Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Theology of Lego

This last weekend, I went to see The Lego Movie with my sons.  In that, I was tagging along with a whole bunch of other American parents, drawn into our Amuse-O-Plexes by the promise of a family-friendly, slightly sly, and wholesome good time.  The boys had been asking to see it, and I happily obliged.

That my boys are a tiny bit past the Lego age became obvious when we found our seats in the theater.  My big guy is now a Big Guy, at six-two and two-ten, a month shy of his sixteenth birthday, all legs and shoulders, built like a quarterback with a rich deep bass baritone.  My little guy is thirteen now, growing fast, with musical tastes that lean towards Floyd and Zeppelin, Beck and Radiohead, and cinematic tastes that are...well...Kubrick is his favorite director, although he's recently taken a shine to Wes Anderson.  So we're not quite the target demographic, so to speak.

But they wanted to see The Lego Movie, and so did I, because we all of us loved Lego when we were younger.  So we hit a cheaper matinee, and went unashamed into a theater full of parents with tiny sippy-cup people, and enjoyed the film.

As always, my pastor hat was on, though, and so I found myself taking note whenever anything surfaced that had theological implications.  Because pastors do that.  It's sort of a nervous tick, one drilled into us by years of sermon preparation.

There were spiritual and theological assumptions to the film, of course, as there are to everything.  I mean, how can you have a movie in which Will Ferrell plays a quasi-omnipotent character called The Man Upstairs and not see the theology in it?  So for those of you who've seen the film, I offer up the following little list.

It's spoiler-filled, chock-full of plot-line revealing ruination, so consider yourself duly warned.  Here you go:

1)  Everything Is Awesome.  Agh.  Argh.  Earworm!  Ack!  Seriously, that song just keeps bopping into my head, in that way that involves my subconscious endlessly singing, "Everything is Awesome! Something something something part of a team."  Sigh.

But as a theological statement, that works on a bunch of different levels.  It speaks to the view that the ultimate goal of Creation is something amazing.  It reminds us, in a poppy, chirrupy way, that having a hopeful and joyful attitude makes us more creative and more open to the possibility of creativity.

2)  You are the Special.  This theme surfaced repeatedly, as our little plastic protagonist struggled with his sense of identity.  Emmet Brickowski is no-one, the Everyminifigure, utterly unspecial...and yet not.  Like most Everyman characters, he's the bearer of truth...which, actually, is the meaning of his name in Hebrew.  That's the word emet, not the word brickowski.  Lord, but do we pastors overthink these things.

Emmet matters, the movie tells us, even in his simple, earnest plain-ness, because he has been gifted with the ability to create with what is around him.  Sure, his great creative vision is a double-decker sofa.  But even that has its place.

This concept gets pressed out into the almost completely nonviolent end to the movie, where even the villain is transformed by it.  There's no "kill-the-bad-guy" ending here, thank the Man Upstairs.  Instead, Lord Business is given the opportunity to be changed by Emmet, and turns to grace and creativity.  Here, the fundamental potential for good that is present in all human beings is affirmed, as is the capacity of even the worst of us to be transformed by grace.

I can't speak for other world faith traditions, but that's a pretty darned important part of Christianity.

3)   Believe.  This was the part of the film where Richard Dawkins walked out grumbling.  Belief is a hateful plastic brick delusion, he muttered to himself, while the audience laughed at the self-aware metabanality of a talking-cat-poster ethic.

And sure, it's simple to the point of seeming trite.  It's easier to critique and snark and immerse yourself in cynicism about life.  But so many good things are plain, simple, and hobbitish.  If you believe in a possibility, that is an absolute prerequisite for your moving reality towards it.  Simple?  Sure.  But true nonetheless, as much as we might want to overthink our way past it.

Faith...that there is such a thing as goodness, that there is a point to our an essential part of a healthy life as a self-aware being.  It centers and defines our humanity, and allows us to both endure and triumph.  It opens us to as-yet-unmanifested realities, in both ourselves and in our relationships with others.

4)   Rigid Linear Determinism Does Not Accurately Reflect the Nature of the Created Order.  I can't quite remember where this line surfaced in the movie.  I think maybe the UniKitty character said it when the film took us into Cloud Cuckoo Land.  Or maybe I'd just wandered off into my own mind for a moment.

This was, without question, a core theological assumption of the film.  Yes, the universe has structure.  In the case of the film, interlocking bricks of a near-infinite variety.   In the case of our time and space?  It's a little more complex, but close enough that the metaphor can't be missed.  That structure is in flux, ever changing, and open to our inputs and creative energies.  What it must not be is rigid, superglued into place by the desire to control it and to make it a single, unchanging, and dead "perfection."

In the theology of this little film, I see a bit of a throw-down challenge to both rigid scientific mechanism and religious fundamentalism.  There is not just one way things can be, it says.  Stop trying to imagine that your particular understanding encompasses the intent of the Creator.  And in that, I think it more accurately reflects the nature of creation than those who would limit God's work to just one story.

5)  Everything is Awesome.  Oh, c'mon.  Again?  Lord, but does this song stick around.

I can't let it pass, though, because this works with the other meaning of Awesome, too.  Everything...meaning the vastness of remarkably, immensely, inescapably awe-inspiring.  It's amazing in its complexity, in its intricacy, in its gobsmacking vastness.  It's amazing in its potential, and in our ability to engage with the the portion of existence we encounter and to create with it.

Awesome, indeed.