Newsletter #69


Brokeback Nation


I rarely go to movies. If enough people tell me a movie is worth seeing I'll eventually go see it, or watch it on DVD. I do skim the weekly film reviews in the newspaper. So it was last winter that I ran across reviews of an obscure new film showing in a small theater in my area. This movie was said to be "a love-story which shatters the last of the old taboos." The New Yorker review which soon followed make more sense, so after some prayer and with trepidation I recently took in this 2 hour 20 minute film on a Saturday afternoon accompanied by a good friend of mine.


New Yorker Review


BROKE BACK MOUNTAIN: In the summer of 1963, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) herd the sheep on Brokeback Mountain, in Wyoming, and fall in love. Ang Lee's movie traces the ups and downs of that love over many years, making it clear that the downs are fared to outnumber the ups. The film has a curious motion to begin with, managing to seem at once hectic and sluggish; once the heroes start to grow up, however, and thus to struggle against their feelings, the story comes painfully alive, and the performances stretch toward the tragic. There is fine support from Anne Hathaway and Michelle Wilhams as the baffled wives of the two men, but the picture belongs to Ledger, whose downcast gaze and chewed-up words bear almost unbearable testimony to a heart under siege. Any attempt to promote this as an issue movie, gripped by an agenda, feels badly misplaced; the only issue here is the oldest and most sorrowful one of all. -- Anthony Lane, 12/05/05.


The scenery is gripping--the setting in Wyoming 1963 is not culturally very far from my own growing-up years in Idaho. I know what cowboys are like. We Idahoans don't open up and share our feelings or our fears. It just isn't done. Many people I grew up among endured bad marriages, their kids grow up alone having been told that little children are "to be seen but not heard." Life was tough and could be incredibly boring. Idaho culture as I remember it as a boy was flat. For me, I seemed to always be desperately lonely.


Right near the end of the film it suddenly occurred to me that this film was not about love in any legitimate form. It was about a total absence of real love in a culture--from start to finish. Could this movie have inadvertently portrayed our current American society more closely than I had dared to imagine?


I was overcome with pain and sadness before the movie ended--and soon in tears. Everyone in this film was lost--hopelessly so. I knew what the answer was. All the characters in the film, not just the lead cowboys, need massive doses of the love that comes only from Jesus.  Agape is the kind of self-giving compassionate love God designed societies to operate on. But no one in this film had any real connection to God, apparently. I got the feeling the tacit assumption that lovelessness was the normal state of affairs--the way things have always been and always will be. Ennis and Ledger had grown up without fathers and had never known a real friendship. Had raw eros not seized them and taken them captive--surely it was a strong demon--they could have become life-long friends and the whole movie would have been a different story. As it was, Ennis and Jack did not know how to love each other as brothers, they knew nothing about loving their wives nor their children. Having never really felt acceptance and unconditional love, how could they be expected to know how to love anyone?


My movie companion, Matt, counted six subtle messages to Jesus during the film, surely not intended by the producers, but nevertheless the answer was there for those with ears to hear. I immediately knew that Jesus was in this film but not in the way anyone intended.


My greatest pain in the movie was seeing Ennis' and Jack's children growing up on their own, unguided and unloved, just the same way their parents had grown up, only worse. Obviously the wives had suffered the devastating loss of husbands who should have been responsible fathers and husbands--rooted enough in God to love their own wives as their own selves--the ground rules for marriage as spelled out in Ephesians.


I can not imagine anyone using this film to legitimize the acting out of homosexual desires. God's abiding anger--commonly called His wrath--"rests" on all who do not know Him. God hates hypocrisy. He hates divorce. Homosexual acts are personally unspeakably repugnant to Him. Yet, our Lord Jesus is kind and patient and merciful hoping that a few will be willing to receive His love and be made whole. "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.


I could see that life's consequence engine was running full tilt through this all too real film of our great American tragedy. Sexual sin devastates individuals and families and wrecks a society. With regard to sex, love, marriage, and friendship I think our American society is just about Dead Broke right now. I wish someone would prove me wrong.


