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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