Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Colorblind


This past Friday night, which I mentioned earlier, we had a Karaoke night.  One of the songs I sang as a duet with fellow member John DeGreeve was Frank Sinatra’s My Way.  I’ve always liked this song.  It speaks about living a full life, it speaks of sacrifice and failure and redemption to seeing your goals through all the way to completion.   And finally towards the end it says “To say the things he truly feels uninhibited. “   And so I changed the words towards the end to sing from “I did it my way” to “we did it our way”  But every now and then someone or something comes along and shakes up our way. 
We live our life seeing the world from our view, from our perspective, reading the paper, watching the news, well educated, we fancy ourselves as fairly insightful, we are fairly certain we know what is the best way to solve all the world’s problems  if only people would listen to us, and then suddenly like Toto in the Wizard of Oz someone pulls back the curtain and someone says who is that person behind the curtain and our carefully shaped veneer of the world gets peeled away and we see things for how they truly are.  And when something like that happens, the way we look at the world can never be the same.  We realize that Our way of looking at the world has to change. 
Maybe that is our way as Unitarian Universalists, relooking, re-orienting, re-inventing our view of the world and therefore ourselves.  We often say, to question is the answer, but we also have to make sure we are asking the right questions. Learning to look at the world in a new way and asking some better questions happened to me last June when I went to Justice General Assembly in Phoenix Arizona.  I tell you this is why I highly recommend going to General Assembly, it can change you for the better, it can open your eyes to a new way of looking and seeing and being.  And it does it in unexpected ways.  I attended a program led by Professor Michelle Alexander from The Ohio State University She was discussing her book “The New Jim Crow”.  We will be starting this Thursday for four weeks a joint adult religious education course with Edwards Congregational  on the issues brought up in this book.   Now I don’t want to assume that everyone knows what I mean by Jim Crow.  And even if you do I think it is important to see how the two systems connect. After the Civil War there was a time called Reconstruction, a time when former slaves were given rights and access to resources, limited as they were.
And although there was a populist movement at the time where there were some instance of interracial cooperation, most southerners still harbored wide resentments towards African Americans.  After the Federal troops left the South as part of a political agreement in 1877 a new era called Redemption began where Southern Whites planned to in their words redeem the south. They passed vagrancy and other laws that gave them an excuse to arrest African Americans and used them as prison labor. They passed multiple laws that were selectively enforced that limited African Americans from voting and thus limited their political power.  Southerners used terrorist tactics killing African Americans who tried to assert their freedom.  They passed segregation laws, the goal of which was to drive a wedge between poor Whites and African Americans, all of whom had much in common from an economic perspective, but were always pitted against each other across racial boundaries to diffuse their power.  Due to a confluence of events, including the sacrifice and hard work of many civil rights workers, and I believe the advent of television shining a light on the events in the 1960s,  led to the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights act which reversed the outrages of Jim Crow laws.
Martin Luther King Jr said “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless…he went on to say that legislation will break down the legal barriers and bring people together physically, but something must touch the hearts and souls of people so that they will come together spiritually because it is natural and right”  And although many hearts have been changed it seems that many hearts have not been.  Only tactics have been changed.  It seems the work for equality is a little harder than we thought, and so many just close their eyes and find something easier to salve their souls.  But I ask you to ask yourself a different question today.  Why are there more African Americans in prison today then were slaves prior to the Civil War.
Michelle Alexander in the New Jim Crow argues that the War of Drugs which officially started in the 1982 under the Reagan administration and has continued unabated by administration after administration, both Democrat and Republican has been used over the last three decades to control the lives and limit the opportunities of people of color and particularly poor people of color.  Study after study has shown undeniably that illegal drug usage among races is remarkably similar yet the rate of incarceration for people of color is astronomically higher than for white people. The War on Drugs was aimed directly at poor people of color.  Now I do not want to minimize the dangers and the destruction that drugs can cause.  I need more than all my fingers and toes to count the people who I knew personally when growing up, whose lives and whose families were devastated by drugs, due to addiction, due to jail and due to death. 
In fact, at the time of the war on drugs, I actually saw it as racist act in that I thought the Government was finally getting serious about drugs because it was now starting to affect white communities not just black communities. Local law enforcement was given Federal grants and weapons to fight this war on drugs. Our government for a time had the right to take your property if they only had a suspicion of illegal drug activity.   This was finally slightly reformed in the year 2000.  Mandatory sentencing laws were passed, thus not allowing judges to judge what might be appropriate….Our 4th amendment rights - the right of privacy against unreasonable search and seizure have been decimated by the Supreme Court.  We hear so many people complaining about the 2nd amendment recently yet nary a complaint against the loss of our 4th amendment rights.  The reason for that silence is that it has for the most part been selectively applied against poor people of color.  