I’m Bob Blaskey. I’ve always loved stories, in whatever form: movies, books, plays, and even songs.
My great friend and mentor, Fr. Francis White, once said “Face it, Bob, you’re hooked on God.” He was right. I’ve been able to combine my two loves – of God and stories – in my own writing, as well as in my teaching through the spiritual messages found in other media.
We all know the parables of Jesus, but what are “the parables of today”?
They are scenes from a movie which help us understand God or our faith better (they can also be from a TV show, song, or book – anything which tells a story).
The spiritual message may or may not be intentional, but if the teaching moment is there, why not use it?
PARABLES OF TODAY AS TEACHING TOOLS
Movies can be used to help your audience adopt Christian viewpoints; with a new point of view to consider, they will gain a whole new perspective.
You may not approve of a particular movie as a whole, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use what’s good in it to teach about God. After all, Samaritans were reprehensible to Jesus's audiences, but that didn't stop him from using them to make his point.
When you talk about a popular movie in the middle of a conversation, lesson, or sermon, you can’t help but pique your listeners’s interest. Jesus understood this principle and used parables: an interesting story makes more of an impact than a lecture. You can show a clip from the movie or simply refer to it. If your audience is familiar with the movie, a simple mention of it will help them make the connection.
Once you start looking at movies from a Christian perspective -- using 3:16 vision -- you will find these parables of today just about everywhere.
A TRIO OF EXAMPLES
Here are some examples from movies I’m sure we’ve all seen at least once. My college writing professor used to say “It takes three trees to make a row.” Three is even more important to us Christians, so here are three examples, beginning – like the Bible – at what was the beginning for me.
Star Wars (the original, known to some younger viewers as Episode 4, A New Hope)
This was the first scene which struck me with the power of film to convey a Christian message.
On the Death Star, Obi-Wan confronts his former friend and protege, Darth Vader. Vader is confident, saying he was once the student but now he’s the master. Obi-Wan's answer is that if Darth Vader were to strike him down, Obi- Wan will return even stronger. This echoes what Jesus said about a grain of wheat needing to fall to the ground and die before it will bear much fruit (John 12:23-24).
The battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader continues until Obi-Wan is sure Luke is watching him. Then, with an enigmatic -- even beatific -- smile, Obi-Wan raises his lightsaber and allows Vader to kill him. If anyone has trouble identifying with the sacrificial death of Jesus, you can supplement your discussion by showing them this scene.
(This is part of a complete workshop, The Gospel in “Star Wars”)
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
At the end of ET, Elliott and the alien have the biggest farewell scene since Dorothy left Oz. ET encourages Elliott to “come,” while Elliott wants his friend to “stay.” Ultimately they both realize they literally come from different worlds and must part – but not without a promise. ET takes his glowing finger and touches Elliott’s head, saying “I’ll be right here” – his own version of the promise Jesus gives at the end of Matthew’s gospel.
Forrest Gump is filled with examples of God’s love and desire for reconciliation. While in Vietnam, Forrest saves Lt. Dan but the officer is wounded so severely he loses both his legs above the knee. Lt. Dan takes out his frustration and anger towards God on Forrest. Instead of being angry in return, Forrest offers Lt. Dan a job on his shrimping boat. Lt. Dan eventually mellows and Forrest tells us he knows his friend has finally made peace with God.
The relationship between Forrest and “his girl” Jenny mirrors the relationship God has with us. Forrest -- like God -- is always there for Jenny, regardless of the lack of interest she shows him. When Jenny goes away from Forrest -- as we often turn our back on God -- Forrest is still there when she’s ready to return.
(This is part of a workshop, Reconciliation: God’s Gift to Us)
|Posted on April 28, 2014 at 11:00 PM|
Christian Themes Surpass Magic of The Tempest
The Tempest is considered to be William Shakespeare’s final play – and it was the first of the Bard’s that I saw onstage.
I saw it most recently at the World Premiere of a new production of the classic. With Teller (the “silent partner” of the magician duo Penn &Teller) as co-adapter/director, it was a reasonable assumption that this show would include plenty of magic tricks – as befitting Prospero, the man who conjured the title storm which sets the play in motion.
As expected, this production was magical, but not just because of the tricks. It highlights the play’s themes of forgiveness and reconciliation and even resurrection, when father is given back to son after each thought the other was dead.
