Virunga — Nobility and heroism in the struggle for peace and justice

Film:Virunga Movie Poster

Virunga, 2014

Synopsis (from the official website):

VIRUNGA IS THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY OF A GROUP OF BRAVE PEOPLE RISKING THEIR LIVES TO BUILD A BETTER FUTURE IN A PART OF AFRICA THE WORLD’S FORGOTTEN AND A GRIPPING EXPOSE OF THE REALITIES OF LIFE IN THE CONGO.

In the forested depths of eastern Congo lies Virunga National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth and home to the planet’s last remaining mountain gorillas. In this wild, but enchanted environment, a small and embattled team of park rangers – including an ex-child soldier turned ranger, a caretaker of orphan gorillas and a dedicated conservationist – protect this UNESCO world heritage site from armed militia, poachers and the dark forces struggling to control Congo’s rich natural resources. When the newly formed M23 rebel group declares war, a new conflict threatens the lives and stability of everyone and everything they’ve worked so hard to protect, with the filmmakers and the film’s participants caught in the crossfire.

A powerful combination of investigative journalism and nature documentary, VIRUNGA is the incredible true story of a group of courageous people risking their lives to build a better future in a part of Africa the world’s forgotten, and a gripping exposé of the realities of life in the Congo.

From director Orlando von Einsiedel and executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio.

My Thoughts:

My first thought is if you have not seen this film, please go watch it.  It is a beautiful documentary that combines investigative journalism with stunning imagery and deserves every award it has won.  I am very thankful to a friend for recommending it to me.

The thing that really struck me about this film was how it was able to show the nobility of the Virunga Park Rangers in both large and small moments.  These people face incredible adversity and over 100 have died in their struggle to protect this park, which is a beacon of hope in a violent and corrupt region with a complex history.  They face bribes, death threats, and ambushes on a daily basis from all sides, even from supposed allies, and yet continue to do their job to enforce the law and protect this World Heritage Site.  They put not just themselves but their families at risk in the effort to resist corruption and maintain order.

The entire time I was watching I kept thinking about the Hidden Words, and how the rangers/journalists and the rebels/business interests seemed to exemplify to two opposite poles of the nobility we should strive for and the abasement we bring upon ourselves:

O SON OF SPIRIT!

I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.

O SON OF SPIRIT!

The bird seeketh its nest; the nightingale the charm of the rose; whilst those birds, the hearts of men, content with transient dust, have strayed far from their eternal nest, and with eyes turned towards the slough of heedlessness are bereft of the glory of the divine presence. Alas! How strange and pitiful; for a mere cupful, they have turned away from the billowing seas of the Most High, and remained far from the most effulgent horizon.

O SON OF SPIRIT!
Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.

There were moments that simply touched my heart while watching this film, moments that showed you just why the Rangers were doing what they were doing.  The 800 or so remaining gorillas have their own nobility.  They too have families and they too react with fear to the sound of shelling as the rebels set off bombs.  Some poachers strive to kill gorillas not even for profit but simply because they think that if all the gorillas are gone then there will be no reason to protect the park any more and they can plunder the resources there.  These animals showed traits that we share, such as kindness and grief at the loss of loved ones.

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”—Malcolm S. Forbes.

But it isn’t just the gorillas who benefit from the park, but the people in the region.  The tourism generated from the park helps provide a positive source of income, which is unfortunately disrupted by the militants in the region.  Additionally there are people who live within the park who live off of sustainable subsistence fishing from the lake, which they have done since before colonization.  If the oil drilling in the lake commences, their whole way of life will be destroyed, and while SOCO has offered them money, they too aren’t in it for the money but instead want to continue living in harmony with the park around them in a way that allows both themselves and the endangered wildlife to thrive.  Unfortunately these advocates have been forced to evacuate due to the violence the rebels have brought.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”—Edmund Burke

So rather than doing nothing, what can we do to assist the triumph of justice over injustice in Virunga?  Watching the film is a great first step.  It is streaming on NetFlix right now.  Going to the website is a great second step.  There they outline several action steps, from getting the word out, to donating to the Park, to checking your investments to make sure your portfolio does not support companies like SOCO, which profit from the regional instability and are looking to plunder the park.

