Wandering Stars

Bats on an asteroid? Whose idea was that?

I have to think a bunch of idiot dwarves were sitting around in their mines back on the dwarf world, discussing the things they’d miss most when they set out into space on their mission to strip asteroids of firegems. For some reason, they all agreed on little leather-winged flying rats.

Probably to help with homesickness out here in the belt.

That’s great for them, but for the rest of us, the bats aren’t so nice to have around. They swoop out of nowhere, they bite, and will even try to carry away small animals. They especially like to dive bomb me when I sit at the top of the arch of D’nash, like I’m doing now. So I stay low.

Other than the risk of bat-bite, the top of the arch is perfect for me. The dwarves refuse to look at it, which has something to do with their religion, so it lowers the odds that I’ll be spotted. My sister Meg told me that we should try to understand the dwarves to help us get along better with them, but I just don’t get it. Why bother having a religion if that religion doesn’t allow you to look at the monuments you build because of that religion?

Yeah, they brought their bats to the asteroid, they brought their religion, and they brought me and Meg and a whole bunch of other human slaves. They’re wonderful creatures, dwarves.

But as little as they pay attention to their religion, I figure that following their beliefs is still more important than a scrawny twelve year old human girl, so they don’t know or don’t care that I sit up here. Which is fine by me. If they did care, then I couldn’t get away with what I’m doing now.

I sit up as I see a flash of pink in the crowd below. What I’ve been waiting for – an orc administrator, wearing his standard pink jacket, pushing his self-important way through the crowded square below, totally unaware that he’d just been pegged to donate to the Human World Orphan’s Fund.

I just love orcs. Their skin has a delightful greenish color that reminds me of my vomit after I’ve eaten too much of Meg’s langua bean soup. Their eyes are as mesmerizingly black as the deepest, darkest, coldest mine, a color which – incidentally – matches the color of their black souls, if they have souls, which I don’t think that they do.

I mean, what’s not to love? They invaded my homeworld, destroying everything in the process, killed my parents, and then dumped Meg and me off as slaves for their stubby longbearded allies to take to the stars. I love them so much that it’s my pleasure to do what I can to inconvenience them whenever I get the chance. It’s just the kind of girl that I am.

Meg says I have a real problem with sarcasm.

If she only knew.

Looking back at the orc, this one is moving fast. Probably late for an important orc meeting, or maybe just late for dinner. Either way, it means I’ll have to move faster.

First, though, I scan the crowd until I see Turi, sitting obediently by a garbage receptacle, looking up at me, waiting for my signal.

He’s such a good dog. Slaves aren’t supposed to have pets, but I dare anyone to try and separate us. Three years ago I was walking past this goblin café on an errand for my owner when I heard this panicked yelping from around back. Meg says I’ve always been more curious than is healthy, but in this case, it saved Turi’s life, because I ran around back and found a horde of bats trying to carry this little brown fur ball off for dinner. He was only a puppy, but that day he became my puppy, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. We have a special connection, which makes what I’m trying to do here today that much easier.

I flick my hand and whisper, “go, boy!” and he immediately bursts into the crowd as if powered by dragonfire.

And that means I have to get down quick.

Fortunately, I’ve done this dozens of times. It’s just a matter of sliding down the arch while avoiding the razor sharp blades that stick out at random spots. They apparently symbolize the way dwarves are supposed to cut themselves in obedience to their gods or something.

What a weird religion.

But, as I’ve said, I’ve done this before, and so sliding down while avoiding the blades is not as hard as it sounds.

But avoiding the gaggle of dwarf nuns at the bottom, that’s another issue.

Of course it would be the only members of the bizarre religion who are permitted to look at the arch as they pray. Only now, they’re not looking at the arch. They’re looking at this scrawny human girl sliding down the arch towards them.

Crap.

