Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Big Lebowski (1998)


     Back in May, I wrote an article about “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, a comedy written and directed by filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. At that point, the only other movies that they had made that I had seen were “No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit”. Well, last weekend, I saw “The Big Lebowski” for the first time. …Weirdest Coen brothers’ movie I’ve ever seen. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, watch out. This is actually a pretty vulgar movie. (I wish I had realized that before I watched it.) But thanks to Sam Elliott, I’m starting to put together something that I can still take from “The Big Lebowski”.

     Who’s Sam Elliott? Well, he’s an actor known for a lot of Western television and movie work who acts as the narrator of this movie, known in the credits as The Stranger. He starts to tell the story of a man named Jeffrey Lebowski (Jeff Bridges, who played Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ “True Grit”), known commonly as simply “the Dude”. The Stranger sets up the story in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s.

STRANGER: I only mention it because sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero. 'Cause, what's a hero? But sometimes, there's a man. And I'm talkin' about the Dude here. Sometimes, there's a man… well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude, in Los Angeles. And even if he's a lazy man. And the Dude was most certainly that—quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide. But sometimes there's a man… sometimes, there's a man.

     Remember that if you can. Anyway, after the Dude is introduced, we see him go home to his little house in Los Angeles where he is immediately attacked by two thugs demanding money from his wife to go to a man named Jackie Treehorn. Dude, the bum that he is, has no clue what this is about. The thugs urinate on his rug, but then they realize they are looking for the wrong guy, and they leave. But when he figures out with his friends Walter (John Goodman, the KKK leader in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) and Donny (Steve Buscemi, “Fargo”) that the thugs were actually looking for “the Big Lebowski”, a local millionaire actually named Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston), Dude tries to get Lebowski to get him a new rug. He refuses, but on his way out of his mansion, Dude takes a rug anyway. On his way out, he runs into Lebowski’s very young and very promiscuous wife known as Bunny (Tara Reid). And Dude assumes his part in the story is over.

     Nnnope. And I’m going to do my best to summarize the rest of this movie, because it can get kinda complicated. Dude is called by Lebowski to arrange a ransom for Bunny, who has been kidnapped. That way, Dude can identify the kidnappers as the men who urinated on his rug. Later, Dude is robbed again by more thugs, who knock him out and steal his new rug. When Bunny’s kidnappers call Dude to arrange a ransom, Walter goes with him to a bridge where they fake out the kidnappers by throwing them a suitcase of Walter’s laundry instead of the briefcase of a million dollars that Lebowski gave Dude. Later, Dude’s car is stolen, but then he receives a call from Lebowski’s daughter Maude (Julianne Moore), who reveals Bunny was a… um, video star, who owed money to mogul Jackie Treehorn. Dude starts to suspect that she kidnapped herself to escape the debt.

     Then, Dude’s car is recovered, threatened again by thugs who Maude later tells him were friends of Bunny. Dude and Walter find the man who stole his car—a preteen boy—who turns out to be a complete red herring. Later, thugs raid Dude’s house again and bring him to the beach house of Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), who drugs Dude, forcing him to enter a really weird (and, as far as I’m concerned, really pointless) dream sequence. Dude wakes to find himself in the abusive care of the Malibu police, who tell him to leave and never come back. Dude goes back home to find Maude there, waiting to him to… be with her. Yeah.

     But after that, Dude finally puts the pieces together and figures out: Lebowski used Bunny’s kidnapping to get money from his family charity to keep for himself, hiding it and pretending it was in the suitcase that he gave to Dude, who he hoped would be accused of stealing the money. However, later he finds out that the kidnapping itself was fake: Bunny simply went away for a while, and her friends made up a kidnapping so that they could get Lebowski’s money. So with that resolution, Dude, Walter, and Donny go bowling, leaving to find Dude’s car set on fire by the thugs. They beat the thugs, Donny dies of a heart attack, his ashes are scattered into the Pacific Ocean until the wind blows them onto Dude’s face, and they find Sam Elliott again in the bowling alley, who closes the film with a little monologue.

