Tag Archives: movies

Die before you die.

The day after I wrote about feeling my mortality, I was prompted to think more on the subject, first by Father Stephen Freeman, in an article about hospitals vs. hospice, and the importance of visiting the sick. When he was chaplain on a hospice team:

“It was the first time I ever saw a doctor listening carefully to nurses and chaplains. There was nothing ‘active’ that could be done other than providing comfort and support. The team stood in awe before the reality of dying, inevitably sharing the knowledge that what a patient was facing would be our own lot in time.”

For several years I’ve had more of that awareness myself, that every moment I go on living it is only because of God’s will and sustaining power. This understanding was only heightened when I was weak and sick, and not distracted by all the “active” things of my typical days, and could be in awe of the fact of existence.

This morning, I have a further reminder of death, and the scripture that tells us, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” A woman about my age fell asleep in death this week and I will be helping to prepare her body for burial in just a couple of hours. We will pray and anoint her with oil and commend her to Christ, before she is moved to the church for her funeral. It is always a holy thing to join with a sister at this stage in her “journey to the kingdom.”

In the short movie linked below, the musings of a 97-year-old philosopher as he calmly and “philosophically” considers his own death show a sensibility much more deeply human and nuanced than what he wrote in his book on the subject when he was younger. Though he feels that he lost half of himself when his wife of 70 years died, at the same time he doesn’t want to die; he has just started noticing the beauty of trees the way he never did before. The intellectual history of his own mind tells him that “there is no point” to life, so it doesn’t make sense to him, he calls it foolish, that he should mind saying good-bye. But he does mind.

Maybe it was the death of his wife that shook up his life so that now he calls death “the one thing central to my existence.” And he doesn’t have it figured out. Though now he likely knows more than he did then, because he has actually crossed that river; the movie was made by his grandson in his memory. There is a short article with a little more information at The Atlantic.

Father Stephen: “The monastic tradition of the Church has the notion that we should always keep death before our eyes. In a culture where sickness and death are hidden from view, such a notion can seem morbid and wrongly formulated. St. Paul said of himself, ‘I die daily’ (1Cor. 15:31).

“More completely, he said, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20).

“These are not morbid notions, but remembrances of the truth. If you lived on the edge of a cliff, only disaster could come from forgetting that fact. We remember the truth of our existence (including its end) so that our life might be shaped by the conscious remembrance of the name of God. When we pray, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,’ we proclaim the futility and emptiness of our self-existence, while more profoundly proclaiming the goodness and kindness of God in Christ who, in us, tramples down death by death.

“There is a monastic saying in Orthodoxy: ‘If you die before you die, then you won’t have to die when you die.'”

Good-bye Mumbai!

I’m getting ready to leave Mumbai – I might even be at the airport or on the plane home before I manage to publish this post. It seemed right that I make my last Indian post about this city which has been the source and location of nearly all of my experience of India.

Seven weeks is way too short a time to get to know any place beyond the level of slight acquaintance, but Mumbai must be one of the most challenging in this regard. If she were a human, I’d have to say that I caught a glimpse of her brilliant form once for about five seconds, during which moment I heard her singing a few words I couldn’t understand.

In physical size alone, Mumbai takes up most of Salsette Island, and you would have to drive in three hours of crazy traffic to get from the north end to the south. There is a whole national park within its boundaries. I spent 90% of my time in one neighborhood, in a city of 22 million people, twice the population of Belgium.

Mumbai is the financial and fashion capital of India, and the city where 7-10 people die every day in train related accidents. The most expensive house in the world is in Mumbai, and the most educated slum. A million people live in this slum, Dharavi, which dates from the 1840’s, and 80% of them are employed. They live in 84 settlements taking up less than a square mile, which makes the population density of Dharavi 20 times that of Mumbai as a whole. (Nearly half the population of the Mumbai lives in slums, if you count Dharavi as a slum, which according to some definitions it isn’t any longer.)

Dharavi recycles 80% of the plastic trash of Mumbai, and produces 3.5 tonnes (Tonnes are bigger than tons) of food every day. One of its many other businesses and “hutment industries” is the large pottery business at Kumbharwada:

I took a tour of Dharavi this week but didn’t take pictures, so that one above I found online. Our group walked around through the industrial and residential areas for two hours, which gave me exposure to thousands of visual images and other sensations to process, accompanied by the excellent narrative by our guide who was from the slum. I took notes on both; but I am a really slow writer, which is why here at the end of my India stay, when I’m counting down the hours, I don’t have time to convey my direct experience.

