Archive for the ‘Faith and Media’ Category

Oh Fudge! Regarding Coarseness in the Mainstream of Society   Leave a comment

pdvd_000

Above:  Ralphie and a Bar of Lifebuoy Soap, from A Christmas Story (1983)

Screen Capture Taken by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The tongue is a flame too.  Among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a whole wicked world:  it infects the whole body; catching fire itself from hell, it sets fire to the whole wheel of creation.

–James 3:6, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Coarseness in society is as old as society.  All one has to do to document this fact is to read history, regardless of one’s society or nation-state.

In 2009 the Wisconsin Tourism Federation, founded in 1979, announced that it was changing its name to the Tourism Federation of Wisconsin, due to many bloggers and online critics behaving as they did because of the initials “WTF.”  The expression for which those letters stand has existed since at least 1985 and become increasingly commonplace via changes in technology.

I have noticed increasingly frequent coarseness in the mainstream of my society in the United States of America.  For years I have become offended at needless profanity in movies, podcasts, YouTube videos, and Facebook memes.  I recognized degrees of curse words.  “Hot damn,” for example, is an expression that does not bother me.  Likewise, Rhett Butler not giving a damn in Gone With the Wind (1939) carries the appropriate weight in that scene.  If he did not give a darn or simply did not care, that would carry too little weight.  Likewise, I can think of several things he might not have given that would have ruined the scene by being needlessly profane.  Recently, while watching X-Men:  Apocalypse (2016), I noticed young Magneto’s F-bomb when he met Apocalypse.  That word did nothing to improve the scene and actually detracted from it.  Yet, at the end of The Front (1976), when Howard Prince, the bookie who fronted for blacklisted screenwriters in the 1950s, tells a Congressional committee to do something physically impossible, that language fits the context nicely.  Those witch hunters, who trampled upon civil liberties, deserved such contempt.

My social ethics, being rooted in the Old and New Testaments, emphasize building up the common good.  I do not seek a society in which all content is G-rated, but I do desire a society in which profanity is scarce.  This is a matter of a revolution of moral values, of people thinking about others more often.

Furthermore, needlessly profanity indicates linguistic laziness.  One can make potent points using words repeatable in polite society. Doing so might even be eloquent.  Among my favorite movies is The Brothers O’Toole (1973), an underrated gem.  In one scene Michael O’Toole, portrayed by the great John Astin, wins a cussing contest he never entered.  He wins without using one curse word:

I have, in my time, visited three political conventions, four sessions of congress, and two homes for the criminally insane. I have known army generals, steam doctors, vegetarians, prohibitionists, and a female suffragette. But never, even in an Orangeman’s Day parade, have I seen such pure and stainless brainlessness as I now behold in you. The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has given the worm enough sense to turn with, and the barnacle can grasp whatever happens to be standing by. But you are equipped with a mental capacity smaller than you were born with. Here we are, benighted in the middle of a nowhere named Molly-Be-Damn – a dreary little rookery, Timothy, a squalid sty, a festering pustule on the face of the western slope. Bless the town and bless the people! Look at them – the rabble of this cantankerous community! Knaves and fools, louts and lardheads, the least of all God’s creatures, without enough push to pick the fleas off each other, abiding in putrefaction and inertia, curled up comfy in it like hogs in a mud hole! And while I, of all people, fret and sweat for a way to pull these Simple Simons out of the bog, you stand around making flatulent noises for the titillation of the vulgar mob. And while he’s bubbling himself, what are you doing, you pusillanimous pack of popcorn pickers? You clattered clutch of clucks? The town dilapidating around you, coasting downhill in a handcart to Hell while you stand about gaping for flies and going patty-cake with your hands!…All right, all right, all right! Fine! Keep it, and treasure it the way it is! For when all this trash has collapsed into one pile, and the howling wilderness has claimed its own again, I want you hicks to be happy, belching and spitting, laughing and singing, swinging from tree to tree, with your friend Soapy Sam here, the Uriah Heep of the hookworm belt, standing around below waiting to steal anything that falls to the ground. If a nut should drop and fall – leave it lying there. It’s probably my little brother Timothy.

That is much better than swearing frequently and publicly, is it not?

The coarsening of the mainstream of any society is detrimental to that society.  It lowers the bar and harms the morals of people.  This coarsening degrades the sense of public and private decency.  This is reversible, fortunately.  After all, society is people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Life Does Not Consist of the Abundance of Possessions   Leave a comment

Parable of the rich man *oil on panel *31.9 x 42.5 cm *signed b.l.: RH. 1627.

