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Monday April 24th 2017

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Character and Wonder

I love movies. For good or ill, they have had a major impact on my life. I’m a fan of most genres—comedy, romance, drama, action.

As a fairly analytical human, I was thinking a while back on what makes a great movie…great. Certainly there are many ingredients—good writing, talented actors, a visionary director, striking cinematography, etc. But, I asked myself—are there more intangible qualities in the greatest movies that go even deeper, that elevate a movie to a higher level, leaving us somehow changed? Two qualities came to the surface—Character and Wonder. The most impacting movies (whether the impact is pure entertainment or something deeper) tend to excel in both of these areas.

Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark comes to mind. Indy’s character was larger than life. He was a brilliant archeologist, handy with a whip, a hard-luck romantic, relentless to a fault. And also, none of the characters around him, no matter how minor, were wasted. Even if they just helped to paint the backdrop of a smelly bar in Tibet or a marketplace in Cairo, they all had an energy and color. And the world Indy encountered was also full of wonder—menacing Nazis, exotic locations, mystic and holy dangers. The more recent epic, Lord Of The Rings, is of course another classic example of this—a cast of unforgettable characters against a vast and complex world of wonder.

In some movies, it’s not so much about the character amidst his or her world, but rather the wonder we find in the character himself. In As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson’s character is a wonder to behold, a man whose neurotic peccadilloes alienate him from the one thing he wants most—someone to love. And, Helen Hunt, the eventual object of his love is more of a wondrous character in the simplest sense, that even in her own loneliness, as Jack tells her, “you say what you mean, and you almost always mean something that’s all about being straight and good.” We see in this film how the character of the human spirit is a wonder in itself—we’re complex, we’re simple, we’re full of mysterious emotion, and we’re all crying out for generally the same things.

In one of my favorite movies, To Kill A Mockingbird we see the innocent character in the little girl, Scout, and the wonder of childhood as she explores and seeks to understand the joys and the evils of her small town in Alabama. Her father Atticus is a towering wonder of a character—resolute, wise, compassionate. Boo Radley (my cat is named after him) represents all that is fearful in childhood—he is unknown, his reputation is built far more on shadow and suggestion than anything real. And yet, he turns out, as a grown man, to have the heart and purity of a child. We find that Boo also has the strength, like Atticus, to protect the weak and stand up for what is right. I could go on and on about the character and wonder to be found in virtually every frame of this film.

Some of you will remind me that Mockingbird is actually based on Harper Lee’s brilliant novel, and that these qualities are just as relevant to great literature as they are to movies. And, I’d agree. I actually began this blog with the medium of film as more people tend to watch movies than read books nowadays. But, character and wonder have long been, I think, the supreme ingredient in great literature as well.

And, that leads me (my regular readers knew I’d go here eventually), to what I believe is the greatest storytelling of all time, the ancient story of the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is a fascinating book in that while its ultimate purpose is relational, i.e., it’s meant to draw us into a closer encounter with our Creator, the medium God often uses toward this end is fantastic storytelling. And, again, character and wonder are to be found everywhere in its pages.

Moses, for instance, is quite a character, to say the least. He’s this bag of massive neuroses—he’s terribly insecure about his ability to accomplish anything for God, and is seen in a fairly comedic scene arguing with the Almighty ad nauseum about this fact. He asks, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?”1

Like so many of us, Moses knew that his character simply wasn’t up to the task. But, God doesn’t then give him a pep talk to build his self-esteem. What he does is ask Moses to focus on something else—the character and wonder of his Creator. God tells him, “I will be with you… I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them.”2

God wanted Moses to live in a state of wonder as he trusted in the character of his Maker. And, in the cinematic fashion that we’ve marveled at in such movies as The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, God then imbued insecure, little Moses with the character of someone who could stand up to one of the most powerful men on Earth. Moses delivered over a million people from the hopeless bondage of slavery by demonstrating the wonderful miracles of God. He became the hero of God’s amazing story.

We often go to movies and read books merely to escape from the hopeless drudgery of our daily life. We would love to imagine that we could live the life of that hero we find on the silver screen or in that epic novel, where life is full of meaning and color, where we’re clear about the quest at hand, and determined to see it to the end. But, then we leave the theater, or close the book, and return to what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation”.

But, do you realize that God, the author of the greatest story ever told, has included you as a character in His wonderful quest? An ancient poet said that from your innermost parts, you “are fearfully and wonderfully made,”3 that you are a part of God’s wonderful, creative works. And that, for you to play the character that God has given you to play, you must simply live your life in wonder about Him and the character of His Son, this “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace”4—this Jesus.

God has created us for this quest. You, the actor in God’s story…Are you ready to play your part?

1 Exodus 3:11
2 Exodus 3:12, 20
3 Psalm 139:13-14
4 Isaiah 9:6

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About John Michalak

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An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

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18 Responses to “Character and Wonder”

  1. Lindi Jo says:

    Thank u so much for that!!! That is how i feel about the movie, “Joe Dirt” …

    Bless you..Lindi

  2. Dan Harney says:

    Good stuff man. I’m going to need more blogs from you! Perhaps on a weekly basis! Seriously, have you ever thought of writing a book? I’d buy it – you had me at “neurotic peccadilloes”!

