Archives For The Reason

The film, ‘Reign Over Me’ (2007), written and directed by Mike Binder, is, without a doubt Adam Sandler’s best movie to date. I’ve seen most of his films, the most recent being ‘Sandy Wexler’ (2017) and ‘The Week Of…‘ (2018). By comparison the only other films that might come close are, ‘The Wedding Singer‘ (1998), his remake of ‘Mr. Deeds‘ (2002), ‘Bedtime Stories‘ (2008) and ‘Pixels‘ (2015); but even those don’t achieve what ‘Reign Over Me’ does, or go where it goes.

Sandler’s character, Charlie Fineman, is a widower who looks a lot like Bob Dylan in his early days. Fineman is a dentist by trade, and an apartment dwelling hermit, living in isolation within New York City, who suffers from post-traumatic stress and depression. Sandler’s signature, unpredictable outbursts, are reminiscent of  ‘Happy Gilmore‘ and ‘Anger Management’, though this behavioural similarity exists, it fits perfectly with the circumstances, making Sandler’s portrayal of the grief-stricken Fineman, not only believable, but in my opinion, Oscar worthy.

At the centre of the story-line line are events that took place during September 11, 2001.The film approaches this subject with sensitivity. Avoiding the politics the screenwriters look past conspiracy theories, however, what is glaringly absent is any discussion about Islamism or Islamic terrorism. In a lot of ways this is assumed.

On balance, the film does dedicate a scene to some news articles, albeit ones that are discussing America’s response. I have no real issue with this, for the following reason: The screenwriters are respecting their audience by not spelling out the obvious. I have huge respect for directors and writers who do this. Within the context of ‘Reign Over Me‘, the strategy is understandable. It keeps the focus of the audience on Charlie Fineman’s journey.

In addition to Sandler’s brilliant portrayal of a forgotten victim of September 11, both Don Cheadle (of Hotel Rwanda fame) and Liv Tyler, add their own style and bring to the film a warmth, juxtaposed with contrasts. Cheadle is Sandler’s college room-mate; also a dentist and extremely successful in his own right. Cheadle’s character (Alan Johnson) is aware of Fineman’s tragic past, but had lost contact with him over the years. Johnson has his own issues, which all start to come to bare, after randomly crossing paths with Fineman in the street. Johnson seeks to reconnect with Fineman.

Not completely aware of Fineman’s suffering, Johnson quickly recognises the pain his friend is suffering with. He begins to try to help Fineman. This creates tension between Johnson and his wife, and a series of misunderstandings with an ever suspicious Fineman.

Fineman wants no help, only later choosing to see Johnson’s long-term friend and pyschologist, Angela Oakhurst (played by Liv Tyler). Oakhurst works to bring Fineman to a place where he can address the past and his own brokenness, in his own time. Cheadle’s performance keeps the film moving along, perfectly complementing Sandler’s. Liv Tyler compliments Cheadle. The perfect casting circle is made complete when Donald Sutherland turns up in the role of Judge Rains.

The film comes to a close with Fineman’s in-laws trying to speak with him. Fineman breaks downs, becomes violent, and as a result is held in custody for psychological evaluation. As Rains becomes aware of Fineman’s emotional and psychological state, he sees straight through the opportunistic lawyer representing Fineman’s in-laws. With Solomon-esk wisdom Rains outmanoeuvres the lawyer, making it clear that what he has in Fineman is a forgotten victim of September 11, 2001, who deserves a chance to be heard, helped and respected.

Reign Over Me‘, does have some unnecessary language and some interesting sub plots. Those side plots wind up coming together in the end. Though they seem to detract from the film at first, as the story progress, the genius of their inclusion in the film  becomes clear. The sub plots are used to fortify the audiences cheering in the end, through their desire to see Fineman heal and overcome the obstacles forced upon him.

The film isn’t complete without the impressive soundtrack, of which the stand out song is Eddie Vedder’s cover of The Who’s, ‘Love, Reign O’er Me‘ and The Fray’s, ‘How to Save a Life’.  The live and studio versions included; Vedder’s performance, as far as I have heard, is his best vocal work in a song.

As far as art and theology goes, ‘Reign Over Me’ is rich in metaphor. What I see in ‘Reign Over Me‘ is God’s redemptive love – displayed in the film by Cheadle, Tyler and Sutherland’s characters. They fight for Fineman, yet still place an emphasis on him taking responsibility for his own actions. Fineman was empowered, but he still had to decide to respond to the love and help (salvation – grace) he was given.

