A Theological Interpretation of Toy Story 4

Our family saw Toy Story 4 last week. I’ll be honest…my expectations were pretty low. I mean, after the FANTASTIC way that Toy Story 3 wrapped up this entire narrative thread in a nice, neat package, I really thought another installment was, at best, unnecessary, and, at worst, a money grab. But it was super hot last weekend so I thought Toy Story 4 was a perfectly acceptable way to spend a couple of hours as a family. Plus, we had a gift card.

But this movie not only surpassed my minimal expectations (not hard to do). Toy Story 4 is definitely my favorite film in this franchise and quite possibly my favorite Pixar movie ever. Seriously. That’s partly due to the film’s melancholy tone (I’m a sucker for melancholy). And it’s partly due to Key & Peele’s riotous take on new characters Ducky and Bunny. But more than anything, I loved the existential questions posed by Bonnie’s new favorite toy, Forky.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to stop reading right here. A good part of the story, at least early on, centers around Bonnie’s infatuation with a minimally decorated arts-and-crafts-project spork who immediately becomes her beloved “Forky.” (Yeah, you kind of have to just roll with it, but then again, this is a franchise about talking toys.) Bonnie plays with Forky, sleeps with Forky, takes Forky on the family road trip. But despite the unconditional love of his creator, Forky simply cannot see himself as anything but garbage. Because…well, he IS garbage, salvaged from the trash can by Woody to assuage Bonnie’s pre-K ostracization. Forky’s besetting sin is his inability to see himself through the eyes of his creator.

Forky spends the first act running around and declaring “I’m trash!” while divebombing into any receptacle he can find. It’s pretty funny at first…then the novelty wears off and it gets old really quickly…and then a lightbulb goes off and you begin to understand the deeply philosophical question being posed by a spork in an animated movie about toys and the children who love them.

Apparently Forky is breaking the Internet. How else to explain this?

But I think all the Forky love indicates something much deeper, an inherent insecurity that plagues us all. In our age old quest for identity and purpose, we all too often arrive at the same conclusion as Forky: I’m worthless, I’m no good, I’m trash. We are quick to compare, to contrast, to notice everything that seems right in the lives of those around us and everything imperfection in our own. Many of us believe in graciousness and kindness and we dole them out in generous portions on a daily basis…except when dealing with ourselves. And so our inner monologue matches Forky’s. Maybe that explains all the memes…I don’t know.

As Curt Thompson points out in his excellent book The Soul of Shame, shame is often weaponized by the enemy to tell us a story about ourselves that is intended for our destruction. The forces of darkness use this narrative to grind us down, to numb us to the divine reflection we are told that we bear. And like Forky, we are quick to embrace a view of our utter worthlessness based upon all the ways we don’t measure up. And in extreme cases, we careen recklessly into circumstances that, from our warped view of self, serve to validate our perceptions of worthlessness.

We may not run around saying the words, “I’m trash,” but many of us believe them to be true nonetheless.

In this way, Toy Story 4 is far more than a 90-minute detour into the air conditioned bliss of the cineplex on a sweltering summer day; it is a poignant statement about personhood. Even the title is deeply ironic: “Toy Story” is largely a misnomer; this is fable about what it means to be human, exposing our deep-seated insecurities and cynical self appraisals and causing us to ask hard questions about dignity and self-worth. Am I trash? Or something more? In these largely unreflective times, I appreciate any form of media that operates on a plane this transcendent, this meta. And as a follower of Jesus, I care deeply about these questions (and their answers) — because I believe the story of Jesus offers a firm and resolute rebuttal to the story shame is trying to tell.

But I would argue that Toy Story 4 works on an even deeper level still. If Forky’s identity crisis prompts us to ask questions about our own inherent self-worth, then well enough. And if viewers take the next step to consider the inherent dignity of their neighbors in our age of “othering” — whether it be xenophobia, homophobia, racial prejudice, etc. — even better. But more subtly, Pixar has created a story that also serves as a parable of the Gospel while simultaneously indicting our latent predilection for idolatry. This is evident in the way that Bonnie treasures her “trash” (or “worthless idols” per Jonah 2:8) while largely ignoring the benevolence of the one (Woody) who acts providentially on her behalf. This is the human dilemma in its modern North American form. While that isn’t the most glaring theological takeaway from Toy Story 4, it’s another point to consider in a thoughtfully layered narrative.

(As an Enneagram aficionado, I also couldn’t help but notice that Woody comes across as a pretty unhealthy 2 in this movie. But that’s for another blog post.)

Toy Story 4 asks some pretty important questions and prompts viewers to reflect upon their own worth and the inherent value of their neighbors. As such, it calls to mind the Imago Dei, the universal truth that each human life is innately dignified by bearing the imprint of the divine. This is biblical view of personhood. Pretty heady stuff for a kids movie.

Thanks for the reminder, Pixar, that we are intrinsically valuable simply because we hold the unconditional love of our Creator. That’s good news, indeed.

