Archive for December, 2011

The Muppets: When a person is not a person

Posted: December 30, 2011 by Emilio Garofalo Neto in Family
Tags: , , ,

By Josaías Junior

In one of the funniest moments in the movie, the recently reunited Muppet crew decides to kidnap a celebrity to participate in their show, and with that, guarantee the broadcast of their show on TV. While discussing the ethics of kidnapping someone, Lew Zealand, the boomerang-fish thrower Muppet (!) ends the issue with amazing discernment: “We come to the conclusion that celebrities are not people”

It is curious that a puppet is the one coming to such conclusion. And in the end, maybe he is right. Not because celebrities aren’t human, but because, many times, that is how we see them. How could this happen?

Man, Muppet or something lesser?

In the previous post we saw that the decisions from Walter, Gary and Mary can be seen in the context of human calling. Gary prepares to leave home to be united to his wife, assuming responsibilities. Walter pursues what he loves, exercises his vocation, also taking responsibilities. Mary corrects her fiancée when necessary, waits for him to take leadership, without really usurping control of the future marriage.

What we can see are features of what God gave in the context of the first covenant. We see work, marriage and even Sabbath (after all, watching Muppet Show is rest). It points to man being man—creator different from creature, and this creature being distinct from creation. But when it comes to celebrities, we see things differently.

Before we proceed, we need to make a distinction. One thing is to be famous in recognition of the good work one does (examples: the Muppets, or, let’s say, Steve Moffat or Flannery O’Connor), another thing is to be famous for being famous, becoming a brand and an object of fetish (a celebrity such as Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton). Nowadays often those things are mingled and we end up confusing the concepts.

The distinction among Creator-man-creation helps us to see whether one lives for the fame of God’s name or our own fame—or infamy.

First, we may think of ourselves as the creator. We may go very wrong thinking that we are gods. This appears in many ways, when we demand to be rewarded and recognized for our mission, without remembering where every good gift comes from. When we want to control or dominate everything rather than what has been given to us; when we see creatures similar to us as servants of our desires.

That is what happens to the movie’s villain, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). It is for a good reason that his theme song is Let’s talk about me. Watch a human being singing for his own glory. Let us not recognize ourselves in this verse.

He’s Tex Richman / Everybody listen / Just how great it is to be him / (It’s great to be me) / He’s the greatest / You’re the lamest!

Second, we may think that others are the creator. The requirement for a celebrity to appear in the Muppet show in order for it to become relevant reflects very well what we think of the famous ones. They become idols, become mediators, become the authentication of what we are. See, in theory, the Muppets did not need a celebrity. They were good at what they did. People still remembered their work. But why not have some extra help?

How many times do we follow the same idea? When a famous person claims to have become a Christian, we celebrate. When a Christian becomes a celebrity, pages of our newsletters are dedicated to him. There is a desire to show that our message works. That believers are relevant. That the church is not a place only made of the non-powerful, not noble, weak or things that are not. And don’t you dare question the testimony or doctrine of the celebrity.

Third, we may think of people as less than people. Yes, the Muppets kidnap and take Jack Black tied up to the show. Yes, it is funny because Jack Black is a person, and nobody in the audience seems to care—they think it is part of the show. But we do something similar. And since we are not Muppets, it is not funny when we do it.

We act similarly to them in several ways—with kidnapping itself, and abortion, rape, pornography, manipulation, gossip, blackmail and the like. Our desires should pass the test of loving the neighbor.

Most of us will not see ourselves in the list above, but we often laugh at the ridiculous life of some celebrities, sub-celebrities and people who aspire to fame. We have blogs and TV shows dedicated to such things. I am aware that the famous ones do some funny stuff. Here in Brazil, we heard about a couple who invited people to their wedding using a spam list.

But sometimes we overdo it, we laugh at divorce, at adultery, and even death. Those are serious topics, but in the life of celebrities, they become laughing stock. This happens because we often do not acknowledge God’s image in these people.

