Happy Tuesday (oops, it’s 12:19 AM… Wednesday).
Since seeing it Saturday, those close to me (and even those not) have had to put up with my incessant talk about the new Disney adaptation of “The Jungle Book.”
I am already teaming with the urge to ramble, but let me say this: mere months ago, I didn’t have interest in blogging about anything beyond my eating disorder/food/exercise. My passion for Christ’s manifestation in film and literature started when I was quite young, and has for some time been a major part of what he calls me to be in terms of sharing what’s on my heart. Now, it is SO MUCH Him, so much glory. And, ah, how that glory was all still there just the same when I was zombieland-sick…
He is so good.
Any way, The Jungle Book… although talking about God’s goodness is not far off.
Is it ever?
The Red Flower.“The Jungle Book” is centered on a young boy named Mowgli, who was rescued by a jaguar called Bagheera from a fire in his “man village” when he is just a baby. The animals in the jungle fear this fire created by man, calling it the “red flower” and testifying to its destruction to all the earth. The red flower represents the sinful nature of all humans, and the endearing and more “Christ-like” nature of the animals is curious. When watching, I took note of the fact that, in most animated “animal-based” movies, humans are the enemy, and we side with the animals. In his book “Why Christian,” Douglas John Hall examines the dangerous qualities of man in saying that “salvation is being saved from the seemingly “natural” but ultimately very destructive tendency of human beings to distrust and exclude others” (34). The human heart is sick with sin, and as Jeremiah in his seventeenth chapter tells us, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” It is only in Christ that the heart is set free, more equipped for works higher than the sin of the world that He has overcome.
Man Cub. Mowgli is brought by Bagheera to a wolf pack and is automatically set apart. While he wants desperately to “fit in,” he is quite simply very different. The wolves are furry, four-legged creatures and Mowgli is a boy, a “man cub,” with two legs, muddy orange shorts, and, while evidently effortful, a human howl. He tries everything he can to be a part of the pack, to live like a wolf, and to make an impression on his family of wolves, all he has ever known. But the more he tries, the further he strays from his own nature, and the more the wolves surrounding him reject and outcast him. Remembering Paul’s words regarding conforming, Mowgli makes desperate attempts to abide by the teachings and principles of a group that is not his own, rather than embracing all that he, as a man, can bring. Galatians 1:10 is a pleading question: “Am I trying to win the approval of man, or of God?” When our eyes are fixed on the world, we are fixed on the humans who are, like us, wading in sin and deceit, but a Kingdomly mind invites Christ’s perfect heart in.
And what is the truth of His perfection?
In His life on Earth, Jesus experienced the pain, temptation, and battles that all humans do. Douglas John Hall picks apart our image of His perfection in saying that, when we return to the Jesus who LIVED and is told about in the Bible, “instead of the steadfast Jesus of pietism who is above every temptation, every emotion, every personal urge, ambition, and fear, people have discovered again the Jesus who is tempted almost beyond endurance, there in the wilderness, and who grows angry, and becomes exhausted, and is afraid” (54-55). In other words, a major part of Jesus’ being perfect is His ability to meet us in our flesh-and-blood. He understands our earthly desires to fit in with the rest and disobey Him; He can relate to the pain of being outcast, abandoned, and defeated. And he calls us to humble ourselves at His feet and continually lay down the Truth that He is victorious over all of that pain, and has made a place for us in that Love—a Love that accepts wolf and jaguar and man cub alike.
Temptation– the Snake. In Mowgli’s woe about his inadequacy as a wolf, wishing and dwelling on his apparent doomed mancub-dom, a tiger—the tiger—named Shar Khan begins to make threats upon the wolf pack and the rest of the animal kingdom. The animal, complete with piercing yellow eyes and a sharp-toothed snarl, tries to “reason” with the animals, making it clear the importance of each knowing their place and abiding by their separate laws, not daring to abolish each other’s place in the social ladder. Coming to the wolf den, the tiger bellows, “I can’t help but notice there’s a strange odour today… man is forbidden!” Shar Khan furthers his threats by directly calling out Mowgli, insisting that he must return to his man village, or rather be killed by the tiger himself.
Despite Mowgli’s insistence that he remain with his family of wolves, his mother and father sorrowfully bid him goodbye in the care of Bagheera, knowing that his safety is most important. Not far into his journey back to the man village, Mowgli loses Bagheera and winds up face-to-face with a gigantic serpent blocking his path. The snake speaks to Mowgli in a soothing tongue, whispering, “Hi little cub. Don’t be scared. Are you alone?” From the very beginning, the serpent called Kaa, quite brilliantly representing temptation as the devil infests into the world in many ways, calls Mowgli by the name he’d most appreciate: not man cub, not man, but Cub. When the enemy approaches us through temptation in our daily lives, he is always using tricks and hiding behind kindness to convince us that what he tells us is true. Temptation nudges and “kisses up,” the goal being to convince his victim that he is a trustworthy friend—but listening to him is always a road to destruction. “Are you alone?” Kaa continues, playing off of Mowgli’s current state of insecurity in being abandoned by all he’d ever known, “One should never be alone. How could anyone leave you alone? I’ll keep you safe.” The snake goes on to convince Mowgli by tempting him with the secrets he most desperately wants to unravel—who is he really? “I know who you are,” Kaa croons, “I know where you came from… mostly men stay in their village, but sometimes they travel. And when they do, their caves breathe in the dark. They call it the red flower. It brings all warmth, and light, and destruction to all that it touches. Shar Khan ended your father’s life, and a jaguar found you. And brought you here—to the jungle. Now let go of your fears and put your trust… in me.”
