From the “Inside Out”

The moment when a captive Mr. Incredible hears his super family fall over the radio and he loses his will to live. Our innocent romantic, Wall-E reaches out and finally holds Eve’s sleek blade of a hand. Facing the furnace of their demise, Andy’s favorite toys join hands to ride into the sunset together. Carl, tickets to their grand adventure in hand, watches Ellie struggle up their favorite hill only to fall to her knees. Over the years, Disney/Pixar has always brought the feels. So it’s only fitting that their newest offering is a story all about emotion, Inside Out.

Riley's Emotions

How do our modern day master minstrels of heart strings do with a movie all about our emotional insides? It’s complicated. And by that I mean Inside Out is perfect because it’s as complicated as our emotions tend to be. Our heroine is Riley, a pre-teen rink rat from Minnesota, right on the verge of an emotional awakening. To this point in her life, her emotions have been simple, sorted into five distinct categories. The movie is her journey towards a higher plain of self actualization.

Riley and her best friend

We join Riley shortly before a pivotal event in her life, an event that is hard for her to understand. Her emotions, though, have an even harder time placing this event into their normal categories. This sends Joy, voiced energetically by Amy Poehler, into overdrive trying to make sure Riley has “perfect days” to get her through this life transition. This puts her in direct competition with Sadness for control of Riley. Providing the melancholy melody of Sadness is the outstandingly cast, Phyllis Smith, who most will know from NBC’s The Office.

Naturally, their tug of war over Riley’s behaviors ends with both of them being launched into the deepest parts of Riley’s consciousness needing to fight their way back to her emotional control room. The movie is fun and will more than likely supply teaching clips for Psychology 101 professors across the nation for years to come. I laughed, I cried, I gasped coming face to face with my own full spectrum of emotions as I related to Riley. Most of us will. Most of us have faced times in our lives when we fail to reconcile our feelings.

Joy and Sadness

It is only after reminiscing about our favorite jokes that the conviction of the film really set in. Are we afraid to feel our feelings? Joy is given incentive to take control when Riley’s mom affirms her for being her “happy girl” through this trying time. How can she even let Sadness in a little bit after that? Isn’t that so true to life, particularly the Christian life?

You are the light of the world. If you believe what we believe how can you possibly ever show a single tear to those around you? How are you sharing the best news in the world with those around you if you can’t even hold it together? So we try to push it down and as we do this pieces of our personality, of who we are and what we feel fade away. We are afraid to let our sadness diminish our witness. But God is not afraid nor is he surprised by our emotions.

Fear!

Throughout the Bible we see God get emotional. He shows us how to express righteous anger, he gives us space to weep. We have a communal shoulder to cry on atop the Body of Christ. When released into community, our emotions can draw others to us. They invite God to draw near to us as well.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. – Psalm 3:3-4

Inside Out is, perhaps, the story of Riley’s first lament, the layered expression that acts as the main character of the majority of the Psalms. Lament is a frantic mixture of grief, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and every variation of the lot. This is a story not just for own emotional health, helping us think of the times we hid or stifled our emotions in a moment of deep distress, but it can also shed light on how we relate to those around us. In your church, small group, Bible study, ministry, do you provide space for your community to feel?

Riley Holding Back

As we watch the events in Charleston, SC unfold, as churches all over the country fall to their knees to share the lament of Emanuel AME, our hope is that their grief will fade, that our cries will open the door for God’s peace to come, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace born out of steadfast love, a peace that is everlasting.

Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart is to bring you praise
From the inside out
Lord my soul cries out

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Who is the God of “Jurassic World”?

If you know me at all, and if not I hope you will get to know me, then you know I am a movie person. I love them. I studied and wrote about them in college. Movies are the medium that speaks to me the most, it is a place I often meet God more so than on Sunday mornings. The art of movies moves me. When anyone asks me what my favorite movie of all time is, it’s an easy answer, Jurassic Park.

Dr. Grant sees the magic!

Imagine being 8-years-old and having your dad take you to see dinosaurs come to life. Jurassic Park was my first and closest experience ever with magic. What Steven Spielberg and his team accomplished back in 1993 still echoes in the most interesting parts of my imagination. It was a movie that proved to me that anything is possible and is my measuring stick for all movies to come and in the many viewings since that special time with my dad my love for it still grows. Yes it was a blockbuster, but Jurassic Park is about so much more than sharp teeth and vibrating water glasses.

Then, the highly successful film did what almost all highly successful films do, it spawned sequels. I’m probably a little nicer to them than most and that is entirely because of my love of the first and how captivated I am with dinosaurs. However, even I can’t argue that, with The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, the franchise lost its magic. They didn’t seem as heavy and there seemed to be a lack of respect for the dinosaurs who consequently became giant slasher movie villains. They were just different, BUT now we have Jurassic World!

Taking in Jurassic World!

The magic of the original will probably never be duplicated but Jurassic World sure did come close. Returned are our claustrophobic encounters with our thundering friends. Back is a deep love and respect for the animals themselves. The boss of the theme park even says they were created to show us how small we are. And with that, the inspired, thoughtful storytelling of the original is revisited.