     WHAT?!?!?! Yeah, I know when I put it as simply as that, this story seems even more ludicrous than it actually is. And it is, believe me. But here’s where I want to attempt to make a connection to my faith through this… weird movie. At the end of the movie, as Dude and the Stranger end their conversation, the Stranger tells the Dude to take it easy: “I know that you will.” The Dude responds: “Yeah, well, the Dude abides.”

STRANGER: “The Dude abides.” I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowing he’s out there, the Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.

     I’m not entirely sure what all that means yet, but you know, when you think about the Dude’s situation, you just have to laugh. How did a mistaken identity and urinating on a rug ever start the journey that the Dude and his friends went on in this movie? That’s usually not a bad thing in a movie, when a character is forced onto his journey and thus makes a change. But through it all, the Dude still had that laid-back attitude that made him who he was. He certainly wasn’t an example I’d follow anytime soon, but he dealt with what was in front of him, one way or another.

     Thinking about it that way, and thinking about the Stranger’s opening monologue, saying there’s a time and a place for every man, “The Big Lebowski” seems to mean a little more. As a Christian, God has made a time and a place for me to do his work, whether that’s at school, in the neighborhood, or whatever career I end up at. I’ve cited Ephesians 2 on this blog before with other movies, but verse 10 is a verse I often remember: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” There’s a time and a place for me, just as there was for the Dude, and wherever God puts me, I must remain in him: or, as the King James Version of the Bible says in John 15, “abide in him”.

     My prayer for you today is that you will accept the situations that God gives you—and not only that, but that you would strive to make the most of them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008)


     Six months, people. Six months from Friday, Warner Bros. Pictures is finally releasing “The Dark Knight Rises”, the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I saw the trailer over Christmas break, and I was pumped. I’m still pumped. There are a lot of movies coming out this year that I’m really excited for (“The Hobbit Part One”, “The Avengers”), but I’m looking forward to “The Dark Knight Rises” the most. And if you read my article on “Batman Begins” back in July, you’ll know that one of the reasons I love these movies so much is that to me, Batman is sort of a Christ figure. He goes around the crime-ridden Gotham City being basically a vigilante, fighting crime when no one else will, with the conviction not to kill anyone. That metaphor for Christ is expanded even further in “The Dark Knight”, and we’re going to look into that today.

     “The Dark Knight” starts in Gotham on a sunny day—it seems that in the last year, crime rates in Gotham have dropped, and the city’s future looks brighter than ever. The new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), has already made a name for himself, locking up criminals in a legitimate way, rather than Batman, who many still call a vigilante. But all that starts to change with the arrival of the Joker (Heath Ledger in one of the creepiest performances ever filmed), who by robbing a mob bank vault with his goons sets in motion a chain of events that forces the mob to hire him to kill Batman.

     Before that, though, we find Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), living in a penthouse after his mansion burned down in “Batman Begins”. With him still is his butler Alfred (Michael Caine), still fixing Bruce up after a long night of fighting crime. But with Dent starting to become known as the good crime-fighter in Gotham, alongside now Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Wayne starts to think that maybe Gotham doesn’t need Batman anymore—they have Dent, and as he tells his childhood friend Rachel (now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is now dating Dent, “Gotham needs a hero with a face.”

     But after Batman, Dent, and Gordon catch Lau (Chin Han), a corrupt Chinese entrepreneur who was about to do business with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), now in charge of Wayne Enterprises, Dent and Rachel (who also work together) trace Lau’s security investments for the mob to the biggest mobsters in Gotham, putting them all behind bars and making Dent the town hero, basically. But afterwards, the mayor (Nestor Carbonell) warns Dent that because of this, he will now be put on a pretty big pedestal:

MAYOR: The public likes you. That’s the only reason why this might fly. But that means it’s on you. They’re all gonna come after you now. And not just the mob—politicians, journalists, cops. Anyone whose wallet’s about to get lighter. You up to it? You better be. Because they get anything on you, and those criminals will be back on the streets, followed swiftly by you and me.

