Friday, March 24, 2017

Getting Out of Trouble

There’s a literary device that’s been used for centuries. It’s called deus ex machina, a Greek phrase that literally means “a god from a machine.”  In English literature, it relates to a character or thing that suddenly enters the story in a novel, play, or movie and solves a problem that had previously seemed impossible to solve.

Think Perils of Paulene. If you’re old enough to remember Saturday serials at the movies, picture a woman bound up in a cave and a dynamite fuse is lit. Just as the burning fuse gets closer and closer to the cave, a voice says something to the effect of, “Come back next week to see if she survives this terrible fate.” You go to the movies the next Saturday afternoon only to find that there was a back entrance to the cave and she walked out unharmed. That’s deus ex machina. And a huge letdown.

If you’re old enough to remember movie serials, then you most likely remember the Coasters and their song, Along Came Jones.  It seems Jones was a lanky guy who always showed up in time to save the day. The group sang: 

Salty Sam was tryin' to stuff Sweet Sue in a burlap sack
He said, "if you don't give me the deed to your ranch
I'm gonna throw you on the railroad tracks!"
And then he grabbed her (and then)
He tied her up (and then)
He threw her on the railroad tracks (and then)
A train started comin' (and then, and then!)
And then along came Jones
Tall, thin Jones
Slow-walkin' Jones
Slow-talkin' Jones
Along came long, lean, lanky Jones

Jones, of course, always saved the girl in the nick of time. Deus ex machina.

You could say the same thing about Superman, Batman and any other super hero who are fun to watch (I especially like Superman), but do they teach us how to solve problems? No, because they solve all our problems for us.

I much prefer a book or movie about a character who gets in a real-life situation and must figure out how to solve the problem using his own wit, brains, and stamina, and not have some supernatural being swoop down and get him out of trouble. What good does that do me should, by chance, I find myself in the same predicament some day? Neither Superman nor Jones are going to come along and get me out of the situation; therefore, I need to know how the protagonist got out of it.

Do you want to be rescued by a deus ex machina? Or do you prefer books where you mentally put yourself in the protagonist’s place and try to figure out how the conflict will be resolved? Which one will benefit you in life?

Quote of the Day: Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition - such as lifting weights - we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity. Stephen Covey

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Book and Movie For All Time - a Must See!

I have something extremely special to share with you. I went to the movies Saturday. That event in and of itself is not exactly special (although it has been a while since I’ve been to the movies), but the movie I saw, now that IS something special.

Let me go back a bit. A few years ago, I heard about a book called, The Shack, so I bought a copy and read it. I must tell you, this book changed my life. While reading it, I was enthralled at the highly profound story unfolding before my eyes and the way it deals with forgiveness, anger, love and a slew of other emotions.

There’s an interesting story behind the story. The author, William Paul Young, was a preacher’s kid, now married to a good and patient woman. Because the author had gone through a bad period in his life that sent him on a downward spiral which he eventually crawled out of, his wife suggested he write a story for their six children to help them understand life better.

Young finished his story in 2005 and took it to an office store where he had fifteen copies printed and spiral bound. He gave copies to his children and a few friends for Christmas, figuring that would be the end of it.

Eighteen million copies, 41 languages, and rising to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List later, he still shakes his head and laughs at the journey his little book has taken.

The Shack is a metaphor for that place where we get stuck or damaged, or where we've made really bad choices, or where we've piled up a lot of stuff in our lives that we don't want to go back to and deal with. Young says, “My life crashed and burned when I was 38-years-old, and I had to go back and deal with some stuff from being a child on the mission field along with other stuff in my life. It took me 11 years to get through the shack, and I condense that 11 years to a weekend for Mackenzie Allen Phillips.”

The Shack tells the story of Mack Phillips whose daughter is thought to be kidnapped and murdered, which sends Mack into a deep depression. Mack later receives a mysterious letter from Papa--his wife's nickname for God--which leads him to an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. At the shack, Mack encounters a trio of strangers led by Papa, who help him through this tragedy and change his life. 

Now to the movie. I went with friends to see a premier showing of The Shack, starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw.  As I’m sure most of you know, a movie version seldom does justice to the book. Not in this case; the movie is every bit as excellent as the book. The Shack allows God and the Trinity to become accessible and understandable in a way that's not been done before.

I have one suggestion for going to see the movie—bring more than one tissue! I only had one with me and it wasn’t nearly enough. The deep, deep sorrow inside Mack, together with his anger at God for letting his daughter die, are heart-wrenching as he finally is able to reach down and drag his feelings and questions and anger to the surface where he can deal with them. Mack asks questions we’ve all asked at one time or another.

When Mack (Sam Worthington) meets God, he is surprised that God is a black woman (Octavia Spencer). Why, you might ask, is God portrayed as a black woman? As it turns out, when Mack is a child living with an abusive, alcoholic father and compliant mother, the only person who is kind to him is a black woman who lives next door. It’s not surprising then that that same woman appears to him at the shack as the loving and kind God.

My favorite scene in the book/movie is when Mack and Jesus walk down to the water and sit on the dock, looking up at the stars. Just two friends enjoying a normal, quiet moment together. That’s how I like to think of Jesus, real, warm, caring, smiling, relaxed.

What is my recommendation? Run, don’t walk to the theater to see The Shack when it comes to your town. You don’t have to be a Christian to want to understand the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and how they interact with one another, or what it means to truly forgive, or how misunderstandings can grow and be harmful to those we love. This is truly a story for all, and for all time.

Quote of the Day: Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness; and Thou didst not forsake them. Nehemiah 9:17