Monday, May 29, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: The Third Mary

Looking at Matthew 26:6-13. This is the story of a woman who anoints Jesus with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume.


Image Source: http://www.bgst.edu.sg/realia/o13-14.htm

The incident is also described in Mark 14:1-9. Luke 7:36-50 also has an anointing but some of the details are different such that commentators believe that passage described a separate story. John 12:1-8 also relates this beautiful picture of devotion and provides the additional details that Martha served, Lazarus was reclining at the table and that Mary is the one anointing Jesus. Martha, Lazarus and Mary are brothers and sisters and good friends of Jesus.

Mary, the mother of Jesus is well known throughout the Christian era. Mary Magdalene has been getting a lot of publicity because of the Da Vinci Code. In traditional Christian circles, Mary Magdalene is recognized as the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. The third Mary, the one in this episode, is Mary of Bethany, the sister to Martha and Lazarus.

Mary is also known for the story in Luke 10:38-42 where she sits and listens to Jesus while Martha is busily working away. When Martha complains, Jesus gently chides her for majoring in the minors.

In this episode, Jesus receives the anointing and remarks, she has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. I assure you, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman's deed will be talked about in her memory.

The disciples were probably still largely in denial about Jesus death. But Mary knew (she had a habit of listening carefully!) and so she used the perfume to anoint Jesus. The text explicitly says it was a beautiful jar of expensive perfume and so it was probably one of the most valuable possessions that Mary had.

Lord, help busy beavers like me to take the time to listen to you and to know where your heart is. Help me to understand you are the Lord and that anything I have belongs to you. Help me to be grateful for what you provide for me. Help me to use what you provide in your service. Amen.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: Why would anyone want to kill Jesus?

Am looking at Matthew 26:1-5 this morning.

Jesus had concluded his teaching on the "end of the world as we know it."

He returns to a theme he has touched on a few times before: his expectation of death on the Cross.

The leaders of the existing power structure knew it was risky to try to kill Jesus. Since it was the time of the Passover, Jerusalem's population may have swelled to five times is normal levels. Jesus was gaining quite a bit of attention. The crowds might object if they tried to take Jesus in public. Thus, they planned to seize Jesus quietly.

We often have a picture of Jesus in our heads of Jesus with the little children and some little lambs giving out encouraging sayings. I'm sure that is a real picture of Jesus but obviously not a complete picture. I mean, if that was all Jesus was, why would anyone want to kill him? Why kill a harmless nice guy who is nice to the little kids?

The quest for the "authentic" Jesus has to face at least two important facts: he died and he rose again. The Bible record tells us about this. But there are sources outside the Bible that say this as well!

What is the picture of Jesus you have in your head?

Would that Jesus be perceived as a threat to the existing power structure?

Would a Da Vinci Code Jesus have been worth the trouble of killing?

Would a Jesus who goes around making pithy sayings and colorful parables been worth plotting against?

The Jesus of the Bible talks about the Kingdom of God and the sinfulness of man. The religious powers that be got nervous because of all his kingdom talk because they wanted to be in charge. The religious powers that be got nervous because Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy. The religious powers that be eventually had to bring in the political powers that be because they couldn't handle the problem of Jesus. Thus, in the end, the Roman political forces killed Jesus at the behest of the Jewish religious forces.

Yet, in the final analysis, Jesus was killed because of me. My sin. Your sin. Our sin. Sin had to be paid for and Jesus paid for it.

And he rose again in victory over sin and death.

Lord, help me to live for you like St. Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Amen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Politics: Soaking the rich may feel good but ...

Saw this item over at Virginia Postrel's blog.

She cites a report about how the richest in California pay A LOT of taxes: the top 3% of income earners accounted for 60% of the taxes.

It may feel good to "soak the rich" but this dependence on this relatively small group of tax payers means tax receipts can rise and fall a great deal on their fortunes.

Postrel also made these observation about taxation upon illegal immigrants. Sales taxes and property taxes can capture some of the economic activity of illegal immigrants. Income taxes do not generate revenue from illegal immigrants as they are paid "off the books" and don't get taxed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: 2nd Coming - just do it

Looking at Matthew 25:31-46, the famous separation of the sheep and goat passage. To read about amazing sheep and goats, check out this page from the San Diego Zoo.