     Remember that. Anyway, soon after that (actually, less than a second after that monologue), the Joker launches his attack to take Batman down: he sends the local news network a video where he says that if Batman does not turn himself in, he will continue killing people in Gotham. And he starts with a judge, the police commissioner, and Harvey Dent. Wayne/Batman helps Dent escape, but that doesn’t stop the Joker. After two more police officers are killed, and there is an attempt on the mayor’s life at the commissioner’s funeral (which gets Gordon killed while pushing the mayor out of the way of a bullet), Batman is convinced that he must turn himself in. So the next day at a press conference, Harvey Dent tells the police to take the Batman into custody… telling them he is the Batman.

     That night, as a SWAT team is driving Dent away to prison, the Joker and his thugs catch up with them and try to kill Dent (which, by the way, is one of the greatest car chase scenes in movie history), but guess who shows up? And Batman protects Dent from being killed but still cannot bring himself to kill the Joker. But that’s okay—Gordon returns (of course he wasn’t actually killed, silly) and arrests the Joker, freeing Dent and sending him supposedly back to Rachel. But long story short, the Joker had it planned anyway that Harvey and Rachel would be taken by corrupt Gotham cops Wuertz (Ron Dean) and Ramirez (Monique Gabriela Curnen) to separate warehouses with oil drums inside, rigged to explode in minutes. By telling Batman and the police where they are (but switching the two addresses of the warehouses), Harvey is rescued but Rachel is killed.

     As you can see, this is a pretty complicated story. Which is why I would encourage just watching the movie. But basically, in the third act of the movie, Harvey becomes the villain known as Two-Face, using a coin flip to determine whether or not he kills someone. He ends up killing a mobster and two of his servants, Wuertz, and Ramirez. Gordon, feeling responsible for Harvey’s death, starts to lose it but then hears that Dent has taken his family to the place where Rachel was killed. Batman beats up the Joker’s thugs, leaving the Joker for the SWAT team, but has a hard time convincing Dent to stop leaving people’s lives to chance. Dent shoots Batman and almost shoots Gordon’s son before Batman comes back and saves the boy, subsequently pushing Dent off the side of the building to his death.

     Here, finally, is where I want to tie in the spiritual aspect of “The Dark Knight”. When we talked about “Batman Begins”, I said that the main Christian theme that Batman showed through the film was service. In this film, I believe it is sacrifice. There are so many instances of sacrifice in “The Dark Knight”. Gordon sacrifices his life for the mayor. Dent sacrifices himself for the real Batman. Batman sacrifices himself in return to save Dent in the car chase. Wayne later sacrifices himself (and his fancy car) to save another man, Coleman Reese (Joshua Harto), whom the Joker wants killed. And now, Batman sacrifices himself again for the safety of Gordon’s son.

     But the ending of the film is the ultimate example of sacrifice. After Batman and Gordon see that Dent is dead, Gordon says that now Dent’s crimes will be revealed, and because of that, the criminals he put in prison will be released, which is what the mayor implied in his monologue earlier.

GORDON: The Joker won. Harvey’s prosecution, everything he fought for—undone. Whatever chance you gave us of fixing our city dies with Harvey’s reputation. We bet it all on him. The Joker took the best of us and tore him down. People will lose hope.

BATMAN: They won’t. They must never know what he did.

GORDON: Five dead—two of them cops! You can’t sweep that—

BATMAN: No. But the Joker cannot win. Gotham needs its true hero.

     Gordon starts to realize what this means. Batman will somehow cover up the crimes that Dent did.

BATMAN: You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. I can do those things… because I’m not a hero. Not like Dent. I killed those people. That’s what I can be.

GORDON: No, you can’t! You’re not!

BATMAN: I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be.

