Friday, 27 March 2009

Ice Age

Ice Age is a warm hearted movie with many themes interwoven into the plot. It explores the nature of friendship, family, courage, loyalty and forgiveness. As an animation the characters, though animals, are both highly entertaining and reflect something of the real world. The film begins with various groups of animals migrating because of the big freeze – the Ice Age. Into this scenario we are introduce to Sid the Sloth, who by oversleeping has missed the big event and Manny; a huge Mammoth who happens to be walking in the opposite direction to everyone else. Sid ends up joining Manny, mainly for protection. At this point of the film we don’t know why Manny has such a chip on his shoulder. All we know is that he really doesn’t want to be around others; he’s a loner.

17.04-21.46 In the first scene I have chosen we see Manny and Sid who come to the river bank and see an exhausted mother holding her son to keep him from the freezing waters. She places the baby on a rock by the river and Manny, with his long trunk, stops the baby rolling back into the water. The next time he and Sid look up the mother is gone. This is perhaps where the first crisis of conscience comes for Manny. He tries to walk away but Sid insists they should return the child to its ‘heard’. And so begins the journey that will keep them together until the end of the film. In the movie Sid is the one with the big heart but not much sense. He has no idea what it really means to look after this baby.

This portion of the movie speaks volumes of the price a mother will pay to protect her child. It seems appropriate to look at this close being Mothers Day. This mother paid the ultimate price – her life that if her sons. And even in that sacrifice she had no guarantee he would be safe. She had to trust him to others. In Matt 23.37 we have Jesus overlooking Jerusalem and using the metaphor of a brooding hen who wants to protect and gather her chicks. It is a very feminine image; the image of a caring mother. Yet this is the one Jesus chooses to show another aspect of the heart of God. It is this strong motherly instinct to nurture and protect. “How often I wanted to gather you under my wings as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing”, Matt 23.37. For the chicks to be under the wings of their mother was to be protected, secure and safe. This is because the wings provide three essential things that young chicks need;

1. Covering. To be under the wing is to be hidden. All who looked on would see a rather plump hen, but they wouldn’t see the chicks. In that environment they were safe from attack. No-one could touch them without first having to deal with mother hen – and she knows how to put up a fight. Interestingly Paul uses similar language about the believer; “For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God”, Col 3.3. What an amazingly safe place to be; out of sight of the enemy but securely shut up with Christ in God. No wonder Paul reasoned that nothing could separate us from the love of God, Rom 8.38-39.

2. Warmth. To be under the wing of the hen was to be sheltered from the elements. The weather could not touch them there, neither the freezing snow nor the driving rain. They had the shade and warmth of her protection. In the movie the little baby needed the same kind of warmth. It is the warmth of touch, the warmth of being close. We respond to that sense of connection, we need it. Jesus constantly communicated this kind of warmth by touching people, especially those shunned by society; the lepers, children, even prostitutes. He took them, as it were, under His wing and for some of them they felt accepted and loved for the first time in their lives.

3. Being together. Under the wing of the mother hen the chicks were not only close to her they were close to each other. This sense of togetherness is important. We see it in the early church. When they got saved they had a clear sense of ‘being together’, Acts 2.44, “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common”. Because they were ‘together’ it was easier to share, easier to give. In Ice Age they had to learn to do things together. In that place they found strength in one another. Being involved in things together always makes a task easier. We know we are not alone in this endeavour.

At the end of the scene they are joined by Diego – a Saber Tooth Tiger. It is clear to us that he has another agenda for the child. Whilst being suspicious Manny and Sid let him come as he is the only one able to track the child’s father.

46.42-49.42 In my second scene we are in a cave and the three companions are looking at the primitive cave drawings. They are getting closer to each other through their trials. Now we begin to understand why Manny is the way he is. The drawings tell a story; a story of happiness, togetherness, the story of a family. Into that scene come the hunters, the grown up version of this baby boy. They kill Manny’s partner and child. He is left alone – heartbroken. It’s a touching moment.

Facing loss is always difficult. There have been people in history who have experienced great loss yet triumphed. Not by surviving but by leaving a meaningful legacy. One such person in recent history was Milada Horakova. On 27 June 1950 she was hanged in Czechoslovakia. Despite the pleas of great people like Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt the communist government were implacable. Horakova was 48 when she died. She had graduated from Charles University in Prague in 1926 where she studied law. She entered the National Socialist Party and became a strong opponent of the Nazi’s. When her country was occupied during the Second World War she became part of the resistance but was arrested by the Gestapo in 1940.

