The Power of One — Working toward Unity

I recently had a film night with a few friends and we watched this movie which I’d never seen before and it reminded me of my blog.  It’s been a long time readers.  Please forgive my hiatus.  I shall reward you with one of my classic style reviews.

 

Film:The Power of One

The Power of One, 1992

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Morgan Freeman

Synopsis:

Based on the book by Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One is set in South Africa during the 1930s-40s, and follows an English orphan named P.K. who faces prejudice from his Afrikaaner classmates.  Taken on by an elderly German pianist who, upon the outbreak of WWII, is interned in prison, P.K befriends black inmates, learns how to box, and listens to stories about a mythical rainmaker who is to bring unity and stop the infighting among the tribes.  P.K. works to fight injustice and challenge adversity while befriending people based on the content of their character rather than their skin color or ethnic background.

 

My Thoughts (mild spoilers):

The film came out while South Africa was still in the throws of Apartheid, an incredibly oppressive system of racial segregation, and the movie covers the time period of the genesis of apartheid.  At first I thought the title was a reference to the power of one individual, especially since it follows the exploits of one boy who through facing shameful bullying based on prejudice developed incredible empathy for those who experienced even more systematic oppression.  P.K. then works to provide training for black teachers so that they can teach people how to read and write English, education that was illegal.  However knowing history it might look as if P.Ks efforts were for naught.  Apartheid continued for another 50 years after all.

 But in reality I think the title is actually a reference to the power of becoming one, the power of unity.

So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. ~Bahá’u’lláh

Throughout the film the biggest accomplishments were when people came together despite their differences.  Whether it was a German pianist helping a Zulu prisoner, or an English boy conducting a concert of people from all tribes, or an Afrikaaner girl joining English and black South Africans to teach literacy, it was when diverse people came together for a united purpose that we saw beauty, that we saw hope.  Unfortunately there were many times in the film, and even more so in the history of South Africa and the world more generally, that people were unable to come together and instead were blinded by difference into conflict, often brutal and sometimes even lethal.

O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation, conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every aggressor deprives himself of God’s grace. It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straight forwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

This film highlights the intense desire that despite the conflict in the world many people hold out hope for unity and recognize its beauty and power.  It is a call to action for us all to be aware of what unites us rather than what divides us, to work toward building a better world together.  The point is not whether or not this story is realistic, but that we want it to be, which to me is a sign of progress, for in time:

If you desire with all your heart friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger until it reaches the minds of all men. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Your thoughts?

 

 

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Blog Action Day — Water!!! Blue Gold

Film:

Blue Gold: World Water Wars, 2008

Synopsis (from the film’s homepage):

In every corner of the globe, we are polluting, diverting, pumping, and wasting our limited supply of fresh water at an expediential level as population and technology grows. The rampant overdevelopment of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth.

Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geo-political map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars.

We follow numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to U.N. conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools. As Maude Barlow proclaims, “This is our revolution, this is our war”. A line is crossed as water becomes a commodity. Will we survive?

My Thoughts:

In the whole world there is nothing softer and weaker than water.

And yet nothing measures up to it

In the way it works upon that which is hard.

Nothing can change it.

Everyone on earth knows

That the weak conquers the strong

And the soft conquers the hard —

But no one is capable of acting accordingly.

~Tao Te Ching, II:68

Watch this film now.  It is available on Netflix Instant, through iTunes, or Amazon On Demand.   Humans need fresh water.  Without it we will die.  Yet water is increasingly being treated as a commodity, privatized, and being controlled by water cartels.  Why are we giving away water only to have it sold back to us?  We are using our groundwater faster than we can replace it.  It takes 24 gallons to make one microchip.  117 gallons to make a banana.  This is a global problem.  It’s effecting agriculture, development, global warming. There are corporations that make money cleaning up pollution and therefore don’t want to prevent it.

This is an ethical, moral, and social problem.  Until we recognize that we are a united world, that water unites us but as it becomes scarce if we don’t work together we will end up fighting.  Already water scarcity has effected the West Bank issue.  It’s effected the relationship between Egypt and Sudan. And in Bolivia and in Tamil Nadu… yet often these resource wars are presented as religious or ethnic wars. (To see a map of water conflicts click here)

Everyone needs water and water is central to life, regardless of race or faith.  The hydrological cycle connects us all.  There are reasons that throughout the Holy Writings of every religion that water is used as a spiritual metaphor due to its power in this world.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.   ~ John 3:5

When in the Gospels, Christ speaks of ‘water’, He means that which causes life, for without water no worldly creature can live—mineral, vegetable, animal and man, one and all, depend upon water for their very being.  ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

O servants! Ye are even as saplings in a garden, which are near to perishing for want of water. Wherefore, revive your souls with the heavenly water that is raining down from the clouds of divine bounty. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world ~ The Buddha

We need to come together to solve this water problem by recognizing each others humanity.  In order to become ‘unsoiled’ we must work together, live more sustainably, and overcome the greed that leads to abuse of water use.  Please meditate on what you can do and the choices you can make to help us deal with the growing problem of water.