An inordinately large number of drug cases never even go to trial. When I watch law and order on tv (it seems like it is on all the time), every defendant gets a public defender,  yet often in real life the accused are pressured into signing a plea agreement without the advice of an attorney.  And if they don’t take the plea, they are held for long periods of time and threatened with long jail time.  Once convicted, whether someone serves jail time or not, they lose their right to vote, they lose the right to obtain food stamps, they lose the right to live in public housing, they lose their right to be on a jury,  among many other rights they have lost, just like with Jim Crow. With the additional burden of the increased difficulty in finding a job after a conviction, (lets be honest, if I am choosing between two candidates in a tight job market am I going to choose someone who is a felon vs someone who isn’t). is it any wonder that we have such a high recidivism rate for those convicted.   And just like during Jim Crow, Businesses use prison labor to reduce their cost.   All of this and often even over a minor amounts of marijuana possession.   
Can you imagine what would happen if police consistently went to college campus’s to arrest people for marijuana use.  It would never happen.  In addition to the outrage, the reality is, people of privilege also tend to have more knowledge and ability to defend themselves in court.  Can you imagine how it must feel to be constantly stopped and searched and how that might lead you to distrust law enforcement.   There are countless stories, but one famous tragic incident, was in New York City when an immigrant was shot 41 times by police officers because they thought he was going for a gun, when he was just pulling out his i.d.  To be assumed a violent criminal merely because of the color of his skin.
How the laws of this land are structured and enforced impact white people’s perception of people of color. In her book Alexander states that “The key to America understanding of class is the persistent belief despite all evidence to the contrary, that anyone with the proper discipline and drive, can move from a lower class to a higher class. And the failure to move up reflects on ones character and by extension the failure of a race or ethnic group to move up reflects very poorly on the group as a whole.”  This feeds into the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when in his I have a dream speech he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”  And people focus on that line,  But because of the uneven and unequal enforcement of laws we have been manipulated  to conflate race and crime. 
We say we are colorblind, we are just against crime, and it just so happens that the majority of people arrested for crimes are people of color, and we judge, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously and we conflate the image of race with criminality. This came home to me a number of years ago when I leaving an Orlando Magic Basketball game with my younger son, he must have been about 8 years old. And as we get in our car and start driving home, through a high crime area, I instinctively locked my doors.  And my son with his then angelic innocent face looks at me and says “oh you saw a black person so you locked your car”  In truth, I don’t know if I did or didn’t see an African American, but clearly he saw a connection whether it was conscious or unconscious on my part. And yet it was, a high crime area, and having grown up in the Bronx amidst a tremendous amount of racial violence, I learned to take measures to be safe.  You see the question I asked when I was young and experienced racial violence was how can I be safe?  I think that is a fair question, but it is not enough to just leave it at that. The question I started asking as I got older and became more aware was why is there racial violence? 
A few years back poet and activist Sonia Sanchez spoke at General Assembly, and she told a moving story about a similar experience when she was walking down the street at 2 in the morning and seeing a young black man walking toward her she did all the calculations in her head, how he was dressed with the low riders and wearing chains around his neck, how he was walking with a swag, questioning herself whether she was in danger, blaming herself as to why she didn’t leave her meeting earlier,  whether she should cross over to the other side of the street, all of these thoughts processing in just a few seconds,She said despite being fearful, she walked up to him and hugged him and although not knowing him said she was worried about him and asked him why he was out at 2am in the morning, didn’t he know it was dangerous for a young black man to be out that late, and she invited him back to her house for some tea where she and her husband helped council the young man.   
You see Martin Luther King in his I had a dream speech also said “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight,”  Not just some valleys and hills, Not just the exceptional few who despite roadblocks, hatred, profiling and every challenge imaginable reached their potential, no not just the exceptional few, but Every child, every person should have the right to reach their full potential as a human beings.  President Barack Obama in his autobiography admitted to drug use in his youth. Imagine if he had been arrested?  How would his life have turned out? Would he have reached his full potential? How many other youth and young men are losing their chance to reach their potential.
Its been almost 150 years since the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution has passed which stated Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United State” and yet our Government has found ways consistently through laws and penalties to control and to limit the freedom of People of Color.  Perhaps it is because we still cannot come to terms with what we as a country did in regard to slavery, or perhaps it is guilt overload. But I don’t want you to feel guilty, and say this is terrible and go home. NO!! I want you to come to the classes to learn more and hear more of the details of the New Jim Crow.
I want you to feel insulted, manipulated, indignant, I want you to open the curtain that shields you from the truth.  I want you to shed your colorblindness and see the impact that the color of ones skin has in our society.  I want you to see the injustice and ask yourself some different questions. I want you to ask, what are we going to do about this?  I want you to ask, how can justice reign for all people?  May your hearts and souls be touched