Posted in Culture, Devotional, Faith, Family, Gospel, Imago Dei, Kingdom Values, Movies, Theology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Abby K8

So my daughter has a blog now. You should check it out at https://myperspective.photo.blog/

Her most recent post is all about her favorite summer road trip music. Good stuff. I take a bit of pride in her eclectic musical taste!

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2019 MLB All-Stars Voting Guide

Major League Baseball has a new voting process for determining the starters for the Midsummer Classic this year. I’ll be honest: not loving it. But it is what it is. The primary portion of the voting is complete and now we’re down to three candidates per position (nine outfielders). If you’re looking for a little help in voting for the most “deserving” candidates (rather than simply voting for your hometown / favorite team’s starters), I’ve got you covered.

Catcher

In the AL, the finalists are Gary Sanchez (NYY), James McCann (CHW), and Robinson Chirinos (HOU). Although McCann has put together a nice half season at the plate (outhitting Chirinos by ninety points), it’d be a landslide upset if Sanchez isn’t the starter. 23 homers should earn him the nod and it’s hard to argue for anyone otherwise.

Over in the NL, you can select either Willson Contreras (CHC) or Yasmani Grandal (MIL). Brian McCann is inexplicably on this ballot over Yadier Molina — exposing both the flaws in this system and the complete lack of objectivity on the part of the residents of “Braves Nation.” Seriously, McCann isn’t even the best backstop on his own team. Although, after last night’s Cubs / Braves dustup, it’d be great television to see McCann and Contreras sharing a locker room in a couple of weeks. According to WAR, Grandal should be the starter and that’s who I’ll be voting for.

First base

Pete Alonso should be on this list of finalists. But I digress.

Josh Bell (PIT) has had an incredible run to begin 2019. His finally delivering the kinds of numbers the Bucs were expecting. But I’ve been saying it for a while: Freddie Freeman is one of the best hitters of his generation and he has the numbers to prove it. He should absolutely be the starter for the National League.

American League finalists Luke Voit (NYY), C.J. Cron (MIN), and Carlos Santana (CLE) look nearly identical on paper, so this race is wide open. I’m a little partial to Voit simply because he’s a former Cardinal farmhand, but you could truly cast a vote for any of the three. I’ll probably lean toward Cron, simply as a way of acknowledging the truly amazing story of the Twins in this first half. But I’m sure Yankee fans will push en masse for Voit to be the starter.

Second base

Look, I love Jose Altuve as much as anybody. But it’ll be a joke if he’s the starter here. D.J. LeMahieu has been a revelation in the Bronx this spring, generating an OPS over .850 and already producing 3.0 Wins Above Replacement. But I’ll be rooting for Tommy La Stella, the former utility man who has become a fixture atop the Angels lineup. Fan voting was created for just this reason. Put La Stella in the lineup.

In the NL, your choices are Mike Moustakas (MIL), Ketel Marte (ARI), and Ozzie Albies (ATL). I know Braves fans think Albies is the next Joe Morgan, but every respectable metric shows that both Marte and Moustakas have outperformed him by a 2-to-1 ratio. Moustakas has seamlessly made the move from third to second, but Marte’s out-of-nowhere production is impressive. I really hope he gets the nod, because he’s the most deserving candidate.

Shortstop

Whether you like him or not, Javier Baez looks like he’s here to stay. His primary total of 2.5 million votes seems like a pretty good indication that he’s going to be starting this game for the NL. But Trevor Story has actually been better. It’s a shame that a hand injury might keep him from making the team. And Braves fans…get out of here with your Dansby Swanson. Please.

An early season injury to Frankie Lindor left the door open in the American League and all three finalists — Carlos Correa (HOU), Gleyber Torres (NYY), and Jorge Polanco (MIN) — have had tremendous half-seasons. But I’m compelled to vote for Polanco, who is looking like a legit MVP candidate for the upstart Twins.

Third base

In the American League, Alex Bregman should pretty much have this one locked down. His batting average is a bit low, but the power is there and he deserves the start. Hunter Dozier will probably make the team as well, albeit as the lone Royal representative.

And what in the world does Anthony Rendon have to do to make an All-Star team? Nolan Arenado is great, so it’s a foregone conclusion that he’s the starter here, but how can you objectively argue that either Donaldson or Bryant have put together better first halves than Rendon? Here’s hoping his snub streak finally comes to an end this summer.

Outfield

How good is Mike Trout? In three months, he’s already produced 5.2 Wins Above Replacement — which is just insane. So he’s a shoo-in for the American League. The other two spots could go to a couple of Astros. George Springer amassed over 2 million votes in the primary and would be a deserving flankmate for Trout. The third leading vote-getter among AL outfielders was Michael Brantley and he’s certainly a deserving candidate. But I’ll probably select Austin Meadows instead. He’s been a true spark for the Rays and I’d love for his first half to be rewarded with an All-Star game start.

At least we know that Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich will be in the outfield for the NL on Tuesday, July 9th. The two NL MVP candidates are a joy to watch. I feel sorry for American League pitchers. The other outfield spot is probably up in the air. The third and fourth leading NL outfielders in the primary were Ronald Acuna Jr. and Nick Markakis. Yes, Nick Markakis, whose 0.9 Wins Above Replacement for the season trails household names such as Mark Canha, J.P. Crawford, and Pablo Sandoval. Let’s just hope it’s Acuna.

