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Incredibly You: Learning About Gifting and Unity from The Incredibles

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Fourteen years ago, Pixar released The Incredibles, a film about a superhero family. After a huge delay, Incredibles 2 will be released on June 14th of this year. In anticipation of this event, my family and I rewatched The Incredibles last week. I was struck again by an interesting message of finding peace in utilizing your strengths.

The storyline follows Mr. Incredible, known for his super strength, and his wife, Elastigirl, who has the ability to stretch out her limbs and reshape her body. In their glory days, they fought against crime–that is until the climate for superheroes changed and they are no longer loved by the people of the world. Mr. Incredible, Bob, and his wife, Helen, must go into hiding, keeping their abilities in check while they attempt to imitate normal life. Bob works for a corrupt insurance company that does the opposite of helping people. Helen stays home raising their three kids: Violet, a teenager with the gift of disappearing, Dash, a school-aged boy with super speed, and Jack-Jack, a baby with no known super abilities (at least at the beginning of the film).

A Family in Crisis

The family is in crisis though.  Bob hates his job, even though he secretly tries to help his customers whose claims are being denied. At home, he is disengaged, reading the newspaper at the dinner table and ignoring his family. Violet is withdrawn and quiet, preferring to cover her face with her hair and hide from potential love interests.  Dash is unruly and gets in trouble at school though he’s too fast for his teacher to prove it. Helen is desperately trying to keep it all together and prevent another relocation due to Bob’s incidents which occur whenever Bob reveals his superhuman strength.

Despite their many moves (initiated by the government to prevent scandal), Bob and his superhero friend, Frozone, still listen to police radios and try to help out when possible.  Eventually, Bob loses his temper at work when his boss refuses to let him help someone being mugged. He throws his boss through several walls. He is, of course, fired.

When he gets home, he is too scared to tell Helen what has happened. Instead, when sorting through his work belongings he finds a tablet that has a secret message–one inviting him to come out of superhero retirement and that promises to triple his annual salary. He takes the offer and is flown out to an island where he defeats a robot. This success revitalizes Bob who starts working out, pays more attention to his family, and dresses better.  Even his relationship with his wife appears to improve, though he still does not tell her what is really going on.

Working Together

The movie crescendos with a situation that requires each member of the family to use their unique superhero abilities in order to defeat the villain. This experience bonds the family together and the movie ends showcasing the change that occurs in the family.  Bob has realized that it isn’t all about him. Dash is now allowed to participate in sports. Violet wears her hair back and is bold with a guy she likes. At the very end, another bad guy emerges and the last screenshot is them all wearing their masks preparing to take down the enemy as a family.  The metamorphosis of this family is framed through a single idea–when they were kept from utilizing their potential, they were unhappy and disconnected. When they were free to express their talents, particularly for the greater good, they found confidence and connection.

Woven into this straightforward theme of utilizing your potential is a critical undertone. This is seen at the beginning of the movie when Dash and his mom are riding in the car after hearing his teacher accuses him of putting a tack on his chair.  When Helen notes that everyone is special, Dash retorts that’s the same thing as saying no one is special.

This is also seen in the villain, Syndrome. When he was a child, he idolized Mr. Incredible and tried to imitate superpowers with his inventions.  When Mr. Incredible rejects him, he thinks it’s because he doesn’t have superpowers. He spends his life perfecting his inventions so that he can one day face and conquer Mr. Incredible (and other superheroes).  In his moment of triumph, he states, “If everyone is a super then no one is super!”

The Gulf Between

There appears to be a gulf between those who are “super” and those who are not. Fear, anger, and rejection seem to be the identifying emotions of those who are not super. On the other hand, frustration and a sense of under-appreciation seem to characterize those who are gifted and want to use their abilities to help. In a world where we are equal but not equally gifted, how do the talented and the not-so-talented make peace?  

In the church, we see this disconnect played out in how we view believers and their roles. It is easy to look up to those who have abilities that put them in the limelight, but Paul reminds us that the church is like a body.  Paul states, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12 ESV)

Just because someone has a role that seems more important, does not mean that our role is less valuable. Paul (1 Corinthians 12: 14-18 ESV) explains that each part is necessary:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

The body only functions well as each part does the job for which it is created. There is honor in being who we are created to be. This keeps us from the sin of Syndrome who looked on the abilities of the superheroes with envy, and this reminds us also that God is glorified when people rightly use their abilities.

Lest those who are overly talented suffer the same pride as Mr. Incredible though, Paul goes on to explain that appearances of great talent can be deceptive.  In verses 21-26 (bold mine), he states

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

God’s Way is Different

This is the way of God–to bring greater glory and value to that which others would despise. It is also why the greatest leaders should be the humblest servants and the last shall be first. We must not be confused with the system of the world which rejoices in beauty and achievement with one voice and with another encourages mediocrity with low expectations.

Related Post: Memories to Look Forward To

We must walk another path–one where we see our gifts not as important in and of themselves but as conduits through which God’s grace is funneled to the world. If our purpose is the glory of God and the betterment of our brothers and sisters, we avoid the trap of egoism.

