Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Tree of Life (2011)


     I’ve tried to stay away from talking about really recent movies on “Reel Christianity” for the past few months, but since I got to see this recently and I bet most of you are wondering what this is, I’ll go ahead and talk about this movie. “The Tree of Life” is a film written and directed by Terrence Malick, who may well be a Christian director. The only two films of his that I’ve seen are this and his 1998 war film “The Thin Red Line”, both of which are very unique and excellent films. He also produced “Amazing Grace”, the movie about William Wilberforce and the slave trade, which is one of the “talkiest” “Christian movies” I’ve ever seen in my life. (I may have made that word up. But yeah, I don’t like it.) Anyway, Malick’s latest effort is a period film about a family in the mid-20th century that was recently named Best Picture at the Cannes Film Festival in France, one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. When it won, it was apparently booed by some of the audience, probably because it was loaded with spiritual content. That’s ironic, because that’s the reason why I praise “The Tree of Life”.

     Right from the beginning of the film, there is a sense of spirituality in the film. It opens with the words from Job 38:4 and 38:7. I’ll reference that in a minute; for now, look it up. But most of the first half of the movie won’t make sense if you forget those verses. Anyway, the movie for the most part switches back and forth between storylines, between a family with three young boys in the 1960s and the eldest son’s adult line in the present day. But the movie starts in the middle, I guess the 1970s or 1980s, where the mother of that family, the O’Brien’s (Mrs. O’Brien played beautifully by Jessica Chastain), receives a telegram that one of her sons, the middle child Steve (Tye Sheridan), was killed at the age of nineteen. Her neighbors, who we see later in flashbacks befriended her and her family through the sons’ childhoods, try to give her and her husband (Brad Pitt) comforting words, but nothing seems to calm Mrs. O’Brien’s heavy heart.

     And this is the point in the movie when I saw a couple walk out of the theater. For the next twenty minutes, we hear Mrs. O’Brien’s thoughts directed to God as she asks: Where were You? Did You know what happened? Do you care? And as she speaks, all we see are images. And they may seem like random images (outer space, a volcano eruption, a beating heart, even dinosaurs—not kidding, there are dinosaurs in this movie), but not when you remember what God told Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? …While the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy?” (38:4, 7) After seeing this sequence and thinking about it… for a few days… I came to realize that maybe this sequence is showing God. And it shows that God made the universe in all its intricacies, and He was there from the very beginning of time. And from the beginning of time, he was in everything—even in the dinosaurs. There’s one part of this sequence where a raptor has a chance to feed on a weaker one, but as the raptor looks at its prey, it decides to show it compassion and walks away. This, to me, is an example from the beginning of time between the duality between nature and grace.

     And you’re probably wondering, the duality between nature and grace? What? Well, the movie really opens with a narration from Mrs. O’Brien, comparing nature and grace, or the ideas of “might makes right” versus the Golden Rule:

MRS. O’BRIEN: [There are] two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. …Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. …Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way.

     And you can see this duality in the parenting of Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien (I call them these titles because their names are not mentioned) represents the way of nature: he is very strict with his sons, correcting them in their manners and telling them that force is required to get ahead in the world. And even though his sons tell him they love him, it sounds as if they don’t mean it: for one thing, they feel forced to obey him and follow all his rules, and for another thing, they see in him a sense of hypocrisy. In one scene, we see his eldest son Jack (played as a child by Hunter McCracken) thinking about his father, and we hear his voice-over of his thoughts (yeah, Terrence Malick uses voice-overs a lot in his movies), where he says that his father always jokes with people, pokes fun at them, and he doesn’t even seem to care. And eventually, Jack builds up what seems like a hatred towards his father.

     Mrs. O’Brien, on the other hand, represents the way of grace: she is not as forceful as Mr. O’Brien and kinder in the way she asks her sons what to do and what not to do. This makes all three sons love their mother more than their father, and it also makes them feel like they have more freedom. But this leads to trouble when Mr. O’Brien goes on a business trip, and Jack has friends over their house to play. One of his friends encourages Jack to play dangerously and throw a baseball into a neighbor’s house, telling him that his parents surely try new things, so why shouldn’t Jack? This is, I think, the reason why the film is called “The Tree of Life”: it’s very similar to the serpent’s tempting of Eve, telling her that there was nothing wrong with eating the fruit from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. This, of course, led to sin, and Jack’s decision leads to punishment from his mother and father.

