Sunday, 26 March 2017

Beauty and the Beast.

I brought my kids to watch Beauty and the Beast this weekend. Some may think that I have done the paternally irresponsible thing. I can hear their concern here: "Don't you know that the once wholesome movie is now contaminated by unwholesome element? Shouldn't you have exercised some discretion?"

Well, I will come to that later. But for now, here's what my kids told me about the movie. They loved it. My youngest said that it was so romantic. My middle child said that she'd rather the beast remain as the beast because he is so cute. That's true. The beast is indeed adorable.

If a female version of Star Wars' Chewbacca were ever romantically involved with Sean Connery, their byproduct would be the Beast. The Beast’s fur, pout, tantrums and reverberating, bassy voice were unmistakably charming, even endearing. I think they got the chemistry between hideousness and affableness just right. And I am glad my kids loved the movie.

It was no doubt exquisitely done and the magical world it created draws you in like a child being invited up the garden path to one's childhood fantasy. Kudos to the music too. It transported the moviegoer into a timeless fairytale land of mystery, intimacy and hope.

As for the unwholesome part, let me just say that it is a familiar movie with the usual, predictable plot notwithstanding the gay moment in it. Lefou is anything but straight in the movie, and I can understand that that rubs the Christian the wrong way.

However, there are many unwholesome moments in the movie too. In addition to the gay moment, there are the attempted-murder moment, the lying-in-your-face moment, the narcissist moment, the chauvinism moment, the fornication-in-thoughts moment, the cowardice moment, the killing-the-Beast-off moment, and many others - some necessary to the storyline, others not quite.

And that compels me to ask, “Is Lefou's role as a gay necessary?

Well, I've to admit that it was not. You lose nothing of the plot if Lefou was just a fawning heterosexual with a comical tongue and a silly face. As such, the director or producer could have just edited it out of the script. Or maybe they could downplay it so that Lefou was merely seen as just sharing a friendship moment with Gaston without the wink, the hug and the belly hickey.

In this way, it would be construed as a friendship no different from that of David and Jonathan's in the Bible. And since I am at it here, I would say that the 1.2-second dance scene with a male partner at the last part of the movie is also unnecessary.

So, what was Disney thinking right? How can they throw a pink spanner into the whole family-friendly works? Isn't this gay propaganda, loaded with LGBT agenda? Isn't this a queer-ish back masking effort to instill subliminal message into young and impressionable minds?

Well, it could be all those things or maybe not, but my family and I know where we stand on them. My youngest (at 6) was completely oblivious to the gay moment. Instead, she was dumbstruck by the be-my-guest and grand-ballroom-dancing moments. And my 11-year-old and 14-year old were the least affected by it. For them, and myself, Beauty and the Beast was much more than the homophilic wink and flirting.

The moral of the story is still moral in spite of the morally questioning parts. Unlike midnight cowboy, brokeback mountain or milk, the gay moments are fleeting, readily missable, and most importantly, it would have remained so if not for the publicity it had received.

It is thus no wonder that in a packed theatre, the audience just went trigger-happy whenever Lefou appeared in the movie. His every move - however routine and bland - invited giggles quite instinctively. And ironically, the free publicity may just be one of the reasons the film has become the highest grossing Disney movie for this season ($170m – 3-day tally), beating Finding Dory ($166m). So, intended or not, the producers and Disney are laughing all the way to the bank now.

Be that as it may, my point is that the timeless message in Beauty and the Beast is still about love, that is, the love between a daughter and her father, and the love between a commoner and a cursed prince. It is also about sacrifices when the daughter took the place of her father as the prisoner in the Beast's castle.

With or without Lefou's antics, the movie is still a bedtime story we share with our kids about the courage of a young girl, the kindness she had shown to a monster, and in return, how the monster was touched and transformed by her kindness.

In fact, we all know the real monster in the movie is not the Beast. The real beast is the one who eats 5 dozen eggs, yes, Gaston. He is the veritable monster in the movie, and I see a parallel between the Prodigal Son(s) and Beauty and the Beast.

You will note that the Beast is like the younger prodigal son who partied all night, squandered his inheritance away, and was defiant about his wayward conduct until he was cursed to  become a beast for as long as he remains unrepentant. As for the other older son, he is very much like Gaston who did everything expected, proper and popular in the eyes of the world. Yet, nothing has changed inside, except for what he has projected outside for all to see. His chivalry is self-serving. His courage is self-glorifying. Alas, form, for Gaston, always precedes substance.

Ultimately, in the movie, love prevailed, overcame and won. The fate of each character says it all. Gaston was unrepentant till the very end, and his end was wrought by his own hands. Like the older prodigal son, his heart remained unchanged, cold and self-seeking.

The Beast was of course one of the stars of the movie together with Belle. Their love broke all barriers. It broke the appearance barrier, the hate barrier, and the invulnerability barrier.

And the magical moment in the movie is not so much when Belle kissed the Beast, and he was transformed into a prince along with the other kitchen wares, cutlery and lighting appliances who magically turned into the noble French human workforce. No, the magical moment however is when the Beast asked Belle whether she is happy to stay with him in the castle. Belle replied, "How can I be happy if I'm not free?"

That was when it dawned on the Beast that enduring love is about sacrifice, freedom and trust. If you love someone, you not only set her free, but trust that she will return to you not by force, but by free will. And return Belle did, because love, being selfless, knows no boundary. That about sums up the moral of the story for me.

So, the movie has a lot to teach my children. And the lessons are timeless. Even Lefou himself was not blind to Gaston's excesses. In the end, Lefou switched sides. He came to his senses. He grew a conscience unlike his abusive master. Although he played the part of a gay, he was nevertheless a gay with heart and soul.