Above:  The Parable of the Rich Fool, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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Luke 12:13-21 (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition, 2002):

One of the multitude said to him [Jesus],

Teacher, bid my brother divide my inheritance with me.

But he [Jesus] said to him,

Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?

And he [Jesus] said to them,

Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist of his possessions.

And he [Jesus] told them a parable, saying,

The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops.?”  And he said, “I will do this; I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.'”  But God said to him, “Fool!  This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

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Luke 6:20, 21, 24, 25a (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition, 2002):

And he [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said:

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.

But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.

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The quote from which I have taken the title of this post comes from the Parable of the Rich Fool, the entirety of which I have quoted above.  The Rich Fool has more than enough food at the same time that many people in his vicinity lack a sufficient supply thereof.  He could keep enough food to meet his own needs and share the rest with the hungry, but he chooses not to do that.  He trusts in material possessions, not God.  His wealth is his security blanket; his abundance shelters him psychologically from the prospect of hunger and poverty.  In the end he dies (as we all will do) and cannot take anything with him.

Life does not consist of the abundance of possessions.  One way to learn this lesson is to move.  Having to pack up one’s belongings, transport them, and unpack them can teach one how much one has and how inconvenient (even detrimental to one’s quality of life) too many of them can be.  I have moved often during my life, going back to my childhood; my father was a minister in the South Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church.  I recall moving every two or three years (on average) and realizing that I moved with more possessions each time.  I also recall that, as I prepared to leave East Dublin, Georgia, for Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, in 2005, I donated many possessions to a thrift store and felt proud of myself for doing that.  Furthermore, I recall that, after I arrived in Athens-Clarke County, I wondered why I had not been more generous to that thrift store.

I have reduced my appetites for material possessions and become fonder of open space in recent years.  The largest category of my possessions is and has long been books.  I have come by this naturally, given the bookishness of my family.  I reduced my library from its height at more than 2500 volumes to about 1000 books a few years ago.  Then, over time, I added to the library before reducing it to about 1000 volumes again a few months ago.  Those nearly 1000 books fill seven tall book cases and a smaller one.  I have concluded that approximately 1000 volumes is the proper size of my library.  Given the size of my living space, having space for a sofa is more important to me than keeping more books.  Living in a relatively small space does help to provide one with a useful sense of discipline in these matters.

I have been inside the home of a hoarder, a woman with a mental illness.  (She has an emotional attachment to her trash.)  Her disorder has placed her health and that of her son at risk and detracted from the quality of their lives.  Certainly, to be able to walk easily in every room of the house and sleep on more than one side of one’s bed (because of the possessions occupying the rest of the bed) would improve the quality of life.  I avoid that house, for the messiness annoys me and something in the air makes me feel ill.

Life certainly does not consist of clutter.  In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the loose basis of Blade Runner (1982), which is not as dark as its source material, Philip K. Dick has a character, J. S. Sebastian, explain a theory of clutter:  it reproduces asexually.  Sometimes clutter seems to do that, does it not?  A problem with clutter is that it is in the way.  I know of a large, two-story home in Athens-Clarke County.  The wide corridors function as storage space, as do some of the downstairs rooms.  There is no more room in the storeroom.  Much of the contents of the storeroom is inaccessible.  The resident is not a clinical hoarder, however.  She has many possessions, a physical disability, a lifelong tendency toward disorder, and a desire to clean up her home.  I help her off-and-on to rein in the problem.  There is so much to do until we make the interior of the house resemble something other than an anarchistic warehouse.   She is, however, making plans to sell some large pieces of furniture and not to replace them.  Furthermore, I have carried many items away and donated them to thrift stores on her behalf.

I look around my living space and thank God for open space and horizontal surfaces lacking clutter.

One might do well to think of clutter metaphorically also.  To simplify one’s interior life–to avoid the temptation to fill the rooms, corridors, nooks, and crannies of one’s being with activities that get in the way of a healthy spiritual life–is a virtue.  One should not be so busy that one cannot stop and listen to God.  God speaks to us, but we do not hear Him if we do not listen.  We do not stop to listen for God’s voice if we are doing something else.  We do not make room for God in our spiritual interiors if we clutter those spaces.  Many people who do not attend religious services on a regular basis report that they are too busy to do so.  Too busy for God is too busy.

The Rich Fool was not rich toward God.  He was one of those who had received his consolation (Luke 6:24) and was the subject of one of the Woes following the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Luke.  The Rich Fool was a man with misplaced priorities–toward possessions, human beings, and God.  The Rich Fool crowded out God with, for lack of a better word, stuff.  He chose poorly.