When I hit the ground, I expect the nuns to start doing the same to me, and I’m prepared to take the beating long enough to satisfy their anger and then scurry away. But hit with a flash of inspiration, I grab my left ear, bow, and say, “V’rak D’nash!” (which means “Praise D’nash” in dwarvish). I hold my breath and tense, prepared to feel their little rock-hard fists pounding me from all sides. But when that doesn’t happen, I risk a glance. To my shock, the nuns are smiling at me! In unison, they grab their own right ears, bow, and say “P’nash D’nash!” (“May D’nash be praised”), then turn and walk away, giggling.

Maybe Meg was right after all?

Not wasting any more time on my near beat-down, I dive into the crowd, pushing my way through the crowds of dwarf miners, orc pilots, and some multi-limbed creatures that I don’t recognize until I see the puke green head and bright pink administrator jacket just ahead.

But before I can make my move, my way is blocked. I’m about to use some of the dwarf words that Meg never lets me use when I realize that it’s not a dwarf blocking me. It’s a man. A slave, heading for the mines. He’s wearing the simple brown work bibs that mine slaves are provided, a rough fabricated material that is just enough to provide protection, but nothing you would ever choose to wear. He’s linked to six or seven other men with energy beams that prevents them from running away (although there’s nowhere to run on a mining colony). And he looks at me with blank eyes, the result of spending most of his time in the darkness of the mines. For a moment, his eyes seem to clear.

“Anna?”

Then he and the others are pushed on by their dwarf minders, who don’t bother with me. After all, I’m wearing the crest of my owner Jazrah on my tunic. I’m obviously on important business. I breathe a prayer of thanks to D’nash that my owner works in shipping and not mining, or else Meg and I might be a part of that chain gang. But I can’t afford to be distracted, and so I hop past the last dwarf and run up ahead.

I’m about to give Turi the signal when I remember the cams. Dammit, I forgot the cams, and the cams capture everything in public places like this. Stupid bats distracted me. I now have a choice to make: either call the whole thing off and try again later, or try one of Meg’s spells. I’m not supposed to use them in public, but I do it all the time and nobody’s ever been any wiser for it. What Meg doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

I do it quickly, reciting the magic words my sister taught me and making a circular gesture with my left hand. If the spell works (and it usually does), the cams should be on a loop for the next few minutes. It’s not the best way to deal with them, but it’s the only choice I have now.

Knowing that Turi is ready (he’s such a good dog), I take a deep breath and whisper “Go boy”, and the dog is off like a flash, jumping in front of the administrator so quickly that the only thing he can do is go down in a flurry of arms and legs, the stack of sims he’s carrying for his work exploding from him like a wall cracker during the Remembrance Day celebrations.

It’s a perfect move.

I leap out to play my part, grabbing Turi by the back of his neck. “Bad dog!” I scold, sticking my finger in his face. Turi’s ears go back and he lowers his head, whining. Good boy, I think as I turn to the orc. “I’m so sorry,” I say, lowering my head like a good slave.

It’s all I can do not to laugh at the sight of the orc trying to stand and pick up the slips he’d dropped at the same time.

“Let me help you,” I start, scooping up handfuls of slips and shoving them at the orc in what appears to be a random and chaotic movement, but is in fact a move that I’ve practiced hundreds of times.

The administrator, as I expected, is not very interested in my help. The blue veins stand out in his green head, a sign of intense anger in an orc. It occurs to me that if this was one of the larger and angrier orcs – a pilot or a warrior – he would have twisted my head off by now. That’s why I picked an administrator. They get angry, but the nature of their work requires more restraint.

“Just leave it alone!” he shrieks. “Leave me alone!”

This one is surprisingly loud. Loud enough to attract unwanted attention, meaning that the Red Caps – the dwarf constables with their distinctive red caps – would likely be along soon to investigate the fracas. This means that it’s time to make my exit, especially now that the orc’s money bag is now tucked safely in the back of my tunic. So, I raise my hands, dropping the slips I’m still holding, I bow my head, and I back off.

And then, when I’m the required three paces away, I give a short whistle and Turi and I do our best vanishing act into the crowd.

Leaving behind a small victory for enslaved humans everywhere: a much angrier and much poorer orc administrator.

Yay for us.

