Sleeping Beauty…Reimagined

Today I took my teens to see the new Disney movie, “Maleficent.” It was an awesome movie, and I recommend it highly! Check out the trailer, and then read on to see why I liked it so much.

The movie is a reimagining of the Disney classic, “Sleeping Beauty,” told from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. It is more than a retelling; the details are certainly different, which you would expect when “the other side” tells the tale.

I am wary of movies like this because the original is such a huge part of my childhood. (we watched a lot of Disney movies) Imagine if the Transformers was retold from the perspective of Megatron or something…perish the thought! This, though, was awesome. Angelina Jolie did a tremendous job as Maleficent. The rest of the cast kept up with her quite well and supported her efforts in good ways. The plot moved well and had enough twists in it to keep me from going and getting a popcorn refill, and the visual style was really fantastic.

Positive Elements (PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!)

This really is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. The story, though, goes quite a bit differently as you would expect. I don’t want to spoil the whole plot for you, but Maleficent starts off as a wonderful fairy, then turns evil because she is terribly wronged by her love, and then finds redemption through his daughter Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Disney’s storyline says:

A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.

While we joked that she is like a female Anakin Skywalker, in reality it is a wonderful story of redemption.

Maleficent is wronged, horribly, by her first love, Stefan. He uses her trust in him to terribly wrong her by cutting her fairy wings off, a scene that had me weepy. That wounding leaves her physically, but more emotionally, scarred and she builds walls around herself to protect herself and her people. The walls are emotional as well as literal, and at one point she builds an impenetrable thorn wall to keep humans out of her land which is a powerful metaphor.

Her revenge against Stefan comes in the form of a curse on his daughter. Maleficent hates Stefan for what he did, and there is some cause for that. She keeps an eye on his daughter to draw out her revenge, and as she does she comes to like and then to love Aurora. In the end, Maleficent comes to sacrifice herself for Aurora and be redeemed from the evil that has grasped her heart.

Good to evil, and then in the name of true, selfless love back to good. This is a great story line and a powerful discussion for parents to have with their children!

Stefan also represents a powerful story. He really does love Maleficent, but he is power hungry and his thirst for power drives him to perform evil acts. It then traps him in his evil, unable to erase the consequences of his actions when they come back to hurt him. He becomes quite paranoid and his paranoia and desire to protect himself and his daughter from Maleficent take absurd lengths. His bad decisions snowball, little by little, until he has lost everything he holds dear. He dies at the end of the movie not just broken in body, but in spirit as well. This is another powerful lesson.

Maleficent has a minion named Diaval who shape shifts from human to raven (and to wolf and dragon on occasion…Maleficent controls that). I expected her minion to be a typical sycophant, but Diaval is much more than a sycophant. He has some stellar discussion in the movie. He acts as Maleficent’s conscience in some sense, urging her to take care of Aurora when she is young, and helping Maleficent by speaking hard truth to her when she needs it. He serves an important role in the movie, and it’s worth thinking about having a friend who can speak the truth to you and help you when times get tough.

There’s a fourth positive element for parents to talk to kids about. That’s the truth that people are seldom black and white, good or evil. We see Maleficent in the original Sleeping Beauty as a purely evil character, but in this movie she is far more nuanced. So, too, is Stefan. Real life seldom has people wearing black hats or white hats. Instead, everyone does what they think is right at the time and everyone’s actions are motivated by their own emotional needs and their experiences. This holds true across the board.

Finally, there’s a small element in the movie about Stefan becoming mentally ill as the movie progresses. It’s handled quite well, with his wife and subjects trying awkwardly to deal with him as he delves farther and farther into paranoia. It isn’t campy and it isn’t made fun of, but it is a major driver of the plot. This is a great discussion to have with family about mental illness and its affect on people and their loved ones.

Negative Elements

I find little to be troubled by in this movie. If you have a moral objection to magic use, skip this one. (duh!) I don’t have that problem and it’s set in a fantasy world, but if you’re sensitive to magical use the movie is filled with it.

The scene when Prince Phillip kisses Aurora can be seen, perhaps, as him using her body without her consent when he kisses her. I didn’t take it that way, but it was an awkward scene and purposefully so. The kiss is very chaste.

The film does not follow the Disney plot from Sleeping Beauty verbatim. It’s a reimagining. This could be a negative in that the villain is portrayed as the ultimate hero, but to me this is a story of redemption not of glorifying evil. In fact, it shows how evil happens and that no one is beyond redemption.

Overall

I have been asked if this movie is okay for kids. I would take my 8 year old to it without concern. If the original Sleeping Beauty is too scary for your kids, this movie will be as well. If not, it’s no worse for sure. It earned a PG rating and that seems appropriate to me. There is no sexual content at all beyond a chaste kiss, and no language in the movie.

I really thought this is a great movie. I enjoyed it thoroughly and so did my teens. We had great discussions on the ride home about all the points above. I recommend families see this and talk about the themes. Disney does a good job of bringing good moral messages in creative packages, and Maleficent keeps that pattern intact.

