9ft Avatar by day, wheel-chair bound by night


As a young boy I remember how much fun it was to jump in puddles. I loved to see the water splash and cover me in muddy spray.

As a teenager, riding my first dirt bike, I discovered that I enjoyed getting dirty. I loved the feeling of being covered in dirt. Then I grew up and felt rather uncomfortable with being dirty. My adult perspective on feeling dirty was less about outside filth and more about my insecurities and fears on the inside. I did not like certain kinds of people, as they made me uncomfortable.

People that saw the world different than me were threatening. People who ‘believe’ were of greater value for friendship. I found my tribe and everyone else was either ‘in’ or ‘out’ of that tribe. Rather than be close friends with others outside my tribe I limited the friendship so I wouldn’t be polluted by their perspective on life.

I thought I might perhaps get dirty otherwise.

An Avatar is a 9 foot, tailed, blue, creature with large feet. The recent blockbuster movie Avatar presented me with a visceral look at what it means to be incarnational.

This big theological word, incarnation, finds its roots in God becoming one of us and getting dirty. God living in our reality, with our limitations and with our hopes and fears. The incarnation meant he left his reality to put on our skin.

We know the story, all too well, really. However, most followers of Jesus do not know how to live an incarnational life all that well. I realize much of my following of Jesus has been about defending the tribe rather than living the mission of an incarnational life.

I have focused on avoiding getting dirty to be separated out for God. I think for many years that I missed the life and invitation of Jesus. The story we were invited into is to live our lives in an incarnational way. To let Jesus live His life through us among others.

It is the invitation to step out of our tribe and affirm the value and dignity of others, often others unfamiliar to us. Living incarnationally means coming another’s way and living another’s reality. Being incarnational is about getting dirty and uncomfortable with others. Any authority to speak comes out of listening and relationship.

This 9 foot tall blue creature, Avatar, brought home the vision of Jesus, the vision for us to live an incarnational life.

He was crippled, yet a soldier and warrior. He was lost, yet had a seed of mission within him. He was Jake Sully, the main character in Avatar. With depression behind him and the hope of a future, Jake had a new mission. This new mission took him to Pandora, a foreign planet. This mission began with Jake well aware of his limitations, his legs had been crippled in a battle on earth.

Put into the world of an Avatar, through technology, Jake could embody this 9 foot blue creature, commanding its impulses, yet keeping his own judgment. As an Avatar he could enter their community on this foreign place and he could run again. He thought his mission was one of research but it became one of incarnation. Each day he entered his Avatar’s body he became a learner rather than a teacher.

He learned the ways of this people, this foreign and unusual people. Jake learned about them by becoming like them, an Avatar. Yet he held his own separate reality. An Avatar by day, he was a wheel-chair bound human by night. He stayed among the Avatar community day after day, learning their ways. He stayed with them until he loved them, until he could be one of them.

He thought his mission was to observe and change them but his mission was to love and advocate for them. As Jake changed, the Avatar’s changed.

Jake Sully became an Avatar and joined their community. He was living an incarnational life. Though the story breaks down in expressing the vision of what it means to live an incarnational life from that point on in the movie, we do get a glimpse of what we are invited to through Jake’s embodiment of his 9 foot tailed and blue Avatar.

We also get a glimpse of God. As incarnational people we help people believe in their worth and value and we advocate for God and his love towards them. Change is not our responsibility, living with and loving people is though.

Through the story of Jake Sully in Avatar we get a fresh vision for our lives as followers of Jesus. What do you think the invitation to living incarnational looks like?

Todd Rutkowski

~ by blueporch on April 9, 2010.

8 Responses to “9ft Avatar by day, wheel-chair bound by night”

  1. I either got you thinking about what it means to live an incarnational life or I just sold more tickets to Avatar…. James Cameroon you OWE me….

  2. I’ve been thinking for quite awhile about how much I struggle with being around people whose perspective on things ruffles up my scruples. And not just thinking about how I struggle; but really wondering why I do: what is it IN ME that feels threatened by certain people and what is IN ME that cringes at what invariably comes out of peoples’ mouths?

    I wish that I could say that I was only having this struggle while trying to be incarnational in a dark and depraved world and struggling to be the light of Christ. Well, maybe I am, maybe I’m just all screwed up.

