"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials; knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience." James 1:2-3 (King James)
I recently heard a story of a man that rescues dogs from "kill" centers. With a hope and belief the dog will be placed in a loving home, he must first assess, rehabilitate and earn the dog's trust: hours, days, weeks, months until suddenly and without provocation the dog walks closer and sits beside him. It is the beginning to a story.
The nominations for the best pictures of 2017 were recently announced - stranded, saturated, chronicled, resolute, amalgam, scary, elusive. These are the single words I am using to describe 7 of the 9 nominated for best films of the year. There are other award ceremonies: Golden Globes and People's choice for "popcorn" fun to watch but for pop-culture ones that poke into history, politics, religion and culture, the Oscars are the candy of choice.
The community in which I live has allowed me the opportunity to be around people of all ages and one little person (4 years of age) illustrated the conversation about movies today. He is a free-spirit where personality is already forming, he shows me three cards of dinosaurs where I engage in a conversation about sharp teeth and scary eyes but his response surprised me, saying, but he has beautiful feathers. Beautiful feathers? He was right but to be honest, I hadn't noticed them but once he pointed them out, I noticed they were delicate, fragile threads of color against hard, scaled skin. My mind was imagining prehistoric scenes but he saw something else, beautiful feathers.
Again and again we are called to live a child-like faith. Why? Not because we are weak or little or immature but because in the innocence and simplicity of a story, we dare to dream.
A number of years ago, I was rummaging through a high-end gift store past rugs and exotic things; my eyes wandered across the room in a hap-hazard way. Not in search of anything in particular and something I have done throughout my lifetime but I stopped. I paused. It was a tiny, fragile bowl. It didn't sit in a stack of others amid a variety of things. It was a true one of a kind, hand-made item in a crowded room. My eyes wandered a few more moments but kept coming back to one simple bowl. Careful not to knock things over, I knelt down and picked it up.
What was it about this one object that had me fascinated?
What was it about the delicate feathers that enchanted a four-year old little boy?
The edge of this bowl was smooth, it's muted color somehow calming. As I picked it up, it's smooth interior was deceptive against it's semi-rough exterior. It's size and texture fit so perfectly into my palm, it caused my hand to automatically cup it. The inside initials meant nothing and the underneath script I could not make out but the attraction was instantaneous.
That is what any artist, writer, film-maker, photographer is trying to do. It usually boils down to a simple passion of a private introspection with a courage to present a child-like imagination to a judging audience.
A one-of-a-kind story waiting to be told.
Enter God's redemption story -
There is scripture to admonish not getting entangled in the things of this world - warnings to stay guarded and strong. I turn on the tv, radio, computer and again and again tragedy and heartbreak strikes. It is a slippery slope reaching out and not getting sucked in and then I go to the movies.
Three of these movies fell into the historical events categories: Dunkirk (stranded), Darkest Hour (resolute), The Post (chronicle). On the dismal shores of Dunkirk, over 1/4 million young men are literally stuck in enemy territory. Dark and ominous, the audience hopes for a slimmer of light against seemingly impossible odds. Second, Winston Churchill, in the Darkest Hour weaves his story nicely into the movie, Dunkirk. Like threading a needle, Churchill navigates a position of leadership in churning waters of war. In one scene, he enters the story of everyday life on a train which shapes his action and helps to solidify his affection in trepidatious times. In the Post, Meryl Streep once again delivers a believable performance in telling a story of the responsibility of accurate journalism. Historical reference to Vietnam, and a foreshadowing to Watergate, a woman's voice in a male dominated industry digs into the notion that people can change the world through their inquisitive minds and poignant words.
The Post sent me on a treasure hunt to find a letter I received back from the White House many years ago. In grade school, (along with my classmates) I wrote a letter to the President of the United States. It was a classroom assignment to exercise our freedom of speech in the impeachment of President Nixon. A response under the leadership of President Ford came back. An isolated occurrence? This year, my daughter learned how to contact her government officials in a call for change - where an accumulation of voices can make a difference.
It is a revolutionary tale of change through a pen.