A Decade of Perspective

This morning, I spoke from Romans 12:14-13:14 about the perspective that we should have as Christians on the events of 9/11.  You can listen here:

A Decade of Perspective: West Greenway Bible Church Sunday Sermons

Paul’s message in this passage shows us how to interact on a personal level with those who wronged us, how to consider our national response to terrorism, and more than anything else helps us keep the most important things in life in focus.

Give it a listen; I think it’s worth your time.

Tell me, what’s your perspective on 9/11 ten years later? Has your view of the events or their aftermath changed in the past decade?

Radical Grace

If you know me, you know that I don’t really enjoy it when we try to “church it up” and play nice when life gets messy.  The God we serve specializes in messy!  Jesus makes “church people” uncomfortable in the Gospels with His radical message of grace.  We feel like people have to clean themselves up before they are worthy of God’s love or forgiveness.  Or, if we want to church it up, we say that they have to allow God to clean them up because that sounds like we’re not doing anything and God’s doing everything, passing that off for grace.  We supposedly know if we have grace because we’re doing enough work. Wait, what?

Well, that’s not how God works.  His radical grace is not offered in response to our promise to clean ourselves up or our efforts to do so, but instead is offered because of His great love for us because of the perfect faithfulness of Christ.  This is perhaps most clearly seen in the episode of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11, a passage I got to proclaim from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago.  Please, if you have some time, listen to the way Jesus treats people in sin:

http://westgreenway.com/Sermons/MP3/11-08-21.mp3

No commendation, but no condemnation.  Jesus offers radical grace, grace so overwhelming that our minds have a hard time with it.  We live in a culture and in a time when the motto “you get what you pay for” is practically our mantra.  We look skeptically at anyone who offers us something for free, assuming it has a “hook” in it or some ulterior motive.  But the message of Jesus is a grace so big and so consuming that it encompasses the worst we have to offer.  It offends those who believe that we must act a certain way to prove to others that we have God’s grace, but Jesus makes a specialty of offending people who focus on style over substance.

We like to make the old “bait and switch” in theological circles; we begin by proclaiming to people that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23).  That’s all well and good until someone doesn’t conform to our expectations of what their Christian walk should be; then we start questioning whether they were really saved to begin with.  In so doing, we rob people of the joy of unconditional love from God that He has promised them:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)

God doesn’t love us or accept us because we clean ourselves up.  He loves us because Christ, the one who is perfect, obeyed in our place so that we who are wretched and poor and destitute can be made clean by His sacrifice on our behalf.  His sacrifice is so big that even those who we don’t see God working on them from the outside, if they have trusted Christ then we know that He is working on them on the inside, in His timing and in His way.  And yeah, that crazy and radical love should change us from the inside out.  But making it a requirement of that love is turning God’s plan on its head and making it performance based instead of grace based.

For me, I can’t handle performance-based love.  Telling me that if God loved me enough to die for me, and if I were converted to Christ, and if eternal life dwelt within me, then I must act a certain way in a certain timeframe or I never experienced God’s love, makes the whole thing a contract.  If you do this, I will do that.  God’s love looks like this:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)

It is, to “church it up” a little, an unconditional covenant.  God said that by faith and not by works we are saved. (Eph 2:8-9) That is an unconditional promise.  And even if we louse it up badly, He loves us and seeks our restoration. (the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 comes to mind)  That’s unconditional love, and in that environment our faith can be nurtured and grown to the place where we can see God not only in our hearts but in our lives.

So which is it in your life? Have you experienced performance-based spirituality, or grace-based spirituality? How have they affected your vision of who God is, who you are, and how they interrelate?

Dead Right

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We have a saying in the motorcycle world: it’s quite possible to be “dead right.”  I ride in Phoenix and the drivers here are not so much aggressive as thoughtless and unaware of their surroundings.  Demanding the right-of-way and taking the attitude that I will just take what belongs to me is a great way to wind up as a statistic.  In other words, there is “right” and then there is “dead right.”  Every decision on a motorcycle has to be made through the grid of whether or not the rider is willing to be “dead right.”  You might have the right to do something, but will asserting that right be beneficial or will it lead to death?

This is very similar to the way that Paul viewed his ministry.  In the midst of a discussion on his rights as an Apostle of Christ in 1 Corinthians 9, he says this: “Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. “ (1 Corinthians 9:12)  He knew that using his rights would lead to hindrance of the gospel, which he couldn’t stand.  He would rather be wronged than be “dead right”!

How often I have seen people willing to be “dead right” in their relationships and in their decisions regarding life.  I get to see the tragic wrecks of “dead right” decisions all the time, and frankly it breaks my heart to see.  Where have I seen it?