These movies with all of their terror, power, and destruction scream to me questions about our place in the grand story of the world. We see how big and perfect these beasts are and how can we not stop and wonder why is it that, in the bigger picture, they went extinct and still we roam free in this world. The answer may be found in the opening few scenes of Jurassic World where I didn’t count but am sure that word “control” was uttered over ten times. If the dinosaurs, or humanity for that matter, could control our own fate, they would still be making foot prints in our mud.

ROAR!

The horror of the Jurassic series only comes once humans attempt to assume the position of the one that does have control. The consequences are bloody. Jurassic Park asked all of these questions well through the bumbling, stuttering prowess of Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm (who makes a small cameo in World via his book “God Creates Dinosaurs”). World continues to ask those questions of what kinds of creative power humans should play with but it asks a bigger question fans of the series have been asking since the first film, what would happen if the park actually opened? What if the creators of the park, the engineers of the dinosaurs were successful?

Claire and Owen

The answer takes us deeper down the humans-playing-God rabbit trail. We have Claire who will continue to be one of the most talked about roles due to recent headlines calling the film sexist. I never saw Claire as a stereotype, but the logical type of person it would take to assume the role of running Jurassic World. She is cold, harsh and sees everything around her as commoditized assets. Real relationships…with her family, with her love interest, with the creation itself seem foreign to her. This cold distant character is not unlike how some perceive God.

Then we have the business of Jurassic World. We have a culture that is failing to be impressed by the majesty and wonder of the dinosaurs. Kids are getting bored and are hard to impress. How often today do companies stress over holding the ever changing focus of our youth? How do you make money then? Let’s let sponsors name the dinosaurs as if they belong to them, as if like a scripted TV show they can control the outcome of their name being plastered across the display case. This picture of an overbearing master to which the animals must bear the image of seems to be another perception of God I encounter.

Dino love!

However, then we have Owen. He cradles the dinosaurs when they are young to form a bond, to gain their trust, to let them know he will never leave them. He names them because he loves them. His desire is to be their father figure, the alpha, someone that will help their community form and desires to see them flourish on the island.  This is the picture of God I know. Our God that gave us his image, that calls us by name, that is sovereign, is our father but gives us the ability to choose him.

Being concerned with the flourishing of the entire world, contributing to the restoration of the relationships in our lives between us and others, between us and creation, between us and ourselves, and between us and God are impossible tasks. Still we are not that different from the curators of Jurassic World. Every day in thousands of different ways we try to assume God’s position. We try to take control in areas of life that we have none and sometimes the results are bloody. Thankfully God is always willing to call you by name, draw you near, and take his loving, powerful position back.

All the Feels – The Psalms

I’m a person of strong emotions. Our culture largely values rationalism and logic, and it’s easy for me to think that I need to ignore or overcome my emotions. The Psalms present a different narrative. This book of the Bible is a compilation of prayers, and was in many ways the prayer book for the Jewish people. In it is expressed every human emotion and type of experience. The psalms give us permission to be human and to experience deep emotions, and they offer a guide for how to bring these emotions to God.

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Psalms of Praise – Believe the hype

When we think about praising God, we often presume an element of happiness and joy. We praise God in response to something good that happened or that we observe in the world. This is not a bad thing and we should certainly offer songs of praise and gratitude when we are reminded of God’s goodness and power to work in our lives. At the same time, it is also deeply necessary to praise God when we are in the midst of darkness and struggle. When we are most overwhelmed by fear and despair, we need to remind ourselves and others of what is true: The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord (Ps. 33:5). The Psalms employ many metaphors and beautiful language to describe God’s traits and the way He interacts with the world. But keep in mind that the psalmist is not merely speaking in hyperbole to puff God up. When we extol the goodness of the Lord, we state the facts about the truth of the universe.

From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth – Psalm 33:13-14

This means that to praise God while in the throes of trouble does not mean putting on a happy face to pretend everything is great. It is to silence lies of hopelessness through telling the truth about the God we serve. To praise God is to offer gratitude and joy, and also to reorder our focus and understanding of how the world works.

Cursing

Psalms of Cursing – You mad, bro?

The imprecatory psalms can be very difficult to process and often make us uncomfortable with the harshness of their language. Should we really be praying for our enemy’s children to wander as homeless orphans (Ps. 109)? Aren’t we supposed to forgive and turn the other cheek? First of all, the psalms of cursing show us that we should be upset when evil seems to have the upper hand and that we are allowed to desire the punishment of unrighteousness and injustice. We are required to be honest about what is wrong in our world and to name those things before God. Secondly, we are assured that God hears the cries of His children. These psalms show us that even if no one knows the ways that we have been injured by others, God knows and we expect Him to care. Imagine how comforting these psalms could be to a young girl kidnapped by Boko Haram, or to brothers and sisters constantly threatened by ISIS, or to a child who is being abused and is afraid to tell anyone. God sees every wound inflicted within His creation, and even if human advocates don’t arise, we know that God will bring justice in the end.

