The Good, the Bad, and Theology of Noah

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NoahI had the chance to see the movie Noah with my new friend Jon Blevins while I was in Manitowoc, WI, this past weekend doing a parish mission at St. Francis of Assisi Parish. My love and prayers to everyone who attended: I had a blast sharing the Gospel and getting to know you.

Jon and I decided to go see Noah, not so much because we wanted to, but because we knew teens would watch it and ask questions. After seeing it I’ve come across numerous blogs that think that it’s either wonderful, awful, faithful, or heretical. For anyone who cares, here’s my two cents on Noah.

The Good

Visually, the movie was stunning. There’s a five minute scene where Noah tells his family the story of creation and it blew me away—sure to be playing at every youth group in the world once it comes out on Blu-ray. The rock monsters were awesome. Yes, theologically wacky, but I have a special affinity for rock monsters and I personally think every movie should find a way to include a rock monster in it. Especially rom-coms. But I digress. Some great action sequences, and Russell Crowe is a stud and fun to watch in pretty much anything he does (unless he’s singing a monologue on a ledge).

The Bad

It was loooooong. At the end I was kind of hoping God would wipe everyone out so I didn’t have to keep listening to them talk. For an eco-friendly pacifist, Noah was really good at killing dudes, which stuck me as a bit odd. The rock monsters were awesome. Oh, I already said that. I thought the last half of the movie faltered in it’s pace and emotional drive. The stuff heading up to the flood was pretty riveting; once they get on the boat it I felt it floundered.

Theology

This was a big-budget, Hollywood movie, so I didn’t expect it to nail the Biblical story, and to be honest I didn’t mind the creative license the director took in adding new characters, new story lines, etc. I’ve read a few blogs that really hated against some of the theologically questionable things in the movie, like the rock monsters, which were awesome. Here are the things from a theological perspective that bothered me.

I didn’t like how the movie changed what the Bible says about one of Noah’s sons, Ham. In Scripture, Ham is cast out because he rebelled against his father. He becomes the father of Canaan, whose offspring become the enemy of the Jewish people. But the movie created story lines where you felt that Ham was actually doing the right thing most of the time and there was no sense of him being banished. Really, the movie made you blame Noah for being so thick headed as to alienate his son. I didn’t appreciate that.

There was a complete disregard for human life and an over-sensitivity for animal and plant life. In the beginning of the movie, Noah comes across some kind of armadillo/dog-thing that was wounded by hunters. The dogadillo dies and Noah kills the three guys with little effort (seriously, where did he get that kind of training?) He shows no remorse for the loss of human life but is really torn up about the animal. I know the hunters were “bad”—but how about a guy who regrets the taking of any life, even if necessary? In Scripture, the story wasn’t about saving all the animals as much as saving humanity and creating a new covenant with Noah. In one of the greatest moments of biblical irony, the first thing that Noah does is sacrifice some of the animals in thanksgiving to God. The Noah of the Bible was not a vegetarian/animal rights activist who taught his kids that people who ate meat went against God’s plan. I’m eating a hamburger as I write this, by the way.

What happened to 40 days and 40 nights? In this movie, they were on that boat for at least 8 to 9 months, as the girl got pregnant right before the flood and gave birth on the boat. Or did people magically have shorter pregnancies back then? That bothered me not just from a biblical perspective but also as a plot point, ‘cause that was a long time for the bad guy to hide and keep eating the other animals. I imagine he wiped out a number of species over those months. I was so hoping they would show him eating a unicorn.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mark Hart, the Bible Geek, for correcting this. The flood lasted 40 days. Then there was 150 days before the water subsided. So the timeline was about right, but I still think it was weird to have the bad guy not discovered for so long (which obviously wasn’t a part of the biblical story).

But the biggest problem for me was the lack of God’s mercy. God was vengeful, not loving. One could argue this was part of the Biblical story: didn’t He wipe out almost all of humanity? Well, “almost” is the key word here. In a world that had completely rebelled against God (say that again with a deep, movie trailer voice), He was willing to not give up on humanity in spite of their sin. He caused the flood and saved Noah and his family to establish a covenant of peace (symbolized by the rainbow.) That’s the key element of the story, and that was completely missing here.

I really liked many elements of Fr. Barron’s review of the movie but I was surprised when he wrote, “At the emotional climax of the movie, Noah moves to kill his own granddaughters, convinced that it is God’s will that the human race be obliterated, but he relents when it becomes clear to him that God in fact wills for humanity to be renewed” (my emphasis). That wasn’t in the movie I saw. In the movie, Noah was convinced that God wanted all humanity wiped out, including his own family, and when he couldn’t bring himself to kill his grandchildren Noah was distraught because he thought he had failed God’s plan—so much so he later isolates himself in a cave and gets drunk.

