Sunday, December 13, 2009

Faith Works 12-19

Faith Works 12-19-09

Jeff Gill


When a story can't be told too often



Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" has been filmed over and over again since the very dawn of photography, starting in 1901 (less than 60 years after the tale was first told!), and Disney has taken another crachit at it.


Using "motion capture" animation, Jim Carrey does for multiple characters, starting with Scrooge, what Tom Hanks did in "The Polar Express." The computer animation, tied to human acting while wearing "mo-cap" suits, continues to amaze, and makes set builders weep. The virtual camera swoops around St. Paul's Cathedral and through the City of London, perching a moment on the Tower itself, never filming a bit of tangible reality.


Dickens' story touches hearts in every form, from Mickey Mouse as Bob Crachit in an earlier Disney cartoon venture, or the classic old black and white Hollywood versions.


Or you could read it, out of a book or even on your computer screen.


What makes this cast of characters and particular plot so affecting is the change of heart, the transformation of the unseen center of Ebenezer Scrooge from the cold and unmoved façade against the outside world to an equally mysterious, but outwardly apparent celebrator of Christmas, of whom "it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."


The question for Scrooge, and for all of us traveling in company with old Ebenezer on his nightlong journey, is whether in fact he *can* change. To quote the reforming miser himself:


[blockquote] "Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?"
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me."
The Spirit was immovable as ever. [end blockquote]
Dickens was too good a storyteller, and perhaps enough of a theologian, to tell us directly whether "certain ends" are inevitable. There are inevitabilities in this world, and there are things very hard to change indeed, and then there are those moments of transformation where only a Spirit can account for the change that results.
As much as Americans enjoy their Scrooge, our complement to "A Christmas Carol" is a story that began and really only exists as a movie, "It's A Wonderful Life." George Bailey, too, is haunted by supernatural beings, the angel Gabriel and a Joseph who may or may not be the fellow with relatives in Bethlehem. And Clarence Oddbody.
Mr. Bailey wants to know, and doubts, whether his life has changed anything. The weight of predestination, of inevitability, weighs equally heavily on George as it does on Ebenezer.
Can one life make a difference? Can small choices make a change, or are we just pawns to "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato," as Scrooge tried to account for Marley's apparition by means of his indigestion?
[blockquote]"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me. I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this …. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?" [end blockquote]


Jim Carrey plays not only Scrooge in the new "Carol," but also all three Spirits. It's an interesting approach, hinting at not only the acting prowess of the human beneath the animated pictures, but also at a modern attempt at explanation. The three Spirits of Christmas are simply psychological expressions of Scrooge's own interior desire to change.


Perhaps. Many want to change, and cannot, but continue to try. This we see all around us every day, and sometimes in the morning mirror. Could it be that it is inevitability itself that is the Ghost, a persistent haunting imposed from within; and to change, to be transformed, requires a nudge from without, from beyond, from Another?


Might something as faint, as distant as a baby born in a backwater, thousands of years and as many miles away, be the external, even the supernatural influence that moves us where all our wishes and desires cannot take us?


Could the Christmas child make all the difference?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about a reason to change you've experienced this Christmas at, or follow Knapsack

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