    What I mean is, there are some Christians in my church and in my life that I feel incredibly uncomfortable around. The way that they look at Christianity and look at our surrounding world is very different from me. And not simply different in a way of blue vs. red; but different from me in a way that I really don’t like and really disagree with.

    Take prosperity gospel, for example. It turns my stomach. Or take entitlement gospel, as another. It makes me cringe. So I find myself not wanting to be around these people. But I can’t help it. They are in groups that I “lead.” They are in my family. And yet I am so uncomfortable with myself around them because I don’t know how to react, I don’t know what to say, that I shut down, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

    I don’t want to. But I wonder how to be. Am I supposed to say something everytime they say something that I think is messed up? Then they’d be frustrated with me because I’d always be piping up. That is confrontational and aggressive, rather than incarnational and learnery.

    I don’t blame them. Especially the entitilement gospel people. They are simply products of the promises of evangelicalism. “If you give God this, and believe that, then you will have an easy, cushy life and you don’t have to look at anything or face any pain; the answers are all easy.” Well, with so much suffering and pain in real life, entitlement gospel Christians are pathologically full of shit. I don’t know how to be around them. I become the uncomfortable one. I become the distanced one. I become the conversation killer.

    As for non-Christian people, I am nearly equally confused in terms of being incarnational with them. I don’t want to learn what the paradigms of this world tell us success is; for the most part, I reject the paradigms of this world. I experience God in relationship with my “tribe” in a way that is so other from the world, so other from evangelicalism, so other from institutionalised Christianity that even the non-Christians I talk with don’t understand what I mean when I talk about how we experience God. And when I listen to them about life, I see how shallow, how sad, how empty the world’s pursuit is. I don’t want to join them in that. I don’t want to come alongside of them and learn from them. And yet when I share with them the kind of abundant life that I am experiencing within relationships in my church and tell them of the pain and the honesty and the rawness and the life and the joy and the excitement and the journey, they don’t want that. They are much more polite that the entitlement Christians when I talk about it; but they still don’t want it.

    There are some who do. They are all broken and beaten and busted up. They have experienced, repeatedly, how their lives don’t work. And so when they come and speak with Greg (my co-pastor) and me, they are sometimes ready to be welcomed.

    Ready to be welcomed. That’s a thought. Is that the opposite of incarnational? Was Jesus even incarnational? After all, He didn’t come to earth to join us and be pals; He came to have us join Him and be pals. That’s two very opposite perspective on what it means to be pals. When Greg and I welcome people to join us and participate with us in letting God in, we are not being incarnational, we are inviting others to be. When people desire to go deeper with God and others, and start becoming more involved at our church, and start attending groups and start telling us how it is supposed to be – telling a group they’ve just joined what relationship is – how they can be served…Greg and I sit with them and invite them to lay down what they think things should be like and come with the attitude of a learner and join in what’s already happening in these groups and relationships. We say, “don’t come to tell us how things are supposed to be; come and learn how things are already being.” So, what is incarnational? I think we are inviting them to be.

    Which brings me back to my opening comments. There are a few in these groups who don’t really want to learn – or maybe they do; but it goes so slowly and yet they talk so quickly. What I mean is, there are some who join the groups and instead of coming as a learner, they ramble on and on about how God must do this for them, or how life must be easy if they just stop worrying about right and wrong. In a desire to gain life, they seek to escape from the struggle.

    I don’t know how to be with them. Sure, the first twenty times I speak up and gently (or not so gently) urge them to let God in and not look for easy answers; but after a while, I just hear the values of our world coming through the things they say and I realise that they are looking at things as they were taught to. I can’t change that; only the Holy Spirit can. I know that; so that, at least, comforts me. But I still don’t know how to be with them. And I don’t want to join them in it. I don’t know what incarnational means, I guess.

  3. Those are certainly great challenges you speak about Darren.. I appreciate your openness to air them out…..often there are sects within our own tribes in life as you aptly described.