I am thankful for those who strive to practice their inherent nobility and rise to make the right and ethical choice in the face of both economic incentive and violent threats to do otherwise.  I am also thankful that I have never been put in a position to have to make such choices myself so directly, but hope that if ever I were, I would also honor the nobility within me and not abase myself.  My thoughts and prayers go to the Rangers who have lost their lives protecting justice and their families.

Advertisements

Precious — A Mine Rich in Gems

Film:Precious Movie Poster

Precious, 2009

Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah Carey.

Synopsis (from Netflix):

Viciously abused by her mother (a riveting, Oscar-winning Mo’Nique) and pregnant by her father, Harlem teen Precious Jones (Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe) has an unexpected chance at a different life when she enrolls in an alternative school. Teacher Blu Rain (Paula Patton) encourages her, but Precious must battle unimaginable barriers everywhere in her life.

My Thoughts:

First I would like to apologize for not writing sooner.  I had watched this film the first weekend in April and had meant to write a post for you all then.  I committed a blogger faux pas.

As for the film, this is one time I am glad it is not a true story as I would not wish anyone the amount of suffering Precious Jones had.  I just adore the message though, that through love and education she was able to see value in her life and work to overcome her obstacles, as insurmountable as they may seem.

Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.  – Bahá’u’lláh

Her teachers, both at her first school and at the new alternative school, saw something precious within Ms. Jones.  They could see that what appeared to be ugly rocks were actually uncut, unpolished gems and they worked hard with Precious to polish them until she was able to read and able to break free from her abusive home environment.

This is something we can all learn from.  We all have gems in the mine of ourselves, as does every other human being even illiterate pregnant teenagers.  The issue is that these gems have not been cut and polished yet so to the untrained eye they can seem like worthless rocks.  Blu Rain could see the end in the beginning, she could see those gems, and worked hard with Precious so that she could see them too and would want to polish them through perseverance.  We all have talents but sometimes we can’t see them.  A great teacher can, and can get you to see them too, and more importantly infect you with the enthusiasm to want to work to cultivate them.

Your thoughts?

What gems have you seen hidden in others?  What have you helped others achieve?  What have you achieved through someone’s encouragement?

Repost : Movies (Spiritual motivation behind movie watching)

I just read a wonderful post on a blog I just discovered called “One Baha’i’s Approach” that shares insight into watching films with a spiritual eye that I thought you guys might enjoy to see why I do what I do.  I highly recommend the blog, and you can find it here, and the original post here.

Movies

I recently asked you, dear Reader, for your thoughts on ideas for topics I could try and address. Many wonderful suggestions came in, but one, in particular, was one that I could immediately write: Movies.

The idea was presented in the context of writing a review of a movie in light of the Baha’i teachings, but I’m not sure I want to do it quite like that. Instead I will talk a bit about my own approach to movies, in light of the Baha’i teachings.

My guidance comes mainly from two quotes, one by Baha’u’llah and another from Shoghi Effendi. The first, found in the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf ,refers to arts and sciences, saying that they should be “productive of good results, and bring forth their fruit…conducive to the well-being and tranquility of men“. This quote alone radically changed the way that I approached my own work as an artist.

The second quote is found in The Advent of Divine Justice. In that text, Shoghi Effendi speaks of the three spiritual weapons we have at our disposal in our fight “to regenerate the inward life of their own community, and… to assail the long-standing evils that have entrenched themselves in the life of their nation.” The three weapons, as I’m sure you know, are “a high sense of moral rectitude in their social and administrative activities, absolute chastity in their individual lives, and complete freedom from prejudice in their dealings with peoples of a different race, class, creed, or color.”

The second of these three is further defined by the Guardian in the following quote: “Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations.”

It was this second quote that got me to re-examine those arts to which I subjected myself, as he particularly mentions “all artistic and literary avocations“. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not believe that he is telling us to avoid movies, or anything like that, but just to be more selective, recognizing the influence that they can have upon us. I love a good fantasy novel, or a fine science fiction movie. In fact, I even enjoy a fun shoot-em-up action adventure movie, too. (Shocking, I know, but true.)

The key word in that second quote is, to me, “moderation“.