Designated Hitter

Who cares? These guys don’t play the field.

Just kidding. Nelson Cruz, J.D. Martinez, and Hunter Pence all have comparable stats, so I might just vote for Pence, given that his career was on life-support just a few months ago.

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Attention Drivers!

So…THIS happened today.

Pray for me!

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RBI Single

Solid RBI single to finish the travel ball season with a .346 batting average.

Posted in Baseball, Kids, Sports, Video | 1 Comment

Missional Ecclesiology in Practice

In A Light to the Nations, Michael W. Goheen argues for a vision of the contemporary missional church that flows directly out of the biblical story. Heady stuff, as evidenced by chapter titles such as, “Israel Embodies Its Missional Role and Identity amid the Nations” and “Jesus Gathers an Eschatalogical People to Take Up Their Missional Calling.”

But Goheen closes with an extremely practical question: “What Might This Look Like Today?” He offers thirteen reflections for local congregations seeking to live faithfully in light of God’s missional story. I think these hold great potency for mission in the North American context, particularly as practices for churches in this nation.

A church with worship that nurtures our missional identity.

As famed missiologist Leslie Newbegin noted, the weekly gathering for worship is the most important thing we do. Our worship must tell the truth story of the world over against the competing narratives we hear at nearly every turn in our culture.

A church empowered by the preaching of the gospel.

We must repeatedly announce the Good News we have found in Jesus and invite the people of God to embody an altogether different story than the stories embodied by others. If the goal of preaching is to make Christ present, His presence must empower our living out this Good News for the sake of the world.

A church devoted to communal prayer.

Fervent prayer is a New Testament normalcy. Sadly, this is not the case in many of our churches today. As Andrew Murray points out, prayer is our “strategic position” that we must cling to with great devotion.

A church striving to live as a contrast community.

The opportunities here are myriad:

  • The church exists as a community of justice in a world of economic and ecological injustice.
  • The church is a community of generosity and simplicity amid a consumeristic world.
  • The church is a community of selfless giving in a world of gross selfishness.
  • The church clings to hope in a land of deep disillusionment.
  • The church looks for true joy and thanksgiving in a pleasure-seeking culture.
  • The church experiences God’s presence in a devoutly secular and humanistic world.

A church that understands its cultural context.

Living as a contrast community inevitably prompts a missionary encounter with the culture. We are to challenge the cultural story rather than being absorbed by it. Culture is built upon a foundation of religious commitments and assumptions. But we are tasked to challenge the faulty and idolatrous religious commitments that are so prevalent in our culture.

A church trained for a missionary encounter in its callings in the world.

Does your church train you for these missionary encounters? According to Newbegin, the church has failed to recognize that the primary witness to the sovereignty of Christ must be given — he says it can only be given — in the everyday secular work of lay men and women in business, politics, professional work, etc. We must capitalize on the opportunities we have to demonstrate that we have been shaped by a different kind of story.

And make no mistake: faithfulness to this point will lead to:

  • Greater suffering
  • Deeper prayer
  • Stronger community

A church trained to evagelism in an organic way.

Much of the church’s evangelistic strategy fails because it comes across as propaganda and a sales pitch to the unbeliever. But if the Gospel impacts all areas of life, then both our words and deeds will make the Gospel credible. This means there are tremendous opportunities for evangelism that emerge all the time. May we simply have eyes to see and ears to hear!

A church deeply involved in the needs of its neighborhood and world.

When unbelievers in the vicinity of a local church are asked why they think that church exists, they often answer, “It exists for itself.” How tragic. We are called not to live for self but for the sake of the community around us — to be an expression of Good News in our context. This means seeing and responding to the very real needs of those around us.

A church committed to missions.

The church is the only mission body established by God in the New Testament. We must be deeply committed to God’s Good News mission — because God is deeply committed to this mission as well.

A church with well-trained leaders.

In the New Testament, leadership was primarily in mission. In Christendom, leadership was pastoral care of established communities. Commenting on this, Newbegin says, “In one, the minister is facing the people — gathering, teaching, feeding, comforting; in the other he is leading the people, going before them on the way to the cross to challenge the powers of this dark world.” We need well-trained leaders to take up both of these tasks.

A church with parents trained to take up the task of nurturing children in the faith.

Technology, for instance, will nurture our children into a particular story — usually not a Gospel-formed story. How will we combat this? Even their education is often in service to the gods of economic utility. The church must help parents nurture their children in the faith.

A church with small groups that nurture for mission in the world.

These elements must be maintained in the church’s small groups: prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and outreach / orientation to the world.

A church that seeks and expresses the unity of the body of Christ.

The church today should exhibit reconciliation and unity as a preview of what is to come in eternity.

This is what it looks like to be a “come and join us” people.

Posted in Books, Discipleship, Gospel, Kingdom Values, Missiology, Theology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Perfect Game Tourney: Triple

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