Since the theme of God’s redemptive love is part of a lot of current discussion, the metaphors are worth noting. The freedom we find in God’s redemptive love is not a “freedom” that is said to be found in human love. For Fineman, human love was not to be trusted. Such love is at best optimism, at worst morbid existential navel gazing and/or veiled self-centred ambition. God’s love draws us out of ourselves in the form of His gracious Word spoken to humanity, which is both invitation and command (Jesus Christ and Covenant). We are drawn out of ourselves to be free for God and our neighbour. Such freedom comes with limitations.

I seem to be on a roll with recommending and reviewing art that, to me, is written, for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. ‘Reign Over Me‘, in my opinion, fits this category like no other film I’ve seen.  It hits at our grief, the lies we tell ourselves and the traps we fall into because we fall under the radar of complacent and dismissive family members, who, in overlooking the complexities of our brokenness, can seem to demand more than we are ready to give; simply because we don’t know how, or don’t yet have the strength to give it. ‘Reign Over Me‘ is an honest prayer-filled, heart-wrenching scream that meets with what Lacey Strum wrote, when summing up her reasons for screaming in songs:

‘Like ‘emotional vomit’, lyrics about ‘horrible abuse, if sung honestly, must be screamed…Screaming was my natural response to injustice… When I started writing music with screaming in it, the point was to hit someone back… After God rescued me, however, I found a purpose for my screaming: to speak truth over the lies in people’s hearts. Lies like the ones I believed about myself when I wanted to die.’ – (Lacey Sturm, 2014 The Reason, pp.77-82)

Let there be light. Inhaled grace ignites.

 


Disclaimer:

I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

Lacey Sturm _ The Reason GVL Review 2015Often a book will land in your lap. Then, sometimes you run into it. Unable to avoid the undertow that draws you towards it.

I’d have to say, for me at least, that the latter experience applies to ‘The Reason’.

Lacey Sturm’s story revisits darkened avenues.

‘The Reason’ might look like a standard ‘’rock-star’’ reading. It isn’t.

Sturm’s famous vocal-scream and its raw transition from heart to ear, directs attention to the depth of her pain, prayer and subsequent gratitude. What you hear in her music is what you get in this book; it’s the figurative heart, scarred, but bursting with new life.

Lacey writes:

‘It is brave to trust that the God who gave you life in the first place has a good plan in mind, even when everything around you looks like hell. It is brave to live.[i]

One might rightly say its contents reflect something akin to Cohen’s vision in ‘Anthem’ of how light pierces through the cracks.

Illuminated by an underprivileged and abusive past Sturm pins down connectivity with the broken-hearted, reaching well beyond the realm of safe pulpits and the sanitized pews of the middle class Christian West mindset.

This is theological poetry for the self-styled “damned.”

Much like the autobiographies from Johnny Cash and Brian‘Head’ Welch, Sturm delineates cause, effect and the overarching struggle to simply breathe beyond sin towards forgiveness, through a brokenness unfairly thrust upon them, delivering hope to those of us who can relate.

Like ‘emotional vomit’, lyrics about ‘horrible abuse, if sung honestly, must be screamed…Screaming was my natural response to injustice… When I started writing music with screaming in it, the point was to hit someone back… After God rescued me, however, I found a purpose for my screaming: to speak truth over the lies in people’s hearts. Lies like the ones I believed about myself when I wanted to die….I prayed God would use my voice to scream justice over every lie seeking to destroy the very people he made for great things.[ii]

Sturm, accompanied by beautiful hand drawn bespoke illustrations, unpacks the darkness in order to reveal the light. It’s clear that her words are carefully chosen, a well-considered pre-emptive attempt to prepare most readers for what is ahead.

‘The Reason’ deals with a series of issues including: bullying, parental abandonment, violence, identity issues, depression, poverty, fatherlessness and abuse.

Something that exists as an overarching theme is Lacey’s search for identity, acceptance and freedom. A big part of this is her wrestling with sexual identity, atheism, mistrust of men, confusion, love, and hate for injustice; a quest that fills these pages with more authenticity than some autobiographies twice as long exhaust themselves trying to achieve.

If anything, Lacey’s vulnerability makes her too vulnerable. Yet, what this all suggests is that Sturm is not out to just sell a book or artificially pad her already well supplied fan base.

