Posts Tagged ‘selfishness’

shrunkA few weeks ago we decided to pop in the Rick Moranis’ classic, Honey I Shrunk the Kids.  If you are like me, this is a childhood favorite.  I saw it in the theaters and then re-watched it time and time again.  I even remember my mind being blown when I went to Disney World and discovered they had a playground resembling the movie (Disney really is magical, isn’t it?!)

All of this to say, I was anxious to see how my adult thoughts and emotions would align with those from my childhood.  For example, I gave extra sensitivity and care to my daughter as she wept over “Anty’s” sacrificial death – I, too, fought back the tears…when I was little, of course.  I remember the Lego the kids lodged in over night, the bumblebee flight, and the big Cheerio – “Dad!  Don’t eat me!!”

Something I didn’t remember was the strife between the husbands and wives in this film, which trickled down to the children.  I realized that the children were literally shrunk in the film, but they were also figuratively shrunk, as well.  The two fathers, Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) and Big Russ Thompson (Matt Frewer), were men that were consumed with themselves.  (I also need to add that Disney remains consistent in degrading men – they are both buffoons.)  Wayne is a scientist who ascends into his laboratory (attic) to the neglect of his entire family.  While I’m sure he loves his children, he often doesn’t even make conversation or eye-contact when interacting with them.

Conversely, one could say that Big Russ gives too much attention to his boys – specifically, the oldest, Little Russ Thompson.  In fact, one could say that Big Russ harasses Little Russ.  Big Russ is obsessed with his former athletic prowess and pushes his son to be just like him, without a care for the lack of gifts his son may have.

Therefore, Wayne and Big Russ have both “shrunk” their kids, in a sense.  It isn’t until the kids are literally shrunk, that the two fathers realize their errors and swear to change.

Sadly, we know this is true of our own lives.  While we may not possess a laser in our attic with the capabilities of shrinking our children, we often shrink them and their concerns for our own.  Because of sin, it turns each and every human inward.  Instead of being focused on others and their needs, we look to self.  Sin makes it unnatural to love others, which shows the significance of the first two commandments and our need for Christ.

Although Honey I Shrunk the Kids focuses on fathers, we know mothers fall into the category of selfish living as well.  The question for each of us is this, Are we more prone to the distracted, isolated Wayne, or are we prone to the overly critical, vicarious, mind-set of Big Russ?  How do you find yourself shrinking your kids?  If you have no children, how do you shrink others around you?  Bosses?  Employees?  Neighbors?  Spouses?  Friends?  Strangers?  Homeless?  Orphaned?  Widowed?

We are all well-aware that the current culture is one of distraction.  The primary distractions come from the screens we carry around in our pockets and purse.  And, when we’re not carrying them, we’re passing them off to our children to distract them for a moment’s peace.  Bluntly put, we are masters at shrinking each other.  Praise God, he was one who was others-minded.  He sent one who did not count equality with God as something to be grasped.  He was one who looked out for the interests of others.  And, He was one who became nothing – or, shrunk – to ensure a bunch of “nothings” could be called children of the Most High.

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IncrediblesSo, my family and I were watching The Incredibles for the 53rd time and I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before.  For those of you who have already seen the film, be patient for just a moment.

TI is about a family of superheroes who fight to save the world.  Mr. Incredible fell in love with Elastigirl and they made a family of supers.  As happy as all of this sounds, they actually have to live in hiding, so to speak.  You see, Mr. Incredible was doing his “thing” saving people and put supers around the world in jeopardy.

While Mr. Incredible was on top of a building, he saw a would-be jumper and dove to save him from his sure death.  While he was saving this suicidal citizen he stopped a bank robbery and saved an elevated train from plummeting to the earth.  However, through all of his heroic acts, he discovered that some of these people did not want to be saved.  Therefore, the supers were sued and forced into hiding because some people just didn’t want to be saved.

