Avatar: On Art And Worldview

wallpaper_07_800x600I finally had the privilege of viewing James Cameron’s new file, Avatar, the other evening.

As usual, I had on my “art delivers worldview” glasses, and 3D glasses, in order to take in the whole experience as both an entertainment and educational enterprise.

I was not disappointed by the visuals nor the music. I was not appalled by the story line – overused as it is. In fact, I greatly enjoyed the film – it is right up my penchant alley for origins-meets-sci-fi-meets-teach-me-at-least-a-little” films.

On another note, for me, the worldview blends of biological deification (a leaning I can appreciate because of my own sense of growing wonder at the biological world, but see as a worldview that corrupts the human story), voodoo-meets-mother earth, and sacrificial spirituality all rumbled together throughout the film – making watching the film not simply a benign activity.

I welcomed many of the elements of the story as common 21st century responses to modernist culture, with it’s deification of all things machine (take the Lord Of The Rings, for example). The emphasis on the biological world, and the mysteries still remnant in its intricate weavings, is always a delight to me. The tenderness in approaching all things with “the breath of life” in them is precious to me in an age still poisoned by consumeristic views of all things creation.

The Planet Earth lover in me resonated with the Pandora lover in their sci-fi renderings of another worlds bio-luminescent possibilities. I revelled in these creative approaches to the lush life of the planet. The tenderness of the Na’bi toward the animals and plant life was, as always, refreshing to me.

However, worldview statements, especially through art, are never benign. They shape us. Art embodied in powerful stories (albeit an age old story in this film) will come around the back door of our thinking, change our views and perspectives, and shape us – while we are consciously unaware that the change is happening.

That’s important for us to know before we enter any theater, video store or bookstore.

As for me, the Christian Story that I embrace as the human Story is big enough, grand enough, expansive enough to talk about a movie like this with nuance. As I grow in my own faith of over 25 years, following Christ as the truly human being, and the biblical Story as the story of earth, humanity and the cosmos, is becoming more and more mysterious and magical.

Like G.K. Chesterton, I am enthralled with this magical universe, and feel the pulse of God throbbing behind its micro and macro splendors. A self-perpetuating universe requires more faith in nature, than I am willing to apportion to it. The eyes glisten for a reason – the heart loves beyond simple biological impulse.

However, I know many Christians who swing two ways – one recoiling in conservatism at blatant spiritual themes that contradict what I might suggest is a small vision of our faith, and the other who simply buys the art of popular culture like a baby chick being fed by mother Hollywood – and quietly integrates spiritualist themes into a non-discerning faith.

We must look for the beauty in both the worldview and delivery mechanism of every piece of art, but then also exercise discernment as to what ideas it is artfully introducing into the psyche of the age – and into us and our children.

We don’t arrive at places culturally overnight. The subtle changes occur as movies and art are embraced culture wide, and then shape the thinking of the common person. Hollywood speaks, Nashville speaks, LA speaks, New York speaks, London speaks, Toronto speaks, Bollywood speaks … and the world listens.

I enjoyed the film, but would be hesitant to let someone under 17 (yes, that number is not a typo on my part) see it without a clear pre and post discussion, due to the lack of strong critical thinking skills/psychological impressionability related to the worldview stories it pumps their way. For me, worldview issues are subtly invested in us with every show we watch, song to which we listen. I’m not guarded, but neither am I passive in my family’s movie watching habits.

Again, I’m an activist advocate of discussion after a child has seen a film; many parents feel as though this is uneccessary, as long as gratutious violence and blatant sexuality are not running through the film (heck, many parents I know disregard even these when their children turn 6 years old and start to become ‘movie-watching partners’). This is an abdication of parental leadership, in a quest to become our children’s ‘friend’ in a child-centered parenting generation.

We need to bring leadership to them, so that we can enjoy a rich friendship when that time comes in their late teens/twenties.

Cheers to due diligence, and the long haul effort toward great film making that went into the production. Cheers also to vibrant discernment in those who view the film – especially those who espouse a followership of Christ. We must not take the power of art lightly, nor should we recoil from it in fear.

We must run and play in wild lands where dangerous things live.

(Image used in this post is a free wallpaper courtesy of www.avatarmovie.com)


Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms

Sheltering Mercy, along with its companion volume, Endless Grace, helps us rediscover the rich treasures of the Psalms—through free-verse prayer renderings of their poems and hymns—as a guide to personal devotion and meditation.

The church has always used the Psalms as part of its prayer life, and they have inspired countless other prayers. This book contains 75 prayers drawn from Psalms 1-75, providing lyrical sketches of what authors Ryan Smith and Dan Wilt have seen, heard, and felt while sojourning in the Psalms. Each prayer is a response to the Psalms written in harmony with Scripture. These prayers help us quiet our hearts before God and welcome us into a safe place amid the storms of life.

This artful, poetic, and classic devotional book features compelling custom illustrations and foil-stamped hardcover binding, offering a fresh way to reflect on and pray the Psalms.