Thursday, July 27, 2006

God @ The Movies: Seabiscuit

Today we’re looking at the movie Seabiscuit. Context of movie is in the 1920’s and thirties before and after the great depression. This is a movie not just about a horse, but even more importantly a movie about three broken individuals who find healing in their relationship with one another.

Introduction of Characters:

Charles Howard
Tom Smith
Red Pollard

Chapter 2 - 7:03 to 8: 02

Smith is a horseman, riding the open ranges who’s life is now being changed due to the age of the automobile and the fences along highways. He becomes a trainer of horses for a wild west show. Instead of living the life he has known and is designed to live he ends up doing what he does to present a show of the wild west that he had known.

Charles Howard is a rags to riches story, He is an entrepreneur, becomes very wealthy, he is a likeable man with energy and optimism. He replaces horses in the stables with cars. His toasts and speeches are always “ to the future”

Then comes the stock market crash of October 29…. 25% workforce unemployed.

Red Pollard: We are introduced to him as a younger boy, who is a natural horse rider and well read young man. When his dad was out of work. He got a job at a horse farm, and learned how to be a jockey.

Chapter 4 - 16:36 - 18:10.

Dad and mom leave him at the farm because they cannot afford to feed the whole family. Red becomes a jockey who is too tall and always struggling to make his weight of 115. He ends up being a training jockey in a ruthless and cutthroat environment. At a young age he is a gentle and soft hearted young man who is well read and loyal to his family…. He feels abandoned and confused, after facing hardships, disappointment, abandonment and an unkind world, Red begins to become hardened and angry.

In the meantime, Charles Howard is forced to lay off workers and is feeling the crunch of the post wall street crash and the great depression. When he and his wife go on a business trip into the city his son, who is about twelve years old takes out the family truck and tragically dies in an accident. Howard’s life and optimism about the “future” is radically altered. His wife never recovers and ends up leaving him.

Tom becomes a drifter and rail rider, Howard is no longer interested in cars and money, and Red, trying to make money wherever he could becomes a part time jockey and a very poor boxer, trying to make money in a sport that he is not very good at.

Tijuana Mexico became a a booming town where many Americans would go to get respite from the woes of their own country and lives . Horse racing became big and we see how these three men’s lives become interconnected.

All three men are broken, their lives are no longer the same as they once were. They do not yet know one another and yet we will see that circumstances in their lives are conspiring to bring them together for a purpose.

We call this God’s providence and when we fully believe in the all knowing, all powerful and all present God, we learn to trust that no matter where we are on our journey, that He does have a plan and does have things under control. Even when we are in the depths of our brokenness, we can trust God that he will bring good out of this brokenness if we yield to him and submit our will to His will.

Charles Howard becomes less interested in cars, likely due to the death of his son in a car and becomes more interested in horses and horse racing, but more importantly he becomes more interested in people. He begins to look for a trainer. His wealthy friends encourage him to find a big name trainer. But because of his own brokenness Howard seems to be more interested in helping other hurt and broken people.

Chapter 8 39:43 - 42:30.

Howard hires Smith as his trainer. Smith tells him that he needs to look for a horse with heart and is not going to run away from a fight. They end up in Saratoga New York looking for a horse. Smith meets Seabiscuit who is too small to race and has been trained to let other horses beat him. Seabiscuit has small horse syndrome, an attitude, but also a fire inside of him. The horse was abused and deemed lazy and became hardened. Like Red Pollard he became bitter and angry from the hurt and pain of life.

Smith sees a spirit in Seabiscuit, and looks past his anger and aggressiveness. He does the same with Red Pollard.

Chapter 9 - 47:52 - 48:35.

Point: Having people in our lives that can see past our stuff, past our outward appearance and protective measures and see the potential, is a gift.

God knows our hearts, He knows our potential because he made us in his image, but as a result of the fall that image became distorted. We are all broken in some way, some of us just more visibly than others.

Romans 5:12
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.

