MICHAEL AND KAY

THEOLOGY AT THE MOVIES

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The sprawling crime stories, “The Godfather” and “The Godfather II” are undeniably sordid tales about the infection of evil. But I recall one line at the close that actually speaks hope to the suffering in our world. Is wickedness and rebellion going to continue forever, with God’s people simply escaping the pain by way of the cemetery and then  the Bible’s promise of the soul escaping to paradise? Or is Satan’s reign going to be finally and galactically defeated?

At the very beginning, a naïve Kay Adams attends a family wedding with her boyfriend, war hero Michael Corleone. She’s startled when he tells her the infamous “band-leader story” describing the Don’s role as head of a crime syndicate. “That’s my family, Kay,” he insists. “That’s not me.” But later, when Vito Corleone is shot by thugs, Michael offers to assassinate Sollozzo and a corrupt police captain. Still, though, he’s the innocent family lamb reluctantly forced to defend his dad.

Toward the end of Part One, when he returns from hiding out in Sicily and reconnects with Kay, it’s clear that now he’s head of the family, and orchestrating the Corleone empire’s vast criminal enterprise. He insists to her, though, that “in five years we’ll be completely legitimate.” The messy unfolding in the sequel, however, makes it clear that Michael’s developed a lust for power. Also, his bloodthirst for revenge will keep him locked forever in a state of lawlessness. He’s never going to change. In the movie’s tragic close, Connie begs him to forgive the pathetic Fredo. “He’s so sweet, Michael; he’s so helpless. Please!” Michael feigns a reconciliation, but has already ordered a hit on his own older brother.

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Now to the moment in question. Kay, heartbroken at how her husband is locked into this amoral pattern, has divorced him. In a dramatic showdown over custody of the kids, she informs him that her recent miscarriage wasn’t that at all. With tears in her voice she declares: “It was an abortion, Michael. An abortion. It was a little boy, and I had him killed because THIS MUST ALL END!!”

It’s an awful moment, and the final credits roll as Michael sits alone and brooding on the porch of his highly guarded Tahoe mansion, looking out over the preternaturally calm waters. Out on the lake, crumpled in the bottom of a fishing boat, is Freddy’s corpse.

The Bible guarantees that evil will be overcome, not eternally borne in an endless stalemate between light and darkness. “This Must All End!”

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

 

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THE GREEN MILE

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This is easily my favorite film of all time; it’s a surprisingly spiritual Stephen King story. John Coffey faces execution for murdering the two little Detterick girls, Cora and Kathe. In reality, he’s not only innocent, but had tried to use his God-given healing power to rescue the twins. But a horrible miscarriage of justice is about to occur and they seem powerless to intervene; all the guards on Death Row know John is a sweet and guilt-free mystery from the Lord. In a chilling scene, a guard named Brutal Howell confides to his boss, Paul Edgecombe (Tom Hanks), his emotional misgivings about strapping this gentle giant into “Old Sparky” and flipping the switch.

 

“I done a few things in my life that I’m not proud of, but this is the first time I ever felt really actually in danger of hell.”

 

I [Paul] looked at him to make sure he wasn’t joking. I didn’t think he was. “What do you mean?”

 

“I mean we’re fixing to kill a gift of God,” he said. “One that never did ary harm to us, or to anyone else. What am I going to say if I end up standing in front of God the Father Almighty and He asks me to explain why I did it? That it was my job? MY JOB?”

 

I’m thankful to believe that when we face God our Father on Judgment Day, our sins and our cowardice are covered over by the spilled blood of Jesus. Still, we have to answer for our moments of betrayal and self-serving weakness, and this story inspires me to stand up for the weak and helpless all around me.

 

 

 

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Statues? Where Are the Statues?

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Sorry to say, but our summer vacation to historical sites has been a complete bust. We drove our Avis rental car to West Point, where we were eager to see statues and memorials of some of the great characters in the AMC miniseries “Turn.” We must have hiked around that place for two hours trying to locate the statue of Benedict Arnold. In the whole place . . . nothing! I realize he was a notorious traitor, but still, his attempt to sell out the American Revolution is a signature moment in our history. People should be able to see this infamous general, perhaps mounted on a horse or wielding a sword against his former soldiers and fellow officers.

