The Allure of Avatar

Mixed Media
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“You’ve got to see Avatar,” wrote my friend. A doctoral student in philosophical studies who breathes skepticism, my friend is not known for gushing, particularly at Hollywood productions.

Yet Avatar had rushed his jets because, he said, it told the truth. Not the accurate truth about historical events, or the warm truth about relationships, or the scientific truth about exploration and discovery, but the truth about meaning, about existence, about life, and about God.

The movie industry sells a lot of the fluff and mediocrity that audiences crave because we want quick-fix emotional escapes. But in Hollywood’s squalid mix there are “utopias.” Thomas More coined that term for his 1516 social critique, combining the Greek words for “no” and “place” to speak of a Neverland that we desperately want but cannot find.

Avatar brings a lump to our throats because what springs to life in 3-D splendor is a utopia that meets five of our hearts’ longings:

It criticizes our current world’s crass materialism.

  • It inspires in us the contours of a world where truer, purer values guide us.
  • It cleanses us by setting in stark contrast the baser drives we too often express and the higher moral values that can shape us.
  • It calls to us with the voice of kind wisdom that resonates with our deepest feelings, beckoning us home.
  • It portrays characters who make the journey ahead of us, giving us hope that we can follow them.

Although More’s Utopia doesn’t grab me quite the way it did others in his age, I understand why they were thrilled. I have my own list of utopias that come out when people ask about “best books” and “favorite movies.” While I can’t always explain my choices, this I know: something of the coming kingdom of God whistles through them, yanking me into eternity, even for a brief moment. It is indeed like poet and cancer victim Donna Hoffman wrote in her waning months: “My feet stumble, but ah, how my heart can soar!”

More Films on Disability

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio (Paramount)

Simon Birch with Ian Michael Smith and Joseph Mazzello (Walt Disney) The Squid and the Whale with Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney (Sony) The Elephant Man with John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins (Paramount) Music Within with Rebecca De Mornay and Hector Elizondo (MGM) Praying with Lior with Lior and Mordecai Liebling (First Run Features) A Place For All (Documentary from Diva Communications) Benny and Joon with Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson (MGM) Bill with Mickey Rooney (Bci/Eclipse) The Boys Next Door with Tony Goldwyn (Atrisan/Hallmark) Promise with James Garner, James Woods and Piper Laurie (Hallmark Hall of Fame) Door to Door with William Macy and Kyra Sedgwick (Turner Home Entertainment) Shine with Geoffrey Rush and Armin Mueller-Stahl (New Line)Front of the Class with Jimmy Wolk, Treat Williams and Patricia Heaton (Hallmark Hall of Fame)Canvas with Joe Pantoliano and Marcia Gay Harden (Screen Media)

Biblical Literacy

by Timothy Beal
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Timothy Beal, professor of religion at Case Western Reserve University, argues that “biblical literacy is a prerequisite for cultural literacy.” While acquainting readers with “the essential Bible stories everyone needs to know,” he addresses both believers and unbelievers. He shows how anti-war songs, black spirituals, pop music, political speeches and documents, art, relief organizations, common phrases, and metaphors all borrow from the Bible. Throughout the book, he asks tough and sometimes controversial questions to encourage readers to wrestle with the text. (HarperCollins)

The Curious Garden

by Peter Brownreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Can a garden have a mind of its own, growing where it chooses and transforming all that it touches? When young Liam discovers dying plants on an unused train track, he decides to nurture them. He soon realizes that he’s stumbled upon a curious, restless garden that moves relentlessly through his drab city, metamorphosing both its dreary atmosphere and its inhabitants. Brown’s picture book allows children and adults alike to experience the joy of gardening in God’s world. (Little, Brown)

Kiva.org

reviewed by Ray Wiersma

Looking for a unique way to impact someone’s life? A micro-lending website called Kiva (www.kiva.org) empowers people around the world “to earn their way out of poverty.” For as little as $25, you can provide a low-income entrepreneur with funds to purchase start-up materials for his or her business. Kiva organizes both the transaction and a repayment plan for the borrower. Track the progress of your loan online and choose to either cash out at the end of the repayment period or re-loan your money to a new entrepreneur. (For a similar ministry, see partnersworldwide.org.)

The Lost World of Genesis One

by John H. Waltonreviewed by Kenneth J. Van Dellen

Walton expands on his very readable NIV Application Commentary on Genesis, suggesting that we have to keep in mind both the culture and the language of the biblical text. Walton explores the meaning and use of the Hebrew word bara (“create”) as well as the Egyptian and Mesopotamian cosmologies and their ideas of a “firmament.” He builds the case that in the days of Genesis, God assigned function to an existing creation: his temple. This understanding, Walton notes, eliminates all of the arguing over origins. (InterVarsity)

Invictus

reviewed by Ron DeBoer

It’s fitting that the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison is marked by the release of Invictus. Starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, Invictus tells how Mandela, newly-elected president of South Africa, used the national rugby team’s bid for the World Cup to unite the country. “Forgiveness liberates the soul,” Mandela says. “It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.” Invictus, named after the title of a famous 19th-century poem by William Ernest Henley, is a film about forgiveness, servant leadership, and the special relationship between two unlikely heroes. (Warner Bros.)

The Lowdown

Rescue Me: If you’ve ever wished you had the perfect words for a sympathy card or a note of encouragement, Words to the Rescue by Steve Fadie is for you. (Orange Sky Press)

To Market: Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook is perfect for the cook who isn’t quite ready for the slow food movement but wants to use more seasonal items from the farmer’s market in combination with convenience foods from the grocery store. (Oxmoor House)

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