The question now is, “How does this effect my movie-going?” Easy. It makes me examine each movie after I see it, explore the motives and morals within it, and see how it effects me as a person. Now, I believe that I get far more out of every movie I watch, and every book I read, than I did before.

This also gets passed on to those I work with.

For years now, whenever I take a group of youth to a movie, I willingly take them to see whatever movie they want, on condition that we can talk about it afterwards. A two-hour movie? I want at least thirty minutes of conversation. And during that time we explore the story and motives of the characters, framing the whole thing in the context of virtuous development, and the Baha’i teachings.

Conclusions? Well, I have to admit that I used to love horror movies, but now have absolutely no desire to see them any more. I have not found anything worth the time invested in seeing them. Although I don’t criticize anyone for watching them, they are just not for me. My time can be better spent elsewhere.

I have also come to love some of the action movies even more. Why? Because it gives a lot more room for discussion of motives, and allows a great deal of exploration in how we would react to similar circumstances. Now I don’t expect to ever find myself hiding in a building that is being taken over by terrorists intent on robbing a bank, or having to jump on a moving train to try and save someone from being blown to bits by a bomb, but I have found myself reacting instantly to seeing people getting beaten to death by gang members on the street. This little exercise of asking myself what I would do in such a situation allowed me the ability to draw the attackers away long enough for the victim to survive (without getting killed myself).

Some of the most enjoyable movies I have seen are ones that I was “dragged” to by a group of teens who thought I would never want to see them. They figured that those movies just weren’t my type, whatever my type may be. But I enjoyed them, and we had a very fruitful discussion afterwards.

The teens also told me later that these discussions have changed the way they watch movies, television, and on and on. They are far more selective, and always ecplore it afterwards, no longer content to view them as mere entertainment.

Going back to the first quote, in which Baha’u’llah tells us the purpose of the arts, I began asking myself if a particular work was conducive to my well-being and tranquility. I didn’t expect to only enjoy works that put me in a drug stupor, but looked at that in a broader context. Did they lead me to tranquility? Did they improve my well-being? If not, why was I subjecting myself to it?

By looking at the overall purpose of the arts, I found myself in a better position to decide whether or not I wanted to take the time to view a particular work. Now that said nothing of the merit of the work itself, just whether or not I wanted to take the time to find out.

The second quote, about absolute chastity being related to artistic endeavours, made me further examine what I watched, read or listened to.

These two quotes also helped me better refine how I wanted to spend my time on my own artwork, but that’s probably better suited for another article.

Instead, I’d like to just take a moment to look at an example, Lord of the Rings. While I could go into the artistic merits of the film, or how they used so many different artisans to create the world, I, instead, want to look at one part of the story. Or actually, one part not of the story: the bad guy.

This is a story that does not focus on the bad guy. It focuses almost completely on the good guys, and their epic struggle. You never really see the bad guy; he’s always just this big eye in the distance.

Too often in artistic works, the artist focuses almost exclusively on the bad guys, or at least spends a considerable time on them. They get into the minds of these people, and really, do you want to get in there?

But Tolkien focuses on the good guys. He gets into their headspace, and brings us with him. You feel their fears, their concerns, and their courage. And that is a space I want to get into. Don’t you?

So next time you read a book, or watch a movie, look at these two quotes again and see how they apply. It’s a wonderful experiment that I will explore more and more in the future.

Synecdoche, New York — Idle Fancies, Vain Imaginings, and Longing

Film:

Synecdoche, New York, 2008

Staring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

After his painter wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him and takes their daughter to Berlin, theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) stages an autobiographical play in a massive New York City warehouse amid a life-size replica of Manhattan. Meanwhile, Caden must contend with the many women in his life — including a box-office worker, an actress and a shrink — in this beguiling directorial debut from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

My Thoughts:

This movie has been in the recommended queue for over a year and I am finally getting to it.  I apologize for the delay, it’s been a crazy year, and I know it’s the type of film that requires due process.  It’s the type of film that makes you think, and makes you feel.  But not comfortable feelings.  Incredibly frustratingly uncomfortable, painful feelings.  I like films like this, that force you to wrestle with this side of life but I do not enjoy films like this.  Let me elucidate that paradox a little.

