Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sound that Alarm, Bob! Sound that Alarm!

“Once Upon a Time”

When you hear those words, what do you most commonly think of? A story right? Generally a fairy tale or fable more than likely. Bob Dylan opens his 1966 magnum opus “Like A Rolling Stone” which was once voted by Rolling Stone magazine as the “greatest rock song of all time” with this phrase. The song tells the story of a person in a high place and high position in society who ultimately loses their prestige and popularity, leading to feelings of drifting directionless on stormy seas.

As the song opens we are introduced to a first character, who is given a stern warning:

“Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you ?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you”

This calls to mind immediately the words of Solomon in Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (ESV). In Dylan’s words people are warning our character that she should beware because she is ‘bound to fall’ however, she thinks they are kidding with her. Thus, this character is prideful thinking nothing will happen to her. As the song continues however we find out:

“You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”

Indeed our protagonist has been humbled. In this way, I’ve always felt Dylan was acting like the watchman in Ezekiel 33:3-6 who we are told should warn the town of coming danger. If the watchman warns the town of coming danger and they do not listen, the townsfolk fate is their own fault, however, if the watchman fails to warn the town of impending doom, the fate of the townsfolk is his fault in the eyes of the Lord.

Let’s continue a couple of stanzas down

“You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.”

Here we see our main character has been deceived by people who she thought were her friends but were indeed her enemies, wolves in sheep’s clothing if you will, to burrow Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15 about false prophets who can lead us astray, and take from us everything they can steal, including our souls when it comes to speaking in eternal terms!

I also like the imagery of riding on a ‘chrome horse.’ Chrome which is made from the chemical of chromium is actually not a super rare chemical, but is very rust resistant for a metal, and appears to be a lot more impressive than it really is. Thus our character is riding on a chrome horse that makes her appear more important than she ultimately is.

The last stanza sets up some interesting ideas as well:

“Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you'd better take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.”

I like the concept’s here that Dylan discusses in reference to the thought of a wealthy person needing to pawn a diamond ring. I doubt that a thought like that would ever cross their mind, yet there will come day for every person that puts us all on equal footing, it will strip even a decorated French war general like Napoleon into rags. That great equalizer is death, and every single human being on earth will experience it.

Jesus spoke about the concept of what happens when we die on several occasions, one though that is most poignant to our song exposition here though. Jesus tells us a parable in Luke 16:19-31 about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus would wait by the rich mans gate every day just hoping that he could raid the rich man’s trash in order to feed himself. The day came when both men died. The wealthy man who never cared at all for the poor went to hell, while Lazarus went to Heaven, where he had the opportunity to hang out with Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel! The rich man is able to look up and see both Abraham and Lazarus in paradise and begs for Lazarus to dip his finger in cool water to cool his (the rich mans) tongue for he is in anguish! Abraham’s response is chilling:

But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” (Luke 16:25-26 ESV).

I don’t know about you but this may be one of the most terrifying passages of scripture when it comes to what happens when we die. There are two options: Heaven or Hell. That is it! So often times we see people in society who become wealthy and comfortable here in this life, but unless they surrender their lives to Jesus will spend eternity in Hell. Jesus once also said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:24)! Why you ask? Well, I think it because wealthy people simply naturally desire to become wealthier, until greed consumes their life! Christianity teaches that we are to lay aside our desires and seek God’s will, that is whole lot easier to do if God has brought you to a place where you have nothing but Him and Him alone, and need to trust Him alone, not money, not status in society, not your own mental or physical abilities, no Him and Him ALONE!

It is not easy friends, and that is why it is so important to store up treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33) and not be as concerned with what happens to us in this life. Don’t get me wrong possessions are fine, but when they become idols we have a major problem. It can send us away from the Lord the person who gave us life, and leave us with ‘no direction home/like a rolling stone.” The good news is, there is Grace for those who have lost their way, but only through Jesus the man who died to save our souls! Yet in order to be saved we need to lay our lives, our wills, and our desires for anything that is not of God (Rom. 8:7), in order to receive that Grace, the kind only God can bestow on us through His Son!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Each Of Us Has Something Special to Offer The World

Having the humbleness to recognize that you need help is probably one of the most important character qualities one can have. How many poor grades on English papers, or customer’s becoming angry with you for being too slow with their food could be avoided by simply knowing when to admit that you are in over your head. Craig, the hero of the fine 2010 movie “It’s Kind of A Funny Story” has this quality. Craig has battled depression for several years, and even been on Zoloft for his depression, but decided not to take his medication anymore and became depressed, to the point of contemplating suicide! However, instead of going through with the tragic act, he walks into a hospital and asks to be admitted for help. After some persuading of the doctor that he needs to be hospitalized, because he truly doesn’t understand why he is so depressed, he is admitted for a five-day observation period and the story begins.

