At the annual Bay of Quinte Conference this year we were challenged to find the ways, and the words, to express our Faith. The Song of Faith was offered up to five hundred faithful churchgoers under the fluorescent lights of the hockey arena. As a diversion from the stark reality of our dwindling church’s love-in hopes, I sought out Hollywood’s fantastic prophecies in a dark theatre. Terminator: Salvation, the fourth in a series of futuristic sci-fi action flicks, is on the menu of millions of blockbuster movie-goers this summer.
If you think the future is bleak for our church, this movie cooks up a future wasteland that our old testament pals Jeremiah, Hosea, and Daniel would give their nods of approval.
The movie feeds this generation’s obsession with the Frankenstein scenario where machines turn on their human masters. Along with the mega-popular Matrix series, it produces a dark vision of technological advances turned ugly.
In the next theatre, the latest Star Trek movie offers up an equally fantastic but much more optimistic – some might say “escapist” – view of the future. On the brink of destroying ourselves and this tiny planet, humanity finds salvation in the age-old uniting purpose of colonization. This time it’s the universe we’re taking from hostile, “uncivilized” aliens. Put together these sagas offer the Shadow and Light sides of a possible future – just like every Old Testament prophet offered an either/or in their own day.
Terminator is earth bound. It takes place in sunny California where the movie-series, you might say, made Arnold Schwarzenegger Governor of that state. The original Terminator was a B-movie with a body building Schwarzenegger as an enemy robot sent back to the eighties to terminate the child John Conner. Like Jesus he promises “I’ll be back”.
That movie started a wave. It’s popularity poured money into a sequel featuring the latest in digital special effects. Robot Arnold was working for the humans now. This time sent back to the nineties to protect them from the newer, tougher, sexier female model (literally) of robot assassin.
The third movie deals with how Judgment Day happened – set in the very near future. It tells how the Frankenstein monster – the Skynet military computer first turned on its creators. Terminator Salvation is set in – too close for comfort - 2018. The robots have wiped out cities and pursue the survivors with an impressive variety of killing machines. I’m sure the Pentagon is taking notes.
What a machine of a movie. It rolls out at high speed from one act of desperate bravado to the next in rapid fire. Indestructible men fight indestructible robots driving, crashing or blowing up shiny metal vehicles and weapons. Governor Arnold makes a cameo – as a buff, young, robot (bad guy again) – doing his part for the economy - selling the dream of Californian skin-doctors – eternal youth through technology.
To be seduced by the movie – as I obviously am – is to be a part of the problem. Worshipping at the feet of Hollywood’s excessive abundance – billions poured into ever more fantastic visions of technological warfare. While we get our fix of techno-wonder, we’re also feeding the beast that the movie warns us of. Do we see the irony? Don’t we see the hell we’re heading for? Yeah, but the ride there is just so easy, fun, and titillating – it’s harmless really – isn’t it?
What intrigues me is the script writers’ use of Christian language and imagery. The very title puts Salvation on the table – up for grabs.
The movie’s version of Salvation is all about sacrificing one’s own personal safety for the good of others. The hero of the Resistance, John Connor sends radio messages out to the survivors of Judgment Day that they “are not alone” (sound familiar?). If they are alive, they are “the resistance”. The message is “stay alive”. (Not a bad slogan for mainline churches right now eh?) It’s the most basic statement of what it is to be human vs. machine. And the difference is…what it is to be human is…not only that we bury our dead but …we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the others.
There is a character who turns out to be mostly machine except for his heart and brain and eyeballs. He’s the Jesus figure. Half human – half god (false god that is). His mission is to infiltrate the human colonies as one of them (familiar?) and entrap the heroes of the time travel story.
First he gets crucified by the Resistance – in a scene where he is interrogated on a fashioned cross. Then he’s set free by the woman warrior he “saved” (Mary Magdalene) and is finally trusted by Connor to help him. Will he turn out to be Jesus or Judas?
Scholar John Dominic Crossen has taught us that the original Jesus people, the ones who first sent out subversive survival messages to small pockets of empire resistors, stole the language of the dominant Roman culture and turned it on it’s head. Caesar was Saviour and Lord, born of a virgin, Prince of Peace, Healer and Maker of Justice for all. Roman salvation involved conforming all ethnic diversities into an empire’s economic mono-culture. This Free trade meant enjoying cheap goods from the expanses of the empire, jobs in distribution and sales, wealth for the educated local elite who found places within the system – and unfortunately – every system has its costs – the displacement of local micro farm and fishing economies that had sustained the uneducated poor for – always. The Jesus people offered a different salvation based on a radical earthy empire-subverting sharing - including all who might catch the vision and share the journey.
“Teach your children well…” goes the song from the sixties.
Call me a hippie. Call me a Jesus-freak. Call me a Luddite.
But Terminator Salvation is a prophetic warning to this generation.
What hope can we offer to those movie goers? When they walk out into the daylight, eyes squinting in the sun that is slowly cooking the human race out of existence, climbing into ever more sophisticated machines, plugging into a world wide web that provides for every need except how to grow food and make shelter without machines, what future can they see for themselves?
We might ask what’s missing in the Hollywood version of salvation? There are no machines that grow food, provide heat or cooling – or even entertain. There are only machines that kill and machines that speed towards the kill. And yet the people live somehow?
There are only four women in the movie. While they don’t drive the plot, they provide the Archetypal links to the future. They are a warrior (the one who frees Jesus/Marcus), a pregnant doctor, and a sage-earth-mother. She defies the meta-male of her pack by providing food (the only food in the whole movie) to strangers; Kyle, John and their mute little girl sidekick – the fourth. This little girl has a canny mystical instinct for survival. She repeatedly provides the missing ingredient to win each battle. She also provides the unspoken raison d’etre for the Resistance. She represents their hope for the next generation.
Back at the Conference we debated how to deal with ministers and members with heretical faith expressions. Should they be excommunicated? If we take a clip from Hollywood, the creed that unites enemies is – “every living survivor is needed as part of the Resistance.” So I say it is in our church. We need every soul willing to stand and give their lifeblood to a future where a song of faith – however expressed – a song of peace, a song of balanced eco-sustainable growth, a song where strangers and enemies are fed - gets sung by the next still-silent generation.
What will redeem my own sins of consumption? I’ve infiltrated the Hollywood cult in order to reveal to you - my small band of Resistors - the pervasive overpowering and mixed messages seducing our young. Will they put their hope in better, faster, smarter weapons? Will they believe the future lies in an all-consuming conforming colonization? Or that, once we use up this planet, there are so many more “where no man has gone before”?
It’s up to each of you to do your part to “stay alive” and sing out a future vision rooted in the fragile, tenacious salvation found in the wheat and the vine and the mystery of peace seeded in the dark human heart.
I’ll keep you posted.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zg9ooaozu-8 this is the Terminator Salvation movie trailer - not that i'd promote this kind of thing.