The nuance I noticed on this viewing was the name of the individual Mr. Incredible saved – Mr. Sansweet.  This was the one individual that destroyed the supers’ organization.  This was the one individual who brought destruction to a people attempting to save humanity.  This one individual wanted to end his life and his selfishness led to widespread destruction.  His name – Sansweet.  It struck me that the word “sans” means “without”.  Therefore, you could say that his name literally means “Without Sweetness”.  In other words, this guy was without sweetness and worked in such a way to bring destruction.

Mr. Sansweet (without having any prior knowledge of him) wanted to end his life.  Maybe he was in financial trouble?  Maybe he was lonely?  Maybe no one showed him the love every human longs for?  Whatever the case, he decided to jump off of a building with the hopes of ending his life.  When, however, an individual (Mr. Incredible) decides to save his life, it drives Mr. Sansweet to hatred – not love.  He moves forward in a suit that would benefit him financially and bring about difficulty for the supers, as well as, the citizens who have been under their care.

This got me to thinking about humanity’s “Mr. Sansweet”.  There was this beautiful angel named, Lucifer.  He had happiness, unity, joy, but he was still unsatisfied.  Why?  He was self-focused.  Instead of being happy with unimaginable joy, he wanted more.  Therefore, he pursued suicide over joy.  He left the life that was graciously given to him and dove head-first into a suicidal path of destruction.

You see, Satan did not appreciate the love he was lavished.  He did not rest content in the life that was created and granted to him.  Instead he selfishly sought for more.  He was Mr. Sansweet.  In other words, he lacked sweetness.  He lacked love.  He lacked joy and his selfish act brought about a path of destruction ever since his appearance in the garden.

However, Love wouldn’t allow selfishness to have that last word.  Love didn’t stand to the side.  Love didn’t give up.  Love left His throne and made sure selflessness would reign supreme.  Instead of allowing the selfish suicide of “Mr. Sansweet” to reign supreme, Jesus allowed Satan to pursue another form of suicide – the cross.

As John Piper once said, the day Jesus died on the cross was the day Satan committed suicide.  You see, Satan knew he had lost.  Satan knew he had been defeated.  Satan knew that his selfish acts had not brought him life, rather, death.  All of that to say, Satan is our Mr. Sansweet.  He’s not a sweet guy – in fact, he’s pure evil.  However, we have a King who does not allow sin and selfishness to reign.  Instead, he brought a selflessness to this earth and it’s allowed peace and love to dominate this creation that’s filled with Mr. Sansweets like you and me.

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Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph is rated F3 – fun family film. It especially appeals to those of us whose childhood included a steady diet of video games. (Many would say that this diet explains a lot of my issues)

Spoilers ahead!

Wreck-It Ralph is a story of a video game villain named (you guessed it) Ralph (John C. Reilly). Ralph becomes disillusioned with being a bad guy. Even after attending a support group for villains (one of the best scenes in the film), he decides to go on a quest to become a hero. He believes that by securing his very own medal he will finally be accepted into his video game community.

Wreck-It Ralph is creative and fun. It has many good messages to celebrate. Throughout the film we are encouraged to love others, have compassion, be content, and sacrifice for our friends. It is refreshing to see these qualities portrayed on the big screen. Unfortunately, these moral lessons have no real power in themselves. While still good advice to follow, without Jesus Christ, they provide little hope for Ralph to truly become what he was made to be.

Let me explain…

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One of the main themes (if not the main one) is that of personal contentment. “Be content with who you are” is an obvious take away from the film. Listen to the mantra of the villain support group…

“I am bad and that’s good.

I will never be good, and that’s not bad.

There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

On the surface, this may seem like great advice. You can even “Christianize” it if you want – something like, “I just need to accept the way God made me.” While it is true that we should learn to understand our personalities, strengths, and weaknesses (and quite frankly, not take ourselves so seriously), this understanding can in no way provide the power to become who we were designed to be. The truth is that we are much worse than we think we are.

