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Thor: Ragnarok – What Does The End Of The World Mean For Us?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 4/5

What would you do if your home comes under threat of destruction? For Thor, it involves a journey to alien planets, squabbles with family and friends, and letting go of some of the things he was once so attached to.

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok spelt the destruction of Asgard—home of the gods. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the same narrative is brought to life with a distinctly comedic flavor. With the impending doom and destruction of his world upon him, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is stranded on an alien planet. Thor has one goal throughout the movie: get back and save his homeland.

Thor: Ragnarok represents a bold development in the progress of the series. It’s clearly heavier on comedy, but also a lot more enjoyable. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s what makes it so fun. Director Taika Waititi’s previous work in smaller scale indie comedies means the tone of this movie was always going to be different from its predecessors. And the result is a movie that is exceedingly self-aware, bordering at times on parody. The actors, Hemsworth in particular, seem to revel in the looser, more improvised tone.

The dynamics between characters are richer for it too. There’s a charming road trip-buddy feel to Thor and Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) partnership. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki also develops from the anti-hero of the past movies; the sibling rivalry and bickering he shares with Thor is both compelling and humorous. Driving the evolution of these relationships is Thor’s commitment to being a hero and preventing the end of Asgard.

Similarly, the Bible tells us that our world will eventually come to an end, and how we respond to this defines our adventure now. We all tend to get caught up in the invincibility and seeming permanence of this world, working as hard as we can to wring the value from each activity. Be it career success, performing well in school, or just enjoying life, we work hard to relish the fruits of this world.

But it’s these very things that entice us away from the purpose that God has for us. Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster perfectly encapsulates this sentiment—a slave owner who tells his slaves that he loves them, all whilst making them fight to the death.

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

However, the Bible warns us about getting too absorbed in the things of this life, that hold no eternal value. The constant reminder throughout the New Testament is to look forward to the new creation, and everything that it holds in store for us. This has real implications for the way that we live now and should shape what we work for and what we are willing to give up. The plain fact is that all the things of this life will be swept away without a trace by the arrival of the new creation.

In the end, being a hero is very different from what Thor expected. The circumstances call for some hard decisions to be made, but these are the very decisions that make Thor a hero.

What about the decisions that will define us as Christians? What are the things that we will pursue in light of God’s plans for eternity, and all that they hold for us? They vary from individual to individual. But the common denominator has to be the Gospel. It is the one thing that carries eternal value, and whilst its consequences may not seem apparent now, they will certainly be felt at the return of Christ.

This means that it is not just about whether we accept the Gospel, but what we do with it after. We must continue to grow in our conviction and commitment to the Gospel and what it means for us. At the same time, we are commissioned to work for the Gospel, advancing it in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

It’s always worth sitting to the very end of Marvel movies to see what surprises the directors have for us. But for Christians, there are no surprises about the end; our world has an expiry date. God will destroy it as he ushers us into the New Creation. So how should we live now, given the temporal nature of this world? Work for the things that carry true eternal value. In light of eternity, everything else will seem insignificant.

Dunkirk: Searching For The Way Home

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Written By Caleb Young, Australia

What would you do to survive? And to what lengths would you go to save others?

These are the questions at the core of Dunkirk, an action-packed thriller of a war film based on real-life events at the French port town of Dunkirk during World War II.

Forced to the beaches of Dunkirk by the Nazi invasion of France, some 400,000 Allied—mainly British—troops were stranded. England was only 26 miles away across the English Channel but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill thought that no more than 40,000 men could be rescued—until a nationwide flotilla of military and civilian vessels brought some 334,000 men home.

The unending tension, immersive soundscape, unique storytelling, masterful filmmaking, and the extraordinary ensemble cast are just a few of the factors that make this an incredible cinematic experience and the best big-budget film of the year.

But as I consider my own Christian worldview, I realize that the film also speaks to how we treat the message of the saving power of Jesus’ sacrifice.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

 

There Are Many People Who Need Saving

Just like on the beaches of Dunkirk back in 1940, there are desperate people all around us who are living in fear, searching for a way to escape. Just like the young soldiers Tommy and Gibson in the film who masquerade as medics to get on board a transport ship for the wounded, many people take measures into their own hands and put on masks to feel safe and protected. However, just as the transport ship in the film eventually sinks, the false sense of protection that the world offers will not save anyone.

 

We Need to Show Them the Way Out

In Dunkirk, the characters of Mr. Dawson, along with his teenage son Peter and deckhand George, know that their private boat—together with hundreds of other small boats—along the English coast are the key to saving the soldiers at Dunkirk. However, that knowledge alone will not save those men. They have to sail across the English Channel and show them their salvation. As Christians, we know “the way, the truth, and the life” that will save those around us. However, keeping that knowledge to ourselves will not help anyone. We must purposefully search out opportunities to share this amazing news with others.