Some Christians would have wished that the script would go further with that switch. Maybe Lefou could find true love too - with the opposite sex of course. But the world doesn't always go the way we want it to go. The movie is a microcosm of what the real world is like. Its fidelity is to our reality.

Our world is diverse, imperfect and flawed, but yet not irredeemable. No one is therefore beyond the reach of love. Maybe the producers could do a sequel to Beauty and the Beast and call it Lefou and the Switch. But I won't hold my breath for it.

The world is made up of the likes of Gaston, the Beast, Belle and yes, even Lefou - whether we like it or not. And that will not change. Disney will continue to do what she deems fit to churn out megahits. They are accountable to their stakeholders. 

And as for me, as a father, a husband and a Christian, I too am accountable to my family, marriage and God. In my own fallen nature, I will stand for what is right, true and honourable. Parenthood is always a fraught road with many twists, turns, and bends. Sometimes, I take the road less travelled. At other times, I lapse into the broad road. Still at other times, I confront a crossroad struggling with my own demons.

But I do not see bringing my kids to watch the movie a detour or derailment in this journey of mutual growth with them because my family's takeaway after the movie is not that it promotes a certain value incongruent with ours. On the contrary, it is a movie that teaches my kids some important lessons as I have written above. And the most relevant lesson of all is this: there is always a place for love in all relationships to bridge the gap, and this love transforms hearts by going beyond our differences, not reminding us of how different we are from them. Cheerz.

Healing with brokenness.

Yesterday (Wed, 22 March), after sending my daughter to school, I saw a father cycling to school with his son as his pillion rider. He then put him down and waved goodbye. As usual, he stood there and watched his son entered the school building before he cycled off. But after peddling for a while, he stopped. He looked up to the sky and paused in thought for a while.
That image caught my attention because this father just lost his son - his eldest son. His son was about 15 when he was playing basketball in school. He suddenly collapsed and passed away thereafter.
Today's papers also talked about two other deaths. Two young MRT trainees died last year in Singapore's worst rail accident. Asyraf's and Nasrulhudin's parents were inconsolable. Asyraf's parents and family were in Mecca for their pilgrimage when the accident happened. They rushed back when the news broke.
And Nasrulhudin's mother, Madam Norizan, broke down, saying this, "I was speechless. I felt my entire body shaking...I just cried." She recalled that her son always made the effort to spend time with the family. And last year, they spent their first Hari Raya without him.
Asyraf's mother, Mdm Rosma, would visit his grave every day at Lim Chu Kang for the first 100 days. It reports that "on Monday, the housewife, 54, braved the rain to do so again with flowers in her arms and prayers on her lips. It was her son's birthday. (He) would have turned 25."
Lesson? Just one.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, who lost his son to progeria at 15 years old, and the author of "When bad things happen to good people," said:-
"I am a more sensitive person, a more effective pastor, a more sympathetic counselor because of Aaron's life and death than I would ever have been without it. And I would give up all those gains in a second if I could have my son back. If I could choose, I would forgo all of the spiritual growth and depth which has come my way because of our experiences, and be what I was fifteen years ago, an average rabbi, an indifferent counselor, helping some people and unable to help others, and the father of a bright, happy boy. But I cannot choose."
Life doesn't give us that choice. Good and bad things happen to the best of us. When they come, they come. And when they come, our struggles are endless. Even when we finally do overcome, growing in depth in return, we are still at best a broken vessel, and never completely whole.
Our healing over time is a healing with brokenness, and not apart from it. The pain never goes away. But we have grown deeper in soul and spirit to keep it from overwhelming us. It is like we have expanded the rooms in our heart to allow a guest to stay a little longer. He is one guest that reminds us of our past.  He is one guest that tells us about stories of a time with our loved ones.
Mdm Rosma said that a lady came up to her and told her how her son had helped her in an accident. She said her son came down from his motorbike to assist. Mdm Rosma said, "They come by our home, and that is a way (for me to remember him). They also tell me stories of how they spent their time together."
If DNA is the building block of life, then stories are the building blocks of our soul. We make these stories every day with our loved ones, our children, our close friends. These stories are simple stories of love, sacrifices, hope, nurture and devotion (even reconciliation).
 Each of them, however mundane it appears then, becomes our healing partner in the journey to our recovery. They come alive when our loved ones are gone and nudge us in the direction that we should take to find our own strength, hope and joy again.
Treasure these stories you are making with them now. Make every one an intimate journey. For every encounter, experience and adventure with them forms the reservoir of hope, faith and love we will be called upon to draw on when the time comes for us to confront and overcome life's most painful struggle - their unavoidable loss. Cheerz.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

James 1:2-8 - Pure Joy.

James 1:2-8

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

One day, sorrow came to me.
She claimed to offer a gift.
But I told her to leave.
I just want no part of this.

So, I kept the door ajar.
Careful not to let sorrow in.
I thought to keep her afar.
To give me time to think.

But sorrow refused to go.
Despite my cries of unfair.
Her gift she plans to sow.
But it's more than I can bear.

Then sorrow said she's a friend.
She extended her wounded hand.
She said let her in.
And assured me it's win-win.

Guarded, I ask why.
I just needed to know.
Why good things must die.
And bad things take hold.

Sorrow smiled but answered not.
Neither did she blame nor find fault.
She just reminded me to grow.
And let not my heart wax cold.

She said, "Take the journey,"
To discover what God has in store.
She said the lessons are many.
When I answer the call. 

My heart then soften.
As I invited sorrow in.
That day she and I talked often.
About my eventual overcoming.

After a brief season,
Sorrow left with gift unveiled.
Still she gave no reason,
Yet I've grown and prevailed.

So I am recalling here.
Of the verse in James.
There's no trial I need to fear.
For my hope is in the name above all names.