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Archive for the ‘Chariots of Fire’ Category

I’ve been on a fitness kick lately.

Whether it’s my age, my doctor’s recommendations or my desire to live long enough to see the Chicago Cubs play in a World Series, I am trying to maintain a regular exercise program.

My wife and I both work at healthcare companies and our daughter just graduated with a degree in exercise science, so the value of regular exercise is a daily topic in our home.

Three to four days a week I am stretching, walking, sitting up, pushing up, and lifting weights. I’m trying to strengthen my core—those muscles around the stomach, back and hips that keep us balanced and productive throughout the day.

I usually exercise in our basement with a fitness DVD, but it’s more fun to run outside, as it helps my mind to relax and create.

To get ideas for this column, I lace up my shoes and go for a “run and write.” I let my mind wander through my favorite films. I imagine that…

…I’m running through the Painted Desert wearing a Bubba Gump Shrimp ball cap, in lands so beautiful that you can’t tell where the sky stops and the earth begins.

…I’m running on the beach with other members of the Olympic team, splashing through the surf and listening to the bold, synthesized sounds of Vangelis.

…I’m running through the streets of Philadelphia in the cold, early morning hours, a boxer training for the fight of a lifetime. Ahead of me lies these massive stairs…

My mind accesses a real memory. I’m in Philadelphia at a professional conference. Walking near the Museum of Art, I realize that these are the massive stairs where Rocky finishes his runs. Seizing the opportunity, I run steadily up, ignoring the locals who have seen it too many times before.

At the top, though a little winded, I raise my arms in triumph. “Rocky! Rocky!” the fans shout at the end of his films, especially in Rocky Balboa, the last in the series.

In this film, we find Rocky is the soft-spoken owner of Adrian’s, a neighborhood restaurant named after his beloved wife, a victim of ovarian cancer.

When a computer-generated fight on ESPN generates genuine interest in a fight between Rocky and the current champ, Rocky accepts the offer of an exhibition fight.

“I’m a fighter, and a fighter fights,” he explains to his son. “But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

I focus again on the road ahead, my legs pounding the pavement as my chest and stomach muscles work hard to keep me balanced, moving forward.

My core is getting a workout. Fitness trainers tell us to exercise our core. Companies spend hundreds of man hours creating and refining their core values—the foundations upon which they perform work and conduct themselves.

What are my core values? How can I teach them to my children? I condense them down to an acronym: Christ-Oriented, Responsible and Enlightened.

To live a Christ-oriented life, we should follow what Jesus said are the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 30-31).

I want my children to be responsible individuals, but more so than just completing their chores or doing what they say they’ll do. I would like them to be responsible with their friendships and their love, knowing that other people are affected by their actions.

They need to be responsible with their time, their talents and their treasures, as so much good can be produced from these gifts. I also want them to be responsible with the Earth’s natural resources, knowing that we should be mindful of everyone and everything that lives on this planet.

Finally, I want them to be enlightened individuals, people who will never stop learning long after completing their formal education. I hope they will read often, think faithfully and logically, be good listeners and consider other opinions so that they can actively form their own. “I didn’t know that” and “Thanks, that’s a good idea” should be common phrases for them.

Enlightenment begins with a certain amount of humility. The more I learn, the more I realize there’s so much more I don’t know or understand. It sets the stage to learn something new, to relate to my family and friends in a new way, or to understand the volatile issues our society faces today.

Can we learn how to be humble? My friend Steve thinks so. He says that humility is born out of thankfulness. If we start each day by thanking God for what He has given us, we will understand the magnitude of these gifts and how important they really are to our daily lives. That is our core.

I finish my run, thank God for my health and hang up my Bubba Gump hat…until tomorrow.

CF
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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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