Interstellar: The Ultimate Christmas Movie

My family loves Christmas movies.  Each year, we can’t wait for Thanksgiving to be over so we can finally dust off the Christmas movie collection, and start the annual reviewing.

Some of our favorites are probably also some of your favorites: Home Alone 1, 2, & 3 (we won’t speak of 4 & 5); The Santa Clause 1 & 2 (we won’t speak of 3); Fred Claus; ElfNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; A Christmas Story; The Polar Express; and of course, Scrooge – the Albert Finney musical version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Over the years I’ve realized that I love these movies for the same reason that I love Danish Wedding Cookies at Christmas: because of the memories.  They remind me of my childhood, sitting with my family in the glow of the glittering lights of the Christmas tree, watching the Grinch steal from the Whos down in Whoville, while enjoying my mother’s homemade Danish Wedding Cookies and a warm mug of hot chocolate.

And I appreciate that most Christmas movies deal with important themes.  For example, A Christmas Carol is about redemption, Home Alone is about the value of family, and Elf is about… Elf is about… candy?

But a funny thing has been happening as I’ve grown older.  I’ve carried on the Christmas movie watching tradition with my kids, and as we’ve sat down to re-watch beloved holiday classics each year, I’ve felt less and less satisfied.

This year I’ve finally figured out why.

Like Buddy the Elf’s four major food groups (candy, candy corn, candy canes, and syrup), most Christmas movies are sweet, but not nutritious; they can be quite tasty, but they’re not very filling; they are stuffed with empty calories when I’m longing for proteins and vitamins and minerals and something to help me stay healthy and alive.

Presents, leg lamps, someone trying to destroy Christmas, someone trying to save Christmas, the latest flying sleigh technology, updating Dickens, computerizing Dickens, Muppetizing Dickens, Bill Murraying Dickens, missing reindeer, flying reindeer, reindeer with attitudes, violent kids left home by themselves, and any one of the hundreds of interpretations of Santa Claus… what’s the point?

There are certainly exceptions, but for the most part, each tries to be bigger and shinier and more colorful and festive than the last one, but most Christmas movies wind up ultimately small and dull and monochrome and lifeless when you hold them up to the light of the season that they are supposed to represent.

Which brings me to my new favorite Christmas movie.

Not only is Interstellar my new favorite Christmas movie, but I contend that it is one the best Christmas movies to come out of Hollywood in years.  Accidentally.  Obviously, Christopher Nolan didn’t set out to make a movie that had the least bit to do with December 25, but inadvertently, he did.

And then some.

To really help explain what I mean, let’s go back to the idea that most Christmas movies are too small.  Interstellar is the polar opposite – a big movie, dealing with big problems, big solutions, and the nature of the universe.

You can’t get much bigger than that.

Because of the mind-crushing size of the universe, most of us don’t spend much time pondering it.  Interstellar did, imagining that humanity needed to find a way across the universe to another galaxy, and the only possibility of crossing the vast distances from galaxy to galaxy would be through the bending of space and the creation of a wormhole.

Interstellar, released in the fall of 2014, made us stop and think about the nature of the universe, and our place within it, while Christmas movies at their most shallow only ask us to wonder if we’re going to get a Red Ryder BB gun or a Turbo Man action figure, if Santa will get all the presents delivered on time, or – at their deepest – how much of a difference we make in the lives of those around us.

Just what is the nature of the universe, and what is our place in it?  Think about that question for a second.  And then watch this video.

That expansive universe is the playground of Interstellar.

But the video also explores the complexity of the microscopic universe, which makes me think that I wasn’t exactly right when I mentioned that Christmas films were too small.  In some ways, they aren’t small enough, choosing to gloss over important details on their frenzied way to become the next holiday classic.

Oftentimes the smallest details can be the most important.

In Interstellar, director Christopher Nolan lived in the details, forgoing the use of massive amounts of green screen that most of his contemporaries overuse in such films and using half as much CGI.  He had 500 acres of corn planted in the Canadian outback, built models of spaceships, sought out the most alien looking backdrops in actual physical locations, and went to the trouble of having Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist, serve as scientific consultant for the film in an attempt to have the scientific details as accurate as possible (read this for a fascinating article about the colliding of the science and the filmmaking in the making of Interstellar).