     So basically, the film focuses on two ideas of spirituality: the duality between a forced love and free will to love, and the idea of suffering. And suffering isn’t just saved for Steve’s death: the family sees this throughout the sons’ childhoods. One of their friends drowns in a pool and dies. Another friend’s house burns down, and the back of his head is scarred. Mr. O’Brien, who works at some kind of manufacturing company, sues over one of his patents being stolen and loses, and he eventually loses his job, and the family has to move away. Jack sees all this and, having gone to church through childhood, can’t understand why God would let this happen. He whispers this to God after his friend’s death:

JACK: Was he bad? Where were You? You let a boy die. You let anything happen. Why should I be good… when You aren't?

     And Jack carries these thoughts with him into his adulthood (where he is now played by Sean Penn), where he goes through his workday thinking about his brother’s death, his father’s love, and his own life. But the ending of the movie tries to resolve this in the subtlest way possible—and it’s probably going to be confusing to most of you. It definitely was to me. See, at the end of the movie, the adult Jack finds himself on a beach, walking with his younger self. Whether this is a dream or something, or whether this is reality and this is just what Jack’s thinking, is up to you. But Jack goes to a beach where he finds many of the people in his past life—including the child Steve and his young parents. This is the place where Mrs. O’Brien finally whispers the film’s last lines:

MRS. O’BRIEN: I give him to You. I give You my son.

     The way I see this, it takes the beauty of nature and the grace of the God who created it for the O’Brien’s to realize that God was with them through their whole lives. And it’s on that beach seeing God’s creation that they are able to let go of the pain and suffering that they’ve gone through. Now, that’s just my interpretation, but I encourage you to see the movie for yourself and decide what this all means. Seriously, I dare you to watch this movie. It’ll be hard for a lot of people, because the pacing is pretty slow, and the whole dinosaur thing is pretty unexpected. But if you’re looking for God in “The Tree of Life”, you’ll find Him.

     After all, the idea that God is evidenced in nature is something that I’ve read in the Bible more than once—not only does God say it in the Book of Job, but Paul writes about it in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” I know that it took me to realize how big our universe was to realize that God was real, and none of my problems are too big for him to handle. My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will simply find an opportunity to see God today, and that you will learn to love and trust Him freely and even through suffering.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Batman Begins (2005)

     A year from today, Warner Bros. Pictures is releasing “The Dark Knight Rises”, the third film in director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy—which I am unofficially referring to as “The Dark Knight” trilogy. And I can’t wait. If this movie is as good as its two predecessors, “The Dark Knight” trilogy will be my favorite movie trilogy ever. And I know I shouldn’t say that, because I haven’t read a single “Batman” comic book. But these movies are awesome. I remember seeing “The Dark Knight” when I just turned sixteen, and it changed the way I make videos/movies. I learned so much about editing, writing, and yes, faith. One of the burning questions I have is whether or not Christopher Nolan is a Christian. If you’ve been reading “Reel Christianity” for a while, you might remember my first article on “Inception”. That and the two “Dark Knight” films have so much spiritual content, it makes me wonder whether or not all of it was intended.

    But let’s get started with “Batman Begins”. The film focuses on the origins of Bruce Wayne and how Batman came to be. But there are three things you should know about Bruce Wayne. One: he has been good friends with Rachel Dawes since he was a kid. More on her later. Two: he has a fear of bats. One day when he and Rachel were playing at his house, Bruce fell through a floorboard into a deep underground cave full of bats. Three: he’s stinking rich. His father, Thomas Wayne, is an entrepreneur in the city of Gotham and owns Wayne Enterprises, which basically means he’s high up in the city. But Gotham is in an economic depression, and there is still crime on the streets.

     One night, when Bruce and his parents go to see an opera (which happens to be about bats), Bruce asks his dad if they can go—he’s still scarred from his accident. So the family leaves, but when they get outside, the parents are robbed and shot to death. Bruce is left orphaned with no family to take care of him, except the family’s butler, Alfred (Michael Caine). And through the next decade or so, Bruce (played later by Christian Bale) keeps anger inside for Joe Chill, the murderer of his parents. When Chill is on trial awaiting early parole, he confesses that he regrets his crime, but Bruce won’t believe it. After his trial, he waits for Chill to come out of the courtroom so he can shoot him. But someone else, a woman working for mobster Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), who Chill shared a cell with and basically tattled on to the police, shoots Chill, leaving Bruce without any chance of getting revenge.

     After talking to and arguing with Rachel (Katie Holmes), who has now grown up and gotten a job in the district attorney’s office, Bruce decides to put away his anger. In a powerful scene, Bruce throws his gun into a river and later goes to confront Falcone, who can hang around in the alleys all he wants because he’s paid off several bent cops and judges. Falcone tells him Bruce is powerless to stop him:

FALCONE: You think because your mommy and your daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don't. You've never tasted desperate. You're Bruce Wayne, the Prince of Gotham! You'd have to go a thousand miles to meet someone who didn't know your name! So don't come down here with your anger, trying to prove something to yourself. This is a world you'll never understand. And you always fear what you don't understand.

