The Spirituality of Music and Movies How the Arts Imagine up for us... The Spiritual Life by S.J. Wickham.
Copyright ÂŠ 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
What’s in the book? Contents The Spirituality of Music .......................................................................................................... 4 Loving Your Ordinary Life – Welcoming the Drudgery of Life (Avril Lavigne) ................ 4 “Halo” – Lost in the Grip of Love (Beyonce) ...................................................... 6 California Dreaming & the Mysticism of Song (The Mamas and The Papas).................. 7 Cherry Red or Midnight Blue? (Lou Gramm) ....................................................... 8 “With Arms Wide Open” – Message of Hope (Creed) ............................................ 9 A Dirty Day & the Dark Night (U2) .................................................................. 9 “Freedom of Choice” – What You Want & What All Need? (Devo) ........................... 11 Goodbye Blue Sky? (Pink Floyd) .................................................................... 12 Gospel Flavour Of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon and Garfunkel) .................. 13 He Ain’t Heavy, Mr., He’s My Brother – A Gospel Song? (The Hollies) ....................... 14 “Here She Comes” – L’amore Miss Sarajevo! (U2) .............................................. 16 Horrid Bliss – Life’s a Bittersweet Symphony (The Verve) ..................................... 18 “If Today Was Your Last Day” (Nickelback) ...................................................... 19 “Imitation of Life” – Dreamy, Endearing, Nostalgic (R.E.M.) ................................. 20 “In the End” It Doesn’t Even Matter (Linkin Park) .............................................. 21 Learning to Say Goodbye (Madonna) .............................................................. 22 Life ends, then what? When it’s all been said and done... (Robin Mark) .................. 24 Life’s Tough, So What! (Rose Tattoo) ............................................................. 25 Narrow Way to the Divine Romance (Nathan Tasker) .......................................... 26 Show me the Signs (Michael W. Smith) ........................................................... 28 Que Sera Sera – Whatever Will Be, Will Be... (Doris Day) ..................................... 29 Sometimes Goodbye is a Second Chance (Shinedown) ......................................... 30 “The Climb” – Life, the Present, Mountains, Real Joy... Faith! (Miley Cyrus) ............. 31 “This Is Who I Am” – Spiritual Overtones (Vanessa Amorosi) .................................. 32
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
Page |3 Timeless Advice – “Wear Sunscreen” (Baz Luhrmann) ......................................... 33 “Walk a Mile In My Shoes” – How That Is For Us (Elvis Presley) .............................. 35 Waves of Regret, Waves of Joy – Jesus, Judas and (U2) ....................................... 36 “We Didn’t Start the Fire” – God Did & We Blew It (Billy Joel) .............................. 37 When Given the Chance, “I Hope You Dance” (Lee Ann Womack) ........................... 38 The Spirituality of Movies ...................................................................................................... 41 Challenging Your Unique Reality Of The World (The Truman Show) ......................... 41 Becoming “Invincible” – Spiritual Messages From The Movie and Vince Papale’s Life .... 41 Not Flying, But Falling With Style (Toy Story) ................................................... 43 Finding Our “One True Authentic Swing” (The Legend of Bagger Vance) ................... 44 A Worthy Sacrifice (Gran Torino) ................................................................. 45 A Great Movie Quotes On Persectuion (Cliffhanger, 1993) .................................... 46 “Groundhog Day” in Reverse (Groundhog Day) .................................................. 47 I Maybe “Blind” But I’ve Got A Cute Earing! (Yellowbeard) .................................. 48 “Keep Moving Forward” (Meet the Robinsons) .................................................. 49 Neo Versus The Architect (The Matrix: Reloaded) .............................................. 52 Never Give Up! The Breakthrough is Just Around the Corner (Rocky) ..................... 53 One Act Of Random Kindness At A Time (Evan Almighty) ..................................... 54 Over the Hedge, Under the Screws (Over the Hedge).......................................... 56 Stopping the Program “Smith” (The Matrix) ..................................................... 57 The Art of Deception, Cleverness... Wisdom (Batman Begins) ............................... 60 Finding the Joy In Your Life (The Bucket List) .................................................. 61 THE Great Pain-Reliever: God can be a Little Like Opium (Children of the Silk Road) ... 62 We Must Transcend The Things That Hold Us (The Hurricane) ............................... 63 Creating “Clearance” In Life – You’ve Got Clearance, Clarence (Flying High) ............. 65 “The total agony of being in love,” ... (Love Actually) ........................................ 67
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
The Spirituality of Music Loving Your Ordinary Life – Welcoming the Drudgery of Life (Avril Lavigne) We hate our ordinary lives, most of us. It’s an insult that we can’t be famous, or ‘successful,’ or filthy rich. It might sound like an overstatement but that is basically the way we see things most of the time, is it not? We want the easy life that is full of contentment and any possession we’d care to own... long life, good name or “fame,” and prosperity. Ironically, there’re not many people that actually believe this sort of ‘dream’ life is possible. Most people are realistic enough to know this. Yet, we strive for more. We’re typically discontent with our lot. I’ve commented on Avril Lavigne’s songs before. Her song “Anything But Ordinary,” off the hit album “Let Go,” says so much about the frustration of life, and the anguish and torment, not to mention the boredom of it, we deal with under the surface in everyday life: Is it enough to love? Is it enough to breath? Somebody rip my heart out And leave me here to bleed Is it enough to die? Somebody save my life I'd rather be anything but ordinary please To walk within the lines Would make my life so boring I want to know that I Have been to the extreme So knock me off my feet Come on now give it to me Anything to make me feel alive It’s a statement of discontent. Its problem is life itself. Is life “enough?” Is it enough to experience the absolute pinnacle of life? i.e. love. Is it enough to go through life simply breathing, or ‘complying’ with life’s demands and rules—is it good enough? Ordinary things, and even extraordinary things, like love, don’t seem enough at times. Is it enough to die; rather be dead than ordinary? Please? What about ‘extremes.’ Some people, and particularly the young, need to go to the extremes to ‘taste’ life, the life that’s not so boring; to break up the tedium. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
There has to be more to life, surely! There has to be something to put our hope in; something more to stimulate us. There must be some rational and real purpose to it all. And there is. It’s right under our nose and so very obvious, yet we don’t see it because it doesn’t appear interesting enough. I’m suggesting that the ordinary life; my plain and ordinary life, is so uniquely special, just being alive and thinking about all the possibilities is on its own, simply breathtaking. The fact that I am ‘here’ typing this article, communicating to you, and able to speak to myself and think and create, is simply marvellous. Why do I think this way? The above paragraph is not an overstatement. We live at the very cusp of time: the present. We have the power to create history; in fact, whether we like it or not, that is exactly what we are doing in the present. Oswald Chambers says, “Drudgery is the touchstone of character... There are times when there is no... thrill, but just the daily round, the common task.... Do not expect God always to give you His thrilling minutes, but learn to live in the domain of drudgery by the power of God.”1 Drudgery is not a very exciting word; in fact it is quite ghastly. The point is you and your life: it is a gift from God. He gives it to you so you can discover your life purpose, something each one of us has to discover for his or her own. That purpose will drive us through life giving us power to create loving relationships so we can leave our legacy on life. •
What was it you wanted said at your funeral?
What sort of person were you?
What does your family and co-workers say of you?
You can have any ordinary life you want. You may as well; you’ll be stuck doing it forty hours a week for most of the rest of your life, so you might as well enjoy it! I can honestly say I’ve not had “Mondayitis” for the past fifteen years, which equates to 60 percent of my work life. I love work, and I also love rest. What about you? Do you look forward to your life... your work... time with your family? Life is drudgery most of the time, so get over it and start living it. Be present one moment at a time. Things will change gradually. You’ll begin to love what you have. It’s great!
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1935), 167, June 15 entry, cited in Ellen Vaughn’s Radical Gratitude: Discovering Joy Through Everyday Thankfulness, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), p. 173.
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
“Halo” – Lost in the Grip of Love (Beyonce) She’s hard as nails and impenetrable… apparently… but, wait, she’s fallen for him, this guy with the halo, halo, halo. One of the best songs going around is Beyonce’s Halo. The rich vocal tones and tremendous range are delicious to the ear, and the lyrics speak equally deliciously of captivation to love, romance, and that sweet time of falling quite sincerely for the only heart on earth… or as it seems in that moment. We’ve all been there, I suspect. This love takes her unaware it seems—she swore she’d never fall again. Well, so much for that. It’s an insignificant fact at best, and one that produces wonderment at the grace of the one with a halo. All her needs are met in the image of him; his looks are everything she wanted, and more! One of the ultimate sentiments of the song is a fervent hope that this stage of all-consuming love won’t pass; anything but that. This awakened feeling she experiences brings excruciating life, like all of life beforehand was a numbed, wasted, humdrum existence. Could this ballad be a gospel song about salvation?—about the alluring engagement of the Spirit in our being. We’ve all had the walls of our ignorance and pride raised before God broke in and teared them down, immersing us in his perfect love and showing us his Spiritual truth. We saw the perfection of God, the halo, the holiness; all the consummate implicit virtue of the Most High. For all the previous resistance we had to the things of God, there’s suddenly a plain docile, yet invigorated, acceptance of his wondrous and personal saving grace. How did we not possibly see it ahead of time? Whether it’s a gospel song or not, it’s a brilliant work of musical art and a song we’ll sing to for years yet. Think about the words and music in the light of the Light of the World and hope to be swept off your feet!
California Dreaming & the Mysticism of Song (The Mamas and The Papas) My favourite radio station played this classic 1965 song recently, California Dreaming, and it had me reminiscing about a time I wasn’t even alive. The Mamas & the Papas rose to #89 with it on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.2 There’s something weird and deep that certain music does to us. California Dreaming has a mystical quality to me, and like some other songs of that era, particularly Simon and Garfunkel songs or John Denver songs, there’s a captivating quality in them that makes me want to wonder about a time I can’t possibly remember... what was it actually like to be living around the time of my birth or previous to it? I wonder if you have a memory like this. I recall quite vaguely (in a vivid sort of way) hearing Pilot sing January (1974) on a long drive with my father and brother from Karratha to Perth. It was 1975 and so I was eight. I recall the place where we actually drove through as the song played. Now, without exception, every time the song’s played (and unfortunately it’s not played that often) I’m taken back to that time, or certainly back to my childhood. This reminds me of the climax to Ratatouille (2007) which is a favourite animated classic. When Anton Ego gets his first taste of Linguini’s common dish, he’s sent back in his mind immediately to his childhood—and it’s not only in our sense of taste that this happens; I find seeing certain colours, for instance, also does it. The memory is a wonderfully rich thing. The freer the mind the richer the memory, I think. But at its base there is a wonderful blessing here for humanity. A loving God has designed us with the capacity for memory, to learn, to know consciously as well as subconsciously, and finally, the capacity of the conscience itself. We don’t live in a vacuum. Everything we experience is meaningful. And this is what we live for: experience... the verb. To go from indoors to the outdoors on a quiet and clear but cool winter’s morning, with a gentle wafting breeze and a park to walk in. Could we ever get enough of that? Does the memory of that ever fade? And like a song that’s cherished for what God’s done in it—at its inception—these mystical memories we get to carry with us, God willing, right into eternity. Wikipedia. Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. RollingStone.com. Retrieved on 2007-06-02. http://www.rollingstone.com/news/coverstory/500songs
Cherry Red or Midnight Blue? (Lou Gramm) An eighteen month old child sees the world in black and white, no shades of grey. It’s a fact of life that when this child has conflict before him or her they’ll polarise quite quickly—it’s one extreme or the other. And the same sentiment is demonstrated in Lou Gramm’s 1987 No1 hit, Midnight Blue, albeit a father talking with son about the actualities of life. It’s an important differentiation. At times, life is either cherry red or midnight blue. And it’s correct that this song is a ballad—a love song, but it’s far more than that with its bold but simple, strident, and twangy guitar work. Life might be overly simplified by thinking of it in terms of the cherry red or midnight blue, but it’s nevertheless true, many times we’re offered two choices but a myriad of ways in which to enact those two choices. I think life’s designed simply, yet we’re apt at complicating it. So often we draw out of it complexities dared of in folly. We learn the hard way, if not the easy initial way. And there’s a sense in this song of one person’s solidarity. They’re not a perfect person by any means, but a person all the same—an authentic person with a character fixed in reality—his or her own reality; one that aligns by-and-large with the world they meet with. This person follows others no more, but they instead seek to follow through, making good of things committed and promised. Getting back to the ballad, Midnight Blue is about making good on love. It’s about waiting and remaining and being there for that person we’ve committed to... “I won’t say where, And I don’t know when, But soon there’s gonna come a day, I’ll be back again.” It’s about a promise. Midnight Blue is about a promise of faith—to be back, to come back. And it’s a pretty black and white situation for us in this way also. We live and die by our choices. Which is it to be? Cherry red or midnight blue?
“With Arms Wide Open” – Message of Hope (Creed) It seems there are surprises in life and there are surprises that change our lives; and that from inside out! The song by Creed, With Arms Wide Open, is splendidly reminiscent of a time when we found a hope beyond anything of ourselves for the very first time. It’s a time when there’s a flurry of emotion and delayed, or at least confused, expectation as we deal with fear of life-transforming change i.e. what will we lose? It seems whilst one life starts, the old one—the one we’re endeared to and know intimately about—is ending... what about our relationships, our hobbies, our future’s. All of life is up in the air, and whilst that can be exhilarating, it can also be slightly terrifying as the inevitable ‘cold feet’ chill us. It’s an exhilarated anthem for the newly expectant mother and father. The father just hears the news and takes a day or five to get used to it. He’s suddenly found in a ‘place’—a heart place— where he’s met with bliss. ‘What will it be like?’ he thinks, over and again. And nothing can prepare him for that joy which comes the moment his baby is born. He’ll find holding his baby the best natural high he’s ever experienced. It’s a total mystery. And this glittering joy is what the anointing of God is like; be it at the height of the great peaks of life or in the shallow depths, though the latter is more difficult to convey or explain. To approach life ‘with arms wide open’ is the wish of every parent for their every offspring—to not be hedged into a world that has so successfully hedged us in. We start with such hope. It’s a panacea, of course, and one that needs the grace of God to temper it against likely or certain despair when we find out that they too will have a broken life; everyone does. And this simply should further propel us to God who addresses our shortfalls. It’s only with him we can truly face life consistently with arms wide open. Exhilarated joy is possible, and frequently at that. Teaching our kids that God’s grace alone is our only sufficiency is a fine start. It’s the only true start.
