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The Adjustment Bureau

Last Friday we watched the new Matt Damon movie, The Adjustment Bureau, which I thought was going to be much more like Inception than it turned out to be.

Briefly, David Norris (Damon) is on track to become New York’s youngest senator, when he has a chance meeting with the woman of his dreams. As he seeks to find her again, he discovers the Adjustment Bureau, a behind the scenes organization of non-human operatives who keep track of everyone — making sure they all proceed in accordance with their “Chairman’s” plan.  Unfortunately for Norris, the Chairman’s plan doesn’t include him and the mystery woman ever getting together and the story is about how he fights that plan in going after her, essentially attempting to write his own destiny. Ultimately this is the “message” the film leaves us with: that we must fight for what we want to do, to achieve our own destiny in order to really be free.

At least… I think that’s what the message was.

At first it seems that this is a movie about destiny, about God’s plan for our lives, about how unseen agents are moving and shaping us along the tracks we’re supposed to follow. The AB guys have a book which they consult to keep them on track with respect to the actions their charges take — whether such actions are part of the plan or not. And there is that Chairman up there (at the top of a New York skyscraper apparently), who has many names, one of which is “God”.  There are special doors that lead into another world and back to ours, and the caseworkers have special powers that enable them to manipulate the environment of their charges, all of which could be taken for angelic ministers, shepherding us on our way.

Except of course… Jesus doesn’t figure into any of this. His name is only mentioned in the usual way it’s mentioned in Hollywood movies…as an expletive. And the Plan changes each time someone does something outside it, so that the agents are constantly playing catch up, trying to “clean up this mess,” and get things back on the track they’re supposed to be on. Not exactly the way God does things.

So, on the one hand, it’s cool that the film is going to cause some people to think about God and His plan, about free will, about their decisions, etc… But on the other, it’s annoying that they make God and his agents so inept. And weird because it when you get down to it, the movie’s set up and even resolution really implies we have no free will at all — only what the agents allow us to have. Like unwitting cattle we are moved about as they desire, oblivious to their manipulation. The exceptions are a few, stubborn, passionate individuals  (like Norris) who manage to break out of the track that has been laid for them and follow their own plan…

Ick.

We’ve spent the last month studying the Divine Decrees in Bible Class. Thinking about God’s awesome power. Reflecting on how He knew simultaneously all the plans there ever could be and all their courses, successions, outworkings in every detail. Every detail. He knows every decision every one of us has ever made and ever will, and every decision we would have made, had circumstances been different. And out of all of those options, He chose the best, the one that will provide our highest blessing and His glory. It buries the Keystone Cops stuff that’s put forth in The Adjustment Bureau.

Moreover, as I said, the real plan all hinges on Jesus: “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is He?”

God has shut all of us up in sin so He can have mercy on us all. And His mercy is the fact that He sent His son to die for the sins of every one of us, believers and unbelievers alike. All we have to do is choose to believe. Or to reject. In the end those who have rejected Christ, the only sin He couldn’t die for, will stand before the Great White Throne and give an account for why they rejected the work of Christ, and provide whatever they think they have to offer God that could possibly compare with what He’s done.

Of course none of that was in the movie.

Because really, the movie wasn’t about God, in my view.  Early on my take in watching it was that the Adjustment Bureau couldn’t be God’s organization — there was no grace, for one. No, I think it’s a great illustration of Satan’s organization.  The Adjustment Bureau is the kingdom of darkness, the rulers and principalities mentioned in Ephesians. The agents going about trying to make sure people don’t find out what God’s plan for their life is, and seeking to impose the plan their Chairman has written. Yes, they are presented in some cases as appealing, nice, trying to be helpful, etc,  even as they have no idea what they’re doing. One is guilt ridden for some of the things he’s had to do to Norris’s parents. And many of them even wonder if what they are doing is right.

But the strength of a counterfeit lies in its closeness of form to the thing it is counterfeiting. And Satan’s many systems always incorporate ministers of light, and deception and confusion.