When does this happen?

Verses 31-33 says, But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

I suppose the preterist might say that this has already happened or is happening now. They would say that proclamation of the Gospel is causing a separation among the peoples of the earth. Those who have taken a hold of the Gospel in their lives are being transformed into those righteous ones which are commended.

If there are any preterists reading this blog out there, I'd be curious to hear if that is how you view this passage.

On the other hand, this event could be a future one. At some point in time, unknown to us, God will prepare a judgment on all humanity.

What will be the criteria of this judgement?

Verses 34-36, Then the King will say to those on the right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.

The righteous then wonder, when did we do this for you?

Jesus tells them, if you did it to even the least person, you did it to me.

What does this tell you about these people?

They loved people in need. They didn't check ids, they just loved them.

Religious faith that fails to act is worthless.

James 2:14-17, What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

I John 3:16-18, This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

God, it doesn't get more plain and simple than this. Help me to just do it. Help me to love those in need that come across my path. Forgive me when I'm blind to them. Amen.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Culture: The Da Vinci Code and Sexual Mysticism

The movie is out and it pulled in $77 million in its opening weekend.

Tonight, I'll be heading off to hear a talk that tackles a different angle on the Da Vinci Code phenomena.

Here is an excerpt describing the lecture:
Indian philosopher Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi will suggest that Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel, The Da Vinci Code, has the potential to turn the eccentric fringe movement of sexual mysticism into a mainstream phenomenon. Brown condemns the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and in its place offers the "APPLE" of secret "knowledge" (Gnosis) to help men and women realize their divinity through sexual union. Many teachers and gurus in the last century have promoted sex as a path to mystical Enlightenment. But The Da Vinci Code teaches "sacred sex" not on the basis of Pagan, Hindu, or Buddhist philosophies but by invoking the authority of Jesus - albeit a Gnostic rather than Jewish Jesus. Many Christians have responded to The Da Vinci Code, but hardly any have addressed the book’s central point - the spirituality of the "Sacred Feminine".
For reality checks on the film be sure to visit these sites:

Mark D. Robert's FAQ

Christianity Today's Round-up

The Da Vinci Dialogue

UPDATE: A friend of mine found this page where Dr. Mangalwadi has an extended essay on the Da Vinci Code phenomena. The talk I heard makes many of the same points.

Mangalwadi acknowledged the weak history of the Brown novel. However, he went on to stress two other aspects of the Da Vinci Code phenomena.

(1) The advocacy of sacred sex as a pathway to experiencing the divine. This notion is advanced in the discussion Langdon has with Sophie where she described the ritual she saw her grandfather involved with. The other way this concept is advocated is the whole Jesus getting married to Mary and turning the Last Supper and the Holy Grail into a pagan/Hindu sex ritual.

(2) The Da Vinci Code concepts tries to show that humankind's problem is a lack of enlightenment which is counter to the Christian world view that says that humanities problem is sin and the need for forgiveness. Mangalwadi drew this idea out further to say that by advocating mysticism as the route to enlightenment and salvation, Brown is attacking the role of reason and revelation which is an essential part of Christianity.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: 2nd Coming - what did you do while I was gone?

Am looking at Matthew 25:14-30.

This passage is very familiar to anyone who attended First Chinese Baptist Church and heard the teachings of Dr. Timothy Lin.

I attended that church during my formative early years in my Christian journey and this passage is seared into my being.

Here are some of the key things in this passage that have stuck in my mind:

(1) Some people might complain, well, the master only gave that guy one talent and the others got two or five! See Matthew 25:15.

The New American Standard Bible translation is a very literal translation so the notion of a talent is not meaningful to us today.

According to the New International Version footnotes, a talent is worth $1000. The English Standard Version says a talent is twenty years worth of wages! This is a clear case of how our distance historically and culturally from the events comes into play in understanding the Bible.

One thing is clear though, it isn't a small sum of money like a few bucks. It was a sum sufficient to do business with in that time period.

(2) Why was the master so mean to the guy who buried the money?