Film is a medium, and as such it is not always used for entertainment and pleasure, even if that is the predominant trend.  Film can be used as a tool for communication, for meditation, or exploration.  I love it when movies use all the power film has to offer as an art form by working the visuals, and pushing the boundaries to actually show you something rather than tell you.  This movie does that.  However what it shows is frankly unpleasant.  It does it really well, but it’s painful. It helps you to experience the pain and suffering of the main character by getting so lost in him, and his meta existence so as to trick you into feeling that (if you are highly empathetic like myself).  If you like films like Lost in Translation or Magnolia then you will like this movie, but it’s even more extreme.   Ok, with that lengthy introduction let me actually get to the content of the film.

The film begins like a typical independent film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He’s made a lot of them and if you’ve seen even one you have a feel for it.  As it opens, it’s gritty and has that look to it.  I think Kaufman wants to trick the audience into complacency because as it goes on characters start breaking unwritten rules.  They do not react how you expect them to, they do not react in the way society dictates is normal.

What is clear from the beginning is that Caden Cotard is lonely, unhappy, and ill, and throughout the film this state increases. Nobody can help him, even when he asks for it.  His family abandons him.  His doctors shuffle him around not solving the problem.  His therapist just tries to sell him books.

What oppression is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it?  – Bahá’u’lláh

Cotard has no clue, and so he pours himself into his art.  Art can be a wonderful thing.  It can uplift the soul.  It can increase knowledge.  But what Cotard does is essentially use his art for his ego.  He wins this prestigious MacArthur genius grant right when his life is falling apart and thinks it can redeem him.  Instead his play becomes him playing God and recreating his life over and over again, getting deeper and deeper into himself and his neuroses and it doesn’t work.  He finds no solace.  He finds no audience.  He finds no answers.

Cast away, O people, the things ye have composed with the pen of your idle fancies and vain imaginings … Idle fancies have debarred men from the Horizon of Certitude, and vain imaginings withheld them from the Choice Sealed Wine. – Bahá’u’lláh

Instead decades go by, he ages as he suffers and as his relationships disintegrate more and more due to his inability to view the world outside of himself and outside of his pain.  He becomes completely self centered.  There is a glimmer of hope near the end when he and Hazel finally work out there issues, and she states what may seem like a throw away line, but I think reaches at the heart of the matter about how it was the first time she’d seen him think about someone other than himself.

And finally the true ending when he is too tired of all his directing and decides to play another role, to step into another person’s life.  It is here that he can see that another has pain, another disappointment, and he can finally find comfort in feeling for another, rather than himself.

Millicent Weems: What was once before you – an exciting, mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone’s everyone. So you are Adele, Hazel, Claire, Olive. You are Ellen. All her meager sadnesses are yours; all her loneliness; the gray, straw-like hair; her red raw hands. It’s yours. It is time for you to understand this.
– From the film

And I think this is why I had such a problem with the film, why it did not sit well with me, and that’s because this is a half truth.  It reaches the culmination of understanding that we are all connected, that we are all unified and we need to get over the ego of self, but it only focuses on the negative, on the disintegration.  This is everyone’s experience, but not everyone’s complete experience and because of this it is bleak.

Where is joy? Where is beauty? Where is love? Where is God?  The word was only first mentioned an hour into the film in passing, and then indirectly and derogatorily by Hazel “We send the kids to Christian school.  It’s Derek’s idea, I don’t believe in that stuff”, and then in the end at a funeral when a priest preaches pretty much the exact opposite message that a cleric would.  This is a world without God, without religion (in the true sense of the word), and it shows.  It shows in all the social dysfunction and ill portrayed in the film.  People are amoral.  They abandon each other.  They use one another.  They cause each other suffering. If this is everyone’s experience than what are we all doing wrong for it to be this horrid?

Some people argue that this is the world as it is, and on some level they are right.  People have abandoned the teachings of the great faiths, have stopped fearing God, stopped loving God, and stopped following God and in doing so have created even more pain and suffering.  They have corrupted many forms of religion and turned them into self-serving political machines, or an isolationist club, in the image of themselves instead of God’s so that even labeling oneself religious does not necessarily free you from this Kaufmanesque view of the world.