Also, take time to turn the psalm on yourself. In our thoughtlessness and selfishness we have all acted as an enemy towards someone else. It could be through obvious offenses that cause us guilt and regret, or cursing at a driver that aggravated you on the highway. On a regular basis we malign and injure other image-bearers. We have also all been enemies of God.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – Colossians 1:21-22

Because we all fit the category of “enemy”, Christ turned the cursing psalms on Himself to bear the curse that we deserve. He stood condemned in our place and drank the Cup of Wrath that we couldn’t have survived. Next time you feel uncomfortable with one of these psalms, think of Jesus enduring that punishment so that you might be spared. And give thanks.

Bottles of Tears

Psalms of lament – You can cry if you want to

A seemingly obvious but important truth of the psalms of lament is that they assume the followers of God will suffer. Sorrow is not inherently a sign of failure or punishment, but an expected part of life. They again show us that when we cry out to God in our distress, we can expect Him to hear and to care.

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book? – Psalm 56:8

Our tears are precious to God. He doesn’t just tell us to buck up and get over it, but keeps close record of our weeping. These psalms also show us that something happens when we are honest about our sorrow before God. Depression and anxiety can be very isolating and cause us to withdraw. But God invites us to come forward and bring our thoughts and feelings into the light of His presence. The psalms never describe a tidy resolution to the psalmist’s distress (“I told God and then I got everything I ever wanted”), but they always shift in tone by the end. Not because the situation has changed, but because our hearts are changed when we know we have been heard. It may take days, months, years for us to know that we have been changed. It took me two years of crying out to God during a season of grief and darkness before my heart was healed. But it was this continual process of honesty and rawness in prayer that moved me down the road of healing. Silence, isolation, or a mask of happiness will not bring renewal to a hurting heart. Full and authentic expression of sorrow in the presence of Christ is what will bring the balm of healing and restoration.

If you would like to study the psalms in more depth, please feel free to utilize my three-part Bible study series. My thoughts in this post and in our study guides have been significantly influenced by Ellen Davis’s book Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, a work which I highly recommend.

Getting Involved with God

Looking towards “Tomorrowland”

Your gates shall be open continually;
day and night they shall not be shut,
that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,
with their kings led in procession. – Isaiah 60:11

Let your mind wander backwards in time to the turn of the 20th century. There was a pair of bicycle repairing brothers who fostered an extravagant envy of birds. Scientists were staring at dishes of mold and envisioning the future healing of many. Now over a hundred years later the technological advances that get the most attention and money seem concerned with putting a more powerful phablet into our jean pocket.

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The Wright Brothers took their envy into flight, but where are we going? Awhile ago I wrote a wondering response to the dystopian visions of the future our popular media are constantly emitting (The Prequel-Sequel of Hope). Is the Hunger Games’ Pan-Am inevitable? Are we just the Walking Dead? Is imagination a thing of the past? I think this is a question Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland simultaneously asks with a bigger, potentially more important question: can we fix it?

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George Clooney plays Frank, a perfect example of the average citizen of Earth. He is intelligent and creative, packed with potential, but he spends his time staring into TV’s plastered with the images of the world, both fictional and non, with a future that isn’t so bright. Not only that, he stares at a clock waiting for the world to expire. Perhaps the worst part is that Frank does all of this having once been a resident of Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland is the future. It is an alternate dimensional lab where the best and brightest everything go to form a new creation, a creation with technology in every sphere advanced beyond our wildest dreams. A creation that has no disease, no worries, and no limits. Tomorrowland is the place Isaiah dreamed of in chapter 60 of his prophecy, a sentiment later duplicated in the Revelation of John. The kings have come to Tomorrowland to offer the wealth of their nations, but the tension of the film involves whether or not those gates will be open.

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Enter Casey, the author of the big “can we fix it?” question. She is a teenager, the daughter of a NASA engineer. When we enter her life she is in the midst of a battle to save the ghosts of NASA’s space program from becoming an empty field. Casey has “it.” She has the chutzpah that opens the gates of Tomorrowland. It’s a swirling mixture of intellect, ingenuity, courage, and hope. It’s love, the thing that drove Frank from Tomorrowland decades earlier.

It would be difficult to say more about the movie without giving too much away. What I will say is that Tomorrowland is important. Incredibly valid social circumstances can be interpreted and revealed through the dystopian fiction our young people are immersed in right now, but they need images of a hopeful future too. This film is a challenge. It’s a challenge to all of us who are made in the image of a limitless creator that filled us to the brim with powerful potential. It is 2015, the year Marty McFly and Doc Brown travelled to wearing self sizing clothes and dodging flying cars.

tl

We must take our modern tales of apocalypse and decay as warnings of what could be if imagination dies. Let’s leave them as warnings not reality. I want my hover boards. I want a world without cancer. I want to see an end to world hunger. I want a place with open gates welcoming in the wealth of the nations where God shouts loud that he will wipe away every tear. And I know many other people do as well, but do you believe it could really happen? I want to go to Tomorrowland, are you coming with me?

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