Here’s Jimmy

I have a confession to make.

Over the past several weeks, my wife and I have been ardent devotees of the Tonight Show.  Every weeknight at 10:34 (CDT), we stop whatever we are doing and turn on the television to watch Jimmy Fallon host a 60 year old television variety show.  We even watch the commercials.

UnknownThis happened quite by accident.  When we saw that Jay Leno’s tenure as the host of the Tonight Show was coming to an end, we decided to watch his final show and take a look at Fallon’s first outing.  Though we were immediately entertained and impressed, we didn’t think it could last long.  Surely Fallon’s habit of breaking or laughing at his own jokes would invariably torpedo the show.  We continued watching, mostly for the sick thrill of watching the show crash and burn.  But something weird happened: it didn’t fail.  In fact, it seems to have returned to the glory days when it was hosted by Johnny Carson. The Tonight Show has only gotten better, to the point that I can say with some confidence that it is currently my favorite thing to watch on television.

How did this happen?  How did a somewhat annoying television personality and his team revitalize a storied, yet struggling institution?  It occurs to me that there are three things Jimmy Fallon does as the host of the Tonight Show.  First, he has an enormous amount of respect, almost reverence for the institution that he has been tasked with stewarding.  Fallon frequently makes reference to the Tonight Show’s storied past, celebrating the lives of those who have performed and been interviewed  under its banner.  Second, Fallon is willing to use new means to engage his audience.  He is an avid user of social media and he encourages participation by the people watching at home.  Even if you’ve never sent anything to the show, you get the sense that your opinion and your participation matters. Finally, Jimmy Fallon exhibits an infectious enthusiasm for his work.  When he jokes with Higgins during his monologue or banters with The Roots during an interview or plays a silly game with his guest, he exudes a spirit of awe, a sense that he can’t believe he has the great privilege of doing what he does.  All of these combine to create a Tonight Show that is engaging, innovative, and exciting to watch.

It occurs to me that these three elements of Jimmy Fallon’s hosting of the Tonight Show are really important when we think about revitalization in the Church.  In some ways, the Church and the Tonight Show have been in similar places: both are storied institutions that have been struggling with questions of “relevance” over the past few decades.  I think, however, that Jimmy Fallon shows us a few things we can do to breathe life into our church communities.  First, we can have respect for the institution we have been called to steward, to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, from apostles and martyrs to church members of generations past.  At the same time, we must be willing to try new ways of engaging with the people in our communities, whether that is through social media or other means.  People should be able to look at our churches and feel as though they are connected to them, even if they’ve only visited once or twice before.  Finally, and most importantly, we must recognize what a great privilege discipleship truly is.  We have been given a wonderful inheritance and a wonderful opportunity to serve Jesus Christ in the world.  I pray that each one of us will have grace to recognize this opportunity and embrace the community we have been called to serve.

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True Love

Please note: the following post reflects on the Disney film Frozen and necessarily contains spoilers.  If you haven’t seen Frozen yet, stop reading this post and go see it, because it’s awesome.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but for the first time in a number of years, everyone is talking about an animated movie made by Disney.

Frozen is the first Disney movie in a long time that comes close to achieving the quality of the films it released in the 1990s, including classics like The Lion KingBeauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.  Already it has had a profound influence on the culture, inspiring parodies, lip dub videos, and sing- alongs that have gone viral.  The movie has transcended the “kids movie” genre and has become a surprise hit, not only among nostalgic lovers of the old Disney favorites, but also among those who want the movies they watch to have a deeper meaning.

MV5BMTQ1MjQwMTE5OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjk3MTcyMDE@._V1_SX214_In some ways, it’s no surprise that Frozen has been so popular.  It ticks all of the appropriate Disney movie boxes: catchy songs, cute sidekicks, princesses, anthropomorphic animals, and parental tragedy.  I think the reason for its near-universal popularity, however, is the fact that it is not hamstrung by its need to be a traditional Disney movie.  Indeed, there are elements of Frozen that totally transcend the genre.  For instance, Elsa and Anna (the princesses; yes, there are two), are far more three-dimensional than their historic counterparts.  They struggle with the same issues that we struggle with: how to be ourselves in the face of societal pressure, how to trust people, and most of all, what the nature of love really is.

THIS IS WHERE THE SPOILERS ARE.  IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE AND DON’T WANT THE ENDING RUINED, PLEASE STOP READING!

I won’t rehash the entire plot, but suffice it to say that in the final sequence of the movie, Anna is trying to be healed of a frozen heart caused by her sister Elsa.  Told by one of the sidekick characters that the only way to heal a frozen heart is through an act of true love, Anna assumes, like a traditional Disney princess, that this act must be true love’s kiss.  As she prepares to kiss the man with whom she has ostensibly fallen in love, however, she sees her sister in mortal danger.  Instead of acting to save herself, Anna throws herself between Elsa and her would-be murderer.  As the sword comes crashing down, Anna succumbs to her frozen heart and is frozen solid even as she saves her sister’s life.  But after a beat, Anna gradually becomes unfrozen and kingdom is returned to  normal.  The sisters embrace and the implication is very clear: the act of true love was Anna’s sacrifice, her willingness to put her sister’s life ahead of her own.

Several reviews of Frozen describe its ending as “revolutionary.”  From the perspective of Disney princess movies in particular or children’s movies generally, it very well may be.  It strikes me, however, that the notion of true love being embodied in sacrifice is an ancient idea.  In fact, it lies at the very heart of our Christian faith.  We believe that Jesus Christ manifested the true nature of God’s love to us through his sacrifice on the cross.  The core affirmation of our faith is that God was willing to die on behalf of the world, even though the world had rejected God.  And I suppose that this is a revolutionary idea.  We tend to be seduced by the idea that love is contingent on whether the person we love does what we think they ought to do.  Yet the heart of our religion is that God loves us with a love that is unconditional, sacrificial, and true.