Instead if we distill the message from the major faiths it is this: Love.  Put others before yourself.  Humble yourself.  Be compassionate.  Show this love through deeds.  Love everyone, even the people you don’t like, nay, especially the people you don’t like because it’s not about you, and it’s not about your opinion. They probably need the love even more so.

We can hardly blame Cotard because he was not shown love so he could not really learn how to love.  He is constantly looking for someone to follow, but has no adequate model.  However, this is why we have the examples of Buddha, of Jesus, of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l Baha.  They show us what true selfless love can be so we can follow there model, so that the world won’t devolve into Synecdoche, New York.

synecdoche |siˈnekdəkē|
noun
a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in Cleveland won by six runs (meaning “Cleveland’s baseball team”).

-from the Apple dictionary.

In this case of this film Caden Cotard represented the whole.  Let’s change that.  Let’s make it one of these great teachers, who shows us how to love, and how to suffer with grace instead of despair.


Repost: The Book of Eli: A Review and Reflections

I read this review and would like to share it with you guys. Check out the original here.

The Book of Eli: A Review and Reflections

I believe it was the psychologist Heinz Kohut who introduced the world to the concept of “good enough parenting”. The Book of Eli could be considered an example of good enough film-making. It manages to get its various characters from point A to point B, provide some interesting images, execute fight scenes with relative skill and convey it’s underlying message(s) well enough. It’s not a great movie though.

Eli is the name of the film’s protagonist (Denzel Washington), who we first meet as he preys upon an ill-fated feline in a forest as ash drifts down from the sky (a nod to 9/11). The cat in question is later shared with a mouse (talk about a role reversal!) as Eli enjoys some Al Green and a read of the Book from the movie title. It’s 30 years from now and some sort of man-made apocalypse, possibly brought about by religion, has had a really bad effect on personal hygiene, fashion sense, and civility. It has also contributed to a new diet fad (cannibalism). Eli strides through images of hell on earth: miles of rusting vehicles, grinning skeletons and empty dwellings. A voice has told him to head west in order to take his book to a place where it can do great good for the world.

When his Ipod runs out of juice, he heads into a little Wild-West looking town to get a recharge. This town, like most towns in these movies, is run by a strong man named Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Like Eli, Carnegie likes a good book (pun intended) and is looking for a particular title that he believes will increase his powers of social control and facilitate the expansion of his rule to other towns. Wouldn’t you know, the book Carnegie is looking for is the one Eli has. The problem is, Eli has no intention of sharing his book with the likes of Carnegie and has a knack with blades and bullets that makes him tough to persuade through sicking tough guys on him.

Carnegie next tries to seduce Eli through sending him Solara (Mila Kunis) who agrees to be used this way in order to protect her blind mother (Jennifer Biels). Solara is rejected sexually by Eli but does spend the night with him and is introduced to the power of prayer and the book in question. Eli decides to continue his westward journey killing anyone who tries to stop him on his way out of town with Solara tagging along as initially a damsel-in-distress and later a companion and willing student of the book’s content. The movie shifts into full-on Mad Max mode as the two are pursued by Carnegie and his thugs in big vehicles (guess carbon footprints are no longer a concern for people). There’s a humorous scene with a couple of fine old cannibals and a huge shoot-out complete with a giant machine gun and grenade launcher.

To make a long story short, Eli does manage to make it to his destination and delivers the book (though not in the way you’d imagine). Carnegie, at a moment of apparent triumph gets what’s coming to him in a twist that is sure to astonish. Like The Sixth Sense, it’s the kind of twist that makes you want to watch the movie again to see if you can notice any signs that it was coming that you might have missed.

Here’s a few reflections on themes, metaphors, and images that align with aspects of Baha’i teaching.