The subject and reality of Dharavi is huge and complex, and you can read much about it elsewhere if you are interested, and watch YouTube tours. It’s another one of the many Things Mumbai that I will leave here knowing just superficially, but it was a wonderful tour and did expand my understanding quite a bit.

Tiffin wallahs

The lunchbox delivery service by tiffin wallahs or dabbawalas originated in Mumbai. Maybe some of my readers have seen the movie “The Lunchbox” that tells a story centered around this local phenomenon. I saw this charming movie years ago but didn’t pay attention to its setting in Mumbai.

Tiffin wallahs have been providing their services in Bombay since 1890, and are known for their high degree of accuracy in delivering lunches from home or restaurant, and the boxes back to the source the same day. This blog does a good job of describing how it works and why it is such a regular part of so many Mumbaikars’ lives: Dabba Dabba Do! And from another article:

“Some 5,000 men dole out over 200,000 meals a day, picking up the tiffins in the morning from women, typically, who have packed steaming, spicy dishes into each compartment: a curry, vegetables, dal (lentils), and flatbread (with some variations).

“For many Mumbai residents, this is the only way to lunch — on a feast, made with the love of a mother or wife.

“‘It’s expensive to eat outside every day, besides it’s not healthy,’ said 36-year-old Naina Bhonsle in Mumbai’s Versova neighborhood. ‘I know what my husband likes eating, and so I prefer to send him a tiffin every day.’”

The boxes are transported and distributed by train and on bicycles; on my first day here Tom pointed out this bicycle belonging to a tiffin wallah and since then I’ve seen many of the wallahs, the typically semi-literate men who do the carrying, as they pedal around. It’s another case like Dhobi Ghat of a very organized low-tech, high efficiency system serving basic human needs, and that sort of thing makes me admire all the parties who keep the thing running.

“The Lunchbox” is not a film made according to the Bollywood formula in the style of “Lagaan,” which I mentioned before. But Bollywood style movies are worth mentioning here as a phenomenon because Mumbai is the center of Bollywood. In Reimagining India, Jerry Pinto wrote: “Bollywood is not just a film industry. It is all-pervasive: a home-grown, film-a-day dream machine that maintains a pleasant stranglehold on our imaginations. It determines — or at least shapes — how we see ourselves, how we think, how we talk, dream, speak, love, fight.”

In the same article he describes the Bollywood formula as requiring: “…a fight for the young men, a romantic story for the women, a devotional song for the elderly. Films made for the entire Hindi-speaking market would have to be patriarchal, right wing, jingoistic, and patronizing in their attitudes to anything non-Indian and nonmajoritarian.”

I didn’t know much about Bollywood until the last year or two. I saw a laughably sentimental Bollywood movie first, and then last month, “Lagaan,” a much more enjoyable example. The music of Bollywood films is often the kind that is happy and makes you want to dance, even if — or especially if? — it is separated from the dance routines of the movie. I am not much of a movie watcher in the first place, so I won’t be exploring the genre more, but as a cultural phenomenon, I wouldn’t want to miss it completely. And I have added Bollywood music to my iTunes playlist to listen to on road trips.

Art Deco City

I heard that Mumbai is “the most Art Deco city in the world after Miami,” and though I hadn’t given the style or history of Art Deco one concentrated thought ever before in my life, having Tom on my first day show me some design features in their neighborhood made me focus my eyes in a new way.

From what I have read, it seems that Art Deco and India were made for each other. The Indian Institute of Architects was founded in 1929, the middle class was growing in the 30’s, and many of the buildings in the city from this period featured Art Deco elements in their design. I’ve seen structures from this century include some retro aspects from the style that Mumbai now feels is part of its tradition and heritage.

There is a whole Wikipedia article on Art Deco in Mumbai, which helped me to grasp enough of the concepts to be able to occasionally recognize the Art Deco influence on our outings. If I were going to be here longer, I’d like to go on a tour given by this organization: Art Deco Mumbai . I’ve already seen quite a few examples that would be on the tour, mostly driving past too fast to get a good picture — and some in our neighborhood.

