Frozen | Thoughts on Biblical commUNITY

Here’s the thing: If I knew when I committed to writing this post that the blogosphere would be buried in Frozen commentary like Arendelle in deep, deep, deep, deep snow, I probably would have reconsidered. But alas, I’ve promised a post, so here it is. 

If you have kids, teenagers, college students or well, even a young-at-heart-sister-in-law, then you’ve most likely spent your winter as I have: listening to said family members belt out the entire Frozen soundtrack morning, noon and night. My girls have even taken to singing duets, complete with knocking on a door, any door, before crooning: Do you wanna build a snowman?

And then they built one. Look familiar?

Family Photo

Family Photo

Anyway, I have this quirky habit of perceiving spiritual truth in all sorts of pop-culture media. Give me a minute and I’ll preach you a sermon on Finding Nemo, Perfect, The Hunger Games. (In some case, I already have.)

Frozen is no exception. Besides, you didn’t seriously think I could watch a movie with the tag-line “only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart” and not write about it, did you?

But that’s not because I want to preach you a sermon. Rather, it’s because I know what it’s like to have a frozen heart. To live so heavy under a curse, that I feared being discovered, being known. “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know,” were lyrics to the soundtrack of my life long before Disney wrote Let it Go.

Some hearts, like Elsa’s, freeze because of fear, and some hearts, like Anna’s, freeze from wounds caused by others. For most of us, it’s a combination of both.

I know what it’s like to be mortally wounded – to be struck through the heart with icy shards of rejection and abandonment. To feel the cold spread across my chest, squeezing the air from my lungs, leaving me breathless, face down in the hard earth.

And I know what it’s like to do the wounding, the destroying – to be the ice queen. To detest the woman in the mirror. To distrust my darkened self, because “I can’t control the curse.” To live in terror of corrupting everything I touch, everyone who comes near me because there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me.”

I’ve fought in vain to be “the good girl [I] always had to be” – not just because I don’t want to be hurt – but because I don’t want to hurt others. And I have run away, isolating myself in an ice castle of my own design. A place where fear bars the doors to pain…and love.

Ice castles. We all build them. At first they seem beautiful, protective, even empowering, like Elsa’s. (OK, hers was pretty awesome.) But they’re also cold and confining.

Like Anna, people have come knocking on my door, offering me love with open hands: “You don’t have to keep your distance anymore. We can head down this mountain together. You don’t have to live in fear. I will be right here.”

And like Elsa I have cried out, “You mean well, but leave me be. Yes, I’m alone, but I’m alone and free!  Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me!”

But can a person be alone and free? Our ice castles – fortresses built to protect and isolate – are less like palaces and more like prisons than we care to admit. But even if the cold never bothered us anyway, loneliness and disconnection weary the heart. And weary hearts can’t fly free.

We can be alone, but we can’t be alone and free.

Yet sometimes, a weary, earth-bound heart seems bearable in exchange for a life safe from harming or being harmed. But a life without love inflicts its own sort of pain. Not only on us, but on those around us.

Elsa’s cry, “Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me!” sounds like a noble sacrifice and a reasonable demand when considering the stakes. But she failed to discern the thin, sharp edge that separates truth from reality…

To avoid others, to avoid love or vulnerability or pain, is not to be free, but to chain ourselves to freedom’s great imposter: independence.

Elsa believed that she could shut away her frozen heart and live independently without consequence. But the opposite happened. By isolating herself and giving in to her fear and curse, she set off an eternal winter, nearly destroying her entire kingdom. She wasn’t free at all. In fact, things were worse than ever.

And so it goes with us. How often do we succumb to our darkest fears, satisfy our guilty pleasures, indulge our most agonizing curses, and tell ourselves that as long as we do it alone, no one will get hurt? But someone’s always getting hurt.

Build an ice castle and no matter how much it sparkles, you will wound hearts and court the eternal winter…because relational independence is a lie. Our choices and our actions affect each other in ways far beyond what our eyes can see or our minds can know.

The truth is that we were created for community, connection, relationships – with God and with each other. Relationships aren’t a luxury; they are a necessity – living water for our thirsty souls.

Community, first with God in the holiest of communities: where the warm, glowing Breath of Life and Love made ours by the ultimate act of true love, thaws our frozen hearts and lifts the burden of our curse so our souls can take wing. Only in binding ourselves to Him, our True and Mighty Fortress, are we set free.

Free to love from the fortress of His perfect love, we are Not Alone, but Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters. Like Elsa and Anna, we can face this life together, hand in hand, even though someone might get hurt.

And therein lies the greatest freedom: to throw open the doors of your heart and love, really love…despite the risk, despite the loneliness, despite the pain, despite the failure, despite the brokenness. That is true freedom.  

Catching Fire Movie Review

I know you have all been anxiously awaiting my review of Catching Fire, the movie based on the second book of Suzanne Collins‘ trilogy The Hunger Games.

