On Hope…Just a few words while I have them

tumblr_m62ggwMtaR1rx2k32o1_1280I love The Shawshank Redemption.  It just might be my all-time favorite film.  At the beginning of the story, Andy Dufresne is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover–a crime he didn’t commit–and is sent to Shawshank Prison in Maine to live out the rest of his days.  I’m sure you’ve seen the movie so you know exactly who and what I’m talking about.  (Side note: If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, shame on you! Do so immediately! Just keep your TV tuned to TNT.  They show it at least once a week, it seems!)  It is truly a story about hope when all hope seems completely lost.

Andy is the character that keeps hope alive throughout the story, and infuses the lives of his imprisoned friends with that same, contagious hope.  After an initial battle with the understandable fear he has about entering that terrible prison in the first place and a truly horrifying start to his incarceration, Andy is able to find some friends among the inmates and even the guards.  He figures out a way in which he can become useful.  He creates for himself a possibility.

Hope seems to be easy to live into when you have something to hope for…or, is it something to hope in?  Andy lives in the hope that justice will one day prevail, that the truth will one day come to light and it will be proved that he is, indeed, innocent.  If he can just work hard, keep his head down and an ear up, he just might find himself in a position to once again bask in the freedom that he and all of his fellow inmates know is just beyond the walls– walls that seem to close in more and more as the years go by.

Sometimes I’ve wondered if the story could’ve played out the same way if Andy had actually been guilty.  His innocence seems to be the linchpin.  Everyone else is guilty.  Their fates are sealed.  They know they deserve the punishment they’ve gotten.  They might get paroled at some point, but that isn’t very likely.  Their hope has all but disappeared with their guilt.  Andy, however, has something on which he can hang his hope–the justice that arrives on the back of truth.

But what is truth, really?  These days, it seems as though one man’s truth is another man’s blasphemy.  Some days it feels to me like something to hang my hope upon is nothing more than yesterday’s pipe dream.  I used to be so sure, so certain of where my hope was hung.  But, as I entered my thirties and felt my faith changing, I slowly began to realize that my trust in that which is greater than myself was shifting as a result of an extremely shaky and unfocused hope.

In my youth, my hope was firmly fixed upon a life after this one, and, not insignificantly, was tied to an “I’ve got it all worked out” theology.  That made things quite easy…until the questions without any answers started popping up.  The religion of my teenage upbringing seemed to have very little room for uncertainty.  If you studied and prayed hard enough, you’d know what to do.  All of the difficult questions had answers, except the ones that didn’t.  In those cases, we were to “leave that up to God.”

Without answers, my hope began to fade.  Without a feeling of certainty, I began to wander, lost in the desert of the unexplainable.  Then I discovered what it is that lies just on the outskirts of unanswerable questions– Mystery.  A place where my hope slowly started to flower.

For a brief moment in time, I thought about giving up on my faith.  I thought I could, as some of my friends had done, leave God behind in favor of a Secular Humanist approach.  (In a remarkable bit of irony, I’ve witnessed the lives of several friends actually transformed by God for miraculous purposes the moment they gave God up.  Go figure.)  As for me, I could never pull that off.  There has always been something in the ceremony of my religious practice that has kept me intrigued and engaged in a pursuit of a relationship with the Sacred.  And it was a refocusing on that pursuit that re-energized my hope and strengthened my faith.  It was a reinvestment in a greater hope that enabled me to trust in mystery.

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine, Dr. Donald Brash, explained his thoughts on hope to me.  A statement he made baffled me at first, but as I let it settle, the meaning became more clear.  He said:

“Hope is greater than faith because it liberates faith to new possibilities.”

Possibilities.  I like them.  Without possibilities, we’re doomed to live forever behind the walls of our own personal prisons.  The prisons we create for ourselves every time we’re confronted by our own faults and shortcomings.

Hope is real.  Hope is powerful. Hope is, as Andy Dufresne says to Red, “a good thing, maybe the best of things.  And no good thing ever dies.”

 

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Follow Scott on Twitter:  @scotylang

I’m A Fan Fridays! Get Busy Living…

andy

Welcome to another edition of I’m A Fan Fridays!  Today I’d like to take you to a movie you might know and even might know very well.  I used to teach this film in my Humanities course when I taught at East Brunswick High School some years back.

This film is easily on my Top 5 list, and this scene is perhaps my favorite in the picture.  Hope, even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, is a beautiful thing, and music can remind us of that in ways that few other things can.

If you’ve never seen The Shawshank Redemption, see it immediately.  If you have seen it, then sit back and nibble on this little nugget.  Enjoy!

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Follow Scott on Twitter:  @scotylang

Questions, pain, demons, compassion, and love, always love

Philip_Seymour_Hoffman-1024x802-650x509I wasn’t sure how to, or even if I could, write about Philip Seymour Hoffman and how his death has affected me so deeply.

I just made a link from his name to IMDB.  See for yourself the way his prolific work impacted your life in some way.  Seen any of those movies?  Have any of them moved you at all?  Any of them have an impact on how you look at the world?  Well, several of them did for me.

The day he died, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook:

Oh, Philip Seymour Hoffman… Your performance in “Capote” single-handedly changed my opinion of the death penalty. No, we never met, but your authenticity made me feel as though we had and based on what I’m reading today, I’m not the only one.