A Dirty Day & the Dark Night (U2) Some days are simply dirty. We get out of bed though we want to climb back in. We put on our working clothes but we hardly want to. We want, on some levels, to do the things we’ve
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planned, but we can’t wrest from our minds the urge to want to play it safe and divert from them. Inexplicably we move, but slowly, awkwardly, and we don’t know how. No matter how, or what we try, it won’t be fixed; not today. And we hope against hope, if we’re aware, that this scourge, this film, will be lifted tomorrow, even today. We frighten ourselves in a moment as we gaze at the vast possibilities this could last. Not good. There’s an inevitability about it—this state we’re experiencing. Something has us, and this… it’s just beyond our will. And it’s not about hope. Hope doesn’t even come into it. It’s a base-level drive that’s entered nihilism. Our energy is occluded. We hardly thought it possible—it’s taken over our sense of faith and meaning. But, only, it seems, for a day… or two. And we pray, ‘Please, Lord, release me from this.’ Scary isn’t it, that we can face such inexplicable events of heart and spirit—the soul in turmoil; the dirty day gives way to a dark night of the soul... indeed! “For the spiritual and the sensual desires are put to sleep and mortified, so that they can experience (lit. taste) nothing, either Divine or human; the affections of the soul are oppressed and constrained, so that they can neither move nor find support in anything; the imagination is bound and can make no useful reflection; the memory is gone; the understanding is in darkness, unable to understand anything; and hence the will likewise is arid and constrained and all the faculties are void and useless; and in addition to all this a thick and heavy cloud is upon the soul, keeping it in affliction, and, as it were, far away from God. It is in this kind of ‘darkness’ that the soul says here it travelled ’securely.’”3 “Therefore, O spiritual soul, when thou seest thy desire obscured, thy affections arid and constrained, and thy faculties bereft of their capacity for any interior exercise, be not afflicted by this, but rather consider it a great happiness, since God is freeing thee from thyself and taking the matter from thy hands.”4
St. John of the Cross, “Explains how, though in darkness, the soul walks securely” in Dark Night of the Soul (Book II, Chapter XVI). Retrieved 27 May 2009. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/john_cross/dark_night.viii.xvi.html 3
St. John of the Cross, Ibid.
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In the ‘dirty day’s experience’ of the dark night the soul there is at least safety. Like the Footprints poem we’re freed from ourselves and God alone has us within his firm but gentle grasp. What a God we have that we’re safest in our darkest hour with no strength, but his, to contend. So, know, if you may be there... ‘In darkness and secure.’ Trust in it. Yesterday... a dirty day. Today is new. This article was inspired, in part, by U2’s song, Dirty Day.
“Freedom of Choice” – What You Want & What All Need? (Devo) In 1980 the synthpop band “Devo” produced an album called Freedom of Choice, and the song by the same name sparks the imagination regarding life, not that the lyrics are particularly philosophical. But the chorus, “Freedom of choice, it’s what you want,” say a huge amount regarding our default human nature. ‘Choice’ is such an expansive word. definitions, as:
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has it, amongst its
“The act of choosing” i.e. when we find it hard to make a choice; and “a number and variety to choose among i.e. a plan with a wide choice of options; or, care in selecting.” Isn’t it strange yet totally explicable that when we have the choice we often go the wrong way, which is our own way. We see polarised relationships and stalled progress on projects and fighting politicians and countries and cultures at odds with each other... what are we seeing? Individuals and whole people’s (represented often by a small minority charged with the public interest) doing what conventional wisdom calls for—they make their choice, for themselves—intuiting both meanings. First, they make the choice, and second, they make it in their own interest first and foremost. This is by and large the default drive of humankind to self-satisfy. We fight for our freedom of choice in the consumerised market economy we have in the Western world. The customer is always right, apparently. What this drives is an attitude on the part of the vendor that it’s okay for you to be right (even when you’re not) if you’re spending your money on my stuff. Again, we place our value in what holds values for us; in this case it’s money that wins out over truth. The vendor’s choice, in this example, is wrong. It’s morally wrong and freedom is issued for the wrong reason; it deceives the relationship. The relationship is based at least partially on non-truth.
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We have to acknowledge that with freedom of choice comes civic responsibility. Franklin Roosevelt’s “four freedoms,” upon which I wrote a recent article, make the precise point. Freedom that is true and right and God-blessed is that which holds for all, not any one individual or group. Freedom of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear are universal rights. These four freedoms are moral freedoms. True freedom is enshrined as a moral construct. We will only ever succeed in life when our choice is made for such freedoms as these. Sure, we are free to choose, but therein lies the trap for the lazy and the greedy. Citizenship is indeed one of the most important values to hold; the value for civic responsibility in the discharge of our day-to-day behaviour, which ought, I could add, carry through also to the home. Freedom of choice should ideally be about safety for all. It’s intrinsically linked to morality.
Goodbye Blue Sky? (Pink Floyd) For most people who grew up in the 1980s Pink Floyd were legends. Their song by the name of the title of this article speaks I think about the depression of wartime and of loss and ongoing, lasting devastation, particularly the lyric, “The flames are all long gone but the pain lingers on.” It goes beyond the time of ‘flaming’ tragedy well into the post-war period. And it speaks equally about the ‘pain that lingers on’ in our lives after the personal wars we go through; those which taint life nastily. There is absolutely no optimism in this Pink Floyd song, and indeed the whole of The Wall film and soundtrack from which this song comes—though an unqualified twentieth Century masterpiece—is entirely bereft of any real hope, speaking to a whole world that’s lost hope. And it’s true to life for millions. That is why I think people resonate with it, and all the other dark, melancholic songs. There’s a side to life where this without doubt true. Yet it needn’t be like this; the experience of hopelessness. As they say, with battles and wars, we can either get bitter or better. We can suffer in the lasting pain that lingers on, or we can willingly reconcile it all, resuming our lives as they were or reinvent ourselves to an even better “us” in many cases. This is the case for salvation. Reconciliation means the process to make consistent or congruous i.e. reconcile an ideal with reality, and to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant i.e. to be reconciled to hardship.5 Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering.” In other words, the 5
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opportunity for reconciliation of the brokenness within is actually the ticket to true freedom. Suffering is a gate to peace. Peace is a spiritual concept. Suffering is part of a ‘full life.’ Reconciliation is a process taking weeks, months or years. As my daughter learns to drive she is frustrated in how long the process takes—after all, it should be easy, right? The reality is learning to drive—a complex skill—is a process. Healing a major hurt or coming to peace about a situation we’d rather avoid is no different. The process takes as long as it takes, but it must be about reconciling our past with a hope of, and promise for, a better future.
Gospel Flavour Of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon and Garfunkel) There is a song that makes me feel small, but in a very good way. It commences gently but assertively with a trickling piano then booms at the end in an eerily cool and comforting sort of way. The crescendo of the third verse is what brings goose pimples to the skin as I’m taken to the inner sanctum of God’s court; his Presence. In this way it has ‘oaks’ of the 23rd Psalm. It is the safety of the Shepherd whom fills us with the feeling ‘we shall not want.’ At his 92nd birthday celebration a son fulfils his elderly father’s wish—the reading of the 23rd Psalm. It’s an amazing cogent dirge of faithful assurance, read slowly and strongly; so much like the song... Of course the song I’m referring to is the 1970 classic, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Many an artist (including more than one Christian artist) has recorded their own rendition of this universal favourite that lived atop the billboard top 100 for a couple of months. It was Simon and Garfunkel’s swansong. The song is colossal. There is an eternal shrill to it. It builds upon the images of the overwhelmed. Whether we’re ‘feeling small,’ ‘friends can’t be found,’ or we’re simply ‘down and out’ he is a bridge over that troubled water — he’s on our side. Who is this person? Have you ‘met’ him yet? He comforts and dries the tears. He’ll surround us with safety and answers when ‘pain is all around.’ The first and second verses are melodies for the melancholy—an elixir for desperates. Then the divine ballad shifts up in gear and suddenly lifts us... first musically, then spiritually. The theme of loneliness and sorrow ends suddenly and a new era of victorious hope emerges; again the overtones of the 23rd Psalm. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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‘Silver girl’s time has come.’ She is about to live her dream; there is a sure pillion of hope as he shows her how she’s to shine. He will ‘ease her mind.’ Sail on silver girl Sail on by Your time has come to shine All your dreams are on their way See how they shine Oh when you need a friend I'm sailing right behind Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind Imagine in your pain and desolation, the bridge that carries you safely over the dark and treacherous torrent below, and through that dark period, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. Bridge Over Troubled Water is a wonderfully inspirational yet expansive song for the downcast complete with music and feeling of epic proportions. It’s a creative touch of God for humankind; a miracle of creation and modern day art. In the spiritual sense, it’s a ‘saving’ work that must have saved thousands upon thousands of lives. Praise God.
He Ain’t Heavy, Mr., He’s My Brother – A Gospel Song? (The Hollies) The aura that The Hollies’ 1969 song, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” produces is fascinating to the senses. Akin to the Righteous Brothers’ hit “Unchained Melody” in its regality for love, closer perhaps than one could truly experience with another person, this song brings with it links to Boys Town, founded by Father Edward Joseph Flanagan. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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Father Flanagan “realized that all boys needed love to be productive citizens. That was why [he] turned his energy to loving boys who were neglected.”6 There is little doubt really that the culture and values of Boys Town captured the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of humanity; that innate desire of the good person to lend a hand to another struggling circumstantially with life. The lyrics of the song that characterised Boys Town's image from 1941 are chillingly wholesome, at once taking us “right there,” where the man or woman is carried — but carried by whom? It starts: The road is long With many a winding turn That leads us to who knows where, Who knows when But I’m strong, Strong enough to carry him. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. We know the love of the brother here, most of us. We’ve either seen it or experienced it personally. The road of life is long and it’s mysterious in that we have no idea what a day holds; we simply make our plans don’t we? But how often are our plans fraught with dangers we did not at first see, and how often did we not suspect things that would necessitate re-planning? There is One strong enough to bear all of this however, our brother Jesus—he’s more than strong enough for each of us. So on we go. His welfare is my concern. No burden is he to bear, We’ll get there. For I know He would not encumber me He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. God doesn’t consider our burdens burdensome. It’s only us that think that way. His grace is sufficient for me and for you. And, the weaker we are the better his strength works through us. We will get there, with him; but not without him. There is no limit to the loving power of God. At no time are we irredeemable. We cannot encumber him. He is uncontainable.
See http://nebraskastudies.unl.edu/0700/frameset_reset.html?http://nebraskastudies.unl.edu/0700/stories/ 0702_0101.html 6
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If I’m laden at all, I’m laden with sadness That everyone’s heart Isn’t filled with the gladness Of love for one another. There is a profoundly horrendous shortage of this sort of love in the world. At no time in history has there been a more strenuous load on the planet and humankind’s ability to support each other; now is the time for this ‘love for one another.’ If only there were a way to convict more hearts, ladening them with this sadness, adding more willingness to the already ‘able’ among us. That is the sadness of God—the Father’s heart; that more people are not engaged in saving others. It’s a long, long road From which there is no return. While we’re on the way to there, Why not share? And the load Doesn’t weigh me down at all. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. A shared load is the gospel story, surely. It is our time. While we’re here, during ‘our time,’ we do not have much of a choice but to live life; the choice to suicide hardly seems an appropriate option, unless destitution and desolation of spirit overtake. We share the load and we know the love of God immediately. To know the love of others who give themselves or gave themselves for us can only realistically be an austere reminder of God’s perfect love that is unreserved, wholehearted, absolute… finished. It is, in Jesus Christ. Father Flanagan’s Boys Town sought to bring love into lives that ordinarily may’ve ended on the scrap heap. It was God’s love that would be found in this brotherhood. For the one who needs us, he ain’t heavy, he (or she) is my brother (or sister).
“Here She Comes” – L’amore Miss Sarajevo! (U2) Rarely are we ever so touched as when we listen to something that so effuses raw, unadulterated, spine-tingling love—the purest and the loveliest kind—the kind from heaven itself! And listening to operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti (d. 2007), sing his part in the U2/Passengers song, Miss Sarajevo, I contend I’m brought to the brink of wonder-filled tears.
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But it’s not until I received a deciphered version of his lyric that I more completely understood the meaning he expresses through his emotively booming upper register. Pavarotti’s lyric in English: You say that the river Finds the way to the sea And like the river You will come to me Beyond the borders And the dry lands You say that like a river Like a river... The love will come The love... And I don’t know how to pray anymore And in love I don’t know how to hope anymore And for that love I don’t know how to wait anymore. And the type of hopelessness known to Sarajevo’s people during that bleak time during the 1990s is portrayed here, as it was in Bill Carter’s documentary which inspired the song. And the answer to all of this, spiritually at least, is when we reach the end of our tether, we finally reach an acceptance that we seem to have little choice about. When we’re cornered and all we can do is hope or lose hope, what are we going to do—a choice still beckons. But if we take ourselves to that river, we see it merge with the sea; a means completed in an end. Yet, the dry lands endure. We know these resplendently parched dry lands of the soul exhume our lost, ailing love; when they compel their way through our weakly rebellious spirit’s and we no longer contend against “fate” we finally reach that sweet place.
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And the most wonderful image is the revelation of looking back on this place from a delivered perspective; we look back upon our hopelessness and we celebrate that somehow we managed to remain ‘mustard seed faithful.’ Here we come!
Horrid Bliss – Life’s a Bittersweet Symphony (The Verve) Normally I go to church Sunday mornings but recently I didn’t go. I found myself instead experiencing something I don’t often experience. It was a feeling that life was so good it could only get worse. Then Mondayitis entered the room of my conscious mind! I had options open to me, lots of them. A lovely day out... a ride, a walk, write some more, play some music. Far too many good choices. Indeed, spoilt with choice. And so there I was in a rut of my own bliss. Relate? It’s like the present isn’t enough at times. The better things get, the worse they will potentially get. But there’s the trap in not simply enjoying the moment for what it is. It’s only a moment after all, and life’s connected with moments—good and not so good; dull, boring, bliss-filled and the myriad between. It’s the same when we hit a nice restaurant. We savour the experience and we enjoy the food and beverages on offer, but one bite and one sip at a time we’re closer to exiting that place and going back to normality. And if this style of ‘cool living’ is simply the only way for you, there’s only one way to go—south. It’s a hard, elusive road to happiness isn’t it? This is why I like the 1997 song, Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve. It tells a truth of life. It’s never all about beer and skittles is it? “’Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life,” goes the lyric. Something that is bittersweet is “pleasure alloyed with pain.”7 Who can possibly grasp this life...? In the visual thesaurus bitter sweetness is the journey toward sadness—from “tinged with sadness” to “experiencing sorrow” to plain “sad.” It’s pleasant experience but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret.8
“bittersweet.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 9 August 2009. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bittersweet
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I don’t subscribe to Mondayitis, actually. I haven’t done so for a decade or more. I’ve just found that every day brings with it challenges and pleasures, simple and complex. I acknowledge that life’s a bittersweet balancing act. Why should a Friday or Saturday be any better than a Monday? Why do we limit our joy to after work and weekends? But it is the truth that there are some things we’ll love and some we’ll loath. Symphonic, ironic life; it’s a harmonious arrangement of all flavours under the sun.