Conclusion

Notice what the three approaches have in common—none treats human beings as they are. Even when we exalt ourselves as “creators” we become manipulative and inhuman. God created us in his image, and only when we understand our resemblance to him, but at the same time that we are no more than image, we will be able to see ourselves for the people that we are, based on what God says we are. We can love God and love people as God orders us.

Without this comprehension, we will treat our Lord and our neighbor as, ironically, puppets.

After all, are you man or muppet?

Posted: December 28, 2011 by Emilio Garofalo Neto in Family
Tags: , , , , ,

Text by Josaías Jr

Deciding matters about issues not directly related to religious or moral issues is a nightmare for many Christians. I know, because, it has always been mine.

After all, how can I know if God will approve the way I followed? What if he wanted me to be an architect and I ended up in advertisement? Not only that—there is still the matter of the motivations of my heart. I want to get married, but was I sinning when I only looked for girls that I considered pretty? Do I sin now for considering my girlfriend to be the prettiest girl in the planet? Is it not shallow or even selfish? Am I holier if I hate my job than the guy who loves what he does?

We usually do not know which way to follow and if we have the right motivations.

The new Muppets movie raises this issue at the end of the second act, when two of the main characters must decide the way to follow. We see the brothers Gary and Walter—played respectively by Jason Segel and a puppet, questioning whether they are men or muppets.

Without dwelling on the issue of how a human being and a puppet can be related, what we need to comprehend about them is the following: Walter and Gary grew up together, they are very close brothers, partners at sports and music, and Muppets fans.  And when Gary invites Mary, who has been his girlfriend for 10 years, to a trip to Los Angeles, he couldn’t leave his brother behind. “It is never me and him. It is always me and him and him”, the girl sings.

And in the middle of the quest to get back the Muppet Theatre, the question is made.  Gary must decide between a life with Mary, or to keep attached to his brother, to his childhood dreams and to the muppets. On the other hand, Walter must decide whether he’ll use his talents alongside Kermit, Miss Piggy and the whole muppets gang, or stick with Gary and keep dodging from singing before an audience waiting for a spectacle.

There is a connection between the decisions we make and the gifts we receive.

Just like it happens with Gary and Walter, none of the options were properly sinful. Being with your family is something good. Also is “leaving home” and put to use something God gave to you. Where to go? What to do?

There are some important parameters that the Bible teaches and the Muppets illustrates in the film:

1) There are different vocations, even for people in a common context. Walter should join the Muppets since the other option would lead him to remain in his hometown, hiding his talent. Gary should marry Mary, and remain in his hometown, without a complete involvement with the Muppets.

That reminds us the calls that Christ made when He was here in the Earth. Some should abandon everything to live with the Master; others should live their vocations at home, at work, collaborating financially with Jesus’ earthly ministry. And while some shouldn’t bury his own father (Mathew 8.21,22), others, like Mary and Martha, fulfilled their mission staying at home.

2) The man’s calling. Some think that the Bible has no commands regarding man abandoning childhood and growing up to take responsibilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible teaches that this is precisely the man’s role.

When Mary asks her boyfriend whether he wants to be a man or a muppet, she raises an issue that every boy must face eventually. Genesis 1 and 2 gives us directions about this growth moment. It is fitting for a man to take initiative and lead his wife, by leaving his parents. He must become the protector and provider for his new home. If you, boy, hasn’t decide it yet, even if you don’t have a girlfriend in sight, be a man!

3) The talents and passions we receive. As for Walter, other important factors led him to the right decision. He had the artistic skill which made him an important piece in the Muppet Show. Not only that! He loved Kermit’s gang work.

Many times, our gifts gives us signs that lead us to the work God wants us to do. Whether in the local church or at our profession, we must consider what was given to us. It may be ingratitude or mediocrity not to use them. If Walter was to remain at home, fearing to face the public, he wouldn’t be using his talent to help his friends.

Wanting to be a good husband, a good father, having a good life, having a people reaching ministry, dreaming with a better workplace, seeking knowledge and art skills – all of this can be good examples of God glorifying paths, since they seek to fulfill God’s commands to the human being. Since most of this blog’s readers can’t choose to be a muppet, I recommend you look for your calling, following the parameters above – the command God gave us right from the start.