I cannot imagine any of God’s elect angels  wondering if what they are doing is right. Or feeling guilty. Or going against His directive will. Or any of that.  The agents in the film spend much of the time blundering around. They threaten and intimidate and lie…

But God is not the author of confusion. God is not taken by surprise. He’s not up there going, “Oh no, Norris got off track! I didn’t foresee that! He must not kiss that woman or disaster will ensue! You guys get down there and clean that up!” He’s not up there going, “Oh, gee, I had a plan for you, David Norris, but I see now that your plan is far better than what I came up with and since you are sooo insistent… I’m going to give you what you want.

Paul was insistent. He was going to Jerusalem to see his people and never mind that God told him not to go three times in a row. He was going. So he went. And ended up imprisoned in Rome for years as discipline because of it. Granted, God used that to allow him to witness to the Praetorium Guardsmen he was chained to, and to write half the New Testament, but that only shows how God can take our messes and make blessing out of them, not that we have any business writing our own destinies.

Lost Finale Thoughts

Well, as I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, we watched the finale of LOST last night and, believe it or not, I wasn’t disappointed. It ended much better than I expected it to. And although my initial thought as the final credits rolled was that I could have done without the last fifteen minutes or so, I’ve decided that those were okay, too, because, as with all of LOST they prompted thought about topics I care deeply about and find fascinating, ie, issues of spirituality, the afterlife, and the underpinning of reality, which always gets back to God, who IS reality. Which is why I’ve watched the program all along. Plus I just liked the characters.

I never expected they would “get it right,” or really even come close to presenting spiritual realities as they are. And they didn’t. But while I was annoyed by that stained glass window in the background of the final scene with Jack and his dad, the one with the six symbols of the world’s major religions arrayed in it, I wasn’t surprised by it. It was, in fact, appropriate for the dumb Tower of Babel ideas they were promoting.

Immediately afterward I read viewer reactions, some of whom found it fabulous, some of whom found it dreadful, and some of whom found it emotionally satisfying but intellectually a let-down. I would most agree with the latter, in that there were so many questions that I thought were important to the story that were left unanswered, or answered in ways that made no sense. But hey, why would I expect any more? The answers their questions demanded reside in the things of God.

And the naturally-minded man cannot understand the things of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them for they are spiritually discerned. LOST ‘s writers and producers and actors attempted to portray things of God from a naturally-minded viewpoint which pretty much has to end up being nonsensical. In other words, for me the problem was that the writers were overwhelmed by their material and tried to describe and explain eternal, infinite, heavenly things in earthly terms. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and our thoughts are not His.

Think about that for a moment. His thoughts are not our thoughts.

All the ways that seem right to a naturally minded man (which can include Christians who aren’t operating in the power of the Spirit and haven’t had their minds renewed by the continal inculcation of His word) are not God’s ways. God’s plan is about Him, not about us. He created us for His glory, not ours. Everything good in the world is from Him. He IS love. He IS truth. He IS faithfulness. Life. Light. Warmth. Justice. In God’s economy you give to receive and die to live.

LOST’s writers played with elements of destiny, purpose, time, dimension, eternity, alternate universes, justice, redemption… but without God in the picture, they had no hope of even getting close to answering the questions they raised. In fact, as I contemplate the ending I have the sense that they tossed various concepts into the story to be intriguing and thought provoking and importantly metaphysical, but had no idea what they were working with. And why should they? They had only their human viewpoint and human viewpoint can’t comprehend the things of God. Sort of like a prairie chicken trying to understand and portray the life of an eagle. Absolutely clueless.

And yet… God has placed the desire for eternal things in the heart of every man, and that’s what came out in LOST. The show dealt with eternal things, if only sketchily. Thus I could watch it from the viewpoint of what I know those things said about God, knowing there IS a purpose for every person’s life on this earth and that it’s important to know that and seek it. Because if you truly seek that, you will end up finding God. If there is a purpose for our lives, it must lie with the one who made us, because the concept of purpose and destiny demand the existence of a mind to come up with them. Purpose is meaningless apart from mentality and will… So in the end, when the story implied there could be purpose without a directing creator, it fell into nonsense.

