Everyone loves a good inspirational movie. You know the kind... the ones that make you forget, even just for a little while about a bad situation or gives you hope that all is not lost in life or humanity.
In 1993, I lost my brother to an illness. Up until that point, I'd always had a hardcore belief in God and the Bible, but the years following his death left me with a lot of questions and a lot of anger, which had me raging more than I'd like to admit at our Supreme Creator.
In 1998 on my birthday, the movie What Dreams May Come was released. Five years into my grief and anger at a God who would take a happy, oh-so-health-conscious, good hearted man away from a world that desperately needed more people like him, the last thing I wanted to do was watch a movie about the human experience of death, grief and the afterlife. At that point, I already considered myself way too much of an expert on those things and not in a helpful or constructive way.
A friend at the time who went to see it, stated during the entire length of the film, she couldn't get me out of her head and she felt that it was something I really needed to watch. So, I went even though I didn't think anything could make much of a difference in my life at that point.
I'm not a soft-hearted, sentimental, cry-at-movies type of person (though moving headlong into menapause has actually made me more weepy now than I've ever been) but throughout the entire 1 hour and 56 minutes, I found myself in tears because I understood what Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra's characters felt so intimately it was like watching two different versions of myself on the screen. Watching them go through the stages of grief, the surrender, the anger, the feeling everything is lost and you're profoundly alone in that sorrow, even though there are others right there in the same house who are going through the same emotions you are, the feeling of being unable to go on and the guilt you feel when you do have to start moving on.... But also, the rage when you look around at the outside world and hate them for being able to function when you can't.
As I watched, the message of the movie began to make itself known... Love overcomes everything, even death and love is the one thing we can take with us when we cross over. It also shows us that love transforms the human spirit in ways that nothing else can and how sometimes even when we think something is lost, it's actually right in front of us, we just have to believe enough to see it and to touch it.
I left the movie theater that night an emotional wreck. I cried more in the following days than I had in the five years since my brother had died and I understood because I could never fully let myself grieve his loss before, I now finally had to. I attribute that movie in part to the huge spiritual healing that took place within myself later on and eventually led me to the path and the life I have today. A life that understands the importance of love, compassion, giving and acceptance. A life that understands its fluidity and complexity as well as appreciates its cycles- even the painful ones.
I tell you that to tell you this:
I watched the previews of The Shack before even knowing it was a critically acclaimed book and my first thought was how I hoped it would be as beautiful a representation of love and finding the will to go on for others as What Dreams May Come was for me. It also appeared to be well-done with graphics and story-line.
A little while ago, one of my very best friends and closest companions sent me a blog from Christian book critic Tim Challies about The Shack after we'd both expressed a desire to see the movie. The title of said blog post was "Why I Won't Be Seeing (or Reviewing) The Shack". (http://www.challies.com/articles/why-i-wont-be-seeing-or-reviewing-the-shack)
I read it with an open mind though it was clear that the author didn't write it with one. In fact, the blog was so steeped in the fear-based teaching and narrow-minded views that I've come to abhor and loathe that it actually made my stomach turn.
Look, I get it.... people want to cling to outdated ideas and thoughts on all kind of things including religion. I'm no different. I resisted getting a brand new vehicle even when I knew my truck had been fixed to the point it couldn't be fixed any longer. My old truck suited me. It had carried me half way across the country and back unfailingly and almost seemed to be an extension of my "self". It didn't run well when others drove it, but seemed to run fine when I did, but maybe I was deluding myself or in denial that it had issues or that it was so old and it was time to move on. Who knows but the point is, I clung to it because it was comforting to me and seemed so safe when I drove it.
I get that the Bible has been a corner stone of faith and a security blanket for most of society as a whole for centuries. Governments were built and ruined upon it, houses were united or divided because of it, wars have been raged as well as ended over it. Really, I get it. I get the historical and social impact those pages have had on humanity but it never fails to frighten me to the core when an overzealous religious follower starts spouting fear-based rhetoric while most likely living their own hypocritical existence.
Tim says he won't review or watch the movie because the second commandment forbids any representation of God in any form. And to watch the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit represented on film was sinful. He states, "I am far more sure that watching and reviewing The Shack would be an unwise and even sinful spiritual decision." He goes on to list multiple, biblical inspired reasons why it's bad and even at one point seems to rant a little bit at the indignity of the book and the film. The only thing he didn't list and I was honestly surprised- was his objection that God was portrayed by a woman (Octavia Spencer).