Wreck-It Ralph tells us to look inside for answers to our problems. The danger in this thinking is that we lack any real power to change what is broken. Ralph’s desire for acceptance and longing for community are good things – they are part of what it means to be human. The bad news is that these things are broken because of sin. The only hope for reconciliation with other people is found by being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

Sin destroyed true community. Because of sin we cannot be in true communion with God or with each other. Selfishness is at the core of sin. Isn’t this what happened in the Fall of mankind (Genesis 3)? Adam and Eve believed that they were better off without “the Man” keeping them down. They decided to go alone and make their own rules. As a result they were (we are) separated from relationship with God. Sin also destroyed authentic relationships with other people. Instead of working together for a common purpose, men and women now fight, manipulate, and compete. We all want to be accepted (like Ralph), but sin is a barrier that cannot be overcome by learning to love ourselves more.

Jesus Christ died not so that we could learn to accept ourselves as we are, but rather so that we can be changed into what we were created to be.

What is interesting is that Wreck-It Ralph illustrates this very thing. We see this in the character of Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). Vanellope, like Ralph is an outcast who desires to be accepted into her game community – “Sugar Rush” (a candy racing game). What is interesting is that we come to find out that she is an outcast only because the true villain, King Candy (Alan Tudyk), has distorted the original game code. Threatened by her true identity, King Candy deceives everyone into thinking that Vanellope is nothing but a “glitch” in the system – not a true part of the game.

As the story unfolds, Ralph and Vanellope come to realize that if Vanellope crosses the finish line of the race, the game will reset. This reboot will return the game to its original programming – with Vanellope as a true part of the “Sugar Rush” community. Ralph, along with Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (Jane Lynch), helps Vanellope finish the race and return the game to its original state – exposing King Candy and revealing Vanellope as the princess of Candy Rush.

What I love about this is that Vanellope’s dramatic change (and the rest of the character’s as a result) comes through a “reboot.” The game needed to be reset to the original design. This drastic change has a ripple effect on the gaming world – restoring lost relationships and creating new communities of friendship and trust.

This is the story of the Gospel. Humanity cannot save itself. We need a “reboot.” We need some way to restore the world to its original design. God created us to be in relationship with Him and to be in relationship with other people.

We have no power in ourselves to repair the damage caused by sin. Jesus Christ entered human history to pay the price for our sin and restore our true identity. He renewed our relationship with God and made a way to be reconciled to others.

The apostle Paul put it like this:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(2 Corinthians 5:16-21, ESV)

In light of these verses, let me offer a Christian mantra…

“Because of sin I am bad, and that’s not good.

On my own I can’t be good, and that’s pretty bad.

But in Christ I am no longer bad, and that’s pretty good.

Now there is no one I’d rather be than the redeemed me.”

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)

There has been much talk about Danny Boyle’s Oscar-nominated film 127 Hours [2010], which was based on the true life story of an adventurer, named Aron Ralston [James Franco], who was forced to amputate his own arm after a rock pins him in Bluejohn Canyon. Most of the talk I had read and heard centered on ‘the scene’. The scene I’m obviously referring to is the scene depicting Aron cutting off his own arm. There have been reports of people vomiting, passing out (I actually knew a guy who did) and theaters putting up signs warning people about the graphic nature of ‘the scene’ – I’ve watched the movie twice and still haven’t been able to watch the entire scene.

All of that to say, my thoughts about the film had been focused on that scene, so I wasn’t prepared for how much I actually liked and appreciated this film. In my opinion, 127 Hours was the best picture of 2010 – with The Social Network in a very close second. Boyle’s direction of this film was amazing. To take a story where the main actor is in complete isolation for the majority of the film and tell it in a way that is intriguing, exciting, emotional and celebratory, that is a feat many directors (and actors for that matter) would shy away from. However, that was the main reason Boyle said he wanted to tell the story, because of the challenge it presented.

127 Hours is a film that resonates with anyone who has a pulse, because the theme of love and community are central to the story. Wesley Hill wrote an excellent article at Ransom Fellowship, dealing with those themes, but I wanted to focus on another aspect of this film.

Aron Ralston is a self-professed, “Big, hard, hero who can do everything on his own.” At the opening of the film we have flashes of scenes depicting crowds of people together, but Ralston is seeking isolation. He lets his phone go to voicemail, he passes a group of bike riders, and as he enters Bluejohn he exclaims, “Just me, my music and the night, love it!” He is a narcissistic loner who thinks he doesn’t need anyone else.