Our brokenness is part of the human condition. How much do we desire for others to see past our brokenness and give us love. Just as Smith instinctively saw past the outward brokenness of Seabiscuit and Red Pollard, so Jesus is able to see through and past the evidence of our own brokenness. God sees the inside while humankind sees what’s on the outside. And as a Christian community we learn and grow into maturity so that we may see the potential of each other and come to see the inside, grow to see each other as Jesus would see us, As Tom saw the potential in Seabiscuit and Red, how wonderful it would be for all of us to have someone see our potential and encourage that. We can do this for one another.

Red meets Seabiscuit. In one scene Red tells Seabiscuit, I know what you’re all about. He understands him because he has the same brokenness and anger inside him. They are both diamonds in the rough. They develop a bond.

Howard takes both Seabiscuit and Red Pollard back to San Francisco so they may train. Howard begins to heal and regain his lost soul. The barn, which used to house his race cars now becomes home for Seabiscuit and his team of broken men.

They discover that Seabiscuit is a very fast horse. They begin to win races, and form deep friendships at the same time. They also have an understanding of their own brokenness and fallibilities. They develop into a community who needs one another. They develop into a community who understand their weaknesses and problems and desire to journey with one another any way.

As a church community at CoHo we recognize and confess to our brokenness, we encourage authenticity and difficult dialogue. We strive for an authentic and real community. It is not unusual to look around after a service and see us crying together, consoling one another, praying for one another. We need not paste on the false smiles that have hidden our hurt and pain and struggle.

Billy Graham’s daughter, Ruth Graham has written a book titled In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart.

In the book she speaks of her two broken marriages and the chaos of her life as she attempted to keep on the plastic smile and live up to the expectations of being Billy Graham’s daughter. In one interview Ruth Graham says,

It doesn’t matter who you are or what family you come from. Life happens. And life brings you blows that you don’t expect." It happens to Billy Graham’s family too.

Ruth Graham had an understanding that in her image she had to carry God’s reputation, wanting God to look good. She goes on to tell a story of divorce, depression, dealing with her own kids teenage drug use, eating disorders and pregnancies.

Some of you are going through or have gone through tremendous pain of loss. Divorce, loss of job, loss of family, loss of health, loss of innocence, some of you are recovering from abusive and highly dysfunctional homes.

But in our brokenness we often build a house of cards around us. We have unhealthy mechanisms that help us cope with the reality of our own brokenness and our broken world. Denial, ambition, aggression, depression, all symptoms of or coping mechanisms that never allow us to come to a place of healing. In my own life the house of cards came tumbling down in rapid succession as divorce, job loss, loss of friends, my parents divorce, and my father’s death came one after another. And in my own healing journey I have tried to be open with my own story for the same reasons that Ruth Graham has.

Graham says in the same interview:

To be open with our struggles is to minister to others. Being authentic allows for ministry. People who are hurting need to know that they are not alone and struggle is part of the human condition, and no one is exempt.” Ruth Graham

The Apostle Paul knew that for him to minister and do what God had called him to do that he must be authentic with his own life and struggle. We get a glimpse of Paul’s authenticity in his letters to the first churches, and we can glean from those that Paul was authentic in his daily life. Paul didn’t wear the painted on smiles, and false optimisms that some of us have experienced in churches. He was real with his struggle and real with his hope.

In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul writes of his weaknesses when he tells of pleading with God to remove what he calls a thorn in the flesh,

“ I begged three times to take this problem away from me. But he said to me “ my grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me… Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong. 2 Cor. 12: 8-10 NCV

This theme of Paul’s in being able to speak of his own brokenness and weakness is threaded through many of his letters to the churches of the first century.

As in any relationships, those that are close to us are sometimes required to hold a mirror up to our stuff so that it can be healed.

Chapter 13 - 1:04:24 – 1:05:29

Red still has to deal with his anger and how it is affecting his life and his ability to be the best jockey he can be. ( he fouled me… he cut me off, what am I supposed to do! )

Point: What are you so mad at….? What are you so scared of? Why are you so worried? We need people to ask us the tough questions sometimes so that we may begin to live the examined life.

Dealing with our issues, admitting our brokenness, being confronted by those who care for us that something is not quite right, and humbling ourselves to ask for help, is part of the healing journey.