Just as Kaa did to Mowgli, the enemy is crafty at using our instabilities in life to convince us that what he tells us is the truth. But the only Truth alive in the world is that of the Holy Spirit, and he “dwells within us” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Salvation is acquired through Jesus Christ, and Douglas John Hall breaks down that word in stating that it is “the healing of persons, the reintegrating of divided selves, the reuniting of people with those from whom they are estranged, equipping us for the kind of life our Creator intended us to have” (58).
And it is just as Kaa is cooing “put your trust in me” that her wide mouth is cranking open, inching toward the endearing little boy, ready to snap closed around him and swallow him whole. And the enemy is quite happy to do just that to each of us if we allow him to take over, drowning in his non-existent and already defeated lies that are much easier, but so, subordinately temporary. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Baloo the Not-So-Terrifying Bear. The film transitions ingeniously from the harrowing image of Mowgli narrowly dodging Kaa’s grip to the picture of a giant, yet altogether harmless-looking bear. In our everyday lives, most would say that they would feel more at risk and endangered by a giant bear than by a snake, and Mowgli likewise acts out in fear at first, screaming. The bear, Baloo, in quite a relaxed nature, says, “Relax, kid. No need to get worked up. Kay?” He goes on to say that he rescued Mowgli from Kaa, and only continues to demonstrate his trustworthiness in his actions of friendship and loyalty to Mowgli. Baloo integrates Mowgli into his way of life, which, as his popular song says, “forget about your worries and your strife… these are the “bear” necessities of life.” Mowgli grows in friendship with Baloo, and, for the first time, uses the skills that set him apart from the others to his benefit, truly becoming who he is—a man. While Mowgli was not able to keep himself safe from the snake, Baloo’s bruteness and strength was. In turn, Baloo is extremely grateful to Mowgli for his ability to climb and retrieve honey for the bear, something he cannot do on his own. While we are all one in Christ, we are granted differing strengths, abilities, and personalities. This is an inarguable reality, that even with attainment of the One and Only Holy Spirit we are all different, and those differences are necessary for life on earth, for His life to be glorified, and even that His Kingdom may come here on Earth. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “There are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” and further, the importance of choosing to abide by the Holy Spirit, “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”
The Death of the Enemy. When Bagheera the jaguar finds him again, Mowgli is knee-deep in his new life with Baloo, and Bagheera has to jolt him back to his reality; needing to escape from Shar Khan back to the man village. Now working together, the three animals are stronger than ever as a team to defeat the evil ways of the tiger. Also joining forces with the wolves and the rest of the animals, Mowgli’s plight leads up to a chase and battle with Shar Khan. He declares that he is unafraid of the tiger, newly strong and sure of himself with the help of his friends, and in turn actually attempts to draw Shar Khan to him with a goblet lit on fire. He runs through the woods, hoping that the light will catch the eye of the monstrous tiger, but does not notice that the fire is catching on the trees, burning the jungle with it, until much too late. His friends fear him, and he has a first glimpse of the destruction he was responsible for. Mowgli is forced to seek safety on top of a tree branch, his once very favourite and safest place. Shar Khan is not far behind, though, and corners Mowgli so he is face-to-face with the growling, snarling enemy, a terrifying vat of the red fire he himself had trudged through the jungle with inches below them. Mowgli fears for just a moment, but regains his courage and says mightily, “I’m not afraid of you! You don’t scare me!” It is at this moment that the perhaps not-so-mighty Shar Khan’s eyes widen, body shrinks, and the branch beneath his feet snaps, and while Mowgli scrambles up the tree, climbing being one of his inherent “man skills,” Shar Khan falls with the branch, sinking into the endless pit of fire.
All it took, all it took for Mowgli to defeat the enemy was for him to label him as he is; an irrelevant, lying, and deceitful being—and therefore someone who is unnecessary to fear in any way. And with that, God comes in. Mowgli himself is incapable of such defeat, but in banishing the enemy, he called upon the Lord, and allowed Him to simply work. In an instant, the enemy’s tricks were no more. Sure, snakes and monkeys and tricks can still pop up and approach us and attempt to destroy us, but as Hebrews 10:14 declares, “by one offering He has perfected us forever that we are His.” Linda Woodhead recounts Martin Luther’s doctrine succinctly in “Christianity: A Very Short Introduction” when she writes, “For Luther, the best a human being could hope for was to be justified by Christ in spite of sinfulness” (66). How true. While Mowgli’s best attempts and good intentions lead him to destroying the jungle with the most well-known “way of the man,” the Lord’s power is forever “higher than our ways.” In Him, our differences are justified; our sin is made new; our pain means something.
The Elephants. Finally, Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, and the rest of the jungle are left with their home partially destroyed, but made new without being ruled by a deceitful tiger. Their eyes are opened, their souls filled by a newfound way of life. The person of Jesus Christ is beautifully represented in the elephants that walk by the huddle of animals. When Mowgli asks in awe, “What is that?” Bagheera replies, “Our creators. The ones who founded the jungle. And we bow to show our respect.” Now alive in goodness, the fact that the jungle itself is vastly missing due to the fire does not seem to matter as much, and the animals happily make do with exactly what they have. The wolves, thrilled to have Mowgli back, are fascinated by his transformation and comfort with exactly what he has to bring to the pack that is different but equally beautiful because of the indwelling transformation. He has embraced and accepted his own beauty, but that does not mean that he has to live with man. He was brought up with wolves, and the difference does not make them any less equal to each other in the only form of equality that matters; the grace that only God can provide, the grace that moves mountains and justifies the sinner. And in this I am brought to tears when reading the truth that Paul tells in 1 Corinthians, that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye who is in Christ Jesus are all one.”