Monday, July 31, 2006

“In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to be in Him and to do whatever He wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of His reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.”

Thomas Merton No Man Is An Island

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"For You, a Thousand Times Over"

I've been putting off writing about The Kite Runner for a while, because I know that I could never do it justice. So I've decided just to write about it, and say whatever comes to mind. I'm still working on my scholarly essay about it, but as you all know, that could be a while. So you're stuck with this.

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner was first published in 2003, and I can't believe that I had not heard of it for three years. Why has it taken me so long to read this book? I came across it only because it is the summer read of CL, and my dad bought it and brought it home. I picked it up, and off and on for the next two or three days, I was consumed by this amazing novel.

The debut of Afghanistan-born Hosseini, now a physician in California, The Kite Runner chronicles the lives and relationship of two boys from Afghanistan in the mid-1970's. It reads more like a memoir than a novel, taking us at times into the very soul of Amir, the narrator. At times heartbreaking, at times uplifting, but ultimately redemptive, this book is so powerful that more than once while I was reading I had to stop because I could not see the words--they were being blurred by my tears.

I was so unprepared for the impact that this book had on me, and I still think about it and talk about it nearly every day since I finished it. I don't know how many people I've recommended it to, but I believe that everyone should read it.

What was most memorable and powerful about this book was the unwavering realism it sustained throughout all its 400 pages. Everything that Amir and his friend Hassan experience, I felt that I experienced. The decisions that each of them made, I felt that I had to make. This is especially true for the character of Amir, because since he is telling the story from his point of view, I can literally feel every emotion that he describes. It makes you search yourself, and ask yourself what kind of person you are. Would you do the same in Amir or Hassan's place?

One of the central points of the book is how Amir's relationship with his father affects his relationship with Hassan. Amir and his father, Baba, are very wealthy, and Hassan and his father are their servants. Hassan's father, Ali, and Baba grew up together, and Amir and Hassan are growing up in much the same way. Amir would do anything to please his father, and this is the deciding factor in many of the crucial decisions he makes, especially the ones involving Hassan. I can't expand very much more on the plot without giving things away to those of you who have not read it, but I will say that Amir sets in motion a series of events that essentially cripple his life for the next twenty-six years.

Though we are told the story entirely from Amir's perspective, we are also drawn in by the character of Hassan, who is this novel's Christ figure. While Amir takes us primarily on a journey of redemption, Hassan takes us on a journey of love. He says to Amir, "for you, a thousand times over!" and this lines echoes twice more in the book, connecting Amir's destiny with Hassan's. Hassan is completely selfless; he never stops giving, even after he and Amir have parted. This is the path Amir struggles to find--the road that will lead him to forgiveness, peace, and eventually a changed heart that only wants to give, the kind of heart that he first experienced in knowing Hassan.

In the end (though I won't tell you the actual ending--you need to read this book for yourself!) Amir, who grew up being served, has learned how to serve others. He knows that what mistakes he made in the past have been forgiven, and this allows him to be able to forgive himself.

Though none of the main characters are Christians, this book resonates deeply with Christian messages, namely, love and forgiveness. Such things can never be too often written about, and talked about, and read about. Most of us are probably more like Amir than we would care to admit, but we constantly struggle to become like Hassan. Sometimes giving of ourselves hurts, and sometimes it seems like what we do is of no consequence anyway. But there is always a reason, because God has it all worked out in His plan. And we can only stand in wonder, and with our arms open say to Him and to those around us: "for You, a thousand times over."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Modern Day Fairy Tale

I just saw one of the most refreshingly original movies that I've seen in a long time. It was Lady in the Water, M. Night Shyamalan's new film.

I'm actually writing this post in response to Barbara Nicolosi's recent comments on the movie, because I completely, wholeheartedly, and most passionately disagree with every word she wrote about Lady in the Water, M. Night Shyamalan, and his other films. I have never been disappointed by a Shyamalan movie, and this one was no exception.

Lady in the Water does more than stimulate our imaginations. It challenges them, and takes them back into the realm of fairy tales. We've all heard fairy tales, or bedtime stories, at some point in our lives, and this movie proves that we're never too old to hear them. Every story with a meaning is worth hearing, and everything worth hearing has a meaning. The allegories and hidden messages of this story are woven into almost every scene, just as in any classic fairy tale.

Fairy tales are usually meant for kids, to entertain them, to teach a lesson, or to highlight some aspect of humanity. The best fairy tales were created by the imagination for the imagination, and they always have a deeper meaning than what is first heard or seen. In every good story, whether fantasy, fiction, or real life, there is a message, an inner-meaning, a truth to be seen and shared.

The message of Lady in the Water is simple but profound (and obviously a bit too deep for today's critics). Everyone is connected. Everyone has a purpose. It is up to each person to find their purpose and to do their part for the common good. The people around us are each unique and powerful. Everyone wants to be someone, and to matter. To be loved and remembered.