It’s interesting that Ralston runs into two other hikers, who are lost, and ironically exclaims, “You’re lost, I’m a guide, I’m good.” He is essentially telling these two hikers, ‘You need help from another person.’ In actuality, Ralston is lost and he needs help from other people, but he doesn’t see that his modus operandi completely contradicts what he exclaims to these hikers. He is enslaved to his idol of independence.

We make idols out of anything and everything. As John Calvin once said, ‘Our hearts are idol factories’ continuing to crank out new ones each and every day. Ralston’s idol of independence goes against the fact that we have been created in the image of a Triune God. Our Heavenly Father, however, graciously surfaces our idols causing us to make war with them.

God speaks to us through creation (general revelation) and Ralston’s character greatly appreciates the creation – rubbing his hands on rocks and taking pictures of creation – but misses the Creator behind it. It wasn’t until God used his creation to pin Ralston to a wall that he finally listened. In essence, God is saying, “You want isolation? You want self-sufficiency? I’ll give it to you.” Ultimately, God gave Ralston exactly what he wanted – isolation and independence. One of the scariest things God can do is give us what we want. Ralston had made his independence an ultimate thing, so God gave him over to that in order to show him his need. (For more on this, see Romans 1:18-32.)

At a crucial point in the film, Ralston reflects on this reality. He realizes God’s eternal wisdom and his own rebellion towards him.

You know, I’ve been thinking. Everything is… just comes together. It’s me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock… this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It’s entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It’s been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I’ve been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I’ve taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the surface.

Initially he fought against the rock, screaming, “This is insane!” He cursed the rock, hit the rock, begged for freedom, he even began chipping away at it, only to realize his actions actually caused the rock to rest more securely on his arm. All of his independence was fighting the rock, but the rock was fighting his independence. In the end, the rock won.

The sustaining power for Ralston in the canyon were memories; memories with other people. He reflects on time with friends and family during those excruciating 127 hours. As he’s leaving his last will and testament on his video camera, he says:

Mom, Dad, I really love you guys. I wanted to take this time to say the times we’ve spent together have been awesome. I haven’t appreciated you in the way I know I could. Mom, I love you. I wish I’d returned all of your calls, ever. I really have lived this last year. I wish I had learned some lessons more astutely, more rapidly, than I did. I love you. I’ll always be with you.

It is this desire – to love and to be loved – that shatters his idol. As he imagines a fake interview with himself he makes the statement to himself, “Your supreme selfishness is our gain.” He has been a selfish person who has not loved others as he should have loved them. In the end, he has a vision of another life, a life with a family that enables him to give away the love he had been hoarding for himself.

While the amputation scene is one of the most graphic scenes in film history, it is not done for exploitative reasons. Not only does the graphic nature of that scene emotionally pull you into the film causing you to, somewhat, feel what Ralston felt, it also depicts that he understood the error of his ways. The one thing he loved the most was himself. The cutting away of his arm, was cutting away at his root sin, rendering him dependent for the rest of his life.

As he finally severs his own arm, he looks up and says, “Thank you.” In a sense, realizing it wasn’t his own strength that caused him to do this, rather it was the love of God which enabled him to let go of his idol. When Aron climbs out of the canyon and screams, “Help me!”, it’s interesting to see that three people come to rescue him. I’m not saying this was the intent of the filmmakers, but it was reminiscent of the Trinity and it was interesting that a Father and Son were two of the three present.

This reminded me that true mortification of our sin/idols is not a work of man, but of God. The Father placed his love on us, the Son accomplished that through his perfect work and the Spirit enables us to kill the sin in our life. I’m not sure if Aron Ralston is a Christian, but this deeply afflicting trial in his life illustrates some Scriptural truths.

While I caution many viewers about the graphic scene in which Aron amputates his own arm, I would say this is a film that communicates deep theological truths. It shows us the love and design of community God has placed in our lives, the utter dependence we have on Him, the need to kill our idols for survival and the ways in which we must be others-minded in our lives. This film, I believe, will be a timeless one that is discussed for many years to come.