The guy who buried the money really buried himself by what he said in Matthew 25:24-25:
Sir, I know you are a hard man, harvesting crops you didn't plant and gathering crops you didn't cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth and here it is.
The reply is harsh and rightly so in Matthew 25:26-27:
You wicked and lazy servant! You think I'm a hard man, do you, harvesting crops I didn't plant and gathering crops I didn't cultivate? Well, you should at least have put my money into the bank so I could have some interest.
The amount of money he got was sufficient to do something! But he did NOT do anything. He did NOTHING but bury it in the ground. He didn't even do the easiest thing which was to put it in the bank. His actions revealed his heart: he didn't care about the responsibility the master gave him and he didn't want to see his master get any benefits.

This story reminds me of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that I came across awhile back, It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

Lord, I have been given something to do. Maybe not as much as the guy who got five bags of money. Perhaps I have been given two or maybe even only one. But what you have given to me, help me to use for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. And in so doing, receive, someday, your commendation, "Well done, my good and faithful servant!" Amen.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

LA Scene: 2006 LA Times Festival of Books at UCLA

A few weeks ago, went to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA.

I was in the stand-by line to hear "Current Interest: The American Identity" with moderator Ronald Brownstein and authors Caitlin Flanagan, Chris Hedges and Joe Klein. Unfortunately, the room became full and a whole line of us were turned away.

I wandered around the various vendor booths. There were the big tents for Borders and Barnes and Noble. There were many smaller setups for various specialty book shops. I browsed in the Traveler's Bookcase so I could daydream about far away places I could visit someday.

In order to make it to the next panel discussion, I went to the stand-by line 30 minutes before the program, "Unearthing the Roots of Religion" with moderator Cathleen Falsani and authors Jonathan Kirsch, Jack Miles and Elaine Pagels.

Falsani is the religion writer for the Chicago Sun Times is on the right. Kirsch is to her right. At the center of the table is Miles. On the far end is obviously not Elaine Pagels! Falsani announced that Pagels was unable to attend the session and that the Festival of Books was fortunate enough to get Dennis MacDonald to substitute.

I suspect many in the audience came to hear Elaine Pagels because she is a noted scholar in the field of Gnostic literature. The Festival of Books event occurred shortly after the news of the Gospel of Judas and before the anticipated movie The Da Vinci Code. Since she wasn't able to make it, each panelist made a few remarks about those two hot news items.

Jack Miles went first. His most intriguing comments came in regards to his book Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God. He made the point that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures was a warrior god and the Christ of the Christian Scriptures was the opposite. He wondered aloud does this mean that the god of the Old Testament is different from the god of the New Testament? Did it mean that god changed?

I don't know if I agree with his analysis but it is an intriguing idea!

Without a doubt the idea of god becoming human in Jesus is a very radical idea. It seems counter-intuitive that a god of great power would choose to use such an unglamorous and backdoor strategy as being born to an obscure and ordinary couple in Mary and Joseph.

However, this is not without precedent. In the Old Testament narrative, God operates in an unconventional way. God's choice of Abraham seems to make no sense! Abraham was hardly the most powerful man of his times and Abraham and Sarah grew old waiting (all the while trying I assume!) for children. God's birthing the nation of Israel out of Egypt follows God's apparent fondness for the underdog. God using Gideon and Deborah in the Book of Judges are two other examples of God taking an unusual route.

UPDATE: I bought a CD copy of the presentation and am listening to it a little bit at a time. Miles made the following interesting observation regarding the Gospel Judas. The question of Jesus is a big one. (1) The Jews and Muslims say, Jesus is not God. The God of our Scriptures is God and Jesus isn't. (2) The Christians say, Jesus is God and the God of Hebrew Scriptures is also God. (3) The Gospel of Judas along with the Gnostics say that Jesus is God and the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is not God. As such, though Gnostics superficially are Christian, their ideas are so different, it has to really be considered another religion.

Jonathan Kirsch made various remarks about the many books he wrote. However, what caught my attention most was he sharing about the next book he is working on. He is finishing up a book on how different modes of interpretation of Christian apocalyptic literature (Book of Revelation and other passages in the Bible with "end times" emphasis) has influenced the history of Western Civilization.