The fact that so few people appreciate Shyamalan's genius is very sad, because the fact that almost no critic can see the purpose of Lady in the Water tells me that America has lost its imagination and its sense of wonder. I'm sorry to pick on Ms. Nicolosi again, but for someone to say Lady in the Water is "monstrously bad storytelling," and then call The Devil Wears Prada one of the best movies of 2006 shows the sad fact that originality and imagination and hidden meanings and allegories and even fairy tales are no longer appreciated nor wanted.

What would it take for a brilliant movie like Lady in the Water to resonate with our hearts? Well, it's a fairy tale, a bedtime story, and those kinds of stories are usually written for kids. How does a child perceive fairy tales? Don't they look at them with the open imagination and mindset that anything is possible and that some things may not be immediately explained? Don't they sometimes see things that eccentric characters reveal about humanity that a philosopher could not? And don't they learn that being who you are is the best way to bring about change and hope...and a happy ending?

Maybe we need to be like kids again to be able to feel a resonance with movies like Lady in the Water. Maybe we have become so used to being handed the meaning when we watch a movie that we have forgotten how to look for it and find it ourselves. Maybe we've forgotten how to listen, and to wonder.

Everyone loves a good story, and everyone learns from a good story. And Shyamalan certainly knows how to tell a good story. What I learned from this movie is that even the most seemingly insignificant person can change the world, and we can experience incredible things if we just believe. But most importantly, we can find great support in our communities, because each person plays a part in the lives of the people around them. Man cannot make it on his own.

And learning from stories is sometimes the best way to find out who you are.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The New Church of the Masses

"Theatres are the new Church of the Masses--where people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human."(1930's theatre critic)

I got this quote from Barbara Nicolosi's blog, and I used it today because last night, or this morning rather, I truly experienced the new "Church of the Masses."

My sister and I went to the midnight showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and while the movie was all in all fairly entertaining, it wasn't spectacular, or life-changing, and to be perfectly honest, like any other inner-meaning-less action movie, I'm going to forget it by next week. What I really took away from it, though, and the point of me writing about it, was the experience of simply being there.

I mean, it's the midnight showing; these people are either die-hard fans, parents who don't want their children out late by themselves, people who want to hang out with their friends (my sister), or people who go so that their sister can go (me). Needless to say, the movie was sold out to a 90% die-hard category audience. Now, I have to admit, I did not see the first "Pirates" until over a year after its initial release. Furthermore, I had all but completely forgotten its plot and/or key points. So with a large, highly caffeinated beverage, I sat down to watch the movie amidst a sea of people of all ages in eye patches, fake dreadlocks, and other miscellaneous pirate garb. And I sat there the entire time, because even though after that Dr. Pepper I had to use the restroom like no other, I had a feeling that if I got up and left, I would be bombarded with the fake swords and empty candy boxes of die-hards shouting "How dare you leave! You don't deserve that ticket!"

Keeping in mind that the show was at midnight, some friends of ours had been at the theatre since 8pm. By ten, they said, the theatre was fairly full. My sister and I arrived at 11:15, and I ended up sitting on the edge towards the front. The excitement in the auditorium was tangible, and to see so many people so happy about something, even though it was for a rather over-rated, over-advertised Disney production, made me feel some sort of hope. Hope that somewhere in the hearts of Americans, there is still the ability to live reality intensely.

As I watched these people watching this movie, a thought occurred to me: what movie would I get this excited about seeing? What movie would I completely and voluntarily choose to see at midnight? Maybe if "On the Waterfront" was re-released. Or if someone re-made "Ashes to Light." (*winks at John*) But seriously, I couldn't imagine ever getting so worked up over a movie that I would absolutely have to be the first one (in the general masses) to see it. So on one hand I'm happy that these people have a passion. But on the other I wish that they would have the same sort of passion for things in real life.

I guess what I'm taking a long time to say is that this new Church of the Masses and this new congregation is really the hope of America, in the sense that the art of film has the amazing potential to be used for evangelization. And while "Pirates 2" isn't the best example of people in the light telling us what it is to be human, there are many movies that do. And many movies can and will be made that will tell us. Because we need to be told.

The pulpit of America is a canvas screen, the pews are velour seats with cupholders, and the preacher is a roll of film passing in front of a projector, and this church where we so often go to escape reality is where so many times we end up finding it.

Here's to the great movies. Let them be made and seen.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Today in Acadia

"Just make sure you take it all in. Let yourself be dazzled."
-God to Joan in Joan of Arcadia

You all should read these interviews (links to parts 2 and 3 at the bottom) with the brilliant, the resourceful, the 23 year-old(!) Rocco Palmo.

There's also an article by him at BustedHalo.

I hope you all had a wonderful Independence Day.

God Bless.