09 December 2006

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup (2001), directed by María Ripoll; starring Hector Elizondo, Jacqueline Obradors, Constance Marie, and Raquel Welch

This is a remake of Ang Lee’s wonderful Eat Drink Man Woman. Sometimes a remake is a vast improvement on the original, as in the case with Sabrina, with deeper characters, and even a more plausible plot. Sometimes, however, the original film is so tightly woven together in the writing and editing that a remake just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, the second is the case with Tortilla Soup. It’s not a bad film, but it just doesn’t measure up to Eat Drink Man Woman.
No one simply wants to copy, frame by frame, another filmmaker’s work, but instead wants to add certain touches, change motifs, or develop characters in a different direction. The problem here is that the original was so good, no extra dialog, no extra shots, every scene showing something about the characters and their relationships to one another, and powerful, repeating metaphors, that any changes reduce the impact of the remake.

Here’s one example: in the original, food is tightly controlled: who eats food prepared by whom, circumstances when people eat either alone or together, characters’ attitudes toward food, all develop or reveal character and relationships. The food in Tortilla Soup wasn’t as tightly controlled, and thus it loses much of its symbolic and thematic weight.

There were certain scenes in the original that were cinematically wonderful - no dialog, just an image that communicated clearly what was going on - that in the remake were exchanged for an easy-to-miss expository line of dialog.

Many of the set-ups weren’t paid off (again, we traded images for throw-away expository lines of dialog), and the climax of the film was moved from the very last scene to the penultimate scene, reducing its impact.

I’d suggest that you rent Eat Drink Man Woman and read your way through the subtitles. And then discuss some of these issues, especially the use of food, with those you watched it with.

08 December 2006

Quote Time

From The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul, Chapter 2, pp. 28-30:

If ever there was a man of integrity, it was Isaiah be Amoz. He was a whole man, a together type of fellow. He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed--morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. ...

...He saw the holiness of God. For the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was. ...

...His was pure moral anguish, the kind that rips out the heart of a man and tears his soul to pieces. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Relentless guilt screamed from his every pore.

The holy God is also a God of grace. He refused to allow His servant to continue on his belly without comfort. He took immediate steps to cleanse the man and restore his soul.
(pp. 32-33):
Two important things must be noted in Isaiah’s reply [‘Here am I. Send me.’]. The first is that he was not Humpty-Dumpty. In the nursery rhyme, the fall of Mr. Dumpty is tragic because no one in the entire kingdom had the power to put him together again. Yet he was no more fragile than Isaiah. Isaiah was shattered into as many pieces as any fallen egg. But God put him together again. ...

The second important thing we learn from this event is that God’s work of grace on Isaiah’s soul did not annihilate his personal identity. ... Isaiah could still speak in terms of ‘I’. He still had an identity. He still had a personality. Far from God seeking to destroy the ‘self,’ as many distortions of Christianity would claim, God redeems the self. ... Isaiah’s personality was overhauled but not annihilated. He was still Isaiah ben Amoz when he left the temple. He was the same person, but his mouth was clean.

07 December 2006

Logs and Specks, II

So, how have Drew and I begun to apply the truths I've discussed in these last few posts to our children?

First of all, we’ve taught them from Matthew 7, going through with them what I’ve been discussing here. This was done when no one was in the middle of overt and obvious sin. In other words, it wasn’t aimed at any one person in particular, and I included examples from my own life as we discussed this. I wanted them to realize that I don’t think I’m above this, but that it must apply to me, too.

We’ve also listened to CJ Mahaney’s sermon entitled Cravings and Conflict, at least a couple of times already and we’ll listen to it plenty more through the coming years as our little ones grow. (It helped that we all heard it together for the first time when CJ was visiting and preached one Sunday morning.)

These teachings have given us some common language for dealing with our children’s sin (and our own). I can now calmly ask them, “Where’s your log?” or “What are you craving?” or “Who are you focused on right now?” as shortcuts to pointing them back to their own hearts and the sin therein when conflict arises. Another question I ask my older kids is, “What idol are you worshipping right now?”

Humility on my part is required. Am I willing to confess my own sin to my children and ask their forgiveness? Or do I try to brush my own sins under the rug?
And, just as I need to get to the root of my sin, I must try to teach my children to dig for their own roots. If we don’t get to the root of the sin, but focus on changing behaviour, we haven’t done our children any favors.

These truths come up often when discussing our weekly sermons. We are truly blessed in our church leadership and in the teaching we receive week after week as we learn to apply the gospel to all of life.

We also tease one another a bit. We sing a wonderful song at church which includes the following lyric: “It’s all about you, Jesus, and all this is for you, for your glory and your fame. It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way, you alone are God and I surrender to your name.” When we see self-centeredness beginning to manifest itself, sometimes we start singing this song, only we change “Jesus” to the name of the person who’s focused on himself at the moment. We usually only get to “It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way,” if even that far. The kids get the drift and know where the song is headed. This sounds horrible as I read it, but it’s done gently, with a big grin, and helps cut to the heart of the matter in a way that helps the person involved surrender much more easily than a scolding would.