And the heartbeat of the film is the small, touching story of the relationship between a father and a daughter.  With all the huge set pieces and impressive special effects, the film boils down to the love between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy/Jessica Chastain/Ellen Burstyn).

It may not be nearly as impressive as the “twin paradox” of Nolan’s film, but I think I have proven my point that Interstellar is simultaneously a huge movie and a small movie.  However, I still haven’t proven that it deserves to be my favorite Christmas movie.

But before I go there, I need to pause and qualify something about myself, as there is still a fact about me that might have a direct impact on the argument.

I believe that this amazingly, mind-boggling, incomprehensibly unfathomably enormous place that we call the universe was created.

By God.

If you disagree with that statement, you’re more than welcome to continue reading, but you will be disagreeing with the foundation of my argument.  Please go on enjoying Interstellar as good science fiction cinema and It’s a Wonderful Life or Die Hard as entertaining holiday flicks, but you can forget about me and this blog post.  After all, I’m not trying to argue for the existence of God, nor am I trying to prove some “Young Earth”, “Old Earth” argument.  I’m simply trying to explain why Interstellar is my new favorite Christmas movie.

The car comes skidding to a halt as the believer response comes almost immediately:  “Interstellar doesn’t mention God at all, and actually seems to go out of its way to avoid talking about God!  How could that possibly be a Christmas movie?”

My simple answer is this:  look at the list of the top 25 Christmas movies from Rotten Tomatoes and tell me how many of those movies don’t mention God, and actually seem to go out of their way to avoid talking about God.

Point taken?

With that question out of the way, let’s head back out into the universe, and in case you’re wondering, we’ll not go gently into that good night.

The God of Scripture created the universe, and any open reading of the Scriptures will support that idea.  For example:

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Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 3.04.59 PMThinking back to that video about the size of the universe which is theorized to be at least 46 billion light years across, it blows my mind to imagine that the God we read about in Scripture is the same God who made it all (for more about the size of the universe, visit this fantastic site.)  This is one of the reasons why those of us who believe in that God also want to worship him, because of the idea that He is so indescribably immense that He can make something as indescribably immense as the universe.

But it doesn’t stop there.  That same God is the God of the details, as well.

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But even that’s not the end of it – the immensity and infinitesimality of the universe.  Those are only the parts of the universe that we can experience with our senses.  God is also the God of the unseen creation – what we might call heaven.

What do we know about heaven?  Most people have an opinion of heaven, based on their own hopes.  People see it as a place full of puffy clouds, with angels playing harps, and everyone getting the things they wanted to get down on earth.

But what does Scripture tell us about heaven, as another part of God’s creation?

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Some of the language of heaven in Scripture is poetic, and some is literal.  Regardless, when you read these and other Scripture passages about heaven, you come away with at least a few basic ideas about it:  Heaven is fantastic; heaven can accommodate a lot of people; and experiencing heaven will involve giving all of one’s attention and worship to the One who made heaven and us.

So, we’ve established that according to the Scripture, God made the universe and everything in it, and God made heaven, and God reigns over it all.  While this might be nice to consider from a theological standpoint, it still doesn’t bring us any closer to understanding how Interstellar could be connected – even loosely – to Christmas.

Hang with me.

The connective tissue is found in identifying one key player who we’ve not mentioned yet.  Who was there with God while all of this was being done?  Who was there while the hairs on our head were being counted?  While the stars were being hung in the sky?  While the foundations were being laid in the Father’s house?

SACRED HEART OF JESUS—The Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted in a modern painting by Stephen B. Whatley, an expressionist artist based in London. (CNS photo/Stephen B. Whatley)

SACRED HEART OF JESUS by Stephen B. Whatley

Jesus.  The Creator.

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Jesus.  Who transcends time.  

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Jesus.  Who transcends space.

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We need to stop and consider Him for a moment, this person we’re talking about.