Life is in God, not the abundance of possessions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN EDUCATORS AND INTELLECTUALS

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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Three Temples   1 comment

Jerusalem and the Second Temple--James Tissot

Above:  Jerusalem and the Second Temple, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Chronicles 28:1-10

Psalm 147:12-20

1 Corinthians 3:10-17

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[The Lord] sends forth his word and melts them;

he blows within his wind and the waters flow.

He declares his word to Jacob,

his statutes and judgments to Israel.

He has not dealt so with any other nation;

they do not know his laws.  Alleluia.

–Psalm 147:19-21, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The pericope from 1 Chronicles, true to the pro-Davidic Dynasty bias of 1-2 Chronicles, omits certain unflattering details and depicts King David as a champion of fidelity to God.  It does, however, say that David’s bloodshed made him unfit to build a temple for YHWH at Jerusalem.

St. Paul the Apostle, writing while the Second Temple still stood, argued that those who trust in God are the Temple of God:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.  For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

–1 Corinthians 3:16-17, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

“You” is plural.

I wonder how much better the world would be if more people treated others as parts of the Temple of God–as individuals to respect, if not get along with all the time.  Yet each person has God-given dignity as a bearer of the image of God.  This concept of people–believers, in particular–as the Temple teaches us to treat one another properly.  Even non-believers bear the image of God, and therefore deserve good treatment and basic respect.

I admit that I have an easier time extending basic respect to favored cats and to people I like and who mostly agree with me than to those who annoy me and who seldom agree with me.  Some people think so differently from me that, given the opportunity, they argue about even objective matters, such as what the weather forecast says.  They seem like characters from the great Argument Clinic sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  (Statement:  “I came here for an argument.”  Reply:  “No, you didn’t.”)  So I have some spiritual work to do, via grace.  You, O reader, might not be so different from me in that regard.  The good news here is that we need not rely on our own power to accomplish this goal, for we have access to divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN COPELAND, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/devotion-for-december-29-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part I   1 comment

True Grit

Above:  Mattie Ross on Blackie, Her Fine Horse, in True Grit (2010)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD and a legal DVD

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The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming give to all the world knowledge of your salvation;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19

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The Assigned Readings:

Malachi 3:5-12 (Thursday)

Malachi 3:13-18 (Friday)

Malachi 3:19-24/4:1-6 (Saturday)

Luke 1:68-79 (All Days)

Philippians 1:12-18a (Thursday)

Philippians 1:18b-26 (Friday)

Luke 9:1-6 (Saturday)

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NOTE REGARDING VERSIFICATION:

Malachi 4:1-6 in Protestant Bibles = Malachi 3:19-24 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles.

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Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.  The author of all things watches over me, and I have a fine horse.

–Mattie Ross in True Grit (2010)

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A person who remembers the ending of that movie should understand that Mattie’s fine horse did not prevent her from losing part of one arm.  One might also recognize the irony of the last sentence.

The author of all things watches over me

seems to indicate trust in God, but

I have a fine horse

constitutes a contradictory thought.

The instructions of Jesus to his twelve Apostles emphasize complete dependence on God, who provides via people much of the time.  In Mark 6:8 each man may carry a staff, but Matthew 10:10 and Luke 9:3 forbid that item.  The Apostles’ mission was an urgent one for which packing lightly and depending upon the hospitality of strangers were essential.  Such light packing also emphasized solidarity with the poor, who were most likely to be the ones extending hospitality, given the fact that they lived on the edges of towns.  The Apostles were to announce the Kingdom of God, not to press the issue where they were unwelcome.

The ethic of trusting God, especially during difficult times, exists in the readings from Malachi and Philippians.  Locusts (in Malachi) and incarceration (in Philippians) were the background hardships.  Yet trust in the generosity of God, the prophet wrote.  St. Paul the Apostle noted that his period of incarceration (wherever and whenever it was; scholars debate that point) aided the spread the gospel of Jesus.

Zechariah prophesied that his son, St. John the Baptist, would be the forerunner of the Messiah.  Both John and Jesus suffered and died at the hands of authorities, which we remember in their context.  Officialdom was powerless to prevent the spread of the good news of Jesus in those cases and in the case of Paul.  Mortal means can prove useful, but they pass away in time.  The faithfulness and generosity of God, however, are everlasting.  To live confidently in the latter is a wise course of action.

Of all the illusions to abandon, one of the most difficult to leave behind is the idea that one must be in control.  The illusion of control might boost one’s self-esteem, but so what?  Control remains an illusion.  On the other hand, recognizing that God is in control is liberating.  It frees one up to live as one ought to live–

in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ

–according to Philippians 1:27b (The New Revised Standard Version, 1989).

