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Posts Tagged ‘destiny’

I watched Moana for the first time yesterday. I’m kind of ambivalent about it, since I can think of some good and some bad messages, and as a 32-year-old, wasn’t all that captivated by the story (though I appreciated the quality of the animation).
Maybe because the setting is more tribal and not so Western, and maybe because of Disney’s motif of sort of refuting some of its earlier fairy tales, I was partially hopeful that this would be a story less about following your heart and more about courageously and sacrificially submitting to the leadership and community you were born to.  I was disappointed.

 

It wasn’t the demi-gods or coconut-demons or fire-monsters or reincarnated/ghost grandmas that most concerned me about this movie; it was that message of how to find out who you are meant to be: Disregard your parents and authority figures.  Be inspired by stories and legends.  Find some distant ancestors whose way of life is most appealing to you, and believe it’s an integral part of you.  Don’t prepare; just literally let yourself be thrown into something, and then pursue it with all the publicly rebellious determination you can muster.

 

One thing that complicates this for a Christian is that some of Moana’s discernment is based on the spiritual encounters she has.  There is no true God and Savior Jesus Christ in this movie, so other things stand in for the role He plays in directing our lives and gracing us to fulfill our “destinies”.  If the water-spirit that is so influential in Moana’s journey were actually the Creator God of the Bible, her story would be less concerning.  But it isn’t, and I believe that there are other spiritual forces in the real world, not only in fantasies, that stand-in for the place God ought to have in our lives.  And these beings are not good, not neutral; they are in evil opposition to the loving Lord of the universe.  What kind of message is it sending us and our kids to trust these kinds of spiritual experiences to direct us?

 

Moana did keep in mind and heart, always, how to serve and care for her people.  This is one of the better aspects of the “find your purpose” theme.  I was telling my brother that if they’d written the story of her father encouraging her to be different from him, while holding these same values of service to the tribe, I’d be way more excited about all of it.

 

Also a positive, in Moana, Disney has released another film that demonstrates the need for teamwork.  Moana and Maui each come to realize that they are more effective with each other’s help, and that the other does really need them in order to save their world.

 

I think I am actually most intrigued by the character of Maui, who wrestles with his own identity questions.  When we first meet him in person, we quickly recognize a dominant trait of arrogance, but later we learn that this is sort of a cover, a compensation for a deep insecurity.  The complex ways these issues affect his choices are fascinating; and over-all, I think they send a good message to audiences.

 

In the end, Moana does have a suitably communal argument for everyone having something to contribute, be it a peculiar chicken, a teenage girl, a demi-god with or without his hook, an experienced leader, or the village crazy lady – and the value of embracing what others have to offer.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I watched the Matrix for the second time last night.  Actually I sped it up a bit, skipping the scenes with interminable punching, kicking, and creepy stuff (like the bug).  This movie was the constant topic of conversation for a few months when I was in high school.  Friends said they had to see it several times just to get it. 

 

Many years removed from its debut, the Matrix is not difficult for me to understand.  Maybe our concept of computers has changed, or the plot has been so absorbed into common philosophy that it is no longer shocking and new.  Either way, watching it the second time was pleasant.  I got to enjoy the exceptional writing, the whole thrust of the story being set up by small comments early in the movie. 

 

The Matrix is about fate and choice.  For example, near the beginning of the movie, Neo asks, “Why is this happening to me?  What did I do?”  The answer is nothing.  Things happen to us outside of our control or choices, and quite often whether we deserve them or not. 

 

In the story, there is an Oracle.  She predicts the future: that a special human will be found; who will find him; how the people will know.  This special human is supposed to rescue humanity from the Matrix.  There is a strong idea of fate in this.  Even if it were naturally possible to predict the future, she was predicting a supernatural event, the appearance of a human being with super-human mind power. 

 

The mind is important in the story.  Almost everything that happens is mental, through the Matrix.  And the epic conflict is the irrepressible human mind (or spirit) that is not bound by a programmed response as machines are.  Humanity can survive and once again prevail because the mind is creative and adaptive. 