Yes, there’s a little conversation at the end with Hermione that suggested that perhaps his “failure” was actually God’s will all the time. But it was a nuance, a brief whisper amid the message the rest of the movie shouted from the beginning. The overall theme was that man was made for nature, not nature for man. This focus contradicts not just the main point of the Noah story but the entire Creation narrative. I found it disturbing that one of the only voices in the movie that suggests that nature was made for man was the bad guy (and said while biting the head of an animal).

I didn’t mind that the director made changes to the story of Noah—I am disappointed that he changed the message. When you look at the pollution of the planet, it’s clear that in many places humanity has not lived up to God’s command of being good stewards to what was given to us. We should repent of this and need to do a better job protecting the earth, not just for the earth’s sake, but because the first victims of pollution are usually the poor and the marginalized.

Creation is a gift from God to man, not man a poison to creation. God created the world so we could know Him through it. And even when we sin and turn away, He reaches out to us. He didn’t make us like the plants, trees, and animals. We are more than just another part creation—we are His children, made in His image and likeness.

There were parts of the movie that spoke to that. But more often than not, I think that message was lost and replaced with something more culturally palatable. And that’s why, even with some inspiring moments and awesome rock monsters, I walked away disappointed with Noah.

As always with my blogs, feel free to respectfully disagree in the comments. Biases against rock monsters will not be tolerated. 

Eros and Agape in Disney’s Frozen

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Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 6.19.20 PMThe Friday of Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally a “movie” day for us. This year we split the family: 12-years-old and over went to see the new Hunger Games, 11-years-old and under went to see Disney’s new animated movie, Frozen. Having seen Hunger Games already, I took the little ones to see Frozen.

I really enjoyed the movie. It had some great music and the look of it was beautiful. But what stunned me was the message that the movie conveyed.

If you haven’t seen it, there’s some SPOILERS. Sorry, no way to talk about the ending without giving the ending away. And the ending came as quite a surprise to me!

Let me recap the story: it’s a tale of two sisters, Elsa and Anna. Elsa has the power of ice and snow (hence the film’s title, Frozen.) When they were young, Elsa accidentally hurt Anna with her power, so she kept it (and herself) hidden from her sister so she wouldn’t hurt anyone else. Anna, who doesn’t remember the event, wonders why her sister becomes so distant, especially after their parents pass away (being parents in a Disney movie is like wearing a redshirt in Star Trek.)

They become teenagers. Elsa is to be crowned queen and the castle is opened for the first time in years. Anna, young and eager, meets a handsome young prince and immediately falls in love. She wants to marry him! At this point I was rolling my eyes, thinking, “yeah, that’s a healthy relationship.” Thankfully, Elsa agreed and wouldn’t give her blessing. Emotions get high, Elsa’s power goes out of control, everyone realizes she has this power (some think her a witch) and off she runs into the frozen wilderness. Her sister goes to find her.

In the adventures that follow, Anna’s heart get’s frozen and can only be healed with an “act of true love,” which Anna thinks must be getting a kiss from the prince she wants to marry. And if that’s what happened, it would be standard Disney fare.

Because Disney movies are generally about eros. That’s a Greek word for romantic love, the love between husband and wife. Snow White is cured by a kiss from the prince; Sleeping Beauty is the same. Most Disney movies end with a marriage and the romance between the male and female protagonist plays a central role. Actually, the majority of stories told today focus on eros. Our society seems to think it’s the highest form of love.

But Jesus told us otherwise. When He spoke of love, He used the word agape, not eros. When He said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34,) He used the word agapeAgape is the highest form of love. It’s not about emotion—it’s about self-sacrifice. As Christ Himself said, “No one can have greater love (agape) than to lay his life down for his friends” (John 15:13.) That kind of love isn’t often shown.

Which is why I almost fell out of my seat at the dramatic conclusion of Frozen.

Anna was about to die. Her “true love” was running toward her to give her the saving kiss she thought she needed. But her sister was in danger. Instead of waiting for the kiss, she ran to her sister’s aide and sacrificed her life to save her. And that’s the act that heals her heart. It wasn’t eros that was “true love,” it was agape!

I looked at my six year old daughter. “Wasn’t that amazing?” I said.