Religion as a Cause of a global calamity: Religion’s contribution to the end of the world is only hinted at in the film, but given current events it is not so far fetched. The Universal House of Justice acknowledges this:

“With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome. Nor should we delude ourselves that appeals for mutual tolerance can alone hope to extinguish animosities that claim to possess Divine sanction.”
(The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World’s Religious Leaders, p. 5)

Manipulation of Religion in the Pursuit of Power: Carnegie describes religion as “weapon” as he tries to explain to a henchmen that Eli’s book is more than just a book. Carnegie sees possession of the book as a means of controlling others, reminding us that “it’s happened before. It can happen again”. Baha’u’llah comments on the potential for religion to be manipulated in this way in strong terms:

“Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people.”
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 14)

The Black Madonna/Black Messiah: I’ve discussed this phenomenon exemplified by several recent films in a previous post. Eli’s character definitely fits into this concept, embodying qualities attributed to people of African descent in the Baha’i Writings such as this selection:

“The qualities of heart so richly possessed by [African Americans] are much needed in the world today-their great capacity for faith, their loyalty and devotion to their religion when once they believe, their purity of heart. God has richly endowed them, and their great contribution…is much needed…” (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 532)

Steadfastness in the path of God: Watching Eli’s single-minded and resolute march towards his goal called to mind many selections from the Baha’i Writings. One of them was the following:

“Whoso hath recognized Me, will arise and serve Me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 137)

The Oneness of Religion: The Book of Eli has been viewed by some as a “Christian” movie. However, there are aspects of the film that suggest it has a more universal message. Eli for instance could be seen as a more complex figure (his kaffiyeh and scimitar-like blade evoke an Islamic image, while his hand to hand combat has a Samurai feel to it). Also, an important scene near the end of the film includes Eli’s book among a diverse selection of books that have similar significance in other faith traditions and cultures. An interview with the directors of the movie on National Public Radio supports the notion of Eli embodying a broader concept of spirituality. In the words of the Universal House of Justice:

“It is evident that growing numbers of people are coming to realize that the truth underlying all religions is in its essence one. This recognition arises not through a resolution of theological disputes, but as an intuitive awareness born from the ever widening experience of others and from a dawning acceptance of the oneness of the human family itself. Out of the welter of religious doctrines, rituals and legal codes inherited from vanished worlds, there is emerging a sense that spiritual life, like the oneness manifest in diverse nationalities, races and cultures, constitutes one unbounded reality equally accessible to everyone” (The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World’s Religious Leaders, p. 4)

What’s your review and/or reflections on The Book of Eli?

Home Alone — Christmas and Family

Film:

Home Alone, 1990

Starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, John Heard, and John Candy.

Synopsis (From Netflix):

Families suck. That’s the opinion of 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), whose family unwittingly leaves him behind when they go on vacation. In no time, Kevin makes the most of the situation, watching forbidden flicks and pigging out on junk food. But when a pair of bungling burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) set their sights on Kevin’s house, the plucky kid stands ready to defend his territory — by planting booby traps galore!

My Thoughts:

When my sister suggested we watch a Christmas movie last night we mulled over which to choose.  Did we want some holiday romance with Love Actually, or a Christmas class like Miracle on 34th Street?  Should we watch our annual favorite A Christmas Story?  Instead we dug out an old VHS of Home alone, a movie neither of us had seen in a good 15 years.  I had remembered it being hilarious as a child, with all the booby trapping, but what I had forgot was the poignant messages hidden within this glitzy comedy.  This film not only entertained but spoke to the importance of family, of forgiveness, and of not listening to rumors but seeking out the truth for oneself.

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!  ~ Charles Dickens

I think we have all been where Kevin has at one point in our lives.  We let the annoying habits of our loved ones blind us to how much we actually love and appreciate them.  We also can be blinded by prejudice, like Kevin was with his neighbor due to rumors about him being a serial killer.  Instead the neighbor turned out to be a kind old man who was looking to reconnect with his family but didn’t know how.

I think this is something we can all work on, patience and forgiveness.  These two virtues are things that if Kevin and his family had had for one another at the beginning of the film then perhaps he wouldn’t have been home alone.  But patience and forgiveness are tough.  They involve letting go of the ego, and becoming humble, as well as putting others’ needs before our own.

It is also lucky that Kevin was home alone, since burglars had decided to target his house.  One of the great things about this comedy was how responsible Kevin had become when home alone.  After initially partying and going hog-wild, he got bored of that, and instead he went grocery shopping, cleaned the house, put up decorations, did laundry, and practiced hygiene all without adult supervision.  Pretty impressive for an eight-year-old.