‘The Reason’ is absent of hype and pretence. It denies any temptation to rely on these staple ingredients so often used in modern appeals to the masses.  It is ‘unassuming in its significance’.

This is evident in one of the most impressive highlights (and there are many), the theological distinction Sturm makes between “awe” and “emotionalism”.

‘There’s a definite sense of awe in the presence of God, and I experienced this most in the worship setting in church. I fell madly in love with experiencing awe. This experience was more than emotion. Something within us resonates when we encounter the sublime in life. C. S. Lewis talks about this feeling of awe in his book The Problem of Pain. In it he describes the word numinous. The numinous is that “thing” we sense or feel that is outside of ourselves.[iii]

Her discourse shifts away from a false euphoric emotionalism in worship towards ‘awe’, adding that there is a ‘difference between relationship with God and the experience of God.’ Lacey is aware of potential unseen dangers with regards to music, further stating:

‘The power of music, with its effect on the soul, is one of the most tangible ways to touch someone’s heart or spirit. I began to be very selective about the music I let into my soul and spirit because of how powerful I knew music could be. Emotions aren’t wrong, but letting them control your life and sway all your decisions can be deceptive and very destructive. I felt myself slip easily back into depression and condescension whenever I listened to certain music.[iv]

As easy as it would have been to slip into this trap, by providing advice like this Lacey evades feeding a narcissistic subculture,  “Christian” or otherwise. Instead her story and reflections that run concomitant with it, present a well thought out chronological narrative of displacement, warning, encouragement and realignment.

In conclusion, ‘The Reason’ is in-part exactly what a fan would expect; commentary complete with  a list of who and what helped that person steer into a musical career, fame and noticeable accomplishments.

However, Sturm’s book is not a chronological drift of what and how to become a rock-star. It is not an all-purpose list, to-be-generally read and followed formula for success.

Lacey points to God as the author of her success with a fierce reminder that God, in Jesus Christ, through His Spirit reaches for us.  That He hears us. Especially our deepest gasps, loneliest sighs and anguish filled groans. Although we may not see it, His gracious grasp is firm, authentic and unmistakable.

As Tolstoy and Barth rendered it, so Lacey Sturm profoundly reminds us of it:

No matter how bad it is, we are, still indeed ‘held firmly above the abyss.[v]


Sources:

[i] Sturm, L. 2014, The Reason: How I Discovered a Life Worth Living Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 62).

[ii] Ibid, pp.77-82

[iii] Ibid, p.134

[iv] Ibid, p. 132

[v] Tolstoy’s A Confession & Karl Barth: ‘It is given an answer from the cross of Christ. The serious and terrible nature of human corruption, the depth of the abyss into which man is about to fall as the author of it, can be measured by the fact that the love of God could react and reply to this event only by His giving, His giving up, of Jesus Christ Himself to overcome and remove it and in that way to redeem man, fulfilling the judgment upon it in such a way that the judge allowed Himself to be judged and caused the man of sin to be put to death in His own person.’

(Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer, Kindle Ed.)

(Disclosure: Unpaid review)

© Rod Lampard, 2015


Related reading:

Unassuming Significance: The Reason {An Introduction}

Industrious {…Or, Just Running After One’s Hat}

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2.

3.

“…thank you for the Mercy Tree”

Having fronted the band Flyleaf for around ten years, leaving in 2012, Lacey Sturm (née Mosley) released her book, The Reason, in October this year. As with the devotion and profound gratitude Lacey communicates through her abilities as a songwriter and vocalist. Her testimony resonates.

Outside of glowing Amazon reviews, other appraisals of her book seem difficult to come by.

One quasi-critical review I did locate stated:

‘I salute her for her love for Jesus, her optimism and her bravery to share her past…I appreciate very much her willingness to bare her soul, praising God for his redemption and encouraging others to find peace in Jesus. However, I do feel that Lacey didn’t hold her mother accountable for her behavior by repeatedly saying she did the best she could. Bad choices and neglect should still be recognized as such.’
‘This book was so dreary and oppressive and sad that I just couldn’t finish it.’ (source)

The review is mixed with both reviewers stating that they got the point of her book, and hope it finds those who need to hear its message. However, they found it too difficult to finish. Citing the reasons as being heavy content and their own context. Fair enough.

In recent months, though, no critical review has made me want to read a book more than this has. My wife and I look forward to passing it between each other over Christmas, during the summer break.

‘The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my  beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.’
(1 Corinthians 15:56-58)