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Heaven and Hell and Everything in Between


There is an old joke about Unitarians that states when a group from various religions were toiling their way up a steep trail to the Pearly Gates.  They came to a turn off, with two signs, one pointing ahead to "Heaven", and one to the side trail, "Discussion Group About Heaven" and the Unitarians took the turn off to the discussion group.  In my younger days, I used to get somewhat perturbed by this joke, as it seems to indicate that Unitarians would choose not to go to heaven given the option.  But the reality is, heaven and hell are images that have been culturally placed in our minds that helps people deal with the fact that the body we are in will one day die.  It is an unavoidable fact of life.
Different religions have posed different theories about what happens after the body dies.  We often hear stories from people about their near death experiences and how they are often similar experiences involving a tunnel with white lights.  I have read numerous articles that try to explain away the light at the end of the tunnel in scientific terms. Back and forth. Back and forth   Often when people ask me what I believe about the afterlife, I usually say something like I’ll find out when I die or not. For the truth is we just don’t know. Many people have different beliefs about what happens to us after we die. 
Beliefs help comfort people in time of suffering, beliefs help guide people in their daily lives,  but the more I think about it, the story of the Unitarian Universalism wanting to discuss heaven seems right. In this life Unitarian Universalism challenge us to explore our experiences, explore other cultures, to integrate different ideas and to re-define our theology and how we live in this world.  Why should it be any different in the next world. Why do we think that if there is life after death, it will be any different than this dimension of life?
As we explore different religious ideas about the afterlife, I want to emphasis that within every religious tradition there is such a diversity of opinion and often what is traditional means that group within the religion that was more powerful had its views encoded as doctrine. But throughout each religion there are a multitude of views.  In the tradition I grew up in Judaism, there really is not much emphasis on the afterlife. It was very much a this world theology.  In the Jewish Scriptures there is not even one mention of the world hell. There is a place mentioned called Sheoul….but it is more of a waiting place. 
In traditional Jewish Theology, the belief is that on Judgment day God will restore the bodies of the righteous dead. Many Jews will not therefore donate organs or be cremated with the thought that if they do so, they can not be resurrected. Of course I have to say after seeing a corpse after a few years, knowing that the physical organs are gone dissuaded me of this concept. Christian Scriptures are much more explicit about hell.  Although it is very interesting that the word hell in Greek is Gehenna, which means the Valley of Hinnom. 
At the time of Jesus, The valley of Hinnom was an actual valley outside the gates of the city of Jerusalem where the Hebrews would throw their garbage, and the garbage was burned. So although the writings may have been metaphorical, hell was a very concrete physical place with fire, in this world.  Having grown up with many Catholic friends, I had heard the stories of hell and the devil.  But really what I couldn’t fathom was that if someone did bad acts every day of their life, and then confessed on the last day of their life, that they could go straight to heaven, no waiting in hell. Well this didn’t seem to just to me.
When I was younger, I wanted to see pain and suffering for those who wronged me in my life!!  If not in this life, I had at least hoped in the next.  And I think it is with this type of thinking in which our ideas about the afterlife were formed.  If there could not be justice in this life, if we were powerless in this life, we want there to be some divine justice in the next.
Now the Universalists came along and said wait, you don’t even have to apologize or confess.  No one goes to hell!!  Everyone is inherently good. We may be corrupted by our earthly challenges, but a loving God loves all people and our inherently good soul immediately is cleansed and goes to heaven.  This was known as Super Universalism led by Hosea Ballou in the 19th Century. Although even the Universalists were divided on this, as there were a large number of Universalist Congregations called Restoration Universalists who thought that people who did evil acts should at least spend a little time in purgatory even if there wasn’t a hell. Such Universalist ideas do not mean we should ignore evil harmful acts by others.  It doesn’t mean we believe we can act with impunity with no repercussions. It means we believe that love, that compassion, that kindness, are stronger than hate, stronger than fear. That given a choice people will bend towards the good. That we should strive to create a heaven on earth.
Yet the word hell is so woven into our western culture, we don’t even realize it, even if intellectually we don’t believe in it. I want us to take a moment to think about how we use the word and how its meaning pervades and impacts our consciousness.  We hear the phrase “It doesn’t stand a Snowball’s chance in hell” or “It will be a cold day in hell” before something happens.  Both concepts of hell speak to hopelessness we have in our lives and in the future.  So correspondingly the concept of heaven is a concept of hope.  We say “All hells breaking loose” and “we are Going to hell in a handbasket” –which really what do people have against hand baskets I don’t see the connection.  But these statements speak to the concept of hell as a form of chaos and points to the lack of control we have in our world. The corresponding concept of heaven then relates to a concept of living in harmony with the world. “We say we’ve been put through hell” “There will be hell to pay” “Someone Scared the hell out of me” All of these concepts of hell speaks to the fear and pain we experience in this world and so the corresponding concept of heaven speaks to a need for a feeling of safety in this world.  