In the play, Prospero is out for revenge and powerful enough to create a storm that shipwrecks a boat filled with the men who wronged him and tried to kill him. This production shows him levitating people, making others appear and disappear out of and into nowhere, and a table full of food suddenly appear.
But perhaps the greatest “trick” of all is when he is able to turn the other cheek and offer forgiveness instead of vengeance to all those who had hurt him, proving that “the rarer action is/In virtue than in vengeance.”
|Posted on December 5, 2013 at 7:35 PM|
Wonderful Lessons From
It’s a Wonderful Life
I have enjoyed It’s a Wonderful Life at least once a year since being introduced to it by my dad in 1977. It is an entertaining, heartwarming movie with a tour-de-force acting performance by Jimmy Stewart – his first film after fighting in WWII.
We all know the story: George Bailey is a good man with grand dreams who puts them aside to have a family and help his town. He despairs when things go really bad one Christmas Eve and he is ready to commit suicide. Then George has the chance to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. He is helped by Clarence, (Angel Second Class), sent to earn his wings by helping George.
“Strange isn’t it – each man touches other lives.”
Clarence delivers the main message of this endearing movie which has touched so many lives. George has to learn that while he never achieved the goals he envisioned, he was instrumental in the lives of most members of Bedford Falls.
But besides this crucial lesson, there are many other gospel messages we can harvest from the movie. As we go through the story, let’s see what we can learn from George Bailey and his wonderful life . . .
“He’s got the IQ of a rabbit.” “Yes, but he’s got the faith of a child – simple.”
As the movie opens, prayers are heard in Heaven and someone needs to be sent to George Bailey in his moment of need. It’s Clarence’s turn to help but he isn’t the smartest clockmaker in Heaven. However, he does have what’s important – faith.
Obviously the Heaven in the movie agrees with Jesus, who said the faith of a child is needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (LK 18:17).
“I’m not very good at this.” “Neither am I.” “Okay – what can we lose?”
George runs into Mary Hatch at a high school graduation party. George has known Mary all her life, but now is attracted to her. Their conversation is interrupted by the announcement of a Charleston dance contest. George and Mary both say they aren’t good. They participate anyway and have fun, even when they fall in the pool which opens beneath them.
Like David, Moses, Peter, and Paul, George doesn’t let his shortcomings stop him from doing what he should. God doesn’t look at our resume, but our hearts, measuring our desire to follow.
“I’m glad I know you, George Bailey.”
George gives his old friend, Violet, a reference letter and some money to make a new start outside of Bedford Falls. Violet is choked up and admits that she’s glad she knows George. The Gospels tell us that people went out of their way to meet Jesus, so it’s a safe guess that everyone who knew him was equally glad they did. Are people glad they know you? If not, what can you change?
“Is Daddy in trouble?” “Yes Pete.” “Shall I pray for him?” “Yes, Janie, pray very hard.”
After George releases his frustrations on his family, he goes out into the night. Mary calls friends to help him. The children come up with their own idea on who to turn to: God. Eventually the adults pray as well – these are the prayers we hear at the beginning of the movie. Started by the children, the entire town of Bedford Falls learned the message of MT 21:22 to turn to God with our needs.
“I’m not a praying man . . .”
Having blown up at his family and beginning to despair, George goes to Martini’s bar. George turns to prayer and asks God to “show me the way.” While he may not be comfortable with prayer, his request for guidance -- rather than an easy solution -- shows sound theology.
Shortly after this prayer, George is punched by Mr. Welch. George cynically believes getting hit is the answer to his prayer. But it turns out that Clarence is the real answer – tho not the one George initially had hope for . . .
“Please, God, let me live again.”
Ate end of the fantasy sequence, George has seen what life would have been like in Bedford Falls if he had never been born. He desperately wants his life back but doesn’t regain it until he invokes God’s name – it becomes a prayer, not just a plea. How often does our life improve when we turn to God?
“I’ve got to earn (my wings) and you’ll help, won’t you?” / “Mary did it, George! Mary did it! She told a few people you were in trouble and they scattered all over town collecting money.”
Clarence asks George to help him earn his wings. He also later asks the heavenly Joseph for assistance. Likewise, Mary spread the word that George was in trouble and everyone in town pitched in.
