Shake the dust

Welcome to Holy Week. This is the Christian tradition. Beginning earlier this week with Palm Sunday - a day to celebrate Jesus's triumphal entry, riding into Jerusalem upon a donkey. This is the start of Passover, the week we remember a garden betrayal, a mock trial, and the crucifixion of our savior. It culminates this coming Sunday, honoring the resurrection on Easter - the grandest of all Christian holidays.

Some things get missed among the plastic eggs, candy, and bunnies. Even in the pomp and circumstance of church services and big family dinners, we forget a detail of great importance. It is not the last supper with the broken bread and cup of wine. It is not the traitor's kiss. It is not the guards who tortured Jesus and gambled for his clothes. It is not the empty tomb.

The detail that we overlook is not the what but the why. Why, if Jesus was the son of God, why would he willingly endure the suffering and indignity of a Roman execution?

The simple answer is that he did it for us. As is often true, the some answers lead to new questions. If Jesus was a sacrifice for us, then why us?

If anything is clear, we the people - the most dominant species on this planet, we are a messed up population. Prone to mistakes and failure, constantly at war, jealous and power hungry. We are greedy and selfish humanity. But even at our best, our flaws are evident. We are Han frozen in carbonite. We are Marty McFly trying to undo our mistakes in both the past and the future. We are the Goonies looking for one last adventure before being evicted from our homes. We are Jack Shephard leading others yet feeling unfit to do so.

Why us? I am positive that the twelve disciples had similar thoughts when Jesus first approached them and said, "Follow me."

"Are you talking to me?" they must have asked, "Or that smarter, better qualified, and more handsome fellow over there?"

These were fishermen and tax collectors. People that flunked out of religious school and returned to the family business. Minimally skilled, unappreciated, despised, and deemed not good enough to be a disciple of any of the other rabbis. Jesus asked them to follow and somewhere inside their hearts they had to respond, "Uh, OK, but are you sure you have the right guy?"

When Jesus wasn't preaching to the crowds or healing the sick, he was pouring his life into a motley crew of men who never considered themselves to be good enough. He showed them compassion and love beyond comprehension. Even into his final days, Jesus displayed lavish acts of love for people he knew would betray him, deny him, and abandon him.

In every conversation they shared, in every mile they walked, in every meal they ate, Jesus was consistent in the message he had for his followers. "It doesn't matter who you are, where you've been, or what you do - I love you."

Jesus knew their pasts, but he also knew their futures. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus was preparing them for their lives beyond the present moment. He was providing instruction for their ministry but tempering with the warning that they wouldn't always be welcomed or accepted. In those instances where they were mistreated or rejected, Jesus gave the order to shake the dust off of their feet as they left that place. This was a way for them to separate themselves from their bad experience. Shake the dust, shake it off, leave it behind.

Jesus loved these men. He knew they were all tragically flawed. In telling them to shake the dust off of their feet, he was also giving them hope to move on. "You're broken people but I chose you."

It is through these imperfect heroes that the church was born. It is through these imperfect heroes that the gospel was spread across Judea and into Rome. It is through these imperfect heroes that Jesus displayed his perfection.

That is why I celebrate Easter. It did not happen in spite of humanity's failures, but because of it. We needed someone perfect to cover our imperfections. We need that hope to give us the courage to shake the dust, to leave it behind, and carry on the Good News to those who desperately need it.

The above video was filmed at a To Write Love On Her Arms event called Heavy and Light. For more information, you can read about it on the TWLOHA site here.


Faith & Pop Culture: Wrecked by Pride

Last weekend I watched a pair of movies that do not (at least on the surface) have any thematic similarities. The first was The Judge - an emotional drama about a big shot attorney returning home for his mother's funeral then staying to defend his father against murder charges. The second was Chef - an indie comedy about a popular chef and his culinary journey of food and family.