     And so, Batman takes on himself the blame for the crimes Harvey Dent committed, and because of this, Harvey Dent is left a hero, and Batman becomes a bigger outlaw than he ever was before. It took me two years to realize what this really meant for me as a Christian. Jesus did the same thing! When He died on the cross, He died for my sins! He didn’t do anything wrong—He lived a completely sinless life! But because we couldn’t save ourselves, He saved us!

     I think this idea is best described in 1 Peter 2, when Peter writes that it is good to suffer for the cause of Christ: “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’” (2:20b-21, 24) Jesus took on our sins just as Batman took on the sins of Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight”. Once I realized that, this movie meant so much more to me.
     So now, what could be the Christian theme in “The Dark Knight Rises”? (Assuming there will be one.) I’m not totally sure yet, but I’m hoping that there will be some kind of redemption in the movie. From the trailers, it seems like this movie will be even darker than the two before it. But perhaps this is the time that Batman comes back from being an outlaw in Gotham and defeats evil for good. I honestly don’t know yet. But I’m definitely looking forward to this movie. And my prayer for you now is that you will realize the sacrifice that Jesus made for your sins, and you will trust in Him no matter how much people around you turn their backs to Him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Life is Beautiful (1998)


     Over Thanksgiving break, I bought “Life is Beautiful” on Blu-ray for four dollars at a Black Friday sale at Best Buy. Darn good deal. Weird thing is, I hadn’t seen the movie yet. But from what I had heard, it was great. “Life is Beautiful” is one of three acclaimed World War Two movies from 1998, the other two being “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line”. But “Life is Beautiful”, unlike those two films, isn’t about combat—it’s about Jewish families at a concentration camp. That could be a pretty hard setting to make a movie about—especially a comedy like this movie is! But director/writer/actor Roberto Benigni, who won an Oscar for his performance, somehow pulled it off, and we’re going to look into it more today.

     Benigni stars as the lead character Guido, a Jew living in Italy trying to start his own business, a bookstore. From the beginning of the movie, we see that he’s trying to win the heart of Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), a local schoolteacher who Guido later finds out is engaged to another man. Guido, working temporarily as a waiter at a local fancy restaurant, eventually wins her over with his charm, greeting her often in what can be translated as something like “good morning, princess”. (Oh, did I mention this film is all in Italian? If that makes you not want to see it, that’s really lame.) And to make a long story short, because of his charm, his humor, and ultimately his love, Guido wins Dora’s heart, and the two of them are married. They eventually have a son, Giosué (Giorgio Cantarini), and when Guido’s bookstore is finally opened, the father and son work together.

     But this is 1930’s Italy, and it isn’t long before the war—and the Nazis—get to Guido and his family. Even before Guido and Dora are wed, teachers at Dora’s school are trying to drill the superiority of the Aryan race into the heads of the children. And then one day, the Nazis come to Guido’s house and take away Guido and Giosué on a train to a concentration camp. Dora demands that she go with them, and she too is put on the train, but for the rest of their time in the camp, the family is separated.

     And now Guido is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: as he and his son are moving into this concentration camp—on his son’s birthday, no less—Guido must find a way to protect Giosué from what is really happening there. And Guido starts making up a story: the whole camp is part of a big game. All the prisoners—or contestants—have to do work to earn points. And whoever has the most points at the end of the game—whenever that is—wins a tank. This may sound ridiculous on paper, but Guido is so convincing that Giosué believes him and, no pun intended, plays along.

     Because of Guido’s story, every aspect of the concentration camp is changed in Giosué’s eyes. The train there was just the crowded train to go on to participate in the game. His childlike stubbornness leads him to refuse to go take a shower like the rest of the children in the camp. And the entire time, he keeps thinking about the tank and how much fun it would be to ride. And to make a long story short, after Guido and Giosué try to escape to see Dora while the Americans start invading the camp, Giosué hides somewhere while Guido, going to find Dora, is taken by Nazis and shot.

     But the next morning, Giosué comes out of hiding to find himself at the camp alone. He walks out into the open, and what does he find? An American tank, with a soldier inside that takes him back to Dora. And as the two embrace for the first time in probably months, the adult voice of Giosué is heard narrating:

GIOSUÉ: This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me.