My interest in "end times" has waxed and waned over the years. Recently, I've been thinking more about it for two reason. First, in world affairs, Iran is in the news because it appears the President of Iran holds a particular Islamic "end times" theological view. If I understand what I have heard, the President of Iran believes that the 12th Imam and the end of the age will be ushered in amidst a political crisis in the Middle East. Therefore, how one views "end times" may have some serious real world implications. Second, I've been blogging through Matthew 24 and 25 which are "end times" teachings by Jesus. I recognize that I am not going to have much certainty about its complete meaning but I'd like to reach some provisional conclusions with the option of changing my mind!

Dennis MacDonald made some remarks about the Gospel of Judas. He felt it was an important historical find that tells us more about the beliefs of the Gnostics. However, he did not believe it tells us much about the historic Jesus. He remarked that all the media attention over the Gospel of Judas was overshadowing what is being done in New Testament scholarship in regards to "Q." Not Q of Star Trek fame but Q as in quelle the German word for "source." Ed. note - MacDonald did not reference Star Trek. The fault for that is mine.

Q is the hypothetical source for some of the material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is generally believed that the Gospel of Mark was the oldest of the four Gospels and that when Matthew and Luke put pen to paper, they drew mostly upon Mark and Q.

Its an interesting idea but it has to be acknowledged it is speculative.

The other area that MacDonald addressed with his own work regarding how the New Testament has Homeric touches.

I don't think it would be surprising that the New Testament might have the flavor of the literature of the times. After all, St. Paul would tailor his approach depending on his audience. However, I think MacDonald goes further than that by claiming that the New Testament writers invented characters and events to co-opt Homeric mythology.

All in all, a very thought provoking session!

Non-profit of the month: May 2006 - Avenues Pregnancy Center

Its hard work. Its necessary work. Its good work.

In many cases, the news of pregnancy or the possibility of pregnancy is received with great joy and culmination of hope and the result of a loving relationship.

However, there are some circumstances when such news induces anxiety and despair.

Where can a woman go in that situation?

Some women opt for abortion.

However, some women sense that that might not be the right choice.

Avenues Pregnancy Clinics and other groups like them offer pregnancy counseling, community support and service referrals, pregnancy and ultra sound tests, maternity and infant clothes, diapers and nursery items and abstinence and post-abortion counseling.

The Pro-Life movement's quiet heros are the staffs and volunteers of organizations like Avenues.

I have participated in Walk for Life fund raisers over the years and for this month's NGO of the month, I encourage you to join me in supporting a group in your area that has as its mission to help women consider options other than abortion and supports them as they choose life.

Avenues Pregnancy Clinics
1911 West Glenoaks Blvd. Suite A
Glendale, CA 91201
818-843-0422

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Culture: Da Vinci Code Reality Check

Heard Mark D. Roberts on the radio talking about the Da Vinci Code. He was clear and concise on separating fact from fiction. Be sure to check out his web page where he addresses a lot of the frequently asked questions about the book and soon to be released movie.

So far it sounds like the film is not going over too well with the Cannes Film Festival audience.

Devotional Thoughts: 2nd Coming - later than we expect?

Taking a look at Matthew 25:1-13 tonight. It is the story of the Ten Bridesmaids.

The bridesmaids await the arrival of the bridegroom but he is delayed and it is getting dark. 5 run out of oil for their lamps. When they dash off to the store to get more, the bridegroom arrives and these 5 get shut out of the wedding banquet.

Jesus finished the story with, "So stay awake and be prepared, because you do not know the day or hour of my return."

In the previous story, the master returned sooner than the servant expected. In this story, the bridegroom arrives later than the bridesmaids expected.

How then should we be living?

How am I going to be that faithful and sensible servant? How am I going to be like the wise bridesmaids with the extra oil ready for the long haul?

I'll be the first to confess to being an inconsistent Christian.

There are days when I think, indeed, I know God is there. I'm ready to follow Jesus today and strive to be a blessing to everyone I meet! Carpe Diem!

There are other days when I feel like hiding under the blankets and say, do I have to go out the door today?

How do you keep the faith when your love for life is running low and you are thinking, stop the world, I want to get off?