After being guided by the young Doctor Mahmoud, who is completing his residency in the hospital psych ward, to his room. The doctor introduces Craig to Bobby, another patient who to Craig seems completely happy and at ease, leaving Craig to wonder why he is even checked into the psych ward to begin with. Craig is also introduced to Muqtada, who will be Craig’s roommate for the five- day period. Muqtada, Craig is told never leaves his room and rarely leaves his bed, often only to use the restroom. From there Bobby gives him the tour of the rest of the patient all whom have disorders such as schizophrenia, or Turret’s syndrome, leaving Craig a bit unnerved at having to stay in such a facility. When he asks the chief Psychiatrist to allow him to leave early, she tells him that since he has been admitted, he must now stay for the five-day period. Craig’s parents also visit him and his Dad reminds him that he has a application to a accelerated summer school due soon.

Throughout the movie Craig fills in the blanks for us with overdubbed information. It is there that we learn that Craig truly doesn’t know why he is depressed, but that his parents desire for him to achieve a lot in his life, and that he is very smart and attends a prestigious New York high school. We also learn that Craig’s best friend Aaron also attends this same school with his girlfriend Nia, whom Craig has had a crush on for a long time.

All of this background information is important as the film unfolds because several things happen. To begin with Craig finds a mentor in Bobby who helps guide him and give him the necessary kick in the butt when it is needed. Bobby encourages him to get involved in the activities that the patients participate in, such as group discussion time, and music therapy. He also encourages Craig to begin talking with young Noelle, a patient who is also Craig’s age. One scene that is particularly memorable is a scene where Craig and Bobby are playing basketball in the hospital gym, a place they have snuck to illegally. Bobby walks Craig through the ropes of how to ask a girl out that is both humorous and heartfelt.

The whole concept of mentorship that is portrayed here through Bobby and Craig is a Biblical idea. In Titus chapter 2 Paul encourages Titus to mentor the young men in his church by teaching them ‘to live wisely in all they do’ (Titus 2:6-7). This whole chapter in Titus is a discussion on the importance on mentorship for both men and women, and throughout this movie, Bobby does give Craig solid and wise advice.

As far as Craig’s friendship with Noelle goes, he begins by playing a question game that she tells him to play in which she asks a question and Craig’s response must also be a question. This is a fun scene in this movie as well. By the end of their conversation Noelle races him to the Art Therapy meeting, and it is there Craig while claiming he can’t draw, sketches an amazing piece of art that is unique and praised by everyone in the room! It is here we see that Craig is finding out that his true purpose in life is probably not becoming a lawyer like his father seems to think his son should be, but an artist instead. Craig soon realizes that when he is drawing his depressing and suicidal thoughts disappear, as he tells the Psychologist soon after in a private meeting.

When viewed in light of the Christian worldview this makes sense! As a Christian I believe that God creates every one of us with a purpose and gives us gifts to help us to accomplish that purpose. The Apostle Paul talks about this a lot in 1 Corinthians 12, which those of you who know your Bible will realize is the famous passage on Spiritual gifts. Particularly this section of 1 Corinthians 12 stands out to me on this topic of our purposes in life: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, and there are varieties of service but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities but it is the same who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7 ESV). That last verse is especially important to focus on. God gives us each one or more gifts that is for the good of many people! Think about that God has a plan to accomplish certain things through each and every one of us who looks to His Son as our source of Salvation! The last thing we should do is to try to fulfill a purpose that he has planned for someone else trying to use a gift He hasn’t given to us! Craig’s revelation here, subtly accentuates this point quite nicely!

One last topic I would like to cover here involves Craig’s new budding relationship with Noelle, and the challenge that Craig has on his plate when he finds out over the phone that his friends Aaron and Nia have broken up. Nia then calls Craig and tells him that she would like to visit him, and when she does it becomes obvious that she is suddenly attracted to Craig very much! The begin to make out and she aggressively begins to pull him down on bed in Craig’s room. Fortunately though, Muqtada, Craig’s roommate emerges from the lavatory and immediately breaks up their passionate make out session by chasing Nia out of the room screaming she is ‘temptress’ and that he will not allow ‘sex on his bed in his room!” Craig runs out after her screaming that he love her, only to realize Noelle has heard him and looks completely hurt and dejected! Muqtada right here acts as another mentor in a sense that he, like Solomon in Proverbs 7 warns Craig of how a women’s motives can lead a man astray very easily.

Craig realizes how badly he has messed everything up with Noelle, and he decides to stay in his room with Muqtada and quite going out in the world because as he says to Muqtada “you had it right all along Muqtada, it is better to stay in here and not ever go out there!” This is when Bobby pays him a visit and utters the line that he needs to get up dust himself off and chose to find happiness again, because ‘those who aren't busy being born are busy dying" which some of you may recognize as a line from Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” off his 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home.”

That is the overall message to this film, we need to live our lives because each of us has something special to offer to the world. Young Craig learns this while spending his time in the psychiatric ward. He learns that he has a gift for creating unique art, and that many of the other patients also have special gifts. He learns how to seek forgiveness and how to bring out the best in people. Lessons like that are often the hardest to learn, but can be the most rewarding once we’ve learned them! God desires us to learn lessons like these because as King David wrote in Psalm 51:6 “You desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise.” It is not until we are truly honest with both ourselves and God that He can grow us in wisdom, which leads us to being able to have the ability to teach and help others!