“Yes,” she answered. “I loved the snowman! He’s funny!”

Okay, so maybe six-year-olds don’t get the difference between eros and agape. But someone at Disney did. And I’m so glad they decided to make a movie that shows that true love is more than just a feeling—it’s the laying down of your life for another.

And the snowman was funny, too.

St. Maria Goretti

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mariagoretti2

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, St. Maria Goretti. As a young man, I had two medals on my scapular: one was St. Joseph, and the other was St. Maria Goretti. Her story of purity, faith, and forgiveness is one of the most inspiring stories of a teenage saint that I know of. I named my daughter after her (and named her “twin” Joseph.) And when I had a chance to write a script about purity, I knew exactly what two people I’d love to write about.

This picture was drawn by an amazingly talented friend who wished to remain anonymous. And the video was produced by my good friends at Outside Da Box.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

Why I Didn’t Like Star Trek Into Darkness

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STIDI’m a Trekkie.

There, I said it.

I used to avoid the title because I thought other people were more into Star Trek than I was, and I didn’t want lay claim to a title I didn’t deserve. I can’t quote trivial details about each episode. I don’t frequently watch the movies/TV shows over and over. I didn’t even like all of them. And I don’t speak Klingon. Well, not fluently.

But since I recently dressed up as Lt. Riker to a showing of “Best of Both Worlds” at my local movie theater, I think I can lay claim to the title, at least causally. More to the point, this last movie bugged me so much that I must have some Trekkie blood in me to be so riled about it.

Don’t think of me a purist. I liked the first JJ Abrams film and, though it had it’s faults, I was really looking forward to this one. He’s great at making action films and working with ensemble casts. So I really wanted to enjoy it… but I just couldn’t. Here’s why. (SPOILER ALERT: This is full of them.)

Transporter problems. So Khan can teleport out of a falling ship into a different galaxy but they can’t beam Spock out of a volcano without line of sight? Lazy writing.

Transporter successes. Wait… Khan can teleport out of a falling ship into a different galaxy?!? Huh? Wha? GAAAH! This insanely stupid technology (used in the first movie in an equally lame plot device) means that space ships are mostly irrelevant. I mean, let’s just beam from planet to planet now, shall we?

Gravity problems. Okay, this bugged me so much it completely pulled me out of the movie. The gravity plates work or they don’t. If they work, people are walking normally. If they don’t, people are floating. Especially if they are falling to earth (this is how NASA currently simulates zero-gravity in aircrafts.) The whole turning at a 90 degree angle with bodies flying everywhere was just plain stupid. The “Science of Star Trek” is one of the things that gave Star Trek a unique brand and fan base, and it seems that gets thrown out of the window (or space hatch) entirely.

Engineering. While I’m on the subject of technology: I’m sure Paramount saved lots of money by using some local water filtration system plant instead of building a real set for the Enterprise’s engineering section, but seriouzly? Couldn’t they have made it look cooler, or did they blow their budget buying extra light bulbs for the bridge? While I’m on that…

Why does the Enterprise only have five rooms in it? There’s sick bay, the water filtration plant, the prison, the bridge, and a really long hallway that connects to the transporter bay (which apparently you don’t need since you can teleport to a different galaxy using a device the size of your leg… GAAAH!) How about a “Ready Room” where a Captain can make important decisions not surrounded by the rest of the crew? Do they even have private quarters? I guess they don’t because…

Dr. Carol Marcus in her underwear. Was there a reason she needed to change in the shuttlecraft? Why wasn’t Bones running right behind her in his skivvies? Kidding aside, this scene really bothered me. Kirk responded with less tact than a 13 year old would. And it was such an obvious, “Oh no! We’ve gone an hour without sex! Have the pretty young actress take her clothes off!” Degrading to women; insulting to the audience. I doubt we’d have seen that scene if she was an older woman, but those kind of people don’t exist in the future because…

Starfleet seems to be made up of mostly 20 year olds. Captain Kirk screws up and they want to send him back to… the Academy? Scotty resigns and they replace him with a Russian teenager? This was the same problem I had with the first film (Cadet Kirk goes from being suspended in Starfleet to being Captain of a starship in the matter of a few hours) and it continued bug me here. But the thing that bugged me the most is…

By having Benedict Cumberbunch play Kahn, they made it a reboot, not an alternate timeline. I love the actor—Sherlock is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. When I heard he was going to be in the new Star Trek film I was thrilled. But when I discovered he was Kahn… my stomach turned. That’s not because I’m a huge Ricardo Monteban fan. It’s because up to this point the filmmakers had gone out of their way to cast actors who have some kind of resemblance to the original series. But with Kahn, the greatest and most dynamic of all Star Trek villains, they said, “Ah, screw it.” He didn’t look like Kahn. He didn’t act like Kahn. He wasn’t Kahn.

