Wednesday, November 30, 2016



A smart brave young female lead, a wise grandmother who says, “My job is to be the village crazy lady,” a goddess of all creation whose heart has been ripped out, and the ocean itself as a lead character in the plot – what’s not to adore in the new Disney movie Moana?

The name Moana literally means “ocean” in Maori and Hawaiian.  The whole film is a celebration of the deep power and call of the sea, which rises up before the young girl, chooses her to save her people, and stays with her, empowering her until the end.  

Disney seems to have heard the criticism that so many of their previous films failed to understand or honor their cultural contexts (Aladdin, Mulan etc.)   For Moana they employed a group of Pacific Islander experts, they called the Oceanic Story Trust which included academics, archeologists, anthropologists, linguists and historians, but also tattoo artists, fisherman and elders.  A canoe instructor reminded them, “You have to listen carefully to the ocean.  The ocean does not divide the lands, it connects them.” 

As a person of faith who follows “the way” and who loves the sea, I was delighted to learn more about the Polynesian tradition of “wayfinding” across the ocean. “We know the way, we know who we are, we know where we are” – just one of the many great songs, some by Lin-Manual Miranda.   Moana finds a way to save her island from the environmental tragedy of “heartless” climate change, she learns about her heritage and she risks all for her people’s future.

I saw Moana with my daughter Norah over Thanksgiving.  What a relief that it’s not another Disney film about a princess.  (Maui the demigod keeps snidely calling her “Princess,” and insists, in a charming Disney self-mocking moment, “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”  But Moana refuses the title, “I am not a princess.  I am the daughter of the chief!”)  Amazingly there is no romance at all in this film; Moana has an island to save and creation to restore and needs no prince to complete her.  Norah reminded me about the very basic Bechdel test for fiction or film, which this film passes – have at least two women characters who are named, and who talk to each other about something besides a man.  (Sadly most films fail this test.)

This might be a new feature of my weekly Blue Theology posts – film reviews!  Most ocean films are about disaster (Perfect Storm, Poseidon Adventure.)  Disney has tried other ocean movies, like The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, sweet but so many inaccuracies, and such limited heroines, in my opinion.  Moana is a treasure – dive in!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

V for Peace

V for Peace

“We come in peace,” said the teacher, making her fingers into a V for her young students as they approached the Touch Pool.  “Use just two fingers to touch the animals.”

This week during my guide shift at the Monterey Bay Aquarium I got a brief reprieve from my post-election despair.  For my half hour at the Touch Pool I could set aside my fear for our nation and instead help little kids touch sea stars and decorator crabs.  Good therapy, to see so much hope and smiles and curiosity.  “Are they real?  Are they alive?” the kids asked.  Happy proud parent chaperones shared in the delight and the touching.  (MBA welcomes 80,000 school kids free each year, building a new generation of ocean stewards.)

How should we touch other real live animals?  If you’ve seen the terrifying touch pool scene in “Finding Dory” you know that touching with one finger encourages dangerous poking, and that using your whole hand can quickly do even more damage; detaching or lifting the critter out of its life-giving water home.  No, the best way is with the gentle V, two fingers and let them be where they are.

A life lesson?  A touch pool gospel?  Touch others only gently, where they are, no poking, no grabbing.

And touch others in peace. 

(I heard that teacher’s words, “We come in peace,” years ago, and I use the phrase with kids every Thursday.  But only today did I research the phrase and the V sign.  Nixon used Churchill’s V for Victory sign during Vietnam, and at his resignation, but 60’s peace activists (like me) successfully coopted it into a peace sign.  Is it also related to the Vulcan double V “Live long and prosper” - which we know from Nimoy is a religious gesture?  How about the phrase “We come in peace?”  That’s usually said by movie aliens who are anything but peaceful.  Are kids like aliens to the touch pool critters?  Perhaps.  Was the teacher an old hippie, or maybe a Trekkie?  Whatever, the sentiment and the sign work – peace to all creation.)

Over the years the Aquarium has built lower exhibits to encourage interaction and to help “tactile learners” make more connections.  Instead of distant objectification, we can touch, relate, engage.

But only if we do so gently, in peace, with respect.  I’m hoping these kids grow up to build that kind of world.  And vote for it.  That would be a big V victory.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Storms Ahead: Hold Fast to That Which is Good

Storms ahead. Hold fast to that which is good.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;  do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)