     The first time I saw this movie, I was a little uneasy. I wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that this movie was treating the whole Jewish concentration camp premise so lightly. Sure, it was emotional at times, but Guido turning the whole thing into a game felt a little wrong to me. It also made me feel like because of the story his father was telling him, Giosué was becoming ignorant of the whole situation, thinking the whole thing is just a game when in reality this is probably the worst time of their lives.

     But eventually, I realized: Guido was simply protecting his son from the evil around him. Sure, he was making things up, but it was doing it to protect his son and his innocence. And in the beginning of time, this is what God wanted for us. In Genesis 2, God, having created the world and Adam and Eve, told them that they could eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “For when you eat of it you will surely die.” (2:17) But in the next chapter, Adam and Eve are tempted by Satan to eat the fruit, because they will “be like God, knowing good and evil.” (3:5) And when they eat it, that’s what happens: their innocence is destroyed, and they clothe themselves and hide from God in shame.

     Because Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God knew that they could not eat from the tree of life and live forever, so He banished them from the Garden of Eden, and that created the sinful world that we live in today. Now, think about it: if Guido hadn’t protected Giosué with that story about the game and the tank, how would Giosué have responded to the fact that his family was being taken to a concentration camp where they might work and starve until they die? I know one thing: he probably wouldn’t have had the innocent, childlike, and uplifting response when he found his mother again after the war was over. Because Guido protected him from that evil, Giosué remained innocent.

     My prayer for you is that you would allow God to lead you away from sin, that you would be clothed in His righteousness and not lose your innocence to the sin of this world.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Citizen Kane (1941)


     A year ago around this time, I sat down on my bed with my laptop with thoughts in my head about starting a blog, thinking what I could write about. The first thing that came to mind: movies. Furthermore, I wanted to write about Christian values that I’ve found in my favorite movies. I didn’t know if I could keep up such a thing. But it turns out I’ve been able to write about one movie each week for a year. I’m so grateful that God kept me motivated to do this, because it is honestly a lot of fun. So, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of “Reel Christianity”, I’ve decided to talk about one of the most important movies of all time, both to the world of cinema and to my own heart: “Citizen Kane”.

     “Citizen Kane”, as many of you may know, has been regarded by the American Film Institute, the Sight and Sound polls, and other organizations as one of the greatest films, if not the greatest film, ever made. It starred and was written, produced, and directed by Orson Welles, the twenty-five-year-old prodigy already having directed a historical Depression-era stage performance of “Julius Caesar” on Broadway and scaring millions of Americans to death with his realistic “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. “War of the Worlds” prompted RKO Radio Pictures to give Orson Welles a contract to make two movies over which he had total creative control. The first movie was “Citizen Kane”, an innovative film about the rise and fall of a newspaper tycoon named Charles Foster Kane, a figure based loosely on real-life newspaperman William Randolph Hearst. Hearst almost had the film destroyed, but “Citizen Kane” was released in May 1941 to mixed critical acclaim, weak box office success, and little award recognition. Seventy years later, it’s regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made.

     The film starts out with one of the most famous opening lines to a movie ever: as old Hearst—I mean, Kane (Welles) lies on his deathbed in his huge ranch called San Simeon—I mean, Xanadu, he holds a snow globe with a model cottage inside and whispers his last word: “Rosebud.” We then cut to a very sudden change of scenery: news reporters are watching a newsreel about to be released that is essentially Kane’s extended obituary: as a child, his poor family was discovered to own property containing the Colorado lode, which prompted his mother to send him off to school to live with banker Walter P. Thatcher (George Coulouris) in New York. Years later, Kane bought a newspaper that Thatcher happened to own, the New York Inquirer, and proceeded to use the paper to attack his guardian’s corrupt banking procedures.