We also use the word hell to speak of how we have overcome challenges in our lives and even redeemed ourselves. We hear “They’re moving like a Bat out of hell”, meaning we want to quickly change things.  We use the phrase “I’ve Been to hell and back” indicating that we are on a journey to improve our lives. Bruce Springsteen in his song better days writes I’m halfway to heaven and just a mile out of hell and I feel like I’m coming home.  I am not sure of the geographic accuracy of that. But its point is that once we escape our darkness, our own personal hell, once we see some form of hope on the horizon we are already halfway to our personal heaven. Within each of our personal hells, is a spark of something better. Maybe that is the divine spark that gives us hope when hope is gone, that gives us strength to carry on when we despair.  Hell therefore is an expression that represents alienation in our lives.  Therefore the corresponding concept of heaven represents being connected with others.  As soon as we start making connections and realizing our interdependence with each other we realize what heaven is.
Some references to hell speak to sort of strident perseverance. Such as “I am going to do something Come hell or high water.”  Or I am “hell bent” on doing something. Or we tell someone to “Give them hell” when they are getting ready to do something competitive. We might even say someone is Raising hell if they are standing up for something. I had to think hard about these. Instinctively I have to admit, these are seductive phrases telling us to not give up, give your all to everything you do. But when I think about them, these phrases raise the concept of acting without regard to the consequences of our actions.  So maybe the corresponding concept of heaven is acting with intention taking into account the consequences of our actions. And of course the most basic and direct statement about hell is when someone tells you to Go to Hell, Ive heard that in my lifetime,   sometimes they tell you to go straight to hell, do not pass go. Sort of the opposite of the Universalists going straight to heaven.  I remember watching the movie Tombstone recently, when a man was about to be shot, he tells the shooter to go to hell, and the shooter says “you first” and then kills him. Although I deplore the violence that this scene depicted, I thought it interesting to think about for many reasons. Most people I talk to always think they are going to heaven. Even people who I considered bad people seem to be able to rationalize their actions.  So I think it was interesting that these combatants at least were able to realize what they were doing was immoral. That is the first goal of discernment – self awareness.  But more importantly it also speaks to the fact that we are all in this together.  We are all part of the oneness of everything.  It is a concept that is very common in Hinduism and Buddhism.
These Eastern Religions believe when we die, we are reborn, until we are able to attain nirvana. The ultimate goal of life these religions propose is to attain nirvana. Now Nirvana, for those of you around my age, Nirvana is not just a rock band. Nirvana is when we reach a place or sense of impermanence and complete selflessness.  The actual technical meaning of Nirvana, is actually to have your soul extinguished, as in having a lamp blown out.  That is actually a fairly jarring religious concept, that the ultimate goal of the soul is to be extinguished. Everything that has a beginning has an end. In Hinduism, when one reaches nirvana, the soul returns to a Universal Soul.  In Buddhism, it is more about returning to a sort of primordial void..
This is quite a different vision than our Western vision of hanging out in the clouds and angels playing harps.  But what I like about the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, particularly in Mahayana Buddhism,  is the belief that obtaining Nirvana would be a selfish act in and of itself as long as others are still trapped in the cycle of death and re-birth.  Such enlightened beings are called Bodhisattvas, and they forgo nirvana to help enlighten other beings.  We are all in this together. The message is we need to help each other in this life.  We are not just waiting to die, we are active in our creation, and in the ongoing creation of the universe.  We can all choose to be bodhisattvas.    Now I don’t worry too much about the afterlife.  I remember when I was young, I asked my grandfather about this and he told me to just live a good life and if there is a heaven, you will get in, and if there isn’t a heaven you will have lived a good life.  Living a good life, what does that exactly mean?  During this past year, I have been talking about such values as hope, hospitality, forgiveness, gratitude, generosity,  patience, courage and compassion to name a few.  I ask you to look within yourselves, to discern, and become self aware, as to whether you are living up to your best selves in regard to these values.
Unitarian Universalists constantly engage life and how we live our lives.  Just as the joke I told at the beginning indicated, we engage those ultimate questions about the meaning of life, not with easy platitudes of some otherworldly paradise or torment but with a serious examination in the present moment. We can find eternity in every moment.  Easy platitudes and creeds fall by the wayside in times of crises, because deep down people know there is more to life, and then it is too late, and they know there is no magical redemption for a life poorly lived.  A life well lived with principle and integrity can get us through the day.  And when we look back on our life, we should hopefully see how we have helped others, how we have left the world a better place.  In such a way, we live eternally as well.  Our life lives on in those we have touched, just as my grandfather’s life lives on in me, May it be so for you.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Who's Got Next?


From the Heart of the Minister – January 2013   Who’s Got Next?
I often like to say that everything I learned, I learned on the schoolyard.  That is of course a bit of an exaggeration. However I learned many core values through those experiences.  I was not very athletic as a youth, but after school the main activity that my friends and I participated in was playing sports in the schoolyard.  When we would play basketball, two captains were picked and then they would each choose 4 other players. Often I was the tenth person picked or if there were more than 10 people, and if I wasn’t picked, I would shout “next”, meaning I would be the captain of the next team to choose four players and play the winning team.  And thus the last became the first.  The lesson I learned was patience, and by watching others play I learned the ability to spot talented players to choose for my team.  When the game was over someone would shout “Who’s Got Next”
It never bothered me if I wasn’t chosen, as I knew I would get a chance to participate.  I knew I wasn’t as good a shooter as the other players in the schoolyard.  But when I got on the court, I was tenacious, playing full court defense, and using every ounce of ability I had.  I learned the value of hard work. I learned the value of teamwork by learning how to pass the ball to others who were better shooters.  I learned the value of both humility and perseverance when I would drive to the basket and take a hard foul, and get back up and keep going.  It taught me when you are in the mix of things, sometimes it isn’t easy.  It also taught me to stay engaged even when things didn’t go my way.  The most important lesson I learned was not only to understand what my limits were but that my limits could grow over time.  I knew I would never be a great basketball player.  What I learned was playing with other more talented players made me a better player, and that I could win by just playing my part.
I took this wisdom into the world with me as I helped build organizations.  Any organization is only as good as the people participating in it.  Some individual’s talents are more suited to different areas but everyone is welcome to try something new as a way to learn and grow.  I found that for an organization to be successful,  all the people involved needed to work together, making each other better, and keeping the focus of the organization on its mission and vision. 
First and foremost, I want to take this space to thank our paid staff for everything  they do and to let them know how much I appreciate their hard work.    As well  I want to thank all the volunteers  who without which this Congregation could not function in the manner that it does. Even when I forget to plan for something, I know people will jump in and help.   For years, we have had many of the same people doing a tremendous amount of the volunteer work.   We have worked hard this past year to encourage newer and different members to participate in various volunteer opportunities.  I am grateful for the many who have answered that call.   For those who have been sitting on the sidelines, now is the time to step forward. We need you.  For those who have questions about how things work and how to get involved, now is the time to ask.  Your participation in Congregational Life will impact in a positive way your experience in helping build this beloved community.  In order to sustain and continue to add more programs, to have our message reach others who desperately need to hear it, and to have our values impact the larger community,  we need everybody to participate in whatever part you can play.  So I have one question: Who’s Got Next?

Monday, January 07, 2013

My Christmas Homily - A midrash on the Wise People


Last year on Christmas eve, I spoke about the story of Jesus being born in Manger as written in the Gospel of Luke, so I thought it appropriate this year that I speak from the Gospel of Matthew, which has a completely different birth narrative than Luke.  I found the wise men to be interesting characters in this drama. When they came to Jerusalem they did not know where Jesus was.  It was King Herod who calls together his advisors who determine that Jesus is in Bethlehem.  Herod then secretly sends for the wise men from the East.  If it was merely to pay homage, there would be no need for secrecy.
Why couldn’t Herod just send his own people to find the boy.  The wise men knew that Herod wanted the child dead.  In fact, I would speculate and this is purely my personal speculation that perhaps the three wise men were assassins sent by Herod to kill the baby Jesus. Think of the gifts they received from Herod before their trip. They had  gold, which could have been payment for the assassination, frankincense to cover up the smell of a dead body for the trip back, and myrh which was used as embalming fluid for bodies at that time. (as it is indicated in the Gospel of John when they are burying Jesus after he died on the cross).  Or maybe I have just read one too many John Le Claire spy novels. 
But it clearly states the wise men tricked Herod .  Why did they defy King Herod.  Clearly they feared Herod as they a took a different road home.  Perhaps, upon seeing this family, this young child, the wise men had a change of conscience.  Maybe they realized that harming innocents, especially harming children was an unacceptable way to live.  How many children have to suffer before we are transformed as individuals,  as a society, to make this a safe place for children to be raised so that every child has the opportunity to reach their maximum potential?  The 3 wise men made the choice to not follow the orders of a corrupt and oppressive leader.   
This story of Jesus’s birth is really just a retelling of the Moses story, for that is a story the Jews of their time would understand, a story of how an oppressive foreign power through fear and terror tries to subjugate the people through violence, and how one child survives who will lead the way out of the wilderness.  But maybe it is not the innocent that will lead us out of the wilderness, but people who know what it is to suffer and do not want to see others suffer the same fate they did who will lead the way. 
Whereas Moses was raised within a privileged position among the Egyptians, Jesus is raised in small more rural town with people who were without power.  These stories were written for people who were without power. So why do we need such stories. For we need hope.  In the face of a society that cares more about violence and vices rather than healthcare and homes we need hope, for a society that cares more about selfishness and self-absorption, than about safety and the sanity of our children, we need hope. 
The only difference is, we are not without power.  We have power.  We do not live in a day and time with oppressive leaders,  but rather within a democracy, by of and for the people, all the people.  And by our actions, and with our values of caring, of compassion, of love, we can make a difference in the world.  We can be the wise people, we can choose the way of helping, the way of safety, the way of caring.  We can do this together.  Let us not just turn our heads and say thank god at least it wasn’t us.  Everyone is us.  Let us not wait, Let us follow that star that shines,  that star that points to our true north, a true north where all children are considered sacred and worth saving. 

A Tale of Two Movies


When I was on vacation, I spent some time catching up on movies.  Of the movies I viewed I will mention two big productions.  Les Miserable - an 8 on the JWo movie scale and Life of Pi, a 7 on the JWo scale.  Two very different movies and both worth the price of admission.

Of course I had read the reviews for Les Mis and they were decidedly mixed.  I will not go into detail about the storyline.  Its themes of redemption, faith, commitment and hope are right in my wheelhouse.  But really the story is irrelevant, it is about the music.  Having seen the Broadway show 3 times,  I knew I would be predisposed to like the movie.   Almost all the reviews panned Russell Crowe, and although his voice is not operatic as the Broadway productions. since my expectations were lowered it was nowhere as bad as I was led to believe it was going to be.  My biggest disappointment was Sacha Cohen.  Let me say this, the movie was not great film-making, but it was a great film.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway were just superb. The movie brought actual tears to my eyes numerous times.  Not in some manipulated way, but for empathetic joy and sorrow of the characters, noticing within the story symbolic echoes of my own life.   This is what a good film should do.  I could go on about the negative technicalities of the movie, but the raw emotion of its music is the stuff of legends.  It is a must see movie.

The Life of Pi, is a very different movie.  Whereas Les Mis was a good film but poor film-making, Life of Pi was just a beautifully made film.  The Cinematography was superb.  It was just a visual delight to watch this film.  The film's religious content was also intriguing.  Its discussions about pluralism vs. mono-theology were interesting.  The question about surrendering to God at our deepest point of suffering is always challenging.  As well, how we tell stories about God and why that can be meaningful was insightful.  Although enjoyable to view, I found the movie unsatisfying.  Much needed to be inferred  and so much of the movie's explanation happened in the last five minutes of the movie that it felt rushed. Of course the need to use an author talking to the main character as a mechanism to explain the story also seemed a bit contrived. But I loved the animals and the ocean. Worth seeing, but as much as I appreciate good film-making, I will take a good film over film-making any day.