  1. Parents who have a “right” to enjoy their leisure time any way they please exposing their kids to neglect, to harm emotionally or psychologically, or to unhealthy habits like alcoholism or similar habits.
  2. Spouses who demand their spousal rights.  This might be a husband who demands his wife submit to him regardless of his decisions, or a wife who demands sexual response from her husband at difficult times.  It might be a spouse who demands a spotlessly kept house or a perfect financial record.
  3. Friends who demand that those around them walk perfectly with Christ and cannot show them grace when they are wrong.  They must always be proven right in every discussion of doctrine or practice.
  4. Bosses who have inordinate expectations and employees who take advantage of company policies.
  5. Christians who demand their rights to one matter of conscience or another (drinking is a common one, as is movies with questionable content) as their “liberty in Christ” when around others.

All of these, and many more, may be “rights” that we possess, but that does not make them right to use.  We, too, can be “dead right” in our demands on others.

How about you?  Where have you been in danger of being “dead right” in the past?  How has God grown you out of that?

Driving is Bad for my Discipleship

Tuesday morning Laura called me at about 7:30 in the morning.  She had just finished assisting a 27-hour birth (she’s a doula) and needed me to come get her at the hospital and drive her to her car.  It was about a 15 mile drive from church to the hospital to pick her up, then to where her car was at the home of the couple who had a baby.  No problem, right?

Except it was rush hour.

That 30-mile round trip took me an hour and 45 minutes.  (Thank you, Lord, for my 10-minute daily commute…)  Of course the freeway was packed, so I went down a major road that runs parallel to it.  The light of a major intersection on that road was flashing red…which took me 15 minutes to get through all by itself.  Then I got cut off (in my 6400 pound behemoth, no less!) about, oh, 154 times.  To add insult to injury I mistakenly got on a street that I couldn’t turn off of.  And of course I caught every red light imaginable in both directions.

There was a time that I really enjoyed driving.  When I got behind the wheel of my 1975 Pontiac Firebird (mine had a much cooler paint job) as a teenager, the world was at my fingertips.  I would drive anywhere my mom wanted me to.  Fast food?  I’ll run!  Gallon of milk?  I’m your man!  Don’t call your friends…drive over and see them!

Now, though, driving is hard on my discipleship. It’s really, really hard for me to see why people act so thoughtlessly and arrogantly when they are driving.  Honestly, if I were in line and someone asked to squeeze through to get past the line I was in, I wouldn’t think twice about letting them through. Of course I want to be kind and polite!  Put the two of us in our cars, though, and we are both apt to act like we’re four-year-olds playing a dangerous game of chicken.  You know that you’ve had that time when someone wanted to merge that you pretended that they didn’t exist so that you didn’t have to let them in! (“I can’t see you, so you don’t exist!”)

I really thought about this problem in my life this week.  I think that most of the challenge of traffic is that we stop seeing one another as people when we get behind the wheel.  We get so focused on getting to our destination and our loved ones and our tasks that we fail to realize that the other people on the road are doing the exact same thing that we are.  We tend to think of them as obstacles to our goal rather than as people created in the image of God.

Don’t believe me?  Ask yourself next time you get angry at someone for jumping into your lane ahead of you if you would be angry at them if they were your friend.  When you know the person who is driving next to you, all the frustration vanishes, doesn’t it?  You’ll slow down and wave them in, let them turn into your lane, and not get upset at them if they are not speeding as much as you want to.  Even if they do something ridiculous on the road, you’ll laugh it off with them.

What’s the difference?  You know them.  They are not just a car; they are a friend in a car.  You have a relationship with them, and that relationship will continue after the driving is over.  Rather than being an obstacle, they are a person endowed with the image of God from Genesis 1:26-27.

What if, though, we started treating people behind the wheel like friends, regardless of whether we know them or not?  What if we really allowed Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:36-40 to sink into our bones and affect the way we treated others?

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
37 And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’
38 “This is the great and foremost commandment.
39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

In Luke 10, in response to this understanding of God’s priorities, a lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbor is.  Jesus responds in Luke 10:30-37 with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which teaches us that our neighbors are those all around us, whether we know and appreciate them or not!  And yes, that includes the lady this afternoon who decided that the guy in the pickup who was pulling a trailer should have to make way for her to get ahead and jam on her brakes to make a right turn. (grumble, grumble, grumble…)

I think that seeing people as people, rather than as obstacles, is a huge tool to turn my driving back into the enjoyable experience it was in my teens.  It will mean that I need to leave a few minutes earlier so that I have time to be polite, but I think that the increase in peace in my soul will be worth it. 

This applies beyond driving, too.  People can be so mean-spirited on the internet when commenting on blogs (not ABF, thankfully!) or on news sites.  I have seen people say horrible stuff online, because they are anonymous and not accountable for their words.  On Facebook, though, your name and picture are next to your words, so people are a lot more careful.  We think about our friends and how our words will affect them because we think of them as people not as objects.

So I challenge you to walk with me on this path to humanizing your commute.  Make it a point to see the people in your interactions as people and not as obstacles in your path.  View them as bearers of the image of God and see what happens to your stress levels, your frustration at others and your walk with Christ.