 

Yet the mind is not the ultimate reality in the story.  (Spoilers of a ten year old movie coming up.)  At the very end of the movie, Neo dies in the Matrix.  Anyone else who dies in the Matrix dies in reality, too.  The body cannot live without the mind.  And the mind inside the Matrix cannot keep so much a hold on reality that the death blows cannot reach it.  Nevertheless, the physically and mentally dead Neo responds and revives as a matter of will.  There is something else in him that will not die, that will not submit to what the mind senses.  Ultimately it is that will, informing the mind, which enables him to overcome the Matrix. 

 

That’s the framework.  But inside the story, as events unfold (a beautiful word image for an idea of fate), these various perspectives on the will, the mind, the feelings, all interact.  One character would rather live based on what makes him feel good.  All of the questions represent a belief about truth.  How do you know truth if what you’ve experienced and believed your whole life is a lie?  How can you tell you’re not suffering a lie again?  What is your definition of truth, and does it matter to you? 

 

The Oracle tells Neo not to worry about a vase, which he curiously turns to see, and knocks it off.  Is this pure prophecy, or manipulation based on possible futures?  The Oracle also gives Neo the impression that he is not the One (special human able to defeat the Matrix), but tells him that he will have to make a choice between his life and the life of his mentor, Morpheus.  The mentor is trying to give his life for Neo.  Whose will wins? Why?  While Neo believes he isn’t the One, he’s actually proving that he is.  His motivation, his will, is stronger than what he believes in his mind. 

 

Neo makes decisions based on what is right.  He goes to save Morpheus because it is the loving thing to do.  We can never let a sense of destiny interfere with what we know is right.  He lets Trinity escape the Matrix first out of love as well.  And these are the decisions that define his fate, that empower his will. 

 

Machines may be the epic enemy in this movie, but they aren’t the bad guy.  However much they try to convince you that they care about something, that they feel emotion and make choices, it’s all a façade, an intimidation tactic.  No, the real bad guy in the story is the man who wants to live by his feelings instead of by truth and justice.  It is he who is willing to betray his companions, even to kill them and sacrifice the human race. 

 

What defeats him is the justice and sacrificial love and determination of two brothers.  The bad guy shoots at one, whose brother jumps between him and the next shot.  The second brother dies.  Greater love has no man than this…  Brother number one survives to defend the lives of his friends by necessary force.  Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man… 

 

The story isn’t all that new.  A pure heart sacrifices itself for love.  The will is superior to the feelings.  Love conquers all.  Truth and love are inseparably connected.  It’s this very fact, that the story isn’t new, that it is filled with eternal truths, which make The Matrix such a good movie. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Two Spaniards took a break from the sauna-like heat of the borderlands between Arabic-influenced Moorlands, and fiercely Roman Catholic Spain, to play a game of chess on the shaded veranda.  Both men were enthusiasts for the game that by this time was popular on three continents and most of the classical “known world.”  Time was short this afternoon, with demands of the plantation promising interruption of the historically slow-paced, strategic game.  Rather than pausing their game, both were interested in options to shorten their match. 
 
In other parts of Europe, more liberal rules were proposed as solutions to the same problem.  However, these serious players, comfortable with the legal moves of the present game, had a different idea.  They could introduce dice to the first game in history that was played entirely without chance. 
 
Philosophers and aficionados of the game appreciated the raw intellect of chess.  Human minds and wills warred with each other, ignoring fate, defying the existence of fate, and asserting a freedom.  Unlike other popular games in each country prior to the introduction of chess, there was no element of chance.  The game always began the same way, with the same rules to each player.  Then it proceeded matching man to man, mind to mind. 
 
So why would any serious chess players submit their glorification of the human mind to dice?  The answer may have been that they were not creative enough to try modifying rules to shorten their game.  They may have liked the challenge afforded by the limitation on their control of the game (dice were used to regulate which piece had to be moved each turn).  Or, the first answer that occurred to me, it’s fair.  
 
A skilled player might approve the challenge of thriving under such constraint.  The common man would submit to his lot in the game, as he seemed to do in life.  Do you see the distinction?  We all have the choice between being dominated by the circumstances of our life, and responding to the circumstances in a strategic way.  Profoundly connected to this option is our decision to endure all of life in the sinful nature bestowed upon us as heirs of Adam, and God’s offer to be saved.  God offers the power we were without, to live and to resist sin.  This is relational, the mystery of the Holy Spirit indwelling a disciple of Christ in a way that affects his choices. 
 
