What Did You Expect?

I was watching “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” with my daughter not long ago, when there was a scene that took place that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. After the children arrive back in the fantasy world of Narnia, they find it’s changed drastically, and Aslan (the Jesus-type figure) is nowhere to be found – and it’s looking like he isn’t even in Narnia anymore.

As the kids start roaming the countryside, the youngest child, Lucy, looks across a deep gorge and claims to see Aslan. However, after her siblings look, Aslan isn’t there. Since no one believed Lucy, they took the long way around the gorge. Later that night, Lucy’s brother, Edmund, asks her “Why do you think I didn’t see Aslan?” Lucy responds with a very wise answer: “Maybe you didn’t really want to.”

Lucy trying to convince her siblings that she saw Aslan

The point is that Lucy probably first noticed Aslan across the gorge and over in the woods because she was expecting to see him in the first place. The other children were just going through the motions and weren’t sure if they even wanted to encounter Aslan. In the end, everyone meets up with Aslan, but some challenges could have been avoided if they had simply wandered through Narnia with a greater level of expectancy right from the start.

Now before you start believing that you’re the Lucy in this story, don’t forget that Jesus’ own followers were not even ready for Him after He rose from the dead. We’re talking about people that walked with Jesus face to face, heard Him say that He would die and rise again, and they still didn’t expect to see Him.

Walking through life with a heart full of faith isn’t an easy thing. Do I expect God to show up each day? Am I anticipating God to do the impossible even when God doesn’t seem anywhere to be found? The reality of living like God is real boils down to maintaining a level of expectancy that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. The awe of our God is that He is still faithful despite our unbelief; nevertheless, do we really want to miss out on an encounter with our King merely because we were not expecting Him to show up?

How Not to Watch Movies

Since getting married four months ago, I’ve watched “13 going on 30,” three seasons of the show “Scandal,” and a number of other things I would never have experienced otherwise.

But the most humbling part has been realizing how narrow my perspective often is.

What does this say?
I find myself avoiding things I don’t immediately understand instead of asking, “What does this say?” I tell myself I’m asking other questions, such as whether a movie is edifying or whether it has cultural value, but I often define “edifying” and “valuable” by what resonates with me.

What’s wrong…and right…with this picture?
Sometimes I avoid “liking” things because I don’t want to admit that I’m just as messed up as that song on the radio or character in a story is. I like to pretend that if I don’t watch that movie or listen to that music then I won’t fall into this or that sin. The truth is I’m drawn into sin because sin has already taken some form in my heart.

There have been moments I’ve identified with something and then realized, “Yikes! I like that because the selfishness…or whatever…it expresses already lives in my heart.”

Who is this person?
Asking what’s right about something might be even more unsettling than asking what’s wrong because it forces me to confront blind spots. What ideas are underneath the story? How do the characters in this story see themselves? How does that challenge the way I see things?

The Christian narrative teaches me to look for the image of God in others, though it be marred, and that means allowing others to challenge how I see things, even if they’re partly wrong too.

How are we called to respond?
If art is people saying things, and people are made in the image of God, and we are all sinners, then we have a theological basis for listening to what others are saying in and about movies.

We’re not called to like everything everyone else likes. We’re called to love our neighbors, which means giving a lot less thought to the question of liking things and a lot more thought to what others are saying.

What’s dangerous is to imagine we already know.

Les Miserables [movie review]

Les Miserables has been out in America and Hong Kong for over a month now and will soon be released in Taiwan. A few thoughts for those who haven’t seen it yet…

I don’t know how you watch movies, but if you love the musical like I do, you may find yourself focusing on how the actors and actresses deliver the music. You may also be wowed by the way the movie was directed and produced. If you don’t like musicals, you may wonder why anyone would waste two plus hours watching people sing. If you don’t watch many movies, you may find the sin in this movie disturbing.

Whatever the case may be, if you see this movie, I hope you don’t miss the heart of the story.

It’s the story of Valjean, a man who was thrown into prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. What began as a 5-year sentence turned into 19 years on the chain gang. When he was finally released, he discovered that he still wasn’t free: society wasn’t about to forgive him for what he had done.

After facing rejection at every turn, he runs into a priest who not only welcomes him in, but offers him kindness and trust. Hardened by his recent experiences, Valjean steals the priest’s silver, only to be caught and dragged back by the police.

Enter this scene.

What the chain gang failed to do in 19 years, this priest did in a moment: for the first time, Valjean is confronted with the darkness in his soul. When he stole the loaf of bread, he felt justified. This time, however, he knows he’s guilty. In his soliloquy following this scene, he sings,

One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife

This is the power of forgiveness. Like Valjean, it’s easy to justify the sin in our lives. We don’t think we’re as bad as “some people.” We find some rules ridiculous and meant to be broken. As long as we think that our sin is merely breaking the law, we don’t have the power to change.

What we need is to come face to face with our Priest, who not only overlooks our blatant sin but offers us silver candlesticks when we deserve to be thrown back in prison. Repentance comes only when we realize that we have broken God’s heart. That is the beginning of true freedom. That is how we learn to live like God is real.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Saving Edmund

When we were little, my mother would gather us together at bedtime to read a chapter from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I remember wondering what Turkish Delight tasted like; I worried that the wolves would catch Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, Peter, Susan, and Lucy; and I cried when the White Witch killed Aslan on the Stone Table. But perhaps I remember best of all how much I despised Edmund for allowing selfishness to turn him into a liar and a traitor.

Over Christmas break, when we were visiting Luke’s family, we watched bits and pieces of the three most recent Narnia movies with his sister Sarah. In the first movie, Lucy and Susan wake up to discover that their brother Edmund had been rescued in the night. Even though I had seen the movie multiple times, I found myself strangely gripped by what they saw…

Even now, this scene draws me in. I want to know what Aslan was saying and how Edmund felt. I want to know what that first encounter between the Lion and the traitor was like.

Often times when I watch movies, I find myself identifying myself with one or more characters. I don’t know that I ever identified strongly with any of the characters in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe— maybe a little of Lucy and a little of Peter? This time, however, I realized for the first time that I was not Lucy, not Peter, not Susan– but Edmund.

I am the one who is selfish. I am the one who puts my wants before the needs of others. I am the one who cares more about now than eternity. I am the one who needs to be rescued. I am the one who cost Jesus His life.

Too often we read the Bible and go through life thinking we are really not that bad. We can always point our finger at someone who is a much worse sinner than we are. But that is not what the Gospel tells us. No, we are Edmund. We are Zacchaeus. We are Judas Iscariot. We are Barabbas. We are Saul of Tarsus. As long as we think there is any good in us, we will never truly grasp the wonder of the Gospel. Christ died for sinners– and that is why I owe Him everything.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)