Food Inc. — The Ethics of Eating

Film:

Food, Inc. 2008

Synopsis (from Netflix):

Drawing on Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, director Robert Kenner’s documentary explores the food industry’s detrimental effects on our health and environment. Kenner spotlights the men and women who are working to reform an industry rife with monopolies, questionable interpretations of laws and subsidies, political ties and rising rates of E. coli outbreaks.

My Thoughts:

First I would like to thank the reader who voted in the poll and suggested this film.  Secondly I would like to advocate that *everyone* watch this.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s on Netflix Instant.  Watch it now.  Ok, on with the post.

Robert Kenner begins this documentary saying that the food industry has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000 and that his hope in creating this documentary is to “pull the veil back” and show people how they are really eating and where there food had come from.

Remove the veil from their eyes, and enlighten their hearts with the light of guidance. —‘Abdu’l-Bahá

This is a veil that I myself have been pulling back slowly but surely over this past decade, and it is quite shocking and disheartening.  Our food industry has become so industrialized and so far removed from those consuming the food that it’s interests no longer match those of the consumers.

In this documentary there were several interviews with farmers and one shared some statements that I thought were pretty profound that I would like to share with you. First:

“Industrial food is not honest food.  It is not produced honestly.  It is not priced honestly.  There is nothing honest about industrial food”

As we know truthfulness is the foundation of all virtue, and without it there cannot be justice.  The industrial food system is so highly subsidized that the food can be sold below cost.  This puts pressure on both independent farmers, as well as farmers outside of the US who cannot compete because they don’t have these subsidies and can’t sell below cost.  Also, the cost to the environment is not factored in to these industrialized methods which are not as ecologically sound.  E Coli was not a problem before this system.  These hidden costs are dishonest.  The food industry also uses undocumented workers who they can pay cheaply, and treat poorly.  It is the workers who are punished if caught even if the industry purposely goes to Mexico to recruit them.  Chickens have been manipulated to grow three times as fast but in doing so their bones can’t support their weight so they can barely stand.  This is also unjust.  How can we treat people and animals so cruelly? As the farmer so aptly put it:

“A culture that just views a pig as a set of protoplasmic structures to be manipulated will probably view other people in its community, and the community of nations with the same controlling type mentality”

Or if you prefer Holy Writings:

Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. We, truly, have prohibited such treatment through a most binding interdiction in the Book. Be ye the embodiments of justice and fairness amidst all creation. ~Bahá’u’lláh

Eating food is something we do everyday, three times a day.  How can we do so with integrity?  With justice?  Over 100 years ago Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle and that changed our food industry for a time.  People demanded better regulation.  But that system broke down as the food industry became more powerful.  Also, the cheaply subsidized food is not the healthiest food, but instead commodity crops, and has led to the epidemic of obesity.  At the end of the documentary the filmmakers list several suggestions as to how we can work together as a society and as individuals within this society to combat this problem.  Here are three:

You can vote to change this system. Three times a day.

Buy from companies that treat workers, animals, and the environment with respect.

If you say grace, ask for food that will keep us, and the planet, healthy.

It is up to us.  We can be the change we want to see in the world.  Those who can afford to, to vote with our wallets and support ethically grown food.  Doing so is better for us, for our health, for the world, and for peace.

My friends have also posted a wonderful blog on the topic of ethical eating.  Check it out here.

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!

Amistad — Discovering Truth

Film:

Amistad, 1997Amistad DVD Cover

Starring Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Morgan Freeman, Stellan Skarsgard, and Anthony Hopkins.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

Amistad is the name of a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the U.S. in 1839. It is carrying a cargo of Africans who have been sold into slavery in Cuba, taken on board, and chained in the cargo hold of the ship. As the ship is crossing from Cuba to the U.S., Cinque, who was a tribal leader in Africa, leads a mutiny and takes over the ship. They continue to sail, hoping to find help when they land. Instead, when they reach the United States, they are imprisoned as runaway slaves. They don’t speak a word of English, and it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors when an abolitionist lawyer decides to take their case, arguing that they were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. The case finally gets to the Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release.

My Thoughts:

This film touches upon many different ethical and spiritual themes. The film centers upon a slave revolt on the Spanish ship “La Amistad” and the subsequent court cases in the United States as the justice system tries to unweave the various crimes from their victims and perpetrators. As for spiritual themes, there is the obvious issue of slavery itself, and the injustice it represents, but there are some other more subtle themes interwoven into this larger one.  The Abolitionists, who serve as advocates for the slaves, are ardent Christians and see slavery as opposed to their faith.  Other Christians come and pray at the prison in which the West Africans are being held.  The faith of the West Africans themselves is in question, though they could be Muslim due to a few shots of them on the boat praying all together in one direction, potentially Mecca.
Throughout the film, each side begins to better understand the other.  At first the West Africans seem wild and violent to the Americans, and even their advocates are at time confused, frustrated, or fearful of their behavior.  The Americans are just as strange to the Africans who cannot understand their language, or customs, and are also confused to see freed American blacks dressed just like those of European heritage.  Throughout the film, the advocates strive to learn the language and to find a translator, and to better understand the West Africans so that they can better serve them.  The West Africans also learn more of the ways of the white people when they are given a Bible.  Through the pictures they see the suffering these people went through as well, and how they revere Christ as in every picture “the sun follows him”.