I know this struggle well.  The idol of the illusion of control was precious to me.  Then circumstances forced me to learn the reality of my powerlessness and to trust God, for I had no feasible alternative.  Sometimes dire events prove to be necessary for spiritual awakening to occur.

God has given each of us important tasks to complete.  May we lay aside all illusions and other incumbrances, pack lightly, and labor faithfully to the glory of God and for the benefit of those to whom God sends us and to those whom God sends to us.  May we trust in the faithfulness and generosity of God, not in ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 11, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT GREGORY THAUMATURGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NEOCAESAREA; AND SAINT ALEXANDER OF COMANA “THE CHARCOAL BURNER,” ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR AND BISHOP OF COMANA, PONTUS

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS MONTAGUE TOPLADY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI, FOUNDER OF THE POOR CLARES

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS LOY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR; AND CONRAD HERMANN LOUIS SCHUETTE, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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How Long, O Lord?   1 comment

Herodian Temple with Antonia Fortress

Above:  The Herodian Temple and the Antonia Fortress

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth.

Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom,

and make us desire always and only your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 47:1-9 (Friday)

Isaiah 47:10-15 (Saturday)

Psalm 91:9-16 (Both Days)

Revelation 17:1-18 (Friday)

Luke 22:24-30 (Saturday)

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In the Life of Brian (1979), a brilliant spoof of organized religion and of old-school Biblical movies, but not of Jesus or the Bible, Jewish Palestinian rebels meet to discuss how little the Roman Empire has done for them.  The partisans come up with a long list, however.  The scene is funny, but it does not constitute a defense of imperialism.  The fact is that imperialism can bring many benefits to the conquered and occupied populations, but a host of indignities and abuses accompanies the benefits.  For all the roads, schools, bridges, and aqueducts, living under occupation comes with a psychological burden.  This reality indicates that the main beneficiary of imperialism is the imperial power.

On a literal level Isaiah 47 condemns the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire and Revelation 17 does the same with regard to the Roman Empire.  In a broader sense, however, they condemn all authorities based on violence, oppression, and hubris.  Such authorities exist, as some always have at any given time.  Names, locations, and ideological foundations change, but such tyranny has never ceased to exist since the dawn of human governments.

Our Lord and Savior rejected the standards of these authorities.  They claim to be benefactors, he said, but they are not.  Jesus went on to propose a different standard of greatness:  service.

But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.

–Luke 22:25-27, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Psalm 91 seems too optimistic to me, for it speaks of the faithful finding deliverance (via God) from peril.  This happens sometimes and has occurred often, of course, but many of the faithful have become martyrs instead.  I think of the martyrs in Heaven in the Revelation of John asking “how long?”  Nevertheless, I affirm that God provides justice for the faithful eventually and that all violent regimes collapse in time–frequently too late for my taste, however.  That is an issue to take up with God faithfully, in the tradition of other Psalms and those martyrs from the Apocalypse of John.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-24-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Listening to God   1 comment

Silas Benjamin

Above:  God Speaking to King Silas Benjamin Through a Storm in New King, Part 2, the Final Episode of Kings (2009)

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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The Collect:

O God of creation, eternal majesty,

you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm.

By your strength pilot us,

by your power preserve us,

by your wisdom instruct us,

and by your hand protect us,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 40

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 37:1-13

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

Luke 21:25-28

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Some went down to the sea in ships

and plied their trade in deep waters;

They beheld the works of the LORD

and his wonders in the deep.

Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose,

which tossed high the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths;

their hearts melted because of their peril.

they reeled and staggered like drunkards and were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper

and quieted the waves of the sea.

Then they were glad because of the calm,

and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy

and the wonders he does for his children.

Let them exalt him in the congregation of his people

and praise him in the council of the elders.

–Psalm 107:23-32, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The imagery of the storm god, common in the ancient Near East, appears in the Bible.  We find this imagery in the three readings for today, in fact.  Elihu, speaking in Job 37, uses it.  Later, in Chapters 38-41, God speaks out of the tempest.  Psalm 107 (the reading from which I extended) describes a storm at sea.  And we read of natural disasters and of Jesus descending on a cloud in Luke 21.  (Cue “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” everyone.)  The imagery of clouds associated with God is rich in the Bible, from the Book of Exodus to the Transfiguration, Ascension, and Second Coming of Jesus.  And, in the NBC series Kings (2009), based on stories of David and Saul yet set in contemporary times, God speaks to King Silas Benjamin (the Saul figure) from storm clouds.

Nevertheless, another passage of scripture comes to my mind.  In 1 Kings 19 the prophet Elijah is hiding from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who want to kill him.  God speaks to Elijah, but not from any storm or natural disaster:

The LORD was passing by:  a great and strong wind came, rending mountains and shattering rocks before him, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a faint murmuring sound.