To him, I say: That's cool, Tim. You're certainly entitled to your opinion and since I strongly believe in freedom of religion as well as freedom of speech, I can even get behind the rationalization of why you wouldn't want to subject yourself to something you believe is a contradiction of your beliefs. I'll even go as far to say if your right to belief and practice were challenged, I'd defend it. Because it's yours and you have a right to it. But you don't really have a right to forcefully try to sway others to the same side.
All of my life I've been drawn to, fascinated and studied various aspects of religion. In my early years, I'd have told you I was Christian. Today, because of my studies (not necessarily my practices) I identify as Pagan, which means a person who believes and worships anything outside the realm of accepted main world religious beliefs and practice.
I've dissected, picked apart, turned around and upended religious texts, most known and some so obscure you have to scour and scrounge for the information. As a result, my beliefs have changed widely since those days when I identified as a Christian. That said, I do wholly believe in a Supreme Deity or Creator (as I call it) and I enjoy exploring thoughts and opinions on what Something or Someone of that magnitude means not only to myself, but to others as well. What I don't enjoy is forced indoctrination, again on myself or others, especially when it appears to be done with little to no outside study to support claims or any regard to the fact that media in all forms is a way of life in this day and age. It'd be nearly impossible to watch, listen to or research (you're not supposed to question, right?) anything if you're going to go down the list of things the Bible forbids and adhere to that code in the day to day.
This applies to all manner of things:
1. Do you make your woman live outside of your presence during her menstrual cycle?
2. Do you like pig?
3. Are you willing to sell your daughter into marriage to her rapist?
4. If your neighbor buys a big, beautiful 72 inch flat-screen, do you covet it?
5. Since men aren't supposed to ejaculate outside of a woman's body or waste their seed in any way, ever... (See where I'm going here?)
6. Do you like lobster, crab and shrimp?
7. Do you really want to marry or bring into your house, your brother's wife if he dies? Would your wife be OK with that?
I've said it before and I'll say it again... Practice. What. You. Preach. The shirt in your profile picture is obviously a denim and lycra blend.
I hope once you realize you're wearing blended clothing, you burn that shirt in shame for going against Leviticus, because that'd be about as in keeping with telling people not to watch a movie because it gives a sinful human representation of Divinity, benign and loving though that representation may be.
The fact of the matter is that a large part of the Old Testament, specifically Genesis and Exodus, outside of the Do's and Don'ts and commandments (which were actually taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead), was borrowed from the Sumerian Creation Texts (SCT) which predate the Bible by 2500 years and is the oldest known written account. (Remember, the Sumerians were the first humans to use a written language.) The Enuma Elish, aka The Epic of Creation explains that while there was one supreme deity, there were also hundreds of other lesser gods as well. This might explain why in Genesis it says "man was created in OUR image" rather than "in MY (a singular God) image".
The creation texts also go on to say that in order for man to be created, one god had to be sacrificed and his blood was mixed with the clay of the earth to become the first human whom today, we refer to as "Adam", though in the SCT, the first man was named Adapa (See Mesopotamia Story of the Fall of Man). There are parallels drawn between Adapa and Adam, though clearly Genesis took some liberties in the story as all retellings often do. So, to put that part in perspective... if we were created in ONE god's image and that god had to die to create us then wouldn't we technically be worshipping a dead god?
To go even further, Sumerian Liturgies (compiled by Stephen Langdon) as well as the SCT, speak that the supreme god of what later became our Old Testament and the god of the New Testament are actually two different beings as there was a war in Heaven over the dominance of humanity and who had the right of ownership so to speak of mankind.
If you believe these ancient texts and I'm not entirely sure that I do in totality, it'd make sense of the changes between part one (Old Testament) and part two (New Testament) in "God's" personality... you know, going from a wrathful, vengeful and admittedly jealous god, to a benevolent, loving and more temperate version.
Then again if God is omni-potent as well as omni-present as Tim points out in his blog, I guess God can also have a change of mind or attitude as well as maintain his right as Tim also said, "to remain invisible".