I am certain the writer of the original New Yorker (very) short story, Annie Proulx, the Screen Player writers, Larry McCurty and Dianna Ossana, the very fine director Ang Lee, the actors, the producers, all intended for the movie to convey a different set of values to their audience than what I saw in this powerful motion picture. (The sound track is very well done. I bought the CD but I can only play it when I am alone because when I listen to it, the tears all come flooding back all over again--many weeks later).


Some years ago I remember a remark by Ray Stedman about modern movies. Ray said he felt God often used totally secular films to prepare the world for what would soon we coming down the pike in real life. Ray and I were talking about Science Fiction films at the time, but Brokeback Mountain hit me dead center. I think we all live in Brokeback Nation. This film may not have been intended to be a warning message from God of impending judgment on us all--but that is what it said to me.


It is painful to live in a society full of likeable people one can easily identify with. It is painful to be unable to affect a change in all these lost people who bear the image of God and whose sins have already been paid for in full. If only they knew that! If only someone could go and convince them. Each would blossom and be fulfilled if only they could be put in touch with Jesus. (God is not a respecter of persons--as far as I could tell everyone depicted in this movie was desperately in need of God's compassionate love and mercy).


I thought about the actors and actresses in this film as well. The fame and financial reward of notable actors these days makes it even less likely they will ever come to know God. The parts the cast members played were well-played, but so what? Well-known actors and "stars" never seem to be able to live lives of their own. Who are they as real people? We can never know. We treat them like gods and goddesses and deities--and so they need no redemption. Will any of them ever find the fulfillment that knowing Jesus brings? "God does not desire than anyone should perishÉ"


Jerusalem 586 BC


There was a time in history past when God wiped out most of his chosen people Israel in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This was God judging His own people--those who professed to know Him--not the pagans. Dealing with the pagans would come later.


Jeremiah the prophet was chosen to represent God for more than 40 years while living in Jerusalem through the whole ordeal. Daniel and Ezekiel with a tiny few survivors--a remnant--were safely carted off to Babylon in advance.


While he was in detainment camp outside Babylon, teaching and shepherding the few thousand exiled people in his care, Ezekiel was visited by The Angel of the Lord (a theophany, most likely the preincarnate Son of God). The Angel took Ezekiel in a great vision for a personal tour of the temple and the city. The time was September 592, six years before the actual Fall of the city. After showing Ezekiel the idolatrous conditions in Solomon's once great Temple, the Angel of the Lord called for a recording angel to travel throughout Jerusalem and mark on the forehead every person who "sighed and groaned" over all the abominations going on there. These who wept were the protected few who would survive the coming judgment on the city.


Next the Lord called for six destroying angels who were instructed, "Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary."


Josephus described the subsequent 18-month siege by Nebuchadnezzar when the city was indeed leveled and everyone slain except the few who had been invisibly marked by God's recording angel. (See for details)


God must judge sin. He allows no nation, no people, to go on living generation after generation in life styles that openly defy Him. We are all houseguests on a great Estate owned by an absent Landlord who is also the Heir of everything. That the Landlord will be returning very soon to claim His inheritance, should be evident to all who will open their eyes and see.


Notice from the example of Jerusalem that God judges His own people first--then He judges those who refuse His grace and mercy. The Apostle Peter wrote,


"For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:17-19)


Christians, in my opinion, really have no business heaping condemnation and scorn and ridicule on the sinners of this world! God does not expect moral behavior out of people who do not have the inner spiritual resources to meet His standards. People who are lost don't even know they are lost until someone in mercy wakes them up.


"Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. "Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (Matthew 9:35-38)


Words failed me after watching Brokeback Mountain. It was a time of tears and sorrow for the lost of my generation. I love my country and I remember the good things about life in the United States half a century ago. These better days are all almost gone now. By this film I was deeply shaken at the realization once more of the lavish doses of the unmerited, undeserved grace of God I have been given. But, it is very painful to see so many around me being left behind.


Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Should we not weep over our land and people?

Lambert Dolphin