–1 Kings 19:11b-12, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Then God spoke to Elijah.

I extended the reading from Psalm 107 to include the calmed waters of the sea because doing so works well with the reading from 1 Kings 19.

God does some of God’s best speaking in the quietness, I am convinced.  Certainly some occasions justify dramatic demonstrations, but we mere mortals will miss God’s still, small voice if we focus on God’s booming voice.  God speaks to us often via a range of channels, from the spectacular to the mundane.  My experience has taught me that God has spoken most profoundly to me in the silence and in the conversational speaking tones of people around me.  Sometimes God has whispered to me, but usually God has simply spoken to me.  Those messages have proven most spiritually helpful in my life.

I invite you, O reader, to make a habit of being quiet and listening for whatever God says to you.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 25, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE ANNUNCIATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-7-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Basket (1999)   Leave a comment

Basket 01

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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THE BASKET (1999)

Starring 

Peter Coyote as Martin Conlon

Karen Allen as Bessie Emery

Jock MacDonald as Nicholas Emery

Eric Dane as Tom Emery

Brian Skala as Nathan Emery

Casey Cowan as Samuel Emery

Elwon Bakly as Ben Emery

Robert Karl Burke as Helmut Brink

Amber Willenborg as Brigitta Brink

Tony Lincoln as the Reverend Douglas Simms, M.D.

Patrick Treadway as Frederick Treadway

Music Composed by Don Caron

Directed by Rich Cowan

1 hour, 45 minutes

Rated PG

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The fact that I like this movie seems odd to some people who know me well.  I dislike sports, but I enjoy this film, to which the game of basketball is central.  The movie does, however, contain opera and positive spiritual messages.

The Basket, set in rural Waterville, Washington, in 1918, is a story of overcoming guilt and prejudices.  The outside world is influencing the small town in several ways:

  1. Bessie and Nicholas Emery welcome their eldest son, Ben, back from World War I.  He is ill and missing part of one leg.
  2. The Reverend Douglas Simms, the local pastor (Lutheran, I surmise due to the presence of images in the church building), who serves also as the local doctor and undertaker, becomes the guardian of two German orphans, Helmut and Brigitta Brink.  This is a politically sensitive act.
  3. Martin Conlon, who left Boston, Massachusetts, under dubious circumstances, arrives in town to become the new teacher at the school.  He brings a basketball–something the people of Waterville have not seen before–and a recording of a German opera, Der Korb (The Basket, in English), which he plays in class, much to the ire of Nicholas Emery.

Basket 02

Above:  Mr. Conlon in His Classroom

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Conlon devises a plan to help the local farmers raise the $500 (the equivalent of $7,730 in 2013, according to the Consumer Price Index) down payment for a mechanical harvester.  He forms a basketball team, teaches its members the sport, and enters the team to play against the professional Spokane Spartans.  A team which wins against the undefeated Spartans will win $500.  And, if that fails, there is Plan B–covering the point spread.

Basket 03

Above:  Helmut and Brigitta

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

The game brings the town together.  Something needs to do that for the unsettled community, reeling from Ben Emery’s death at home, blaming Helmut and Brigitta for the German war effort and Ben’s death, and harboring fears about how the farmers will survive without a new harvester.  The outsiders are the people most instrumental in uniting the community and helping it to move forward.  Conlon finds a second chance, Helmut and Brigitta become Americans, Nicholas Emery forgives himself and stops blaming Helmet and Brigitta, and Ben’s eldest surviving brother, Tom, falls in love with Brigitta.  Outsiders become insiders.

Basket 04

Above:  Tom and Brigitta

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

The theme of this movie is, “together we will fly,” which is also the theme of the fictitious opera.  Don Caron’s score is so beautiful that I wish there really were an opera named Der Korb, by Gottlieb Mueller.  The plot of the opera involves barbarians besieging a town, the residents of whom encounter a stranger with a basket containing two stones.  The resemblance of the narrative of the opera to the events unfolding in Waterville becomes apparent as the movie progresses.  This becomes especially poignant when an aria of grief for a dead son coincides with Ben Emery’s funeral.

One of the basic lessons of the movie is consistent with the Holy Week narratives.  That lesson is that scapegoating does not resolve a situation in the way that one hopes.  In fact, the act of scapegoating reveals the lie of one’s imagined righteousness.  Furthermore, sometimes the person or person scapegoated is/are a vehicle/vehicles of grace and of positive transformation of scapegoaters.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE LINE AND ROGER FILCOCK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BALDOMERUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF GEORGE HERBERT, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTOR THE HERMIT