Well, you can finally relax. It’s here!

I have already written a review of the books and the first movie; check them out here and here.  (In my opinion, the book review qualifies as “not to be missed.”)

Please note that I use the term “review” loosely. You will find no technical terms or expert analysis…just me, my thoughts, opinions and sometimes wacky connections to life and God.

First Impressions:

  • What a fantastic story. The whole concept is brilliant: a futuristic, dystopian society at the mercy of a corrupt, oppressive system that pits teenagers against each other by making them fight to the death on reality television. Brilliant! Horrifying, but brilliant!
  • Liked it better than the first HG movie.
  • Great casting! Finnick, Beetee, Maggs, Johanna, Cashmere, Gloss…almost exactly as described in the books.
  • Special effects significantly improved from the first movie.
  • So fast paced! I couldn’t believe that when the Quarter Quell finally began, there were only 45 minutes left to the movie.
  • Gale, Gale, Gale. I confess that if I hadn’t read the books, I would want Katniss to choose Gale. He’s just…so…Gale.
  • Prim. What is she, like 35 now?

Bad News First – What I Hated:

  • Not knowing Katniss’s internal dialogue. The books, written in the first person, allow us to understand her internal struggles, fears, doubts and hopes.  Whether it’s the fault of the screenwriters, the actors, both or neither, the movie limits our ability to identify with Katniss.
  • Peeta is not as strong a character as he was in the books. While he comes across way better than he did in the first movie (more on that here) he’s still too feminine and puppy-doggish towards Katniss for my taste.
  • The failure to develop Katniss and Peeta’s relationship on-screen. Maybe no one could figure out a good way to transition back and forth between the story’s fierce intensity and its deep, sometimes painful, tenderness. (Except in the case of Rue.) And I guess that if one side of the story had to be sacrificed, this was the way to go. Otherwise, you run the risk of making just another sappy, teenage love story.
    But in the books, the relationship between Katniss and Peeta illustrates of the running theme that hope is the only thing stronger than fear. Because the only thing that conquers Katniss – a wounded girl, walled off from love and driven by fear – is Peeta – the boy with the bread, the dandelion in the spring, the embodiment of hope. Many things help save her life in the arenas but Peeta saves her heart.
  • Katniss’s mother, when tending to Gale’s wounds, is nervous and ineffectual, and Prim has to take over. Yet in the book, the mother is actually composed and competent. Perhaps this was done to demonstrate Prim’s maturity, but it was unnecessary. Anybody with one good eye can tell that Prim’s not a little girl anymore.

What They Left Out…But Shouldn’t Have:

  • Plutarch showing Katniss his Mockingjay watch at the party. If the goal was to keep people in the dark about his part in the revolution, well, the book’s kind of gave that away already.
  • When Peeta takes care of Katniss after she injures her foot and they experience “normal” life together.
  • When Peeta says, “My nightmares are usually about losing you…I’m okay once I realize your here.” (page 86)
  • Katniss & Peeta on the rooftop, watching the sunset together, a couple of days before the games.

What They Should Have Left Out…But Didn’t:

  • Katniss kissing Gale then kissing Peeta then Gale then Peeta then Gale then Peeta. OK, I may be exaggerating. But this is my least favorite part of Catching Fire, the book and movie.  It’s so Bella-from-Twilight. Pick a man, sister. And until you do, stop kissing and holding hands and “just cuddling.” It’s bad role-modeling and selfish and just plain embarrassing!

What I Loved:

  • A funnier, smarter script that seemed to follow the book more closely than the first movie.
  • No major fails like in the first movie. (Yes, I am referring to the bread scene, the worst massacre of the first film, which given the nature of the story, says a lot.)
  • Peeta & Katniss’s speeches in District 11. Rue & Thresh’s families, the old man whistling the Mockingjay tune. I cried. Like a baby.
  • Peeta holding the morphling girl as she died, coaxing her to look at the beautiful colors in the sky until she passed.
  • Cinna and the Mockingjay dress. No. Explanation. Needed.
  • Peeta. His character is better. Funnier. Stronger. But still not taller. I will always love Peeta.
  • Effie. Funnier. Kinder. Human. Even likeable!
  • Haymitch. Still Haymitch.
  • Snow’s granddaughter. The perfect foil of her ruthless, evil grandfather.
  • Individual Assessments when Peeta painted Rue and Katniss hung an effigy of Seneca Crane.
  • The elevator scene. Hilarious.

Favorite Lines:

  • Haymitch: Nobody wins the games. Period. There are survivors. No winners.
  •  Katniss: What can you see? Prim: Hope.
  • As graffiti: The odds are NEVER in our favor.
  • And the best line of the movie: Remember who the enemy is.

So good.

Finally, I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with the last few paragraphs of my trilogy review. (Read the whole thing here.)