     And for the next seven years, Bruce leaves Gotham and goes to the other side of the world, taking on criminals by working with them. But at one point, Bruce is imprisoned in Asia, and he is visited by the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), who works for Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), leader of the League of Shadows, a team of vigilante crime fighters. Well, “vigilante” isn’t the right word, as Ducard tells Bruce.

DUCARD: A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely. …Legend, Mr. Wayne.

     So Ducard and Ra’s al Ghul teach Bruce martial arts... basically… and get him to the point where he can be a leader. But as his final test, Bruce is asked to kill a man convicted of murder. Bruce won’t do it. He wants to fight injustice, but he will not be an executioner. But Ducard and Ra’s try to convince him that as Gotham’s favored son, he can be the one to lead an army through Gotham to destroy the city and bring it to a point where it can be rebuilt anew, which Bruce doesn’t want to do, since he knows there are still good people in Gotham that should not have that fate. And to make a long story short, he burns down Ra’s al Ghul’s place, where Ra’s is killed by the falling ceiling; saves Ducard from death, and takes him to a village to be cared for; and goes back to Gotham determined to take on another identity to fight Gotham’s crime-filled streets.

     And that’s just the first half of the movie. Yeah, this is a complicated story. Christopher Nolan movies have those. Anyway, just from this part alone, there are so many spiritual themes that I can point out. There’s the fact that revenge isn’t sweet, like how Jesus said in Matthew 5 that “an eye for an eye” doesn’t work. There’s the plot that the League of Shadows wants to destroy Gotham, but Bruce says there are still good people there, similar to Abraham’s plea for God to save Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. And most important, there’s Bruce Wayne’s sacrifice of his rich life in order to become Batman, fight crime, and put fear into the hearts of his enemies, and that’s a huge idea found in several places in the New Testament.

     Maybe you’ve heard of the idea of “dying to self”. I had always heard it, and I knew that it meant putting your own desires away to serve God, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of college where I saw this film and had a revelation: that’s what Bruce Wayne did! The idea of “Batman” can be compared to the idea of being a Christian! See, when Batman starts appearing in Gotham, he scares people. And he doesn’t just make people afraid, he makes people confused. Who is Batman? Where did he come from? Why is he taking the law into his own hands? And Batman, even when he catches Falcone and ties him to a roof, is disrespected by the police. Either that, or the bent cops love him because he’s doing their job for them. But you can see that more in “The Dark Knight”.

     Anyway, there are the cops that think Batman is just trying to help—but there aren’t that many of those. One is Jim Gordon, who starts off an officer, then becomes a lieutenant. In a scene after Batman catches Falcone, the commissioner tells his officers to get Batman off the streets, to which Gordon points out that Batman did indeed catch a hunted mobster. The commissioner objects to him, saying that no one takes the law into his own hands in his city. Now, watch the movie, find that scene, then read John 7:45-52. It’s pretty cool. But even when many people in Gotham hate Batman, Bruce Wayne still puts his wealthy identity aside and serves the city that hates him. In a sense, he is more Batman than he is Bruce Wayne. He’s died to self. And how does a Christian die to self? Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Paul writes in Romans 12:1, to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Again, Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

     Bruce Wayne dies to self and becomes Batman just as I should die to self each day and strive to be the saint that God has made me to be. And what’s one of the most important things I need to learn? Serving. And Bruce learns just that. After he has come back home, he sees Rachel again, who subtly confronts him about his worldly lifestyle as Bruce Wayne.

BRUCE: Rachel, all… all this, it’s… it’s not me. Inside, I am… I am more.

RACHEL: Bruce, deep down you may still be that great kid you used to be. But it's not who you are underneath: it's what you do that defines you.