So often in life, others are willing to help us if we only ask for their help. When Potter suggests George turn to “the rabble” in town to cover the missing funds, George says they don’t have that kind of money. They didn’t individually, but together they did make a difference!
(Of course, if George had done this, we wouldn’t have the movie we have now!)
It’s become part of the American myth, the individual who does everything by him- or herself. But even Paul admitted that he’s stronger when he’s weak and turns to God (2 Cor. 12:10).
“To my big brother, George – the richest man in town.”
Harry Bailey offers a toast in his brother’s favor. George discovers the copy of Tom Sawyer Clarence was reading and finds an inscription to him: “No man is a failure who has friends.” Just like Peter tells the beggar in Acts. 3:6, George realizes that there are more important things than money.
Whether it’s your first or 39th time (as it will be for me), enjoy the magic and hope of It’s a Wonderful Life this Christmas season . . . and learn from it.
These and another nine lessons from the movie are available in the workshop on It’s a Wonderful Life
Copyright 2013 Robert Blaskey
|Posted on November 4, 2013 at 8:30 PM|
Warner Bros. 2013
I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid – until I saw the movie Marooned.
I’m sure Gravity will do the same to any boys and girls considering such a career. It is out of this world in more ways than one.
Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and civilian Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are stranded while spacewalking after a freak accident.
Kowalski continues to talk to “Houston in the blind” until Ryan asks why he’s wasting his time. Matt says NASA might be able to hear even if they can’t talk back – and someone may be able to save their lives because of that.
Isn’t this the essence of prayer? We might feel that God doesn’t hear us because our prayers aren’t answered – but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t hear the prayer.
Ryan later says she would pray but no one taught her how. She eventually does pray when she voices her desires and requests.
There are signs of spirituality in the two foreign spacecraft she enters: the Russian ship has an icon of St. Christopher carrying Christ – the common patron for safe transportation. In the Chinese ship, there is a statue of Buddha.
SPOILER ALERT – Major Plot Points
Ryan can’t get the spacecraft to work and she is resigned to die. Suddenly Matt appears and gives her the solution she needs: something she had learned in training but forgot. He encourages her to keep on living. Ryan realizes this conversation really didn’t happen – Matt is dead. But his solution definitely works and saves her.
Was this a hallucination . . . a dream . . . or Matt actually appearing to her? Just like the Josephs in each Testament, it was definitely a way for God to transmit life-saving information.
Re-energized and committed to living, Ryan talks to Matt even though he can't hear her – more prayer – and says that he will soon be meeting her dead daughter, a firm belief in the Afterlife. She asks him a question, pauses, and then says “Roger that,” as if he did answer. What a great way to illustrate the Letter to the Hebrews’ idea of the cloud of witnesses/communion of saints cheering us on and helping us.
When the craft splashes down, we hear NASA trying to contact Ryan – apparently they were hearing her (prayers), even if they couldn’t contact her.
When Ryan is finally back on safe, solid ground, she stands up and says a prayer of thanks.
To paraphrase Kowalski, the movie is a hellova ride – but filled with heavenly ideas.
|Posted on July 30, 2013 at 9:35 PM|
2013 FilmNation Entertainment
Lawless is about a family of moonshiners in Prohibition-era Virginia and the corrupt law enforcement people trying to catch them.
Near the end, a beloved character is brutally murdered. “What they did to that boy goes beyond forgiveness,” one character said. Another says “there will be no absolution.”
As mentioned in the Introduction, the Parables of Today are sometimes a teaching moment of behavior we should not emulate. God’s attitude is quite the opposite of those two characters. In 2 Peter 3:9, we’re told that God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but for everyone to repent.
We are told throughout the Bible about God’s loving forgiveness, including Ephesians 1:7.
|Posted on July 30, 2013 at 9:25 PM|
2008: Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is so successful making weapons of war that he is known as “The Merchant of Death.” He even laughs that he would “be out of a job with peace.”
He visits the Middle East and is ambushed, seriously injured by a bomb made by his own company, proving Jesus’s observation that those who live by the sword die by it (or are at least delivered to death’s door).
Tony is able to live only with the help of an electromagnet keeping shell fragments from entering his heart. But he has an even greater change of heart – he decides to no longer manufacture weapons.