Admittedly, the second film served as a counter balance to the first upon the suggestion of a friend. The Judge turned me into a puddle and I needed something funny to cheer me up. Chef was the perfect remedy.

Legal battles and Cuban cuisine. A tear-jerker and a witty satire. Nothing in common. Well, maybe something. Both movies show the devastating fallout from pride. Different stories, different methods, same result. Pride wrecks lives.

The two main protagonists in The Judge display divergent faces of pride. Robert Downey Jr. plays the attorney Hank Palmer returning to his home town to mourn his mother's death. Hank's father (Robert Duvall) is a notoriously strict judge and one of the most respected legal figures in Indiana. On the evening following the funeral there is a fatal accident and the judge faces charges of first degree murder while Hank stays in town to help his father in court.

For Judge Palmer, pride manifests itself under noble intentions. He is a man who would rather go to prison than have his case history called into question. He is a man who found the reckless behaviors from his son's past to be an embarrassment. He wishes to see the flags flying at half staff in the event of his death. His desire is to leave a worthy legacy.

This pride prevents him from admitting weakness. The Judge is facing terminal cancer - a secret he's kept by getting chemo treatments at a private lakeside cabin rather than a medical facility. He refuses to admit that the side effects of his cancer treatment have caused him to black out and lose memories. It is because of his pride he seeks out an inexperienced attorney instead of asking his son to represent him.

Hank's pride is more apparent and is displayed through overt arrogance. He flaunts his wealth, success, charisma, and expertise. He doesn't hesitate to humiliate or seduce others depending on his mood. Yet he shows cracks: he has an unforgiving relationship with his father, both of his brothers feel abandoned by him, and his marriage is on the verge of divorce.

In Chef, Jon Favreau is Carl Casper, the talented and famous chef at a popular restaurant in LA. For him, pride is demonstrated with a singular obsession with his craft. He views himself as culinary master, angered by his boss (Dustin Hoffman) the restaurant owner who won't let him try innovative recipes.

Because of the pride in his skills, he resists his ex-wife's suggestion to open a food truck and work for himself. Pride strains his relationship with his 10 year old son and his friendships with his kitchen staff. He pridefully insists that he is happy with his job even when it is obvious to everyone around him that he is miserable.

When studying the bible I have read much about pride, and none of it is positive - especially in Proverbs. Proverbs says that arrogance will be punished. It says that destruction and disgrace follows pride. Even the book of Isaiah says that great people will be brought down and the proud will be humbled, a truth we see in The Judge and Chef. The no-nonsense judge, the flashy lawyer, and the culinary genius. Each of them brought down. Each of them disgraced, punished, or destroyed.

Pictures courtesy of Village Roadshow/Warner Bros. Pictures and Open Road Films

The first humbling moment for Judge Palmer comes in a heartbreaking scene where his disease causes him to collapse in the bathroom. His son comes to help him through nausea, vomiting, and complete loss of bowel control. Despite their contentious relationship, Hank helps his dad through the humiliation and into the shower to clean up. Judge is further humbled as he is forced to admit the truth of his illness and failing memory in court as he’s providing testimony. He is humbled even more as he hears his guilty verdict. His disgrace was an attack on his legacy.

Hank Palmer’s humbling moments were not outright embarrassing, but direct statements from various relationships in his life. His dad’s doctor tells him, “You really aren't a pleasant person.” When his daughter asks why he and his wife are divorcing, she tells him, “Daddy’s don’t get lonely. They only marry younger mommies.” When trying to reconnect with his old high school sweetheart, she tells him the truth, “You’re just a boy from Indiana who’s gonna do whatever he has to do to pretend he’s not.” She also tells Hank that he’s selfish and a bully. In an argument with his older brother, Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) voices hurt and bitterness that he’s the responsible brother who stayed home and would be the one to provide care to their mentally handicapped younger brother after both parents had passed; he makes the accusation that Hank would run back to his lavish lifestyle and forget about them. And finally, in court, Judge Palmer says that his biggest professional mistake was going easy on a criminal’s sentencing because the criminal reminded Judge of Hank. Each statement punished his arrogance and revealed him to be a smaller man than the image he projects.

