Friday, February 26, 2010

Up in the Air

"My heart shudders, my stength is gone... my friends and my lovers stand aloof because of my affliction. My neighbors stand far away and leave me alone." Psalm 38:11-12

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a lonely man. He would never admit it, but he is very much alone in this world.

Bingham makes a career out of firing people, living out of a suitcase 322 days a year, flying from city to city being the bearer of bad news (he calls the remaining days spent at home a "miserable" experience). His goal in life is to achieve ten million airline miles. Nothing more, nothing less. His airport lifestyle is all the comfort he needs.

In a sense, he is the embodiment of the psalmist in the 38th psalm: "My heart shudders, my strength is gone... my friends and lovers stand aloof because of my affliction. My neighbors stand far away and leave me alone." (Ps. 38:11-12). Bingham's affliction is his busy-ness, his workaholic nature, and his lonely career firing people.

But when someone unexpectedly sweeps him off his feet, in the person of Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), Bingham is stunned to discover that there is more to life than airports and miles. The rest of Up in the Air has our protagonist navigating a new terrian, unsure where the next step might lead.

Bingham is a product of our times - the overly busy, overly stressed, and the overly stretched. When we find ourselves swirling in a pool of stress and work, we embody the psalmist as well: our affliction leaves us alone, even in the most crowded room. And like this character, we are unprepared to deal with the rest of the world when our minds are, well, up in the air.

Jesus challenges us to leave our anxieties and work at the door. "Can any of you, by worrying so much about your work, add a single day to your lifespan?" (Mt. 6:27) Not only does work numb us to the joys and wonders of the world, but it gets in the way of our relationships - with God and with one another. When our minds are up in the air, do we ever get a chance to land when it's necesary for us to pay attention to the rest of our lives?

I am writing this blog on a Friday afternoon, as a weekend is about to begin. The week has past, and with it I lay my worries, my anxieties, my frustrations, and my laundry list of tasks. My head has been up in the air for a few days now - and it's time to land once more. Let us pray that we all have the ability and the strength to make a successful landing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Wolfman

"Give up your anger and give up your wrath. Do not be provoked, for it only brings about harm." Psalm 37:8

The Wolfman is an update of the 1941 original (staring Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, and Bela Legosi), re-telling the timeless tale of a man (Lawrence Talbot, played by Benicio Del Toro in the 2010 version) who is bitten by the wolf only to become the beast on every full moon.

Underneath the mythology and Halloween masks of this remake, the movie is essentially a warning to each of us about anger.

Lawrence Talbot is an angry man, expectedly so - as one who saw his own mother moments after her bloody death and who was kept in an insane asylum in the early years of his life. Removed from his family and especially his father, Sr. John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), Lawrence reluctantly returns to his family estate in gloomy Blackmoor, England, when his brother is mysteriously attacked by a monster.

The close proximity of father and son only strengthens the bitterness between them, despite their best attempts at reconciliation. Complicating matters is that infamous wolf bite that consumes Lawrence - and a growing suspicion from the townsfolk and Scotland Yard that he might actually be his brother's murderer.

In the midst of the chaos, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) - widowed financee of Lawrence's brother Ben - comes to calm the storm of the Talbot household. In the rising tide of anger and anxiety that sweeps father and son (and everyone else in Blackmoor, it seems), Gwen is the one who provides the movie with much-needed comfort, peace, and loving touch.

Anger can get the best of us. Controlled anger can lead to action, but misdirected anger can turn to hurt feelings, resentment, enstrangement, and even violence. The psalmist warns, "Give up your anger and give up your wrath. Do not be provoked, for it only brings about harm." (Psalm 37:8)

The Wolfman is an analogy for any of us: When our anger gets the best of us, it can consume our actions, destroy our relationships, and sometimes bring about irreversable harm.

On the other hand, we are not called to be Stoic and emotionless. People can hurt our feelings or disappoint us, bad situations can ruin our days, and failure or fatigue can frustrate all our hard work. In the Scriptures, even Moses (cf. Ex. 32:19), Nehemiah (cf. Neh. 13:25), and Jesus (cf. Mk. 11, Mt. 21, Lk. 19) are driven to a controlled, righteous anger.

But if anger leads to hatred, jealousy, bitterness, or violence, it has no place in our hearts. Lawrence Talbot allowed his anger towards his father to consume him. Likewise, his father let his anger towards his son manipulate and twist him. And when the conditions were right (in the movie's case, a full moon), the results were horrifying.

Jesus challenges us, "Whoever is angry at another is liable for judgment, and whoever curses at his brother will be liable to the fires of hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and recall that someone has something against you, leave your gift there and be reconcilied with them. Then come and offer your gift to God." (Mt. 5:22-24).

We can be angry, but not too long. We must seek reconciliation - with ourselves, with others, with the situation at hand - before the anger develops into an uncontrollable beast inside. When we leave that anger intact, who knows what might come of it?!

Let us pray that if, as we read this blog, there is something inside of us that drives us to anger - we take a moment to reconcile (in whatever way necessary) - so that the anger does not drive us to deeper pyschological issues, to unrepairable bitterness, or even to verbal or physical violence.

All joking aside, let us learn a lesson from The Wolfman: with whatever might be troubling you today... go and reconcile before the next full moon, lest it consume you forevermore.