Like many Star Trek fans, when we heard about the first movie being made we were excited but also nervous. None of us wanted a “re-boot.” What I thought was brilliant about the first one was that it was not a re-boot, but an alternate timeline. What would Kirk be like without his father’s influence? What would Spock be like with his mother dead and planet gone? What will Starfleet be like having faced such a technologically superior threat? But turning Kahn into a hyper-military English guy broke the whole thing.

I wish they had made him someone else. How about having him as part of Kahn’s crew with a frozen Kahn in a torpedo? And while I thought the flip of the Kirk/Spock dialogue was kind of clever, all it did was remind me that this movie just “looks” like Star Trek, but it really isn’t. Oh, and one more thing…

“We need Kahn’s blood!” No you don’t. You’ve got 72 other people who have the same stuff in their veins. BTW, I hope they didn’t just leave those people in cold storage. At the very least, their blood could cure every disease on earth, and even raise people who were “mostly” dead, right?

That kind of plot device works in Princess Bride, but not in Star Trek. Or at least, it shouldn’t. And that’s why I didn’t like the movie.

COMMENTS: Normally, I ask for a a civil conversation. But not today! Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam!

Videos! And an update on Bobby (and me.)

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Ouch.

If you’re not into reading X-rays, let me explain it to you: see that big crack in the femur? Yeah, that shouldn’t be there.

Two weeks ago my son Bobby (10 years old) was playing basketball. He fell backwards and everyone heard a loud CRACK! If you think that’s an unusual way to break a femur, it is. The doctors have diagnosed him with “fibrus dysplasia,” a weakening of the bone. That makes his already difficult recovery longer, and perhaps means he will need future surgeries to “augment” the bone.

Needless to say, it’s been a crazy few weeks. I was at the airport about to get on a plane to Michigan when I got the call. I had to cancel the event, but of course I knew the Holy Spirit would take care of it (He did.) To all in Wixon, sorry I missed out and hope to see you next year!

After spending five days at a hospital and two days in my living room (Bobby can’t yet climb stairs) I drove to Syracuse for the “Race to the Cross Rally” and then down to Philadelphia for the “Generation Phaith” conference. I brought my band with me and we had a great time, though my heart was a bit heavy with things going on at home.

And then on Monday, I flew off to England, which is where I’m writing from now.

How could I leave my family in such a state of crisis? I’ve been asking myself that, too :) As we all know, sometimes things just need to get done. A residency requirement is part of keeping me in my doctoral program, but the good folks have shortened my time here so I’m coming home next week (instead of the following.) And thankfully my mom flew in to help around the house while I’m gone.

I’m grateful for all who have been praying for us during this time. Your love and support mean a lot.

And now for something completely different…

Videos! A number of my scripts have come to life over the past few months, and I’ve been delinquent in posting them. So here they are. Hope you are blessed by them and can use them in your ministry.

Now I’m an “Award Winning” Script Writer!

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Or at least I can say I’m a script writer of award winning films :)

Last week the John Paul II Film Festival in Miami, FL awarded the video, “Zombies Vs. Jesus” an award for the best short film. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was the main script writer for the video, even though it turned out to be different (and better!) than I had imagined it.

This is the second time a short film I was a part of has won an award! Last year, the short film Palm Sunday won a Telly Award for best religious short film.

Two things in common with both films: Eric Groth of Outside Da Box produced it, and Rob Kaczmark of Spirit Juice Studios directed them. As a script writer, it’s exciting to work with people who have a great combination of faith and creativity to pull of the hard work of bringing stories to the screen.

But the best thing about winning awards is it gives people (like me) an excuse to promote the films again. In case you haven’t seen them, take a look!

Evidence that Demands a Vertict

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Another script has come to life! Man, I love seeing what people do with the words I type.

When I wrote this back in January, I intended the idea of being put on trial for being Catholic as an obvious fantasy. But these days it seems closer to reality than before, doesn’t it?

Regardless, that’s not the point of the video. The question is: do we truly live what we say we believe? I remember when I was a teenager someone asked, “If being Christian was against the law, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” That question always resonated with me, especially with all the legal “loopholes” that are present in our society today. So I thought it would make a cool video and hope it allows the viewer to reflect on if they are truly living their faith in a public way.