“If Today Was Your Last Day” (Nickelback) In steely gravely tones, If Today Was Your Last Day really hits the reality spot. It preaches a message that desperately needs to be heard in today’s quite false “plastic” life of material temptation and riches, video games and virtual friendships—the postmodern romance. If today was to be our last day on earth would that change our perspective? That’s a rhetorical question, of course! Saying goodbye to yesterday seems to be a prevailing theme in living genuinely for today. How hard would it be to live as if today was really our last day? Would we finally start to do the things we’ve put off, like forever? Would we forgive our enemies, seeing finally the banality of any differences we might have with them? It appears to me there’s a lot of luck involved in life and whether we live or die, now, yesterday or tomorrow… or fifty years from now. Yeah, sure, some of us attribute to God everything, but if today was my last day, that’s the fact of relevance, nothing more. I’ll meet God, finally, sure, but what about those final opportunities I had… what about them? If today was your last day And tomorrow was too late Could you say goodbye to yesterday? These words of the lyric of Nickelback’s song have a hauntingly eternal and inescapable feel about them. It forces us into a corner of fast, obdurate introspection. God has us where he likes us, thinking about the things of truth, light, life, love and legacy. It seems maddening, however, that most people will inevitably walk the other way refusing to own up to the fact of their very existence. The lights of life are dimmed and the mood’s subdued and padded by pleasure and ease. It’s ironical that this is the backdrop that provides all
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our relational problems; a setup where our yesterday’s and tomorrow’s hold us captive to the ever beckoning nothing. If today was your last day… ‘As if,’ I hear you say… Let’s not be so sure!
“Imitation of Life” – Dreamy, Endearing, Nostalgic (R.E.M.) Anyone who’s ever fallen in love with 80s rock music loves R.E.M. They’ve been faithful quiet achievers for decades now, certainly with a different M.O. compared with say, U2, who’ve been around just as long. The song Imitation of Life off the 2001 album Reveal is quite a remarkable, enduring song which beckons further investigation. My love of the song’s melody helps characterise me as an ‘art rock’ fan; the same genre that Pink Floyd often filled, and Coldplay today. It’s filled with an easy, dreamy, minor-note tempo and an endearing melody with lyrics inspiring the all-age nostalgia of surreal escapism. The song’s lyrics, on the other hand, are not that coherent. There’s a somewhat loose link to an errant aspiration, something sort of esoteric cased in a hopeless way. For all the trying there’s not a lot of succeeding. There’s more saying than doing. There’s more munching on sugary sweets than real action. The target of the song is impotent. It’s a void, this life profiled. It’s an imitation, model life that’s quite postmodern in feel—neither there or there-abouts but somehow promising to be in contention. I recall a time like this. Almost it seems another lifetime ago I had my experimentations in a world of chaotic nothingness—a life that promised a lot but never quite delivered anything real. A life that watched on, wheels spinning expectantly, but never actually gaining traction. I was a dreamer and oh, I pined to be a doer alright. All I thought about was doing. And that’s the point. I thought too much. And this music attracts the dreamy type who prefers to dream. But it doesn’t have to be this way. For all the trying and crying depicted in Imitation of Life there’s the sense that there are two people involved living two completely separate lives—one striving and doing, enduring storms, tidal waves and avalanches, the other challenged by soft sugar cane and promises of Hollywood. Given the two extremes, what would we have? What life will we commit to living? What is our life characterised by predominantly: dreaming or doing?
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“In the End” It Doesn’t Even Matter (Linkin Park) There’s a great deal of folly in saving now in order to live later, certainly as far as the out-ofbalance approach some people take in living their lives. The generations old approach of working hard right up until retirement age to enjoy the (short) spoils of retirement, has not only made a return it’s morphed into ‘work your guts out to retire even earlier,’ and greed drives it. Mortgages and material possessions are acquired at break-neck speed for these people—and then there’s the midlife heart attack or stroke (or some other health condition) to look forward to. It may seem an exaggeration but how many spend most of their lives away from their families to earn their squillions? Linkin Park have nailed this prospect in the chorus of their haunting song In the End. This is how it goes: I tried so hard And got so far But in the end It doesn’t even matter I had to fall To lose it all But in the end It doesn’t even matter For mine, people will continue their own sweet, unbalanced way of greed and acquisition-at-anycost until they “fall, to lose it all.” And this is after possibly decades of getting it wrong—how demoralising. Jesus talks about remaining alert and ready in Matthew 24; none of us knows when the Lord will come, only the Father (v. 36). He will come in the night like a thief (v. 43). The event and circumstances of our deaths will always be a mystery. Indeed, the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) propounds this most powerful truth. The rich farmer produced an amazing crop and was troubled for a place to put his ‘abundance.’ In tearing down his small barns to build bigger ones his plans bargained on living perpetually—and certainly not dying. He didn’t account for the ever-present possibility of his death. “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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will they be?’” –Luke 12:20 (NRSV). His greed simply stored up wealth for someone else. That’s the potential lot for those not rich toward God. There’s a series of proverbs alluding to these very issues. “The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall” –Proverbs 18:11 (NIV). How easily we can be fooled into choosing money over God (as it’s either one or the other, not both) thinking that we buy some kind of protection. In the end it crumbles like stacked cards. It doesn’t even matter. Money, in this way, is the falsest pretence. If we combine two more we get a fascinating picture: “Good people leave an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous... Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor” –Proverbs 13:22 & 28:8 (TNIV). Greed, here, is the confounding glue of folly. All that hard work to build a dominion—and for what? At least the booty will go somewhere it’s actually needed! So, what’s the wise thing to do in life around acquisitions? Clearly it’s wise to buy a home and provide for our families, planning for a future that ensures we can enjoy as comfortable a life as God allows. But there has to be a balance in the swinging pendulum. We have to live today, for others, and for ourselves—but ultimately for God. This is investing in a relationship dependent on God—which is no easy matter. This requires much commitment and trial and error in itself. People shun dependency in our prevalent culture. The cliché “life’s a journey” is so worn through, but it remains true. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. But, the real fruit belongs to, and with, and in, God. Money or God? Live now or later? Both of these are easy choices. But it’s got to be a daily, moment by moment choice; choices congruent with our personal values. None of us I’m sure truly wants to end life whistling the chorus of the Linkin Park song as a life epitaph.
Learning to Say Goodbye (Madonna) Funerals remind us of death and the power of life, and the fact that we cannot solve physical death (though we have found a way to solve spiritual death). Funerals bring us to the reality of life; that we all die eventually having lived, more or less, a full life.
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When we attend a funeral we discover that the person won’t be coming back, and that can be incredibly hard for us to comprehend; how can it be that they won’t be back?—what, not even for a visit? Death is unfathomable, yet it’s commonplace to our overall human experience. We only need to visit a cemetery to get that message. Recently my family and I attended the funeral of someone who was very special. This person, like all others who die, leaves behind a swag of loving family and acquaintances and memories. Life cannot possibly be the same without them. With this tinge of sadness, I am reminded of the Madonna song, The Power of Goodbye, which is appropriately chilling in its demeanour. It describes the finality of goodbye... the no-comingback of goodbye. Toward the end of the song, at its climax, Madonna sings in a slower, more profound and compelling tempo. She sings, ‘Learn... to... say... good... bye...; I yearn... to... say... good... bye,’ before a hugely reflective instrumental piece takes our imaginations hauntingly away. It’s so profoundly sad it moves the heart in captivated, sorrowful, reflective wonder. The experience of death takes us there. Only recently, my wife and I watched Ghost (1990) again. This movie holds special memories for me since it first came out. It never ceases to move my heart. This movie stylises death, heaven and hell somewhat, but it resonates with our hearts. It aligns with the typical worldly preconceptions on the topics. For instance, when Sam (Patrick Swayze) re-acquaints briefly with Carl (his best friend who deceived him which led to his death) on ‘the other side,’ we can see the sadness in Sam that he knows where Carl’s headed—in the movie, bad deeds equal hell. Even though he was deceived and hated Carl for it, Sam’s attitude is changed in an instant when Carl dies. Death changes things in dramatic and surprising ways, and even our perceptions are transformed unpredictably at times. I don’t know why, but I am simply awed by death. Not preoccupied; not dazzled; not ambitious about it. Just simply, the power of life brings a special significance to physical death. And of course, there’s good-bye. It’s a good bye, or supposed to be. Perhaps good bye means final recognition of goneness? Perhaps it’s the end of the grieving process, or maybe just the beginning—and any point in between for that matter. Good-bye is symbolic, essential; final. Gone. No more. Nothingness. Goodbye seems so final. It seems so intangible. Like love, light and life, death is an utter mystery.
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Life ends, then what? When it’s all been said and done... (Robin Mark) THE WORDS TO A SONG often grip us for a time. It seems to grab and hold our attention whenever we hear it, be it on the radio at the shops, or when we take refuge and relax to it in a quiet moment. It takes us to another world, not quite as harsh or real as ‘reality.’ I find one particular song takes me there. In fact, it takes me to a special place where I’m not only in bliss but I’m also reflecting on life’s rawest truth—death; and looking back at how I’d lived my life from, “the other side.” “When it’s all been said and done...” The song goes: “When it’s all been said and done, There’s just one thing that matters, Did I do my best to live for truth, Did I live my life for You? And, the part of the song that completes it all is: You’re my life when life is gone.” It states the fact that once we’re dead, in a sense we’re absolutely subject to God’s “recall”— pulled ‘out of service’ permanently, having been ‘recalled’ back to Him. When life’s gone, what else is there? How will it end for you? Do you ever think about it? It’s not morbid to occasionally think about it—like most things, just don’t obsess about it! Everything in moderation is the term used. Reflecting on our death helps us remain grateful... and we can learn a lot from reflecting on life’s finality. From the perspective of our death we can gain so much appreciation of what our life means; it puts it in a different light altogether. It can help us re-configure and re-shape our definition of success. It can clarify and reinforce our roles in life and the balance we may or may not have in those roles. It brings truth to bear. For truth is often veiled and too abstract and doesn’t appear real; what we find enjoyable is often dripping in lies, yet the real pleasures in life are shrouded in a veneer of unattractive plain hard work and discipline. We get so deceived. It’s almost too hard to “do the right thing,” yet the secret is actually available to us, though many of us give up way too early to ever find it. Take family for example. How often does the job and career take precedence? We know deep down that we’re making the wrong choice but we go with the thing that ‘feels good.’ We like that feeling don’t we? That feeling of present gratification. Yet, it’s so self-defeating, empty and lifeless. You enslave yourself to your career and what rewards lay waiting? Very rarely are they anything close to being worth it, the rewards that is. Taking the ‘low road’ however, the one of Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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family first means sacrifice, and takes courage, especially when saying no to your boss—it’s so counter cultural. There are two powerful reasons that make it ‘too hard’ just there! Success: we look for it and when we don’t find it, we are bemused, confused and sometimes angry. How could we get it so wrong? We need to regularly analyse and re-define our ideas of success, through reflection and meditation (which is simply deep thinking). Who is setting the “success” mark for you? Is it you, your spouse, and your kids, or is it others? Don’t let others set the ‘success’ mark for you, especially those who don’t love you. Search for your own mark and make sure it makes sense over the longer term. You should make sure that it links to a legacy, so your life stood for more than a ‘good contribution to the company’ when you’re dead. Legacies are left on lives, those of your family, your friends, and those you’ve made a positive impact on; and those you’ve mentored and been a model for. Each day of life is very precious. On death or at our funeral, how is it that we want our loved ones to remember us? A life welllived is a noble and lofty goal but can you translate that into action that can and should be credited now? Don’t delay. Keeping life simple requires focus and discipline, both stemming from diligence, which takes courage, following from faith, that comes from trust, which is wisdom, that demonstrates balance, and the effect is shalom—a wholesome peace beyond any other overall positive feeling either natural or supernatural. And you can’t get this without being spiritual. How badly do you want it? How much effort are you going to put in at hitting your life targets? You won’t be around here forever. When it’s all been said and done, there’s just one thing that matters. Did you do your best to live for truth? Someone will be asking that question.
Life’s Tough, So What! (Rose Tattoo) You’re in a tough season of life; there are stresses upon you and many demands. Life’s not even fair the majority of the time. In the mix of the mess of life we can laugh humbly at the sheer enormity of it all, finding a way where nothing can deter us. Yes, this can be achieved! Recalling the Rose Tattoo song, Bound for Glory, we’re in this life and bound for glory if we’ll only cooperate with our circumstances and resist the nagging, weakening voice within, moving on to the next thing, a distraction even. And the words to the song also help us if we’re aware of them at the time.
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From a deeply personal viewpoint we can categorically say, ‘I’m alive,’ and we’ll often look back, able to say, ‘I’ve survived.’ It’s only afterwards that we can indeed say with the tiniest shred of confidence, ‘Life’s tough, so what!’ as we consider what is now before us—the next challenge, drudgery or tribulation. The warrior’s destiny, as Angry Anderson puts it, is glory, like it or not. And we should all see ourselves as warriors in this life—that’s how God sees us, I’m sure—it’s up to us. We’re all pitted against our natural desires and we all have to get used to many tough realities. Anderson continues, “I’ve learned these lessons at the school of hard knocks...,” and in a sense we’ve all known life to be a school of hard knocks. This life doesn’t chew us up and spit us out as we might suppose (not normally anyway), but it does grind away at us, weakening our resolve to become the people we ought to become. When we’ve got the resolve of glory we can’t be held down and nothing can hold us back. We recognise that the pain makes us strong. We find that it’s the hard things that define us.