     One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Book of James, where James writes that faith and deeds should go hand in hand: you need to have both to be a true follower of Jesus. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” (2:15-20)

     Bruce Wayne realizes that he can’t just want to do good; he has to do it. And even when he isn’t recognized for what he’s doing, Bruce Wayne, or Batman, learns to put away his true identity to become something bigger than himself. So in “Batman Begins”, the main Christian theme that Batman learns is service. What about in “The Dark Knight”? And what might it be in “The Dark Knight Rises”? I’ll tell you in six months. But in the meantime, my prayer for you, is that you will find God, confess your sins, and become a true follower of Jesus, dying to self each day and finding ways to serve everyone in your life. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

12 Angry Men (1957)

     The headlines have once again inspired today’s movie here on “Reel Christianity”. All I’ve been hearing the past week or so are two words: Casey Anthony. She’s been on trial for murdering her infant daughter, and as far as I understand, she’s been acquitted. And all this talk about the courtroom, acquittal, and uncomfortable jurors made me think about one of my favorite movies ever: “12 Angry Men”. I remember seeing this film at the beginning of high school, but it took me a couple years to realize how incredible it is. The way “12 Angry Men” is written—and the play, for that matter—every word that comes out of the characters’ mouths reflects who each man is. You’d have to really see it for yourself to understand. But within the film, there’s still a theme of prejudice and putting it aside to make a life-altering decision.

     Henry Fonda plays one of the jurors, an architect named Davis, otherwise known as Juror Number Eight. I think I’ll be calling him “Eight” in this review. At the end of a week, he and eleven other jurors are deciding on the guilt or innocence of a young man accused of murdering his father. Eleven say he is guilty: Eight says he’s not sure. He tells the jury, “It’s not easy to me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.” So he starts going through all the evidence and starts considering every option. As you can imagine, none of the other jurors like this. Seven has tickets to a baseball game that night and is determined to leave the case so he can get to the game on time. Ten, who apparently grew up in a poorer community like where the boy on trial was from, stereotypes “slum kids” and puts the defendant in that category as well—even forsaking all the evidence. And Three has prejudice of his own. In an early scene where the jurors go around their table stating their opinions, Three says: “I have no personal feelings about this; I just want to talk about facts.” As he says this, he pulls out his wallet and looks at a picture. The picture is hidden from the camera’s view, but we find out later that it is a picture of Three’s thirty-two-year-old son, who he had a fight with many years ago and whom he hasn’t seen for two years.

     But several of the jurors start putting prejudices aside in order to figure out whether or not the boy is guilty of his father’s murder. The second man to claim the boy innocent, even though he is not sure either but would like to hear more evidence, is Nine, an old man who knows how Eight feels to “stand alone against the ridicule of others”. After more evidence comes out that was at first thought to be clear but is now in question after the jurors discuss it, a few more jurors start agreeing that the boy should be acquitted. Now, this doesn’t mean that they all think the boy is perfectly innocent; it just means that they think there is enough evidence in question to say that there is a possibility that the boy could be innocent. At one point, when nine of the twelve jurors are in favor of acquittal, Ten stands up and starts yelling, marginalizing “slum kids” using words like “they” and “these people”. But within two minutes of constant yelling, almost every juror has left the table and starts standing around the room with their backs to Ten. Ten realizes he’s said quite enough, and he sits away from the rest of the jurors while they all come back to the table. This is where Eight tells them quietly:

EIGHT: It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. Wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is; I don't suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent. We're just gambling on probabilities; we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don't know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our system: no jury can declare a man guilty unless it's sure.

     I apologize for quoting the Sermon on the Mount again; I guess it’s been on my mind lately. But in Matthew 7, Jesus tells the crowds not to judge others. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (7:2) And that’s a lesson that Juror Ten needs to realize. For a long time, he’s put poorer kids into a group without thinking, and he needs to give up his prejudice in order to send a boy to the electric chair without thinking. And at times, he’s also judged in the same way that he judges: when the jurors are talking about the boy and how he may have escaped the scene of the crime, Eight says he wouldn’t have shouted at his father, because he’s too bright to give himself away like that, Ten responds with: “Bright? He’s a common, ignorant slob. He don’t even speak good English!” Eleven, who is a European immigrant, corrects him: “He doesn’t even speak good English.”

     Three also has a hard time giving up his prejudice. At the end of the film, every juror except for him declares the boy innocent. But Three won’t be convinced. At one point, he pulls out his wallet and throws it on the table, saying, “I tell you, I’ve got all the facts here! That’s it! That’s the whole case!” The rest of the jury can now see for sure that Three has let his personal feelings get in the way of the case. Three gets so angry, he tears up the picture, then immediately starts weeping in regret. And out come two words: “Not guilty.” I’ve read the play as well, and the ending is slightly different (personally, I like the film’s ending better), but in both works, Three puts his prejudice aside by the end.

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will find opportunities to love everyone you meet today and this week, putting away any prejudice you may have.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)


     If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that back in March I talked about a movie called “The Quiet Man” by a Catholic filmmaker named John Ford. “The Quiet Man” was set in Ireland about a boxer who comes back from America to his Irish birthplace and starts his life anew. That was a more romantic movie. But Ford wasn’t known for making a lot of romantic movies as he was known for making a lot of Westerns. With “Stagecoach” in 1939, he made the Western a serious movie genre, kind of like how I feel Christopher Nolan made the comic-book movie genre serious with “The Dark Knight”. But probably the darkest of Ford’s Westerns that I’ve ever seen is “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”. On the surface, this film seems like a simple tale of good versus evil. But John Ford won’t settle for that.

