There’s much for lovers of faith and freedom to appreciate in the new LEGO movie. The film aptly captures the playfulness and creativity that have been so closely identified with the little plastic bricks for decades. One of the more memorable lines from the film is the chorus to a little ditty that recurs throughout: “Everything is awesome!”
When we are first introduced to the song, we encounter it as a stultifying earworm designed to keep the masses of LEGO minifigures content with their workaday lives. Combined with lowbrow cultural programming, such as the hit (and only) TV show “Where Are My Pants?,” the “awesome” theme song acts as an opiate of the oppressed proletariat. Emmet, the unlikely hero of the LEGO movie, buys in completely: Everything really is awesome, he thinks.
President Business: “All I'm asking for is total perfection.”
Quickly we viewers see what Emmet, at least at first, does not. Everything is not awesome. Lord (or President) Business is in fact using songs like “Everything is Awesome” and TV shows like “Where Are My Pants?” to keep the LEGO people in a highly-controlled and maximally-pleasurable form of servitude. President Business is the ultimate expression of Adam Smith’s “man of system,” one who thinks only in terms of linear plans, pragmatic execution, and control of all variables, including most significantly the dynamism of other moral agents. As Smith put it, the man of system is “apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamored with the supposed beauty of his ideal plan of government that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.” This is the reason for President Business’ fascination with the power of the Kragle, an artifact capable of bringing the LEGO world to a halt.
In the Acton Institute’s latest film release, “For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles,” (FLOW) we find a protagonist named Evan who, like Emmet in the LEGO movie, is seeking to find the meaning and significance of his place in the world. At a critical point in the initial episode, Evan asks the fundamental question of the series: “What is our salvation for?” The answer, we find, is that our salvation is, in the church as the body of Christ, “for the life of the world.”
But what does this really mean for how we approach something as mundane as our work, for instance? Early on in “For the Life of the World” we are introduced to the idea that everything we have, everything we are, everything in the world, is gift. It’s all gift. It is all the gratuitous and overflowing gift of God. Our created task, which we lose sight of because of the reality of sin, is to take those gifts and, in the context of our callings as stewards, offer them back to God.
The connection here between the LEGO movie and “For the Life of the World” lies in the free, dynamic creativity that God calls us to exercise in our service of others. God calls us to offer these gifts back to him in large part through our work, our creative service of others. At one point in FLOW, Stephen Grabill points out that this vision of moral enterprise requires a context of freedom for responsible and responsive creativity: “If you try to control the process, it’s like we’re trying to control how people offer their gifts to other people. And what we really need to do is to allow people to offer their gifts to one another in free and open exchange so that others can flourish.”
The great conflict in the LEGO movie is precisely over the shape of the larger social system. If President Business – the consummate man of system – prevails, then that space for creative service will be crushed and everyone will be locked into place according to his central plan. But if Emmet and the other master builders prevail, everyone will be free to explore their place of creative service.
Like Emmet and Evan we are all seeking our place in God’s great work from creation to consummation. Some, like Blue Classic Spaceman, have discovered what we can do to productively serve others (Spaceship! Spaceship! Spaceship!), and all we need are the time and resources to turn our vision into reality. All of us, however, need space and freedom to experiment and experience what God has designed us for. A key step in coming to understand our calling to creative service is to realize that everything really is awesome, not in the trite sense that it is simply cool or nice, but rather that the entire created order is awe-inspiring in its scale and scope. It is awesome in its complexity. It is awesome in its diversity. It is awesome in its expression of God’s grace. It’s all grace; “it’s all gift,” as we learn in “For the Life of the World.” Everything really is awesome.