Do humans universally long for…a love that sacrifices one’s self to save another? If our music, movies, plays and books are any indication, then we must… it should come as no surprise that so many people love these books…the story stirs something deep within us.

As a baker, Peeta literally feeds and nourishes people in a starving community. This, I imagine, was no accident on the author’s part because he is ultimately the one who satisfies Katniss’s deepest hunger. I can’t help but smile a little at his name, which is actually a homonym for a kind of bread eaten by millions of people the world over. But I wonder if as Collins was writing Peeta, she considered the One who truly satisfies.

We, every one of us, are part of a Hunger Game. Only this is no game. This is real.

Look around you. Think about it. Why are you here? Who’s really in control? Are you still a slave to the unseen powers of this dark world? Do you know who the real enemy is? Are you hungry? Starving for the truth? Desperate for something…or someone to satisfy your soul?

He’s out there, you know. Your Rescuer. The One who said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” is all the food your starving soul needs.

And He’s the only chance you have of getting out of this arena alive.

Review – The Hunger Games Movie

Photo by Mya Jamila

Photo by Mya Jamila

After all my obsessing over the trilogy, I feel I must at least give you some sort of review of the long awaited movie The Hunger Games. (Read my “review” of the books here.) First off, in situations like this, it almost goes without saying that the book was better than the movie. Both Jacquelyn and I were grateful for having read the books, so that we could fill in what the movie dismissed.

Overall, the film was good, exciting and entertaining, which is the most important part because “They just want a good show. That’s all they want.”  Lots of action and strong characters – loved Haymitch and Effie. The books are written in first person, from Katniss’s perspective, so the movie allowed us  to see what the book did not: what happened in the gamemaker’s room, the Seam and the other districts while Katniss was in the arena. I liked that! However, I missed hearing Katniss’s internal emotions, thoughts and conflicts; and I don’t believe the movie provided good alternative ways for viewers to understand her. I wonder how those who haven’t read the books are responding to her character.

My biggest disappointment was no surprise, but disappointing nonetheless. As expected, filmmakers feminized Peeta. In the book, he is not only physically taller, stronger and dangerously skilled with a knife, his entire personality is more self-assured, courageous and unflappable. Filmmaker’s traded Peeta’s original sense of integrity, determination and desire to protect Katniss for wavering emotions, fear, uncertainty and all the trappings of a love-sick schoolboy. In the film, he comes across as googly eyed over and dependent on the girl who must save him, but in the book he is her equal – equal but different.

I do not understand, nor will I ever, why Hollywood insists that all artistic male characters be emasculated. So he paints and bakes. So what? For heaven’s sake, I know a boatload of men, several in my family, who are artists, musicians, and cooks, and not one of them has traded in their manhood for an apron or a banjo. Believe it or not, they can handle both.

I must confess that weak male characters are a pet peeve of mine – just ask my best friend and our daughters, they can tell you all about it! There’s a whole list of male characters I won’t even tolerate – including, yes, the guy from The Notebook. Yuck! You can analyze it all you want, but regardless of what you come up with, half this world is populated with men and I’d like to keep it that way. No, I do not want women to rule the world! And, no, I do not want men to be more like my girlfriends! I want men to be men. And yes, they can be artistic and sensitive and good in the kitchen, without being stripped of their masculinity. Oh, Paula Cole, have you yet found the answer to your burning question…Where have all the cowboys gone?

I have one more question for the filmmakers and screenwriters (including Suzanne Collins who was not only the books’ author but also a screenwriter). Why in the world didn’t you use children to play the flashback scene where Peeta feeds a starving Katniss??? There is no excuse. NONE! And, I can’t help but add a correction for my readers and potential movie goers. In the book, during the flashback scene, Peeta  is a young boy who artfully burns the bread on purpose and endures a beating from his mom, hoping that his mother will force him to feed the burned bread to the pigs. She does, enabling him to sneak out back and give the bread to a young, starving Katniss instead. The movie took this strong portrayal away from Peeta by showing him as an uncertain teenager who threw leftover bread toward Katniss like she was a dog.  In the book, Peeta saved and sustained her, even when they were young –  a- beautiful picture of his character and love for her, that was completely lost in this ridiculous scene!

Finally, a word on the violence. I believe the filmmakers did a great job handling such a violent story for a young audience that included many grade school children. Personally, violence does not generally upset me as a movie-goer and so believe me when I say, the movie definitely pushes the boundaries of PG-13 when it comes to violence. All other content, however, was well within the bounds of the rating.

Even with all its imperfections, I still very much enjoyed the movie. I wiggled in my seat like a schoolgirl, waiting for it to start. And afterward, Jacquelyn and I analyzed the movie over the phone for two hours. Perhaps I am a harsh critic who likes giving her opinion too much, but there you have it, my feedback on The Hunger Games.