I always love to take pictures of buildings that catch my attention for some reason. Mumbai has been fun that way, because there is such a range of ages and styles — and colors. Sometimes it is just the names of apartment buildings that strike the American ear as funny. I didn’t take a picture of Flushel Apartments, but Tom joked about what was behind that name… Were they advertising that all the toilets worked, or that the walls were straight and plumb? Haha. It was right down the street from the Executive Enclave.

Mostly for my own convenience I am posting below some images of this city that I want to have in this handy Glad collection. Maybe you will like some of them, too!

During my last days here, the air cleared a lot, and I was quite pleased to see that one of my photos revealed blue skies with cottony white clouds!

Every walk through the neighborhood, I’m realizing, might be my last down this street or that…

And when I ate one of Kareena’s chapatis fresh from the griddle, it was the most special ever because it was likely the last one that fresh.

I could never take enough pictures of women in colorful clothes to satisfy me, or enough videos of Kareena cooking. I can’t buy all of the lovely dresses in the shops, or learn the names of every surprising Indian dessert. My time of glorious Too-Muchness has come to an end, and I’m going home to Great Lent, which is the perfect way to transition from the superabundance of everything here to… what?

Lent is a journey to Pascha. It’s not the kind of journey where you are bombarded from outside by exciting and even dangerous forces and sensations ranging from air travel to chapatis and people on the street, but a quiet path on which all the struggles come from trying to tune one’s own heart. Considering my starting point, it will surely take all of my effort to accomplish anything in only 40 days.

The hardest part of leaving is, of course, that Raj and his parents are staying here! It has been the sweetest day-after-day to live in the same house as Kate and Tom and their new baby, and to love and be loved in person on a daily basis. The comforting thing is, that except for not being in the same house, we will go on loving and being loved, and be together at the throne of God, as long as He gives us grace. I’m not saying any kind of final good-bye to them.

But I do have to say, “Good-bye, Mumbai!”

Kinds of Poetry – Tolkien vs. Jackson

Jackson apparently thinks the characters Tolkien gives us are too simply good to be fully believable to modern audiences, and so he feels obligated to “complicate” them, to give them internal conflicts other than the ones they actually have, in the hopes that we will better be able to relate to them.

I’m quoting from this article in the Nov/Dec 2013 Touchstone Magazine, in which Donald T. Williams explains how literature, while delighting us with its art, is more powerful than history or philosophy to nurture our moral vision, or to corrupt us with false images.

With the help of quotes from Sir Philip Sidney, who wrote Apology for Poetry in the sixteenth century, he shows how “Tolkien was very consciously and deliberately following the literary tradition that flows down to us from Sidney through Dr. Johnson and C. S. Lewis.”

Peter Jackson the filmmaker seems to be flowing in a different stream. But he is an artist, and of course will impart his own soul to his work. I wouldn’t expect him to give us The Rings, because that has already been done, and he is not J.R.R. Tolkien. But it is unfortunate that he has changed things to the degree and in the directions he has. Williams points out specific ways in which the characters who inspired us in the books disappoint us in the movies, and makes these general remarks:

By this process of negative moral transformation, in other words, we reach the place where beloved characters are unrecognizable to Tolkien’s fans, and those fans feel betrayed. And they are right to feel so, though mostly they do not understand why. It is because the difference between the books and the movies is not just one of necessary adaptation to a different medium. It is that the author consciously followed the Sidneyan tradition while the adaptor is either ignorant of it or doesn’t understand it or has rejected it.

Read the whole article here.

What you put in the dough you’ll find in the cake.

So much talk about education…It’s a theme of many Internet articles that have come my way in the last couple of weeks, and I’m trying to pull them together here. If education is about the forming of a person, about what children learn and about how they are prepared for whatever we consider to be a successful life, then it’s not surprising that I see nearly every little thing in the world as related.

“What you put in the dough you’ll find in the cake,” is a proverb that speaks to me metaphorically of the growth of a person. A real cake is also affected by things you don’t consciously add to the mix, such as the temperature at which it’s baked, and the moisture of the air, and whether you can prevent someone from opening the oven door at the wrong moment. Human beings are much more complicated than cakes, and only God knows everything about us and what influences and ingredients through the years are making us who we are. Even so, He has given us a lot of wisdom and common sense about how to nurture our young and facilitate healthy growth.