But that isn’t what made me stop to write.  A simple solution to a fundamental question about the story The Immortal Game’s historian told of Europe provides an apt illustration of the very God whose sovereign rule of fate has drawn so much attack.  Why would two competitors of chess introduce dice into the game of sublime skill?  I for one hate games that are entirely chance, and am immensely frustrated by those games which are mostly chance.  Take Yahtzee.  The substance of the game is five dice.  I cannot control the outcome of each roll, but I am required to choose after each roll which dice to set aside, for what purpose.  At the end of each turn I make a decision where to fill in points.  With hindsight one sees that any number of decisions could have been wrong.  I had nothing, so I zeroed the coveted 50 point Yahtzee, only to roll five of a kind my succeeding turn.  This is too frustrating for me. 
 
For me, chess is humiliating.  I’m not good at it, and unless my challenger is an amateur, I lose.  But I would rather, if a loss is to be credited to my name, have earned it entirely myself.  So what strange Spaniard (it was a Spaniard quoted explaining the use of dice with chess) pair sat at their board and decided to inflict chance upon themselves?  Even if one man suggested it, why would the other agree? 
 
The answer that struck me was fairness.  Neither player was controlling the dice.  Each submitted equally to the fate of the roll.  Were there other fair rule changes that could have sped up the game?  Yes.  So my answer doesn’t entirely explain the emergence of dice with chess. 
 
However, think about the fairness of dice.  If any of you have played Yahtzee, or some other dice- or card- dependent game, no doubt you sensed at some point that the fair chance of the dice had dealt you an unjust blow.  The outcome of a game did not rest on your choices or your merits.  Winning by chance was occasionally unjust.  The better player could lose.  Do we really want fair?  The same fate to everyone?  Each person equally born, equally bred, equally fed?  Storms of the same number, death at the same age?  
 
See, God isn’t about fairness.  He is about justice.  And justice means when something is earned, it is granted.  The marvel of Christianity is that Jesus became the propitiation, complete substitution, for our sins so that He might be just toward Himself and justifier toward us.  What we earned, death, was executed. 
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” – Romans 3:24-26
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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I just watched The Matrix for the first time last night. When I was in high school, I remember, a couple friends were crazy about The Matrix and would sit apart from the group talking about it. And my friends said that everyone had to see it at least a couple times to “get it.” The concept just blew their minds. Well now I’m twenty-three, which is a lot older than the friends I had in high school, but I can’t figure out what is so hard to get. Are there any questions I should be asking, but didn’t think of?

Over all, I guess I liked it. The story was well-thought. There were warring philosophies, which the movie choreographed into one cooperative plot. This philosophical war fit well with what God’s been teaching me of late: something about our plans and His plans. Also in reading The Immortal Game, I’ve been contemplating the ideas presented by chess: does fate govern your life, or are your choices supreme? Can you win by intellect, or is there something to be said for brute force? Is it every man for himself, or every man for the collective goal? Should life be lived tactically (moment to moment, choice by choice) or strategically (long term)? How well can any one person’s decisions manipulate another’s? These were the various positions and questions dealt with in The Matrix as well.

Of course trench coats, leather, and machine guns were rather glamorized. There was violence, and I didn’t watch some parts (not because anyone warned me or they were getting too gruesome, but I had been multi-tasking, and felt the long violence/chase series were missable). In fact, I asked my brother what the point of the long fight scenes was, as everyone knew what would be the outcome (of some parts). He told me that the movie makers got their awards and notoriety for the filmography of the sequences and the special effects. I still protest that they did not add to the movie.

Anyway, at one point I was also curious whether anyone spoke regular English, or if all the humans used bad language to express themselves. So I’m not really endorsing The Matrix, but it didn’t bother me enough to make me dislike the movie.

If I were to identify the central theme of the movie, after this first viewing, I would eschew the philosophical questions and say it was about the power of the mind over the body (and delving back deeply into philosophy, over destiny).

One thing I noticed: it didn’t end. The sequel is probably at the library right now waiting for me to watch it, and I might have to get the last one on hold. Do the next two get better or worse?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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