     James Stewart plays Ransom Stoddard, an attorney on his way through the woods one night when suddenly his carriage is robbed. The culprit is Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), who I feel is one of the most dislikable characters I’ve ever seen in a film. When Ransom stands up for himself, Valance beats him and leaves him for dead. However, he is found and brought in to town by Tom Doniphon, played by John Wayne, a regular actor in John Ford’s films. Tom brings Ransom into the town of Shinbone, where the Ericson family, a poorer family who makes a living from their small restaurant, brings him in. Once Ransom is brought back to health, he starts helping out at the restaurant and getting to know the Ericson’s—particularly their daughter Hallie (Vera Miles), who he eventually teaches to read and write. But he also starts looking into his law books to determine whether or not Valance’s robbery in the woods happened in Shinbone’s jurisdiction, giving the cowardly marshal Link Appleyard (played by a hilarious Andy Devine) a legal reason to put Liberty Valance in jail.

     But when Liberty Valance starts losing his reputation as a tough outlaw once Ransom Stoddard starts blasting his name in the newspapers and becoming a political leader in Shinbone, Liberty calls Ransom out to a gunfight outside the local tavern. Ransom, who at first was totally against violence, and who can’t even fire a gun right—as Tom humiliates him for at his ranch, decides that the only way to fight violence is with violence. So he meets Liberty outside the saloon, Liberty shoots him in the arm, and Ransom shoots Liberty and kills him. The town celebrates, Liberty’s corpse is carried out of Shinbone—as are Liberty’s henchmen, and Ransom and Hallie fall in love… much to the dismay of Tom Doniphon, who was building an exterior part onto his house for him and his future wife, who he intended to be Hallie.

     Some time after Liberty’s death, the territory is having elections for its representative in Congress, and Ransom Stoddard is nominated. And one of the main reasons that his supporters want him elected is because he is the man responsible for ridding Shinbone of Liberty Valance. But an opposing statesman, Cassius Starbuckle (John Carradine), calls Stoddard and one of his endorsers, Dutton Peabody (Edmond O’Brien) out for this nomination:

STARBUCKLE: Well… I see this demonstration, but I can’t believe my eyes. Is it possible that such a representative body of honest, hard-working Americans can endorse a candidate for the Congress of our beloved country whose only claim to the office is that he killed a man?

PEABODY: Do you call Liberty Valance a man?!

STARBUCKLE: Hear me out! Who is this Ransom Stoddard? And what qualifications has he that entitle him to aspire to such great office? We are told he’s a lawyer. An attorney at law. An officer of the court. Yes, but what kind of lawyer? A man who usurps the function of both judge and jury and takes the law into his own hands! …What other qualifications has he then? The blood on his hands? The hidden gun beneath his coat? The bullet-riddled body of a honest citizen? … I tell you, the mark of Cain is on this man!

     After this accusation, Ransom decides to go back east. But once Tom convinces him to stay—while revealing a secret that gives the film its twist ending—Ransom stays in Shinbone, becomes a senator, marries Hallie, and years later goes back to Shinbone for Tom’s funeral. But even decades after Liberty Valance’s death, Ransom still feels guilty about it.

     When I saw this movie again recently, it reminded me a lot of what happened on May 2. I had taken my first semester final that morning, and when I went back to my college dorm room, I turned on my computer and looked at the news headlines. The first thing that I saw was that Osama bin Laden had been killed the night before. And sure enough, dozens of my friends posted about it on Facebook. There were some that praised his death, but many others (Christians, I should add) who said that even though a terrorist leader was dead, he was still made in God’s image, and therefore his death shouldn’t be praised. It was hard for me to decide which side to be on.

     But I remembered what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5:43-46: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?” I know it’s a lot easier for me to think of Osama bin Laden as another child of God (though I’m sure he wasn’t a Christian) when I haven’t lost a friend or family member to his terrorist movements. But whether or not I have doesn’t matter to me: I still need to pray for people like Osama bin Laden. And loving your enemies isn’t as general as not praising a terrorist’s death: that can be as simple as praying for a bully at school, or a co-worker who gets on your nerves. Jesus says that if you only love people who love you back, that’s nothing; non-believers do that. But one thing that separates a believer from a non-believer is their ability (or attempts) to love those who hate them.

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will find opportunities today to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.