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The Real Thing (a reflection on “Lars and the Real Girl”)

A repost about one of my favorite movies, Lars & The Real Girl.

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Last night I began preparing for my summer preaching series, “Summer Blockbuster.” I’m going to take a look at movies that subversively — even to the authors and producers — tell the gospel in beautiful and compelling ways. One of those movies will certainly be “Lars and the Real Girl.”

Lars… is about a quirky young man, who suffers from a dissociative disorder and falls in love with a sex doll. Believe it or not, it is one of the most touching movies I have ever seen. The ragweed count must have been really bad in NorCal last night because toward the end of the movie my eyes were watering. In the film, Lars Lindstrom orders a sex doll (Bianca) over the internet and introduces her to his brother and sister-in-law, Gus and Karen, as his girlfriend. Bianca is a wheel-chair bound returning missionary who does not believe in pre-marital sex (which you would expect from a returning missionary), therefore, she lives in the house with Gus and Karen while Lars remains in the converted garage. Wisely, Karen suggests Biance see the local doctor, who is also a psychologist, since she just returned from the mission field. The doctor’s suggestion to Gus and Karen? Treat Bianca as if she is real. Gus and Karen follow the doctors orders, and so does everyone else in town.

awkward

Bianca attends church with Lars, gets carted around town by others, given baths, is invited to parties, everyone treats her as if she is real. Bianca even gets elected to the school board. How great it that!! There is a terrific scene in which a church council is discussing what to do about Bianca if Lars should bring her to church. One woman advocates treating her like anyone else. The woman goes around the room reminding the council of their and their family members quirks and failures. It was simply beautiful! And hilarious! It reminded me of Jesus writing in the sand in the midst of those who attempted to stone the woman caught in adultery. No one gets to exclude because God went to great lengths to include us all.

As the story moves forward, the thoughtful viewer recognizes what Bianca has become for Lars. She is a way for him to work through his terribly damaging emotional issues in a safe, non-threatening way allowing him to open himself to love, to being loved and involvement in the lives of others. But more than that, Bianca becomes a conduit of grace for the entire town. It takes a fake girl for Lars to become a real boy. Through doing so the viewer is witness to the only kind of grace there really is; the uncommon kind!

The movie simple ask, “What if we took everyone seriously? And took their needs, took the places they are mentally and physically — seriously? And what if we responded to others by immersing ourselves in what people need in order to receive healing instead of writing people off and penning others’ epitaphs prematurely?”

I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it, but I will say: Even though a central figure is a plastic doll, the movie is one of the more real things I have ever seen.

Have you seen Lars? What did you take from it?

Countdown To Zero

Last night I had the privileged and honor of viewing a soon-to-be-released documentary entitled, Countdown To Zero.  The film documents (as you might conclude from it being a “documentary”) the necessity of reducing the world’s  22,000+ nuclear weapons to the whopping sum of ZERO . Those of you who know me and read this blog know that this issue – nuclear reduction – is increasingly becoming a passion of mine.  I have previously blogged about the issue here and here. And Countdown To Zero has only increased my desire to invite you to join in this cause along with me.

On the face of things, the idea of a world without nuclear weapons seems far-fetched, naïve and even crazy. Yet truth be told, some very serious men and women are working toward it and have been for some time. These “crazy, hippie, utopian dreamers” include George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, Sam Nunn, 70% of living former Secretaries of State, Defense, and National Security Advisors. This list also includes John McCain, Jim Baker, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, President Obama, and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev. And much of it began with Ronald Reagan.  These names alone should hearten us that the issue is non-partisan, realistic, and, most importantly, doable. No one, I think, has ever considered George Schultz gullible or utopian. Yet rather than rehearsing the reasons for non-proliferation and reduction, please read my friend, Tyler’s, insightful and thorough essay here.

What I need from you, and what the world needs from you, is to keep your eye out for this movie. The film is high quality, informative, troubling and oddly inspiring. I have seen it, hope to see it again next month and will proudly take people from my family, church and community to see it in the theatre this summer. If you live in NorCal, hit me up and we’ll go together.

While you’re waiting for the release, go ahead and educate yourself. Start with Two Futures Project. Sign-up to receive e-mail and get involved. Then cruise over to Global Zero. If you really want to get nerdy, hop over to the Nuclear Security Project. Next, sign-up for twitter and follow the guys: @seanpalmer, @armscontrolnow, @nukes_of_hazard, @cirincione, @TylerWS, @globalzero, and especially @2FP.

It is my hope and plan to help engage Christians around this issue. In fact, if — and some people say it’s only a matter of time until “when” — a nuclear weapon is discharged, none of the other good works that occupy our prayers and labors will matter. Let’s work together to change the world for good.

Recount

Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, you owe it to yourself to tune in and watch HBO’s latest original movie, Recount. The story attempts to “recount” the story of the Florida Presidential recount in 2000.

Most of us remember the recount, but I think few people know about the personal agendas and massive recount failures — such as many counties never doing a recount in the first place and a the large number of people who were illegally disenfranchised at their polling locations who were never allowed to vote to begin with. I think it is safe to say that Christians in a democracy  all agree that every eligible voter should be able to vote, regardless of party.

The movie clearly, and I think openly, tells the story predominantly from the perspective of Al Gore’s surrogates. And I’m sure that an equally compelling storyline could be drawn from Bush’s camp. What scares me though is how easily the American system can potentially be misused. How what we take for granted can so easily be manipulated to the benefit of one over another. And how antiquated many of these vital systems and machinery seem to be. Recount left me asking questions — not in favor of either party — about whether or not we really do have fair and free elections in this country and how do you arbitrate something when two divergent sides have somewhat reasonable arguments over something so terribly important.

Note: After the recount a consortium of news agencies recounted all the votes. In the end, both parties claimed victory based on the numbers. You can read about it here.

The Big Easy

I’m in New Orleans this week working with Operation Nehemiah — an organization working to rebuild both the city and the people who were devastated by Hurricane Katrina nearly two years ago. Though  it’s been two years there is much still to be done here and some of the stories told are heartbreaking. Please remember the people attempting to rebuild and recover.

We went tonight to have stuffed sno-cones. They are sno-cones filled with ice-cream. Interesting. Fattening!

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Saw “The Bourne Ultimatum” last weekend (I’ve seen 5 movies this summer. A record for me, even though I wish I could get my money back for Transformers.) Bourne is a great movie. There can’t be 200 lines of dialog in the entire film. Wall-to-wall action! Gotta love it.

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Reading about 5 books right now. Sitting next to me is Mark Yaconelli’s “Contemplative Youth Ministry.”If you have or work with teens you should pick it up.

My Almighty Review

My wife and I caught the screener for Evan Almighty last night. The laughs started rolling before the opening credits due to a mildly crazy lady who stole for seats from some Jr. high girls who had gone to the concession stand. For her rudeness, my friends, Bryan, Kraig, a lady sitting near us and others gave her a hilarious earful, complete with just a hint of name-calling (I won’t tell you what I saidbut trust me, it was kind).

Anyway, there are both some positives and negative about Evan Almighty, which opens in theaters everywhere, June 22.

This sequel to Bruce Almighty is heavily aimed at Christians. In fact, there is  an attempt to use the movie to launch new ministries in churches, called Ark Almighty. In short, it is designed to help churches meet the needs of their fellow church members – which is good, but in some ways not big enough.

Here are the positives: Evan Almighty is good, family fun. If you’ve got elementary school aged kids and older, you should check it out. No foul language, no sex, nothing that you’d be embarrassed about. It’s aimed at families and Christians, no doubt trying to ca$h in on “The Passion of the Christ” phenomena. Most people will find the movie somewhat funny. There are some parts, particularly the scenes with Wanda Sykes, who is always hilarious that are very funny. At the same time, the scenes with Morgan Freeman as God are both simple and thoughtful in there theology. Freeman gets much more screen time in this pic than the previous one, which for reasons I’ll explain later is both good and bad. And finally, director Tom Shadyac brings his faith commitments to the screen in humble ways that hint the viewer toward faith without beating them over the head.

The negatives of the film mostly come by way of comparison to the first film – which is typically the case with sequels. First of all, family humor is often corny to me, and frequently you can see a joke coming half a mile away.  Second, the spiritual themes (and they were abundant) from Bruce Almighty were – for me at least – more subtle and more profound. Much of this is found in the ‘deleted scenes’ on the DVD, but in over a decade of ministry, I’ve found nothing that teaches more and better about prayer than Bruce Almighty. Third, there’s a lot of God (Morgan Freeman) in Evan, wherein he was only physically present a few choice times in Bruce. I think it would be easy to follow God is He were showing up in the flesh every five minutes, explaining everything and handing out how-to manuals (you’ll get it when you see the movie). Third, while Bruce Almighty approached God from an unbeleivers’ perspective, Evan has beleivers in mind. This isn’t necessarily bad, it just raises different questions, and as professional clergy, I already have the inside track on “believer questions” and, quite frankly, find them less interesting. Finally, it seemed like there were so many stories to tell that they couldn’t tell them all. Evan has major work to do with his wife – played gloriously by Lauren Graham (and I think Lauren Graham is great in everything – wink) – as well as work to do with his kids and himself and all these storylines are half told. I would have liked to have seen Evan discover his three sons through the building of the ark. At the same time, there is much that could have been said about creation-care that goes unsaid (but it’s hard for me to criticize that and praise Shadyac for not beating people over the head).

In the end, Evan Almighty is a good effort and you should see it. The spiritual themes abound and people of all ages will enjoy it. You will particularly like it, if like me, you are a Daily Show fan, since Evan is replete with Daily Show talent, including Jon Stewart. Don’t go expecting the edginess and frank questioning of faith that Bruce Almighty provided, but do go expecting to have a good time and food for thought and conversation with believers and near-believers.

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