In Henry Cloud’s book Changes That Heal he helps us understand that it is necessary to have people in our lives that will speak truth. But he warns that truth without grace is legalism and brings death and destruction. In community it is much easier to see the behaviours of others and quickly pronounce “truth” . “Well, stop doing this, stop doing that, I see this in you, you need to change that.” But in some relationships and churches there is no grace. On the other hand when there is grace without truth we believe that we have licence to do whatever we want or brings instant pleasure and we never fully grow and mature. Healing comes when grace and truth are melded together in a healthy environment, that has patience for one another.

Grace + Truth + Patience = Healing

Jesus represents to us this combining of grace and truth. As we are broken in what is known as original sin, so we are reconciled to God through the grace and truth of Christ.

Speaking of Christ, John writes,

“ Because he was full of grace and truth, from him we all received one gift after another. The law was given through moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John 1:16 – 17 NCV

In community we recognize that it is those who care for us who are willing to speak truth into our lives, even when the truth may hurt or cause us to have to face the repressed issues that are holding us back from healing. Howard did not deliver the truth of Red’s behaviour without first establishing a caring relationship. That is grace. So if we are tempted to deliver a “truth” to someone we ask ourselves, have I first established a relationship of grace.

If you are tempted to deliver truth, ask yourself have I first established a relationship of grace?

Red is humbled and broken and is finally able to go to the man he trusts and ask him for help. He had come through the school of hard knocks and vowed not to ask for help in anything, Until he is finally confronted with and confronts his own brokenness and anger in a place of grace.

Chapter 13 - 1:05:30 – 1:06:41

And it is when we are humble and understand our brokenness that we can come to our Father in Heaven and ask him for help. This is when our own hearts are ready to receive the gifts that he has for us. Red was not able to receive until he was able to confront his own hardness, come to terms with it and then humble himself and trust in Howard who was a father figure for him. And like our father in heaven, Howard surprises Red by giving him not only what he needed, but by giving Him extra blessings.

The blessings we receive from our father in heaven are not necessarily material, but He desires and wants to give us more in this life than we can ever imagine. We know that he works through people, and we begin to ask each other for help as well.

Broken people can sometimes appear to be the most proud. But maybe what we may deem to be pride and arrogance is really fear. Fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of intimacy. Brokenness in many ways can be used to crack the shell of our pride and fear. Some of us remain stubborn in our brokenness, but that stubbornness stops us from hearing what God has to say. When we finally lay our will down, our own desire and our own pride, accept our broken state and ask God for help, we are open to the power and restoration of God’s truths as expressed in the Bible, by His Holy Spirit and in community that we know as church.

Our hearts become softened, our attitudes become humble, and we are open to hear and experience what God may have to say.

We are blessed when we confess our brokenness. We are blessed when we confess our sins, We are blessed when we confess our weakness and our need for God.

“ God blesses those who are poor in spirit and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs” NCV

“ God blesses those who realize their need for Him for the kingdom of heaven is given to them. Matthew 5:3 NLT

In Seabiscuit, the path to redemption begins for the three men who’s lives are intertwined by fate, or what we would call God’s Providence. When we are broken we begin to pay attention to God’s providence, we pay attention to those he brings into our paths, we pay attention to circumstance, opportunity, and evidence of His timeless truth of love, hope and restoration of soul.

Seabiscuit goes on to race and win. Men who were broken suddenly felt restored, men who were shattered finally found their voice.

They go on to publicly challenge the mighty War Admiral, a triple crown winner – eighteen hands high. An arrogant horse owned by an arrogant man. Several scenes back and forth showing War Admiral’s owner turning down the challenge to race seabiscuit.

But Red is not ready yet because he has not completely confronted his own brokenness. In one race leading up to the match race with War Admiral, Red loses the race and Smith is angry with him because he thinks that he didn’t listen to his coaching.

Chapter 18 - 1:21:20 – 1:22:41

Red never told Howard and Tom that he was blind in his right eye. Tom wants to get a new jockey and write Red off.

