May 2, 2014

Lego Movie Theology

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 10:09 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Did you notice the religious themes in The Lego Movie? There is nothing very deep, nothing one could call systematic theology. But the movie makers were consciously playing with religious ideas.

Obviously the movie begins with the now well worn messiah theme; there is a mysterious prophecy (which, the prophet says, “is true because it rhymes”) about a chosen hero who is “the most special, most talented, most extraordinary person in the universe”. I have heard UUs repeat this very American ideal that everyone is the most amazing, special and even prophecy fulfilling person in the universe. For example, think of Sophia Fahs’ words, “Every night a child is born is a holy night…”. Also, I must admit that I have heard UU sermons extolling the idea, stated by Emmet late in the movie, that a prophecy, or religious story, can be both completely made-up and completely true.

Then, as the characters are sailing on a sea of Lego bricks, “Wildstyle” says something about “The Man Upstairs”. We can assume (until the big reveal near the end) that this is a reference to the kid who plays with the Legos. But it is also an obvious insertion of God language. As a UU minister my ears perked up. I first wondered if there was some traditional Christian theology being slipped in. Then I thought about the Hindu notion of Lila where the entire universe is an expression of divine play. I wondered, where are they going with this?

The central theme of the movie is about control and creativity, the tension between “fitting in” and “being special.” At the beginning the main character, Emmet, is trying to “be part of the team” by conforming. In the end, his ability to follow directions is what makes him a unique part of a team. This theme takes on theological tones especially after Emmet “dies” and passes through a tunnel of light to a meta universe, where the greater truth of reality is revealed.

My impression of the movie as vaguely religious was reinforced when I came across an article titled Lego Movie’s Got Religion. The authors note that the name Emmet, in Hebrew, means ‘truth’. Also the name of Emmet’s guide and inspiration is Lucy, which means ‘light’ (as in Saint Lucy, or Santa Lucia).

The “truth” that Emmet uncovers is pretty humanistic, especially when the man upstairs turns out (spoiler alert)to be an actual man with a big Lego set and alienated from his son. Only vague echoes of the Christian Father and Son here. I could argue that through the reconciliation between father and son, and between Emmet and Mr. Business, that the movie sides with a theology of God as Inclusive Love, or agape.

In the end the Lego Movie is simply a bunch of animated fun and silliness, and an hour and half advertisement for plastic building toys. I liked it, and the Movie’s light religion added to my enjoyment.

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February 12, 2010

Jesus with a Gun

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 9:29 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

What images come to mind when you say “Unitarian Universalism:” A chalice with fire burning in it; people marching in defense of love and justice; a group of diverse people endlessly discussing great ideas?  My favorite is of two parents (of any gender,) one of the two with an arm around the one holding the baby, while a minister touches the baby with a flower.  The religious power of images is undeniable.  That one just makes me smile.

By images I do not mean simply visuals, but ideas that are concrete enough so that a blind person can grasp their emotional and symbolic meaning.  Of course the power of an image depends heavily on  context.  For example, to the average American Lord Ganesha is a pretty weird-looking dude with his elephant head, multiple arms, roly-poly body and giant rat for a pet.  To the average Indian Hindu the image is a happy object of devotion, a most sweet and hopeful image of God and God’s abundant grace.  For many the image will immediately evoke stories and significant beginnings, like weddings or New Year’s Day.

In the Christian tradition images of God as Jesus have varied greatly, from a serene and serious and suffering lord with an otherworldly quality, to a kind and bearded guy in white robes.  I don’t know who first gave me this idea, some peacemaker and anti-gun violence advocate, but go and put the words “Jesus” and “gun” into a web image search.  Then laugh, (in a shocked and sad way,) at what comes up.  Ah the fun we can have with photo-shop software.

My favorite is Jesus with a child, holding a gun and saying, “No, you hold it like this.”  I thought the AK-47 in the famous “Jesus Knocks” painting was too much.  It seemed enough to have Jesus tapping on the door with a pistol: creepy and threatening.  Maybe it would be cool to see Jesus, like some police chaplains I know, wearing a pistol in seeking to serve and protect,  but the images online make clear to me how corrupt and skewed are the teachings of those who celebrate  “bring a gun to church day.”  Especially, in a world where UUs and many others have been shot and killed by crazy, anguished people who brought guns to church.  I want to uphold alternatives to violence and weapon wielding.

I turn back to the image of the child and the guardians of that child celebrating life in the face of all that makes it difficult.

January 30, 2008

Prayer Meeting

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:48 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Tonight I went to a prayer meeting in a black neghborhood of Muncie, with a group of some thirty people in a small church with a painting of a white Jesus on the wall behind the pulpit.  I was first invited to these meetings back when I was leading community conversations on race and race relations.  The group meets in a different church each week rotating through about six or seven small churches, in affirmation of their spiritual Christian unity. 

 They seem to accept me and I like being accepted as Christian for a night.  The evening begins with some opening words spoken from the heart of one of the lay leaders.  There is a wonderful song leader, an old guy with a strong voice who knows all the songs by heart and lines them out for the rest of us.  I am always happy when they sing a UU song like “This little light of mine.”  The next segment of the service is random reading of scripture as chosen by members of the group, then a sermon by the host pastor or lay leader.  Tonight it was the classic God will help you and never forsake you no matter what happens. 

Then we sing again as we gather together in a large circle holding hands and the prayers begin.  As one person prays, usually the one who speaks first and with the loudest voice, all the others fill the room with a blur of sound, amens, thank-you-Jesus, etc. 

I spoke up after two or three other prayers. I had been thinking of the begining, but I did not know where it would go after that.   “Oh Most Holy one I pray for all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who are surrounded by death, surrounded by evil, who must see and do terrible things.  Keep them and protect them and hold them so that they know you are with them even in the hell of war.  I speak of the lonely, let them know you are with them even in their lonlieness. I pray for the sick, that you stregthen them and sooth them in thier suffering, I pray for the lost that you help them find a way. I thank you for this gathering and the blessing of this fellowship…”  I ended with “Amen in the name of your son, amen.”  I spoke with power, the energy of overcoming shyness, but also the power of sincerity.  Even if I am more of a Buddhist than a Christian, more of an atheist than a theist, in that place I can affirm the human desire for hope and love and wellbeing. 

Afterward the group broke into applause and a final song, one that I did not know, about “That day.”  Several thanked me for my prayer afterward, or thanked me for all my work on behalf of the city, or they expressed surprise that I had shaved my beard. 

It was a happy gathering an affirmation of connection accross great differences. I don’t think they know exactly how different my theology is from theirs, and I don’t think they really care.  They just hold to their faith and affirm that I am willing to be with them and affirm them and stand with them in the struggle for civil rights and freedom from oppression.