The first purpose for any man is that he believe in Christ. After that, it’s to be conformed to His image, and thus bring glory to God. Not by anything we do from ourselves, but from what He makes of us and how guides us and what He enables us to do.

Of course, this was not how LOST’s writers chose to deal with purpose and destiny, but the intriguing part for me was how, because of that failure, they could not come up with anything that made any sense. It was fluffy and glowy and happily ever after, but completely illogical, even almost random.

“Huh?” was the main thought I was left with after those final 10 minutes. “Huh?” and “But what about… [fill in about fifty blanks here]? The main one being, what about the Island? Why was it there? Who put it there? What was the glow? Why did that need to be guarded? Why were those particular people brought there? Why not everyone? I must say, that once Jacob was revealed to be a doofus like the rest of us, and not an analogy for God, the sense it in all started to unravel…

So while emotionally it ended well (I found a lot of the “remembering” scenes very moving), the whole purpose of the story, which I think was centered in the Island, got shuttled aside.

Unless I just didn’t see it, which is entirely possible.

I also didn’t think it was just a dream, as Lelia commented yesterday. What I think is below…

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SPOILER…

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I think the Island was real, and that the world of the side-flashes was a form of purgatory, or maybe reincarnation, where people lived full second lives that were somewhat happier than their original lives, though not entirely for they still had to work through their issues to contentment and growth. Part of that was remembering who mattered from the life before — mostly in the form of right man/right woman relationships, but also friendships — and in so doing they reformed their Island community and together traveled on into eternity. (This part I thought was a cool echo of the way a local body of believers, who have served and fought side by side in this life will indeed have a special relationship in eternity).

As for eternity itself, that seemed something like the Elysian Fields… a place of eternal happiness based on human relationships and perfect environment. But no God.

Thus the ultimate message I saw is that man can fix himself. That, instead of going from perfection to chaos to salvation courtesy of a divine savior, as the Bible teaches, we go from chaos to perfection courtesy of our own efforts for self and others, combined with our sufferings…

For those of you who are LOST fans… is that how you saw it? Or do you go with the ” it was all a dream” or “they’re all dead” interpretation? Or something else entirely?

Kevin in the Parking Lot

Anyone out there watch 24? My husband and I have been fans since the first season and pretty much haven’t missed an episode. This season is the first time I’ve gotten a really cool visual image for a spiritual reality, however: Kevin, the creepy boyfriend? partner in crime? stalker? from computer analyst Dana Walsh’s past.

If you aren’t a 24 watcher, here are the salient details. Dana Walsh is a computer analyst with CTU about to marry one of the star security operatives (Freddie Prinze, Jr). As he is sent out to deal with the crisis of the hour, she gets a call from this creepy dude, Kevin, demanding she come out and meet him. Little by little details are revealed. Seems Dana Walsh is not her real name, but her new one. That in her past she was involved with this Kevin loser in some sort of crime. Both went to jail. She got out early for good behavior and because she was a juvenile. She changed her name, her identity, left her past behind and now has a new, respectable, successful life.

Perhaps, given some of what I’ve written about lately, you see where this is going…

Kevin threatens to reveal all unless she does what he says. It will surely destroy her new life. At first she hangs up on him. But he keeps calling, and finally reveals he is out in the CTU parking lot and wants her to meet him there. She resists, he presses, and eventually out the door she goes to the parking lot to meet with Kevin. Next he convinces her to let him stay in her apartment, for the night, promising to leave the next day. Instead he calls her later and demands she come over… and on it goes.

Kevin is the perfect metaphor for the old man. He calls you up. “Hey, come and meet me in the parking lot.” He cajoles, he presses, he threatens, he won’t quit… You know it’s stupid, you know you can’t trust him, you know that this is only going to bring disaster, but … like Dana, you do it anyway.

My husband thought she was an idiot to have anything to do with the guy. I was wildly uncomfortable with it, too, but I have been made very aware of the power of fear and the resultant irrationality it produces and our capacity to deceive ourselves. Kevin is played by an actor who looks somewhat like Leonardo DiCaprio, and just looks very evil. I can’t stand him. I can’t stand that she’s doing what he wants, thinking he’s really going to go away. Finally he persuades her to help him get past security into a police storage unit where some impounded drug money — cash — has been stowed. He can take it and no one will ever know because it’s a cold case.