“ You don’t throw a whole life away because it’s banged up a little bit.”

In Smith’s own words Howard reminds him that a life and a heart is worth nurturing or caring for, particularly when it becomes banged up a little bit. How about us? When we fall or stumble or lose our way, do we hide it? Like Red did. Or do we finally come clean with our stuff and admit to those that we love, whether it be in family or community that “ we can’t see out of this eye.” We can’t see our behaviour sometime, we can’t see the deep pain that is causing for us to continue in our cycles of brokenness and despair. We can’t see out of this eye. Yet what a relief when Red is able to confess that to Howard and Smith. Howard is a wise man and uses Smith’s own words.

“ You don’t throw a whole life away because it’s banged up a little bit”

When we’re in the story together we don’t give up on one another. As a church community or family, many of us know each others story. It has become a safe place to tell your story of brokenness and redemption and not feel judged. It is a place where it is safe to say that I’m not living the “victorious” life and I’m struggling. God hasn’t given up on us, so we don’t give up on each other because we are banged up a little. And we recognize and humble ourselves to admit that we are all banged up a little. And that is where healing in community comes.

Charles affirms Red as Seabiscuit’s jockey after the press vilifies him for his errors. They go on a cross country trip to challenge War Admiral’s owner to a race. The media and the public catch on to the story and cheer them on.

The challenge is accepted and Howard and Red and the gang go east to take on War Admiral. In a twist of fate, while test running another horse as a favor to an old friend, Red has a horrible accident and his leg suffers a severe break. He is told that he will never ride again.

Howard is reminded of the son he lost in his truck accident. They contemplate scratching the match but Red insists that they call his old friend and world famous jockey, George Woolf to ride Seabiscuit in the race against War Admiral. In the late nineteen thirties horse racing was as popular as football and this race would be akin to the Super Bowl.

Seabiscuit wins in a dramatic finish, and in the movie you can’t help but be moved by the scene with sweeping music and dramatic flourish. Red Pollard is listening on the radio from his hospital bed.

They return home and Red still believes he will ride again in spite of the doctors’ prognosis. Red’s anger returns as George Woolf now becomes Seabiscuit’s jockey. In a subsequent race, jockeyed by Woolf, Seabiscuit then comes up lame and he too, damages his leg.

Red nurses Seabiscuit back to health, and makes a splint for his leg as he believes, against the words of their respective doctors that they won’t race again that they will indeed race. After Red nurses Seabiscuit back to health, he expects that he will race him again but Howard and Smith get George Woolf to test run him with the intent of entering him into another race.

Howard has a change of heart and realizes that as much as he fears Red getting seriously injured that he has to let him race.

Red and Seabiscuit, against all odds, and in the love and support of his community come back and go on to win,

Chapter 25 - 2:09:50 – 2:12:10

When we go through the healing process of admitting our need for Christ and each other, opening our hearts to change and love, and committing to the journey together which is what Smith and Howard and Red and Seabiscuit did, then we may go on to win the race that God has set before us. The race that we win is not necessarily marked by worldly successes, money, fame, security, or comfort. It is a race that is a journey of redemption and restoration of heart, soul and mind from our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world, to one of maturity in character and faith.

It is a race run in community, perfecting our faith. just as each of these main characters needed one another, we cannot run this race alone.

Hebrews 12:1-2
“ We have around us many people who’s lives tell us what faith means. So let us run the race that is before us and never give up. We should remove from our lives anything that would get in the way and the sin that so easily holds us back. Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and makes it perfect.

We look to Jesus in our brokenness, and we look to His community in our brokenness, but first we come to a humble admission that we are all broken, and we recognize the gifts that can come from this brokenness.

But like Red and Howard and Smith and Seabiscuit, we commit to the journey, we commit to the race together.

As we leave let’s think about what that means to commit to the journey together...

Through His gift of Christ, our father has shown us an amazing love in our brokenness, He has shown us an amazing love in forgiving us our sin and being patient with our broken nature. He is our encouragement to be patient with one another on the journey of healing from our brokenness.

by Bob Stenhouse


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