Narrow Way to the Divine Romance (Nathan Tasker) Nathan Tasker impressed me from the very first time I saw him perform. His lyrics and singing together with his slick guitar work punctuated his inter-song commentary and insights on things spiritual. His 2003 Album, A Look Inside, is a classic piece in my view; there are not many CDs in my collection that I love all the tracks on—Nathan’s is a notable, pleasing exception. One such song, rich in theology, is Narrow, a song obviously inspired by Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount says: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (TNIV) The narrow gate and way... the gate and road are of course analogous to the journey of life i.e. our decision making. The vast majority make the easy decisions of live now, pay later. The narrow way is rare, especially in this ‘instant age.’ But, herein lays the key! In the lonely undertakings of the narrow way there is a wondrous surprise in store for us who are willing to journey with Jesus. When it “is a hard and narrow way that leads through dying and
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dark places, have we not suddenly seen in the narrowness the breadth, in the dying the living, and in him, who seems to make living so hard, the great liberator?”9 The lyrics I love in Narrow go as follows: “Well I must admit this world Often tempts my fallen eyes And I fall in love with all My earthly home provides But I make this vow and decision To get lost in divine romance And at times I forsake my first love But he woos my heart again, Cause he’s the God of second chance.”10 Anyone who’s experienced the grace of God knows what is meant by the term, “He’s the God of second chance,” forgiving all that we’ve put up against him. Yet, in getting the second chance we also give him (God) the second chance. We sacrifice the worldly for the divine and know a much better strain of life than a shallow worldliness can every hope to provide. But it takes faith to throw away what looks attractive. “The world and the desires it causes are disappearing. But if we obey God, we will live forever.” –1 John 2:17 (CEV). God is the narrow way to where I belong. He is home.
Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again: Sermons from the Sermon on the Mount, trans. John W. Doberstein (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), p. 182. 9
Courtesy of Cross-Word Music Pty Ltd and Nathan Tasker Music : www.nathantasker.com
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Show me the Signs (Michael W. Smith) There are songs that make all the difference in life aren’t there. These songs that transform us and bring us to a new reality of ourselves are significant touchstones. The song, Signs, by Michael W. Smith did this for me back in early 2004—every time I listen to it takes me right back there to 2004, with very cathartic memories—even though that time was excruciating for me and my family then. The lyrics below take a pretty forlorn situation of regret, hopelessness and burdens and inject an indelible sense of mysterious hope. The first verse is one of looking back. The chorus however is seeking to open our heart to the real reality, not what we currently see in our dejectedness. Signs – Michael W. Smith You’re weighed down with regret You can’t see the road ahead Or the burden on your back It seems the trek will never end The winding paths that still descend And up above a sky washed black You just can’t bear to look at that Chorus: Follow the signs Open your eyes Read between the lines of what you see Look into the soul of reality Open your mind Look at the signs Never look back at yesterday Keep your gaze steady on the narrow way Now you’ve found the sacred tree You kneel upon the broken wheat You watch your burden fall away And all the things that you once sought Now are counted less than lost Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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For now you see the light of day The signs were pointing all the way The second verse is seeing things from the new ‘redeemed’ reality, post-Christ. The sacred tree is the cross of Christ; our sins (past, present and future) are taken care of in full. In the cognisance of message of Christ we see the present burden fall away (Matthew 11:28-30; Romans 7:24-8:4f). The power of the worldly possession is now nothing in comparison to what we always had—a way back to God in Jesus Christ. And the key is this. This message of salvation awaits all people at all times, even if we’ve slidden back, and no matter how many times we have. We do need to just simply ‘keep our gaze steady on the narrow way’ in our distresses—the way of the risen Lord Jesus, who is the Bread of Life and the Light of the World.
Que Sera Sera – Whatever Will Be, Will Be... (Doris Day) The old Doris Day song from the 1956 movie, The Man Who Knew Too Much, is a true golden oldie. The song has three quite simple and tight cascading verses forming a woven inclusio around the chorus: “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.” It’s perhaps a song of a girl expressing expectant hope as she grows through to womanhood, then into a relationship with her partner, before finally she issues the same ‘motherly’ advice to her children who’re expressing this same expectancy of hope typical of the age. It’s a hope that leads to faith; a faith requiring courage to simply let things be. The song highlights what was in vogue in the era—that of looks and success—will we be beautiful or handsome… will we be rich… will we have the happy (‘rainbow’) life? So, what’s changed? Probably more of a social conscience and possibly a drivenness toward success. Generation Y people might even want the right job which holds their interest, advancement prospects and perks without having to do some of the hard yards. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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Whatever we’re facing in life it really does take faith to let things be. Whatever was, was; whatever is, simply is; whatever will be, will be—whether we like it or not. It’s the acceptance of faith that underpins this attitude. Whatever we hope for it’s in faith’s hands entirely. We can’t bring it to pass any earlier even if we try. We are best to hope and be expectant, but we must know the limits of hope. Wishing won’t get us there, though we’re destined to achieve a number of our goals, corresponding with the work and talent we put in. Diligence and prudence toward personal mastery is the key to making our dreams reality.
Sometimes Goodbye is a Second Chance (Shinedown) I have a training consultancy named “Second Chance Training” but it is something that I’ve not had the opportunity to sow into in the last few years. It’s not part of the present call of my life. I named it thus because, like many, I’ve been touched by, and therefore believe in, the theology of the ‘second chance.’ The song by Shinedown, Second Chance, is all about goodbyes and the life afterwards. It recognises very transparently the tension involved in trying to please a parent and gain their approval for the things we choose to do in life. It’s going beyond this, however, onto a place of respected rejection for the overbearing parent’s wishes i.e. those wishes that have gone wrong. It’s the resolution made by an adult person to take responsibility for their own life, beyond the control of parents and other individuals with influence over their lives. It’s a tough decision to stand in the breech, to defend one’s call—to follow the dream vocation contrary to the behest of others. The second chance is breathing space. It’s a moratorium for those close encounters; them that are too close to predict... the volatile situations. Chances are that the person who’s taken the bit between their teeth will eventually achieve the respect and acknowledgement of loved ones who find their decisions so hard. There’s a second chance in life. Many have realised these outcomes, but not without short-term costs to the relationship. It is a long road, life. We really must know what we’re about, and then, commit to it. If it’s a good thing we’re trying to do, we must back ourselves and believe. Sometimes goodbye is a second chance, but always remain open to the changing of the heart; always. Let grace be your guide. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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“The Climb” – Life, the Present, Mountains, Real Joy... Faith! (Miley Cyrus) Songs, like poetry, are often meaningful, yet so many are difficult to fathom. The Climb by Miley Cyrus, is not so difficult to fathom, and is blessed in the beauty of its simplistic yet powerful life message. Mountains are analogous for all sorts of theological, philosophical and practical lessons. Jesus himself uses the imagery of mountains more than once as portrayed in the gospels. In The Climb, the mountain is a life challenge or task or relationship that stands before us. The temptation we have on occasion in life is we seek the next mountain without truly enjoying the present one. Yet, the best of life is about the present climb, not the next one, or the one after; though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking forward to things—I mean, there’s the foundation of hope, right there! Staying focused, however, on the present mountain means there’s more energy and focus available to climb even other mountains simultaneously, concurrently. This is to the rising of our capacity to meet our life call, because life is often not linear—we are at times required to do several things at the same time; how are we meant to do them all, and do them well? We enjoy them—each climb—that’s how. Meeting our many various life calls—be they family, work or other—consistently and well is often difficult but enjoying each climb is the key. Remember the scene in Bruce Almighty (2003) where Bruce (Jim Carrey) cannot keep up with the prayer requests, as his work as God (between 51st and Main!) starts to really increase? We feel this work pressure at times too. In trusting God to be entirely faithful in giving us extra energy, capacity and enthusiasm, so as to stretch to meet demands, we also reap the present. And it’s only when we’re looking too far ahead at the next climbs that we lose sight of the present moment and the possible joy to be captured, right now. It’s not about how fast we get there; and it’s certainly not about what’s on the other side. It’s the climb itself that’s the key to happiness and success, and positive, inspired interactions with people. And the BEST thing about all of this ‘present awareness’ propaganda is the grown experience of it. The more we do, the longer we train ourselves into it, appreciating the minutes and seconds Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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that are present with us, the more God pours in! This is just another way he fills us to brimming (and over) in his abundance. For us, the climb makes life an inspiration not a loathed chore which robs us of our joy. Of course, there’re also times when we’ll struggle for joy whatever we do; a humble acceptance of the plain facts in these situations is all we can hope to achieve. As they say, ‘such is life.’ Don’t underestimate the power of the message in this song, The Climb. Listen and take on board its pungent yet soothing truth. Keep the faith.
“This Is Who I Am” – Spiritual Overtones (Vanessa Amorosi) Vocally, she is Australia’s Beyonce. Vanessa Amorosi’s single, This Is Who I Am (2009), debuted at No.1 on the Australian Singles Charts11 and when we combine the pungently truth-filled lyrics with the determined, pumping, resilient sound we know why. It is such a different and strikingly stark song full of triumphant ‘end-of-journey’ proclamation. I couldn’t help reflect over what this song means for all of us, as individuals; intrepid travellers over the journey of known time and space i.e. this life... a journey toward self-discovery and self-acceptance. The more I look in life the more I see a pattern to it that this song attends to. I see two kinds of people: people running from themselves and people running to themselves; one denying, the other affirming—gritting the teeth, working quietly and busily on themselves. And, importantly, being in accord with themselves. Listening to the song we can only imagine voluptuous Vanessa as the latter kind; a person who hit the music industry all of a sudden some ten or more years ago, and then seems to have almost vanished to perhaps re-discover herself—this might be somewhat off the mark in reality; but this is what the words and music of the song say through Vanessa Amorosi to me; she has such congruence through the recording. ‘It’s alright to be myself, now I’ve learned to stand.’ This is a statement we all need to believe in, truly, I mean. It’s no good putting on a front if the front’s not real! ‘Just who we are,’ is how it is and it’s how it always will be. The quicker we accept this wonderful reality, rejecting the spiritual
“This is Who I Am (song),” Wikipedia, Retrieved 20 October, 2009.
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anorexia of a precious form of self-hate, the quicker we’ll find the resources of courage and faith and confidence that are designed to power us through, onward and upward in life. And it takes courage to say to the world, ‘this is who I am,’ and when we can truly say that, we find the world hesitatingly saying back to us, ‘Well... okay... no big deal... we can live with you like that.’ This is a response that says, ‘If you believe in yourself, who are we to argue?’ To get to a place where we can willingly and enthusiastically run toward ourselves in selfacceptance takes for many much trial and error; much failure prior to success. But, it’s worth it in the end. Meeting us, our true selves, is the best moment; it eclipses almost everything else. Take hold of that emotional baggage of self-consciousness and challenge it; contend with it— bring it to order, and then throw it on the scrap heap! You’ll never regret it.
Timeless Advice – “Wear Sunscreen” (Baz Luhrmann) There comes a time in everybody’s life when transformational or transitional moments come. They take you from one point of conscious awareness to another entirely. You’re suddenly shaken from the ho-hum existence of ‘just living’ when you’re truly woken from your spiritual slumber. I recall a time when I was driving back from University (College) having failed one of those bewildering computerised human biology exams—one where you regret going back and changing your answer because you had the answer right in the first place! Well, as chance would have it, I turned on the car radio as I travelled home and the ‘Sunscreen Song’ came on. (The song is titled, “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.”) I was immediately taken with the timeless wisdom of the song. It awakened me spiritually! I was only recently reminded of it, when a dear one in my family passed away suddenly. It reminded me to, “[not] worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are actually things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.” (Underline used for emphasis.) We can never tell when our lives will be turned upside down and suddenly we’re at the mercy of God—or anybody else who might change the course of our lives in the blink of an eye. We do not have the control over our own lives we think we do! This is precisely why we should never take for granted the things we do in life—but we do, we always do!
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It reminded me to not “waste [my] time on jealousy; sometimes [I’m] ahead, sometimes [I’m] behind… the race is long, and in the end, it's only with [myself].” How often do we waste our effort and energy thinking badly of others due to the personal feelings of inadequacy we’d be better off addressing within ourselves? It is human instinct to envy. When we understand this, investing the rest of our lives in resisting the instinct via re-training the mind is a worthwhile endeavour. Anyone with knee troubles will love the advice the Sunscreen Song gives: “Be kind to your knees, you'll miss them when they're gone.” And we do. We think that just because we have our health and a capable body we can abuse it and not care for it. Wrong. We’ll see. Hammering our knees will lead to problems. We should revise our running and aggressive stairclimbing routines, not to mention ride our bikes wisely. Knees, like backs, like hips, eyes, hearing, fingers, and toes, are severely missed if we lose them. As adults, most of us get the opportunity to get to know our parents. We get the advice, “Get to know your parents, you never know when they'll be gone for good.” But, how often do we take our parents for granted? The loss of a parent or grandparent suddenly means they are there no more—there’s no return to that state of relationship. It might seem obvious, but we hardly ever treat death as permanent. Siblings again, perhaps we fought with them; we need them more and more the older we get. “Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you'll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders. “Respect your elders.” There’s nothing new. A.W. Tozer once said, “There’s nothing new since Adam.” And he’s entirely correct; everything is re-badged, much to eternal torment of teens and young people who forever think they’re original and ‘cool.’ Let’s face it, in essence, our times (our natures) are no different really to the generation before or the generation to come—the environment changes but “the script sounds the same to me,” to paraphrase Mr. McPhisto—a.k.a. Bono of U2 during their 1993/4 Zooropa tour. At our core, we are no more or no less noble than any other generation in history. “Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.”
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Advice. We all need it and we all invest in it. Our lives go horribly wrong at times when we don’t seek it or take it. Advice, again, is not new. The same schemes produce it. Advisors may think they’re original but really they’re not. They’re conservative or aggressive, prudent or bold, and many, many forms in between. Sure, the environment changes, particularly the legislative, socio-political, and economic environments, but the forms of advice are essentially the same. The suggestion is that we ensure we carefully consider whose advice we seek, but ensure we do take it (patiently) when it’s given. We’re the final judges. Even if the advice (in our estimation) is wrong for us, and we choose not to accept it, we got the opportunity to assess options—that’s the blessing of advice; it’s the consideration process that’s most important.