We all know that’s not going to be enough, but she believes him when he says it’s only this once.

So much like our old man. It cajoles, it threatens, it manipulates, it promises. We give into it, even when we know better. For me, the battles are almost all thoughts. I am astonished at how often I have to fight against it, and lately, with the teaching we’ve been having, I’ve become even more aware of all the ways it tries to slip in and take control. I’ve started thinking of Kevin, when it does. “He’s calling you from the parking lot,” I tell myself, “and you’re answering the phone. You’re going out to meet with him. Where do you think this is going to end?” Nowhere good.

It’s perfect. The visual image and the emotional revulsion I feel for what Dana lets him do, has lately been strong enough to break me out of the pattern. And after last week, when the whole carefully orchestrated plot was turned into a total mess far beyond what I even dreamed might happen, the metaphor got even better.

Avatar

Our son was here over the holidays and he and his fiancee went to see Avatar, the new 3D Sf flick that is all the rage these days. Already it’s grossed over a billion dollars worldwide and is expected to exceed the amount its director made with Titannic, which is so far the highest grossing film ever.

I read a few initial reviews, saw the trailer and decided I probably wouldn’t see it because I didn’t expect to like it. As I emailed to a friend, “Since the story’s supposed to be like Disney’s Pochahontas and I didn’t like what I read of their rendition — evil white European Christian males attempt to invade, despoil and exploit the good, pure, nice native cultures but the lovely female native saves the day — I don’t expect to like (Avatar).” Not only that but it really looked like it was very anti-military, anti-business, pro-environmentalist and typical Hollywood.

My son and I discussed it before he saw the film and afterward he said my assessment was correct in that those elements were definitely part of the story. He enjoyed it, primarily because of the world, which was apparently very well done, not only in the quality of the technology but in the wondrous way it was presented. It was just fun to be in, he said. Because it was so different from anything we have here — which has long been a staple of science fiction and fantasy, ie., the attempt to create worlds of wonder that will fascinate and live on in reader’s minds. Lord of the Rings was exactly that.  I guess Avatar’s Pandora is too…

In fact, so compelling is it that, according to an article on Drudge thousands of fans are depressed and suffering from withdrawal from Pandora after seeing it.  Some of them talk of suicide. The real earth is just so dull and dreary. We have destroyed it! Ruined it! They are banding together on forums to console each other and try to find their way back to purpose in life.  (And the  accompanying picture of all those blue-tinted, glasses-wearing, enrapt audience members is really kinda creepy)

Another article reports on the opinions of a Chicago alderman who is also a war veteran. He charges the movie with making “marines look like lunatics,”  and is not pleased.

My favorite, though, was the review from The Weekly Standard’s movie critic John Podhoretz, who said the film was “blitheringly stupid” and “among the dumbest movies” he’d ever seen.

Avatar is an undigested mass of clichés nearly three hours in length taken directly from the revisionist westerns of the 1960s-the ones in which the Indians became the good guys and the Americans the bad guys. Only here the West is a planet called Pandora, the time is the 22nd century rather than the 19th, and the Indians have blue skin and tails, and are 10 feet tall.

…the natives are wonderful in every possible way. They are so green it’s too bad their skin has to be blue. They’re hunters and they kill animals, but after they do so, they cry and say it’s sad. Which only demonstrates their superiority..”

It’s a very funny review,  one that pretty much confirms everything I’d concluded about  the movie. In fact, I was struck by Podhoretz’s reference above to the revisionist westerns because I’d already thought that it seemed kind of like a sci fi version of Dances With Wolves

According to him Avatar unquestionably promotes a green/environ-theistic religion  while eventually asking its audience to root for the destruction of American soldiers at the hands of a native insurgency… even so, he doesn’t think it’s a big political statement, just the result of such values being so entrenched in Hollywood that writers think nothing of putting them forward in their quest to please as many people as they can. The question Podhoretz raises is, would the movie be anywhere near as interesting without the snazzy special effects? My question as well.


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