Loving the Bravery

As you know, it was Valentine’s Day on Thursday, so last night Arenda and I went out for dinner to celebrate. Valentine’s Day also marked the five year anniversary of my proposing to Arenda, the commercially-determined romantic that I am. It was the first time we’d gone out for dinner since we moved here. We chose a restaurant called “Chicago-Style Pizza” which my Greek teacher, Mr. Josh Walker, recommended to me at Pipes & Steins yesterday. Pipes & Steins is the weekly Friday afternoon fellowshipping session here at the Manor. It was an outstanding pizza dinner, with half the pizza covered with Arenda’s toppings, and half covered with mine; a model of Scripture’s two-become-one. Afterwards we bought a bottle of wine and went home to watch a movie.

There really are very few movies worth watching. When we decide to rent a movie, it usually takes a good half hour so of searching to find something that isn’t garbage. Sometimes, the only thing available is a family movie, so that’s what we settled on last night. We rented Brave, and were reminded that just because there’s no sex or swearing in the movie, doesn’t mean it’s commendable. Brave is a movie in which Merida, a rebellious teenage princess, spends almost the entire time dishonouring her parents, but which in the end is no big deal because she was simply following her heart.

Sometimes telling the same story, but in a different setting, more clearly reveals what the message of the story is. So, let’s say you’ve got two parents who have raised their daughter in the Christian faith. The father is something of a blustering buffoon, while the mother does the hard work of disciplining and teaching her children. The teenage daughter, however, does not want to walk in the faith of her parents and rebels at every opportunity. Eventually, the daughter gets so fed up with her mother’s instructions and expectations, that she approaches the local drug dealer for something that’ll shut her mom up. The drug that she is given so badly disfigures her mother, that her mother must be hid away from everyone else. However, in the midst of her disfigurement, the mother comes to see her daughter’s point of view and decides that what’s most important is not that her daughter walks in the ways of her parents, but that she follows her own heart instead. The mother’s disfigurement goes away, and the family is happily reunited around the new gospel of self-empowerment.

Because, as we all know, there’s nothing quite so brave as saying “no” to the real world, and dwelling instead in whatever fantasy your mind can concoct; like drug addicts, psychopaths, megalomaniacs, and lunatics do. Yet, like a loaded diaper, this “following your heart” is the message that drags our culture to the ground. Our music, movies, and books loudly assert this gospel, an assertion that has become pervasive by means of technology. It oozes into our homes through television, the internet, radio, and the public library. All of those things, taken properly, can be blessings in our lives; they turn into curses when we don’t realize that the strange flavour that we are tasting is raw sewage.

Because the truth is that the bravery of Brave is not bravery at all. It takes no courage whatsoever to “follow your heart” and to do what only you want to do. It takes no courage to see yourself as an autonomous individual who owes nothing at all to the world around you. This is, in fact, the path of least resistance for us sinners. However, it takes great courage to face the world as it is, to accept the truth of who God is, of who you are, and of what wickedness you have accomplished. It takes courage to resist the temptation of autonomy, of self-righteousness, and instead to see yourself as only a small part of a much larger story. What was it that drove men in World War I to leap out from the trenches and run toward a sheet of bullets, artillery, and nerve gas? Guts. The guts to believe in something so much greater than yourself that you will lay down your life for it. Christ prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to be removed from him; can you imagine if he had followed his heart in that moment? But he did the bravest thing imaginable and instead followed the will of his Father.

Indeed, in the pages of Scripture, heart-followers abound. David followed his heart and slept with Bathsheba; Amnon followed his heart and raped his sister; Peter followed his heart and denied the Lord Jesus; Israel followed their hearts repeatedly, until their hearts were broken in Babylon. In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul tells us that heart-followers get exactly what they want, for the desire of the human heart is for hell. You may ask, however, “But if we have regenerate hearts, hearts of flesh that are illuminated by the Holy Spirit, then isn’t it fine that we follow our hearts?” I would respond, though, by saying that truly regenerate hearts don’t pay much attention to themselves. A regenerate heart has no desire to follow itself, because it belongs to something else. The true fulness of life lies not in directing your heart to embrace itself, but in directing it to embrace the heart of our Fatherly King, and the hearts of those with whom he has filled our lives.

This is a wonderful story to tell, and there are plenty of good stories that portray this heroic self-denial. Samwise Gamgee is perhaps one of the bravest characters in English literature. Even when Frodo, his master and his best friend, is filled with loathing for Sam and rejects him, Sam denies himself entirely out of love and devotion. He has every right to leave, to demand justice and compensation, but he denies himself every right. His pure honesty, his self-emptying integrity, and his unflinching stand for light against darkness contrast starkly with the petulant and self-serving snobbishness of Brave’s Merida. Indeed, Sam’s example draws our minds upwards and outwards, to contemplate Christ’s great sacrifice, while Merida’s example turns us into little Pharaohs with hard hearts. The former shows us a liberating enslavement, while the latter gives us an enslaving liberty. One is the path of true bravery, and the other the path of cowardice. The world has a bad habit of mixing these up, and against this Isaiah speaks strongly: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

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6 thoughts on “Loving the Bravery

  1. Hi Jeremy and Arenda

    It’s so nice to be able to keep up with your news and coming and goings! Oh that we had this technology when my sister Alice lived far from home!

    We are looking after Conrad and Anita’s children in Valemount. C&A are on a much needed holiday in Mexico for a week.

    They have a movie called “Antwone Fisher” which we enjoyed watching last night. If you haven’t seen, we highly recommend it.