    It’s inspiring to think of ourselves as characters in this incredible story! Thanks for reminding us! Now, I have to go watch As Good As it Gets again…

    Thanks for sharing brother!

  3. Michelle says:

    I believe you have put it all back into perspective , thank you!

  4. ThursdayTheory says:

    You should definitley get some of your work published! Thanks for the important reminder! 🙂

  5. Eric says:

    You are an exceptional writer. This writing was arranged and composed quite brilliantly. Once we get MayberryMusic.net back online, it would be nice to have someone with your skill and bent to write reviews and interviews of our region’s Christian musicians.

    God Bless!
    Eric

  6. Stuart says:

    Wonderful blog I enjoyed it very much!

    Some powerful films are Jean De Florette and Manon of the Spring. They are French films that tell compelling stories and are exceedingly well made.

  7. Joan & Mark says:

    We agree! We love movies too and are always looking to see what God is saying to us through them. Character and wonder…perfect!

  8. Karyn says:

    AMEN, brother. Thank you for the insight.

  9. Gracia says:

    Yes – we are ready to play our part! : )

    Congrats John!

  10. A.S. Peterson says:

    I think your right on the money when it comes to the significance of wonder. I can name a whole slew of movies that didn’t quite achieve greatness because they lacked a sense of childlike wonder.

    Those ideas are something I constantly try to infuse into my own work (to varying degrees of success).

    A.S. Peterson

  11. Maritza says:

    It really does make you look at things differently.

  12. Denver says:

    I liked his line from the restaurant scene, “When I’m around you, I want to be a better man”. _it went something like that_; If only we would take that posture with our Lord ever hour of the day and truly make him Lord of our lives.

    I’m sitting here weeping thinking of all my favorite movies and why they are my favorite. Usually it has to do with an ordinary guy thrust into a situation out of his control, or a sacrifice by the character for the good of the many.

    Great blog brother!

  13. Jim says:

    God has created us for this quest: Luke 6:27-49. Who has the trust required to play this part?

    I love you John. Your brain power is awesome talent on loan from God. There’s a gentle calm in you. Thank you!

    Jim

  14. Rafael Ventura-Rosa says:

    You know, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about your proselytizing that bugs me most, the fact that you sucker someone into it by writing a post that is ostensibly about great films or the fact that you do it at all. The very good book that you love so much itself speaks on the issue of public vs. private worship. It seems to me that, while you essentially avoid much of the self-righteous posturing that leads to the downfall of many a modern day Elmer Gantry, you are still in violation of what I see as a basic tenet of true Christianity, that your relatioship with your God is just that, between you and your God, and not between you, the public and your God.

    Much is said in the Bible about the Pharisees and Saducees and there tendency to overplay their devotion by ostentatious public displays of worship. It is really just a matter of degree.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d take you over “Reverends” Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart any day of the week (that’s not saying much, I know, but I’m just trying to make a point here), but it seems that you all, along with untold numbers of “Christians,” violate one of the most basic tenets of the very book you claim to follow.

    Respectfully,
    Rafael Ventura-Rosa

  15. Mary says:

    Hey There,

    I am so very blessed by what God has done in your life. But, other than that I can see His hand and His heart in you. I am inspired and blessed by your walk and your willingness to get to the deeper things in life without fear. And to all those who have read your blogs and commented to you. I want to say that I know these things because I am your sister. I have seen the many miracles he has performed in your life.

    With much love. Your Sis.

  16. Susan says:

    In college, I had a creative writing professor who absolutely loved To Kill a Mockingbird. I can’t count how many times that book or those characters were brought up as an example. I have yet to read the book, but I have seen the movie and really enjoyed it. I love all stories with a noble theme.

    Thinking of the Bible as literature, I have sometimes heard people wonder at the purpose of fiction, but I believe that Jesus set the example when He taught using parables. Fiction can serve a noble and sometimes powerful purpose.

  17. Thanks for the kind words. I’m hoping to get something published sometime before I finish Seminary and have to get a real job. If I’m not careful, these articles may end up in book form!

    Cheers,
    John

  18. Rafael,

    I really appreciate your comments and your heart to even read and respond to my blog. While our worldviews may differ, and it would perhaps take pages to delineate them (or hopefully several conversations over coffee ), I’m most happy that we can engage each other and learn from one another as unique and special human beings. The only defense I will pose here to your assertions is that my writings are not some ruse to trap people into my beliefs. I do value my beliefs and don’t believe they are meant just for me, and so communicate them openly. But one thing I know is that God loves us enough to reach out to where we are, in our culture, in nature, in sacred writings, and, yes, even in books and movies. So, to me, the bridge between God and culture (movies, books) should be a cause for celebration, rather than a cause for some dark agenda–that the creator can be discovered in his creation, and within human creativity. I’m sure there is a vast complexity and creativity to you, too, Rafael. And, I celebrate that too. God bless and thanks again for your comments.

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