“Walk a Mile In My Shoes” – How That Is For Us (Elvis Presley) It’s enormous when we get a compliment about how young we are. Recently I had a friend mention to me that something I wrote reminded her of a song I’d be too young to remember... it was a song (I later discovered) that was performed in 1970 (I’d have been three) toward the decline of Elvis’ spiralling reign. Yet the song, like so many others, has a gently reminiscent chord of truth for us. ‘If only you could be me and I you, even for one hour,’ it goes. Before I went off abusing, criticising and accusing you, I’d be walking a mile in your shoes. I’d see and hear and smell and think and feel your world, not mine. Wow, how apposite that would be?! What a wonderful thought to experience the world of another, having that additional information to reflect upon. And not only is this something that’s relevant to me seeing you negatively—it’s seeing the positive too. Imagine the capability, potential and power that I see in you!—when at times you see nothing but a failure in yourself. We’re too often blind to all these things, you and I. Think of Elvis. He’d have known a level of personal scrutiny that we’ll never know. Imagine the spectrum of human dealing he dealt with, or Michael Jackson for the matter, to mention a contemporary example. They’d have known both flattery and unfairness in a realm we could never comprehend and can only sympathise with. We see here the ignorance-in-a-second that leads us in blindness right off the path of righteousness and peace—both within ourselves and externally to others! “Those people who are uncomfortable in themselves are disagreeable to others” –William Hazlitt. We’re again mirrors of ourselves in our treatment of others.
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And the crux is this. When we hurt others we indeed hurt ourselves. It can never be otherwise. We never really imagine ourselves being in a worse situation. We hardly ever see through another’s eyes or think through their minds or feel through their heart. Yet, this alone would change our perspective eternally. And this is the essence of the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” –Matthew 7:12 (NIV). Upon this single principle lies the whole principle of relationship.
Waves of Regret, Waves of Joy – Jesus, Judas and (U2) “In my dream I was drowning my sorrows But my sorrows they learned to swim...” It’s a position almost everyone’s been in—probably without exception—but one that many never actually realise, for what “it” is. The traitor, Judas Iscariot, knew an experience of betrayal that’s not so obvious to us, yet it should be. He knew perhaps more than any other single human being the cost of a double-sided, bittersweet regretful joy; perhaps as one of the first who experienced Jesus’ “paradise”. We’ve all been there if we think about it. In their song, Until the End of the World, U2 catapult us into the conversations, perhaps, of Jesus and Judas—from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane to the “final” conversation around the time of Judas’ suicide, racked with repentant guilt and sadness was he over the personal meaning of betraying his master.12 It’s a tragic pity that with every mention of Judas Iscariot in the gospels there is the stinging legacy of his last prophetically-announced deed. We are not so unfortunate—such is God’s goodness and grace to us. Even though there’s a literal and tangible plot in the song, there’s also a possible “now, but not yet” scenario at play. As we ‘reach out for the One we tried to destroy,’ post-rebellion, we find that we too threw Jesus to the wolves many times, vandalising the truth and cheating love in our selfishness. As we reach out to Jesus at the point of our realisation, we finally understand this bittersweet, double-sided irony—we at once have waves of regret and waves of joy. We don’t quite understand this salvific experience—it swims over us, through us, in and out, upside down. Wikipedia, Until the End of the World (song), Retrieved http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Until_the_End_of_the_World_(song) 12
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We’re involved yet detached. God shows us in an instant how little we know; how awesome he is. What is this thing called “Grace”? How does this process of heavenly salvation re-engineer everything we ever knew or thought? And why us?—traitors. The repentant heart attracts the grace-filled God through our Lord Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. The taxonomy of our guilt and sorrow combines with the issues of grace at play in a Lord we can’t quite see yet—he’s about to bring this about—there’s nothing more certain as destiny awaits. In our absolute incomprehension, the rock bottom moment becomes our euphoric climax—as it is later revealed... it’s moments away... and we thought God could only hate us. For you and me, the God of Creation is bending down and scooping up; yes, right now—yes, even—especially even—for one person. He said he’d wait ‘til the end of the world—he, in fact, doesn’t wait even that long; and we’re his—always were; always will be.
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” – God Did & We Blew It (Billy Joel) There are times when I’m mindlessly listening to the radio in the car and suddenly my mind’s engaged—thrust into gear more like—to the message of a particular song. And Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire (1989) sparked my imagination recently. This song talks about the history of the world during the first forty years of Joel’s’ life (1949-1989), and patterns of life (good) and death (evil) in quite vivid ways. In the song we’re taken through a sweeping journey of the Baby Boomer period of the 20th Century, from critical events of history, to social figures, to politicians, to places, and famous movies and Broadway shows. Joel, a self-confessed history nut, went through the years of his life, selecting year events and writing them into his lyric. It’s not a disorganised mish-mash of names; it leads to a climax in the line, “JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say?!” before entering into the chorus which puts things very plainly: We didn’t start the fire It was always burning Since the world’s been turning We didn’t start the fire No we didn’t light it But we tried to fight it Joel’s’ Thesis Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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The Baby Boomer generation was criticised for the degradation of the world by both preceding and succeeding generations, and Joel felt this was patently unfair; the Baby Boomer didn’t start the fire… it had been burning long before the Baby Boomer arrived on the scene. Even though the Baby Boomer didn’t light the fire, they still tried to fight it. This is a nice way of saying the current generation feels the instinctive pull to protect things for those coming after it. History attests to this intrinsic human desire for basic righteousness and justice. An Alternative Thesis The fire is the nature of life; once perfect the way God created it to be, and since the fall of humankind: sin, brokenness and innate want. The nature of life since soon after Creation has been a constant battle between good and evil. (We generally can’t see this because we can’t imagine a world without a battle between good and evil.) The Christian world’s purpose is to fight the fire. The idea that it wasn’t us that lit the fire isn’t completely accurate. God designed life a certain way and we interrupted that plan; (plural) he foresaw that and created, from the beginning, a Saviour in his Son—a way back for us to enjoy fellowship with him. The co-commitment from us, in our seeking to love God back for his grace and mercy in the ‘cosmic contingency plan,’ is we seek justice and fairness for all people in this life. Many events in history, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, have conspired against good in their base evil. We fight (the good fight) to maintain balance. The key fact of life is explained in the final stanza of the song. When we’re gone the fire will still burn, on and on and on and on… until God decides to intervene, and truly bring his redemptive plan to (absolute) completion. And we have to understand that we’re simply carriers of the code. We’re entrusted today with the same job our ancestors had in previous generations to thousands of years back. We must be courageously good stewards.
When Given the Chance, “I Hope You Dance” (Lee Ann Womack) There’s certainly a sense of wonder we experience when we’ve bucked the odds successfully in a life situation and surprised people, including ourselves. It’s the serendipity that does it. There’s the hope of good result yet our expectations are tinged with the realism of all the other
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possibilities. And this is what makes it all the more special; it’s a victory-over-self to achieve something meaningful in spite of the odds. The words and music to Lee Ann Womack’s classic song, I hope you dance, take us and our imaginations beyond our present into the unknown possibilities of the future and provide us with encouragement and confidence to take life on. It’s a love song from a parent to a child or a mentor to mentee. Possibility and risk. This song is all about resilience risking for opportunities regarding love and life. It’s about having courage to follow-through with our instincts, going with our gut impulse. It’s too easy to sit out the dance. It’s too easy to get bitter or give up in life. It takes character, resolve, courage to risk, and ultimately, effort, to live the sort of life this song talks about. It’s every parent’s loving wish. Lest we ever take one breath for granted... we should instil this into our children and those we mentor, and not the least, ourselves—the modelling of gratitude. Feeling small beside the ocean when at the beach is merely the appropriation for what is real. It’s frightening at times how small we are. It is also healthy to know how fragile life really is. It merely reinforces the attitude of gratitude. Ultimately we could say though, this song is one of transferring the learning of life experience— with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. That’s why I think this song is the parent’s heart for one’s child. Our kids will always be our kids at the end of the day; we’ll hopefully never let go of the concept of the little girl or boy inside each one of our children. Here below are the words of this utterly beautiful ballad: “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder You get your fill to eat But always keep that hunger May you never take one single breath for granted God forbid love ever leave you empty handed I hope you still feel small When you stand by the ocean Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance I hope you dance I hope you dance
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“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance Never settle for the path of least resistance Living might mean taking chances But they're worth taking Lovin’ might be a mistake But it’s worth making Don't let some hell bent heart Leave you bitter When you come close to selling out Reconsider Give the heavens above More than just a passing glance.”
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The Spirituality of Movies Challenging Your Unique Reality Of The World (The Truman Show) The 1998 hit movie, “The Truman Show” highlighted a phenomenon we never really even notice: “Ignorance is bliss.” Christof, the writer and producer of Truman Burbank’s life said it plainly: “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” Truman did because he knew no differently—it was only after a series of technical glitches with the production of the show with which he starred that he began to question his reality. Is there an application here for us? I’m sure there is. We may not all be Truman Burbank’s’ but we do feature in the movie of our own lives, and there are at times realities that we might accept that are false. When I was a boy, I recall my mother having a saying about my occasional propensity to view things in isolation. She’d say simply, “It’s not you with the problem, it’s the rest of the world that has the problem, isn’t it?” And as I think back now, this is exactly the time when I would be seeing my particular false reality—the reality that no one else saw; one that wasn’t relevant and wasn’t in tune with prevailing thought. I wonder how often we get perplexed, bemused, or frustrated with life and situations—where in fact, our expectations and plans and ambitions get in the way of what is possible, or should that be probable. Perhaps we far too often see something as possible and go for it, when though it might be possible, it’s improbable. For instance, a hoping for the possibility of change in the heart of someone you’re at odds with. Possible, yes… but probable? Next time you feel that pendulum of balance in your heart and mind swinging slightly out of kilter with the established thought, run a ‘spirit level’ over your reality. Check that you are seeing things as they truly are.
Becoming “Invincible” – Spiritual Messages From The Movie and Vince Papale’s Life The 2006 Walt Disney classic “Invincible” starring Mark Wahlberg showcases a truly inspirational sporting story based on Vince Papale’s rise to pro-football team the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976, as a bar-tending 30-year-old who had never played College football. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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The movie portrays Papale as a down-on-his-luck teacher from South Philly and regular at “Max’s,” the bar he tends at. He is depicted as a humble, persistent, and eventually overcoming battler. He is shown to impress at an open team try-out, then survives the initial cuts at his first days at training camp, before going through (and surviving) pre-season then regular season games. He faced ridicule and opposition from his eventual teammates as someone too old, who was ‘from the wrong neighbourhood,’ i.e. not drafted into the NFL, breaking in on their territory. Vince’s story is one of a rank underdog who becomes a ‘fighting dog’ on the way to achieving ‘top dog’ status (as he puts it in his own words—see footnote 2). He never quits; he simply persists. He shows great faith—which is by definition: “Being sure of what [he hoped] for and certain of what [he did] not [yet] see.”13 He acted as if making the team would actually happen though he never vocalised this during the movie—his actions speak more profoundly than his words do. The humility shown by Wahlberg as Papale is striking; he’s always quiet, unassuming, and generally thinking not of himself and his own physical pain, not to mention the pain of rejection from his teammates and friend Johnny. He also shows a quiet, restrained empathy with his coach Dick Vermeil (played by Greg Kinnear) who’s depicted as taking a huge risk on him. Humility is one genuine quality of the great; them that will not break faith on account of themselves. Humility is base selflessness, and “Invincible” viz Papale reeks of humility. A motivational speaker in real life, Vince is also a colorectal cancer survivor and considers himself blessed to have had the ‘second chance’ at life—his past five years have been a Godsend. This is what he says about it: “Invincible is not my story, it really isn’t... Invincible is about anybody... Invincible is about anybody who had a dream; Invincible is about anybody who had a goal; Invincible is about anybody who was told they weren’t good enough, that they didn’t have the right resume, that they didn’t come from the right neighbourhood, they were too young, they were too old... it’s never been done before... you don’t have the right pedigree... you grew up in the wrong neighbourhood... Invincible is about anybody that was told that they ‘couldn’t’... Invincible is about an underdog... who becomes top dog.”14 So it is with any and all of us. We have the basically the same opportunities as anyone else. It’s the character we bring to these opportunities that defines us, maximising our talents. One could imagine more skilled players than Vince being cut from the Eagles because they didn’t have the
See Hebrews 11:1 (TNIV).
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heart commitment required—which equals ‘regret’ in my book—later in life, who wants to have the pangs of regret hanging over them? What separated them from Vince is pride. Pride is injured when we fail. In sport, we don’t get the luxury of wallowing in the pride of failure—we do that to our peril. Success ebbs away when we hang our heads after dropping the ball. (Is it different in any other area of life?) Instead, humility is about getting up again right away after failure... it’s a rejection of our feelings and an act of will toward a goal beyond our own selfishness. (It seems illogical to think and act this way at the time; paradoxically, it’s clearly profoundly logical.) This is no easy thing to learn, and it seems we have many opportunities in life to learn and re-learn this. When we fail and fall, we must get right up again, resisting the temptation to wallow. Invincible is a great true story of a man overcoming incredible odds, showing that if it were possible for him, it is possible also for us.
Not Flying, But Falling With Style (Toy Story) During the 1995 animated classic, Toy Story, Woody the cowboy action figure says to Buzz Lightyear, the intergalactic space ranger superhero, “Buzz, you’re flying,” having already established that he was simply an action figure like himself. Buzz replies, “This isn’t flying. It’s falling with style.” Earlier in the movie, before they recognise they’ve got common goals, Woody uses this same phrase to ridicule Buzz’ assertion that he can actually fly. Buzz says this with such strength; he’s both aware that he can’t fly yet he’s taking advantage of the opportunity to do just that, negotiating the flight as he goes. ‘Falling with style’ could be, for us, the act of doing something successfully we thought previously we couldn’t do. It’s the achievement of any stretch goal that might appear beforehand somewhat beyond us. This is why I love these animated classics—they can fire the imagination and inspire us to achieve. What are your goals: To be a better husband or wife or father, mother, son or daughter? To be a more loyal and effective employee? To lose weight, get healthier or get toned? To be more spiritual?
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Whatever the goal is, and no matter how many times we’ve failed in reaching it in the past, today is significant in that today holds as a fresh and unique opportunity to reach one step closer to the realisation of the precious goal. Falling with style is a way of getting there; when we don’t know how to fly but we have a perfect intent on our side. We can take heart from the Toy Story epic and achieve our dreams if we’re prepared to take some genuine risks relating to having that pinch of faith in ourselves. The Buzz Lightyear character also reminds us to accept the situations and realities with which we find ourselves, and to make the most of these.