“When a man turns his face to God he finds sunshine everywhere.  All men are his brothers.  Let not conventionality cause you to seem cold and unsympathetic when you meet strange people from other countries… Let it be seen that you are filled with universal love.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

While this may seem over simplified or contrived, I think it is important to think about how people of different cultures learn about one another.  In this age of the Internet, and global tele-communications, it is much easier and more common to interact with people from different places, cultures, and backgrounds.  Two hundred years ago, while there was still cultural interaction for sure, mixing took effort and was not on equal footing.  It took months for ships to cross the ocean, and people were brought over under duress.  The effort of the abolitionists to truly understand the West Africans cannot be taken lightly.  It really was a sign of changing times.
Another interesting dilemma throughout the film was the issue of what was a “win” to the Abolitionists.  The property lawyer argued that he could get the West Africans acquitted for murder of the crew by claiming they were unlawfully acquired property, since in 1839 slaves were no longer supposed to be taken, but had to be born into slavery.  To the Abolitionists this was repugnant since the West Africans were just as human as they were and to use the language of property would be backward.  But what is most important? Noble ideas or action?  If this could save the West Africans from the death penalty, and could allow them to return to Africa is it ok?

“Some men and women glorify in their exalted thoughts, but if these thoughts never reach the plane of action they remain useless: the power of thought is dependent on its manifestation in deeds.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

In the end, after taking the case to the Supreme Court and getting a favorable verdict, one of the Christian Abolitionists argued that perhaps it would have been better for the greater Abolitionist cause had the West Africans been put to death, since martyrdom tended to motivate individuals to action and to fight for change.  He pointed to the example of Christ.  While this may be true, it disgusted the other Abolitionist, a freed slave himself, since life itself is sacred and it should be the goal to free these innocent people who were defending themselves, and not to seek the martyrdom of other people.
This film really caused me to grapple with our cultural heritage, as well as how far we’ve come.  The most progressive people in the 1839 case would probably seem pretty backwards now.  It was 5 years that the Báb came heralding in the new age and calling people to unity, and 11 years later that He Himself was martyred.  I can see how humanity so very much needed the message of love and unity He and Bahá’u’lláh after Him, championed.

“Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.  Deal ye one another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED — Innovation, Hope, Cooperation, and Hardwork

Film:The Future We Will Create Movie Poster

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED, 2007

Starring Daphne Zuniga, Al Gore, Rick Warren, Peter Gabriel, Larry Brilliant, Marjora Carter and others.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Hailed “the hottest gathering in the world” by Wired magazine, TED (Technology Entertainment Design) is an annual event where an eclectic group of brilliant minds exchange bold ideas for the future. Actress Daphne Zuniga is your host on this all-access tour of the conference. Guests include former Vice President Al Gore, musician Peter Gabriel, environmentalist Majora Carter, as well as comedians, authors and innovators from around the world.

My Thoughts:

I love TED.  I had never heard of this conference nor this documentary about it before NetFlix recommended it and I am so thankful it did (I am beginning to see a theme here… I promise not to gush too much about NetFlix any more… I just as frequently discover great films from my library and from friends).  Ok, back to the point.  Apparently TED is this great conference by invite only, in which technical innovators, scientists, artists, and social advocates come together to both speak about what they have been doing as well as to help each other achieve their dreams to better the world. The people who attended TED seem to live this mantra:

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“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi
All these ideas were mind blowing.  There was an architect there who was working to design open source plans for developing countries so that they can build safe, efficient, sustainable, and inexpensive homes, schools, and clinics.    There was a medical scientist who had helped with the UN mission to eradicate smallpox and was now working on preventing a bird flu pandemic.  There was an 11-year-old violin virtuoso, and a beat poet.  The found of one laptop per child.  The list goes on an on.
There was such diversity of thoughts, of methods, of action, and yet such love and respect for one another here.  Whether scientist or artist, religious or atheist, these people all came together with the goal of changing the world for the better.  They were united by a common purpose which reminded me of this beautiful passage:
Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity.
This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
What I didn’t realize was that Bono’s One Campaign was born from TED.  And even though the conference is invite-only, it is not exclusive but has an outward orientation.  Anyone can access and watch the speakers from their website.  This film of the conference really made me beam because it speaks to how much through education, hardwork, and cooperation we really can work together to solve the World’s problems.  This conference was all about unity.
So powerful is the light of unity that it can envelop the whole earth.
~Bahá’u’lláh
I can’t help but stress it enough.  Al Gore spoke of global warming which is a global problem.  But Rick Warren, a respected Christian minister also spoke.  Both religion and science recognize the power behind a united purpose.
1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~ Ephesians 4:1-6
Or from a scientific point of view:
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“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Albert Einstein
Perhaps my thoughts have been all over the place, but I highly suggest you check out TED.  The great thing about the conference is that it was a mix of the biggest ideas, as well as ideas that are actually working, on the ground, right now to make the world better.
Your thoughts?