There is, however, something we must consider – assuming that I love what I do, and I’m good at it, is God calling me to do it? Not necessarily.

After the Fall, things became messy. Our wishes were God given, but sin tainted them, and what was once healthy now is sick. The fact is that not always following what we like and using the talents we have are signs of a calling. Many times, we are good at sinning. And we all, by nature, love to sin.

Your decision must glorify God and bless your neighbor. It doesn’t help the case if you like and it good at theft – God is being dishonored, your calling isn’t being fulfilled and your work is useless.

Curioulsy, the Muppets present a third category beyond being a man or a muppet. It is a good example of how being good at something and liking it does not lead us to God’s will. More about that in the next post.

Guest Post tomorrow – What is Iprodigo?

Posted: December 28, 2011 by Emilio Garofalo Neto in Uncategorized

Tomorrow and Friday we will receive here another fabulous guest blogger. Josaías Jr. will write about the wonderful Muppets, with serious considerations from the Bible. He is a fine theologian laboring with the growing Reformed movement in Brazil. Josaías edits a well-known Brazilian website called iprodigo. But what is it and who is the man? I will let him speak:

iPródigo (something like “iProdigal” in English) is a website created by five friends living in Brasilia, Brazil. In the beginning, we were a group of three Baptists and two Presbyterians (all interested in reformed theology). Now we are 3.5 Presbyterians and 1.5 Baptists (Josaias is in a complicated process of transition) and we have seven friends help us with the work. Our aim is blessing the Brazilian church with resources that glorifies God and exposes the sound doctrine.

Our site has some original texts from ourselves, some translations (from authors like John Piper and Tim Challies), and Podcasts (we call Pródcasts) where we talk about various themes, like the 5 points of Calvinism, the 10 commandments and reformed apologetics. We also produce video interviews whenever we get a chance with folks such as Thabiti Anyabwile (check it out, it is in english!).  Recently we fulfilled a dream and published our first magazine, with the participation of young reformed pastors from Brazil.

But who is this dude?

This is Josaías Jr, editor of the website, greatly interested in pop culture and an astute theologian. And now A Reel Thinking guest blogger.

Let’s receive him with Joy

The hype for what is, most likely, going to be the biggest movie of 2012 (The Dark Knight Rises) is really starting to crank up. The newest poster of Bane with the erie words ‘The legend ends’ has been the talk of many blogs, as well as, the strange website that repeats some form of encrypted message.  There is also the recenlty released trailer, which you can watch below, that has received millions of hits. We are still several months away from the release of this film, yet many are discussing it as if it were being released next weekend.

I have always been a big fan of the Dark Knight, even the Adam West Bruce Wayne/Batman. Therefore, I am eagerly anticipating the release of the latest Batman. However, looking back to the second installment of the newest reboot, I would like to highlight one aspect of the Capped Crusader I appreciated.  But first, check out the newest trailer.

At the end of The Dark Knight (there will be some spoilers here) Lt. Gordon explains to his son why Batman is running from the police. His son is curious, because he knows Batman is bringing justice to the city of Gotham, even though it is vigilante justice. Lt. Gordon says, “Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.” Although the Gordon family knows Batman is a ‘good guy’, they allow him to be portrayed as the ‘bad guy’ or ‘dark knight’ in order to deliver the city of Gotham. This got me thinking.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, he makes this statement (3:10-14):

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written,”Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

I have heard many complaints about The Dark Knight being such a ‘dark’ film. And I agree, there is some rather graphic content in the film and it does carry a gritty tone throughout. However, it’s our job, as Christians, to discern on whether or not to view a film, but when we do, mine the depths of truth that are there. To me, although The Dark Knight is a gritty film, I feel this is such a great parallel to Christ.

