• The Lifted Lorax vs. The Ascended Lord

    March 21,2012, 05:00 AM

    by Lowell Bliss

    The new movie The Lorax is not so much the film rendition of the classic Dr. Seuss book, as it is it's sequel. In other words, although the tale of the Lorax and the Once-ler is colorfully and delightfully retold, the movie uses it primarily as backstory for the tale of how the boy, now named Ted, obtains the last Truffula seed and triumphantly manages to plant it. It is, if you will, "Lorax eschatology." The Once-ler, humanized in the movie, finally finds redemption. We even witness the Second Coming of the Lorax. For those who've been waiting 40 years since the book's publication to find out if there is "someone who cares a whole awful lot," we now have the answer: Ted does.

    For however much I love the movie- -and I do, tremendously- -I'm afraid that pursuing all its allusions too enthusiastically can result in us failing to recognize our main source of strength as we seek to care for God's creation. I suspect the film may drive Bishop N. T. Wright crazy, as he collects one more example of a faulty view of the Ascension.

    Except for a pre-curtain appearance in the film, the first reference to the Lorax in both book and movie is the street on which the Once-ler resides: The Street of the Lifted Lorax. The movie may give the mustachioed creature more titles than the book"Guardian of the Forest, Speaker for the Trees"but "the Lifted Lorax" is the one title that sticks. After having sent away the barbaloots, swans, and fish, the Lorax grabs a tuft of his furry britches and floats off into the clouds. This "lifting" is in fact the one and only action performed by the Lorax. As the Once-ler points out with annoyance, the Lorax spends most of his time just yap-yap-yapping. His lifting is not a victorious moment, and it is only marginally a hopeful one.

    For Anglican theologian N.T. Wright, heaven is not some geographically locatable spot. (In the movie, the Lorax lifts himself up and to the right on the screen, but it's unlikely that all our movie theatres are situated in the same direction.) No, heaven is somehow contiguous with earth and one day will be one with it. Mostly though, heaven should be understood as the command and control center of the universe. Jesus's ascension, for however his disciples may have witnessed it in 30 A.D., was primarily an ascension as unto a throne. Our victorious, resurrected Christ is King. "The point of the Ascension. . .," Wright declares in a 2006 Easter sermon, "is not that [Jesus] is going a long way away but that he is being elevated to be the true Lord of the world. Ascension doesn't mean absence; it means sovereignty, exercised through the Spirit."

    The Once-ler is left to puzzle over the word UNLESS, and then says to the boy: "Now that you're here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It's not." The word is thus a prescription left by the Lorax for the reforestation of the world, but it is also the dilemma over which the Lorax, in equal measure to the Once-ler, must stew. The Lorax is powerless, as much in exile as the barbaloots are. Not so our ascended Jesus. Our King is in charge. One of the problems of misjudging the Ascension, Wright insists, is that we too easily conflate the church with Christ. We bemoan that "unless the Church cares a whole awful lot. . . ," the plans of Christ are not going to get accomplished, whether that be the care of creation or the Great Commission. But the Church remains comprised of broken vessels. Whenever we produce a heroic Ted, it's only because Christ himself is working through him or her, you or me.

    The Lausanne Movement's Cape Town Commitment declares, "We are also commanded to care for the earth and all its creatures, because the earth belongs to God, not to us. We do this for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Creator, Owner, Sustainer, Redeemer and Heir of all creation." Sustainer as a title for Christ is not really a biblical reference as much as a creedal one, and additionally, you'll find the term Christ the Sustainer more often in modern creeds than in ancient ones. But if we are looking for hope in the present, among the grickle grass and the old crows, let's do the careful theological reflection which acknowledges that we all now live on the Street of the Ascended Lord, the Sustaining Christ.

    Lowell Bliss is the director of Eden Vigil, and the host of the newly launched Agabus Project podcast. He's looking forward to being at the Global Day of Prayer for Creation Care, April 26.

  • Waste Land [Movie Review]

    November 23,2011, 07:11 AM

    by Brittany Bennett

    I was browsing my Netflix account last week, and came across the recently released film "Waste Land". I highly recommend watching it for yourself, because each person's story is very moving. It follows a journey taken by Vik Muniz, a Brooklyn-based contemporary artist who focuses his work on materials and their human context. In contemplating his next project, he decided to travel back to his homeland of Brazil to the slums. He had come across aerial photographs of the massive trash dumps, and was blown away by the amount of things and people there. He didn't know what he could create, but he knew the opportunity was there. After reading the synopsis, I just had to know, what happens when he goes!? What does he create?

    Muniz gets to know several people who make their living collecting recyclables from the landfill. A couple things really touched my heart about them collectively. One was how proud they were of their work, because they are collecting recyclables, not trash. That is something useful for society. It's still a super dirty job, but it's more respectable then the alternatives of collecting trash to live off of or selling their bodies. The other thing was the community these workers formed in their workplace, which in case we've forgotten...was a dump! There was a lady who set up a cooking space, and always had some good soup cooking for everybody, as well as a smile and kind words. They all joked around with each other, and it just reminded me of how my workplace is.

    At the end of the day, it's easy to dismiss thoughts of people who make their living like this when you imagine them as less than human. I think we often imagine such 'others' as drones who live a sad existence, but what can ya do, at least they're making it. Maybe it's even good that there is this gross excess of waste out there they can do something with, and my own consumeristic lifestyle is justified in that. That's something I've wondered. But does that dismissal really bring the Kingdom any closer? Are we satisfied to imagine that is going to be part of our future, that more and more will find themselves surrounded with that reality? It seems to fall short of the signs of justice spoken about in the Word, and fall short of loving like Jesus.