I finally tracked down the curator, and he seemed nonplussed by my search. “There’s no statute of a scoundrel like Arnold,” he told me. “You put a man’s sculpted image up high on a pedestal, it signifies honor and adulation.” He eyed me with trepidation, then added: “Regular folks get that.”

“But it’s history,” I insisted. “Part of our national story.” He turned away with a humph.

Well, okay. So it took us a while to motor over to the legendary Sing Sing Prison, which is still operating here in 2017. I’d once written a radio script on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and was dying to see the memorial statue illustrating this scandal-ridden couple who sold United States atomic secrets to the Russians during the Cold War. “There’s got to be a statue of THEM,” I told my wife as we traipsed around the place, camera in hand. “I mean, a husband and wife getting the electric chair on the same night? That’s history of the most dramatic sort.”

To my surprise, again there was absolutely nothing marking their impact on American foreign policy. No statue, no larger-than-life color paintings. I did find a nondescript pamphlet telling how Judge Kaufman condemned them to death while observing that their betrayal and cooperation with the KGB hastened the Communist aggression in Korea and likely caused the deaths of 50,000 people. But no statue.

So like I say, we’re oh for two. We’ve got to get back to L.A. by Tuesday but I definitely want to get to Ground Zero tomorrow and take some pictures of the Osama bin Laden statue there . . .

 

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“Bucky Stone” Interview

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How’d you get into this Bucky Stone series?

As a kid living in Bangkok, I gobbled up tons of such books purchased by my parents. I remember a “Danny Orlis” who excelled in hockey and football, and was always sharing his faith. But the books back then smacked of legalism – and were woefully dated. “Say, Millie, let’s go have a soda at the drugstore! Then maybe I’ll hold your hand.” “Well, that would be keen!” So I prayed about a writing project the Lord could bathe with grace.

So who’s Bucky Stone?

He’s definitely a hero type. Nice kid, good-looking, excels on the basketball court. Obviously, that means some girlfriend issues.

Not based on your own life, then?

I wish.

What’s the spiritual aura of the stories?

Just solid generic Christianity. The original series was written to fit one particular denominational mindset, but now that we’re taking them to Amazon, I’ve done some editing and reshaping a few plot lines so Jesus freaks of all sizes and shapes can enjoy them.

And the target age group?

Well, the ten books take Bucky through four years of high school. Basically one book per semester plus two “summer specials” I really like, particularly since Book #5 involve a risky mission trip to Bangkok! But it’s aimed at kids ages 10-14. The tone is fairly light: lots of humor and teasing and high school banter. Bucky’s in a happy, intact family with a sister, Rachel Marie, who’s eight years younger. Mom’s a Christian; Dad isn’t . . . but that part’s all domestic harmony.

Safe to read?

Definitely. There are romantic temptations, and a particularly challenging moment in Book 9 where Bucky gets a real come-hither from Deirdre – and Mom and Dad out of town. But I think by then kids will be ready for that. Other recurring characters do struggle with booze, cheating, etc.

Does each book stand alone?

Yeah, each has its own unique story. Of course, I hope kids will begin with #1 and zoom right through the entire set. Making Waves at Hampton Beach High has a good lost-on-the-ski-slopes story to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Call the Midwife (TV/Book Review)

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If you haven’t yet embraced this stirring PBS offering, there’s one more TV season to go . . . and it’s hugely worth your time to binge-watch all previous seasons and catch up. It’s easily the finest thing on television: telling weekly stories of midwives in the 1950s, serving pregnant moms in London’s poorest neighborhoods. There’s humor and pathos and wonderfully dramatic tales; the delivery scenes are astonishingly graphic. Trust me; you will often dab at your eyes.

The source books by Jennifer Worth are equally good. She writes in the first person about her experience as a secular and cynical young nurse drafted to work at Nonnatus House with the nuns. She arrives to the story as an agnostic, and admits to often rolling her eyes at the piety of the sisters. But let me share just a few paragraphs close to the book’s end. As a Christian, I am deeply touched by this.