How do you keep loving your fellow man when you have had your heart trampled on?

What is there to do when a circumstance has reared its head and there is nothing you can do?

I have no magic words to answer these questions. I can only share with you what I've learned over the years trying to follow Jesus and living out the Christian way of life. I'll be the first to say I have a lot more to learn and I've been in some deep holes where I wondered how far is up. But here goes my best "advice" as a fellow traveler in the journey of life.

(1) Be honest with God. If God knows everything, then nothing I say will be a shock to God so say it. God is big enough to hear us out.

(2) Pray for other people in your life while you are praying for your own problems. I'm not exactly sure why this helps but it does. When you pray for someone else you find you are less concerned about your own troubles. When you pray for someone else you find yourself wanting to go do something for that other person and one of the best balms for what ails me is trying the help another hurting human being.

(3) Seek the wisdom of the Bible. When I was hospitalized, I found comfort in the simple Scriptures like the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and A Time for Everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). As I contemplated these familiar things, I felt a connection to God.

A skeptic will say it is just religious and emotional opium for the existential pain of life. Indeed, if there is no god than that is all that is. However, what if God actually exists and puts in our heart the longing for this kind of connection?

(4) Rest and take care of yourself. I Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah down in the dumps. One of the ways that God ministered to him was to help him sleep and provided some food.

(5) Community. A charcoal brick by itself cools down quickly. But together with all the other bricks, it can stay hot. The church is a flawed and imperfect institution because it contains people. Where else are we going to go?

The church is God's great gift to us and must be an incredible pain for God. God asks us to be his representatives in the world and so God has honored us with this gift to be part of the church. It must also be quite painful for God to see us stumbling around tripping over ourselves and sharp elbowing each other. But what else is there? Where else are we going to be shaped into better followers of Jesus than in a community of people trying to follow Jesus?

Lord help me to be about doing what I should be doing: loving others, seeking truth, living right, speaking blessings, opposing evil, cultivating a heart of gratitude and seeing your hand in the divine appointments you arrange for me each day. Lord, I want to be found faithful at my post should death or your return overtake me. Amen.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sports: What to do with tickets you can't use

Recently, had some tickets to an Angel game. However, due to circumstances, we couldn't go.

I decided to contact the United States Marine Corp base at Camp Pendleton.

They said they occasionally receive tickets.

Thus, I got the address and sent them off!

If you have extra tickets, please consider donating them to the nearest military base.

For Camp Pendleton contact ...
Community Relations at 760-725-5569
Consolidate Public Affairs
Box 555019
Marine Corp Base
Camp Pendleton, CA 92055

Friday, May 12, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: 2nd Coming - sooner than we expect?

Its been too long since revisiting my blog journey through Matthew.

This morning am looking at Matthew 24:43-51.

The first metaphor (verse 43-44) Jesus uses is a homeowner who get burglarized. The point is simple: you don't know when a burglar is coming. If you did you would have the police waiting!

The second metaphor is a master who leaves his estate in the care of his servants (verse 45). The servant in charge could do a good job (verse 46) and he would be rewarded (verse 47). Likewise, the servant could decide to take advantage of the situation and oppress those under his care (verses 48-49) because he thinks, "My master won't be back for a while." The master shows up sooner than he expects and judgment falls on the evil servant (verses 50-51).

I suppose the passage could be about the fact we don't know when we will die and thus face judgment before God. The other possibility is that it refers to an "end times" moment when Jesus comes back and judges the living and the dead. Either way, the time is NOT knowable and it may occur sooner than we expect.
UPDATE: I had to take a closer look at my interpretation here about the passage refering to our death and then a subsequent judgement.

Sound interpretation needs to be based on what can be gleaned from the text and in the surrounding material (context). In this section, there are three other times Jesus speaks of "the coming of the Son of Man."

24:27 "For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."
24:30 "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.
24:37-39 "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."

In each case the coming of the Son of Man is obvious: lightning is clearly visible; all the nations mourning and an appearance with power and great glory would suggest something highly dramatic and "the days of Noah" would be obvious once the flood occurs.

