Dec 13, 2010

Where do angels come from?

Now that Christmas is rapidly approaching, it's time for the touchy feely made-for-TV movies about Angels and Christmas Holiday Spirit. The major networks air at least one of them every year, and I have a few on tape that I've popped in recently to enjoy while I did housework or crafts. Except, I found myself not really enjoying them, which I thought was strange because I have enjoyed them many times before.  I'll take this as a sign of spiritual growth and maturation, because I discovered that the vague, diluted spirituality of this programs really grated on me. 

I've watched a made-for-TVer recently that I can use to illustrate my point here: Three Days

Three Days is a sappy flick about a young married couple who have come to a dry spot in their marriage. The husband, Andrew, is totally absorbed in his work and more willing to entertain his "assistant" than his lonely wife, Beth. It's Christmas time, and he blows off the plans Beth made in order to fly to Chicago for a quick business trip. Though he technically doesn't have an affair while on this trip (he gets cold feet and backs out at the last minute) Beth thinks he has because when she called his room the "assistant" answered. When Andrew returns home, Beth confronts him, then storms out of the home into the cold midnight. He goes go after her and finds her just in time to see her hit by a speeding car as she tries to rescue a neighbor's dog. She dies at the hospital. 

When Andrew attempts to return home that night, he can't get in. His key won't fit. Mysteriously, there is a locksmith's shop across the street that was never there before. This is how he meets the angel, Lionel. Don't worry that Lionel has dreadocks, he's actually pretty cool. The gist of the story is that Lionel gives Andrew three more days with Beth - days in which he is supposed to prove to her that he loves her, so that she can die with a peaceful heart. 

Lionel says that Andrew's prayer has been answered. Andrew isn't even aware that he had prayed. So who is it that is ultimately granting Lionel the power to turn the clock back three days and let some goofy guy try again? Must be the Cosmos, because Lionel never says anything about God. 

So when Beth is alive again the next morning, having no memory of dying, Andrew decides to spend every minute with her and shower her with gifts to prove his love. He really just succeeds in creeping her out - to the point that she breaks down in tears. It's ok, Lionel materializes from time to time to give Andrew hints. Usually it ends with an argument in which Andrew states that he is not going to let Beth die on Christmas Eve. Lionel's response? "If Beth skips her date with Destiny the whole cosmic balance is thrown out of whack."

It gets worse:
Lionel: "Life isn't a bunch of marbles bouncing around." 
Andrew: "Where did you learn that?" 
Lionel: "Angel Metaphysics - top of my class." 
He also quotes fortune cookies. Scripture? Not so much. Do you think an angel could have learned anything from God at some point?

What does Beth think about angels and miracles? Well, she "would like to believe that there are angels, that there's another side, a spiritual side." That's it, and that's sad. Andrew doesn't even tell her that there is a spiritual side and that's he's met an angel. She wouldn't believe him. 

It all boils down to Lionel eventually hinting that if Andrew gives Beth the right gift, then she might be able to live beyond Christmas Eve. It takes Andrew a while to figure it out. He tries giving her fancy snow globes and consents to finally starting a family, but the moment still arrives when Beth goes out the door and it supernaturally locks behind her. Lionel tells Andrew that the gift he has been hinting about all along is the gift of life, at which point the door is released and Andrew is able to push Beth out of the way of the car and get hit himself. 

Well, because it's Christmas and Andrew has done the right thing, Lionel makes a grand exception and allows Andrew to come back to life. Now Andrew and Beth can continue on together knowing that some nice angel named Lionel rearranged the Cosmos and Destiny a little for them. They name their baby Lionel. How cute. 

But it does pull at your heartstrings, and that's why these movies are made year after year. If you don't think about it too hard, it's guiltless watching. They are clean, they have positive messages of hope and love, and they have angels in them, so as Christians we somehow feel vindicated in watching them. But are these movies really doing us any favors? Are we doing ourselves any favors by watching them? If we use it as an opportunity to do some critical thinking and sharpen our faith, yes, but otherwise, I say no. 

If we don't challenge the ideas in Three Days, what do we learn from it?

Well, if we're like Beth, we learn nothing at all, because she doesn't even know what happened. If we're like Andrew, we learn that we should love our spouses, and that there are angels roaming around who can give you a second chance. On a positive note, the object lesson of Andrew giving his life for Beth's is very valuable and could have hit a home run for a salvation illustration. Too bad it's not used in that way. 

But as watchers we are learning more than that because our subconscious is involved, and the subconscious is prone to erosion. Eventually we could end up thinking of angels as really cool people who went to college in heaven and show up to grant miracles to faithless people who are so vague they would only like to believe that there is a spiritual side. When the angels quote fortune cookies as their spiritual advice, it is only too clear that we have made angels in our own image, for our own purposes. In cases like this one, the angels are in man's image, and God has no image at all. 

I don't deny that angels work in human lives from time to time, but I don't know how often and to what extent. That is a theological discussion for another day, and only God really knows anyhow. I do think that if we made our angels in the image God gave them, they wouldn't forget to mention God. It seems to me that they might even say something about Christ and salvation while they were at it. I don't expect to ever see that in a movie, though.

At least Lionel ends the film by saying, "Merry Christmas!"

Dec 6, 2010

Happy Holidays! (which ones?)

I watched the Barefoot Contessa with my grandmother today on the Food Network. It was a "holiday" episode with hot chocolate and other Christmas-y recipes. Every time she added cinnamon to a recipe, she smelled it and said gleefully, "this smells so Holiday-ish." After hearing this several times I found myself exasperated. 

"Why don't you just go ahead and say Christmas?" I challenged aloud. "Saying that this smells like the Holidays doesn't really make sense!"

Actually, come to think about it - there isn't much that makes sense about the phrase "Happy Holidays." I understand why people say it. There are a few different cultures observing different holidays at this time of year. The vast majority of the world celebrates Christmas, but there are sizable chunks observing Hannukah and Kwanzaa. Not wanting to offend those celebrating either of the latter, or those bitter few who celebrate nothing, many people say, "Happy Holidays." 

Without getting in to a discussion political correctness, though, I want to address what else is ridiculous about the phrase.

First, why don't we use this phrase year round? There is always some holiday coming up - why don't we go about constantly with "Happy Holidays" on our lips?

The fact that we don't raises an interesting point; isn't it obvious that this season is about Christmas? But, moving right along...

Second, it makes absolutely no sense to say that something "smells like the Holidays." I ask you, Contessa, of which Holiday does it smell? 
Memorial Day?
Columbus Day?
Hopefully not Groundhog's Day! 
How are we to know that this is a good smell she is sucking in?

If she were to say Christmas, then - aha! - I understand the smell and the emotions that come with it. The smell of the Holidays? That's a bit vague for me.

Wouldn't the world make more sense if we said what we meant?