When Stark survives the ambush, he thanks the man who saved him. “Don’t waste your life,” is the response, which contributes to his conversion. He takes this to heart – so to speak – and later explains his conversion: “I shouldn’t be alive unless it’s for a reason.”
Like Paul on his trip to Damascus, Stark“had my eyes opened” and he metaphorically fulfills the prophet Isaiah’s vision of swords beaten into plowshares.
It turns out that Stark was targeted for death by Obadiah, the man who had become a second father to Tony – doing Judas one better in the betrayal department.
|Posted on January 25, 2013 at 1:15 PM|
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a graphic story of lust, murder, and betrayal, told in the original novel and two movie versions – the original Swedish and the English-language/Hollywood remake. Yet even in such a tale can be found the parables of today – after all, the story of the good Samaritan would probably have been rated PG-13 because of the violence.
(These reflections are based on the Daniel Craig-Rooney Mara movie version.)
The title character is Lisbeth Salander, one of the most unique and unforgettable of modern characters. She has been a ward of the state since her pre-teens and is considered antisocial and angry at the least, insane and violent at the worst. Her periodic employer sums it up: “She’s different . . . in every way.”
But Lisbeth does have her tender side, initially seen in her concern for her guardian, who suffers a stroke. Through a later, simple gesture of wiping the drool from his chin with her sleeve, we see that Lisbeth is capable of compassion, living out what Jesus said about doing to the least of others.
Mikael Blomkvist first meets Lisbeth after learning she illegally hacked into his financial and personal records. But he isn’t there to cause trouble, as she initially suspects. Then she has another surprise: he treats her with respect and connects with her like he would anyone else, humbly asking for her help on another case. From his interactions with tax collectors, adulterers, and others, we can easily see Jesus acting the same way – not condemning, but accepting and going a step further – raising expectations for the person so they will strive harder and live up to them. Indeed, Lisbeth has a similar conversion.
|Posted on January 7, 2013 at 7:55 PM|
Here Comes the Boom
Kevin James plays a teacher who turns to mixed martial arts (MMA) fights to try to win money to save the music program at his school.
Along the way, he forms a disparate community of friends who share one thing in common – their belief in him (much the same as the early bickering Church who were bonded by their belief in Jesus).
Inspiration comes at the dinner table (“breaking bread”) when one of the characters cites Genesis 32:24, Jacob wrestling with God, and plans their strategy. Often in a movie, there are allusions to the Bible or scriptural quotes without attribution, but this is a rare example of a character in a mainstream movie quoting and acknowledging Scripture.
Before his biggest match, Kevin James and his advisors/supporters hold hands and pray. We can’t hear what they’re saying, but we know this is a prayer because of the way they hold themselves and they end with “amen.”
Henry Winkler's character says the kids are inspired by James’s taking to the MMA cage – and inspiring students is “what we're supposed to do as teachers.” As Christians, we are supposed to inspire as well, to lead others to Christ by our words and actions. Many of the early converts turned to Christianity because they were intrigued with the way Christians courageously – even joyfully – went to their deaths. It is also living out what St. Francis of Assisi said – preach the gospel to everyone you meet . . . and if necessary use words.
Here Comes The Boom is also about hopes and dreams and perseverance. Jesus said that with patient endurance, we will save our lives. Kevin James finds the same applies to getting a date with Salma Hayek.
|Posted on August 30, 2012 at 7:50 PM|
Whether it’s 2- or 3D, Titanic has examples which can be used to illustrate the nature of God.
When Jack and Rose are desperately trying to reach the top of the ship after it starts sinking, they make time to unselfishly try to save a little boy. This is in direct contrast to Cal’s behavior: he poses as a girl’s father just to secure his place on a lifeboat.
A theme throughout the movie is the difference between the classes of people – even when Rose’s mother gets in the lifeboat, she wonders if there’s special seating for First Class passengers.
But with the ending, when we can assume Rose dies and is reunited with Jack in Heaven, there is no distinction amongst the people celebrating their reunion – even the Captain is standing next to a Third Class passenger. What a wonderful way to illustrated what Paul said about there being no differentiation between people in Christ, as well as what the Letter of James says about discrimination!
(photo from James Cameron's 1997 Best Picture-winning Titanic)