 

Sharing the Good News with Others Isn’t Always Easy

The journey across the English Channel is a difficult one for Mr. Dawson, Peter, and George. Just like all the civilian volunteer vessels, they face the threat of German submarines and enemy aircraft throughout their entire journey. With uncertainty at every point, the sailors who went to Dunkirk needed bravery, determination, and even sacrifice to save those desperate souls across the sea.

Sharing the salvation that Christ offers to the world isn’t an easy task either. We also have an enemy working hard to weaken our faith and cause us to turn back. And yet, it is important that we face the difficult task like the sailors in Dunkirk did, with courage and fortitude—ready to give sacrificially to save others.

 

Human beings are prepared to go to incredible lengths to survive. The Dunkirk film is a great example of the resilience of the human spirit. But resilience alone doesn’t always save us; we humans cannot save ourselves from our own sinful nature. The beautiful thing about the gospel is that it doesn’t depend on our own strength. Just like the boats that saved hundreds of thousands at Dunkirk, Jesus is our lifeboat: all we have to do is jump in. For those of us who are already saved, let us tell others of this free salvation that we can have in Christ.

The story and scope of Dunkirk is awe-inspiring and will lead movie-goers on an intense, action-packed ride as you experience the fear and bravery of those at Dunkirk. But as you enjoy this remarkable cinematic masterpiece, may you also be inspired to bring the salvation we know in Christ to those around us who are in need of saving.

 

The Circle Shows the Need for Genuine Community

Screenshot from Official Trailer
Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

I recently read Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel The Circle, which was released a couple of weeks ago as a film starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. The story follows 24-year-old graduate Mae Holland who leaves her boring hometown job to get a customer relations position at  the world’s most powerful social media corporation, the Circle, a combination of Google, Facebook, PayPal, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Mae quickly rises through the ranks and things seem wonderful at first, but as the story progresses, Mae’s story takes on a darker tone, allowing Eggers’ tale to confront questions raised by the growth of social media regarding issues such as transparency, the right to privacy, and democracy. Described as this generation’s 1984, Eggers presents a chilling Orwellian view of the possible effects of rampant technology.

One of the ideas I found most interesting in Eggers’ novel is the poor substitute for genuine community that the online world provides, and the insecurity that can result. Connecting mainly by online means, one can detect a real insecurity among the Circle’s members.

A hypersensitive colleague is offended when Mae doesn’t reply to his invitation to come to a brunch he puts on; the situation gets so bad that it requires mediation involving Mae’s supervisor. On another occasion, a friend sends increasingly hostile and paranoid emails, aggrieved that Mae hasn’t replied immediately; they saw each other only 20 minutes ago. Others are offended that she hasn’t taken an interest in their online clubs or posts, or responded immediately to their requests. When a public survey finds that 97 percent of the Circle campus agree that Mae is awesome, she fixates on the three percent who responded with a “frown”. “Likes” and “Smiles” become the dopamine-producing hit that bolsters fragile self-esteem in this digital world that passes for true human communication. As Mae’s ex-boyfriend states, “There’s a new neediness—it pervades everything”.

Mae finds that she acquires a new skill in this brave new technological world: “the ability to look, to the outside world, utterly serene and even cheerful, while in her skull, all was chaos” (p. 322). This desire to appear better than we actually are reflects a lack of true connection and a deep insecurity.

Steven Furtick, the pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina, says, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” Author Simon Sinek says that growing up in a Facebook-Instagram world has made millennials (people born since 1984) “good at showing that life is a-maz-ing even though I’m depressed.” Sinek’s concern is that these young people lack deep meaningful relationships, and when deep stress arises, they turn not to a person, but to a device, to social media.

The pressure to appear “amazing” while we interact with the profiles of others who are also “amazing” takes a toll. A 2016 University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine survey of 1,787 U.S. millennials found that those who used social media frequently had 2.7 times more likelihood of depression than those who used it less regularly. Sadly, it can become hard to be honest about ourselves in such a forum. As one pastor notes about social interaction on Facebook: “Am I interacting with their vulnerable and far more beautiful real self, or their ideal self?”

As Christian psychologist David Benner puts it, revealing my true self means seeking to turn up as who I am in reality and who I am becoming as I seek after God. In contrast, our false self is a type of playacting, pretending, knowingly or unknowingly, to be someone we’re not. It’s a self we craft, package, and present to the world in the hope that it will earn us love based on what we do, what we have, and what others think of us.