She spent time in various prisons including the concentration camp at Terezin. Her daughter was six when she was arrested. After the liberation in 1945 she returned to Prague and political life until the Communist coup in 1948. She resigned but remained politically active, refusing to leave Czechoslovakia. A year later, along with several others, she was arrested for being part of a supposed plot to overthrow the communists. The secret police used torture, forcing those arrested to sign a false confession to treason and conspiracy.

A mock trial began with a carefully written script that the accused were meant to follow. Unlike many of her contemporaries Horakova refused to follow the script. She cogently defended herself and her ideals. As a result she was sentenced to death on 8 June 1950. The night before her execution she wrote a letter to her daughter who was 16 at the time. The letter was seized by the communists and held. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 many documents became available to the world that revealed much about the communist regime. Along with that freedom Horakova’s letter to her daughter was discovered. It was delivered to her 40 years later! At the age of 56 she was finally able to read how her mother felt and what were her last thoughts about Jana; her only daughter. Here is a portion that shows the selfless love of this mother who has little thought for herself in her last hours.

My only little girl Jana, God blessed my life as a woman with you. As your father wrote in the poem from a German prison, God gave you to us because he loved us. Apart from your father's magic, amazing love, you were the greatest gift I received from fate. However, Providence planned my life in such a way that I could not give you nearly all that my mind and my heart had prepared for you. The reason was not that I loved you little; I love you just as purely and fervently as other mothers love their children. But I understood that my task here in the world was to do you good . . . by seeing to it that life becomes better, and that all children can live well. And therefore . . . we often had to be apart for a long time. It is now already for the second time that Fate has torn us apart. Don't be frightened and sad because I am not coming back any more. Learn, my child, to look at life early as a serious matter. Life is hard, it does not pamper anybody, and for every time it strokes you it gives you ten blows. Become accustomed to that soon, but don't let it defeat you. Decide to fight. Have courage and clear goals and you will win over life. Much is still unclear to your young mind, and I don't have time left to explain to you things you would still like to ask me. One day, when you grow up, you will wonder and wonder, why your mother who loved you and whose greatest gift you were, managed her life so strangely. Perhaps then you will find the right solution to this problem, perhaps a better one than I could give you today myself.

Of course, you will only be able to solve it correctly and truthfully by knowing very, very much. Not only from books, but from people; learn from everybody, no matter how unimportant! Go through the world with open eyes, and listen not only to your own pains and interests, but also to the pains, interests and longings of others. Don't ever think of anything as none of your business. No, everything must interest you, and you should reflect about everything. Man doesn't live in the world alone; in that there is great happiness, but also a tremendous responsibility. That obligation is first of all in not being and not acting exclusive, but rather merging with the needs and the goals of others. This does not mean to be lost in [the multitude, but it is] to know that I am part of all, and to bring one's best into that community. If you do that, you will succeed in contributing to the common goals of human society.

Be more aware of one principle than I have been: approach everything in life constructively—beware of unnecessary negation—I am not saying all negation, because I believe that one should resist evil. But in order to be a truly positive person in all circumstances, one has to learn how to distinguish real gold from tinsel. It is hard, because tinsel sometimes glitters so dazzlingly. I confess, my child, that often in my life I was dazzled by glitter. And sometimes it even shone so falsely, that one dropped pure gold from one's hand and reached for, or ran after, false gold. You know that to organize one's scale of values well means to know not only oneself well, to be firm in the analysis of one's character, but mainly to know the others, to know as much of the world as possible, its past, present, and future development. Well, in short, to know, to understand. Not to close one's eats before anything and for no reason-not even to shut out the thoughts and opinions of anybody who stepped on my toes, or even wounded me deeply.

Examine, think, criticize, yes, mainly criticize yourself don't be ashamed to admit a truth you have come to realize, even if you proclaimed the opposite a little while ago; don't become obstinate about your opinions, but when you come to consider something right, then be so definite that you can fight and die for it. As Wolker said, death is not bad. Just avoid gradual dying; which is what happens when one suddenly finds oneself apart from the real life of the others. You have to put down your roots where fate determined for you to live. You have to find your own way. Look for it independently; don't let anything turn you away from it, not even the memory of your mother and father. If you really love them, you won't hurt them by seeing them critically—just don't go on a road which is wrong, dishonest and does not harmonize with life. I have changed my mind many times, rearranged many values, but, what was left as an essential value, without which I cannot imagine my life, is the freedom of my conscience. I would like you, my little girl, to think about whether I was right.