Batman, although flawed and employing vigilante justice, is still a picture of a savior. He is a savior attempting to deliver Gotham City from its corruption, however, he is misunderstood. Some of the citizens hate him, the media hates him, and even the police hate him. It’s interesting that it’s the evil criminals of the city that actually know who he is. They hate him, but for the right reason. They hate him because he’s bringing justice and expelling corruption. Batman is a hero who is misunderstood. He is a hero who gets the name ‘The Dark Knight’, because of this misunderstanding. He is a hero, who becomes a curse with the hopes of delivering a city from corruption…sound familiar?

Christians have a greater Hero who was also misunderstood. We have a Man who was familiar with sorrows (1 Peter 2:19), One who was not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15), One who was betrayed by those closest to him (Matt. 26:69ff), and One who became a curse for his people in order to deliver them to life everlasting. The Dark Knight is but a small picture of what the True Hero, Jesus Christ, does for the citizens of his Eternal City.

Snapshots

Posted: December 26, 2011 by jperritt in Snapshots
Tags: ,

snap·shot – a brief appraisal, summary, or profile.

Every Monday we hope to provide our readers with snapshots of films being released for the upcoming weekend. This will be a brief summary of films that will assist our readers in the area of discernment. Instead of searching other sites and reading lengthy articles, it’s our hope to provide a concise list of all the films of the weekend in one consolidated post. If you wonder why we don’t list the MPAA ratings, please click here.

  • War Horse – Young Albert enlists to serve in World War I after his horse, Joey, is sold into the calvary.  Genre – family, action, drama; content – intense war violence.
  • Newlyweds – Newlyweds, Buzzy and Katie, find their blissful marriage disrupted after Buzzy’s half-sister shows up.  Genre – romance, comedy; content – sexuality, language.

Yesterday we discussed a bit about the basic plot of the movie (and a little about the trilogy). We considered the matter of hiding the truth or bringing it to light. Today we will deal with two other important themes:

1. Judging people by their appearance – Lisbeth, the main character, dresses and acts in a way that makes people suspicious of her. Part of it is intentional, she wants people to keep their distance. But people constantly misjudge her based on her piercings, leather clothing, shaved eyebrows. People talk to her and assume she is mentally unstable. People imagine she is hostile, rude, difficult. While she is rather difficult and can be hostile if threatened, she is in fact a kind of genius with a strong sense of right and wrong (not necessarily coinciding with the biblical right and wrong). My point here is that we are warned in the Bible not to judge according to what we see in appearance. Saul was a rather impressive man, and the people of Israel wanted someone like him to be their king. God’s anointed one, however, was a less impressive kind of man in the exterior, the youngest of a bunch of brothers, the one people would never imagine (1 Samuel 16). Jesus told the pharisees to stop judging the exterior, but start looking inwardly (John 7:24). How would we react if Lisbeth showed up Sunday morning, dressed in metal and black leather and  barely answering to the usher’s greetings…

2. Violence towards women – The first book is originally entitled Men Who Hate Women.  In some countries (including the US) the title was changed to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  The matter of hatred and violence towards women is central in the three books. From now on, expect minor spoilers of the first book/movie, but I promise to reveal very little of the following two…

There is in the story, the mystery of what happened to the missing girl. Around that one, we are also disturbed by the  issues of how Lisbeth is seriously mistreated by men in whom she should be able to trust. The investigation stumbles upon several different forms of mistreatment against women, from sex trafficking to child abuse, rape, torture and so on. The stories seek to expose men who take advantage of their power positions to exploit women, men who publicly condemn sex trafficking but in reality indulge in pornography and prostitution and so on. In this, we go to very dark corners while reading (and watching) the story. Yet, all this is sadly part of our fallen world.

Terribly, parts of the church are lenient towards forms of mistreatment against women, such as verbal, emotional and even sexual abuse in the home. Husbands try to use the Bible to justify forcing their wives (and no wonder feminist groups accuse the Bible of being sexist) and encouraging to such behaviors. But in reality, the Bible has a strong stance against mistreating, hating, abusing, and hitting women.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians (5:25) that the men should love their wives as Christ loves the church and gives himself for her. This is a serious, radical form of action. This means that the man should protect the woman with his own life; that he should put her interests first; that she should never have to fear abuse or mistreatment from him; that he should be the one in whom she can rely for any and all needs. But men are cowards; they abuse their power and strength; they use their position to dominate and hurt, rather than to lead in love and protection.