Finding Our “One True Authentic Swing” (The Legend of Bagger Vance) Golf, it is said... well, there’s no game like it; ‘you don’t win, you just play.’ It is a characterdefining activity. There is no better setting or metaphor then, for a motion picture on regaining our (lost) true self. The motion picture, The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), highlights an important spiritual fact about each one of us—the authenticity that God’s got locked inside each one of us—and finding it is our unique journey. Bagger Vance, the mystical golf caddy, is quoted whispering a breath from God: “Inside each and every one of us is one true authentic swing... Somethin’ we was born with... Somethin’ that’s ours and ours alone... Somethin’ that can’t be taught to ya or learned... Somethin’ that got to be remembered... Over time the world can, rob us of that swing... It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas... Some folk even forget what their swing was like...”15 (Bold used here for emphasis.) We see it in people who’re ‘in the zone’; somehow they are just hooked in mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Then something happens. They go to war, or get broken somehow. They struggle and dip in life. They’re ‘out for a season.’ When they regain their ‘one true authentic swing,’ however, it’s not only the lost returned, but it’s a new, improved self. Their subsequent actions speak in unison with the tagline of the movie, “Some things can’t be learned. They must be remembered.” Ever lost touch with something important? It’s as mysterious as it’s regrettable, perplexing... confounding. 15
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Imagine having all our potential locked into us before birth. Psalm 139:16 (TNIV) says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” When we become truly one with God spiritually we can, as Bagger Vance says, ‘see the field’ and ‘feel the focus.’ We can ‘remember’ what can’t be learned. Life becomes intuitive. It’s then we can believe in miracles because we see them. Truth is, we all need a “Bagger Vance” every now and then to remind us of who we really are, and what our potential is. We are no normal, everyday nobody’s. We’re fearfully and wonderfully made spiritual beings (Psalm 139:14). We have to find our one true authentic swing... in golf perhaps, but certainly in life.
A Worthy Sacrifice (Gran Torino) “The thing that haunts a man most is what he isn’t ordered to do.” –Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino (2008) Rarely do we actually experience real genuine sacrifice of note. The motion picture Gran Torino, produced and directed by Eastwood, however, presents a rousing story rooted in the sacrifice of one man’s life for another younger man. It's a story caged in belief of character. There are at least two deeply philosophical messages in Gran Torino for the interested analyst: When pressed in life, detach, think, plan and stay calm—do not rouse the enemy Set in a gangland cacophony, Kowalski’s Korean War background is the Vesuvius the gangs don't expect. Toward the climax of the film when the be-friended Sue Lor (Ahney Her) is bashed and raped closed to death by the Asian gang lead by Sue's cousin, Kowalski retreats within himself. The enemy seemingly expects a quick retort. Instead, like the Shaman warriors of Mexico, Kowalski retreats momentarily while the odds cannot be contended with. He detaches and thinks. He separates from himself for a short time. He stays calm and plans, providing the enemy eventually with a response they'd hardly expect. The courage of sacrifice The response is one that no one could expect. He gives his life so that young Thao (Bee Vang) can experience a normal life without the threat of the Asian gang hassling him. This sort of sacrifice—a life for a life—is something we hardly conceive. And this is exactly why Satan was Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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defeated by Jesus. Satan in all his wisdom couldn’t suppose to think like God. But, in Gran Torino, Kowalski did think like God. Finally, the quote at top is chilling for us all. It is easy for us to absolve ourselves of responsibility or blame when we simply obey someone, rightly or wrongly, though our consciences still need reconciling. When we do things of our own volition, however, there's no going back—we live and die by our choices.
A Great Movie Quotes On Persectuion (Cliffhanger, 1993) John Lithgow stars as Eric Qualen, a particularly mercenary and psychopathic character, in Cliffhanger. At a particularly tenuous moment in this flick, Qualen says, “You want to kill me, don’t you, Tucker? Well, get a number and get in line.”16 It captured a poignant moment where another less psychotic person might have felt concern for their own safety and wellbeing—Qualen clearly wasn’t bothered. It appeared to me to be a quote that not only applies to psychopathic mercenaries but to normal everyday folk like you and I. Sometimes no matter how hard we try we end up with enemies who are vengeful for no apparent reason. At times, people respond like this only in the moment, and then they cool down later and even at times apologise. But others get bitter rather than better. It is easy to be swayed by vindictive people. Malice and spite speak a particularly nasty and fearful language and it’s very understandable to count what we might lose when we’re the subject of threats, either spoken or implied. It’s one of the down sides to being perceptive or intuitive— into the bargain we get to feel others’ malevolence, sometimes it seems in double-strength. How do we respond to people who wish to think badly and incorrectly of us, and convert that into spiteful behaviour? Don’t give in to pressure and strong-arm tactics. Be respectful always—disconnect the malicious action from the person; they lack love. Be the one to provide it. As above, choose to love (and forgive) your enemies. It’s a choice and it’s not really a difficult one if you see that they are full of fear.
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Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also,” (John 15:20) and he also said during the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God... Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven... Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:9-11) Whenever people in any circle of life try to do the right thing there is always resistance and it will also bring out the threatened souls who would try to be satisfied by flinging mud. If you’re on the side of truth, fairness, and justice and you feel persecuted, you will identify with Jesus’ words above. They’re inherent life truths. We will meet with opposition and all kinds of resistance along the way toward good goals. Sometimes we catch people in good moods and sometimes not; sometimes it is we, ourselves, who cause problems and we need to be mindful of this too, making things good via apologies as appropriate. In Cliffhanger, Qualen wasn’t really bothered knowing that people wanted to kill him. And to a certain extent we cannot be too worried about people’s malicious intent; concerned enough to do what we ought to do, yes, but not to worry and get anxious about it in the more general sense. That would do us and the problem no good at all.
“Groundhog Day” in Reverse (Groundhog Day) Do you recall the movie—a classic in my view—Groundhog Day (1993)? For me, it features up there with The Shawshank Redemption, Contact, and Pulp Fiction as movies that made a tremendous impact on me at the time. I can still recall being captivated at the thinking processes of Bill Murray’s character, especially as one failed attempt after another to woo Andie MacDowell’s character convinced him eventually toward genuine chivalry. He used the repeated events of Groundhog Day to learn how to win the girl as well as the favour of everyone else he came into daily contact with. Can you envisage twisting the plot a little... and applying it to your own life? Imagine living a life where every single day you woke up and it was Christmas day. Take it further now to a situation where each successive day—for you and your loved ones who you spend time with at Christmas—meant you and they were a year older. You and they would literally have only a few months of these Christmas days to live, but each day would (at least) be Christmas day. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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Each day only you would notice everyone getting older. Over a week, a seven year old son or daughter would transform gradually into a teenager—their childhoods vanishing before your eyes. Your parents would go from being relatively healthy to ailing to dying in such a short time. And what about the conversation? You would be the only one who wouldn’t know what the previous year’s milestones and history was. You’d feel alien in your own family. If this was reality we’d miss out on so much. In some ways life really is like this. With each milestone day (birthdays, Christmases etc) that comes we get to face the end of our time; it is coming… one more down and only so many more to go. There is a thread of truth to the concept of Groundhog Day for all our lives, but it actually works in reverse. Life doesn’t slow down, if anything it picks up in pace. It’s simply a further reminder to make the most of every opportunity to enjoy life and not put off the things that are truly important, like spending time with the kids and our parents, having a laugh, watching a good movie, or creating a ‘bucket list’ of significant goals and striking the items off one at a time.
I Maybe “Blind” But I’ve Got A Cute Earing! (Yellowbeard) There are not many who don’t get into a Monty Python classic or four. The movie, Yellowbeard (1983) features John Cleese in a characteristically subversive role of hilarity. The satirical comedy spoof based on the plot of the Blackbeard movie (1952, 2006) is a classic. Cleese plays Harvey “Blind” Pew saying at one point, “I maybe blind but I’ve got a cute earing,” to which Commander Clement (played by Eric Idle) says, “I’m not interested in your jewellery, cloth eyes.” We know, of course, that the deprived-of-senses impaired person has the ability to compensate via the acuteness (not ‘a cute’) of the other senses. Blind Pew has special auditory powers yet his awkwardness of vocal delivery has Clement also in a blind spin as to his meaning—generating our raucous laughter, of course. The spiritual bent is also around blindness. John Newton penned Amazing Grace to the lines of “I once was blind but now I see.” Spiritual blindness is a far more heinous ailment (and far more common) than that of physical blindness, yet it’s entirely curable. Newton was an exdastardly slave trader with 20,000 souls haunting him. His spiritual sight, however, gave him the
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powers of revelation—to a heart after God’s—and to the revelation of his sin-guilt. impossible burden to bear without a gracious God girding the journey!
He saw not only his lamentable acts for what they were, but he saw the incredible mercy of God in the midst of his guilt and shame—further deepening his understanding of a God full of grace beyond his comprehension. Yet, Jesus and John the Baptist both came against the blind Pharisees who, whatever they saw, were never happy to view things past their own obvious spiritual blindness—piously alive to God, they were ironically most dead to his Spirit. Like children sitting in a marketplace, says Jesus in Matthew 11:16-19, they heckled as if spoiled children, preferring the living to-be-Saviour, and those before him including John and the Prophets and the Law, to whistle Dixie, chasing their tales until the cows came home! And the vast majority of people are like this. They’ll prefer the pathetic safety of their own irredeemable knowledge over the truth of life and the wisdom of Creation. Those who do i.e. who choose spiritual blindness, whether ‘saved’ or not, only fool themselves. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is near,’ is, however, our constant spiritual marker of success with God. Those who were blind but can now truly see will see themselves truly—sinners, saved by God for works according to his purposes—saved to love both God and humankind, and to continually surrender, walking humbly with their God (Micah 6:8) each day, relating closely with his Spirit. Spiritual sight might be blindingly scary in some ways, but it’s an infinitely better life than the old excuse for living, which ironically wasn’t i.e. living. Spiritual sight is insight beyond the very superficial and linear first-view world. It is a dynamism that creates in us the ability to even begin to envisage eternity—too awesome a thought to even contemplate for the best part.
“Keep Moving Forward” (Meet the Robinsons) WELL, WHAT MIGHT WE SAY about the tests of life? This is poignant. You’re struggling with a certain person, or a certain situation, and you’re ‘in the moment’, and like so many times you feel you’ve failed the test, lost your cool and said the wrong thing, or said the right thing in the wrong way, which has been just as damaging. You’re with someone you love perhaps and you feel you still can’t control the situation; you still can’t say the right thing—it’s all a bit futile.
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This situation must resonate with everyone surely. I find the lead up to Christmas, ironically, very taxing in this regard. It is like everyone is on under more pressure, a little more stressed, and ready to pounce on any loose word they might encounter. It doesn’t make for a favourable environment for love to have its way. Again, an irony; Christmas is supposed to be about love and generosity, isn’t it? How do we successfully negotiate the testing time? How do we survive these tests and behave like the saint we need to be in order to not upset people, particularly loved ones?—and, more to the point, how do we get through with our sanity intact? This is where my search for truth has taken me to some great wisdom quotes, some from quite unusual sources. I love the motion picture, Meet The Robinsons. Not only is the animation first class, but it provides such a cool and salient ‘never give up’ theological message. The main character, an orphaned boy named Lewis, eventually becomes Cornelius Robinson; inventor extraordinaire of the future. For Lewis to reach his destiny takes some wise choices on his behalf—he takes some wise advice, particularly from his future wife who he meets as a grown woman in the future. More to the point though, the theme of the movie is encapsulated in the following Walt Disney quote which is shown at the end of the film. “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” [Italics added] -Walt Disney. Lewis simply learns that the only way to really succeed in life is to never give up. The idea that earns Lewis success is to simply keep moving forward, to keep trying no matter how disillusioned he might get. The key movie illustration is his time machine invention that went through a thousand failed attempts, all of which the Robinson’s are proud of, in retrospect. Is there a lesson in this for us? No doubt. The concept of keeping on moving forward obviously involves such character in going against the grain of our emotions; the tendency we have to give up when the going gets tough. Of course, the only thing worse than giving up is the feeling of being the loser as you beat yourself up over it! There has to be a better way. I wonder if the trick in this thinking lies with curiosity—as stated in Disney’s quote? Instead of being swayed by defeat, curiosity is a much more powerful motivator; it gives weight to the fact Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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that defeat is a strong negative motivator, because curiosity is such a potentially cogent positive motivator—it can drive us anyway; there really is no limit. There is a paradox in this truth here! If we can only get over the issue or disappointment in our midst, and as Walt Disney says, “Keep moving forward,” we can sow for ourselves hope of not only a better day, but a miraculous day... a situation that only God could touch. This has to be tried. We don’t have a chance of seeing this unless we try it. Now this is faith. The Apostle Paul stated in his letter to the Romans similar things, inspiring things. He said “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In other words, if we are trying to do the right, just, and fair thing and we are being trounced for it, we will eventually succeed and be made right for it. God, or if you like, the forces of nature and life, will eventually make it so. It is more appropriate to keep moving forward in doing the right thing, than be swayed by our emotions. The following Chrysostom quote captures the essence of this. It is very simply, faith: Yet those that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, in that God’s wisdom turns their plots unto our salvation and glory. See how really no one is against us! The real life practicality of this advice is this: If you do not give up in your endeavours, trying always to find the right way, you will eventually succeed. What is more, the Christian faith (and perhaps others—I am not be exclusionist here) commands that whilst we willingly suffer in the midst of a situation, God is turning these things out for us, and against the very people who might be trying to make life more difficult for us. If it weren’t a law of God’s nature, it would be magic. The trick is endurance through the period of suffering; a commitment to be steadfast in your love, that no matter what, you don’t strike back, you keep moving forward. There is a trick of the mind involved here. There is a training lesson. First, take on the theory. No one can be against us if we are living for truth. We have forces in our favour that no one is able to manipulate. The second thing we must do is actually practise the matter of having faith and persisting, even to the point of suffering anguish and torment—if the matter is very important, it might be the only way. Give it a go; you have nothing to lose in trying. You might even find the power of life in this, that no one can stand against us in the fight for real truth. Not one. It’s appropriate to finish with the Robinson’s. The song Little Wonders by Rob Thomas, is the sound track of the movie and it captures the essence of “what to do”: Keep moving forward. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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let it go, let it roll right off your shoulder don’t you know the hardest part is over let it in, let your clarity define you in the end we will only just remember how it feels
let it slide, let your troubles fall behind you let it shine until you feel it all around you and I don’t mind if it’s me you need to turn to we’ll get by, it’s the heart that really matters in the end
Neo Versus The Architect (The Matrix: Reloaded) Every scene in The Matrix trilogy is breathtaking, but this particular one at the end of the second movie says a lot about us as human beings and the range of emotions we’re capable of. Recall that Neo has a rendezvous with The Architect of the Matrix; a seemingly futile interlude, where the hope of the world is about to be destroyed, if we believe the Architect. Read on as the scene plays itself out in the studio of The Architect: The Architect: You are here because Zion is about to be destroyed. Its every living inhabitant terminated, its entire existence eradicated. Neo: Bulls..t. [The monitors [portraying all Neo’s possible responses] respond the same] The Architect: Denial is the most predictable of all human responses. But, rest assured, this will be the sixth time we have destroyed it, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it.17
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The thing I found most interesting about this scene (at another juncture) is all the hundred or so monitors showing the momentary flurry of confused emotion in Neo. It recognises that we’re all like this at any given moment, and especially when we’re under pressure. Who can tell how we’ll respond to given situations? And over our lifetimes we’ll have responded in a vast range of ways to an infinitely too-hard-tograsp amount of circumstances. How can we begin to attempt to fathom the depth of the human psyche; mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? But, the point is we have to. We have a huge fascination for these things of philosophy, psychology, theology and spirituality in the context of one single human being. Yet, it’s a mystery that will never be solved. And The Architect, in his own clinical anti-human way, hits the nail on the head, finally. One of the commonest responses to the stimuli we face is rampant, unchallenged denial. It’s the root cause of many psychological and spiritual ailments. How many of the myriad of responses we’re capable of, I wonder, are hampered by and defaulted to the response of denial? How much would we hence miss out on in the sphere of life, emotion and reason?