In Chef, Carl Casper’s humbling is a downward spiral that begins when his boss won’t allow him to control the restaurant’s menu and they receive a bad review from a famous food blogger. He is humbled again when he accidently posts a public tweet that he thought was a private message to the blogger. It gets worse when his boss still refuses to grant him creative control over the menu; he quits but none of his kitchen staff friends leave with him. He returns to the restaurant later that night to confront the blogger where Casper unleashes a massive rant that is caught on camera and uploaded to Youtube. This video goes viral and Casper finds himself unemployed and unable to find any restaurant willing to hire him. His final humbling moment happens when he has to lower himself to ask his ex-wife’s ex-husband for a favor. Chef Casper found pride in his work, and his work was destroyed.

If pride wrecks lives, then the inverse is true. Humility restores life. Hank Palmer petitions for compassionate parole for his imprisoned father. He returns home and accepts his roots – even to the point of shouting “I’m from here” while standing in the middle of the street. He is not perfect, but he is healing. Chef Casper also finds healing in humility. His new venture turns into a massive success, he reconnects with his son, and his relationship with his ex-wife is restored.

From tears and laughter, these two films reminded me of the advice of Philippians chapter two. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”


A Tale of Two Candidates

It is about to get political in here. However, this is not a post to advocate in favor for or opposed against anyone in particular. I do not wish to argue policy or any hot button issues. This is only to compare two candidates from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Ted Cruz and Barack Obama.
Photos courtesy of nbcnews.com

We will start with the President. Obama was born in Hawaii (or Kenya if you believe the birther conspiracy theories) to a Caucasian mother who was an American citizen. His father was a Kenyan citizen in the United States for an education scholarship. His parents divorced when he was a young boy. He graduated with a BA in Political Science from Columbia University and a JD from Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, he was president of the Harvard Law Review. He worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. His political career started as a State Senator in Illinois before winning a seat as a US Senator. He served in the US Senate from 2005 until he won his election for US President.

Next the (as of yesterday) Presidential candidate. Cruz was born in Canada (Calgary, Alberta to be specific) to a Caucasian mother who was an American citizen. His father was a Cuban citizen who left Cuba by bribing a Batista official, entered the US with a student visa, later on political asylum, eventually getting a green card. His parents divorced when he was in college. He graduated with a BA in Public Policy from Princeton University and a JD from Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, he was primary editor of the Harvard Law Review. He worked as a private attorney, associate deputy attorney general for the DOJ, Solicitor General for Texas, then returned to private practice. His political career started by representing the NRA and involvement in the Clinton impeachment proceedings. He has been serving in the US Senate since 2013.

So many similarities. Both men are of racially mixed decent. Neither of their fathers were American citizens. Both men earned bachelor's degrees from prestigious schools and both graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. Both of them were editors at the Harvard Law Review. Both worked as attorneys. Neither come from swing states - Obama from the traditionally liberal Illinois and Cruz from the traditionally conservative Texas. Both men served in the US Senate and both were only senators for a short duration before announcing their Presidential candidacy.

Of course, the similarities stop there. Obama's dad returned to Kenya and Cruz's dad eventually become a citizen - 48 years after leaving Cuba. Obama was not only editor but also the President of the Harvard Law Review, Cruz founded Harvard Latino Law Review. 768 days passed from day Obama was sworn in for the US Senate to the day he announced he was running for president. Cruz waited 41 days longer - a month and two weeks. Obama is a Democrat and Cruz is a Republican. Obama was once described as the most liberal candidate to ever run for President. Many sources are calling Cruz the most conservative candidate to ever run for President. When it comes to issues, there is very little on which these two men agree.

