Faith on Film : Wall-E
“Faith on Film: Wall-E”
August 7, 2022 Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Genesis 2:15-22; Psalm 24:1-2
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’
Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
Being outside is a fitting move for our congregation, especially this week.
I’m thankful to Carl today for engineering a way to capture our worship service on camera and still be able to stream it out for those of you at home. But in many ways moving outside simplifies our technology because we don’t have a Powerpoint. It’s a chance to unplug and replace our screens with this beautiful Catalpa tree. If you haven’t yet, take a moment to look up and appreciate the Catalpa tree and the shade that it offers today. The Catalpa tree is like a member of our church family.
We’re about mid-way through a sermon series this summer where we take a popular movie, show it on Friday night and then discuss its faith applications on Sunday morning. So it’s both fitting and a little ironic that today when we move outside and take a break from our technology that we’re discussing the movie Wall-e. Wall-e, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is an animated movie about what earth might be like one day when humans completely fill it up with trash and pollution, so much so that the humans themselves have to abandon the planet and go live permanently on a spaceship. Sounds uplifting, right? I’ll confess, for being a children’s movie it has an eerie, almost dystopian vibe going on. But the hero of the movie is a small adorable robot, the last one of many that were left behind to clean up Earth. His name is Wall-e and for a small robot he’s got a big personality that is curious about the pieces of trash left behind by humans, and the beauty of what once was Earth. He fills his little garage home with trinkets he’s collected from the trash piles and plays on repeat a Hello Dolly VHS he found while dreaming of one day not being alone on Earth anymore.
Eventually the curious little robot makes a profound discovery. In the midst of one of the trash heaps he’s compacting, he stumbles upon an old boot that has a small green plant growing inside. It’s the only green thing visible on Earth and in all the 700 years Wall-e has been working, it’s the first time he’s seen anything like it. Wall-e is soon surprised again when another small robot is sent to earth from the mothership to look for signs of life. I bet you didn’t know that robots could fall in love, did you? Wall-e, in the most adorable way is smitten with Eve, the new robot and when she eventually gets taken back to the mothership with the plant in tow, Wall-e tags along and together they help the plant get where it needs to go, but not without some challenges. Humans aboard the spaceship have completely lost touch with reality as they sit permanently on hovering lounge-chairs and spend every waking moment on screens. After 700 years of being evacuated from an earth their ancestors destroyed, they have become too lazy and apathetic to care, let alone walk or socialize. The good news is that Wall-e and Eve spark something in a few of the humans and news of the little plant they found revives hope. The two robots help the humans return to Earth where they begin the long task of cleaning up their home planet.
The movie is cute and heart-warming, but it’s also a bit absurd. It’s ridiculous to think about this lush green planet one day becoming completely brown and trash covered. Or humans themselves becoming so dependent on technology that we lose our motivation to be in relationship with other humans and the earth. It’s ridiculous to think about this, but then again, is it really?
I know it seems like we are far away from this dystopian future, especially on days like this when we’re sitting under the Catalpa tree and feeling the breeze. But the truth is, the small decisions we make every day are starting to have cumulative effect that could lead us down a path that looks a lot like Wall-E’s world. A world of convenience where the by-products of our increasing consumerism and apathy create carbon emissions that warm the atmosphere which in turn create severe weather that can, in a heart-beat, destroy towns with floods and tornados and hurricanes. And at the same time that the ecosystem is shifting under the weight of climate change, our society is trending toward less engagement and more isolation. We choose our screens over real relationships.
I heard a really stirring quote recently from a man named Gus Speth. He’s one of the founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council and really involved with the environmental movement. He said this: “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy... and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation...”
Let me repeat that. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy…and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. Scientists spend a lot of time trying to create solutions for the climate crisis we’re in right now. But really the bench marks they give us for capping pollution will only be hollow goals unless our society as a whole has a change in heart. That’s where this becomes a spiritual issue, not a science issue.
One of our foundational stories about how the earth was created in Genesis 2 and 3 has at its core the story of relationships. God creates Adam out of the earth, literally, a man made out of dirt (adamah). From the beginning we were created out of the earth. And almost immediately after being created, Adam realizes that he is a relational creature and needs to be with others. So God creates animals and creatures and eventually a woman, Eve. We hold this story to be sacred in our tradition because it helps us know who we are when we’ve forgotten. We are intrinsically connected to the land and we were designed for relationship with one another.
There is a moment in the movie where the captain of the spaceship realizes that earth has gotten to terrible state it’s in because the humans stopped taking care of it. They had treated it like a landfill instead of a compost pile.
I didn’t read the rest of the story that plays out in Gensis, but we know well what happens. Almost immediately we started turning away from God and breaking relationships with one another and the land. From almost the moment we were created we have been more interested in our own welfare and power than the caring for the earth and the people around us. In fact, the Bible itself is nothing more than a collection of sacred stories of humans continually messing things up and God being there to tell us how we could make things right again.
Here in the 21st century we are on a precipice, a fork in the road. In one future the earth wastes away because we’ve become too consumed with our own wealth and comfort and convenience to care about the damage being done to the God’s creation by excesses. It’s becoming clear that taking this path will cause irreversible damage and loss of life. Species will become extinct, lands will become inhabitable, severe weather will heighten fear everywhere. Not to mention the trust we break with God who asked us to be caretakers of the Earth. In a different future we understand how the small decisions we make each day have an impact on the health of the planet. The persistence with which we reuse and repair things instead of throwing them away. The way we dedicate ourselves to using fuel more wisely and sparingly. The way we advocate for policies at a national level that put care of the earth above corporate profits. It can feel overwhelming to look at all the things that need to change. But we must understand that as people of faith, people who follow God the change of heart and spiritual transformation must begin with us. All it took was one small robot with a persistent mission to not be alone in the world to turn a spaceship around. There is power in our actions, small as they may be.
Grace and Peace,