Monday, December 21, 2009

Preaching at Christmas, Cophenagen, Avatar 
and Post-Modern Manger Seekers

What's the connection between Christmas, Cophenagen and Avatar?  I went to see Avatar today and here's how I see it.  A close second to the highest money making December premier of a movie, it actually has much to teach the church about post-modernity and in its new-ageish eco-friendliness points to two fundamental aspects of Christian identity that the church would do well to remember and kindle.

The movie is a feast for the eyes: impressive 3-D technological, an amazing r-E-creation of a foreign planet Pandora and enough special effect induced explosions to satisfy the most testoteronie among us.  The 3-D thing is interesting, a new technology that according to the previews will take over the upcoming movie big features, it's all about creating a film experience in which we experience the movie, feeling like we're in it, participating some way in the story, as if the movie becomes a sort of avatar to free our spirits to experience something different or life differently.

Although seemingly naive, in a post-Cophenhagen Summit world in which our own leaders can't come to some sort of agreement to save, or at least pro-actively care for our environment, the film tells the story of a new-ageish population that saves their planet by fighting tanks and choppers with bows and arrows and a Gaia-unified army of creatures in solidarity.  It sure would be great if it was true.  The themes of environmentalism, overcoming xenophobic exclusion and racism, and inter-dependence in community ring true in our world wether we say we're Green, New Age, Post-Modern or Followers of Jesus.

The two principal themes of the film: 1) community - finding one's identity by belonging to a larger group and 2) inter-dependence specifically in terms of a Green-focused life of balance; are not actually against Christian teaching, but in fact can be understood as fundamental Christian teachings and even key aspects of the meaning underneath the story of Christmas.

Jesus is born to a poor girl, nobody special, from a nothing special town, in a hovel fit, according to human standards, only for animals.  The Divine One becomes Human not in a palace, not in a castle, not in the senate, not at an university.  The Creator of Life becomes re-presents itself in human terms not as an emperor, king, queen, president, general or prime minister.  But as an everyday person, born among the poor, recognized by the shepherds, the poorest of the poor.  His identity comes not so much from what he does as who is in relationship with God, just as Christian identity isn't so much a question of personal piety, individual career choice or activism, but rather the fact that we belong to a body, a community, something bigger than us [the is the essence of the church or ekklesia: a community called out].  God becomes like us, a theologian wrote, so that we might in turn become like God.  God by becoming human [the doctrine of the incarnation] chooses interdependence, redefining omnipotence as the power to not dominate but to live together, not to monopolize but to live in mutuality, to not dictate but to invite us - and all of creation - to become participants in God's deepest desires for the universe.

That's the shockingly unfamiliar message of what's become all too familiar Christmas.  One that is good news in the shattered dreams of Cophenagen and that can be articulated to those who've worn the 3-D glasses required to experience Avatar.  Whereas in the myth of Pandora's Box opening it led to destruction and woe, daring to open the theological Pandora's Box posed by the philosophical musings of the movie Avatar can lead to dialogue and deeper understanding.

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