One part of our education is what we learn in school. Though only a smaller fraction of that part is formed by the curriculum and the teachers’ efforts, it’s usually what people mean when they talk about the subject. Lately it’s the Common Core goals of our nation’s Department of Education that are in the news. Janet wrote on the subject and how the goals might be contrasted with some words from Wendell Berry on what education is.

One of her concerns stems from the fact that private businessmen are supplying a lot of funding and ideas to the program. She writes, “The fact that millionaires, rather than respected educators, are developing the educational plan for the next generation feeds my cynical belief that it’s all about creating good consumers, dependent on a host of intermediaries between themselves and everything they want.”

(That cake-baking metaphor could apply to a blog post, and in case you haven’t noticed, this one is turning into a sort of lumpy Dump Cake, and you’re not halfway through. If you’ve already had enough of my unique concoction, I invite you to eat the rest later, or skip it entirely. I don’t want you to get sick.)

Another article I ran across treats the Orwellian tendencies of the Dept. of Education, which wants to create a huge database using statistics about our children and their test scores and jobs from birth on into the future. This discussion may seem tangential — but don’t you think that children learn something a bit skewed about what it means to be a person, when their privacy is diminished and their labors and accomplishments are reduced to measurable facts that will fit on charts and graphs in the service of The State?

And that’s just one questionable ingredient in the cake I am envisioning. So many things our children learn may as well be molecules in the air they breathe, they are so unconsciously incorporated into their philosophical selves. Since most children spend much of their time at school, many of these unhealthy ingredients first enter the dough during those hours, as ideas, assumptions, or practices. Everything that goes in contributes to what they come to think of — or to live — as normal.

The perspective of this man (who has very good sense considering his youth) on relationships, specifically how “the fullness of another person’s identity is a secret between them and God,” fits in here. That’s a truth that The State does not take into consideration or encourage anyone to explore personally. But what sort of education would leave out God? It’s from Him we get wisdom and understanding.

If your children must go to a public school, and you believe that God is real, then you better explain to them that every school day they are going into enemy territory; isn’t it the work of our enemy the devil to make us think that we can leave God out of everything for several hours of the day and call it “neutral”? Warn them that much of the “food” that will be offered them during the school day is poison. Or if at all possible, follow the example of the writer of my next linked article.

Amanda writes at A Chime of Hearts about education, but she doesn’t use the word much. In this particular post she tells about the learning she and her brother did in their loving home, learning which to some people might sound a bit haphazard or incomplete, but which consisted of a spiritually and academically rich lifestyle. This education formed an understanding of the world that Amanda now passes on to her own family and even to the blogging world. She has a wisdom beyond her years and I’m personally thankful to her parents for providing the atmosphere and nurturing that contributed to it.

What got me started on this whole topic was Anna (also a former homeschooler and an excellent example of what can happen when God gives a child to a pair of loving and thinking parents), who recommended this article by Meghan Cox Gurdon in Hillsdale College’s Imprimus. It is a revisiting of the topic over which Gurdon drew sharp criticism and Twitter-flooding in 2011, with her article “Darkness Too Visible.”

Gurdon introduces this recent piece: “…my article discussed the increasingly dark current that runs through books classified as YA, for Young Adult — books aimed at readers between 12 and 18 years of age — a subset that has, in the four decades since Young Adult became a distinct category in fiction, become increasingly lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly.”

For specifics, and for the many specific reasons this kind of reading material is hurting our children, please read the article. The sort of books she writes about I’d like to gather by the dozens off the library shelves and throw into a big bonfire! They seem always to be paperbacks, and would make a good hot blaze.

May the Lord have mercy on our young people — they are under attack by forces that would like to cripple their souls, turning what might be sweet cakes into bitter. I have to keep reminding myself (mixing metaphors) that God can restore what locusts eat (Joel Ch. 2), but it’s painful to watch the destruction.

Children learn other untruths about the world in many of the movies made just for them, as another of Anna’s links points out, this one to an article in The Atlantic. Such as: 1) Just believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything — no limits.  2) Your parents are too old and dull to realize this so it’s o.k. to defy their authority, and 3) You have a right to skip over the lower rungs of the ladder of success (and the people who are toiling there) and go quickly to the top, because you were made for greatness.