We were created for community. As American pastor and missionary Howard Snyder puts it, community in the New Testament sense of koinonia “assumes and requires face-to-face communication” whether in the ancient world or in the age of the Internet. The “one another” life of the New Testament calls us into loving community: accept one another (Rom 15:7), submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21), bear with each other and forgive one another (Col 3:13), encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thes 5:11)

There is no app for deep relationships. Such relationships take time and can be awkward, fun, infuriating, fulfilling, and lasting. It is in such relations that we can know love and experience joy as we are accepted and loved by those who know us as we truly are. As we learn to live honestly before God and one another, knowing ourselves as loved and accepted, we can increasingly step out free to be who God created us to be. As we enjoy technology and all it has to offer, let’s continue to engage in the New Testament “one another” life.

What Silence Has To Say

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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Written By Caleb Young, Australia

If you’re into movies that encourage, inspire, or even provoke, Silence may be the answer—if you hang in there and wait for the best parts to emerge.

Silence, a movie that Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese had reportedly worked on for over two decades, revolves around two Jesuit priests who were smuggled into 17th-century Japan just when it started its isolationist foreign policy. The priests, Father Rodrigues, played by Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), and Father Garupe, played by Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), were subjected to physical, emotional, and psychological torture alongside the “Kakure Kirishitans” (the underground Japanese Christians) over their faith—in scenes that take up much of the film’s 161 minutes.

The drawn-out, slow-paced narrative can be a turn-off for some, and was likely one of the reasons why the film did poorly at the box office. However, I would contend that the film is far from a bad one.

Garfield does a fantastic job expressing the emotional distress that Rodrigues goes through when the foundation of everything he believes in seems to slowly crumble. The character of Kichijiro (played by Yōsuke Kubozuka) is wonderfully written and complex. Kichijiro can be described as a strange blend between Judas and Peter who constantly challenges Rodrigues’ concepts of grace and forgiveness in the face of betrayal. The film has a lot of depth and is not afraid to ask tough questions that promise to keep viewers thinking (as it did to me).

As a Christian, I found myself pondering many of the theological questions that arose from the film. And I believe that is a good thing. Although I won’t attempt to answer many of these questions, several aspects of the movie encouraged me in my understanding of my own faith and belief.

 

Putting a Mentor on a Pedestal

We have a very human tendency to place a person on a pedestal. This seems especially true when it comes to spiritual mentors such as a pastor or church leader. The danger comes when we unwittingly equate this person with God; when that person fails—as humans tend to do—their actions can cause a crisis of faith.

This is exactly what happens to Rodrigues when he hears stories that his spiritual mentor, played by Liam Neeson, has publically rejected God in Japan and is working with the Japanese inquisitors to root out Christians. As a result, the Jesuit priest is left struggling with his faith in God.

Although it is a good thing to respect our leaders, we must be careful not to place them on par with, or even above God. We must make Him and His Word—and not the teachings or character of a fallible human being—the foundation of our faith.

 

The Struggles of Persecuted Christians

The film contains several horrific, heartbreaking scenes of martyrdom—along with inspiring scenes of believers showing steadfast faith even in their final moments, which moved me to tears. I was also struck by the complex, difficult decisions the Japanese Christians had to make under severe persecution.

A common tactic used by the inquisitors during those times was forcing Christians to step on a picture of Jesus. If they refused, the people in their village would be persecuted. Some decided to comply, but most stopped short when they were ordered to spit on the image.

As the leader of the persecuted Christians, Rodrigues’ dilemma was even more complex. Though he was prepared to die for his faith, the Japanese inquisitors threatened to kill members of his congregation if he refused to denounce his faith.

Those scenes were a stark reminder to me that even today, many of God’s followers continue to be forced to make such difficult decisions. Silence challenged me to pray more for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, and to pray for strength, faith, and wisdom when faced with such adversity.

 

When God is Silent

The struggle that Rodrigues ultimately faced was the distance he felt from God in the midst of his terrible situation. He pleaded with God for guidance but was mostly met with silence. At the height of his psychological torture, Rodrigues cried out, “Christ is here. I just can’t hear him.”

Although we may not necessarily have to face the difficult circumstances portrayed in the movie, it is likely that many of us will go through a season of feeling distant from God. How we react to those challenges can have a strong impact on the rest of our lives. Will we lose heart thinking that God does not care for us in our plight? Will we be led astray by false teaching? Or will we, with God’s help, go through the trial and allow Him to mold us into the person He wants us to be?

I’m not saying this is easy to do, and the film shows how difficult those trials can be. But James 1:12 encourages us, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

The film’s unexpected, open ending left me with more questions than answers. And yet, Silence served to strengthen my theology and beliefs, as well as give me insight into the struggles faced by persecuted Christians.