Allow me to repeat, I am not campaigning in favor of or opposition to either of these men. I don't care if you approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as President. It doesn't matter to me if you think he is the best or the worst ever President. The same is true of Cruz. As far as I am concerned (for the purpose of this post) it is irrelevant whether or not he could be a good President.

This is a post about those who do not live by what they say. This is about individuals who hold a certain set of standards for one group of people that they do not hold for another group of people.

This is about people who thought Obama was un-American because of his campaign rhetoric about how America lost it's greatness and he wanted to make it great again, but have no objections to Cruz using the same rhetoric.
This is about people who were afraid of Obama's ethnicity but are not concerned with Cruz's ethnicity.
This is about people who called Obama an elitist for his education at Columbia University and Harvard Law, but do not think that Cruz is an elitist from his education at Princeton and Harvard Law.
This is about people who believed that Obama was born in Kenya and that meant he wasn't a natural born citizen, but have no problems with Cruz's Canadian birth and his maintaining dual citizenship until last summer.
This is about people who alleged that Obama was ineligible for office because of his Kenyan father but do not think that a Cuban father makes Cruz ineligible.
This is about people who claimed that Obama was too inexperienced to be President because he had only served as Senator for two years, but find Cruz to be perfectly experienced despite serving as Senator for only two years.
This is about people who criticized Obama's lack of military service but have no criticism for Cruz who has not served in the military either.
This is about people who did not like Obama because he was a lawyer, but embrace the lawyer Cruz.

There are words for people like this. Cognitive dissonance. Intellectual dishonesty. Double standards.

Another word? What is it called when you verbalize contradictory beliefs? What is it called when you say it's OK for one person to engage in certain behaviors but not OK for another to follow those same behaviors?


Don't be a hypocrite. If you do not approve of Obama - that is fine. It is also acceptable if you support Cruz. There are many valid reasons to support your preference for one over the other. However, there are many similarities between the two candidates. If you are going to criticize Barack Obama for his heritage, or place of birth, or his family background, or his choice in colleges, or his lack of military record, or his minimal tenure in a legislative position, then you better criticize Ted Cruz for the exact same issues. If that is all you have to work with, both candidates are identical.

If you believe that Obama is a foreign born, inexperienced, and un-American elitist yet think that Cruz is a natural born, down to earth, and accomplished patriot, there is only one word that can possibly be used to describe you.



Let us love

Pop quiz: What opinion does the modern American Church hold about the Old Testament?

a) It is the sacred word of God, holy scripture, divinely inspired.
b) Interesting collection of character studies and poetry.
c) That's the old covenant. Now that we have Jesus, all that old stuff is irrelevant.
d) It's an archaic and barbaric text, which is why we prefer the New Testament.
e) Couldn't tell you, I fell asleep somewhere in Deuteronomy.

Let's be honest, depending on which church you enter, you might hear any of the five options above. Mainstream Christianity mostly falls into one of those camps; the passionate lovers of scripture, the culturally complacent, the Jesus people, the new covenant devotees, the blissfully ignorant.

But there is another that (in my experience) is more prevalent than any other. The cherry pickers.

These are the people who preach the message of Jesus. Other than the Psalms and Proverbs, they mostly ignore the Old Testament. Either they can't make sense of it or feel it's not relevant in today's world. Perhaps they read it once and once was enough. That is until it suits their needs. At that point in time, they'll pluck out an obscure verse and wield it like a blunt instrument to pound against someone's thick skull.

For these people, the Bible is their go-to choice of weaponry. It is not a book of good news. It is not the story of God. It is their sword, their gun, their bomb. It is their way of winning a fight or argument. It is their cop-out devise.

They can justify their ham–fisted approach to bruising others with Christianity's holiest book. After all, the book of Hebrews describes the Bible as being sharper than any double-edged sword, and that it divides joints and marrow. Ephesians states that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit when listing off elements of the armor of God.

In their eyes, weaponizing scripture is scriptural. It is logically mandated.

