Lotsa love

Lotsa Love (Gretchen Lord Anderson photo)

Lotsa Love (Gretchen Lord Anderson photo)

In the movie Toy Story 3, the nemesis, the enemy of Buzz Lightyear, Woody and all of the other toys is a wine-colored bear named Lotsa. He is a villain who, for a plush bear, is just as frightening as any movie villain portrayed by a human being. There is a meanness in him that seems unexplainable. His motivation appears simply to make everyone around him as miserable as possible and he plots to lure more and more toys into his web of unhappiness. There is a bit of terrorist in him. In the end, of course, and because it’s Disney/Pixar, Lotsa seems to get what he has coming: a rather miserable existence. It’s a happy ending for all of the other toys, but not so much for Lotsa.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discusses very briefly what he believed is true about all human beings; that we are all born good. We are all born with a sense of right and wrong. When I was making all of those hundreds-of-miles-drives back and forth between our home and my seminary for over three years I listened to many recorded books and that one just fascinated me. But the main reason I had it in my cassette player was this issue about being born with a conscience. I played that section over and over again. I thought about it a lot. I considered that this book actually began as a series of radio broadcasts in Great Britain during WWII and the bombings of London. The context of what he said was important to me. And it puzzled me that in the midst of war, Lewis kept his head about him to reassure a listening public about the basic goodness of people.

In the midst of war, it was important to hear him express that. In the old-fashioned sense of war, where there were rules of war and where many of those participating in bombings were conscripted or forced to carry out those bombing orders, it is important to understand that there was a kill or be killed sense of survival – and, in the case of the German bombardiers, it was a case of kill or be killed by your own superiors. I carried the scenario to Vietnam, a piece of history with which I was familiar, and I knew that most of the Americans serving in that war did not want to be there. They were drafted by our government, trained to kill, and then sent to the depths of the Vietnamese jungle to do just that. It was kill or be killed. And too often it was just be killed without an opportunity to even respond to fire. I knew personally young men who, without doubt, had that deep sense of conscience, of right and wrong, but there they were ending the lives of people they didn’t know and having their lives ended in the same way by complete strangers.

Still, as I have continued to ponder C.S. Lewis’ assumptions, I have unrelenting questions on whether I agree that everyone is born with a conscience, that everyone is born good, that everyone is born with a sense of right and wrong. I have no way of testing that theory scientifically. The young men I personally knew who went to Vietnam had that clear sense, but were they born with it or was it environmental? Was it because they were raised in the church and taught by their parents that killing was wrong? Did they head into the conflict knowing they had to kill because they were sons of fathers who had landed at Normandy on D-Day and found themselves killing unknown Germans for love of country, love of family and girlfriends, love of their own lives and, thus, that obligation to kill was handed down to the young men in the trenches of Vietnam?

Since 9/11, the question has continued to haunt me. Certainly the men who flew those airplanes into the Twin Towers did it because of their sense that they were doing it to honor their god, Allah. But did they ever have a sense, were they born with a sense that killing another person might be wrong? I wonder about those who mastermind these horrific schemes from Hitler to Osama bin Laden to those who lead ISIS today. Were these men born with a sense of right and wrong? Were they born good? Or were they born evil?

In Toy Story 3, we want to hate Lotsa. I wanted to hate Lotsa. And then I watched the movie a second time and I discovered something about him that I had not caught before. Early in the movie we learn that Lotsa’s name is short for his whole name: Lotsa Love. He started out as a much loved plush bear that his owner, a small child, carried everywhere with her. She loved him. And, of course, in anthropomorphic terms, Lotsa knew he was loved too. One day she took Lotsa with her when her family went to the park for an outing. When they packed up and went home, somehow Lotsa was inadvertently left behind.

Lotsa didn’t understand. When he managed to find his way back to what he believed was his home, he looked in the window and saw his little girl with her arm around another toy. The experience scarred Lotsa Love for life. He felt betrayed. He was hurt. And Love, his last name, was lost to his life forever. He took out his emptiness and betrayal on the other toys in order to make their lives as miserable as his own.

love your neighbor

[Internet art]

When we visited Walt Disney World after I had seen the movie for a second time, I visited many of their myriad gift shops and in the ones that carried characters from Toy Story, I could easily see that it was difficult for the clerks to keep the Woodys and Buzz Lightyears stocked. But when I looked to the shelves upon shelves of Lotsas, they were stacked deep. It appeared to me that no one wanted a Lotsa. So I bought one.

I took Lotsa with me to church one Sunday and sat him on my lap for a children’s sermon. The kids all recognized him and they remembered his name – but only part of it. They didn’t know his last name was Love. They knew he was a bad bear and they didn’t like him because of what he did to the other toys. I saw this as the exact teaching moment I needed to talk about love and how we don’t always know what’s going on in another person’s life so that even if they seem mean to us, we need to love them. I told them that part of the movie that most of us miss on our first viewing: that Lotsa Love was a nice bear but his feelings were hurt and that made him mean. All the while, I held Lotsa Love close to me, squeezing his soft plush body. When I got done, I asked the children (there must have been 15 or so of them) if anyone of them would like to give Lotsa a hug now that they knew that he was really, deep inside, a good bear. Not one child stepped up. Not one child wanted to demonstrate their forgiveness or their love for one so hurt. All they could do was concentrate on the badness, the evil they witnessed in that bear.

I admit, as an adult I have never let go of my plush animals. They in no way resemble the stuffed teddy bear I had as a kid whose legs and arms articulated but whose body was hard and rough (and which I still have). Stuffed animals today are soft and plush and feel good in your hands.

Even Lotsa. Especially Lotsa.

