Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Good News of 'Megamind'

I loved DreamWorks' new movie Megamind when I saw it in the theaters recently. Loved it! Entertaining action, lovable villain, relatively unique plot, lack of the usual "farting" and "butt" humor that is prevalent in family movies and kids' t.v. shows today, fascinating moral dilemma (does good necessitate evil, and vice versa), fabulous cast, Michael Jackson's "Bad" during the closing credits, etc.

And -- are you ready for it?! -- it has a great Advent plot!

Megamind begins with a classic assumption: the strongest, handsomest, most privileged, most perfect, most popular guy is granted the people's trust and elevated to the status of superhero. In his fight to keep the people of Metro City safe from the chaos and mischievous schemes of the villain, superhero Metro Man always wins and always gets the girl and always has neatly coiffed hair. In contrast to our valiant hero, the evil Megamind is oddly proportioned and oddly colored, has weird friends (a fish in a bowl with a robotic body and apelike arms), and prefers elaborate inventions over graceful social skills. With good and evil, perfection and error, thus defined, all is right and balanced in the animated world ...

... until the bad guy wins. Totally trounces the superhero with a deadly alignment of space satellites and sun rays and laser beams. Free to rampage through Metro City and to make the mayor's office his own evil sanctuary, (spoiler alert) Megamind suddenly has to consider what it means to be a villain without a hero ... and, ultimately, whether or not he might become the hero himself. But who would cheer the heroism of a blue bald guy with a big head and a fish for his best friend? Who would erect a monument to this scrawny guy with a shady past??

Who would cheer the unimpressive pregnancy of a young woman who got knocked up before she got married? Who would applaud a baby born into poverty in an occupied territory, and say "Look! Here's a hero! Here's someone who can save us and right the world's wrongs!"?? What makes a growing toddler living in exile in Egypt any more likely of a savior than a blue-headed inventor wearing black leather?

Granted, those of us who have grown up in the church might scratch our heads and wonder about the comparison of Megamind-the-improbable-hero to Jesus, because we've always heard that Jesus is the Savior and Jesus is the obvious hero to every story. We forget that Jesus was a surprise to those around him and (in contrast to our preference for powerful & popular heroes) a bit of a rebel without much social savvy for getting ahead in the world!

But the Advent message urges: "Keep awake! Watch for the unexpected! Be prepared for the impossible!"

Not only does the hero have an unexpected appearance, but his acts of heroism are beyond imagining! The nerdy blue guy gets the girl and a parade in his honor. The rescuer of Israel makes the wolf and the lamb live together in peace. Advent doesn't just give us a hero that we don't expect; Advent gives us a social/world reconciliation that we don't expect!

For all of the familiarity of this winter holiday, for all of the comforts and routines that we love about it (or not so much), I suspect that we often miss the element of surprise which is necessary to Advent watchfulness. The baby in the manger is adorable, no longer compelling. The shepherds are sanitary, the wise men prompt, the angels routine ... without particularly inspiring us to seek out the disheveled loners, the star-gazers, the mystic intercessors.

Even the Advent lectionary readings that lead into Christmas cannot catch us off guard: a child playing near the hole of an asp, a desert in full bloom, an exiled people free to return home, a priest mute with disbelief, two pregnant women -- one young, one old and (supposedly) barren -- laughing and singing praises together. The familiarity of it all is lovely, but is it motivating?

What I love about Megamind for Advent is that it twists the usually-predictable hero plot so well that the viewer isn't quite sure how all of the pieces will come together. Long-time Christians who have heard the stories of Advent for many years are no longer surprised by the ending: "Oh my gosh, look! A baby was born!"

But someday we will be surprised -- utterly and completely surprised -- because God will show up in the last possible way or in the least likely person ever imagined. Maybe it will be tomorrow, and the Church will collectively roll out of bed, set her feet on the floor, look out the window at the natural presence of God, and say "Oh my goodness -- I think that God loves the queer community without strings attached! And *gasp* God calls and ordains women and same-gender-loving folks and trans persons into ministry!" Maybe it will be the end of time, and it won't matter whether you believe in instantaneous rapture or no-hell-just-heaven-for-everybody, because we will all be stunned and awed to witness the Holy Wildness that is God.

But in the meantime, for this Advent season, I appreciate Megamind for the reminder to look for the unimagined ... to look for something that I'm not trying to find, to watch for an unexpected agent surprising me with the presence of God, to listen for Advent themes in a silly family movie, to prepare for the radical idea that the obvious enemy can be the superhero for Metro City.

And maybe for Advent.

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