Funny that this method of cherry picking verses from the bible is most often used in political arguments. Rarely is this a theological strategy used in debate between pastors or in small group bible studies. One other observation about the cherry pickers: the obscure scripture they toss out is almost always from the book of Leviticus.

I have a proposal. If we are going to cling to a Levitical passage as more important than any other, we should all agree on which scripture to cherry pick from the many. My choice is lifted from Leviticus 19. Not familiar with the chapter?

This is the chapter that begins with the command to be holy because God is holy. Titled "Various Laws," this is a loose collection of edicts that governs the way we are supposed to treat other humans. Much of it repeats laws from the ten commandments. Here is a quick

Respect your parents.
Observe the Sabbath.
Avoid idols.
Leave a portion of your harvest from fields and vineyards for the poor and for the immigrants.
No stealing.
No lying, deception, false accusations, fraudulent claims, or slander.
Do not mistreat the disabled.
Be fair to everyone.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.
Avoid mediums and fortune tellers.
Respect the elderly
Treat immigrants as if they were natural-born citizens.

It all wraps up with God's command: "Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them."

Key word: ALL.

Which of God's laws are we supposed to follow? ALL OF THEM. Which decrees? ALL OF THEM. Even the inconvenient ones? ALL OF THEM.

That's hard. In fact, it is impossible. Ecclesiastes stated that no one on earth is righteous, does right, and never sins. That sentiment is repeated in Romans when Paul quotes the same words: "There is no one righteous, no one who understands, no one who seeks God."

God tells us to be holy like Him, to obey each and every one of His laws, yet other parts of scripture tells us that no one in all of history has ever accomplished this measure of perfection? This is why I believe that we need God. This is why we needed Jesus and the cross and the resurrection. Because we suck. We cannot do it on our own.

So let's go back to the verse I would like to cherry pick. The one Levitical decree that each of us should cling to above all else.

In the middle of this chapter explaining the fair, just, and kind way in which we should treat others, we come to the end of verse 18. It says "love your neighbor as yourself."

This concept is so radical and so vital that Jesus reiterated it again when all of the religious leaders wanted him to identify the most important commandment from all of the Jewish law. The greatest command, according to Jesus, was to love God. For the second greatest, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18 - "love your neighbor as yourself."

Even Paul recognized the value of this lone command. In Galatians, he said that the entirety of law could be fulfilled in these words: "love your neighbor as yourself." And in the second chapter of James, we see the same thing: to do right, "love your neighbor as yourself."

One segment of ancient scripture, quoted in the gospels and in multiple epistles. This. "Love your neighbor as yourself."

I propose if you're going to cherry pick one verse from the Old Testament to brandish as a part of your Godly armor, let it be Leviticus 19:18.

Because love is a far more effective weapon than righteous indignation or fiery condemnation.


The judgemental shopper

When grocery shopping, do you ever silently judge other shoppers by what they have in their cart? Ever walk by someone and think 'health nut' because their cart is overflowing with greenery? Ever ponder the fate of someone's evening because they're only buying a single bottle of Arbor Mist, a corn dog from the deli, and a quart of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream?

Or, you could be me. As I stood in line to check out, I was appalled by the slop piled onto the conveyor belt by the couple behind me. Granted, my selection of groceries wasn't the healthiest: about 50% fresh produce, the other half canned and frozen veggies, cereal, milk, pasta, general tso chicken.

But the couple behind me? Ugh. I put on my judgy hat and stared at their ever-growing mound of sugar and fat. After they pulled each additional food item out of their cart, my inner voice told me, "Junk. Crap. Garbage." Candy and chips and hot dogs and a whole stack of frozen pizzas and bean burritos and cookies and Cocoa Puffs.

The only fruits and/or vegetables they purchased were pickles, olives, and a single head of lettuce. There was also a sack of potatoes in their cart, but I know some people who don't believe that potatoes count as a vegetable.

