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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January 28, 2011

Good Muslims – Bad Conversations

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:45 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

I have a friend who fears Muslims.  If I speak of Dr. Baharami, or Dr. Ansari, if we talk about the woman who started Muncie’s AWAKEN or  Eboo Patel and the Interfaith Youth Core, she admits readily and happily that a Muslim can be a force for good.  But any moment the conversation drifts into groups, even the local Islamic Center, just as readily and with great certainty, she insists that Muslims are bad.  Even a “good” Muslim, like the doctor we know, if she thinks of him fighting the Soviets as a young man, or thinks of his wife segregated with other women in that center, she begins to speak of the underlying hatred, oppression and violence of Islam.

One of my roles, as I see it, is to help generate thoughtful and informed conversation in the midst of a sea of sound-bites and shallow reactionary “talk.” But the currents of pop culture, like the currents of the ocean, are terribly powerful.

One of the blogs I am happy to subscribe to is ‘Sightings’ from the Martin Marty Center.  On January 27, 2011, Omid Safi posted an essay on this subject, “Good Sufi, Bad Muslims.”  He speaks clearly of the American pop cultural tendency to lump Muslims into two groups, either the violent type and their supporters, or  the non-political and “spiritual” Sufi type.

“There are many versions of this game, but the basic contour stays the same: The assertion that the general masses of Muslims are evil, terrorist-supporters, anti-western, patriarchal, misogynist, undemocratic, and anti-Semitic; and that these masses are set off and defined against either the solitary, lone Muslim good woman or man. The “Good Muslim” is often an individual, or a small circle, because to admit that the larger group of Muslims could be on the right side of the human-rights divide is to have the house of cards of the Muslim demonization game collapse on itself.”

Professor Safi, goes on to invoke the Islamic ideal of prophets and of prophetic speaking truth to power, both ideals that are central to Unitarian Universalist culture and theology as well.  He ends with these words: “If our public discourse about religion and politics is to evolve to a more subtle, and accurate, space, it must get to the point where religious voices that speak from the depths and heights of all spiritual traditions can do more than simply acquiesce in the face of the Empire. They can, and should, speak for the weak, and give voice to the voiceless.”

I hope that we all become agents of good conversation about the needs of the weak, that we affirm those who nurture justice in giving voice to the socially voiceless.