Thursday, April 29, 2010

Avatar and a Flight to Hong Kong

So I am off on my jaunt. It is a good one: Hong Kong - Rome - Athens - Corinth - Delphi - Thessalonaki - Kavala - Philippi - Istanbul - Troy - Gallipoli - 7 Churches Ephesus etc - Patmos - Dublin - Cork - Wexford - Carmarthen - Cardiff - London - Paris - Cambridge - Oxford. Will be able to sing, 'I've been every man, I've been ...'

On the flight I ate the meals, read some of Julian Batchelor's book Evangelism (more on this in a later blog). I was going to save the soul beside me, but there were two empty seats instead. So, I watched movies on and off... as you do.

I watched Avatar. About time you will say, and you are correct. It was a stunning movie - and that is a big statement when one considers I was watching it on a plane screen and not in 3 D. I found its message challenging.

On one level it can hardly be called 'Christian.' The 'god' is the spirit of the world. It is very pantheistic, panentheistic. As one might expect from James Cameron, it is 'the force be with you.' It reflects a commonly held spirituality of this age which many westerners are reaching for in their concrete impersonal jungles. It is an idealisation of the connection of humanity with the natural order. So, yes, the god of Pandora is very much the Gaia life force type god.

At another level I found it very moving and powerful. First, it called to mind colonialism and gave me white - man - colonial - guilt for the way in which we Europeans colonised the world. As much as I find the PC movement annoying and can self-justify my situation as a 6th generation NZer on both sides (or near), I cannot shake that feeling that my people did something horrendous in the colonisation of NZ - and by analogy, other peoples. What must it be like to be Maori and watch your land taken over by another people? Sure, the movie idealises this and amplifies the relationship that such people's had with the natural order, but the story remains - we ripped off Maori.

I pondered this; should we Europeans all shoot through? That is the Avatar solution, they all went home except those who would live among the Na'vi in their way. This is not feasible, we have 'nowhere to go', so to speak; the world has irrevocably changed. Perhaps we should have done this earlier, but the horse has now bolted.

What about this: should we give Maori sovereignty of the nation? That is, those of us who are not tangata whenua simply stand down from all positions of power and hand over the nation cf. South Africa? A nice thought perhaps, but idealistic and impractical. Too many questions can be raised like: who is a Maori? What sort of political system? After all, it could not be a democracy in this system, as Europeans greatly outnumber Maori. Would European buy into this? Of course not.

Another option is some sort of one nation - two systems sort of thing. That is what they have here in Hong Kong. Since the hand over, it is now Chinese, but has its own system of government. Could that work in NZ? I think it works here though, because Hong Kong had its own well established political infrastructure, and is a clearly defined geographical area. In NZ, Maori and Pakeha are intermingled throughout the nation. Unless it was decided to carve NZ up? On what basis? Who gets what? I really struggle to see how you could run two political and legal systems simultaneously in one nation. This would lead to real questions of justice and would be a constant struggle.

So I suppose we are back to where NZ is at. Maori and Pakeha must work together as one people to bring justice for all and set about continuing to restore the nation and allow all peoples to grow. This means seeking ways to enable Maori to be restored to the same health and social indicators as others in the nation must go on. We need to do all we can to restore to Maori their land. I thank God for the Treaty. We must continue to work with Maori to work it out. It won't be easy. But we must.

I was also struck by the question of God and nature i.e. how is God connected to nature? In the story, the life force of the world  is the goddess ehwah. She retains the balance of life. She links to the Na'vi and empowers them and enables them to work in partnership with the natural world. We western Christians are terrified of this sort of thing, seeing it as idolatrous associated with eastern pantheistic religion. For sure, the movie pushes it too far. We also believe in a personal God beyond creation and within creation, sustaining it. If we hold that thought, what does the second half of that statement look like, 'in what sense is God in nature and sustaining it?' I wonder what the world was like pre-fall with God in the natural world and we walking in among the trees with him. What did that look like? I wonder if the life force that is our personal God is in a sense more in the natural world in an Avatar sense than we like to admit. Does our dualism get in the way here? I find it strangely compelling and attractive to consider the power of God dwelling in the natural order sustaining it. I know this is theologically loaded stuff, but I wonder. As we look at the world through western eyes do we lose something here?

My next thought relates to Christ and the story. I am struck by the recurring pattern in such stories. The hero is always a kind of reluctant type. In this story Jake Sully is disabled, he is not a scholar, he is an everyday guy. He is not a star. He becomes the star.

He is kind of Christ-like, some guy, from obscurity turns out to the save the world. He has a 'resurrection experience,' is a 'new creation', is 'born again' into an avatar. After all, avatar is a Hindu concept, of a god becoming man to save the world. Here it is an alien coming to a world, becoming one of them; through the vehicle of science. He is a 'god.' He becomes a Na'bi. He learns their language, becomes one of them, and he saves them. This is intriguing.

Yet it is more Hindu than Christian. In Hindu and other stories like this, gods come to earth and save. But they do so with force and power.

You see, our story is of a God who becomes man. He lives in the world, becomes one of them, learns their stories, and becomes a preacher. He never sins. He never resorts to violence. He never crosses the line of freedom. He woos. He heals. He loves. He accepts. He is totally and utterly non-violent. He does not play the game. In sum, he loves! He uses power for sure, but it is love and it is encased and infused with love.

Jack Sully is far from flawless. He is a spy, deceives, he fights, he is a warrior. He becomes the greatest warrior. He wins the war through the ways of a fallen world. He wins with violence and destruction. He out - wars his enemy. He does repent and turn, but in Jesus, there was never a need to, he was relentless in his pursuit of love.

It may sound arrogant, but I think the Christ story is superior and unique. It is of a God who saves the world from this filth by refusing to yield to it. He loves unrelentingly. He refuses to compromise this for an instant. If he had, the universe would have imploded into chaos, unwound, uncreated. Rather, he serves completely out of life, is rejected and killed by humanity, he dies and rises because he alone did this! He showed us the way. In a way the Avatar narrative is tired. It is the age old hero saves the world through violence. The problem is that violence begets violence. 'Those who live by the sword...'

We need a way out of this cycle of death and destruction, and it is Jesus. That is why I can never turn away from this story. It is THE story! Thanks James for Avatar, it is good, but it is merely a shadow of the real story of the universe. Give me the Jesus' story anyday! Amen.

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