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FIRST-PERSON: Our shining hours

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–It’s been almost a year since that horrific Sept. 11 day when America’s world changed. Now we are barricaded, scrutinized and on alert. It was a day we all wish had never happened. But through that calamity and despair, the American spirit was reborn.

There were acts of selfishness and folly on the part of some. Otherwise, however, anger, a desire for vengeance and exploitation were downsized by the pulling together of our country’s citizenry, led by New York’s example. Bravery, self-sacrifice and determination became the qualities most apparent in the American character. Once again, we got outside our little world and remembered the sanctity of our neighbors’ lives and the faith of our fathers.

Whatever our faults as a nation, we are a unique people. When calamity occurs, America’s compassion overrides its narcissism. For example, in the 1980s, not long after Iran held more than 200 U.S. citizens captive, we heard of a disastrous earthquake in that country. It had left thousands destitute, without food or shelter. Right away, Americans sent aid. And I don’t mean just from the government. The people of America responded to those who were suffering. Our collective heart went out to a nation considered hostile to our way of life.

In the film “Stripes,” Bill Murray, referring to America’s melting pot heritage, adroitly sums us up with “We’re mutts. But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, that’s more lovable than the mutt.”

Throughout the years, the movie industry has paid tribute to America’s shining hours. Here are a few film examples now on video that spotlight America’s heart. And, I might add, acknowledge a Christian influence on that heart.

OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES. Charming look at rural life during the beginning of WWII. Contains a respect for Christianity and life, and reminds us of the price we pay for freedom. Keep Kleenex handy for Margaret O’Brien’s sacrifice toward the end of the film.

STARS IN MY CROWN. Joel McCrea stars as a pistol-packin’ preacher who helps the citizens of a small western town cope with life’s frustrations. Sentimental, inspirational and very entertaining.

THREE GODFATHERS. A John Ford/John Wayne production about outlaws who save a newborn baby even though it means their capture or death. It presents wayward men who eventually do the right thing.

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. A squadron is ordered to find and safely retrieve a soldier whose three brothers have been killed in combat. Now famous for its grisly action scenes, the most moving moment doesn’t take place during battle, but at the end when a veteran, who has returned to the cemetery in France, salutes a fallen comrade. A powerful film, it has led to a renewed interest in the sacrifices made during WWII.

The Tom Hanks character sacrifices his life for Matt Damon’s Private Ryan. As Ryan stands before the grave of his “savior,” he turns to his wife and asks, “Have I been a good man?” In other words, he’s saying, did I deserve this sacrifice? His wife assures him that, indeed, he has been a good man.

To me, this is saying that a price was paid for Private Ryan’s life. But with that price comes a responsibility. We are to live up to the sacrifice. We are saved by grace, not by works, but our works are an expression of our faith.

WE WERE SOLDIERS. This true account of a battle in Vietnam is a tribute to the nobility and uncommon valor of those men under fire. It honors their loyalty to their country and to each other, and it brings to light the heroism and unimaginable sacrifice of men and women both at home and abroad.

Mel Gibson plays Col. Moore, a religious man and warrior. Several times he is seen in prayer, reflecting a reverence for God and a need for the Almighty’s direction. Indeed, he reminded me of what King David might have been like when heading his armies. (Caution: These last two films are rated R for graphic language and gory battlefield action. They are not suitable for children. I mention them due to their powerful salute to those who gave the last full measure of devotion.)
Philip Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For more information about his service, go to www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright