Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Victory in Christ

Contemporary-Christian singer Matt Maher has a song called “Christ Has Risen”, and in it, he paraphrases 1 Corinthians 15:55, which says, 

"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"

These words capture an extremely important concept for Christians to understand if they want to live a Spirit-filled life. As Christians, we have been given a promise that our God will never leave us or forsake us. He has given us a Helper to fulfill that promise. The Holy Spirit is our Counselor and our Comforter. But too often, we forget Who He is. We forget that He is here to transform us. He isn’t supposed to be this static personality waiting for us to do something. No, the Holy Spirit is here to work in each one of our lives, making us more and more like Jesus every day.

We have been given victory over sin through Jesus Christ. We cannot forget that. And the Holy Spirit is the vehicle of that victory in our lives every single day. “Victory” is defined as “success in a struggle against difficulties or an obstacle.” Well, our lives are certainly full of difficulties. But we are promised success if we trust in Jesus. So, why do we worry? We are not given a spirit of fear. We don’t have any reason at all to be afraid.

I’ve always struggled with this concept. It’s human nature to fear things, and I, perhaps more than some, am scared of a lot of things. I have always had trouble letting go of this world and letting God’s Spirit guide me. But I learned something recently. As Matt Maher sings, death has no hold on us. I had never really thought about this before, but the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the grave. Do you realize what that means? The Holy Spirit conquered death. And that same spirit LIVES IN ME. And He lives in you. Do you understand how incredible that is? Death is the very biggest weapon in Satan’s arsenal, and it’s completely powerless against our God. The Holy Spirit is God in us. Against the Holy Spirit, Satan can do nothing. He can’t conquer us as long as we hold onto Jesus. Nothing Satan can say or do is powerful enough to defeat God Almighty, Who is on our side. So why are we scared?

Nothing Satan can devise for us is bigger than God’s strength. I know that there are difficult days. Believe me, I am not belittling daily struggles. But none of those struggles can compare with the power of God, which rests inside of you. God wants to work in us. He wants to give us His strength. We need to learn that God, and thus the Holy Spirit, is bigger than anything we will ever face. And the reward waiting for us is bigger than anything in this world. So, when the days get hard, when relationships fall apart, when you start to wonder if your Christianity is worth it, fall on your knees and worship the God Whose strength is always enough. And remember that His Love will never leave you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Les Mis

Stunning. Terrifying. Beautiful. Depressing. Exhilarating. Magnificent. Crushing. Soaring. Huge. Emotional. Les Mis is all these things.

This past Friday, I watched the new Les Mis√©rables for the first time. I have never read the book, and I have never seen a full performance of any other version. I did listen to it as an audiobook when I was young, but I didn’t really understand it or remember much of it. Thus, the story was mostly new to me. And I cried. My goodness, did I cry!

Girls have this weird thing where they subject themselves to sad things just so they can cry. I’m not sure why we do that necessarily, but a good cry is remarkably therapeutic. Thus, sad movies and music can be helpful in the long run, though they should be approached with a degree of caution.

Anyway, that’s a bit off topic. Back to the point. Les Mis was incredible! It’s a long movie, at 2 hours and 38 minutes. The first quarter/third/half or so (It’s a good chunk, okay? Sarcastic smile) is less interesting than the last half, but that’s mostly because the second half is the culmination of everything that the first half sets up. Did they spend a lot of time setting the story’s conflict up? Yes. Was it too much? I’m not sure. I think it came really close to being too much, but it’s okay. And if it had been hurried, the emotional impact of the latter half wouldn’t have been as great. So yes, it is long. But its length contributes to the story’s depth in many ways.

The first huge surprise for me was that the characters sing nearly every line. I knew it was a musical, but when I think musical, I think of prominent musical numbers scattered through the whole thing. I expected a lot of songs, but I also thought there would be plain dialogue. There is some, but it is exceptionally brief. So that was jarring. From the beginning of the movie, you are immersed in song. But I adjusted to it eventually, and then the story really gripped me. I was captivated by the tale of this prisoner, Jean Valjean, kept in prison for nineteen years because of a petty offense and haunted by a policeman, Inspect Javert, whose attention to duty is frightening, to say the least. There seems to be no mercy in the man.

Valjean was played brilliantly by Hugh Jackman, the star of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as well as Australia. Before seeing the movie, I was thinking how odd it would be to see Wolverine as a somewhat haunted Frenchman. But Jackman played him to perfection. You don’t think of Wolverine at all; Jackman is completely different as Valjean. His fear of Javert, his love for his charge, Cosette, and his emotional journey from hate to forgiveness are well captured by Jackman’s performance. Javert was played by Russell Crowe [Gladiator, Robin Hood ]. In a special feature interview, Russell Crowe said he wanted to draw out some of Javert’s emotional turmoil. I think he did that, to a point. He plays the unrelenting Inspector extremely well, and then, towards the end, his moral confusion is captured pretty well.

Anne Hathaway, the star of such favorites as The Princess Diaries and Get Smart, plays Fantine, and she pours a great deal of raw emotion into her performance. She is vulnerable and beaten down by life, but she has an inner flame in her love for her daughter, Cosette, who is played by Amanda Seyfried, previously in Mamma Mia and Letters to Juliet. Her voice is heavenly. Eddie Redmayne plays Marius with passion and breathlessness and a youth befitting his character. He also has a fantastic voice. The only problem I had with his performance was that, at times, you expect more from his facial expressions than he gives. But you don’t know how hard it is for me to criticize that; he was fantastic. Eponine was played in haunting fashion by Samantha Barks. She gave life to a character so young and so tired, so hopeful and yet so trodden down, and she played it to perfection. Her voice was really special, in my personal opinion. “Little Bit of Rain” is one of the most beautiful pieces in the entire film.

The supporting characters are all fantastic as well. The “Barricade Boys” are something special, and Aaron Tveit plays Enjolras magnificently. The sets of the movie are huge and really neat. The ships at the very beginning almost blew my mind, and the barricade is awesome! Each scene is crafted with special care, and they build to a mindbogglingly emotional crescendo. I cried through most of Fantine’s scenes, and after Eponine sings “On My Own”, my tears pretty much just escalated until the end. Then said tears had to gradually wind down during the credits. I’m really not exaggerating when I say I cried through almost the entire last half. I think I cried through “On My Own”; I know I cried through “Bring Him Home”, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, and the end song. And the barricade scene? Ugh, the tears wouldn’t stop.

In some ways, I was surprised to cry so much. I mean, yes, it is an exceptionally sad story. But once I started crying, I continued to cry through happy and sad moments alike. You’d think I’d calm down emotionally during the happy moments. Nope, not really. I think I’ve figured out why it’s such an emotional movie, though. It’s an emotional story to begin with, but it’s connected entirely by music. It’s a well-known fact that music is tied to emotions. So, taking moments that are emotional on their own and then making them flow one into another with music is pretty much a recipe for tears. Thus, be prepared to cry. A lot.

Normally, I wouldn’t think such a sad movie could be so magnificent, but it is. Listening to the soundtrack now, I cry again. But I can still say it’s a great movie. Why? Because its themes are beautiful. Les Mis teaches you that beauty can come from ashes. It tells you that love endures, that some things are worth dying for, and that forgiveness can change your life. That is why I now love Les Mis. The songs are special and the actors are great. But in the end, it’s the themes that make it incredible. The themes are the reason this story has lasted and why it now continues to make an impact. 

So, if you don’t hate musicals and you are up to an emotional few hours, I would definitely suggest trying out the new Les Mis√©rables. You may find yourself feeling more rewarded than you ever would have expected.