The saddest part of it all is that they had a young kid - perhaps four or five years old, sitting in their cart. 'That poor kid,' I thought, 'he's going to grow up unhealthy and it's not his fault.'

Thankfully the friendly cashier distracted me with questions about my day. Even though I am not skilled with small talk, I made the effort. She handed me a receipt and I was on my way home.

Instances like this is why I still consider myself a judgemental jerk. I am not as bad as I used to be. Intentional efforts to give everyone the benefit of doubt have helped, but I'm not perfect. Every now and then, Judgy McJudgerpants sneaks out. I do not enjoy being judgemental. Yet it happens.

What about you? How much judging do you do in grocery stores?


Bucket List: Item #1

Today is St. Patrick's Day - a holiday to honor the patron saint of Ireland, to celebrate Irish heritage for those of us that have it (or at least pretend to), and a cheap excuse to drink green beer. I am partially Irish. There is a deep part of my being that longs to visit: to see the Giant's Causeway, to eat at Caffe Banba at the northernmost point of the island, attend a Gaelic football game, kiss the Blarney Stone, watch the sun rise over the Irish Sea and set over the North Atlantic.

But the first entry on my bucket list isn't about Ireland. Well, not exactly.

Item number one on my list is to celebrate a holiday in a foreign country. Any holiday. Somewhere other than the USA.

How cool would it be to stay in Tokyo for New years Eve? Or the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong? Or in Munich for Oktoberfest? Valentine's Day in Venice? Easter in Jerusalem? Christmas in Oslo? Carnival in Rio?

Or ...

What about St Patrick's Day in Dublin?

Perhaps that is the Irish in me speaking. Perhaps that is the yearning to make a pilgrimage to my ancestor's homelands. Perhaps it is nothing more than wanderlust.

Today is St. Patrick's Day. And it would be an amazing experience to spend the holiday in the country where it started.


Conversationally handicapped

Given the choice between story time and small talk, I will always choose stories. I am a skilled raconteur but a horrendous conversationalist. Holding up a conversation is a struggle for me, especially small talk. Most chat-worthy opportunities do not make sense to me and I find myself awkward and confused.

When asked, "How are you?" I will provide an answer but rarely follow up with the socially appropriate response, "and how are you doing?" This is a common symptom of Asperger syndrome which I believe I have despite never being officially diagnosed.

My socially crippling lack of conversational skills isn't always apparent. I have found crutches and coping mechanisms over the years, but given enough time it will become clear. Uneasy exits after prolonged silences. Improper introductions. Dominating discussions on issues or topics about which I am passionate.

At my small group this week, I made that admission - that I am bad at conversation but great at storytelling. One of the other guys was surprised and thought I was kidding. He and I have chatted several times and from that perspective, he thought of me as an eloquent and articulate addition to the group. Some explanation was necessary.

If you and I wanted to swap tales from our younger days, we could talk for hours. If you wanted to debate which Bond movies are the best, grab some coffee and make yourself comfortable because we will be a while. You want to introduce me to a band that you are excited about, both of us will walk away from a long conversation in search of new music.

But ask me how I'm doing? Meh. I'll provide a one word answer then stare out the nearest window. It sure looks windy outside. I wish it would snow.

That makes sustainable friendships difficult without some measure of common interests.

That makes intimacy impossible without arduous effort.

That makes small talk uncomfortably painful because I rarely see the point of idle chit chat.

Then I go to work and speak with dozens of people through out the day.
Then I go to church and talk to pastors and friends.
Then I go to my small group and contribute to the discussion.
Then I get on Google Hangouts with friends from out of state and participate in the conversation.
Then I hang out with my kids and .. well ... they all talk far more than me.

Conversation, if there's no purpose, is exhausting. Yet I love being around people. I find their stories fascinating. Being in the company of good friends is refreshing. I crave camaraderie.

