December 26, 2006

Angst

I’m really torn up. I’m not joking, either.

It has to do with this new Rocky movie. Now don’t laugh. Really, this whole thing is upsetting me.

Here’s the thing. I’m a huge Rocky fan. In fact, just a couple weeks ago I re-watched the original. And I actually enjoyed it more than when I was a kid. When I was younger, I thought it was a great boxing movie. Now I realize that it’s just a great movie. It’s a movie about love, about hope, about life. I cried during the final scene. I really did. I don’t know how you can’t.

Anyway, when I heard that they had made a new Rocky movie--and this came as a total surprise to me; I was just minding my own business last Wednesday, reading the newspaper, when I stumbled upon the entertainment section and BAM!--I cringed. I had the same reaction I did when I found out that Michael Jordan was coming out of retirement to play for the Wizards. I knew that Jordan would, in some sense, embarrass himself, that he was no longer in his prime, that the Kobes and Vince Carters would school #23.

Rocky was once so great, I thought--why must they humiliate him like this?

After learning about the new movie, I went to moviepooper.com to find out how it ended. And here’s what happens. (I’d warn you that spoilers are coming, but, whether you know the ending or not, the movie’s already spoiled.) Adrian has died, and Rocky, now in his fifties, agrees to fight the new heavyweight champion of the world in an exhibition fight in Las Vegas. So Rocky and the new champ, Mason “the line” Dixon, get in the ring--and Rock loses in a split decision. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter, because he “went the distance.”

This is horrible. Horrible horrible horrible.

It’s unrealistic. It’s absurd to think that a fifty-year-old ex-champion could go the distance with the current champ. Muhammad Ali came out of retirement at the age of thirty-eight to fight Larry Holmes--and he, Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of all time, got pummeled.

Now I don’t expect all moves to be realistic, but I desperately wish this one would have been. I’m not against making Rocky sequels, mind you--just against making ridiculous ones.

Why must Rocky again find fulfillment in a physical achievement? How about a movie in which the Rock realizes that he’s old and arthritic and is not even a match for Clay Aiken, let alone the heavyweight champ of the world? How about a movie in which the Rock achieves victory by repairing a broken relationship with his son, or by coming to terms with his wife’s death? Or maybe a movie in which the Rock must deal with life after boxing and confront his own mortality.

Dammit, where’s Ingmar Bergman when we need him? I know the guy’s in his late eighties, but how great would it be if he wrote Rocky VII? I’m being serious. I can picture it. Rocky’s now in his sixties. A lifelong Catholic, he’s distraught by all the recent priest scandals. He has existential angst. Does God exist? If so, then why are there so many evildoers in the church, why is there so much suffering in the world? These are questions the Italian Stallion is asking himself.

I’m serious. That’s the movie we need.

We live in a country that overemphasizes youth and physical beauty and strength. Butts need to be firmer, boobs bigger, hair blacker, quads tighter. Women find fulfillment when guys lust after them. Men find meaning by winning a football game or coming out of retirement and fighting Mason “the line” Dixon to a split decision.

It’s ridiculous.

The soul is neglected, the life of the mind shunned.

We need a movie that stresses the intellect, a movie that focuses on character and virtue. I’d watch a movie like that. But this one…

Okay, I’ll watch Rocky Balboa. How can I not? But I’m not happy about it.

December 10, 2006

Not for the Nebbishy

I used to think that Christianity was for the nebbishy. Being a Christian, I thought, meant that you were supposed to avoid confrontation and just ignore it when people wronged you.

Someone spreads a lie about you—just ignore it. A family member is rude to you—just ignore it. Your boss treats you unfairly—just ignore it.

This view seemed to be biblical. Had not the Lord himself commanded us to turn the other cheek to our enemies? Had he not instructed us to hand over our cloak should someone steal our tunic? (Whatever the hell a tunic is.)

Although I still believe that Jesus wants us to love our enemies, I no longer take this as an injunction to be a wimp. Jesus himself was not a wimp. No, he was a confronter, a scrapper, a fighter.

When people refused to believe his message, he condemned them. “Woe to you, Capernaum! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day! But I tell you it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!”

When the chief priests questioned Jesus’ authority, he told a parable that likened them to a gang of murderers.

When confronted with the sins of the religious teachers and Pharisees, he cast upon them his now famous Seven Woes. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean!”

How does all this square with Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek? Simple. Yes, Christians are called to turn the other cheek, but this doesn’t mean that we’re not, at the same time, called to fight. Christians are called to fight evil. We’re just not to fight evil with evil.

That’s my conclusion anyway.

If someone spreads a lie about you, it’s not okay to spread a lie about them—but it is okay to stand up and expose their wrongdoing. If a family member is rude to you, it’s not okay to be rude to them—but is okay to confront them and criticize their behavior. If your boss treats you unfairly, it’s not okay to treat him unfairly—but it is okay to defend yourself and challenge him.