Another aspect of this that I’ve recently begun to apprehend is that sometimes school needs to be put on hold while we work on these heart issues. If my kids can multiply and read Latin, but don’t know how to apply the gospel to the sin in their hearts, have I really served them well?
These are issues that can be talked about in the context of literary or film characters. For example, as we discuss Lizzie Bennett’s and Mr. Darcy’s attitudes toward one another in these terms (“What is Lizzie craving?” or “What’s the log in Darcy’s eye?”), the kids don’t feel attacked, but are learning to discern and think in these terms.

Sanctification is a process, a step-by-step, line-upon-line process. We can’t afford to be too busy for this process, nor can we rush it. God is patient with us and so must we be with our children. If we can deal with our own logs, our children will understand that we’re on their side as we help them deal with their specks.

Next, I’ll try to post some resources, books and downloadable sermons, to help these truths become functional in daily life.

I feel like I need to include a disclaimer here. I’m still very much in process and haven’t arrived by any stretch of the imagination. I’m writing this as much for myself (to reinforce it) as for anyone who may read it.

06 December 2006

Logs and Specks

I got an email about my post on 28 November (you can’t imagine how I’ve wanted a legitimate reason to say that ever since I started watching VeggieTales!!!). My friend asks (and you must imagine a sweet, Aussie accent to do it justice!):

“I am wondering how you ever get around to dealing with your children's logs and specks when you have to deal with your own first. That's a revealing comment, isn't it! I am fully aware that uncontrollable emotion in me points to MY sin, which needs to be dealt with, but not so sure that I can ever deal with sin in my children over-emotion-free. I know it has something to do with awareness of, and acceptance of how much I have been forgiven, but still have a hard time with it - so I look forward to your further reflections with expectation and hopefulness.”

It not only has something to do with awareness of and acceptance of how much I’ve been forgiven, but I believe it has quite a bit to do with it, as does looking for the root of my own uncontrollable emotional response. (Once we deal with the root issues, I’ll have some practical applications that I’ve been trying lately with my own brood.)

If I don’t act upon the knowledge of the depth of my own sin and the even greater amount of grace poured upon me, I’m the ungrateful servant of Christ’s parable. He was forgiven a debt he couldn’t have paid in five lifetimes. He then went out and found someone who owed him $10 and put him in debtors’ prison until the debt could be repaid.

Think of an old-fashioned scale, a balance. One side contains the immeasurable fullness of my sin against the infinite, transcendent, and holy Lord. It’s deeper (and darker) than the Mariana Trench, higher than Alpha Centauri, and heavier than Jupiter, and it’s all been forgiven because of Christ. On the other side of our metaphorical balance is the sin the person I’m in conflict with has committed against me - all 2 or 3 grains’ worth of sand. Until the sin against me is as huge as my sin against God which he has forgiven, I have no right to get angry.

I must also examine the root of my sin. Why exactly am I so upset when one of my children sins? Various reasons come to mind.

Maybe they’ve disregarded my desires (for a clean house, a bowl of ice cream, a half hour of peace and quiet, help in the garden...you fill in the blank).

My children aren’t thinking of me and I’m upset about that. Don’t they realize how much they owe me? How many hours I spent in labor? How hard I work to homeschool them? How much I’ve given up for them? All I’ve given them and do for them each day? I’m so wonderful, well ... they should just bow down and worship me.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve lost sight of what I really do deserve (and, because of Christ, what I’m not getting). My focus at this point is myself and it’s not pretty; I’ve become more important in my eyes than anyone else. I’m worshipping myself, which is another way to say I’ve descended into idolatry. Ouch. It’s not only not pretty, it’s pretty ugly...horribly ugly. (Which brings me back to the cross and the enormity of the forgiveness offered there, and the gratitude toward Christ for his sacrifice. There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.)

Or suppose there’s real sin going on in my children (not an unreasonable conjecture). Who are they really sinning against? Me? or God himself? What is my responsibility before the Lord toward my children?

After listing the fruit of the Spirit and contrasting it with the fruit of the flesh, Paul writes, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 5:25-6:1)

Paul gives us instructions for how we should treat one another, not just when things are going well, but especially when a brother (one of my children) is caught in sin. The picture in my mind isn’t that I’ve caught one of my children red-handed (ah-ha!), but that sin, which blinds and deceives, is a trap that has caught one of my children, the sin that so easily entangles from Hebrews, chapter 12. If I were to come upon one of my children caught in a physical trap of some sort, I’d want to set him free from the trap, not challenge him or boast that I wasn’t entangled in it. And I’d realize that he certainly couldn’t free himself.

I’m the one “who is spiritual” when my child is caught in sin. How must I seek to restore him? Not by challenging him, but in a spirit of gentleness. Why must I seek to be gentle? That I too will not be tempted. Restore him to whom? The Lord, primarily. And again, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Do I act as if I want to condemn him or to restore him?

I must remind myself that my children’s sin isn’t really against me, but against the Lord, transcendent, holy, and just. Even if they do owe me $10, I owed the Lord much, much more and he forgave. In gratitude to him, how can I do less? If I can bring this from the confessional level of simply acknowledging this in my mind to the functional level of living by it, I will begin to be changed by it, and I’ll begin to be able to deal more effectively and biblically with my children’s sin.