Therefore, I don't think my idea of the passage refering to our death is a viable explaination for the passage.
In terms of eschatology, the SAT word for the theology of the end times, these passages are hotly debated. In my journey of Christian faith, I've come across several perspectives on this part of Jesus teachings.

(1) One line of thought has these events as mostly future events relative to when Jesus said it. Some will say we are living in these times now. The hot selling "Left Behind" series is from this line of thought. I have to say I haven't read any of those books but from what I hear it sounds like it comes from this school of eschatological thought.

(2) Another line says some things have been fulfilled already (Jewish Temple destruction in 70AD) and that the passages describe how history unfolds as a conflict between good and evil. Thus, we have been living through them since Jesus time.

(3) A third line of thought suggests almost all if not all of the events described have already taken place.

My gut level reaction right now is toward the second school of thought about these passages. I'm open to more discussion of the differing views.
UPDATE: The first view has the weakness in that it would mean little to nothing to the hearers if most of the events are in the far future. Though I suppose holders of that view might counter that God's perception of time is different then our own.

As for the third view, I don't know how they interpret the phrase, "the coming of the Son of Man." Do they believe this is an event that has already happened? If so, what is the event it refers to?
These end-time passages generate a lot of heated arguments about "when" but there is no doubt about the "how then we should live" part of the equation.

Simply put, God, help me to try my best to do good all the time and be that faithful and sensible servant! Amen!!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

LA Dining: Cafe Angelino

My latest is up over at LAFB.

Cafe Angelino
8735 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
310-246-1177

I love their ULTRA thin crust style pizzas!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

@ the movies: United 93

Saw United 93.

I'd say the theatre was 75% full.

The film is supported by many of the family members of the flight. Some of the air traffic control personnel played themselves in the film. Because of these facts and the straightforward recreation of those fateful few hours, I'm recommending this film.

Certainly for sensitive individuals, caution is strongly advised. As for children seeing the film, parents need to exercise judgment based on what they know about their child. My advisory would be 13 and up. I suspect this film could be a starting point for some serious conversations between fathers and sons about the meaning of courage: it isn't fearlessness but the willingness to do what is right despite fear.

Will people go see the film in large numbers?

It isn't the kind of movie you will likely see more than once and some people will not see it just like some people refused to see Saving Private Ryan or Blackhawk Down because of the violence and understandably so.

United 93 drew an R rating but in my opinion, some PG-13 movies I've seen contained more violence. Certainly, the level and explicitness of on screen violence in Saving Private Ryan and Blackhawk Down far exceeds United 93.

The film is shot from a "fly on the wall" perspective. You see the hijackers in their hotel rooms getting ready to go to Newark Airport. You see the crew of United 93 getting the plane ready. You see the various air traffic control center operators planning ahead and responding to what appeared to be a typical day of a few thousand planes flowing in different directions in the clear skies of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

The film unfolds in near real-time.

There is no attempt to develop a personal narrative.

As I watched, I felt like I did in Blackhawk Down, where the soldiers have names and faces but the film provided no back story. It was easy to confuse the characters. Those who read the book Blackhawk Down know the back stories of the soldiers. We know the back stories of the passengers of United 93 because of the various newspaper stories and television features about that fateful day.

However, in United 93, the people are essentially anonymous. I suspect the film makers intent is to make them as ordinary and you and me. Indeed, they were 33 specific passengers and 7 specific United Airlines employees. Each was an individual with a story and family and friends left behind in sorrow. However, in the anonymity of the film they would be like the passengers and crew we sit with when we fly in an airplane. I'd also like to believe that any other combination of 40 people would have done the same thing given those circumstances.

It was those circumstances that reminded me of Saving Private Ryan. In the harrowing opening landing sequence of Saving Private Ryan, the soldiers are traumatized coming off the landing crafts hitting the beach. The carnage and shock left them breathless and confused. Yet, amidst the chaos, they rallied and looked around them and gathered what equipment they had and used teamwork to get off the beach and took the fight to the enemy.

The passengers of United 93 did the same thing. We see the phone calls and the information flow from the ground to the passengers and from passengers to each other. They shook off the shock and took the fight to the 4 hijackers foiling their destructive plans.

Their story needs to be told and re-told so we will never forget.

Flight 93 Memorial Project