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Archive for the ‘Reel Spirituality’ Category

Based upon the Gospel for February 3, 2008 Matthew 5:1-12a

The journeys continue in the new year, looking for Light in all the right places: the quiet corners of prayer, next Sunday’s readings, and the faces of our children.

Yet inspiration is also found onscreen in celluloid characters who embody the values we long for, search for, try to emulate. Fictional or factual, they strike a chord that resonates in our lives. Oh, that I could be more like them.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land – like Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hobbits by nature are quiet, peace loving beings. They shy away from Big People like us, preferring instead to till the earth, enjoy a hearty meal and savor a cold pint. They usually avoid adventures, yet are surprisingly resilient when adventure is thrust upon them.

FrodoWhile mortal men argue over power and who should be in charge, it’s the meek hobbit who speaks up and volunteers for the most dangerous task of all. He willingly accepts the burden of bearing the great One Ring, for he knows that he alone must destroy the evil at hand.

And while there are friends and wise counsel to guide him on his journey, he alone must decide what to do with the time that is given to him. He does not shy away from the new and difficult, though he prefers the familiar and the comfortable. His response to this treacherous task is simply “What must I do?”

When his deeds are over and evil is vanquished, he sets his affairs in order and says goodbye. To leave his middle-earth, he boards the ship that sails to the horizon. “The grey rain-curtain of this world will roll back to see…white shores, and beyond a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

An inheritance worth living for.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God – like Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump. While his intellect may be below average, his instincts are deeply rooted love.

GumpHe loves his mama, who raised him to believe that no one was any better than anyone else. We are all God’s children, loved by the Father, saved by the Son, inspired by the Spirit. We each have our unique talents and tastes, which we use when we open the box of chocolates called life.

He loves his wife, navigating the twists and turns of their separate roads until they merge into one loving freeway. Together they produce a family that will live on in future generations.

At times Forrest is floating like a feather on the wind, intersecting with the lives of the famous and the faithful. Other times he looks back and believes he was destined to follow the path he’s on, though he doesn’t know where it is going.

Yet on his journey, he takes time to recognize God in his surroundings. “In the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began.”

A vision of God worth living for.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – like Anakin Skywalker at the end of Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi.

AnakinHis life started with so much promise. He was the promised one, heralded to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

He had a special sense of the world around him and learned that his gifts solved big problems. He focused his youthful ambition first on helping people, even if it meant leaving his mother and his home. He fought through his fear of separation and joined the righteous warriors.

But as he grew older, he allowed Fear to creep back into his life, along with its cousins Doubt, Greed and Anger. Under the influence of a powerful dark force, he turned away from the righteous path. He encased his humanity in a machine and became an instrument of evil.

Yet his humanity and sense of righteousness remained inside, dormant until kindled by the love of his own son. In his son, he saw the look of steadfast faith and unconditional love.

At journey’s end, when faced with the finality of evil’s triumph, Anakin regained his humanity and destroyed the evil, even though it proved fatal to him. But with his sacrifice, he fulfilled his destiny, succeeding to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

A righteous cause worth dying for.

So now there are no more auditions, you’ve got the part. You are the lead actor in a film that is still in development. While it is sometimes tempting to go on strike, you have to keep writing, keep living, keep creating the next scene in your film.

There are times when you are adapting someone else’s screenplay to fit into your own life, but the best screenplays are true originals.

Produced by family and directed by God, it’s up to you to create a film that resonates in the lives of others.

Quiet on the set. Action!

CF

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First published in the January 25, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio

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Ever since the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in France was completed in the early 13th century, sunlight streams through its windows and bathes the worshippers at Mass in glorious technicolor.

Each of the three stained glass rose windows tells a different story. The one on the north transept shows the Glorification of the Virgin. The one on the south portrays the Glorification of Christ, while the one on the west front depicts The Last Judgment.

For the first visitors to the Cathedral, the windows were an artistic portrayal of inspirational stories, whose messages of sacrifice, good works, repentance and love enriched their lives outside of the church.

These windows (and the beautiful examples in our local churches) continue to inspire us to this day.

But thanks to modern technology, we have many more media formats in the 21st century through which inspiration touches our lives. Readers of this column know that one of our favorite formats is film.

Robert K. Johnston writes in his book Reel Spirituality that “film has the power to disturb and to enlighten, to make us more aware of both who we are and what our relationship with others could be. It can even usher us into the presence of the holy.”

Some films were created specifically to be inspirational stories of faith:

> A young French shepherd girl holds fast to what she saw, heard and believes, despite the ridicule of her family and the townspeople. (Song of Bernadette)

> An Olympic runner refuses to run on Sunday, but runs on another day, saying “I believe God made me for a purpose…but he also made me fast. When I run, I feel his pleasure. (Chariots of Fire)

> A non-Italian cardinal is elected pope and takes drastic measures to feed the starving people of the world and diffuse the growing threat of nuclear war between two superpowers (The Shoes of the Fisherman)

> A widow and her son offer gentle help and heartfelt words to a recovering alcoholic country music singer, helping him reclaim his life and advance his career. (Tender Mercies)

Other films, while not specifically stories of faith, have scenes that mirror the choices we have to make every day.

> When it is clear that Lord Voldemort has returned, Professor Dumbledore tells Harry that “dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must make the choice between what is right and what is easy.” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

> In the heat of battle, Luke Skywalker realizes that his anger serves the wrong purpose. He regains his peaceful composure, throws away his light saber, and tells the Emperor “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side…I’m a Jedi, like my father.” (Star Wars VI – Return of the Jedi)

Movies can also be metaphors for classic themes (good vs. evil, individual vs. establishment) or for contemporary issues. Consider a film currently in theaters Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carrell.

In this film, Carrell reprises his weatherman role from Bruce Almighty and wins election to Congress. But his wife and three sons recognize Congressman Evan as the same old Dad, who brings work home and never has time for them. Late one night, Evan learns that his wife has prayed that they grow closer as a family. Evan also decides to pray, asking God for help to fulfill his campaign promise to “change the world.”

God listens and asks Evan to build an ark in the middle of his subdivision. God makes the clear distinction that he is not answering Evan’s prayer by changing the world, but that he is giving Evan the opportunity (along with a large supply of gopher wood and the necessary hand tools) to change the world himself.

evan-almighty.gifStill, it’s up to Evan to make the right choice and do what is necessary, even at the risk of losing his job, his family and the respect of his community.

The film becomes a metaphor for the internal conflicts we experience when making a choice in our lives. Do we follow God’s way or the path we want? Evan Almighty also explores the themes of man’s improper use of the Earth’s resources, the misuse of legislative power for personal financial gain, and the influence that Biblical stories should have on our lives and the operations of our government.

Films can inspire us to lead better lives, to respect others and make good choices that affect the lives of our family, friends and even our planet.

In The Lord of the Rings films, we see Frodo’s courage and hear from Galadriel that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Imagine what we could do for our planet if we combine that sentiment with the suggested energy-saving measures in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

We truly could change the world.

CF
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First published in the July 13, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio
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Purchase from Amazon.com:
> The Song of Bernadette

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