“I had never met nuns before,” she confesses, “and regarded them at first as a bit of a joke; later, with astonishment bordering on incredulity. Finally this was replaced by respect, and then love. What had impelled Sister Monica Joan to abandon a privileged life for one of hardship, working in the slums of London’s Docklands? ‘Was it love of people?’ I asked her.

“‘Of course not,’ she snapped sharply. (That’s her character, a brittle eccentric.) ‘How can you love ignorant, brutish people whom you don’t even know? Can anyone love filth and squalor? Or lice and rats? Who can love aching weariness, and carry on working in spite of it? One cannot love these things. One can only love God, and through His grace come to love His people.’”

The closing line of the book: “That evening I started to read the Gospels.”

 

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The New Johnson (Trump?) Image

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It seems all Presidents, not just Donald Trump, are endlessly fixated on “How am I doing? Do the people worship me?” Early in his political career, Lyndon Johnson squeaked out a 1948 Senate primary victory with a scant 87 votes; Republicans scornfully dubbed him “Landslide Lyndon.” That so galled him he viciously ran up the Presidential vote against Goldwater, and spent four White House years obsessing over his polls. Humorist Art Buchwald took a cute jab at him with this 1966 column.

 

Now that President Johnson’s operation on his throat has been so successful, I can reveal the reason the President decided to have it done.

It has been no secret that the President’s popularity has been slipping. Despite the fact that he had got more legislation through than any other President and although the country was riding its greatest wave of prosperity, many people seemed to be voicing suspicions of their leader. The President, who rules by consensus, was smart enough to know that something had to be done. But what?

He called in all his advisors just before he left for Manila and laid it on the line. He wanted them to speak frankly and make any suggestions that they thought would make the people love him again.

One advisor said, “I think we should put more stress on presenting you as a statesman and less on the fact that you’re trying to think of new ways of spending the taxpayers’ money.”

Another advisor said, “Mr. President, your popularity was at its height when Luci got married. Couldn’t you arrange a Christmas wedding for Lynda?”

“Ah probably could,” the President said, “but that would give us all of 1967 with nothing to do.”

A third advisor said, “Mr. President, you asked us to speak frankly, and I will. A recent poll taken by Zlonk Brothers asked people what was the one thing that annoyed them the most about your television appearance, and seventy-three percent of those questioned said it was your Texas accent.”

“Well, what am Ah supposed to do about that?” the President said angrily.

“Now don’t get mad, Mr. President. I’m just quoting the poll. Perhaps if we could change your accent, we could change your image.”

“It’s a little late for that,” the President flushed.

“No, it isn’t, sir. There’s a doctor at Johns Hopkins who can perform a minor operation on your throat which could change your speech overnight. He can give you any accent you want.”

The President said, still angry, “And what accent do Ah want?”

“I was thinking of a New England accent, with perhaps a slight Harvard twang.”

“Never,” the President said, slamming his fist on the conference table. “Ah was born in Texas, raised in Texas, and Ah love Texas.”

Just then an advisor came in with the latest popularity polls. They revealed the President had slipped two percentage points.

The President studied the polls for several minutes and then said, “Will the operation hurt?”

“No, sir. It’s just like having a polyp removed. I assure you, sir, with your dynamism and a New England accent, you’ll be unbeatable.”

“What about Lady Bird?”

“People like her accent, so she won’t have to do a thing.”

“Of course,” another advisor said, “if you did have the operation, you’d have to sell the ranch.”

“Then where would Ah go on vacation?” the President shouted.

“They say Hyannis Port is very nice in the summertime.”

“All right, all right. But if it doesn’t work, there’s going to be some very sorry people around here.”

“Don’t worry, it will work, Mr. President, and I can’t wait to see the expression on Bobby and Teddy’s faces when you give your State of the Union Message to Congress in January of next year.”

 

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Happy Anniversary, Mom!

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Mom and Dad would have been married 66 years today. She has so courageously survived widowhood for the past fifteen years, and I am immensely proud of her. She has never once complained about the years spent alone; instead, she says often how thankful she was to have had a fine Christian friend and partner for over half a century.

When C. S. Lewis lost his mate to cancer, he wrote these poignant lines: “One flesh. Or, if you prefer, one ship. The starboard engine has gone. I, the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbor.”

I love you, Mom!

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