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FIRST-PERSON: Think you’ve got troubles?

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Each of us seeks the cottage with the white picket fence, that restful abode by the shore where love is present and strife is beyond the sea. Perhaps that’s why we love movies; they keep alive the dream of a happy ending, where love and acceptance, peace and respect are attainable.

We feel good at the end of “The Wizard of Oz,” not just because Dorothy got home to kith and kin, but because we figure if that kid in Kansas can attain happiness somewhere over the rainbow, then so can we. But that’s not always how it is, is it?

Some actually do have that cottage by the sea, their lives seemingly untroubled. But don’t let their possession of things fool you into believing they have no worries. “Well, I’d rather have money and problems than just problems.” Can’t argue with that. But more than not, it’s the money that leads to problems.

I’ve read nearly 200 biographies of celebrities over my lifetime. I learned something about facing life from, of all people, Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra. In “The Robert Mitchum Story: It Sure Beats Working” author Mike Tomkies writes, “The only man in this town I wouldn’t want to tangle with is Frank Sinatra. I might knock him down, but he’d keep getting up ’til one of us got killed.” That identification of Old Blue Eyes’ determination is a poignant evaluation of a man’s character. At times life seems little more than a schoolyard bully, bent on knocking you down. What labels your character, however, is what you do once you’re lying face down on the playground asphalt. With his art, Sinatra taught: If you keep getting up, you begin to stand for something.

I’m amazed that I was able to glean such perception from that bio tidbit. I was only 19 and quite frankly, dumber than a bagful of hammers (if I may borrow a perceptive description from another sage).

Yet over the years I found by reading bios of the rich and famous that movie stars, even Mitchum and Sinatra, had problems. Not even the beautiful and the famous are able to avoid dispute and pain. What’s more, their success, brought on by an unaccountable charisma and a considerable talent, is often the genesis for their stress and strain.

Errol Flynn went on trial for statutory rape and, while pronounced innocent, he suffered from the exploit both at the box office and in his personal relationships. John Wayne lost a mansion and mementoes to fire and faced near bankruptcy because of an accountant’s mismanagement. While the Duke was able to rebuild his fortune and went out with his best performance (“The Shootist”), he was still unable to escape death. He died emaciated and in pain from cancer. Marilyn Monroe suffered depression and was found dead at age 36 under mysterious circumstances. Pregnant Gene Tierney shook hands with a measles-infected fan, caught the ailment herself and gave birth to a mentally challenged child; years later Ms. Tierney herself underwent shock treatment.

If we can’t escape problems no matter how rich, famous, bright or beautiful we are, then maybe there’s a reason for these inescapable adversities. As Christians, maybe our struggle through toil and trouble is one of the main reasons we are here, for these woes cause us to trust in God.

By studying Scripture, one must come to the conclusion that the only way to please God is through faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God….” (Hebrews 11:6). We see through a glass darkly, but remember, we’re not alone and forgotten in the shadows. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Does God bring on the catastrophes? Does He cause the little child to die of leukemia or allow a blue-collar worker to lose his much-needed income? Does he bring heartbreak? These puzzles befuddle even the most brilliant theologians, so don’t expect too much profundity from this humble movie critic. But from my studying His nature through the Word, God isn’t petty, unforgiving or vindictive. And when the next ordeal overwhelms you, remember you are not alone in this travail. Others have been right where you are. And our Lord does promise to be beside us. “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand, and says to you, do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13).

Who knows the big picture? Think you do? As believers, we won’t understand it until we see Christ face to face. (“The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them” Psalms 25:14). Until then, rest assured, the big picture is made up of billions of little pictures, for God, who cares for the little sparrows, is in the details.

In Matthew, Jesus reminds us, “and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” I hope Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra finally came to that conclusion. I pray you do.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective and is the author of “Movies: The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad.” To learn more about his work, visit previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright