Writer C.S. Lewis said “As humans, we seek an enlargement of our being.We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to (our)self. … We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. … We demand windows.”
Movies can be a window to other worlds. Every week is a little different here. For those who follow me on my blog JWORLD you know I love movies. Other then sermons, it is what I post most about on my blog. Movies have been a big part of my life. On a very practical level, at a young age it was a place to go that was air conditioned where no one would bother you.
Also I was lucky, in the Bronx, there was the Lowes Paradise Theatre
Now of course there are plenty of movies that are just escapist, A good movie though can help you see the world beyond your own, can help you better understand the world we live in and can help you develop skills and values to improve your life. The experience of going to a movie is different then television. The fact that you are seeing it with others, reminds you that others are experiencing the same thing at the very same time in that very theatre, throughout the state, throughout the country even throughout the world, and that in some small way connects us to others. Movies are a one shot thing. (which is why with rare exceptions I disdain sequels).
In approximately two hours you can travel in time to bring you to the creation of the universe and/or into the future for exploration of the galaxy. In those two hours time can speed up and you can span a lifetime and see the trajectory and consequences of a decision or life, and that can help inform us in our lives our well.
One of the most important things about movies, is that it allows us to see and be connected to lives and worlds other then our own. It allows us to see the differences as well as the commonalities of human experiences of love, life, struggle, and death. As I thought about this, I thought what movies could I share with you that would help you understand the environment I grew up in in the Bronx as a way for you to understand the context of my life. Its not that easy. I realize they are only shadows or stories, or snippets of reality, but stories are all we have. There are movies that have the Bronx as a setting but are just fantasies that are really nothing like it, like Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx or the Warriors. Even a thought provoking movie such as Finding Forrester that tells the story of JD Salinger type writer living in refuge in his Bronx Apartment who ends up mentoring a young African American student in writing is set in the Bronx, but it could be anywhere. Here is a short clip
“The rest of those who have gone before us, can not steady the unrest of those to follow”
Sometimes one line can make a movie for me.
This movie speaks of friendship, integrity, how helping each other allows us to unlock our potential, and the realization that we cannot escape or hide from our past and our suffering, we can only engage it and try to find meaning and move forward through deepening relationships in our lives. And although this movie didn’t reflect much of my experience in the Bronx, it probably means more to me then it does others because I spent summer days in the house that Ruth built and I understand what it means to not have someone see my potential. There are other movies that show the Bronx, and its inhabitants in a slice of life story, such as Fort Apache the Bronx, Or Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, which both did realistically capture a snapshot of the mood during one place and one time and from one perspective. Two movies that I would say captured the Bronx from the perspective that I grew up in. Both starred Chaz Palminterri who grew up in the Bronx not far from where I did. The first one is a Bronx Tale with Robert DeNiro. It tells the story of a young man who from a young age is lured by the life of crime and his father a bus driver trying to keep him on the straight and narrow and in this scene speaks to the ethics of how we earn our money and what constitutes tough.
This is an ok movie, and This movie shares the same challenge many families face and it shows examples of courage and later in the movie also points to the fragility of life and how one decision we make, or how one persons intervention can change your life.
It constantly calls us to question how to maintain our morality in an immoral world and the consequences of our choices. Those morally ambiguous movies are the ones I like the best.
The movie that probably best projects the environment I grew up in was the movie called A guide to recognizing your saints. It actually was set in the borough of Queens not the Bronx, but it more then any other movie depicts my experience of living in an outer borough of NYC.
Its summer, its hot!! People are pretty matter of fact in New York. I knew and met many characters similar to the ones depicted in this movie. The movie shows the randomness of life and death. it shows how our upbringing often shapes the trajectory of our lives without our even realizing it. It showed the yearning for more out of life, or at least the yearning for something different, to break out of the rut of the cycle of our lives, and the tension that causes and how often we are held back by our allegiances to friends and family. (You went to coney island with someone you just met – with the inference that exploring was risky, and that he should stayed home with his long time friend) This one scene shows how just one person connecting with us or our connecting with another person can point to another world beyond what we know, beyond what we have been taught, sometimes it takes someone showing us or modeling for us that it is ok to cross boundaries, whether physical or the arbitrary boundaries in our minds.
I loved the juxtaposition and metaphor of how we look at travel. He had never travelled to Coney Island by train, but this other person had come from another country. Sometimes going even a short distance can seem like going to another country. Whether its going cross town or letting go of your presuppositions about how things are or how they should be, and opening ourselves to new ideas new ways of being, and new perspectives, although you may be risking the known, the journey will expand our universe.In the end we see the arc of the characters life, and the same story that sometimes we have to leave the place we are to find ourselves, or leave the place of mind we are in to find a more fulfilling life. But no matter how far we travel, we can not run away from our grief.
At some point we have to face it, if we are to have peace within. Clearly this is a theme that touches me and others who lived in such an environment.
So I have through movies given you a window into my world. I ask you consider what movies are windows into your life, or what movies have provided you a window into another life, another world. And although it has improved recently, I understand the truth that there are not as many American movies that have lead characters or stories that are centered around People of Color and Women. And for far too long White Actors have played roles meant for People of Color. We have to face that and we have to demand change. Just good Oscars so White and you will understand. Another thing we need to face and understand and we face it every week and I ask you to be open to it as well, is our support for social justice and this community through our weekly offering. This month 50% of our offering will be going to support the Sanctuary Task Force Once you have had the chance to donate I invite you to come down to mark a joy or sorrow in your life.
IN looking outward, movies speak for those who do not have a voice, they allow us to develop empathy by seeing others lives, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their sorrow, their joys. This point to the fact that movies can also be used to help us develop our inner life and our moral values. They can show us stories of courage and overcoming adversity. They can show us we are not alone in our fears and anxieties, and we are not alone in asking the deep questions of life. Movies can be visually beautiful and starkly realistic. Movies can be morally ambiguous and they can be definitive and judgmental.
They can allow us to experience emotions that we often keep hidden through years of protecting ourselves from pain. I still today always cry everytime Eliot realizes ET is still alive or when Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams after his long journey of self discovery asks his dad to play catch. Theologian Paul Tillich once said that
“in the proximate, the daily, the apparently small, there is hidden in truth the metaphysical; the here-and-now is the place where meaning is disclosed, where our existence must find interpretation, if it can find an interpretation at all.”
Movies can help us look inward. To balance what we see against our own interpretation of the world. And sometimes they help us better understand how to make our way in the world. I keep a separate youtube list of movies that inspire me that every now and then, when I need a pick me up I will play. Here is just a sample.
Writer Brett McCracken writes “cinema is more than just a window. It’s also a magnifying glass. It focuses our attention on everyday reality in a way that makes us see everyday reality for what it really is: magnificence and curiosity.” Let us see everything for what it is. Let us look for the beauty within each other. And the next time you go to the movies, look a little deeper, open a little wider and look through the window to see yourself and the world around you in a new way.
May it be so.