    I think at the heart of being incarnational for me or what I see in the life of Jesus is that offered relationship. He offered connection at a meaningful level and he came into people’s worlds and lives. I certainly would agree he didn’t become them in belief but he did come their way to the point that many who felt marginalized or outsiders in society felt “in” with him. His knack seemed to be in validating people,yet calling them to something more for their lives. His connection to people seemed to be rooted in his compassion and sincerity that people felt from him. He touched people others wouldn’t touch, he talked to people others wouldn’t talk to… you get my point.,

    Maybe one of our issues as leaders is one of control. I hear you in wanting people to let go and come our way. But maybe we have at times let go and come their way in order to earn the right to ask them to come our way…. just a thought.

    Thanks for engaging

  4. Awesome article Todd! The theme of this story is unbelievably powerful – in fact most of the highest grossing movies of all time have this same theme. We all hold unconditional, self-sacrificing love for others as our highest human ideal. It’s the theme of Titanic, The Dark Knight & Lord of the Rings – all which are in the top 5 for box office receipts. It’s theme of the Jesus’ story so its know wonder these modern narratives are so “sticky” and have so much meaning for all people.

  5. I am envious of those of you that are so articulate with your writing skills. I would like to think that if I had those skills I would hope that I could write something similar. Powerfully said through a powerful story. I agree with Michael.

  6. Let me try and tell a story to illustrate this idea I presented. I number of years ago we sent a team of young people and a few leaders to northern B.C. to a place called Tackla Landing. It was a first nations reserve. We went to serve them. The main project given to us was to paint the catholic church in the center of the village. For 2 days we painted away watching them watch us. The locals were quite happy to stand by and watch us paint their church. Lending a hand wasn’t on their mind, why should it be. We had pushed our way into their world not all the interested in them as people so they gave us something to do that would take full advantage of us. We are helping and they were laughing (and getting a new paint job done). People don’t want to be seen as needy, they want relationship and the dignity of exchange. After our team started to feel resentment we finally started to ask ourselves some hard questions. The team decided to have a campfire in the evenings and invite the locals to join in for conversation… to sit around and get to know each other. Through the gesture of relationship the team realized they knew some things about the north that we did not. We could learn from them. They taught the team how to find huckleberries and how to make pie with them. They taught the team about salmon fishing and preparing the fish. As we admitted our need to learn from them they accepted our desire to help them. They accepted by joining us in painting. By day four we were all painting the church together. We were no longer serving these people who needed our help. We had become friends and enjoyed the exchange of what we had to share with each other. Living incarnationally involves realizing people want the dignity of exchange in relationship. We must see our need in order to expect others to see their need.

  7. I’m glad I’m leaving this response from a computer in a café rather than face to face with any of you where I could get your rotten tomatoes thrown at me!! 

    Ok…here it goes. I found the movie to be quite boring and predictable!! If it weren’t for all the fuss and bother about the special effects, I probably wouldn’t have paid the $13 to go and see it, since I really got the gist in the trailer. In part I suppose it is because of the meta-narrative element of the story that Michael identified, which is by definition quite predictable. But I found that they really didn’t take the time to craft a more engaging approach to the story like some of the other movies he mentions. I did love the effects though!!

    Having said that, your article Todd did get me thinking. I do see the parallel to some of what we are wrestling with as winsome people and communities of faith and think it is in many ways an apt picture. I wonder though, if our results are as predictable as the ending of the movie. Is it the fact that living “incarnationally” doesn’t always provide such satisfying and sweeping results in such a relatively short time that makes it hard for people to buy or sustain? Or is living incarnationally even about the results? Can real friendship occur if my endgame is to change someone? I agree that relationship is about mutual interaction and engagement and change. I think your ending comment is the point for me. “As incarnational people we help people believe in their worth and value and we advocate for God and his love towards them. Change is not our responsibility, living with and loving people is though.” This takes humility though, and the ability to recognize that we don’t see all that God sees and the many twists and turns of people’s circuitous journeys towards him…both for those living in closer proximity to Jesus, and those that are not. I think it also means having the humility to recognize that we don’t currently hold the full and final picture on the story of God for our own lives and that of our faith community. I am constantly challenged to leave my agenda at the door and trust in the God who dwells among us to do the changing. Mine seems to be the work of loving and caring for souls.

  8. […] 9ft Avatar by day, wheel-chair bound by night April 20107 comments Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)#1 Page and Top 3 Posts In 2009Reboot11,000!!! […]

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