Although, myself personally, don't see God as invisible. I think God is represented in every thing and everyone around us that breathes with the flow of life. We humans, in my opinion are a direct manifestation of God; so are the flowers, the trees, the neighbor's cats and so on. It's my job as a worshipper of that entity to appreciate and respect all aspects of IT in all ITs various forms. I think (and I don't know for sure) that God would hate the idea of never being seen or appreciated for all the beauty that Being has been capable of creating. Everything around us is God-like if we open our eyes wide enough to see the divinity within it.
It may seem as if I'm being disrespectful, but honestly, that's not my intention. My intention is to point out that Tim's belief in the second commandment as reason enough not to see this movie might be just a tad hypocritical as well as full of conjecture.
God is represented in Exodus when he appeared to Moses as a burning bush and then represented in the latest movie based on that book of the Bible as both a burning bush and a young boy. Did Tim boycott that as well? I mean, I'm NOT a Christian Bale fan, but even I watched Exodus: God and Kings because again, I genuinely do love religion and have no bias against any particular one. A good story is a good story (insert shrugging shoulders here). I also watched the original Ten Commandments with Charleston Heston for exactly same the reason, years ago. Well, that and I AM a fan of Heston.
And even though I don't practice Christianity, movies like the Passion of the Christ and Jesus of Nazareth are beautifully told, heart-wrenching stories that appeal to my humanity as well as my compassionate side when it comes to the torture Jesus sustained at the hands of narrow-minded, ignorant masses. I don't have to be Christian or identify as one to want to throw myself over his body and take the whipping for him. I don't celebrate Easter, but I do watch those movies when they come on to a point it's more traditional for me than an Easter Bunny. In this day and age where visual media is legitimately a huge part of our lives, the best way to pull someone closer to an idea or concept of God, would be to have a human representation of that entity. Let's face it, very few people have the time or the inclination to sit down and read the Bible from cover to cover, let alone absorb the meanings or the content of its passages, but they will sit down for two hours and watch a movie.
I'd never dream of telling my fellow Pagans or anyone else for that matter, not to watch those movies because I believe that aside from some historical significance, the Bible is one big book of plagiarism. Whether it is, or it isn't, that's not really my place to say. I might say, "I won't watch the movie because..." but I wouldn't say, "YOU shouldn't watch it because...."
Furthermore, based on Tim's statement that any representation in human form of the Holy Trinity is sinful, that means that churches should remove stained glass windows depicting the Son and my grandma was wrong for having that beautiful picture of Jesus on her wall. And since people use the crucifix or cross as symbols of their faith, having those on your person, praying on it or to it as you call out to God or whomever, would also classify as sinful... Right? Correct me if I'm wrong or taking Tim's blog out of context. Seriously, feel free.
It's not that I take exception with the idea that Tim or anyone else might actually believe this, it's more to the point that I take exception with the idea that Tim attempts to make the reader feel ashamed for their interest in a movie based on his opinions and the second commandment. Tim appears to want others to feed into the fear of sin and damnation over a movie... Come on, man... really? Unfortunately, there are people out there who are too lazy to do their own homework and will allow themselves to be spoon-fed someone else's interpretation and take it as gospel. Literally. I guess Tim might also have an issue with words like Free Will... or Free Thinking...
Maybe this movie holds a message that some grieving parent needs to hear in order to find their peace through the anger and pain of loss? Perhaps seeing those Divine representations portrayed as compassionate humans will lead the viewer back to a sense of faith they might have lost and desperately need to regain in order to move forward with their lives? Why would anyone want to discourage another from viewing our Supreme Creator in a loving and understanding light? Perhaps that's the most perplexing thing of all for me. I really just don't understand where Tim was coming from and what Tim was really trying to get at, because I'm fairly certain he (like everyone else) falls short of following every codicil and commandment in the Bible as well.
There are so many other things out in the world today we can legitimately view as sinful rather than put that mantle on the shoulders of a movie. War, disease, homelessness, famine, child pornography, sex trafficking to name a few. Just sayin'. Tim's a good writer. He seems to be articulate, I just wish he'd use his powers for the positive rather than spreading fire and brimstone over a fictitious storyline.
And I'm sorry, but that blog post puts me in mind of those men who have sex with their wives through a sheet and then berates the woman for making him fornicate because her devil vagina wove a spell of lust around him.
I don't claim to know God, but I do believe in my heart of hearts that He/She/It wouldn't mind a representation of Self being displayed if it meant that a person who had lost their way previously, finds grace and hope in said image. I don't think the Creator really cares how we come into the light of Christ Consciousness as long as we eventually get there.