What do you think about it?

Thanks to the amazing folks at Outside Da Box for doing such a great job with it.

The Avengers and Catechesis

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I assume that most of you have seen The Avengers since it’s broken about every box office record it could. Personally, I thought it was the perfect comic book movie: a great blend of humor, action, and epic story telling.

I remember sitting next to someone at a movie theater a few months ago when an Avengers trailer came on. This person turned to her friend and said, “It looks just like the Transformers.” The tone of her voice made it clear that it wasn’t a compliment.

I wanted to turn to her and say, “This movie is nothing like Transformers!” But then tried to see the trailer through her eyes: Lots of explosions, big city buildings getting knocked down, and huge creatures fighting each other. Yep, that’s Transformers alright.

I didn’t like Transformers, either. So why was I excited about this movie and she wasn’t? The answer was simple. I wasn’t going to see the movie because I wanted to see New York City destroyed. I wanted to see what was going to happen to the characters.

WIth a big budget and a good special effects team, any studio can make movies where things blow up. But the novelty of disaster films has worn off. How many times have we seen Grand Central station destroyed? Yes, the final battle of The Avengers is pretty spectacular from a visual point of view. But that’s not what makes it exciting.

What makes it exciting is that Bruce Banner finally finds a way to control the Hulk. The Black Widow has a chance to do something good to make up for her past. Iron Man learns what it means to sacrifice for the sake of the team. We don’t just root for the bad guys to get destroyed, we cheer for the heroes who have discovered something in themselves and have made the right choice. To put it simpler, we get excited about what they do because we know who they are.

This is a great lesson, not just for any story teller, but for anyone who wants to pass on the faith. Msgr. Eugine Kevane once wrote that “catechesis is about being acquaintanced with persons.” The most effective way to catechize is not by teaching topics but by talking about people.

The person we should talk most about is, of course, Jesus Christ. And our faith is filled with amazing stories of men and women who have conquered their own personal demons to do something great for God. Isn’t that the same kind of drama we saw in The Avengers?

In passing on the faith, don’t just talk about the what. Talk about the who. I imagine that every Christian knows what Jesus did on the cross. But do they really know who He is?

That was one of my few critiques with the movie, The Passion of the Christ. It was a lot of what but only a little who. As a result, many Christians who knew Jesus had a powerful experience watching the film, but people who didn’t know Christ thought (to use the words of a non-Christian I know who saw the film,) “it was just a movie where a guy got the crap beat out of him.”

The Gospel has been rightly called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” A great story has great characters: the incredible love of Jesus Christ, the struggle Peter has to know what it means to follow Him, the betrayal of Judas, the sorrow of His mother. The main reason I wrote my novel, Between the Savior and the Sea, was to try to make that drama come more alive in a contemporary literary genre. Because as I travel around the country (yea, the world) sharing Gospel stories, that’s what people respond most to.

I imagine that many people look at Catholicism the way the woman next to me watched the Avengers trailer: a montage of images and people that didn’t make any sense unless you already knew the characters. It’s up to those of us who pass on the faith (which, by the way, is all of us) not just to talk about what we believe, but Who we believe, and how we’ve been inspired by the stories of others who have done super-heroic things through the grace of the One they believed in.

Hey, Hey, We’re the Zombies…

The zombies are coming.

I get to write a scripts for Outside Da Box. They asked if I could write something for teens about “the healing power of the Eucharist.”

My first shot at the script had a teen go through the day under constant attack: mom says he’s grounded for the weekend and then throws a grenade at him, girlfriend dumps him and then sword fights with him, etc. The idea is that he would be “beaten up” by his daily activity but then comes into the chapel and is healed and refreshed by the Eucharist.

But the script was deemed too violent. So I wrote a zombie one instead.

Oddly enough, that worked.

The short film will be out in the next few weeks, but there is already a fun buzz about it on Facebook. And if you’re just dying (or, more appropriately, undying) to know what happens, you can highlight the invisible text below to get a special SPOILER for the film:

Jesus wins. 

Great twist ending, isn’t it? I think it will surprise everyone who sees it.

I’ll let you know when it comes out and post a link to it on this blog. I’m eager for you all to see it but even more eager to hear what you think. Until then, I will attempt to satiate your love for all things zombies with my favorite song about zombies (“re:Brains” from Jonathan Coulton) preformed by a guy dressed as a zombie translating the lyrics into American Sign Language. Because that’s what the internet is for.