And so, my only young daughter, little girl Jana, new life, my hope, my future forgiveness, live! Grasp life with both hands! Until my last breath I shall pray for your happiness, my dear child! I kiss your hair, eyes and mouth, I stroke you and hold you in my arms (I really held you so little.) I shall always be with you.

These are not the words of a woman with many regrets – despite the loss she had experienced. So how did Manny and how do we, deal with loss? Here are some things that have helped me.

1. Appreciate and treasure the memory and moments you enjoyed with that person in life. They leave an indelible mark. Take inspiration from their example so that you too can face the challenges of life. Horakova taught her daughter to fight – fight for what she believed in and if necessary die for it. Manny actually fought to protect this child that had become his charge. He cared. He didn’t want to, but he did. Because at heart he valued what was pure and innocent. He didn’t allow prejudice to colour how he would live.

2. Honour their life by Living. In the words of Harokova, “Grasp life with both hands”. Giving up or giving in, is the easy option. What is needed is a new determination to face life purposefully. This requires great courage. Courage that is needed even before we feel we are ready. But that’s the point. Moving on with life is essentially a choice of the heart. Joshua had to get over the death of Moses. It was his turn to lead now. Five times in the first chapter he is told – “Be strong and courageous”, Joshua 1.

3. Give your love to others who need it. Manny lost a child and a wife – but he still had love in his heart, despite all the pain. He chose to give that love to a child that needed it. A child that ‘fate’ brought into his life. And as time went on his rough, standoffish ways softened. He cared. He came to the point where he would face the adult version of this little boy, his father. Those, like him, had robbed Manny of his family. Why shouldn’t he do the same? And herein lies the challenge. We can choose how to respond to people, to life, to hardship, to injustice, to pain and death. Will our choice be rooted in the love of God? Will we let it take us to places we do not really want to go to? Calvary love is able to do this.

I have found that when I show compassion and love to those in need somehow my own pain lessens. Life still has meaning and purpose. There is a greater good at work. And without even noticing it, I have found that the memories of those I’ve lost bring more joy than they do pain; more laughter than sorrow; more appreciation than remorse.

54.49-57.55 In the third scene we witness the baby taking his first steps and the excitement this engenders. First steps are significant because they mark the beginning of independence. A time we phrase as ‘being able to stand on your own two feet’. Despite the tottering efforts of babies we know it marks a transition – the first of many. So it is in the discipleship of believers. In Acts 2.41-42 we see some of the first steps these early believers made. After they believed on Jesus they were baptised. It was a public declaration to those in their community that they were now following and living for the risen Messiah Jesus. Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. For a first step this was a bold move. It could be interpreted by the Romans as sedition. They could die!

But this step was followed by others, just as radical. They listened carefully to what the apostles taught them about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. The reality of His Kingdom – an everlasting Kingdom, so impressed the early disciples, that they shared their stuff with each other. They liked being together and how they lived impressed the greater community. It was different.

Many times we are afraid of what mature Christianity looks like. We can feel inadequate – not up to the challenge. Take Stephen, the first martyr in the church. How many deacons would measure up to this man? But when we think like this, we are forgetting something crucial. Maturity is a journey that begins with simple steps. As an old Chinese proverb says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. The key thing is to take the step and then another and then another. This why the Christian life is described as a walk, Eph 4.1; 5.2,15. It requires different steps to build a life and to make an impact. Not only that, we need to keep walking. Perhaps God is challenging you to take some new steps, something that requires a new level of faith. This is how we grow, how we mature and develop. Every significant step of obedience to Christ brings us closer to a realisation of His image in us.

1.05.42-1.10.31 In the final scene we have the reunion of father and son. It is a tense moment because the boy is hidden. All the man can see is a huge mammoth. Is he hostile? Will he harm him? How should he respond? And for Manny what a choice! To get revenge or to be the bearer of returning this man’s treasure. The boy is returned and we are left with the impression that there is a new understanding between the man and the mammoth.

For me this moment reflects the Biblical truth that we only truly find freedom and happiness when we chose to forgive those who have harmed us. Further, Kingdom living requires that we take another step, that we bless them in some way. This is what Jesus taught in Matt 5.12, “Bless those who persecute you and pray for those who despitefully use you”. Only a life empowered by the Spirit of Jesus can have the strength to do this. My prayer for us is that we will truly embrace life in all its fullness; enjoying the good and working to change the bad while we take radical steps of obedience and become agents of reconciliation and restoration.