If only we could skip the small talk. If only we could start with something meaningful.

I am not sure I know how to do that.

Maybe ...

Next time you see me, don't ask me "How is your day going?" Instead,
ask me, "Can I tell you about my day?"

I guarantee I'll say, "Yes."


Finding Disney Magic

Since its inception, Disney has always possessed an element of magic. From the moment Mickey Mouse started whistling at the beginning of the short film 'Steamboat Willie,' audiences knew that they were witnessing something new, whimsical, and magical.

Walt Disney was aware this and he built his empire upon that concept. Mickey embodied this mysticism as the magician's apprentice in Fantasia and the enchanted tradition has since continued into Disney's modern animation. Consider Cinderella's fairy godmother, Tinkerbell's pixie dust, Aladdin's Genie, or Elsa's control over snow and ice. Even off screen, Disney exists in a world where Merlin's wizardry and alchemy is as real the sword Wart pulled from the stone. They even named their Florida theme park Magic Kingdom.

From their stories, to their amusement parks, to their toys and assorted merchandise, Disney boldly declares their faith in magic and insists that you share their belief.

This last weekend, I finally made the effort to see Big Hero 6 – the most recent addition to the cannon of Walt Disney Animation Studios and their first film featuring Marvel Comics source material. The movie is absolutely delightful and deserves the Oscar award it won for best animated feature. Naturally, the nerd in me is excited to see superheroes in the Disney universe. Yet, as I contemplate why Big Hero 6 is such a phenomenal movie, it has little to do with Marvel's intellectual property; it came to life through Disney's tradition of movie magic. Comparing this movie to the rest of Disney's filmography, there are three big avenues through which this magic manifests.

1. The magic of inclusion.

Disney doesn't want to tell you a story, they want to involve you in the stories they tell. They build fantasy worlds in such a way to make you feel as if you are present - or at least wish you were there. Their films have been set on every continent (except Antarctica) and places beyond: underwater (Atlantis), outer space (Treasure Planet), and virtual reality (Wreck-It Ralph). Their characters span such a wide variety of personalities that any viewer should be able to find someone to whom they relate - even if that character is the nervous and panic prone bird (Zazu), the playful but difficult to love alien (Stitch), or a hippy sentient VW Van (Fillmore). Even in the earliest classics, Disney sought to appeal to the widest spectrum possible. In seven dwarfs with distinct and nameable personas, there is someone for anyone to say, "Yeah, that's me."

This art of inclusion is why people are drawn to Disneyland – the happiest place on earth. It has spawned countless works of fan art and creative mashups. Obsessive studies of Disney movies have revealed the psychoses of some of our most popular heroes, heroines, and villains – even assigning them diagnoses from the DSM-IV. If ever you doubt that there is a Disney character like you, there is a handy chart that delegates each personality type from the Meyers-Briggs test to corresponding Disney figures.*

In Big Hero 6, the magic of inclusion is alive and well. Set in the fictional city San Fransokyo (an amalgamation of San Francisco and Tokyo), animators managed to incorporate the best of both cities and create an alluring environment that was not only believable, but the kind of place where I would want to live. The screenwriters developed characters that we care about, to celebrate in their victories and mourn in their grief. And still there were personalities varied enough to relate to different members of the audience. Christian, my oldest, found his doppelganger in Hiro - the 14 year old genius who serves as the central protagonist. Zu had two kindred spirits in the girls: GoGo the athletic engineer and Honey Lemon the quirky and empathetic chemist. JJ's favorite was Wasabi, the cautious neat-freak who specialized in laser and plasma technology. Even I could see a bit of myself in Hiro's older brother Tadashi who wanted nothing more than the best for his family and friends and ultimately sacrificed himself to save someone he admired.

