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

I got a peaceful, easy feeling

cemetary1Not too long ago, I was walking through Princeton.  It was a perfect fall day weather wise, and the town is so beautiful this time of year.

I had a bit of time on my hands, and I decided that I wanted to spend it in some kind of thoughtful, perhaps even meaningful way.

There certainly were many options from which I could have chosen if “meaningful” were my goal, but my inclination was always, from the get go, to do something reflective.  I wanted to be thoughtful for a bit, focus a little, get some perspective.

cemetary

So, as I walked, I came upon a very peaceful cemetery just north of downtown.  I always feel a bit uneasy about cemeteries, not for the reasons you might think–ghosts, hands coming up from the ground and pulling me in, one-eyed caretakers with shovels, that kind of thing–but because of the extremely personal, sacred ground they are for a lot of people.

There’s another side to them, though, that fascinates me.  As I entered these particular grounds through the south gate, I almost immediately found a stone with a woman’s name and her dates underneath it (Abigail Williams 1935-2001), nothing unusual.  What made me pause, though, was her husband’s name next to her’s, but with only his birth date chiseled in (J. Robert Williams 1932- ) .  His death date was not yet known because, presumably, he is still alive.  That’s some kind of love.  It’s been twelve years and he is apparently still planning on keeping a date.  Some date.

I sat on the permanent bench, made from the same stone as the headstone.  He must come here still, I thought.  I wonder whether he’d mind if I’m sitting in his spot.

I looked around and then back to the stone once more.  I felt a breeze on my face and my heart felt easy. That’s some kind of love, I thought to myself, once more; a relationship that is still going strong, even with death as an inevitable adversary.

I thought of my own wife and my own children.  I thought of my friends and my extended family, my parents and brothers and their families.  I thought of my former students.  These are people I will always love, no matter what.  I was comforted by this thought.  I was comforted by this place.  I was comforted by Mr. and Mrs. Williams and I’ve never even met them.

Thanks, you two.  You still make a great couple.

I’m an idealist and I must always be

idealistI’m an idealist.  I’m afraid I must be.  For, smack dab in the middle of idealism, there is hope, firmly rooted.

If I say I am committed to pursuing a life centered in love, and since love hopes in all things, then I must continue in the hope that the truest essence of Humanity is found in loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self.

We don’t see many examples of this notion in the media on a daily basis. We see images of violence, we hear stories of greed and depravity, and we watch “reality shows” that denigrate and leave little room for hope in our future.

As an artist, part of what I believe I am charged to do in “holding a mirror up to nature” is to show things as they are. But I cannot leave it there. I believe the arts must also, in addition to showing things as they are, give our imaginations a chance to dream about and hope in what could be.

I want to share this video with you. It is a beautiful story that gives me hope in the possibility of what could be and what already is. After I watched it for the first time, I wondered how this story might play out in my own life. What “reality show” could I star in where this type of plot would unfold in its own way?

So, I give you some remarkable story telling. Enjoy!