Over the last month I was fortunate to see two British films at one of our local movie theaters; Yesterday, a Danny Boyle film and Blinded By the Light, directed by Gurinder Chadha. Boyle has directed some terrific films including Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Trainspotting (1996) and 127 Hours (2010). Chadha directed Bend it Like Beckham (2002), a delightful film about women’s soccer in the UK starring an unknown actress Kieira Knightly who went on to star in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003). Boyle is known for his unique visual style including the use of dutch tilt shots and Chadha likes to explore the lives of Indians living in England.
I was pleasantly surprised by Yesterday and Blinded by the Light for different reasons. Yesterday begins with a struggling musician (Jack Malik) and his long-suffering manger (Ellie Appleton) that believes in him in spite of multiple set backs and his inability to make it big. One night he tells Ellie he’s had it and is quitting the music scene and gets on his bicycle to ride home when the power goes out across the globe for thirteen seconds. When the power is restored Malik is hit by a bus (and survives). The power outage has caused an inexplicable change in history including the Beatles never existing. When Jack gets out of the hospital he discovers that he’s the only one who knows about the Beatles and he decides to cut an album using classic Beatles songs. Jack is discovered by Ed Sheeran, a famous musical artist from Britain and he becomes increasingly unhappy knowing he’s a fake who has stolen the songs of the most famous musical group to have ever existed. The story is predictable except for a scene between Jack and Ellie in a hotel room. After a night of heavy drinking they make out. This leads to the moment where they are going to sleep together. In that moment of passion Ellie says no to Jack because she doesn’t want to be a one-night stand for him. This moment of virtue eventually leads to the third act where they get married and have two kids, living happily ever after. Sounds a lot like courtship to me!
In Blinded by the Light the main character Javed is an awkward Pakistani sixteen-year-old living in Britain in the late 1980’s. His family life is tense as he navigates the traditions of Pakistani life and living with teen angst while trying to figure out his place in the world through his poetry. A delightful Pakistani friend introduces him to Bruce Springsteen’s music and this begins a journey of self-discovery as he finds his voice and his place in the world. Again, I found the movie fairly predictable as he rebels against his parents, especially his domineering father who thinks his artistic endeavors are trite and impractical. He has rebellious classmates and supportive teachers who remind him to follow his dreams no matter what others think. This sets up a surprisingly emotional ending that reinforces the importance of our roots and never forgetting where we’ve come from and to honor our parents. The proverbial wisdom in this moment caught me off guard as I was waiting for Javed to tell his father off and walk into the sunset reminding the audience that life is all about me. The ending could have come off as sentimental and preachy but Javed was such an endearing character that it came across as sincere and inspiring.
Blinded by the Light has an 88% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes with no sex, no foul language and very little violence. Reviewers loved the story, the performances and were moved by the ending. This is a powerful reminder to me to stay true to my stories and to tell them honestly and not apologize for the Biblical life lessons. If you’re an up and coming storyteller I’d encourage you to see these films as well as Because of Grácia. All three films will hopefully inspire you to tell truthful stories, with memorable characters and storylines that make you want to do the right thing.
Pastors are human. Pastors are parents. Pastors need our prayers and support.
Here’s a cautionary tale from one pastor about how Because Of Grácia impacted his relationship with his teenage daughter.
Thank you Pastor James for your honesty!
“Recently one of my daughters has become interested in a particular boy from her youth group. We have this rule of no dating until 16 and she is 15 so not there yet. As a dad it’s hard for me because I’m not used to sharing the affections of my daughter with another guy. And the fact that my daughter has made some not so wise choices that are a poor reflection of her godly character.
This breaks my heart as a father and makes me feel like a failure as a pastor. I related personally to Pastor Ryan in the movie in regard to his relationship with his daughter Bobbi.
Pastors can have a difficult time not allowing the pressures of ministry to filter into their home. Sometimes those pressures end up affecting the relationship of those who are nearest and dearest to us. Dealing with a cocktail of emotions… anger, disappointment, failure, depression, feeling extremely vulnerable and exposed. These feelings unfortunately carried into our conversations with my daughter that turned into screaming matches. These often ended in me saying things I don’t really mean in my heart and resulted in slamming doors.
It’s easier to look from the outside in to see where things have come off the rails - like watching it unfold in the movie. However when you’re in the middle of it, in your own home, it’s very different to stop, step back and evaluate.
I want my daughter to know that I love her more than I love the church. I want her to know my love for her is not conditional. I want my daughter to rely on God’s Holy Spirit for matters of the heart. I want my daughter to know I trust her and to trust me that I’ve set parameters to protect her.
I recognize that my daughter and I are long overdue for a daddy/daughter date.
This movie is so real to life, it was my wake up call."
Over the Christmas break, I surprised my youngest son Brolin by taking him to see the classic movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” on the big screen. The movie is about a man named George Bailey who plans to take his life so he can leave his family a life-insurance payout. The movie resonates because of its strong themes of family and faith, and the impact that just one man can have on his whole community. As we left the theater, I was taken with how well the film played on the big screen. My son loved it and wanted to talk as we drove home.
Watching on the big screen, I saw something I’d never seen before. At one point, George is granted a glimpse of what his home town would be like if he had never been born. The town was no longer called Bedford Falls but Potterville, named after the ruthless businessman who gained control of most of the town. In the past, I had thought the film’s main message was George Bailey’s passion to fight the evils of capitalism, as he worked to provide the ordinary working person the dignity of owning their own home.