So my encouragement is two-fold–seek out your gifting and work at it and perfect it for the growth of the body of Christ. And, yet, do this with such humility and grace that those who would be tempted to jealousy will have no case against you. In this way, we function in the unity that God has in mind and the only one who will be deemed “super” will be God.

Redeeming Eustace: Thoughts from Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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Nothing brings truth home like a good story. This is why pastors are always looking for that great illustration.  It’s also why we can remember pivotal moments from great books for many years. This is true for me with C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia series.

The scene that stamped itself indelibly on my mind is the scene where Aslan, a Christ figure, cuts Eustace out of his dragon skin. For those unfamiliar with this story, let me explain the scene. The book takes place in the magical land of Narnia where many animals talk. Aslan is a lion and represents Christ, even so far as laying down his life and being resurrected in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  In the first book of the series, four children stumble into Narnia through a magical wardrobe and, through a series of events, become kings and queens of Narnia and then finally return home to England as children.

Related Post: An Ending to Remember

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader shows two of these siblings, Lucy and Edmund, visiting an obnoxious cousin named Eustace.  While there, a painting of a Narnian ship comes to life and the three children are transported once again to Narnia.  This time they end up on board a ship and crew on an important mission. An adventure awaits the three children which is exciting to Lucy and Edmund but terrifying to Eustace.  

The Problem of Eustace

The problem is that Eustace has no imagination.  Lewis, as the narrator, comments frequently that he read the wrong kinds of books.  His books were about facts and economies and not the ones that give you a bigger vision of the world. Eustace is miserable and complains constantly as they travel on the ship, frustrating all those with whom he comes in contact. Finally, while they are stopped on an island, he decides to wander off without telling anyone.

While he rambles through the forest, he comes upon a frightening scene–an old dragon comes out of its lair and dies by the river. Eustace is afraid until he understands that the dragon is dead. When it starts raining, Eustace takes refuge inside the dragon’s cave.  In here, he sees a huge treasure and begins thinking of all he can do with it. After a time, he falls asleep.

When he awakes, he is shocked to find himself changed.  “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” Eustace is obviously upset and bewildered.  Back at the camp, they realize Eustace is missing. One of the crew comments that it would be good if Eustace was gone for good, and Reepicheep (a valiant mouse) corrects him saying, “You never spoke a word that became you less. The creature is no friend of mine but he is of the Queen’s blood, and while he is one of our fellowship it concerns our honor to find him and to avenge him if he is dead.”

Eustace finally shows up and, as expected, everyone is frightened as they can only see a dragon. Over time, they are able to figure out that the dragon is Eustace but are now faced with the problem of what to do about it. They have no plan and stay on the island several days before something amazing happens.

Something Amazing Happens

The first part of this “amazing” happens within Eustace’s heart. From the very first moment of becoming a dragon, his fear and loneliness cause him to re-evaluate himself. For the first time, he begins to see that he is difficult and that he has judged the others very harshly.  He realizes he no longer wants to run away, but, instead, he wants to be a part of the group.

The second part of the “amazing” includes Aslan. One night, Eustace is unable to sleep and wonders, rightly so, what will happen to him. In the midst of this, Aslan shows up and calls Eustace to follow him to a garden atop a mountain with a well that looks like a marble bath in the middle. Aslan tells Eustace to undress, which Eustace finds odd since he is a dragon without clothes.  He does think that maybe dragons are like snakes, so he tries to scrape off his scales. He starts scraping and scratching and finally his “whole skin started peeling off beautifully…it was a most lovely feeling.”

However, as he begins to step down into the water, he notices that he is still covered in scales.  He tries two more times to get all of the outer skin off before he realizes that he cannot do it on his own. At this point, Aslan steps in to assist him.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt….Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off–just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt…And there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.

At this point, Eustace bathes in the water which at first stings but then feels wonderful. He realizes that he has become a boy again and is overjoyed to be himself again.

Like any good book, each time I read a scene like this, I consider it from a new perspective. As a non-believing child reading it the first time, I just thought it was a cool scene. Reading it later as a new believer in college, I could totally relate to Eustace and his struggle to remove his dragonish ways. Now, as a believer who has walked with God for over twenty years and who has been involved in ministry for a large part of this, I’m seeing another truth I need to learn–the importance of being patient with those who are difficult.

Grace for Eustace

Eustace is one of the Queen’s blood, who despite this important distinction, has no vision for the possibilities available to him in this new world. He is stuck in his old mindset and short-sighted, having filled his head with information that was useless. He is often selfish and difficult because he can only see what he needs and wants. He is a boy in desperate need of sanctification.

There are many Eustaces in the church (I know, I have been him multiple times and will, on occasion revert to my own dragonish ways). These believers are a part of the King’s family, but they are stuck, unable to see the grandness of what we have been invited to partake in. These people can often cause problems with anger and pettiness, making some wish they would disappear just as the crew wanted to give up on Eustace.

The crew does not give up though and, because of this, they get to witness the great transformation and redemption of a difficult character. In the book, Eustace’s transformation into a dragon is the point at which he realizes what he has become. He is scared and lonely and also unable to communicate what is going on. He wants to change, but he doesn’t know how. When Eustace comes face to face with Aslan, his first instinct is fix himself by his own methods.  After he succumbs to the painful, but liberating work of Aslan, he is vulnerable and weak.

