Monday, November 15, 2010


"The invaders charge. They climb barricades. Nothing stops them... undaunted and fearless, unswerving, unstoppable." Joel 2:7

In Unstoppable, the people of rural Pennslyvania come face to face with a runaway train carrying toxic chemicals, speeding along an uncertain track towards certain disaster. And like the train itself, with each successive frame of film, the movie rumbles on faster and faster.

The circumstances of why the train gets on its way are secondary to the fact that no one seems to be able to stop it.

Engineer Dewey (Ethan Suplee) can't catch up to it on foot. Allegheny & West Virginia Railroad (AWVR) executive Michael Galvin (Kevin Dunn) cannot solve the situation with orders barked far away on a conference call. And yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson) is buried under the tension and frustration that her options are running out quickly.

And while veteran engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) and rookie Will Colson (Chris Pine) are going about their daily transport on the rail line, some of the craziest ideas come to them - and they make the conscious decision to race after the runaway and put a stop to the mess once and for all.

In a sense, then, Frank and Will become the unstoppable force of the movie - undeterred by bosses trying to fire them and the odds stacked up against their efforts.

While we are not chasing 75 mile/hour locamotives in our lives, it certainly feels like we are constantly chasing life's struggles, trying to catch up and take control of whatever situation we're dealing with. But the question that remains for us is: who are we most like at those times?

Do we give up like Dewey, not confident we have what we need to take control at the very beginning? Or are we the person who doesn't like to get their hands dirty, preferring to sweep troubles under the rug and blame others? Perhaps we're like Connie, overwhelmed and feeling helpless, looking for an answer - any answer - that might put things back to normal?

These are common experiences when we face our problems, like the swarms of locusts and empires spoken of by the prophet Joel: "The invaders charge. They climb barricades. Nothing stops them... Undaunted and fearless, unswerving, unstoppable." (2:7, Message translation) The prophets warned the people that their enemies would come at them without reservation - and that God would judge them not on their defenses but on who they would become in reaction to the dangers lurking in the distance.

Our troubles often feel "undaunted and fearless, unswerving, unstoppable," but we are called to be more like Frank and Will than the others in this story.

These two are examples of coming together despite their generational and cultural differences. They are people who trust in their experience, passions, and giftedness - and believe in themselves despite conventional wisdom. They put their sights on one singular and selfless goal: to save those they may not even know and, if necessary, lay down their lives so that these others might live.

We, too, are called to emulate their spirit - to be unstoppable agents of the gospel, to reconcile with those different from us, to trust in God and our own blessedness, and to set our eyes fixed on the selfless goal of laying down our lives for another. This is what the prophets like Joel called his audiences to be in the face of the oncoming storm - and this is what Jesus challenges each of us if we claim to follow him.

Then, we pray, we may all be truly unstoppable too.

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