Never Give Up! The Breakthrough is Just Around the Corner (Rocky) “I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” –Albert Einstein. The picture of Rocky Balboa in the original “Rocky” movie is the classic picture of a down-andouter with a never-say-die attitude—he astounds his much classier and more well-known opponent with a rare form of determination; a characteristic of champions. It is inspirational for the viewer of the movie, even the least keen boxing fan can identify with Sylvester Stallone’s character. It’s said that to become a champion we need talent, yes, but in equal proportion, character is also required; to take the knocks on the way up, and to continue taking them whilst up there. It must be a thing with inventors and scientists forever challenging new paradigms because Thomas Edison also said something to the effect: ‘with each failure I am one step closer to success.’ Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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Perhaps Einstein and Edison had something in common; they both proved successful in their fields—because they didn’t give up. Giving up at once shows how much resilience we lack. Endurance is required. And this is where faith is required. We must have faith to not give up easily and continue on; even when there are suggestions our progress is forlorn. The ability to endure a painful time where all hope is being lost, and to stay positive despite the circumstances, is the stuff of champions—they match pluck with the tactics to win. If we have the right formula, then all we need is the courage to persist. For all the non-spiritual ‘winners’ out there, there is actually a very biblical principle involved in enduring the pain of foreseeable defeat, persecution and suffering successfully: there are numerous Scriptures that highlight this, showering hope on the despondent person under trial. For instance, these are two of the more obvious citations: Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33 (NIV). “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4 (TNIV) The greatest victories are those come-from-behind affairs of doggedly and tenaciously forging on despite the conditions or scoreboard. The abovementioned quotes from the Bible show us the way to doggedly and tenaciously endure what life might throw at us, so that we might smile through it, remaining philosophical and capable in the midst of whatever pain and tumults we experience.
One Act Of Random Kindness At A Time (Evan Almighty) In the motion picture, Evan Almighty, Morgan Freeman plays God. At one significant point he tells Evan Baxter, the recently elected congressman, that to ‘change the world,’ which was Evan’s catchphrase during his election campaign, that it simply takes “one act of random kindness at a time.” I would normally say that that is the Christian’s prerogative—to do acts of random kindness; but realistically, anyone who does this—acting on the opportunity to be kind in random life—has the mind and heart of God, at that moment. They express his true form of love. Love is a verb. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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It’s expressed in action. So, now we know how to come closer to God; simply string one act of random kindness (no matter how small) to another, then another, and so on. And now we can truly see that Christians who do not routinely perform acts of random kindness are no better than their pagan neighbours; they do not behave in a godly way consistently and are therefore, like the Pharisees, hypocrites. One of the other great spiritual ploys of the movie occurs when Evan’s wife (played by Lauren Graham) interacts with God in a diner, and he says words to the effect, ‘When you pray God does not give things, but only the opportunity by which to obtain things, [for example] togetherness of families.’18 Evan was too busy to spend time with his family as congressmen but when the ark materials came it involved him with his boys. Building the ark was an opportunity to unite the family. It also underscores a valuable truth in prayer. If we pray for patience and God will not miraculously make us patient; but he will bless us with the opportunity to develop patience through a series of difficulties. We see that patience (like all virtues) can only be developed through exercise and practise. We need to roll our sleeves up and get our hands dirty, interacting with life! The great summation of both these points is God doesn’t do things for us; he provides the impetus, motivation, resolve, and equipment—the mind and the heart—the rest is up to us. We can whinge and complain, and we can dredge up all sorts of excuses why we can’t act on opportunities to do random kindnesses, but there’s no reasonable reason why we can’t. God doesn’t expect miracles from us, only simple things; it is not hard to please God. (But, when we do please him, that’s the miracle—simply because we so often avoid pleasing him!) We ought to simply make the most of our opportunities by acting more often on the needs of others or the things we see. The point is opportunity. It’s the common thread with both points. We must seize the opportunities. Looking for them and seizing them again takes practise. Responding with spontaneity reveals a heart prepared and willing to act. The context of this is captured in the following quote, making it easier for us to comprehend that our sphere of influence is right there in front of us; it’s inescapable: “Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.”
Augustine of Hippo.
Source of most of this quote: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evan_Almighty
Source of quote: http://dustytakle.com/2008/07/15/one-act-of-random-kindness/
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We do not need to look too far to do random kindnesses; the opportunities are right before us every day.
Over the Hedge, Under the Screws (Over the Hedge) The 2006 animated classic, Over the Hedge, is a very funny movie; like its contemporaries, it’s filled aplenty with societal digs and nuances. I particularly like the scene where RJ the raccoon opportunistically coaxes Hammy the squirrel into acting like a rabid, rabies-infested animal in the plan to get some girl guides to relinquish their supply of Girl Guide biscuits which are packed neatly onto a cart (which RJ wants too!). At one point, when Hammy’s attempt at scaring the girls backfires, and he’s getting a hammering from them because they’re scared to death, his mentor, Verne the tortoise says to RJ, “He’s under attack!” RJ’s quick retort is sharp but predictable, “He’s working!” How many workplaces are like this? The above dialogue reminds me of the occupational health and safety issues that many find themselves placed in with unscrupulous, greedy “RJ” employers taking advantage—prepared to deny the obvious in order to make more money or save costs. Yet, it’s a game of Russian roulette. Not only do irresponsible, negligent employers face both criminal and civil law action in this game of chance and risk, they damage their own safety cultures. Their employees cooperate with the production over safety goals, and commitment to safety wanes. The ‘systems approach’ to safety is fine but without a commensurate effort in the ‘culture approach’ the vast majority of the work is in vain. And it further destroys employer credibility in the light of edified employees. It’s no good having a fine OHS system on the shelf, called the ‘Safety Management System.’ It probably won’t save you one injury or illness. It will be more about having things looking good rather than the safety system actually being an effective injury and illness prevention program. One thing I’ve learned about employees and safety is this: employees don’t know what they don’t know. If they’re not brought up to value their safety, they won’t—it’s the default. It’s as simple as that. They’ll take stupid risks for the employer or to make their work easier without even thinking of (or being swayed by) the consequences—it’s our human nature. When the consequences are so often soon, certain, and sizeable, safety doesn’t stand a chance, as the chances of injury or illness are low in comparison to the odds of getting away with ‘calculated risks.’ Irresponsible, ineffective employers and companies will then seek to blame injured or ill employees, not recognising or acknowledging their safety culture as the major influencing contributor. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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The family values represented in Over the Hedge are very applicable to the workplace regarding safety; the ‘brother’s keeper’ type of program where experienced workers look after those less experienced under the guidance of caring supervisors and managers (playing the loving parent role) is how workplace safety was always supposed to work. No amount of manuals, procedures and policies will ever replace care and concern for fellow human beings. Companies who structure safety like a family looking after its own (like Verne does in Over the Hedge) are on the right track as far as I’m concerned. Safety culture is most tested when the chips are down and the pressure’s on for production. When safety is the genuine first business priority, even after push comes to shove, safety culture cannot be anything but healthy— employees see that management is serious and full of integrity and courage for humane ideals. And this is also strongly linked, obviously, to employee morale.
Stopping the Program “Smith” (The Matrix) SMITH: “Why, Mr. Anderson? Why, why, why? Why do you do it? Why, why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you’re fighting for something, for more than your survival? “Can you tell me what it is, do you even know? Is it freedom, or truth, perhaps peace, could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson, vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without any meaning or purpose! “And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself. Although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it Mr. Anderson, you must know it by now. You can’t win, it’s pointless to keep fighting! Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why do you persist?”20 NEO: “Because I choose to.”21 The Matrix trilogy is a masterful compilation of gospel allusions. Good versus evil, and after a titanic struggle, Good triumphs—not because it’s good per se, but because it fought in the realism of faith and weakness; something that evil cannot conceive as a formidable, or even ‘relevant,’ defense.
“The Matrix Revolutions.” Wikiquote. Retrieved 25 May 2009. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Matrix_Revolutions 20
“The Matrix Revolutions.” Ibid.
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Neo represents the will to continue, to endure. He fights for reasons Smith cannot comprehend despite his radical machine intelligence. And this is typical of evil. It’s incredibly intelligent, even perfect in its reasoning, but its very weakness is that it doesn’t account for strength in weakness. It thinks like it thinks and does what it does, never really able to quite conceive the twists and turns of God-thought. There are so many errant programs in this world, giving testimony to this fact. As the Oracle suggests in The Matrix (the first movie) we only ever see things out of control as they hit the News; everything else supports life quietly, in the realm of its designated function. Infamy or stealth? We choose each day. Like the couple who skipped off with their bank’s several million dollars thinking they’d get away with it, or the woman reportedly witnessing something remarkable and filmed as such—and to which later it was revealed she didn’t; ‘the program’ of our moral reasoning reveals us as an effective or errant. We gain the tranquil life by stealth to the ‘quiet enjoyment’ and benefit of all or we retrieve infamy for our fault—and our program i.e. our reputation, is seemingly forever tainted (until Christ steps in, if we allow him). The Press media loves the juicy, worldly, distasteful tripe. It will conceal its inherent love for gossip, innuendo and sensationalisation in reporting a share of feel-good stories. It cooperates with both good and evil; it all depends on the price… a question of cost/benefit. But, equally, God uses good and evil in almost the very same way; for good eventually. Even in base evil, good can always gain ascendency. The fight between good and evil in this world has occurred since the Fall, and it’ll continue to rage until the consummation of all things. Smith, as mentioned, is a very smart, complex and awesome program. But the inevitability of his success is fraught with critical repose. It assumes that one hundred percent of all probabilities can account for all possibilities; and, mathematically, this would be correct. It’s an entirely reasonable assumption. Yet Smith’s data is incomplete. His ‘intel’ has understated and not understood the actual inventory. He has not accounted for a realm of thought, a softer more moral intelligence, for he’s not got the ability of discernment to correctly encounter with it. There’s nothing to prompt doubt, so he cannot understand or reconcile faith. Rejection is beyond him, so love and acceptance are too.22
Yet, Smith seems capable of frustration and anger; could it be that Smith is capable of peace and contentment? Perhaps this is where the contrastive allusions, for the purposes of this discussion, have their limit? 22
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Certainly winning and losing are on Smith’s radar, and that is intrinsic to his purpose: to win at any cost. Cost too is irrelevant; it is simply to price of the ‘inevitable’ victory. And what of Neo? One thing to surmise is he doesn’t fall for any of Smith’s rhetoric. Human beings experience doubt and rejection, yes, but they have the equal abilities to have faith beyond doubt, and to choose acceptance over rejection. We skate both above and below the lines of reason. Note the difference that could be defined in the word, potential. Human beings have potential for rising above predicted, reasonable responses. It’s a choice, and often an unreasonable one at that. It’s a moral choice that is not always traceable based on reason alone; not until it ‘informs’ reason. Unreasonableness separates us from the machine world. It is our critical weakness, but also our indomitable, unpredictable strength. We can choose to go on even when it hurts and all seems lost. When the ‘inevitable’ is just about to sweep over us, if we keep sight of our purpose i.e. to stop the Smith programs of this world, we might just do it. Doubt and we lose. Submit to feelings of rejection and we lose— because the errant programs predict our response. But they don’t know the potential of our resilience of will. The errant programs are so solidly Satanic and evil, yet most of the purveyors of these programs do not realise it until it’s too late. They do not see how they’re taken for a ride. They do not think holistically enough. They don’t account for the possibilities beyond their own impressive intelligences; possibilities that are no less there than their own. The brightest light for the Neo’s of this world (the would-be saviours in Jesus’ name) is the light of hope beyond reason and rationality. Like lateral thinking, this hope beyond staid hope, whilst inexplicable before the event, is entirely reasonable and logical with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. We cannot always tell the rub of things. But God—in all his love, wisdom, power and glory— not only can, but he also writes it. These transcendent qualities of love, wisdom, power and glory (if indeed they could be quantifiably described) are the most inestimatable qualities known— actually ever-present—to all Creation. And this raises one single point to conclude with. A question in fact... Why is it that Neo endures? Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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Quite simply, his endurance is inspired by hope (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). But there’s a precursor even to hope; he is buoyed by the thought of the collective human effort, no less, the team, and certainly, Trinity.23 There is always something bigger than himself that impels him enduringly forward. We impoverish ourselves when we lazily forget to consider the whole, and particularly when we forget to be thankful, for thankfulness drives hope longingly forward. Why would we not, for instance, be thankful in acknowledging the truth of God’s revelation, and his ‘inevitable’ victory, no less?
The Art of Deception, Cleverness... Wisdom (Batman Begins) Watching Batman Begins for the first time I recall what it felt like as a boy playing espionage games with friends. All the gadgetry and training, the skill, artifice and sudden twists; these bring an excited sense of wanting that sort of role and stimulus in real life as the imagination strokes into overdrive. And we feel this implicitly, each of us—it’s a normal human response and Hollywood knows this. We too know the name of the game of life. It is to live well; right, just and fair. This is why the good guy always wins in the end at the movies. Life is somewhat a matter of smoke and mirrors. The wise get wiser in spite of this reality of deception. They grow to appreciate the deception and get clever with it, using it to their advantage. They learn to predict, avoid, counter and adapt. Wisdom is not available for the grossly naive. We must get past that and know that it is necessary, in the wisdom tradition, to ‘be as cautious, shrewd and cunning as snakes and as gentle, harmless and innocent as doves,’24 in order to achieve the objectives that are placed before us. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing all about, notwithstanding the plainly obnoxious, yet it doesn’t deter us. We accept the territory and advance within it bearing this knowledge, tempered by it.