    The workers declared often that, though they are grateful to have something to do, there is no future in it. They said it's not something they want for their children. One man (if I could admit to a dear favorite in the group...) always made it a point to educate people on how to recycle. Part of his legacy was his saying "99 is not 100", in reference to the one person who does something. That's a thought that's really stuck with me since. If the people who are day-in and day-out confronted by a sea of waste, think that each person really makes a difference, I'm pretty convinced. And if they're dreaming of something different so am I. Oh, by the way, you have to watch to see what Muniz makes, I'm not telling!

  • The Trip

    November 11,2011, 12:47 PM

    by David De Groot

    I feel like there are two kinds of fun. One that seeks our own glory and praise, and another type that seeks God's glory. Perhaps this isn't the most revelatory thought that you've ever heard, but I was struck by while watching "The Trip". In it, two actors, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, play themselves and take a week-long holiday from London to Northern England's Lake District.

    The reason for this trip was that Steve and his 20 something girlfriend were taking a hiatus of sorts and thus someone needed to take her place on the trip. So Steve calls his friend, Rob, at the last minute to see if he can sub in. Both men are in their mid-40s and both have children. Both men are obviously actors, well endowed, enjoy laughter, etc. And of course they both like to have fun (don't we all).

    And yet, as the film moves along, we see that they have two rather different ideas of what fun means. One is a self-centered type that Steve Coogan embodies. He seeks to have sex with anyone who will participate in the act (and who I guess he finds attractive), doesn't have too many qualms about putting illicit drugs into his system and berates his travel mate Rob for being boring. In short, his idea of fun is to do things his way and don't try to get in his way about it.

    The other character, Rob Brydon, is a loyal husband, new father, loves poetry, and loves his friend, Steve. His love is more characteristic of the Christian kind. And yet, he's funny, even hilarious at times, and energetic and I think he genuinely loves life even though he never explains where his joie-de-vivre comes from. As a Christian, I got the scent (see 2 Cor 1:14-16) that his joy came from knowing God.

    This involves an abandonment of the mundane things in life such as money and a celebration of the good things in life such as food, nature, love, friends, people, and God.

    As it relates to our day to day life, most people think of work as drudgery, but it isn't and it shouldn't be. It should be fun and fun means involving the listeners, the users of your products. It means making things understandable and fun for them! Fun is usable, helpful, easy, creative, and connects us to God. God is amazing and is all of the things that are truly fun.

  • Crackpots like Me (A Movie Review... A Book Recommendation)

    April 05,2011, 05:58 AM

    by Lowell Bliss

    Yesterday I sat down to watch a documentary that I thought was about peak oil, but it turned out strangely different than I expected. Collapse is directed by Chris Smith and features Michael Ruppert in a running monologue. (Technically, it's an interview, but the off-camera questions directed to Ruppert are few and muted.) At first I thought that Ruppert was an actor like Pete Postlethwaite, the archivist character in the climate change movie The Age of Stupid. But no, Michael Ruppert is real. He's the former L.A. policeman, former CIA thorn-in-their-sides, former investigative reporter, and former publisher of the newsletter From the Wilderness. He is a conspiracy theorist. What I thought were facts and statistics put into the mouth of a chain-smoking actor are actually the product of Ruppert's own lifelong research.

    Ruppert does not come across sympathetically in his monologue. It's hard not to recognize the same bombastic flim-flam that we've always ascribed to crackpots. I would not care to link arms with this fellow even if his was the only bomb shelter that would welcome me. So what is director Chris Smith up to? Ruppert says few things (at least about peak oil) that I haven't read elsewhere from reputable sources. Smith also verifies many of Ruppert's outlandish pronouncements with images that appear in the background of the film. The only thing I can figure out as a theme for the documentary is this: How strange must our current environmental and political reality be if we find ourselves agreeing so readily with a known crackpot?

    And of course this leads to another interpretation of the film. As a viewer, I am confronted with the question: of what am I more afraid: the future threat of peak oil, or the current threat of being labeled a crackpot? It reminds me of a scene from one of the great works of twentieth-century Christian literature, Walker Percy's novel The Second Coming. The main character Will Barrett resigns himself to being a crackpot, but he at least wants to be a sane one, not a crazy one. I'll dance around some of Barrett's offensive language by referring you to page 188-190 in the Picador USA edition, 1980, but at one point Barrett comments: "Take Christians. I am surrounded by Christians. They are generally speaking a pleasant and agreeable lot, not noticeably different from other people. . . . Yet I cannot be sure they don't have the truth. But if they have the truth, why is it the case they are repellent precisely to the degree that they embrace and advertise that truth? One might even become a Christian if there were few if any Christians around." Later he concludes: "It has taken me all these years to make the simplest discovery: that I am surrounded by two classes of maniacs. The first are the believers, who think they know the reason why we find ourselves in this ludicrous predicament yet act for all the world as if they don't. The second are the unbelievers, who don't know the reason and don't care if they don't."

    And so I guess I'll join Barrett, the sane crackpot. He threw in his lot with the asylum escapee Allie; I may have to throw in mine with Michael Ruppert. Heaven help us!

    Lowell is the director of Eden Vigil.

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