Eustace in the Church

Many believers in the church are walking around wearing their dragon suits and either have no idea they are trapped or have no idea how they can get free. It takes the humility of yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives to bring freedom. Our own efforts will never make us free! But, there is a warning, when God is working on you, He cuts down to the deepest parts. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV) tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Eustace experiences this in a way that reminds us how difficult it is in those moments when we are laid bare before the God of the universe. We can remember our own times of disciplining and refining that hurt but also transform us. When we remember this, our hearts should be made tender for those around us who may be going through the same process.

God At Work

When we are patient with the work God is doing in the lives of those around us, we will be fortunate enough to see amazing things. It starts first, though with a patience for what God is doing in our own lives. We can only share the grace that we ourselves have received. Eustace reminds us all of who we are apart from the grace of God and the grace of believers who don’t give up on those who are annoying.

This is not intended to mean that we should be patient with sin. Sin must be confronted and brought out into the light. It is the manner in which it is done, though, that is so very important.  We must confront sin with the hope that it can be overcome and that the person who is mired in it is worthy of being freed. We must reiterate our confidence in a God who transforms people and who also allows difficult people in our lives to transform us. God is aware of what is going on and He has a plan (Matthew 13: 24-30). Our job is to be about the ministry of reconciliation–sharing the love of Christ while it is still time. When we remember this, we will be patient with our Eustace’s, even when we find ourselves more like him than we’d care to admit.

The Personal Point

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One question that constantly repeats through my mind is “what’s the point?”  This question helps me evaluate things in my life and whether it is needed. As a teacher, I ask this to increase the effectiveness of my lesson plans. The more extraneous things I remove from my lesson, the better it becomes. This also works in my life too. For me, asking the purpose of things helps me to see if my activities fit into the greater vision of my life. As a Christian, I have a large and multifaceted vision including loving others, studying God’s word, being involved in church activities and more. At times, though, this vision, great as it is, can be a hindrance to me really walking the Christian walk.

The church of Christ is a busy church with lots of activities and plans. We want to serve God and serve others, and we often give sacrificially, some to the point of burn out. It’s often hard for us to find time for rest because we feel guilty if we stop these activities that mean so much.  However, we are in danger of a person-less relationship if we live in this way–we may be living according to a vision, but perhaps that’s not the point.

Jesus Followed a Person, Not a Vision

Jesus did not really live according to a vision. Instead, he chose a person–His Father–to follow and obey.  Jesus’s great ministry was not founded upon an idea, but His Father. This point is communicated over and over again in the book of John.  When the Jewish leaders were angry at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5: 19 ESV). Jesus waited to see what God was doing, and He joined Him.

We forget that Jesus did not come out of his mother’s womb proclaiming the message of God.  He quietly lived with and served his family.  It was part of God’s plan, this waiting.  I almost wonder if Jesus was impatient to begin.  Did he look around and see the need and question when He would be ready to get started?  Perhaps though the wait did not have to do with Jesus’s personal readiness.  Maybe God was waiting for Jesus’s family to be in a place of sustainability.  With Joseph most likely dead, Jesus, as the oldest son, would have been providing for his mother and siblings. They needed Him. And even on the Cross, Jesus made sure to make provisions for her. Jesus was not in such a rush to fulfill His grand purpose that He did not take care of even the more mundane aspects of life.

Missing the Point

Today the church has a great vision, but we’ve forgotten the person.  When we do this, we forget what being a follower is about.  It is not always about running ourselves ragged for the cause of Christ.  It is instead about quietly sitting at the feet of Jesus–to receive love and to receive instructions.

Richard Swenson in his book titled, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time to Overloaded Lives, explains that

We must have room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are starved to death by velocity. No one has time to listen, let alone to love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high speed good intentions. Is God pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside still waters anymore? Who plundered these wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back?

Mary understood this quite clearly. While her sister Martha ran around serving others in the grand vision of taking care of Jesus, Mary sat at his feet and let Him take care of her.  When Martha complains,, “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  Mary is not one who misses the point; instead, she chooses what is most valuable.

The Point of the Gospel

And this right here is the Gospel–God calls you not to the vision of the Cross, but to the man hanging on the Cross. You are not just to follow principles of truth, you are called to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  You cannot just know about Him, you must know Him.  And this is done by waiting and listening.  

When the calling of our lives starts clamoring in our ears, we need to stop and hear His voice.  When we are swept up the busyness of serving God, we must sit quietly at his feet.  We must every day be careful to choose the person and not the calling because the calling can change.  Just like Jesus–one day he was a dutiful son and brother and the next He was being baptized and sent out.  We must focus only on recognizing his voice when he calls.  In John 10:4, Jesus says, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”

When we do this, it is easy to see the point. The point isn’t to accomplish anything except knowing Him more. When that comes first, the needed margin we need in our lives can be found. We won’t feel guilty for that time of quiet because nothing can be more important than making sure we have ears to hear his voice. And then, when we do this, the world will really see what the point is–it is Him.

 

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash