Treasure, not trash.
Existential doubt and purpose, individuality and identity. These are big issues of life addressed by the film I went to see this week. I refer, of course, to Toy Story 4, which I watched with four of our grandchildren on Monday. In fact, I have to admit I fell asleep for the opening scenes which meant I had to work hard to work out what was happening for the remainder of the film. Spoiler warning. Forget the romantic attachment between Woody and Little Bo Peep – that’s just a sideshow: the key player is this Pixar-inspired Disney movie is Forky. Bonnie, prompted by her faithful toy Woody, creates Forky from random items out of the bin: a plastic fork, a pipe cleaner, some googly eyes, clay, an ice cream stick and crayon. To say the least he looks strange, as you can see. Woody: “Everyone, Bonnie made a friend in class.” Dolly: “Aw. She's already making friends.” Woody: “No, no she literally made a new friend. I want you to meet Forky!” Forky: “Uh. Hi!?” Everyone: “Hi!” (Forky screams, faints and his eye pops off) Understandably Forky has problems with his self-image and above all, his identity, as he utters “I was meant for soup, salad, maybe chili. And then the trash! I'm litter!” I guess that is the existentialist dilemma of our age. As a human being, am I more than the chemicals which constitute my physical existence? Do I have any value? As Sigmund Freud reflected: “As I have found little that is ‘good' about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think.” It’s a pity that Sigmund never got round to watching Toy Story 4. As part of his ongoing struggle with his identity, Forky repeatedly attempts to throw himself out, hoping to return to the rubbish whence he came. This is where he feels he belongs, in the bin. Heart-breaking. However, there is one key fact which makes him a toy and not trash. He is loved, truly loved by Bonnie. Surprisingly, given his appearance Forky is her favourite toy. Forky: “She thinks I'm warm and cosy and sometimes squishy?" Forky: Why do I have to be a toy? Woody: You have to understand, how lucky you are to belong to a child. Our status as human beings is not inherent: that is, we have no value in ourselves. What makes us special, what gives us purpose is that we are loved by God. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) Incidentally, the aorist tense the apostle uses for ‘lavished’ indicates a one-off event that has happened – the cross of Jesus. Here we may be renewed, restored to glory. Philip Yancey’s memorable quote comes to mind here: “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.” But in terms of Toy Story 4, we are not there yet. It's one of the film's biggest surprises when, in the mid-credits in a scene reminiscent of Genesis 2, we discover that Bonnie has made a new toy in just the same way she made Forky. However, rather than using a fork, this time she uses a plastic knife. Meet Knifey. It’s love at first sight –Forky and Knifey are made for each other! He could be Adam on waking when he beholds Eve for the first time: “This is it!” (Genesis 2:23, Living Bible translation) Loved by God, we find fulfilment in relationships. For here we demonstrate the image of our creator. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7f) Being Trinity, God is inherently relationship. So Toy Story 4 closes with the big existentialist question: Knifey "How am I alive?" Forky “I don’t know.” Fittingly Forky only becomes alive when Bonnie writes her name on him: by taking ownership of him, she brings him to life. Similarly we read in the second chapter of the Bible: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.( Genesis 2:7). We only live because of the Holy Spirit of God and so only in him do we find our fulfilment.
So Woody challenges us all: to ask, seek, knock, “If you sit on a shelf for the rest of your life, you’ll never find out.”