I can only hope that each of those kid’s parents took them home that day and further explained the need to demonstrate love to people even if they hurt us, especially if they hurt us. The question of whether we are born with a conscience or not is still a ripe one in my mind, but we must always work from the assumption that people are good. We must know that human beings can be taught to love one another. We don’t know what has transpired in the lives of others that makes them want to lash out in hurtful ways. But we must err on the side of kindness, demonstrating Lotsa Love.

 

 

 

“5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:5-9

“18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:18

“34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” – Matthew 22:34-40

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5 comments for “Lotsa love

  1. Kristin
    December 2, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    I am really surprised that the children present during your talk would not hug the bear. Perhaps that speaks to the intense influence of well produced children’s movies. In my experience, young children are often ready to forgive a misunderstood character. It makes me wonder about the make-up of the group of children who were listening to your story. Also, are you well known to the children? Just my musings…

    • December 2, 2015 at 3:30 pm

      Yes, I was very well known to the children, Kristin. Our Sunday morning talks were animated and fun. They floored me with their response (or non-response).

  2. Michael McMillion
    December 3, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    I just read your blog on “Lotsa Love”, and I was particularly struck by the question you asked about whether we are born good, or born evil. My left-brain suddenly chimed in saying that this was like the matter/antimatter paradox. If you are familiar with this, forgive the following digression into the world of physics.

    There are two types of atoms in the universe. For convenience, we call them matter and antimatter. (There may also be dark matter, but we can ignore that for now because no one really knows what it is.) Normal matter atoms are made of big, bulky positively charged protons, and small, compact negatively charged electrons. But in antimatter, the big, bulky protons have the negative charge and the small electrons are positively charged. We know antimatter is real because we have made tiny bits of it in atom smashers.

    If you could make enough of it, you could build anything out of antimatter. You could, in theory, have entire anti-worlds filled with anti-houses, anti-cars and anti-people. Such a world would appear and function just like our own world, houses, cars and people.

    Identical, with one very important caveat: if matter contacts antimatter both particles are annihilated, releasing energy according to Einstein’s E=mc². And unlike our incredibly inefficient nuclear weapons, this is a complete conversion of matter to energy. This is the perfect bomb. Again, we know this happens because those tiny bits of antimatter we created behave exactly this way.

    Now here’s the paradox. Our universe is composed (almost) entirely of normal matter. This is fortunate for us, because if antimatter was common then the universe would pretty much self-destruct. But there has been no explanation of WHY there is no antimatter about. Theory says matter and antimatter should be equally abundant. It’s one of the big holes in the big bang theory.

    We once visited the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, the one where Anne Frank died. When we reached the rows of mounded, mass graves – each mound containing the remains of about 5000 victims – my wife asked how anyone could be so crazy. I replied that they were not crazy. That’s the scary part. Evil is not necessarily insane. Paranoia can be perfectly rational, if you just start your logic from a different premise; if you just start building your world with antimatter.

    So, is normal matter inherently good, and antimatter inherently evil? Was Mother Theresa good and Hitler evil? I do not have the answer, but they are all part of our world. It bothers me, too. Perhaps someday, someone will explain the why. Until then I am thankful that both antimatter and Hitlers are comparatively rare.

    Thanks for making me think a bit about it.

  3. David Deutsch
    December 7, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Like the good Jewish boy that I am, I am reading you on Chanukah. There is much food for thought in your recent and most thought-provoking post. That you could move from “Toy Story” to the nature of good and evil is an unexpectedly powerful jog in a short march – like starting on a ride at Disneyland and winding up in a metaphysical seminar. And yet there is a graceful unity to your transition. Maybe unity is the key, since in my view (and everyone has a singular perspective) God is the spirit that unites everything. God is in everything. I don’t see God as separate from anything in the universe and so, as mysterious as it may seem, God encompasses good and evil. Our minds want to find reasons for good and evil in people and events but we might be more at peace if we accepted God’s creation as it is. I admit I am a poor theologian. However I was impressed by something the late Wayne Dyer wrote about what he called grace, or acceptance of the nature of the world. Dyer believed we humans are “spiritual beings having a physical experience.” One of Dyer’s observations that struck me as especially profound is that truly spiritual people trust in God or the universe, thereby creating love. Evil people seek to control others and things, don’t trust in God or the universe, and thereby separate themselves from love, seeing themselves as distinct and separate, conjuring an “us-versus-them” mentality that often leads to hate. I don’t know C.S. Lewis’ writings but he might have been thinking along similar lines during World War II. Anne Frank, in the darkest of days, wrote that she believed most people were good. We humans might achieve an illusion of safety to believe that we can control things through force, fear, and judgment of others but God is running the show. We like to guess at patterns or theories, search for or declare answers, strategize outcomes, praise or blame according to our judgments. I think that since humans aren’t separate from God, we must be skewed much more toward the light force than the dark force. The more love and light we let in and share – and the more we can “let go and let God” (as the 12-step folks like to say) – the more we will diminish our dark side; and that includes the dark side every individual possesses. To allude to another famous movie, “Star Wars,” we’re on our highest spiritual plane and at our most powerful when we trust the Force in the universe. And it’s obvious from that movie classic that if you don’t trust the Force, you are more likely to drift to the Dark Side. (Coincidentally, the film’s director George Lucas framed “Star Wars” as a metaphor for World War II). In these current trying times we might all benefit by saying and living the philosophy, “May the Force be with you.” Thank you, Gretchen, for keeping me up late tonight pondering all of this.

    • Carol Simpson
      December 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Excellent post and very thought provoking. So many people seem to be “broken.” The challenge seems to be how to show love and stay safe at the same time.

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