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A Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

A Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Martin Luther King Jr. Paying tribute to the memory of a great man who understood the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were God’s promissory notes “to which every American was to fall heir.” MLK tirelessly, selflessly, and peacefully fought to ensure all Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Praise God for MLK Jr.

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Les Miserables

Les Miserables

Les Miserables in Review

Les Miserables, reprised once again for the big screen, does not disappoint, and is in fact a powerful, poignant adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel about an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, whose life is transformed through God’s mercy mediated through a compassionate priest.

With commanding and compelling precision, director Tom Hooper preserved the essence of Hugo’s novel, giving center stage to several powerful, biblical principles: mankind is fallen and is in need of redemption; sin destroys; love covers a multitude of sin; and mercy triumphs over judgment.

(Spoiler Warning!)

The impact of the opening scene will remain with me, well, maybe forever: Jean Valjean and fellow convicts labor under the unmerciful, watchful eye of prison lord, Javert. The special effects provided a larger than life image of the horror and trauma of 19th century hard labor.
Imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his starving sister and her family, his punishment was grossly disproportionate to his crime.

As Jean ValJean toils under the ever watchful eye Jevert, Jean cries out to God in despair, sung with great impact in “Look Down,” “I’ve done no wrong, sweet Jesus, hear my prayer! Look down, look down, sweet Jesus doesn’t care.”

The stress and strain and the injustice of it all took its toll on Valjean~portrayed by Hugh Jackman~ who was almost unrecognizable as he was transformed into the ravaged soul of Jean Valjean. Admittedly, Jackman’s singing abilities were not on par with, say, Josh Groban, but the rawness of his voice quality, for me at least, amplified the rawness of the life he lived.

The opening scene also presented a poignant picture of the torment experienced in laboring under the weight of unrepentant sin (Valjean’s bitterness and rage) and severe judgment meted out by Jevert, played convincingly by Russell Crowe, who knew nothing but the law, judgment, and harsh discipline. Jevert insists Valjean will never change and refuses to refer to him by anything but his prison number. Refusing, in essence to recognize a fallen man, who nonetheless was created in the image of God. Granted, this is all conveyed through song, and while Crowe’s voice is probably lacking most of any in the cast, his skill and precision as an actor offset the lack in his singing abilities.

As is the case with every human being, Jean Valjean was a fallen man in need of redemption. His mental anguish caused by his festering rage appeared to produce an internal prison which rivaled the external prison in which he labored.

Once released from prison, Valjean wrought with bitterness and rage, sought employment and shelter, but was turned away by potential employers and innkeepers due to his former incarceration.

Sleeping on a street, it turns out that sweet Jesus answered Valjean’s prayer. He demonstrated that He did care, extending sweet mercy to the broken soul of Jean Valjean in the form of a benevolent priest who gathered him into his abode providing him with shelter, nourishment, and some much needed mercy.

In return for his kindness, Valjean steals silver from the priest. When caught by the police and dumped at the priest’s feet, the priest not only insists he gave Valjean the silver, but also insists Valjean take two silver candlesticks as well. The priest encourages Valjean to use the candlesticks to become an honest man, because God has raised him out of darkness, he, the priest had bought his soul for God.

Upon receiving the unexpected outpouring of mercy, Valjean repents and dedicates his life to God. Still hunted by his nemesis, Jevert, Jean Valjean manages to escape Jevert’s grasp, establish a new life elsewhere, and becomes a wealthy factory owner and mayor of his town. Throughout the rest of the saga, Jean Valjean lives a selfless life, extending mercy and love to those who need it most.

One in desperate need of that mercy is Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway), a young woman who had been employed at Jean Valjean’s factory, earning just enough wages to support her young daughter, Cosette, who she left in the care of a husband and wife team of innkeepers who turned out to be narcissistic, cruel taskmasters.

Unbeknownst to Jean, Fantine is thrown out on the street by the factory manager with no means to support her daughter, Cosette. Desperate to survive and care for her daughter, and after various attempts at generating income, she finally succumbs to a life of prostitution.

While the scene depicting her entrance into the world of prostitution was disturbing (actually tastefully done considering Hollywood standards), my heart swelled with compassion for those living unseemly lives due to brokenness and a crushed spirit. I found myself praying right there in the theater that I may be an instrument of compassion to the broken hearted.

Even in the midst of her devastating choices, Fantine is shown crying out to God conveyed in the beautiful song, “I Dreamed A Dream.” She prays, “I dreamed that love would never die, I dreamed that God would be forgiving…” The rawness and emotion with which this is sung left me in a puddle of tears.

Without giving too much more of the movie away, God answered Fantine’s prayer, extending mercy through the man Jean Valjean. He cared for Fantine when she was ill and rescued her daughter Cosette from the evil innkeepers and raised her as his own. A beautiful depiction of the biblical principle: love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Throughout the movie, although Jean Valjean is mercilessly pursued by Javert, because Valjean had experienced and embraced God’s mercy and redemption, he chooses the path of mercy. I won’t give away just how their lives unfold, but suffice it to say, mercy triumphs over judgment.

Les Miserables is a musical so yes, the movie unfolds in virtual unending song. I found the music to be beautiful and compelling, and at times, raw and unpolished, yet powerful. The timeless principles embodied in the story line are blatant and compelling…life changing actually.

I left the theater with James 2:13 reverberating throughout my heart:

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

This movie is well worth your $10-$12 bucks ($5.50 matinee!).

THE BOOK OF ELI: A PERSONAL CRITIQUE

The Book of EliThe Book of Eli was one of the most moving, profound, captivating movies I have seen of late, and the bonus? It possessed a very strong Christian worldview, which seems quite rare in movies produced in/by Hollywood.

Disclaimers: caution advised concerning the numerous scenes of graphic violence. I will say, the violence was in no way gratuitous, but served a very poignant purpose within the movie’s theme; foul language is smattered throughout the movie, but, again, is not gratuitous, but accurately reflects the evil hearts of the diabolical characters (those devoid of God given over to anarchy and pure evil) in the movie.

The strong Christian worldview includes themes of faith in God, obedience to His will, perseverance, faith, sacrifice, and love.

The main character, Eli, is a devout Christian. He is portrayed in a very positive light—he is a strong, wise, humble man who strives to walk out his faith in a way in which is consistent with the Word of God.

Eli prays, teaches others to pray, reads the Bible, quotes Scripture, learns to place other’s lives before his own, and consistently attempts to live out what he believes throughout the movie. Eli treats women with dignity and respect, never attempting to take advantage of the fragility of the women he encounters. Instead, he, in a very manly, heartwarming (um, and in a very forceful fashion, at times) manner, learns to protect and care for the women he encounters. Quite refreshing.

The Book of Eli is a brilliant depiction of the devastation experienced in a world void of God and His Word and emphasizes the importance and impact (power) of the Word of God on the hearts of men. An added bonus: Denzel Washington’s portrayal as the protagonist, Eli, is stunning and Gary Oldman’s portrayal as the villain, Carnegie, was frighteningly superb.

Congratulations, Denzel Washington (co-producer, as well as lead actor) for portraying a character that stirs the hearts of the viewers to live a life consistent with God and His ways. I walked out of the movie exhilarated and motivated to re-contemplate my destiny.