Certainly the allusion to Neo’s love of Trinity is a theological one. His love for Trinity is almost unreasonable, and by virtue of his moral reasoning (which seems unreasonable compared to the ‘logical’ choice to save humanity) his faithfulness is shown as complete, just as the Saviour’s faithfulness to the Holy Trinity is also complete at the cross.
This is a compilation of Matthew 10:16.
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We are to be pure to an inch—and kept that way. Prudence and purity are the magnum opus of spiritual fortitude. We survive the close calls and thrive on the winds of change. We know when and how to be elusive; when to commit and when to abstain. And it’s for survival. To live to fight the good fight yet another day. We’re bound for confoundation. We will be required to be fired through the bellows of a furnace, refined and lightened in the process—capable in the end for the work ahead. For this was our purpose from the beginning as soldiers of light.
Finding the Joy In Your Life (The Bucket List) ‘FIND THE JOY in your life’ is the inspirational by-line to the movie, The Bucket List. This movie has obvious faith overtones and is a message for all. It challenges the “walls” that people might put up in resistance to acquiring faith because it ponders the meaning to life that none of us can shirk off. When two men from vastly different worlds are shocked into the reality of facing their imminent deaths, they share a common view of life, and a bond develops as they meet in hospital sharing the same room. There are sweet and sour ironies all throughout the film demonstrating that of anyone, God often has the last laugh; though it’s never really ever at our expense. To begin with, Edward Cole (Nicholson), who frequently quotes: “I run hospitals, not health spas; two beds to a room, no exceptions,” is aghast to find his terminal illness has confined him to a hospital room with another person. This ends up being a huge blessing to Cole; often we’re surprised to find things we thought we’d hate, come to love us back as we least expected. The movie’s sub-plot is about faith; it’s plumbs the meaning to life in the context of how it’s spent. Life is fleeting. Carters says, “Forty-five years goes by pretty fast,” only to hear Cole answer, “Like smoke through a keyhole.” Another famous writer puts it this way: “You won't be young forever. Youth [life in fact] lasts about as long as smoke.”25 We only have so long to reconcile to life and become at peace with it, before it all vanishes. It’s only when we ‘become at peace’ with life that we can really begin to draw joy from it.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message Paraphrase of biblical Ecclesiastes 11:10.
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Cole says poignantly, “I envy people who have faith, I just can’t get my head around it.” Chambers’ (Freeman) comeback is something special: “Maybe your head’s in the way?” Most people with a faith problem can’t see that it is within themselves that the problem lies. The head’s in the way of the heart. It is only with a willingness to let this stumbling block mentality go, that there is any chance for “salvation.” It’s the source, means, and cause of the preservation or deliverance of your life. Many people cannot work out that salvation is not just about heaven and the afterlife; it’s as much about life in this life as anything else. We’re saved from living life without God when we’re saved and when we practice faith. In Chambers’ letter to Cole he tells him: “My pastor always says our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life, Edward. My dear friend, close your eyes and let the waters take you home.” Freeman’s character is such a boon for Cole. He opens him up to the meaning to life; which is to simply have an open heart. The open heart receives. It receives all that God intended for it. When Cole died “His eyes were closed but his heart was open.” He was saved. These two unlikely friends enjoyed a bond at the butt-end of their lives that they’d perhaps never experienced with any other person. Fleeting as it was, it was (meaning ‘it actually happened’). It was an experience that changed and transformed the spirituality of both men as attested by Cole’s eulogy at Chambers’ funeral: “The last months of his life were the best months of mine. He saved my life... And he knew it before I did.” What a fantastic legacy to leave in a fellow human being’s life! Perhaps one of the most enduring messages of this piece is about time; how quickly life fades. As one reviewer put it, in the words of Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.”26 It would be true to say that no one is ready to die, least of all the young. But death must come to all, eventually. Before it comes, however, we need to strive to find the joy in our life. Find God.
THE Great Pain-Reliever: God can be a Little Like Opium (Children of the Silk Road) I recently watched quite an insightful film called Children of the Silk Road, inspired by the true story of 1937-1944 China, post-Nanking Massacre, where Englishman George Hogg is credited with saving the lives of sixty Chinese orphan boys. The war-torn setting for the movie and the endless carnage introduces the viewer to pain-relief methods of the day; both morphine and opium. 26
Excerpt from: http://imdb.com/title/tt0825232/
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At one point in the movie, opium therapy is lauded because it works in a way that “the pain is still there, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.” As I reflected in that moment, I discovered that there’s a lot of God in that statement, and what he does with the things that ail us. The truth of the matter relating to life hurts i.e. the death of a loved one, the end of your marriage, tragic endings in total, is we never entirely scrub away the pain, but the hurt can be dealt with. And this is my personal experience. I found attending a funeral today of someone who was once quite dear, freshened up some old wounds, bristling the follicles of my usual stoic exterior. The experience reminded me that I am now dead to this part of my past, and whilst flashbacks of the past were on raw display, the hurt was somehow radically diminished. It was reconciled. The factual pain remains, but it’s not an unpleasant place to be. It just is. In fact, I’d go as far as saying this pain is a friendly life-giving pain; God converts it from negative to positive, somehow. It is quite incorrect I think to claim that God can entirely heal us of life hurts, like, as if they never happened. God, of all, knows how insensitive it would be to anesthetise us from our pains—for pain has important purposes; it helps us feel and empathise; it provides a pathway to our heritage; and, it softens us for service. I think it’s more accurate to say that God will allow us to retain the acute primary pain of the things that have shaped us, but he heals the hurt, making it not only possible for us to move on, but he makes it probable that we will use the residual (hurt-free) reconciled pain to assist others. This is the effect of true healing, invariably; we want to use the experience to help others coming after us. God always has a plan to use our pains and hurts. Once he has healed us of the hurt of the pain we can then be of use to him and others.
We Must Transcend The Things That Hold Us (The Hurricane) These words of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s, in the motion picture of the true story, “The Hurricane” (1999) are etched in golden truth for anyone who’s had a real life battle of the titans and won. It’s like the summation of the movie in one short statement; how a fighter who had dealt with massive injustice all his life had to deal with it big time, to break a tortuous 20-year incarceration—the fight for his freedom against a system of inherent and rampant corruption.
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The part of “The Hurricane” when Carter (played brilliantly by Denzel Washington) says “We must transcend the things that hold us,” is particularly poignant. Facing incredible odds to fight the system, whilst simultaneously maintaining his sanity, Carter was faced with making such a resolve—it was crucial for his survival. It required a commitment to himself; a commitment to flip his world upside down in order to stay in the game. He begun to work and study at night, and sleep during the day—anything really, to remain sane and strong. There’s a key lesson here. It’s one of protection. It is about protecting the relatively clean spirit that exists within each one of us, guarding it against corruption. Carter identified it. He identified it and then put a plan into place and executed it. That takes courage and discipline, or put together, faith and diligence. So what holds people? And, how do people transcend these things? The key learning and inspiration here is this: there are many things, people and situations (things + people) that will make their most ardent attempt to ‘hold us’ in this life. It’s a hard fact of life. This is because many people and things want control over us. This is not love-based. To make this clear, a ‘hold’ is anything or any relationship that doesn’t or can’t stand up to truth; and anything that corrupts or potentially corrupts. This includes anything downright sinful, relationships that will never be a blessing, or anything that has a negative hold and doesn’t have a good reason for a person to continue with—taking into account the many things that might appear to ‘hold us,’ but in fact are actually good for us—these are not subject to this discussion. For instance, the job we must hold, or the critical mentoring relationship that is ‘difficult,’ but beneficial. We must contend with these things and endure them, until it is the right time to leave, and “move on.” Anything that you know implicitly is truth, will not seek to hold you. Eugene Peterson wrote of the 1 Corinthians 13 in The Message paraphrase, Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. The only exception to this is when ‘the hold’ gives you life, for instance, when someone is trying to escape a hold, perhaps an addiction. At these times, in these situations, it is critical to stick with it because the hold is actually because of love; often known as “tough love.” It is at these times and places in life when people need to be humble and accept what is good for them and their future. So, this wisdom is not about ‘healthy holds,’ which could better be referred to as ‘bonds.’ This wisdom is a call to address co-dependent style relationships27 whether they be personal (in the form of habits, addictions etc), with another person (classical co-dependence), or organisational A "co-dependent" can be loosely defined as someone who shows too much, and often inappropriate, caring for persons who depend on him or her. A "co-dependent" is one side of a relationship between mutually needy people. The dependent, or obviously needy party(s) may have emotional, physical, financial difficulties, or addictions they seemingly are unable to surmount. The "co-dependent" party exhibits behaviour which controls, makes excuses for, pities, and takes other actions to perpetuate the obviously needy party's condition, because of their desire to be needed and fear of doing anything that would change the relationship. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codependence 27
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(for instance, within a workplace, club, or religious setting including sects, church fellowship, mosque etc). A hold is like a veneer finish. One of our challenges is not only to see through the hold, but also to be able to break through this veneer, because holds are truly just that, veneer. Truth stands, but falsity crumbles once the veneer is broken through. One of the most important roles in life is to be able to recognise falsity and deal with it courageously by breaking through its veneer. Veneer is facade, appearance, the surface of the matter only. Truth is a foil for all sorts of lies in life; we must see through, and past the veneer, to gain ‘life.’ It’s about learning to dig deeper into such a matter so as to reveal the truth. The truth stands challenges and tests. Again, these matters (the things that hold us) are from things or people or situations (things + people). Once it has been recognised the thing/people/situation has a negative hold on us, there has to be a plan to break free. To do this properly at times requires guidance from those that actually love us and we can truly trust. We must break the cycle of dependency and this can be likened to an insect breaking the surface tension of water; a mosquito lands on it—it doesn’t have the weight or ability to break through the surface of the water; weight is needed to get through it. To break through the veneer of a codependent relationship requires strength and power; not physical strength and power, but mental, emotional, and spiritual strength and power. There must be a persistence to break the hold in unhealthy relationships. This can take months and in some cases years, and requires eternal vigilance.
Creating “Clearance” In Life – You’ve Got Clearance, Clarence (Flying High) Flying High a.k.a. Airplane! (1980) was a ripper of a film when it came out piling spoof upon spoof, the feature of which we’d often have to view it again and again to pick out all the humour in it. In one memorable sequence at the start of the movie, the plane is taxiing and there’s the comical banter between pilots and air traffic control. This sequence is hilarious: Roger Murdock (Air Traffic Control): Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off. Captain Oveur: Roger! Roger Murdock: Huh? Tower voice: L.A. departure frequency, 123 point 9'er. Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 S. J. Wickham. All rights reserved Worldwide. May not be used without permission.
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Captain Oveur: Roger! Roger Murdock: Huh? Victor Basta: Request vector, over. Captain Oveur: What? Tower voice: Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324. Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence. Captain Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor? Tower voice: Tower's radio clearance, over! Captain Oveur: That's Clarence Oveur. Over. Tower voice: Over. Captain Oveur: Roger. Roger Murdock: Huh? Tower voice: Roger, over! Roger Murdock: What? Captain Oveur: Huh? Victor Basta: Who?28 That sequence cracked me up every time! But, seriously, it demonstrates the point that communication’s a tricky thing. But, that’s not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on the subject of “clearance.” When I did my mechanical trade, clearance meant something very tangible about the fit of metal parts with each other i.e. male and female parts. There was your garden variety interference fit where parts would have to be heated or shrunk in dry ice to expand or contract enough to fit. The transition fit was where both male and female parts were precisely the same size, and a clearance fit meant there was room or space between the parts so they could run in and out of each other easily. Then one day recently I was on the road in peak-hour traffic where there was incredible congestion. I got to thinking that our lives can become a lot like roads at peak-hour. We tend to operate in life with a lot of interference (jamming already crammed schedules with more), a little transition (‘Phew, just made it!’), but very little clearance these days. Clearance i.e. room and space, is a good thing. We ought to be structuring our lives with more clearance and less interference, finding space to experience the things that can’t be bought in life, like peace, love and joy.
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“The total agony of being in love,” ... (Love Actually) I recall a time not so long ago when I was “totally in love” with this young lady to the point it was agonising. It consumed me and I would muse about her for great periods of time—not many days would go by when I didn’t invest significant time thinking about her, both subconsciously and consciously, I’m sure. It was distracting and paralysing in retrospect. I’m sure everyone around me could see, but I was blind to it—or at least I chose to be blind to it. The power of this ‘love’ was totally captivating and entrancing. Yet, much later (two years to the day) I learned—or suddenly discovered — I wasn’t so much in love, more totally infatuated—in love with the thought of being in love; the perception of what that might look like; and foolish to that end, as the dictionary meaning puts it: in·fat·u·a·tion 1 : to cause to be foolish : deprive of sound judgment 2 : to inspire with a foolish or extravagant love or admiration.29 Such a ‘love’ is clearly fanciful, not real, and therefore foolish. But is seems real. I’m reminded of this having recently re-visited “Love Actually,” the movie. It is such a good motion picture in that it showcases just some of the myriad of emotions that couple with love. The host of different manifestations of love in the movie range from the betrayal, to closeted love, to lived-out sexual fantasy of Colin, to ‘real life’ love stories in the formation of a relationship between the British Prime Minister (played by Hugh Grant) and his very junior assistant, Natalie, played by Martine McCutcheon, and also between Colin Firth’s character, Jamie, and Aurelia, played by Lucia Moniz. According to the film Love Actually, there’s a blend of many forms of love: love in politics (mentioned above); love as a second language—a wonderful comedy of errors that ends up in marriage; love at work—that doesn’t work out; love that lasts a lifetime—and is never expected to end in a cheap ‘fling’; love is elementary—and painfully so, when you lose your life partner; love is unspoken—that ‘closeted’ love of infatuation; and, love that simply ‘rocks on’ in words sung by Billy Mack (Bill Nighy). The title quote: comes from Liam Neeson’s character’s step son’s (Sam) horribly awkward emotional turn; not so much of losing his mother—the predicted reaction, but of “being in love” with a twelve year old siren from school. And he tries everything to force his way into her heart. And so it is for us when we find ourselves in the tormenting reality of a ‘world central to one person.’ It seems each of us goes through infatuation at least once. We are stung and at times 29
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cruelly—had we been better to be prepared to guard our thinking and our heart? No doubt really. There is a Proverb that speaks powerfully to this errant issue of emotion: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (4:23) It may have a plethora more meaning but it stands on this at least. We must be careful with our mind. We can be so easily deceived; then we’re but a step from the enemy force invading our hearts. Yet, life also goes on in the midst of all this.