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In the movie Elf, Buddy tells Jovie “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” Press photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Press photo courtesy of New Line Cinema

In the movie Elf, Buddy tells Jovie “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”

What pop culture characters can teach us about God

 

By Jordan Taylor*

From popular books and television shows to chart-topping music and sold-out movies, we live in a world of pop culture. While we may be looking for a diversion from everyday life, the Holy Spirit sometimes chooses pop culture to speak to us in surprising ways.

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In the movie Elf, Buddy leaves his North Pole home to travel to New York City to find his dad. Press photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Buddy: Singing the Good News loudly for all to hear!
Like many United Methodists, Buddy has a passion for singing loudly, proudly, and often. He proclaims, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”

In the movie Elf, Buddy is raised at the North Pole where every day is about Christmas. When he travels south to New York City, he shares his infectious enthusiasm for Santa, carols, and Christmas cheer wherever he goes, often with those who don’t share his fondness for elf culture.

Singing has long been a way people of faith have worshiped and prayed. The Psalms include songs of praise, lament, and thanksgiving. Mary sings a bold song of praise for all God is doing through her after the angel tells her that she will be the mother of Jesus.

Whether we sing hymns at church with an organ or praise songs with a band, singing is a way we worship God and spread Christian cheer.

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In the TV show "Friends," Monica strives to be the perfect hostess, but forgets to serve the people. Press photo courtesy of Warner Brothers.

Monica and Martha: Hospitality without heart
“I’m always the hostess!” we hear Monica Gellar exclaim in an early episode of the ‘90’s hit sitcom Friends. It’s not the only time Monica shows off her hosting skills: Monica orchestrates and hosts nearly every gathering or party held in the series.

But in all her work to be the perfect hostess, she forgets the most important part of her hospitality: the people. She tries to make sure each party turns out exactly as she wants it, down to the last detail, working so hard that she can’t enjoy the fruits of her labor.

Similarly, in the Bible we read how hard Martha works to prepare for Jesus’ arrival at her home (Luke 10:38-42). Her sister Mary sits at Jesus’s feet and listens to his teaching, but Martha is distracted by the big dinner she is preparing for Jesus. When Martha becomes frustrated that her sister is not helping, she complains to Jesus. His response is probably not what Martha wanted to hear:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.”

Both Martha and Monica focused on performance, appearance, and control— and it left each of them empty at the end. Martha lost out on learning from the wisdom of Jesus. Monica spent her time complaining, comparing, and exhausting herself as a hostess instead of spending time with her friends and guests. Both became distracted and missed the heart of the matter.

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In the movie "Insurgent," Christina tells Tris 'the forgiving is already done.' Press photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Insurgent: The forgiving is done
Following the prayer of confession in our United Methodist communion liturgy, the leader assures us of God’s promise to forgive us. “Hear the good news,” the liturgy reads, “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.”

In Insurgent, the second book of the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, protagonist Beatrice “Tris” Prior makes a quick, drastic decision that deeply hurts her friend, Christina. At first, Christina refuses to forgive Tris — even though Tris would have died if Tris hadn’t made her choice.

Christina eventually realizes Tris’ side of the situation, though it takes some time for her to admit it. When Tris sees Christina again, Christina tells her “It’s already done. That’s what I meant to say, that the forgiving was already done.”

As people of faith, we sometimes need to be reminded that we are grace-given, already-forgiven people in Jesus. There is no amount of doing or earning that is going to give us the grace we’ve already received.

Just as Christina had already forgiven Tris before she asked her to, Jesus already forgives us for the sins of yesterday and the sins of tomorrow through his death on the cross. We don’t have a check-list of things to do to earn his forgiveness; “the forgiving was already done.”

Listening for God
God can use any medium to come to us. When we are listening, the Holy Spirit may choose to use a book, movie, or television show to speak to our hearts. So, the next time you are curled up with a favorite book, sitting in a theater, or casually watching television, listen for the ways God may be speaking to you.

*Jordan Taylor is a freelance writer and blogger based in Nashville, Tenn. Media contact is Fran Walsh at 615-742-5458.