Tomorrowland, Mad Max and Liturgy

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So Tomorrowland had a bad opening. Tomorrowland was the Disney produced move staring George Clooney that you can roughly guess the story from the title. (Admission, I also did not see it. I am going on reviews and trailers.) It has something to do with a rosy optimistic futurism that might be best captured by Walt himself and a nostalgic view of the race to the moon. The only troubles this futurism can admit to are either those of bad people holding back the future or speed-bumps on the way to greatness. Mad Max: Fury Road in its second week almost met Tomorrowland. Max of course is the flipside of Tomorrowland, a pessimistic futurism. A world where the sane are mad holding on to hope and escaping trouble today just means your road ends tomorrow.

As a liturgist one of our forgotten truths is that we embed our greatest truths in ritual. We all have ritual, even you atheists and Baptists. About a year ago our family took part in one of those rituals – the grandparents took us to Disneyworld. Disneyworld is the Vatican of that Tomorrowland futurism. It’s a great trip. Don’t take this as a complaint. Every American child really should go once – like on the Hajj. It is part of being American. Part of the American experience and birthright is the idea that we can do this. From the Pilgrims on the Mayflower to failure is not an option. Disneyland is the architectural realization of that ideal every bit as much as Chartres is of medieval Catholicism. But as my oldest child warmed my heart by saying when asked if she wanted to come back, “no, it’s all fake”. That might have been the harsh judgment of youth, but she parsed truth from a half-truth. The truth of we can do this in Disneyworld is hidden behind the half-truth of it is easy if we just clear the path and keep everything clean. Clearing the path and keeping everything clean in tomorrowland takes massive injections of outside funds. And even then “it’s all fake”.

I’ve been trying to think of the ritual expression of Mad Max and I think I know it now, the social welfare state. That state might have started out as an expression of Tomorrowland, but now it is simply an expression of power. When the sane observe that it doesn’t work and might have made things worse they are met with cries of cold-hearted bigot. The outcome of the ritual is not important. It is the fact of the ritual and our heart’s intentions. We mean to make life for the poor better. We have the right belief. Government is the only thing we do together, the ultimate ecumenical expression. Yes, we lost the war on poverty, but government goes on. Your road might end tomorrow, but the government will survive and keep on the fight. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. What are you, mad?

Tomorrowland and Mad Max are alternate expressions of the progressive worldview. And Satan could care less which rituals you want to take part in, because both are false and half-truths. He wins when you are led astray. What he doesn’t want you to see is the truth embedded in the church’s liturgy. I am, we all are, the bad people standing in the way of Tomorrowland. The bad people are not some others, but ourselves. I am “a poor, miserable sinner”. “I have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what I’ve done and what I’ve left undone.” The admission that we are by nature sinful and unclean takes care of that “it’s all fake” problem. We can still do great things, but it is going to take a massive injection from outside of us. Which we hear in the absolution. “Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all of our sins.” That is not fake but as real as a cross.

Likewise contra Max, this road is going somewhere. “This is the feast of victory for our God. Worthy is Christ the lamb…the lamb who was slain has begun his reign.” We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The intersection of this life and death is found in that highest ritual, the Lord’s Supper. We admit the gritty reality a Max. It took flesh and blood. It took sacrifice. But that sacrifice was not madness. That was the sacrifice of a true innocent which covers us. In this supper we have a foretaste of the feast to come. We have a celebration of the marriage feast. We have a glimpse of the end of the road. We are not mad to persevere, because in our flesh we will see God.

We all have ritual or liturgies. And those liturgies form us and how we see the world. Be careful of the yeast of Tomorrowland or Mad Max.