Christ never abuses his church, does not demand more than she can give, never defrauds, never hates, never hurts, never forces, never makes her fear him. Jesus is the man who truly loves his bride. The church should be bold in calling its members to a similar attitude; but sadly, in many homes, the wives live in fear of the husbands; that they will hurt, force them sexually, hit them if the food is not good, fault them for what the children do and so on. What a perversion. And people complain about tattoos.

It has been a remarkable success story. Stieg Larsson is the Swedish author of a trilogy of  thrillers that became best-sellers all over the world.  The book series was translated into many languages, adapted into movies in Sweden and now we have the release of the American-made version of the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Also known as the Millennium trilogy, the books (and movies) tell the story of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a genius ill-adjusted to society, her troubles, past and present; and the adventures of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). That is the core of the story, yet a lot happens around it.

The amazing visual is fruit of the creative genius of David Fincher, creator of gems like The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Se7en, and more.

I anticipate, better, I know for sure that the movie will depict strong sexual content, with sexual crime included. It will be explicitly violent.  That is part of what happens in the center of the story and has to do with everything that happens in the series. Tomorrow we will deal with hatred and mistreatment of women and what the Bible has to say about it. Now is the time that I warn you to exercise caution in order to decide if you will watch it or not.

One of the main themes of the story is that of finding out what happened in the dark past; in this case, it is the mysterious disappearance of a girl. As always, there are many people who are opposed to any probing into the past; secrets may come out, shame and fear guide actions.

How should we deal with dark deeds of the past? Recently in my country, Brazil, there has been public debate about the release of secret government documents bringing to light what the dictatorship did in the 60s and 70s. Many claim that what is past is better left in the past. Many are scared to death that their crimes during the time of the dictatorial regime will come to light and they will be punished. Many want truth to come to light, as a form of avenging the dead and the tortured ones.

When dealing with the errors and sins of our own past and the ones around us, we should be careful. There really is no need to come to your pastor and confess all your sins; you have the need of only one high priest, our lord Jesus Christ. There are, however, sins that need to be confessed and forgiveness sought from the offended part.

When we confront the past we can better understand how wicked man really is, how depraved, how desperately in need of a savior.

In fact, Jesus himself said that all that is concealed will come to light (Luke 12:2,3; 8:17). This means that all deeds will be made clear for the whole universe to see, whether the police, the CIA, or Lisbeth Salander uncovered them or not. The judge of the world sees it all. My dark deeds will come to light; but I need not fear this coming judgment. The blood of the judge himself atones for all my sins; each one of them is covered. Hallelujah.

Tomorrow will begin our two-part post on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Much of the story of the book/film deals with men who abuse power and mistreat women.  In light of this, we thought the below question would be very relevant.

I remember hating my first semester of English Literature class for one main reason–I thought it was impossible to know the mind of an author. Week after week, It was sheer torture to be asked to write about WHY an author of a story wrote what he/she wrote, or WHAT MESSAGE he/she desired to convey. Thankfully, by the start of my second semester of Lit class, I came to understand that not only can you actually get to know the mind of an author, but it’s actually the WHOLE POINT of reading stories. True authors want their readers (or watchers in the case of movies) to “get” their message and to strive to understand what they’re trying to communicate. Stories can be enjoyed, but they are also designed to provoke thought and shape the way we see the world.