While driving home, another theme occurred to me. Without George’s selfless passion and hard work, the entire community would have been consumed by a Darwinian attitude of survival of the fittest, creating a place where people no longer took care of each other or even knew each other, a place of faceless strangers, desperate and violent. This film reminded me why so many of our cities have become impoverished, not only financially, but also morally and spiritually. When we stop caring for one another, when we no longer see each other as valuable, the value we place on our own lives also diminishes. The tragic outcome for North America is that, sadly, suicide has become the second leading cause of death among teens.
As we pulled into our garage, Brolin took the message a step further. He noted how George Bailey and his wife Mary had practiced courtship and chastity and cherished their four kids. Although a life crisis had brought George Bailey to a desperate place, a place where he considered suicide, and although family pressures could have caused Mary to consider the need for an abortion, abortion and suicide never became real options. Their reverence for life and the strong support of their community carried them through, even when things got tough.
I’m so glad we saw “It’s A Wonderful Life” on the big screen. It’s no wonder that this life parable continues to touch lives 70 years after its first release. As Writer and Director of “Because of Grácia”, I can only imagine the joy of seeing families embrace its themes 70 years from now, being inspired to live out their faith in a world that desperately needs people like George and Mary Bailey, like Grácia and Chase.
This first time I watched 'Because Of Grácia' was opening weekend back in September 2017. I had found out about the film because I follow actor Chris Massoglia on social media and he had been promoting it for several months leading up to the film's release. I started reading up on the film and it immediately sparked my interest. I was particularly drawn to the topics that they were going to cover because they were not topics typically handled in film, at least not to the same caliber. As soon as tickets for the film became available, I pre-ordered one for my birthday, which was the same time as the film's opening weekend. I did not have anyone to go with, but I was more than happy to go to the film anyway. In fact, sometimes I prefer seeing films for the first time by myself. I did not have anything planned for my actual birthday, so, I celebrated my birthday by going to see 'Because Of Grácia'! When I arrived at the theater, I was approached by a member from the Lehigh Valley Students For Life who was there promoting the film. That was when I realized that 'Because Of Gracia' was more than just a film, it was an opportunity for people to speak up about an important topic, pro-life vs. pro-choice.
I was truly amazed and impressed with every aspect of the film -- cinematography, casting, character development, plot, etc. -- it was all incredibly well done. (My full review of the film can be found on the 'Because Of Grácia' Facebook page). However, perhaps the best part of the film for me was the fact that it caused me to think, specifically it caused me to think about my stance on the issue of pro-life vs. pro-choice. Before seeing the film, I was not sure where I stood. Part of me never agreed with the idea of abortion, however, everywhere I turned I saw people promoting it. I was surrounded by friends and family who were openly pro-choice and, because I have never been one to really speak up, I never challenged them. So when I saw a film that actually promoted life, it was refreshing. Seeing the characters stand up for what they believed in, even through times of hardship, was encouraging. Watching Grácia Davis, the new girl at school, stand up to her peers and teachers to speak up about her beliefs was eye-opening and empowering. Watching Chase Morgan recite a monologue in front of his class about his personal journey with Jesus was moving and inspiring. And watching Bobbi Ryan make a last-minute, life-altering decision right outside of the abortion clinic not to follow through with an abortion was emotional and powerful. These characters began to give me courage, courage to not be ashamed of my beliefs and to share them with others.
It has now been over a year since the first time I watched 'Because Of Grácia', and admittedly I am still struggling to find my voice at times. However, it is easier for me to speak up now than it ever was before. And I owe that to this film.
So, in conclusion, had it not been for 'Because Of Grácia', I never would have realized how much I believe in being pro-life. I never would have had the courage to challenge the beliefs of those around me and be confident in doing so. This film changed my life, which is something I will be forever grateful for.
We’ve all heard this quote before. I’ve thought of it often as a high school teacher in the public school system. There’s a lot of darkness in school; kids dealing with mental health issues, thoughts of suicide, broken relationships and desperation. As a teacher, I’ve got two options: light a candle or curse the darkness.
It makes me think of Russell Wilson, the prolific quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. Drafted in 2012, he made an immediate impact with his teammates, his adopted city and the league. At five foot eleven he’s considered too small for the position as most quarterbacks are six foot three or taller. What Russell Wilson lacks in size he makes up in speed, athletic intelligence and character.
Speaking of character, Russell Wilson oozes with it and for that he’s adored by his fans, including yours truly. You may not know this, but Russell is married to Ciara Princess Harris, a famous pop star whose stage name is Ciara. When Russell and Ciara were dating Russell was speaking at a church and let them know he was saving himself for marriage. This led to a Twitter storm and even an open feud between two ESPN employees. He was mocked and ridiculed for making a godly decision.
Known for faithfully going to the Children’s Hospital in Seattle every Tuesday, Russell Wilson is not cursing the darkness. Instead he’s living a noble life in arguably one of the most secular cities in America and their response is to love and adore him. Like Grácia Davis he’s blooming where he’s planted. What about you? Are you seeing the opportunity to minister where you are? Whether it’s on a construction crew with crude co-workers, or at school with classmates that don’t understand your faith and mock you, or in a youth group with kids who don’t take their faith seriously. I’m praying you light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.