    Have a relaxing Sunday. love Aunt Jen

  2. Hi Jeremy,
    I enjoyed your post “A Time To Speak”, which lead me to keep reading….and enjoying. For that reason this response comes to you as a challenge, not a criticism. I have heard and read similar arguments many times about books and movies and, as the mother of young children, I have been paying close attention. I have not seen the movie Brave, but my children have so I read your post with them. They argued with you on several points: (polished up a wee bit)

    Merida’s rebellion against her parents should not be compared to refusing to follow them in their Christian faith, but instead in their traditions. We compared it to some of the young women in our church who, sadly, fight for the chance to go to university, something their parents believe to be superfluous since a woman’s future consists of marriage and raising children. Secondly, Merida does in fact learn from her selfish behaviour and the consequences of following her heart. After she turns her mother into a bear (but it’s a witch, mommy, not a drug dealer) Merida realises her mistake, then makes sacrifices and risks danger to save her mother and return her to her human state. Finally, the family is not reunited around a new gospel, the mother simply realises that tradition doesn’t have to be followed simply because it always has been.

    I do understand your argument, but I thought you would enjoy hearing what my kids came away with. Teenage rebellion does not always have to be a bad thing, mine led me to join the church!

    Cheers!

    • Hi Courtenay,

      Great response, and yes, I did enjoy hearing what your kids had to say!

      What I was trying to get at in my critique were the basic principles at work in the movie. Scripture calls us to live lives of humble submission to God, and to the way He has set out for us. This requires us to cultivate in our children a sense of duty and responsibility. It’s an outward-looking sense of oneself. But the philosophy at work behind this movie, and in our culture at large, is an inward-looking one, one in which you are answerable only to yourself and to your own desires. Merida was not wrong to desire a marriage based on love, rather than political arrangement. But she made no attempt to embrace her duty to the kingdom, to make peace with the fact that, whether she chose it or not, her life was filled with responsibilities. The stability of the realm, and thus many hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, depended upon her learning to be a proper and wise queen.

      Ultimately, it was not Abraham’s choice to leave Ur, David’s choice to become king, or Paul’s choice to preach to the gentiles – much less become a Christian! But each of them walked the path laid out before them, dutifully devoted to their God. They struggled to do so with integrity and honour, despite their very real failings. This, I hold, is true bravery. As I mentioned in the post, there are many good stories that foster these traits of devotion, humility, and duty, although not many of them are new stories and we do have to look a little harder for them.

      Thanks to you and your kids for the response!

      Jeremy

  3. I am really going to have to see this movie….then let the debate Begin! But, for now let’s work with the research I’ve done (“hey, kids!….”). Merida was not looking to shirk her responsibilities or her duty. Indeed, she was trying to prove to her parens that she could do more for her kingdom with her God given skills. She simply refused to marry, an action that will not add to nor detract from her role as a future queen. As I said in my previous post, she did rebel and she also learned from her self-serving actions, as David did. It was not wrong for her to rebel against the marriage set out before her but the way that she rebelled was wrong. In refusing to marry she was breaking away from the tradition of her fallible people, not her God given role. I have seen within our church that many people have trouble distinguishing between our own traditions and what God calls us to do; just try telling an old Dutch man that his church is ditching the organ in favour of a guitar 😉 The point of this story was that traditions can be broken and replaced, a lesson we could all learn.
    I fear that you and I have both made a decision about this and will not be swayed.

    • Courtenay,

      The problem that I’m getting at is not distinguishing between our own traditions and what God calls us to do. To make my point more clearly, I’ll simply quote the movie. Here are Merida’s last words, and they sum up the film’s message very nicely:

      “Some say fate is beyond our command, but I know better. Our destiny is within us. You just have to be brave enough to see it.”

      No matter how you look at that, that isn’t a Scriptural message. The problem isn’t guitar vs. organ, or girls wanting to go to university, or Merida not wanting to get married. It’s that Merida looks to herself for guidance, and not to something outside of herself. Merida was not looking to do more for her kingdom with her God-given skills, and was not trying to prove that to her parents. The kingdom, her parents, her siblings, her traditions, all of these were simply accessories to Merida’s own version of the world. They could be affirmed or discarded as she pleased. This is what the movie means by being in command of your own destiny; you get to pick and choose.

      The movie’s message is that the version of the world that you find within yourself is the one you should live by. What makes it even worse is that they call this “bravery.” But like I said in the post, it takes no guts to find your own destiny inside of you. That’s easy. You spend your entire life living inside of yourself, so it’s the most comfortable and familiar place to be. But true bravery is looking outside of your own inner, personal world, for things that are greater than yourself. It is living not as though the world belongs to you, but as though you belong to the world.

      I’ve used many examples already, but I’ll use one more, one that may resonate with your kids. I’m a big Harry Potter fan. In addition to virtues like loyalty and friendship, we also find courage in those stories. Harry did not choose the fate he had been given. When he was still a little baby, he was scarred for life by Voldemort and was thus fated to fight him. Harry could easily have shirked this destiny and could have done what Merida did, and chosen his own destiny. But he didn’t. He walked the path laid out before him, despite the many risks, and despite the fact that it could very well cost him his life. He showed true bravery by recognizing not that his destiny was within him, but the opposite; that it lay outside of him. He belonged to it; it did not belong to him.

      So here’s my point, succinctly:

      Some say fate is beyond our command, and that’s true; it is in the hands of our sovereign, loving God. Our destiny is outside of us, in devotion to God and to our neighbours. You just have to be brave enough to see it.

      Jeremy

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