A Dramatic Conversion Story…Sort Of

These days, generally speaking, one of two things happens to me every single weekday upon my arrival home from work: 1) I am scared nearly to death as my son jumps out from his favorite “hiding place” and roars loudly at me, or 2) I am severely beaten after he charges headlong into my stomach and – again with menacing roars – begins pounding on whatever parts of me he can reach. Sometimes I get both.

Assuming that my middle-aged body holds out, I look forward to at least a few more years of this type of foolishness, but raising five other children has made it pretty clear that – eventually – these physical attacks on each other as a mean of exchanging greetings will likely give way to an increasingly-verbal relationship, one in which he and I might share the details of our days, analyzing the people, places and events involved like civilized human beings. For now, though, it seems as though we are both perfectly content to behave like cavemen.

Similarly, whereas one day we might be drawn into conversations about our day and discuss these things in light of God’s Word, helping each other draw conclusions for how we might live more faithfully as sojourners in a world devastated by sin and rebellion, right now we have a far more simplistic approach. These days we draw many of our precepts about right and wrong from repeat viewings of Megamind.

If you have yet to see this particular film and think that you might like to, you should probably stop reading now as there certainly will be some “spoilers.” Suffice to say that I have seen Megamind at least a handful of times and would be glad to watch it over and over with my son – in stark contrast to the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks film, whereby one viewing was more than sufficient.

One of the many great privileges of having younger children around the house is the ability stay connected to the things that make up their world of innocence and naivete. Just like the father who invests heavily in scale-model trains “for the sake of the kids” but spends a disproportionate amount of his free time playing with them, a preschooler running loose in the house frees me up to watch Megamind over and over again with the convenient excuse that I am merely bonding with my five-year-old son. The truth, though, is that I really enjoy this movie and will continue to stay glued to the set long after my son has moved on to putting on his Captain America costume and jumping from sofa to sofa.

If you’ve been attending The Crossing for any length of time, you may recall that Dave Cover will often say that human beings just can’t stop telling the story of God’s redemption of humanity over and over and over again. The theme shows up time and again in movies, music, art and theater. As Dave says, “We just can’t help it.” For those of us who have been given eyes to see, the biblical meta-narrative of a world gone horribly wrong, along with helpless people who desperately need the redemption that only a powerful savior can offer…well, it’s absolutely plastered all over everything, everywhere. Yes, even in Megamind.

The plotline for the film is a nice postmodern riff on the superhero theme. Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) eventually becomes bored with being a superhero and the repetitive, by-the-numbers city-wide battles with Metro City’s evil supervillain, Megamind (Will Ferrell). Faking his own death, Metro Man leaves Metro City in the pitiless hands of Megamind so that he can selfishly pursue a new career in music, a vocation for which he has zero talent. Megamind, bored to tears by his unchallenged, totalitarian grip on the city, devises a scheme to create another superhero, thus restoring “glorious rivalry” to an otherwise mundane existence. Of course, his plan goes horribly wrong, and Megamind is ultimately forced to confront his reasons for wanting to be a supervillain in the first place.

I know, I know, I should probably be teaching my kids all they need to know about God, truth and faithful living through family Bible studies, prayer and devotions. And of course those things are all excellent ways to bring up our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Still, I have found that some of my deeper discussions about good and evil “just happen to take place” when my child is able to shrink the all-encompassing ideas of good and evil down to digestible, bite-sized chunks, i.e. cartoon characters such as Megamind, Metro Man, and Titan. Some of my very-best opportunities to speak into the life of my son have come hard on the heels of a penetrating question such as, “How become Metro Man wanted to pretend that he was dead?” or “Why is Titan being so mean to Roxanne Ritchie?”

Movies almost always take their viewers deep into situations where they are called to make some decisions about good and evil, right and wrong. Most of the time, the screenwriters and director have already fed a pre-determined conclusion into the script, “freeing us” from the necessity of thinking for ourselves. What I find so interesting about this particular film is that in seeking to deconstruct our ideas of “what heros should do” and “what villains always do,” the filmmakers have created an environment that is ripe for exploring these questions, not to mention an overarching theme which essentially retells the gospel story of redemption from evil. Looked at the film through this lens, Megamind’s life might as well be compared to the dramatic conversion story of Saul of Tarsus. Where Megamind is drawn reluctantly into goodness by his love for Roxanne, Saul was hijacked along the road to Damascus by Jesus (Acts 9) and dragged into the kingdom of light kicking and screaming. In both cases, interestingly, the conversion experience was precipitated by a change in relationship.

There’s enough superhero mayhem in this film to keep me from recommending it for all ages – downtown buildings blowing up, destructive battles as citizens run screaming through the streets, mildly rude humor – but my five-year-old seems to thoroughly enjoy it, and I do, too. What I find even more interesting is my child’s ability to process many of the bigger themes without much effort. He gets it; some people really are bad, and we need to be protected from them even as we try to offer them a chance to clean up their act.

I wonder if the production team put a great deal of thought into how many questions this might raise in the hearts and minds of younger viewers. Perhaps these themes were woven in purposefully, or merely an unintended side-effect of good screenwriting. In any case, this movie does a great job of mixing things up and taking the story in directions that reveal the universal longing for peace and justice, as well as the need we all have to live in relationship with one another. Whatever the intent, the filmmakers certainly succeeded in putting one of Steven Garber‘s themes into play: “The first rule of engagement is to be excellent at whatever it is you are doing.” In my opinion – and my son’s – this they did in spades.

As Christian believers, it’s oftentimes tempting to “hide” from the culture and more or less pretend that it doesn’t exist. True, there are no “overtly Christian” messages buried in an animated film that is primarily just trying to have fun with various superhero traditions and archetypes. But we should never rule out opportunities to speak to our kids about God, especially when those moments spring up from an unexpected source.

My tendency, sadly, is to take myself far too seriously. Every now and then, though, I find it helps immensely to put down the Westminster Confession of Faith when trying to reach my kids for Christ and engage with them at that “fun” level, one they can both appreciate and comprehend. This is as true while watching episodes of The Office with my teenage daughters as it is while putting the Megamind DVD into our player for the umpteenth time.

We are constantly being exposed to other people’s ideas about truth, right and wrong, and ultimate value. Exposure itself is not the problem; failing to process the things we are exposed to in light of God’s Truth and His plan for humanity is.

One of the strongest, most-persuasive arguments for an authentic life of Christian faith is the complete absence of fear, coupled with the total certainty that the message of Jesus Christ is more than able to give an answer to any and all competing truth claims. Where I might be tempted to cram truth into the soul of my son by using the means that I deem most effective, I think it is far more powerful to observe those things that have already taken hold of his heart and respond to them redemptively. For what it’s worth, this is one silly film that opened up a window on his soul and allowed me to peek in.

That, plus we now have a whole new grab-bag of memorable quotes with which to further torment each other.

2 Corinthians 10:3-7
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.

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