Archive | March, 2016

Beautiful in His Time

26 Mar

I wrote this on our church’s blog.

Tabernacle for Today

sunriseEcclesiastes 3:11, “He hath made everything beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”

Last Wednesday, I literally hit “pause” for a few minutes of my life in order to enjoy the morning’s arrival at the Coast Guard Base in Yorktown where I work.

The sun was rising over the York River. The air was clear and warm. The protected deer that wander in from the Yorktown National Battlefield next door were busily munching grass, as they eat at sunrise and sundown. (I have learned that that means they are “crepuscular”).

The birds, oh my goodness, the birds. Seemingly silent all winter, they had set up a cacophony of sound all together as the new morning arrived. Every tree seemed to have a bird with a different cry…

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Letting Bing Crosby Define Friendship!

5 Mar

Someday I will move on, but for the moment I am stuck on just four of Bing Crosby’s large number of movies. They are two matched sets. Bing as entertainer in Holiday Inn and White Christmas. Bing as priest in Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.

I believe that Bing’s movies elevate friendship from a simple “buddies movie” status to something enduring and eloquent. There is no better example of that than Going My Way, which won Best Picture in 1944, best actor for Bing, and best supporting actor for Barry Fitzgerald. Barry was *also nominated for best actor, a situation which is not even allowed anymore.

Wow! The friendship between Barry, as the older priest, Bing as the younger priest who has come as his “assistant” (actually to take charge of the parish), and Bing’s childhood friend (Frank McHugh), who is also a priest, is epic! These men are sensitive to each other and to those they serve without coming across as milquetoast or sappy. They are strong men who can cry; firm leaders who can rejoice in God’s good gifts, like golf, and sing their hearts out. This may be my favorite movie ever.

Rise Stevens appears as a Metropolitan Opera star who used to be Bing’s lady love before he took his vows. The scene where she emerges from her dressing room to see his clerical collar and realize that he is a priest is delicious! Bing is able to continue his relationship to Rise as a good friend in the film. She becomes his parish’s biggest benefactor.

Bing seems to thoroughly enjoy his role in the movie and the rich relationships his character cultivates with everyone in it. He influences people with a joyful and kind spirit that leads them to faith.

I have seen it written that today’s sex-soaked society may be a reaction to the fact that we have minimized the spirit of friendship in our day. Everyone, of either gender, is seen as a potential bed partner. People seem to feel that if they have not tried sex in various configurations of gender and number of participants, they have not fully lived.

Our low view of sex (for that is what our utter fixation on it is) has emotionally crippled us in friendship. We all claim that our partner is our best friend, thus those who are unpartnered are regarded as people who need to be pitied. Even if they live in community, like a priest, and minister to others in a variety of rich relationships. We can’t conceive of a person being content to live a lifetime without sex.

Furthermore, if someone connects with us on a deep level through shared love of books and movies or a common worldview, people around us often won’t let it *be a good friendship without suggestions that the relationship should move to the bedroom, even if the two people are not interested in a relationship with someone of that gender and even if the two people might not be interested in sex at all. We can’t allow anyone to be content in a relationship characterized by deep thoughts being drawn from the well of conversation. We have to push to sexualize *everything.

I believe in this we are the losers. I have seen appeals to us to return to the idea of having several deep lifelong friends. I think we all long for this level of friendship but we also become afraid of that much vulnerability and about the possibility that someone will claim the relationship is sexual. We shut ourselves off from friendship to protect ourselves.

I love the scene in Going My Way where Bing Crosby sings the older priest, Barry Fitzgerald’s character, to sleep with a lullaby from his childhood in Ireland. It is beautiful and pure.

We would do well to return to the friendship standards of Bing Crosby movies!!!

Vivien Leigh, Unlucky in Love

5 Mar

As an aficionado of old films, I was recently pondering the various film roles of Vivien Leigh and wondering whether she *ever ultimately won at love. I can’t think of a film where she did that. Can you?

More than that, Vivien Leigh’s roles often stood as moral object lessons to their era, the Golden Age of Hollywood. Remember, this was the era *before the television was invented so films were the entertainment of the day. People would go to them much more often than they do today, so more of them were made. If you have only seen the Best Picture winners from that era, you have missed a lot.

Beyond her dalliances with Ashley Wilkes when she played Scarlett O’Hara, Vivien Leigh went completely over the line on several occasions and played immoral people, by the standards of her day and by the standards many people still share.

In Anna Karenina, she was a noblewoman conducting an extramarital affair. She ended the film throwing herself under a train when her lover spurned her. By the standards of that era, immorality could never be shown to pay. Those who were immoral would have negative outcomes to last the rest of their lives (or their lives would end prematurely).

I was intrigued recently, while watching her Waterloo Bridge for the first time, when she thought her fiancee was killed in World War II and blithely followed her flatmate into prostitution in order to not starve during the war. She had options. Initially, her fiancee would have sent her money; later his mother would have done so. But she referenced her pride and did not ask. When they were on the point of not eating enough to stay alive, she joined the prostitution endeavor which had already been putting bread on the table via her friend.

When her fiancee came back alive, she quickly shifted back into the elegant life of the nobility she had begun to share with him. They plainly adored one another. I wondered how the film would resolve because I knew it would not have our modern sensibilities attached to the ending. We would forgive someone who worked as a prostitute to avoid starvation; moreover we would probably still regard her soul as pure since she didn’t purposely choose the job (does anyone ever?).

But this Golden Age of Hollywood film ended with Vivien Leigh’s character having a crisis of conscience and confessing to her future mother-in-law that she could not marry her son. The young woman had crossed a line from which her relationship could not be redeemed (though presumably she understood her soul could still be redeemed . . . that was probably why she confessed).

To her credit, the mother-in-law said the entire situation had probably been partly her fault for not paying attention to the needs of the young woman when her son was reported dead. But she, too, could not redeem this story and provide it a happy ending. There was a very loving farewell between the young woman and her almost mother-in-law; there was a loving farewell as she went away from her fiancee without telling him she was about to do so.

Later on, she throws herself under a military convoy on Waterloo Bridge. Shades of Anna Karenina.

That is a very clear dividing line between Golden Age films and modern ones. When our modern films have a moral basis at all, it is that forgiveness can wipe out the consequences of *any sin. It certainly can in God’s eyes but I submit that we are unrealistic when we expect human forgiveness to reset a situation as though nothing ever happened. Actions have consequences. Some situations resolve beautifully; some do not. In either case, the person asking forgiveness has to be willing to accept consequences if they occur.

We tend to insist that other people not only forgive us with no consequences, but that they do it *immediately. We are so used to being in the driver’s seat and to treating other people as props in our personal story that we don’t notice this discrepancy in our hearts at all.

Perhaps there was a great moral beauty in the standards of the Golden Age, after all. It presented richly textured people who got to choose, sometimes wisely and sometimes unwisely.

I can only hope that Vivien Leigh’s real life marriage to Sir Lawrence Olivier brought her much more happiness than her characters ever realized.

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