The word that struck me in that last sentence was, authenticity.  In all of his work, Hoffman was definitely that–Authentic.  I heard several interviews with him over the years and he always spoke about making choices for his characters that were honest.  Honesty and authenticity in his acting were hallmarks of what he left behind to the world.

He also left behind a great deal of confusion.

I’m going to do a bit of assuming here, but I’m not sure Hoffman meant to die; I don’t think he wanted to.  There was no note, no goodbyes as far I’ve read or heard.  I could be wrong, but as I grasp for answers regarding why this could happen, I want to hope.  I want to hang on to a hope that he never lost hope, but just lost his way and couldn’t get back.

Almost immediately after he passed, I read things on my social media feeds like, “How could he do such a thing?  He had it all!” or “How selfish!  Why do people feel like they have to turn to drugs?”  I understand the questions, however short-sighted they might be, but those are not the questions that came to my mind.  Among many were these:

What triggered you?  Did you know how much you were loved and admired?  Could you possibly know what kind of hole you would leave if you couldn’t come back from that needle?  If you did, did you just not care or were there just too many voices in your head keeping you from hearing how much you were needed here?

You were NEEDED here, Phil!

There are so many questions when anyone dies so tragically like this.  We ask the questions because we want answers.  We want sense to be made from the things that happen that are so senseless.  But the more questions I ask, especially about this particular death, the more I know that I don’t know shit.

Goddammit, Phil!  I’m so mad right now!

I want answers!!  I want answers that will not come, and I’m so sad.  I’m sad for your partner and your children; for your family and friends; for all of us who will never see the brilliance of what you were becoming.  You made the world better.  What you did mattered.  Can you hear me where you are?

I pray that you still had hope, Phil.  I pray that you had visions and dreams for your future right to the end.  I pray that you didn’t die in despair, not knowing if anything you did made any difference in this world, not knowing if you could keep on fighting the demons inside of you.

I know the urge to run away, to give up, to escape.  I know how it feels to need peace so badly that the consequences of getting just a moment’s worth of it make no difference if only that moment could come.  I pray that you have that peace now.

I don’t know what was going through Philip Seymour Hoffman’s head the day he took the heroin that took his life.  I do know that he lost his way, and I weep for him and for everyone who loses theirs.  This life is not easy.  It is so hard sometimes to even think about what it’s going to take to make it even one more day.  But all we can ever do is live this day while it’s here.  Tomorrow will come, if it comes, and then we’ll take that day.  One day and then another.  Just take this day.

If you’re still reading this post, dear reader, I want you to know that as I sit here typing this on my computer, I’m fighting my own particular demons.  And I know you are fighting yours.  You being alive is so vitally important in ways you do not even know, what you do matters, and you are never separated from love no matter what you might think.  Please look around you and if you can’t see it immediately, look harder.  Seek love out and it will find you.

I’m still here only because, somehow, the grace of God has allowed me to remember how much I’m loved and needed today.  Today.  We’ll see about tomorrow when tomorrow gets here.

Follow Scott on Twitter- @scotylang

I’m a fan Fridays!

4017-scroogedOh, I love Christmas!  And, I love movies!  So, surely it will come as no surprise to anyone that I love Christmas movies.  Well, the good ones, of course!

My favorite Christmas story (as you know) is, “A Christmas Carol” (which I’m performing for the last two times this year, tomorrow and Sunday at The Media Theatre, btw…).

In honor of this great story, and all of the films that are based upon it, I give to you, for this edition of “I’m A Fan Fridays” my favorite clip from my favorite of them all…SCROOGED!

Enjoy!!

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I’m a fan Fridays!

doctor_who__the_day_of_the_doctor_wallpaper_by_skinnyglasses-d6m4e2wIf you’re a Whovian like I am, you already know about The Day Of The Doctor, the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who.

What you may not be aware of is this mini-episode written by the series show-runner, Steven Moffat, starring the 8th Doctor played by Paul McGann.

So, I give it to you on this “I’m a fan Friday.”  Enjoy, and let me know where you’ll be doing your 50th Anniversary viewing next Saturday night.

You can follow me on Twitter at:  @scotylang

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I’m a fan Fridays!

Midnight in Paris (2011)Today, for “I’m a fan, Friday” I want to share a clip that has in it a bunch of things I’m a fan of: Ernest Hemingway; Woody Allen writing; Paris, in general; Owen Wilson (yeah, I said it. If the script is good, I find him charming!); and, specifically in this clip, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway (Stoll was brilliant in the first season of “House Of Cards”).

Could you imagine traveling back in time and having a conversation with one of the greats in history?  That’s exactly what happens for Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, in Woody Allen’s instant classic from 2011, “Midnight In Paris”.

Gil is a writer, and somehow during the wee hours of the morning in 2011 Paris, he gets into a vintage cab and is able to be transported back to the 1920s, a time when La Ville-Lumière was alive and teeming with some of the best writers, artists, and musicians of all time.

In this scene, Gil has a little one-on-one time with Papa. I love how Cory Stoll delivers his lines as if Hemingway were a sort of living embodiment of one of his novels.  It cracks me up every time I watch it!

Stoll and Wilson must have had a ball filming this scene!  Enjoy!