According to Scripture, Jesus was there at the beginning, “with God… and was God”, making all things, speaking things into existence as The Word.  He made everything in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, all things were created through him and for him, from the farthest galaxy to the smallest quark, and everything in between.  He made them.  He was Lord over the heavens and earth before time began.

And he chose to leave it all.

To become one of these.

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The one who created the heavens and the earth, now helpless.

Utterly Dependent.

Without knowledge.

Unable to feed himself when hungry.

Unable to wipe his own bottom after a big poop.

The Word of God, who spoke the universe into creation, unable to say his own name and having to learn again how to speak.

How to roll over.  How to crawl.  How to walk.  How to run.

The one who ruled over the place where there was no pain, suffering, tears, or death chose to enter into a reality as a helpless, tiny baby on a insignificant little rock in the farthest corner of the universe where he would experience pain, suffering, tears, and death.

Why?

Why would he do this?

Was it a grand experiment?  The Christ grew bored in heaven, and so he decided that becoming a human would be an interesting experiment?

Was Christ like King Richard in Ivanhoe, who disguised himself as a wandering knight as he sought out adventure?

No.

It was a rescue mission.

88gyasi2910aLet’s return back to Interstellar for a moment.  In Christopher Nolan’s film – as in reality – space is vast, empty, and lifeless.  At one point early in the film, Romilly (David Gayasi), one of the scientists, is having a difficult time adjusting to the idea of being in a small spacecraft voyaging through the deep regions of space, and so pounds on the side of the ship in frustration, and exclaims, “Millimeters of aluminum— that’s it!  And nothing within millions of miles that won’t kill us in seconds.”

As far as science has been able to figure out, there is nothing out there like what we have here.  Our tiny little home, our “pale blue dot” as Carl Sagan called it.  Scientists posit that there might be others out there, far distant planets capable of sustaining life, and while we’re hopeful that other planets exist like our own, right now this is the only show in town.  The only place that God created with beings like us, beings made imago dei, in His own image (Genesis 1:27).

And what do we bring to the table?

In Interstellar, Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway) nails it.

Keyes, Greg (2014-11-11). Interstellar: The Official Movie Novelization (Kindle Locations 1055-1057). Titan. Kindle Edition.

Keyes, Greg (2014-11-11). Interstellar: The Official Movie Novelization (Kindle Locations 1055-1057). Titan. Kindle Edition.

And we get a glimpse into the rescue mission here.  He created us on this pale blue dot, and for some unknowable reason, He loves us.  We’re told this over and over in Scripture, with perhaps the most famous passage being this:

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And how did we repay him?  By rebelling against him, and insisting on doing things our way.  From the very beginning, humanity has been characterized by arrogance, pride, lust, vengeance, greed, anger, hatred, evil.

And this evil that exists in each of us is what keeps us from being able to be with him.  After all, Scripture tells us this very important truth about heaven:

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Unfortunately, that means the door is closed on all of us, because all of us are impure, we’re all shameful and deceitful.  And so we needed rescuing.

And who better to rescue us, than the One who created us?

And just like Christopher Nolan’s wormhole opened the doorway to a far away galaxy, Jesus Christ’s decision to be born a baby, to live the sinless, perfect life that we were unable to live, and then to die on the cross in our place opened a doorway that enabled us to cross from this world to his.

la_ca_1023_interstellarWhen I compare Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar to any of the films that we typically watch at Christmas, those movies come up woefully short.  They are timid, they are insufficient, they don’t inspire wonder or awe, they don’t give us any sense of the majesty of the world and the universe that God created.  They don’t give a hint or a tease about the condition of humanity that would necessitate the need for Christmas.

I’ll still watch them, and I’ll still enjoy them for what they are, and if I get up the nerve, I might even try to reproduce my mother’s Danish Wedding Cookies for my own kids, but they don’t come close to pointing me in the direction of the one who was born in that stable two thousand years ago.

Interstellar did that, in spades.

Thank you, Christopher Nolan, for making a big, bombastic, small, heartfelt film that made me remember a certain little universe-creating baby born in a manger in Bethlehem.

Thank you for pointing me back to Jesus.

Because He is the one I seek.