I’m not disappointed that I’ve missed all of the film examples of what is called the “magic-feather” syndrome: “Examples from the past decade abound: a fat panda hopes to become a Kung Fu master (Kung Fu Panda); a sewer-dwelling rat dreams of becoming a French chef (Ratatouille); an 8-bit villain yearns to be a video-game hero (Wreck-It Ralph); an unscary monster pursues a career as a top-notch scarer (Monsters University). In the past month alone, two films with identical, paint-by-numbers plots–Turbo and Planes–have been released by separate studios, underlining the extent to which the magic-feather syndrome has infiltrated children’s entertainment.”

I’m more familiar with Charlie Brown, whom the same Atlantic writer Luke Epplin points out is a fictional character more likely to keep us in touch with the real world. I’ve so often heard, “It’s only a story!” or “It’s just a movie, for heaven’s sake.” Yes, for Heaven’s sake, realize that the vicarious experience we get from books and movies is a very potent type of experience.

In just the last month I’ve heard many stories from teachers and administrators around the nation, of the mixed-up lessons being taught to students by the school policies that stem from something other than a good educational philosophy. I’m not smart enough to articulate all the lessons that I intuit are being learned. They are not always acknowledged as part of the curriculum to be taught, and sometimes the “lesson plans” can only be extrapolated from a kind of Doublespeak. Certain behaviors and attitudes may be subtly or clearly encouraged or discouraged, and too often the treatment of the student is insulting or disrespectful of him as a person made in the image of God.

For example, today I heard from the administrator of a nearby high school that the school is legally responsible for any criminal behavior of the student not only while the student is on campus, but also after school until he arrives home. Theoretically, because “it’s all about liability,” if at a non-school dance on Saturday night a student gets in a fight, and the altercation can be construed to have begun at school the day before, the school can be held responsible for any damages. A truth that is fundamental to any education, that each person is responsible for his own behavior, is being turned on its head.

I have more than one blogger to thank for a link to this article pointing out that in schools even reading is actually discouraged, no matter what the posters and slogans might lead you to believe. Why should that surprise me? Reading is a wonderfully private encounter with whole worlds that you can explore — and yes, where you can have life-changing experiences.

The word privacy comes up as part of the debate about what our children experience in the restrooms at school, and we have a new law in California about that. The bigger question I ask is, what are they learning about life and God in this strange world where it is widely believed that your sex is only a matter of your feelings about yourself at a given moment in time, a kind of consumer’s choice that each of us autonomously determines? In the past everyone knew who was a boy and who was a girl, and that there was a restroom designated for each group. If you asked a child of my era, “Why are you a girl?” (or “Are you a girl?”) she would find it nonsensical, but she might say, “I just am!” or if pressed, perhaps, “God made me a girl.”

Now, in California, a boy student need only say that he feels rather more like a girl, or a girl might express that she really, deep down, is a boy, and he/she can use whichever restroom she/he wants. That’s what they are teaching them here. (Many people don’t like it and are working on a fix.)

My last link should not be heavy or discouraging, because it’s about play. Unfortunately it’s about the deficit of play in the lives of many 21st-century children. Their hours and days are overly managed to the point where even activities that used to be play have become work. When some of us were discussing this problem I found out that at the school that one of my grandsons attends, there is a rule against running on the playground. Every day at recess the children are lined up so that this rule can be explained to them once more.

Having raised a couple of boys myself, and having eight grandsons — and being married to a boy! — I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this idiocy. It’s insane, and yet, it’s an inhumanity of sorts that these children have had to receive in a daily lecture and get used to, to learn and accept as normal.

Again, it must be all about liability. And they may run on the soccer field, so perhaps it isn’t as bad as it sounds? Except that it is! It’s hard enough that little boys should have to sit at desks for an hour or two at a time, but then, when they go out for recess, what do they get? It sounds like the prison yard. I’m sorry, but this last story has put me over the edge and is the cause of my cake (blog) also overrunning the pan very messily.

At least I do know that all my grandchildren have excellent parents who have always provided for plenty of play time, so in their case I don’t worry. I just fume, and grieve for the children of our society who have so much to put up with. I pasted in pictures of my children and grandchildren playing, to cheer us all up.