Yesterday, the same day When the Game Stands Tall was released on video, another movie trundled out onto DVD as well. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
Guardians of the Galaxy was one of my favorite movies of the summer, and (if its $332 million in North American ticket sales can be believed) a lot of other folks seemed to enjoy it, too. The characters were great, from the smart and smarmy Peter “Star-Lord” Quill to the snide and cynical Rocket raccoon to the metaphor-impaired Drax. But my favorite character was the guy who seemed to know just three words: I am Groot.
This Marvel movie has some spiritual heft to it, and I get into some of its cool themes in my Plugged In Movie Night. But here, I want to talk about Groot. He may have technically more in common with an oak tree than with you or I, but there’s something deeply ethical, even spiritual, about the guy. Let me show you what I mean.
1. His actions speak for him. As mentioned, Groot’s an Ent of few words. He speaks just three until the very end of the movie, and they don’t really serve as much more than an introduction. While Peter and Rocket use their tongues to spin themselves in and out of trouble, Groot simply … acts. He stands up and fights when he must. He does what he can for his friends. And when Peter asks his compatriots to accompany him on what is surely a suicide mission, Groot is the first to stand and commit himself to the challenge.
The Bible holds quietness in high regard. In the book of James, we’re told to be “quick to hear and slow to speak.” Proverbs is full of advice to keep quiet, telling us that “a babbling fool will come to ruin.” Despite knowing just three words, Groot sometimes seems like the wisest of the Guardians … and when he alters his word choice a little and really says something, it packs a wollop.
2. He looks for beauty. It’s not like Groot has an unrealistic idea of what horrors the universe might hold. He’s paired up with Rocket, after all. If Groot is tempted to get all Pollyannish on him, Rocket will set him straight right quick. And yet, Groot seems to concentrate more on the beauty around him—and if that’s in short supply, he’ll create some himself. When he zips down to a planet in need of a little help, Groot spontaneously sprouts a flower from his shoulder and gives it to a child. And when he and the other Guardians dive into Ronan’s evil flying sanctuary, he spreads what seems to be tiny flecks of starlight.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul advises us to concentrate on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable.” Now, sometimes Christians take that as a directive to shut their eyes to the woes of this world. But considering the hard times that Paul himself lived in, I don’t think that’s what he was saying. He was asking us to, in the midst of a fallen, fractured world, to embrace the true and beautiful within it.
And incidentally, I think that’s what Groot did with his companions, too—choosing to see the good in them, when sometimes they themselves could only see the bad.
1. He sacrificed for others. And when he wrapped his companions in his bark and branch—saving them literally with his own body, as Jesus did for us—he did so with almost a gentle joy. “We are Groot,” he says in the end. They are one.
Again, we turn to Paul—this time from Galatians. “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We could go on: He is gentle and strong. He is honorable and pure, even as his companions are much less so. He doesn’t judge—but by his example, I think he makes the Guardians better. Oh, and let’s not forget that he essentially rose from the dead.
The cross is the symbol of Christianity—the “tree” on which Jesus died for us. Guardians of the Galaxy gives us a walking tree, a giving tree, a sacrificial tree. And there are times when the crown of his head resembles a crown of thorns.