2. The magic of imagination.

The power of the imagination is deeply rooted in Disney's philosophy. Even the employees responsible for designing, creating, and building the theme park attractions, cruise ship features, retail locations, and resorts are not engineering these destinations - they're Imagineering. Walt Disney believed that Disneyland would continue to grow as long as there was someone out there with an imagination and he was quoted saying, "Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever." When a company's founder possesses such boundless and imaginative optimism, that attitude will be absorbed by the whole organization. That unbridled creativity spread like a wildfire from Disney's first cartoons, turning every story he touched into magic, reimagining familiar tales into something grander than anyone could have anticipated.

With the magic of imagination, every girl has slipped into a princess dress for at least a moment to pretend they are Bell or Snow White or Merida or Jasmine. With the magic of imagination, thousands of people from around the world are adding a Disney destination to their bucket lists while thousands others are checking it off from theirs. With the magic of imagination, we are invited into a wonderful world of make-believe. Through the magic of imagination we discover truths about the human condition from talking animals giving lessons in morality and catchy songs that permanently implant themselves in your psyche (I'm talking about you, 'Let It Go').

The plot of Big Hero 6 hinges on the magic of imagination. It follows the complex mind of Hiro as he grows from inventing his own battle robot to building powerful suits that grant his friends superpowers. Even the MacGuffin in Big Hero 6 are millions of microbots that are controlled by the imagination. But rather than tell us that Hiro is just a smart kid, the movie takes us to the drawing table with him. We watch as he drafts out his designs and uses a 3D printer to construct his prototypes. We're included in the testing processes. In a sense, the movie is teaching us how to use our own imagination, cementing one of the biggest lessons of the story: to solve your problems by observing them from a different angle.

3. The magic of inspiration.

In a world where most magicians employ misdirection and sleight of hand, the only real magic that truly remains is the power of a story to shape our culture. Stories that change hearts and move mountains. Stories that inspire us to do great acts and soar to great heights. Disney has harnessed that magic of inspiration and embraced their potential to cause great good in our world.

How many people adopted a dog after watching 101 Dalmatians? How many kids tried to dissemble their gadgets and tinker with the parts after watching The Great Mouse Detective? How many siblings strengthened their bond after watching Brother Bear? How many humans started recycling more after watching WALL-E?

The magic of inspiration shines in Big Hero 6. It was inspiration for my daughter to see that girls are just as smart and inventive as boys. It was inspiration for my oldest son to use his creativity to positively affect the world around him. And JJ? Well, he has always wanted to be a real life hero. Ever since he was old enough to have career aspirations, he has wanted to be a police officer or a fireman. As we walked out of the theater, he told me that he changed his mind; now he wants to build robots to help people. Big Hero 6 opened the possibilities for him. He will probably change his mind at least a dozen times between now and when he goes to college about the kind of work he wants to do, but now he sees that there are endless ways to be a hero. Being a robotics engineer is one of those ways.

* In case you’re wondering, I’m either The Overseer (Woody) or The Inspector (Sebastian), depending on circumstance.


In my head

During the commute to and from work, there is a void to fill. Some people listen to music. Others have podcasts or audiobooks playing. And talk radio is also an option. A few people use that time to pray (hopefully with their eyes open).

Me? I prefer music. I don't car-dance, but I do like to sing along.

Unfortunately, my car stereo is broken. The silence drives me crazy. These days, more often than not, I find myself praying. I assure you I keep my eyes on the road; I do not have the faith to praise Jesus with my eyes closed down Ramsey and over the freeway at 35 MPH.

I pray. But my brain tends to work better to the beat of a drum so sometimes that prayer comes out as a song that I have stuck in my head. Sometimes I offer those lyrics as my way of talking to God. Sometimes I feel as if that is God's way of speaking to me.

Interestingly, there are a couple of songs that I have playing inside my brain more frequently than others.

During the morning drive, the most common song I have on my mind is Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't Worry Be Happy.' When driving home, it is Tears for Fears' 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World.'

If God is really using these songs to give me some sort of message, I wonder. What is He is trying to tell me?