Emotion Commotion? How a Book, a Class and a Movie Unexpectedly Collide

Just when you thought Pixar lost their mojo, in swoops Minnesota born and bred director Pete Docter (who also directed Up and Monsters, Inc.) with Inside Out. A movie about 11-year-old Riley and her conflicting emotions over a three-day period following a move from Minnesota to San Francisco, it’s sure to set off healthy discussion about emotions (without hopefully succumbing to over-psychologizing them). And if one places stock in respected movie critics’ two cents, it also looks like a great film. (The WSJ’s Joe Morgenstern writes that Inside Out is  “the best [movie] I’ve seen for a very long time.” And Morgenstern’s no slouch.)

Here’s the first trailer:

Here’s the second trailer:

Inside Out’s release interestingly coincides with a class I’m taking next week, Cruciform Humility in Christian Preaching and Worship. One of the required texts is a book I wouldn’t normally be inclined to read, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues, which instructor Neal Plantinga calls “a stellar Christian psychological approach with a highly intelligent, but controversial, definition of spiritual emotions” (from the syllabus).

If you’re looking for a deeply thought-provoking book on the role of emotions from a distinctly Christian perspective, discussing contrition, joy, gratitude, hope, peace and compassion, and the key role that humility plays in cultivating these virtues, check it out. You may not agree with everything (and is that such a bad thing?), but you will think about emotions in a way that you probably never previously considered.

Here are a few random quotes from the book:

We must become friends of despair if we are to be drawn above it to genuine and heartfelt hope. (p. 61)

Creaturely humility is relative to the kind of creature under consideration. (p. 59)

In seeking the eternal, or welcoming it passionately when it comes to us, we are not being like the emperor who wants to be a god, or the existentialist who wants tobe his own moral lawgiver. We are being much more like a collie seriously pursuing the business of being a dog. (p. 59)

The ego is a very hard nut to crack, so hard, in fact, that nothing short of confronting its absolute annihilation will bring it to the humility that is the foundations of all the virtues. (p. 73).

Moods are not emotions, but since they are sometimes caused by emotions, we are inclined to think they are. And when we think of emotions as moods, it is natural to make the mistake of thinking that they are irrational. (p. 155)

That’s just a sampling. Aside from Roberts infusing the book with biblical references, literary allusions abound. And while I began reading prepared to gut it out or have its pages double as a drool absorber, I was instead repeatedly drawn into Roberts’ gifted prose.

Aside from better preparing me for the upcoming class on humility, reading Roberts’ Spiritual Emotions has an unforeseen benefit: I’ll now watch Inside Out with a fresh and biblically informed perspective on emotions. (And pairing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” with a Pixar film? Strangely curious but it works.)

Little did I know how a book, a class and a movie would strangely yet wonderfully collide in my life.

Ah, such is the Providence of God, no?