Ladybird (amalgam), Get Out (scary), The Phantom Thread (elusive) all fall in the human perspective category. In the backdrop of Sacramento, Ca a young girl distinguishes her voice from that of her mother's as she leaves for college. This movie was staying steady as 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A temperature gauge, audiences favored the unique voice of a young girl maneuvering a roots and wings progression into adulthood. The character development of the protagonist in Get Out had me invested in his story early on. A likable guy, the audience wanted the relationship with his beautiful white girlfriend to work out. The breeze blew in at the outset and the yellow brick road made it clear, he was NOT in Kansas anymore (or even in this world) ... Wait! His voice was eluding to YES this IS his world in a black man's mind in the United States.
Let's just say, it IS scary! It didn't help that I went to Phantom Thread the next morning, which was scary, part 2. This film bothered me. Also dark, the elusive character development alongside hidden words in seams and the transformation of ordinary into extraordinarily beautiful fabric in one-of-kind dresses had me confused. The dissonance had me trying to connect dots in a dark place. Days later, it struck me: It was messing with the gift of "free will" and the ability to choose love over hate and freedom over manipulation. I didn't like it but it made me think about the beautiful subtle liberty of choosing our destiny of loving from a genuine and un-coerced way.
Arguably, Call Me by Your Name or Three Billboards from Missouri could be the best nominated movies but I haven't had time to see them.
The Shape of Water (saturated) wove nicely with my feather story. I wasn't looking for nominated films when I went to the movies with my daughters. With no expectations or pre-conceived judgements, I was open and vulnerable to a protagonist with no words against the backdrop of an alien monster with loose connections to oppression, violence and racism. I walked out having taken in the bait, hook-line-and sinker; my girls, on the other hand, beat me to the opinion, abhorring it at first. They saw sharp teeth, while I saw feathers.
I have spent a lifetime figuring out what a relationship with Jesus has meant. I have spent close to twenty years in some capacity of ministry. I have poured financial investment into providing higher education at a Christian school. I can list a whole bunch of checked boxes of faith. I have shed more tears than I dare say and have chosen joy when my boot-straps needed pulling. At times, I have segregated myself away from secular into the safety of a Christian net but time and time again, it boils down to my intimate and alive relationship with a living God who, with the power of the holy spirit, continues to pursue me with a redemptive arm of grace and restorative healing words of love.
Love - not that it only covers a multitude of sins (which it does) but because genuine love puts another person above oneself. Another person's reputation, dignity and well-being. It is a love beyond fear; it is a powerless ability to stand strong in God's truth and pursuit to trust His will for a plan. It is a plan not to harm but to give purpose and a hope.
Sure - the Oscars are a hollywood version of life but what are the subtle stories being told? Something is amiss in western culture and yet God pursues each and every one of us. My baby steps of reaching out is being vulnerable and like the writers in this year's nominated films, telling a story. The recent events in the news and in the stories being told at the Oscars tells me there needs to be more people listening.
Never a huge dodge ball fan, there comes a point when someone needs to pick unsuspecting, isolated people in order to gather them into a community where they are an integral part of a larger story. Yes, I would say there is an element of risk because it is easier to befriend those in a safety net but a bit more difficult outside our comfort zones.
God sent his only son, Jesus for that purpose. The significance of the cross is not lost on lovers of Christ. God pouring His love into you ... so you can pour it out to others. It is an honest blend of childlike faith with spiritual maturity.
What of that one-of-a-kind bowl?
There is not a single person on this planet that is exactly like you. Your worth fits perfectly into a cupped palm. I don't know your story but I do know, with all that I am, that it is not by accident you stumbled upon this website. Your story, your voice, your "you" has immeasurable worth in God's eyes. I can only tell you that I didn't trust God and yet through the days, months, years, gains, losses, mistakes, successes, failures, joys and sorrows, He waited patiently until one day, without provocation, I wandered closer and sat quietly.
Seek His truth through the scriptures. Worship through a tender prayer and love as though you are pursued with love. May God's peace calm your storm and his promise give you hope. Amen.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If i give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away, as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corin 13:1-13
A fellow point guard for the faith; a writer, deep thinker, music loving, jeep blazing ... follower of Jesus.