“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit there from.”
— Baháʼuʼlláh

I think this speaks to the power of being given responsibility.  Kevin was the baby of the family and everyone treated him that way to the point where he wasn’t confident that he could pack his own suitcase as nobody was willing to take the time to teach him.  But when given responsibility he was able to rise to the occasion.  So often we are our own gatekeepers from success and achievement.  If we can’t believe we can do something we won’t try.  And if people are telling us we can’t we can make the mistake of listening.  But when Kevin was alone he had to learn to be self reliant and in doing so realized he didn’t have to be a baby anymore.

O MY SERVANT! Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more. ~Baháʼuʼlláh

Another wonderful moment in this film is when Kevin is running away from the bad guys, and seeks asylum at the church.  This is where he meets up with his neighbor and talks to him for the first time without being scared, and overcomes his prejudice.  Kevin and the old man were able to help each other recognize love and overcome fear. I find it comforting to have a positive portrayal of a church in a Christmas film.  So often Christmas comedies seem to leave out the religious aspect of this holiday.  But Christmas is a time that reminds us to look past our differences, religious or otherwise, and come together.  This scene showed that beautifully.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. ~ 1 John 4:7-12

And then there is the happy reunion of the family, which really is just delightful.

We have caused thee to return to thy home as a token of Our mercy unto thy mother, inasmuch as We have found her overwhelmed with sorrow. We have enjoined you in the Book “to worship no one but God and to show kindness to your parents”. Thus hath the one true God spoken and the decree hath been fulfilled by the Almighty, the All-Wise. Therefore We have caused thee to return unto her and unto thy sister, that your mother’s eyes may thereby be cheered, and she may be of the thankful. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

So with that I wish those who celebrate (religiously or secularly) a Merry Christmas!  For those who do not observe, Happy Friday!  and to everyone a wonderful new year!

The Blind Side — Love & Charity

Film:

The Blind Side, 2009

Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates, and Quinton Aaron.

Synopsis:

The story of Michael Oher, an homeless and traumatized boy who became an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family.

My Thoughts:

What makes this movie so amazing is that it is based on a true story.  It is a story of what happens when people actually choose to live out their religious beliefs, when they take action. So often we see news of religious conflict, but it is really comforting to see when religion can be a source of inspiration for people to commit amazing acts of kindness and love beyond expectations.

This story began when a Christian private school was counseled to live up to the name Christian and help the struggling, homeless Michael Oher to attend.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead  ~ James 2:14-17

Leigh Ann Touhy and her family took it to the next level when they took Michael Oher in, fed him, clothed him, and helped him to succeed. And in doing so they learned to better appreciate the luxury they had taken for granted, as well as time with each other as a family, which prior to meeting Michael they had not.

O SON OF MY HANDMAID! Guidance hath ever been given by words, and now it is given by deeds. Every one must show forth deeds that are pure and holy, for words are the property of all alike, whereas such deeds as these belong only to Our loved ones. Strive then with heart and soul to distinguish yourselves by your deeds. In this wise We counsel you in this holy and resplendent tablet. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

What Michael went through many more people in society go through then we would care to admit.  But unlike Michael often these people do not receive a helping hand.  Instead those in healthy, wealthy communities isolate themselves.  How can we as a society work to eradicate poverty, to provide opportunities for all?  How can we overcome our fears?  Especially when they are legitimate, like living in a place of violence.

Michael had developed a coping mechanism for dealing with living in an unsavory situation, full of drugs, addiction, violence, and crime.  He closed his eyes.  He closed his eyes and waited for the problem to dissipate so that when he opened them again the world would be bearable.

O MAN OF TWO VISIONS! Close one eye and open the other. Close one to the world and all that is therein, and open the other to the hallowed beauty of the Beloved. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

I think this is something we can all learn from.  All the bad things in life can be overwhelming, especially if we focus on them.  If instead we close our eyes to them, and instead open our eyes to the beauty in the world we can move from that darkness to light.  I am not saying we just ignore the bad, but instead try to transcend it and not let it bring us down.  Michael was able to do that.  He could have been to proud to accept the help of the Touhys but he wasn’t.  He opened his eyes to their love and chose it over the path he could have taken.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13