Monday, November 25, 2013

Faith Flicks: Life of Pi

Sermon from November 24th, 2013

If someone came to you and said they had a story that would make you believe in God, you would listen wouldn’t you.  That’s the setup for the book and movie Life of Pi.
Life of Pi is another book made into movie.  The book was written by Yann Martel and it’s a book for which he won numerous literary honors.  I read the book about 5 years ago and I loved it.  So I was excited when I saw that a movie was being made about it.  The movie came out around this time last year and won 4 Academy awards.  Like most book to movie adaptations, the book is better.  However, they did an incredible bringing the book to the big screen.  This is one of the best book to movie adaptations that I have seen.  
            The story is about a boy named Pi who grows up in India and as a young teenager claims to be a Hindu, Christian and Muslim all at the same time.  Pi’s father owns a zoo but financially things are hard.  So the father sells the zoo and they are shipping the animals to Canada on a Japanese Cargo ship which sinks and Pi finds himself on a life boat with a Hyena, Orangutan, Zebra and Bengal Tiger.   As you can probably imagine it comes down to two survivors: Pi and the Tiger who is named Richard Parker. 
            The story is told from the perspective of a writer who had discovered from a family member that Pi had a story that would “make him believe in God.”  So as the older Pi tells his story to this author, the book and movie flashback to what was actually taking place.  Eventually Pi washes up on the shores of Mexico, 227 days after the ship sank and recounts 2 versions of the story to the Japanese Owners of the boat who want to know what happened to their boat. Pi offers the same facts but with two different interpretations.
In the first version, Pi is the sole human survivor on a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan and a huge Bengal tiger called Mr. Parker. The second has no animals and is far more brutal. One requires suspension of disbelief; the other is “reasonable”.  When they ask him which one is true he asks them which one is better?  They tell him which one they think is better and Pi says “so it is with God.”  Which leaves the audience and the reader wide open to interpret the message the author intended.
You have to be prepared to choose to walk away from the “reasonable” interpretation to accept the better story.  To have faith.  In the film, Pi retells the story and convinces two skeptics to overcome one of the largest barriers to faith – believing in the unbelievable. One of those characters does claim in the end that he does believe in God.
            So the idea with the movie is that believing in God is purposeful and beautiful and and a better story whether it’s true or not…it’s not the point…the point is to have faith in something that you can’t prove but that offers something that human beings need: like hope, like love, like purpose and meaning.  The author is not so worried about whether or not a religion is true…but whether or not religion offers humanity a better story of how to live life.
So while I could tell you all day long that that there are enough extra-biblical texts, literature outside of the text of the Bible, that points to the historicity of the life, death and yes resurrection of Jesus Christ, I can’t prove it to you.  I could tell you that the one piece of data that keeps me believing in Christianity on a rational , fact based level is the actions of the disciples before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  When Jesus gets arrested his disciples are hiding behind locked doors.  They are worried and scared doing what they can to disassociate themselves with Jesus because they don’t want to be arrested either.  After the resurrection all of a sudden these same disciples who were scared and worried and hiding because they feared for their lives…now all of a sudden they are willing to die because of their faith.  Something as big and supernatural as the resurrection of Jesus Christ would have had to have happened for them to do a total 180 and not worry about their own lives.   So I believe that Jesus is who he said he was and that there is some historical data that backs that up.  However, I could never prove the resurrection to anyone without a shadow of a doubt. 
            I want to explore the question that’s asked in Life of Pi…is the better story to believe in God or not believe in God.  Just for a few minutes let’s not worry about whether or not the story is true…let’s look at it through the lens of which story is better: a God or no God?
            At let me tell you, I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t believe in God…so this is really hard for me to do.  But here’s what I imagine would be my thoughts and questions if I did live life believing that God does not exist. 
            If there is no God then it stands to reason that everything in creation is by natural evolution apart from intelligent design.  So that I could still enjoy the beauty of creation but I would wonder about the purpose of creation.  My question would be does creation have meaning?  One of my favorite books is called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.  The tagline is “Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality.”  It’s an awesome and easy read that was made into a movie in 2012.  In the movie the main character Don is attending a debate about whether or not God exists.  He asks the atheist who is debating there is no God about meaning.  The man says “The universe doesn't owe us meaning, son. If you want meaning, I suggest you try a dictionary.”  If there is no God it is hard to find meaning, to find purpose.  Love can be a purpose…but are we ourselves the source of that love?  Doing good things can give us purpose, but isn’t there something more to this life than just doing good?  Do we find ultimate purpose and meaning in love and in doing good things in and of themselves. 
            I believe in God and find myself thinking that there is more to this life than what I am currently experiencing, I think that angst and search for meaning and purpose would be hyped up even more if I didn’t believe in God.
            Another thing about this is that I think it takes more faith to believe God does not exist than it does to believe that God does exist.  For example let’s say you are invited to someone’s house for dinner.  You enter the dining room and laid before you is a beautiful, aromatic spread of food.  Does it take more faith to believe that no one prepared that food or that someone prepared that food?  You didn’t actually see anyone making the food and putting it on the table so how do you know someone actually made it?  What if a small tornado came through the kitchen and dining room and what formed is what is found on the table?  That takes more faith than the simple idea that whoever invited you to dinner actually took the time to make the food and put it on the table for you to enjoy.
            Which is the better story…that someone prepared the food for you to enjoy or that it came about randomly?  Which story is more meaningful?  Now I know that there are problems with that analogy, but it’s just an analogy.
            My point is this: whatever we believe, whether in something or in nothing, whatever we choose will take faith.  Whatever we believe will lead to unanswered and unanswerable questions.  Whatever we choose to believe or not believe will require us to be okay with mystery.  Whatever we choose to believe will shape our values and the way we live our lives.  Whether Christianity is true or not, I think it is a better story.
            The story that there is a God who loves us enough to send his only son as a demonstration of His love is a beautiful story that gives meaning and purpose to life.  The idea that the Holy Spirit is present with us in the midst of a cancer diagnoses or an unwanted divorce …that’s a better story.  The solidarity that God has with his creation because he chose to become one of us…he doesn’t just think he knows what it means to suffer…he became one of us and suffered just like us and he knows what it means to suffer and that’s why one day he’s going to make everything right…that’s the better story.  That when we lose a loved one unexpectedly we can trust that we have a God who knows and understands grief and doesn’t take the grief away, but see’s us through so that we come to the other side of those hard and intense emotions with  softer heart for others who have lost a loved one.  That’s the better story.
            I want to read John 1:1-18.  I’m not going to teach this text this morning, I’m sure a time will come when I do dig in and really teach what John is saying in these words.  But this morning, I want you to rest and relax and let these words sink in as something beautiful and meaningful and good.  I want these words to sink in this morning as the better story.  As something you just receive as you hear them.  Something good and life-giving and restoring to your soul.  Will you hear the word.  Read John 1:1-18:
       What kind of story are you telling with the way you live your life?

1 comment:

John Latz, M.D. said...

Wow - you know I just saw that movie about a month ago and it was transformative - really showed that perception can mean everything. As a sidebar, I took my boys to see the Hunger Games Catching Fire and now can't wait for the last movie in that series. Great writing Pastor Rich! Definitely sharing it with my family.