     Years later, with Kane, critic Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), and Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane) at the helm, the Inquirer is the highest-selling paper in New York, and Kane marries Emily Monroe Norton, the U.S. President’s niece. They have a son, and Kane eventually goes into politics. The race for governor looks like a shoe-in for Kane until his opponent, Jim W. Gettys (Ray Collins), exposes Kane’s secret: he’s been seeing another woman, a local music-store clerk named Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore). Kane’s chances of being elected are forever ruined, and Emily leaves Kane and takes their son. Two years later, Emily and the child are killed in a car accident.

     Soon, Kane and Susan are married, and in order to make his wife a star, Kane builds an opera house for her in Chicago in which she debuts in the opera “Salammbo” to poor reviews—including one from Leland in the Inquirer, which gets him fired. Soon, however, Susan ends her career, and she and Kane buy a huge amount of property in Florida that they call Xanadu. There, Susan eventually leaves Kane, and he is left there, alone with a collection of statues that he’s accumulated over the decades and a palace fit for a king. But in 1941, Kane passes away, with that one last word: “Rosebud”.

     The executive sees the newsreel and decides it needs more: he tells the reporter, a shadowy Jerry Thompson (William Alland), to find out what “Rosebud” means, and find whoever it takes to figure out who—or what—it is. So Thompson goes on the search for Rosebud. And in addition to relearning the information from the newsreel, his interviewees tell him much more. At the Thatcher Memorial Library, Thompson reads in Thatcher’s memoir about when he came to get Kane as a child and was attacked by the boy with his sled on that wintery day. Bernstein tells Thompson about the rising success of the Inquirer and suggests something to him:

BERNSTEIN: This “Rosebud” you’re trying to find out about… Maybe that was something he lost. Mr. Kane was a man who lost almost everything he had.

     Later, Thompson goes to see old Leland in a nursing home who tells him about Kane’s love life—first the decline of his marriage to Emily, then his meeting of Susan, then the decline of his political career, then the start of Susan’s singing career, then about the poor review he wrote about her that got Kane to fire him, his best friend. Thompson talks to Susan, now at a nightclub in Atlantic City, who told him about the pressure of her singing career and her subsequent suicide attempt, and moving in and out of Xanadu. Finally, Thompson talks to Raymond, Kane’s former butler at Xanadu, who saw Kane pick up the snow globe and say “Rosebud” both after Susan left him and right before he died. And what is “Rosebud”, we finally ask?

     Thompson never finds out. After all that searching, he cannot figure out what “Rosebud” is. We do find out, however, but if you want to know, go watch the movie. And don’t you dare look it up online, cheaters. Now, after all that description, and after all that investigation, you might be thinking: What do I take away from this? This is sort of pessimistic. Was this a waste of my time?

     I wondered for a while what to take away from “Citizen Kane” myself, until last May when I saw an interview that the American Film Institute produced with William Friedkin, the director of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist”. He said that no other film illustrates better what Jesus said in Matthew 16:26 and Mark 8:36: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” That idea never clicked in me before. But when I heard it, I immediately looked at “Citizen Kane” in a different light.

     Charles Foster Kane becomes a powerful figure within years. Millions read his newspapers, thousands elect him (or about to elect him, rather) as governor of New York, and crowds visit his palace of Xanadu. Yet he is twice unhappily married, he loses control of the Inquirer at the start of the Great Depression, and he ends his life alone on a property half the size of Rhode Island. (Well, at least that’s how large Hearst’s property was.) Kane has gained the whole world, but has lost his soul because of his consuming desire for control. Thompson sums this up best in the film’s final monologue:

THOMPSON: Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn’t get or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn’t explain anything. I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle—a missing piece.

     Rosebud represents what Kane always wanted—love—that he lost sight of once he gained control of the world. I suppose power may do that to many of us. But I personally know that the jigsaw puzzle that my life is would be incomplete with a missing piece—and I know that piece is God. Someone bigger than I am. Someone I can go to for forgiveness and trust. Someone who can love me because He created me. My prayer for you and me in 2012 is that we will continue to put God first as the centerpiece of our lives.