Saturday, January 06, 2007

Lessons Learned from Charlotte's Web

Along the lines of a week ago, I went to see Charlotte's Web, the movie based off the classic children's novel by E.B. White. Let me tell you: this is a fantastic family film. Not only is it great entertainment for the whole family with wonderful production values, but it also is filled with Christian life lessons that can be carried from childhood through the grave into heaven. The voice acting is superb, with especially satisfying performances from the likes of Julia Roberts (as "Charlotte"), Robert Redford (as the horse--sorry, forgot his name), and Cedric the Entertainer (as "Golly"). Then, there's the always adorable Dakota Fanning as Fern. And added humor comes from two dimwitted crows.

The movie is spectacularly clean and inoffensive. You won't find so much as a distant euphamism in the language department; there doesn't appear to be even a subtle reference to anything evolutionary; and neither is there any underhanded, "to-entertain-the-adults" innuendo. Bathroom humor is the only thing in the movie which can be considered slightly "off-color," but in the end, you have to concede it: it's a kids' movie. What do you expect? And don't you really want to pick your battles better than that? But setting all those things aside, which in themselves make the movie a worthy entertainment pastime for the whole family, the story has many noble (and biblical) morals to teach, and it does so pretty well. In relatively random order, they are:

Sticking Up for Those Who Can't Stick Up for Themselves; Caring for Those Who Can't Care for Themselves: Fern rescued newborn Wilbur from the axe. He was going to be killed because he was a runt. Fern told her father, "It's unfair; he can't help being born small....Would you have killed me if I was born small?" That is perhaps one of the most powerful lines in the whole movie, when it is applied to the issue of abortion. Considering that Fern was just defending an innocent pig, how much more should we be motivated to defend an innocent child? (After all, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father...So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows." --Matthew 10:29,31 ; and God hates "hands that shed innocent blood..." --Proverbs 6:17)
Fern takes care of the pig, making the commitment to raise it.

"'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry...etc....?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'" (Matthew 25:35-40)

"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress..." (James 1:27)

The Miracle of Creation: Talking about whether Charlotte's "wordy webs" are miracles, the doctor and Fern's mom have this conversation:

Doctor: The web itself is a miracle. Can you make a web?
Fern's mom: I can crochet a doylie.
Doctor: Yeah, because someone taught you to. Nobody taught a spider how to spin a web.

Creation itself is a miracle--an act of God--and that is why it is so amazing. Creation clearly displays the existence of the Creator.

"Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these." (Matthew 6:28)

"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made..." (Romans 1:20)

Being Kind, Polite, Nice, Courteous, Complimentary, Warm, Friendly: After meeting someone and learning their names, Wilbur would always say, "Great name!" This is just one part of the congenial way in which he acted upon meeting someone new, and it illustrates the attributes which a Christian should show in relationships old and new. In the same train of thought, Charlotte compassionately befriended Wilbur, when it looked as if no one else would, though by doing so she was opening herself up for ridicule and humiliation.

"A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly." (Proverbs 18:24) [I know this is considered a mis-translation, but it rings true anyway.]

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23; bold added)

"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Colossians 3:12 ; bold added)

The True Meaning of Friendship: When Wilbur asks if all the barn animals are friends, Golly the gander replies, "Yeah, we've been here together all our lives." Wilbur then responds, "I'm not sure being in the same place is the same thing as being friends." This brings to light the topic of true friendship. The Bible says that "A friend loves at all times." (Proverbs 17:17) True friends shouldn't just like each other--they should LOVE each other. Therefore, the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 should be adequate to explain how a friendship should work:

"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek tis own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Looking Past Stereotypes and Surface Details to See Inner Beauty: Wilbur was the first, but not the last, to look past Charlotte's creepy external appearance to see what's really important--her inner beauty. This is what God does, and this what we as Christians should do.

"Man looks at the outward appearance; but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

Be Like Children in Order to Inherit the Kingdom of God: Worried about whether Fern had a problem (by saying that the animals could talk and "tell the greatest stories"), Fern's mom went to the doctor. When asked if animals could possibly really talk, the doctor answers: "Maybe children just listen better." Perhaps we should pay closer attention to what God is trying to tell us through all things in life.

"Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)

A Promise Made Should Be a Promise Kept: Charlotte promised Wilbur that she would make sure he got to see the winter snow. When questioned how she could save him, she essentially said that, although she didn't know what she was going to do, she had made a promise, and she always kept her promises.

"It is better that you should not vow than vow and not pay." (Ecclesiastes 5:5)

Granted, we, as Christians, should not vow or swear at all in the traditional sense. However, it is arguable whether or not promising is the same thing, and I will also note a couple of other things: God, Who is perfect, always keeps His promises. Do a Bible word search for the word "promise," and you will see many such statements as "just as [God] had promised." Then, Jesus tells us, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) In our pursuit to become more godly, we should keep the commitments we make, so help us God.