That’s what drives what we do here at Reel Thinking. We try to understand the message of a particular movie and see how that story can (or cannot) be illuminated by Scripture. Now, once in awhile, we actually have the privilege of hearing from our authors and screenwriters regarding the message of their movie. Well, lo and behold, after finishing the first post on the recent release, Young Adult, I had the chance to hear these words from Diablo Cody (author of Young Adult with the best pen name ever):

“I feel like I’m part of a generation of people who are stuck in the past and are really self-absorbed. I mean, we’re actually taking pictures of ourselves and posting them on Facebook, and keeping in touch with people that should have been out of our lives 15 years ago. Obsessing over who’s getting married, who’s having kids, who’s more successful. It’s like we’re recreating high school every single day using social media. And it’s weird.”

In another interview, Cody went on to explain that her lead character Mavis’ narcissism repelled her until she realized that there was a lot of Mavis in her too. This led her to the conclusion that in many ways, this entire generation is made up of narcissists, revealed by the obsession with social media.

Narcissism is nothing new. People have been self-absorbed and self-focused since Adam and Eve. But, something is relatively new: The elevation of self-love to a virtue from its historical status as vice. Thanks to the modern self-esteem psychologies, narcissism is a cultural epidemic rather than a limited personality disorder. Most psychologists would vehemently deny that the last 5o or so years of self-esteem doctrine has brought us to this place. But, they just ignoring the logical consequences of their worldviews. When you believe the problem with society is that people don’t love themselves enough, then the solution is to convince people how loveable they really are. Then, when society in general (after all of these years of training) actually starts to believe it, you have the inescapable consequence of narcissism.

But why are there so many professing Christians entrapped by the sin of narcissism? Christianity has historically been all about self-denial, self-abasement, the love of Christ rather than self. We must lay some of the blame at the feet of the modern Church. Its embrace of self-esteem psychologies over the years has influenced many people in the pews. Scripture twisting of the Great Commandment has been used repeatedly to convince Christians that you must learn to love self in order to fully love Jesus and others. Blame can also be assigned to Christian parents who have shaped their parenting around self-esteem excesses rather than the love of Jesus Christ. Again, it is easier to believe that our children just need to “believe in themselves” more instead of seeing them as sinners who need to deny themselves more. And, of course, our own sinful hearts are to blame. The cultural narcissism cloaked in the self-esteem movement would never have caught on if it didn’t resonate in our inner selves. We would all rather think highly of ourselves and look down on others. Gazing on our own reflection makes us feel better about ourselves, which feels better than the alternative.

Isn’t it time for a new generation to reject this distortion of self? How refreshing it is, when every once in a while, I meet a young person who is actually denying self in order to love Christ and other people. In God’s providence, I met a young 20-something couple like that this weekend. And I have been praising the Lord ever since for His grace that draws us from the muck of self to the love of God. Let’s stop receating high school, and grow in the school of Jesus (Ephesians 4:20-24).

snap·shot – a brief appraisal, summary, or profile.

Every Monday we hope to provide our readers with snapshots of films being released for the upcoming weekend. This will be a brief summary of films that will assist our readers in the area of discernment. Instead of searching other sites and reading lengthy articles, it’s our hope to provide a concise list of all the films of the weekend in one consolidated post. If you wonder why we don’t list the MPAA ratings, please click here.

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – A journalist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for 40 years.  Genre – thriller, mystery, drama; content – strong brutal violence, rape, torture, graphic nudity, and language.
  • We Bought a Zoo – Based on a true story of a father who moves his young family to the countryside to renovate and re-open a zoo.  Genre – family, drama, comedy; content – language.
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Ethan Hunt and his team go rogue in order to clear their names after they are accused of the Kremlin bombing.  Genre – action, adventure, drama; content – sexuality, violence, language.
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – A nine-year-old boy searches for a lock that matches a mysterious key his father left him, before his death in the World Trade Center. Genre – drama; content – language, thematic elements, disturbing images.
  • The Adventures of Tintin – Tintin competes against others in his search for a sunken treasure ship.  Genre – action, adventure, mystery, animation; content – brief drunkenness and smoking, action violence.
  • The Darkest Hour – Five young people fight for survival against an alien force attacking earth via our power supply.  Genre – horror, sci-fi, action; content – language, sci-fi violence.

* Please note that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Adventures of Tintin will be released Wednesday 21st.