got Toshi killed. Hiro, enraged, sics BayMax on him in "DESTROY" mode. It is honestly frightening to see his full potential unleashed.

The Team is being brutally overrun trying to prevent on-the-spot murder when, thankfully, the original programming card is re-inserted.

Furious at being denied retribution, Hiro jumps on the back of BayMax and flies home.

What happens next is film gold: while Hiro is intent on fixing BayMax, he's trying to re-insert the DESTROY programming card when BayMax begins asking if this will make Hiro feel better?

Hiro says it will. BayMax questions the logic of this. He even says that Toshi, his dead brother "is here." Over Hiro's protests, BayMas shows an old video of Toshi starting up Baymax for the first time. His joy and excitement are clear.

Hiro gets it: BayMax was never supposed to do anything but help and care for others. He should never be a weapon of vengeance. Toshi only wanted BayMax to help.

Fast Forward past Team Reconciliation and showdown with The Big Bad.

BayMax is going to use the last of his power to save Hiro when he asks the standard medical examiner/patient question:
"Are you satisfied with your care?"
"No, I can't lose you too!"

"Hiro - I will always be with you."
At Hiro's heartbreakingly meek affirmation, BayMax sends him away to safety before being lost to otherdimensional forces. [ See on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNVbqS34PgI ]



It is a Christ moment, no ifs-ands-or-buts.

It is something we need to learn and re-learn as Christians. We are not here to defeat evil with warfare. Yes, we will stop it and contain it, but ultimately we have to see what makes evil take hold in a human heart: it is when that heart believes no one cares.

A callous disregard for safety created the Big Bad's rage that caused our Hiro to also want to become callous and get revenge.

Like David on the way to kill Nabal, but was prevented by wise Abigail, Hiro is blocked from killing the Big Bad guy by his Team and BayMax.

Like Christ, BayMax asks questions to drive home the correct answer. He exemplifies something the Great Sacrificer wants us to learn, and as an arch Conservative, it is a slow process for me, but it is what Jesus said to do:

"Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'"

I have given up a lot to follow Christ, but He gave up more to change my heart.

Jesus was talking to the moral leaders who felt they had done a lot to win God's favor. Guess what that causes when you run into people who have done nothing?

Pride. You want to slap them for being dumb or straighten them out. The LAST thing on Earth you want to do is be merciful, but if you don't, you know what happens?

Nothing.

Nothing good, either. "Tough Love" only works if there was soft love to begin with. If there is or was no "soft love" of grace, then all they see is judgmentalism.


"Are you satisfied with the level of your care?" asks BayMax. So does Jesus, I think.

Do you think God cares for you and died for you? If He did, are you satisfied?

If He did, are you merciful or do you demand blood?

Big Hero 6 did a better job of showing me my self-righteousness than a thousand crying liberals.

Yet that means something too: if you are crying that hard, folks, you need to be cradled by God. You need Jesus.

God forbid I keep you from His arms.

Be satisfied with His care.

Amen.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1

"I stole the wings from Victoria's Secret.
They weren't using them properly anyway."
So I'm watching the Previews before the show, and just after watching God and Kings and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, I smirk: "There's two films that can't be bothered to follow the source material."

Mockingjay actually does - but it has less pedigree and less cash thrown at it. Go figure. Maybe films with strong female leads get a pass. Who knows?

Ogden 6 is a great theater, $4 tickets and a friendly staff. They got wit. When I said "Jennifer Lawrence, 1:30 showing" the male cashier smiled and promptly gave me a ticket for Mockingjay.

He knew. We all know. Lawrence has the sweet girl-next-door face that makes her unwilling heroine Katniss Everdeen so compelling. You don't even envy Katniss for being a winner, because she wins in a very realistic way for a female warrior: she puts an arrow right through her target.

She loves her best male friend [Chris Hemsworth] and her co-conspirator [Josh Hutcherson]. She's not a heartless machine nor a deceptive manipulator. Clueless to her beauty and her power to inspire, she radiates humility, compassion and quiet strength. If Captain America were a woman, he'd be Katniss Everdeen, not Hayley Atwell.

"I'm Agent Cah-ter and this is my gun!
One I shoot with, the other I have fun...
What on EARTH does that mean?
"
Most warrior women cannot pull this off. They seem to think the job is to beat up as many men as they can to show they are a force to be reckoned with.

Let me tell you a secret. It's a big one, so don't tell anyone:

In a fight between a man and a woman, the woman ALWAYS wins.

If she is beat up or killed, another man will avenge her. Heck, even Evil Men will avenge her. Did you SEE what happened to the guy who killed Detective Carter [Taraji P.Henson] in Person of Interest?



No, we men like to defend and protect our women. It is a source of pride to us.

So when we see a woman who wants to defend and protect her people, who actually loves both of her men and treats them with respect and kindness, we cheer for her.

Take note Hollywood. You can bring out cool chicks who can beat up men. It can happen, sure, and some women need to watch the fantasy of a super-awesome fighting woman who takes down a man. Every man they meet, it seems.

But the theater would get deathly quiet if you saw a man beat up a woman and saunter off proudly as these chicks do. You would be horrified and rightly so.

There's an old meme rolling around on the web many professional women like to share with each other. It's a cautionary bit of wisdom and prose. It's the difference between a Strong Woman and a Woman of Strength.

I've been watching "strong women" on TV lately and I'm getting tired of them. Today, in the theater, I watched a "woman of strength" and I loved her.

Here's the difference according to Marta S. Hardy
[ http://www.appleseeds.org/Woman_Strength.htm ]

A Strong Woman vs. A Woman of Strength


A strong woman works out every day to keep her body in shape
But a woman of strength kneels in prayer to keep her soul in shape.

A strong woman isn't afraid of anything…
But a woman of strength shows courage in the midst of her fear.

A strong woman won't let anyone get the best of her…
But a woman of strength gives the best of her to everyone.

A strong woman makes mistakes and avoids the same in the future…
But a woman of strength realizes life's mistakes
can also be God's blessings and capitalizes on them.

A strong woman walks sure footedly…
But a woman of strength knows God will catch her when she falls.

A strong woman wears the look of confidence on her face…
But a woman of strength wears grace.

A strong woman has faith that she is strong enough for the journey…
But a woman of strength has faith that it is in the journey
that she will become strong.
____________________________

Ultimately, what I like about Katniss is that she is a Woman of Strength - and men, women and children know they can rely on her.

I would like to add just one more comparison.

It seems to me that a strong woman cares about her rights and how she is treated. She is demanding, brassy, bossy and quick to Straighten People Out.

A woman of strength cares more about her responsibilities and how she treats others. She is hard-working, compassionate, gracious and quick to Help People in Need.

May every woman who reads this be strengthened - in the right way by God's grace.

Amen.