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’
“And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.

“The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go.
“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes 
1will get into the kingdom of God before you.
“For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him." (Matthew 21:28-32)

The Thought-Provoking "Natural Cycle of Life": When about to die, Charlotte states to Wilbur that it is the "natural cycle of life," saying, "We're born; we live; we die."
This should be a cause for great contemplation by every human being. Death will come; we cannot avoid it forever. But we can prepare, so that, although we are just "Flowers quickly fading," (Paraphrase of these passages, and more: Job 14:2 ; Isaiah 40:7 ; James 1:10-11 ; 1 Peter 1:24 ; etc.) and although "It is appointed men once to die and after this comes judgment," (Hebrews 9:27) we can say "O death, where is thy sting? O death, where is thy victory?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

The Sacrificial Love of Friendship--Which Points to the Savior: Charlotte literally gave her life so that Wilbur could live, illustrating the sacrificial love of friendship. And, in this way, though a weak picture at best, it points to the Savior:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

God Can Use One or Two People to Change an Entire Community: Just like Wilbur and Charlotte changed their town for the better through what they did, so God can use one or two people to have a large impact. Think of Jonah and Esther--just for a couple examples.

God Can Use the Humblest, Lowest, and Most Despised of People or Circumstances to Change the World: I remember there being some comment in Charlotte's Web about the "humblest of creatures" having an impact. It reminded me of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, humbling Himself as a man, being born in the "humblest of places," as is often said, and humblest of circumstances, growing up in despised areas such as Galilee, and it reminded me of this passage:

"...but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are..." (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)

Charlotte's Web may not picture these life lessons impeccably or too blatantly, but the life lessons themselves are impeccable.

~Kingdom Advancer


Llama Momma said...

Good observations. The theme of loyalty is the one that stands out most to me: sticking with our values, even when they're not popular and hope of change is dim. It is Fern's loyalty to Wilbur, Charlotte's loyalty to Wilbur, and Wilbur's loyalty to Charlotte's babies that changes things, even though all of these associations are unlikely.

As believers, we never know exactly what God has in store for us, or who he may put in our path, but we need to remember to make the most of every opportunity, as these three characters so beautifully illustrated.

Lots of good lessons, and great, clean entertainment for people of all ages!

beepbeepitsme said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kingdom Advancer said...

Thanks for the input, Llama Momma. I appreciate it.

BeepBeep, I don't know if that link is relevant or not, because I didn't bother visiting it, but I generally don't like spam--that's why I deleted it. (Remember: "I want the traffic on my site.")

I still discuss things with you, but I usually don't like comments that consist of a title and a link.

beepbeepitsme said...

Not afraid of a bit of competition are you? Oh, that reminds me. I must remember to delete the spam comment you left on my blog where you left your blog address :)

Kingdom Advancing said...

First of all, I left a link directly related to your post. I made a post on my blog, rather than leave a comment on yours, because I wanted it to appear immediately.

Secondly, this statement: "I want the traffic on my site, not yours," was a quote of YOU, not me. You appear to be the one afraid of competition.

Thirdly, go ahead and delete my spam--although my link was not spam-- if you want to. I can't imagine that there are that many people who read your two, three, or four month old posts AND their comments.

Austin said...

I haven't seen the movie, but it sounds like it has a lot of good messages. I'll have to rent it when it becomes available for rent. And yes, Dakota Fanning couldn't be more adorable.

You forgot about Reba McEntire! She was in the movie too. I think she was a cow. Someone said Oprah might have been the other cow, but I can't verify that.

Kingdom Advancer said...

I think Oprah is the female goose.

I didn't forget about Reba McEntire (how could you forget about a cow with such a country accent? :D). I was just listing what I thought were the most satisfying voice performances.

Yeah, you should definitely see it when you can. It wraps fun, enjoyable entertainment with emotion inside a clean package filled with good moral lessons.

Steve said...

I love this book so I am glad that you have some thoughts. Thanks for making me think.


beepbeepitsme said...

What's good for the gander is good for the goose..

Kingdom Advancer said...

RE Steve:

Thanks. I'm happy I made you think.
I like the name of your blog. It reminds me of singing a "new song" to God.

RE BeepBeep:

I just heard that expression. Now I can't remember what it was for, but I can remember that it made me think of Charlotte's Web. And now you said it, on a post about Charlotte's Web. Weird. :)

Anonymous said...

I've always loved Charlotte's Web ever since I was a child. I've always been into talking-animal fantasy and have alot of books on them aka the Warriors cat series is one of my favorites. If you have a love of cats and fantasy-animal stories or have a child with these interests I highly recommend the Warriors cat series.I'm possitive you won't regret reading it. If you or your child are interested in this series please check out your local Barnse and Noble. I even write my own talking-animal fantasies.In my opinion, if you love animals and fantasy you should deffinitely check it out. Christan or not,no animal-fantasy should be left out of the animal -fantasy lover's book collection!