“A boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around.”   -Edgar Watson Howe

I’m so glad I was kid in the 70s and early 80s. We got at best a couple of hours of cartoons a day, and after that we were stuck doing our homework or even *gasp* playing outside with our friends until dark. When I look at what is popular on kid networks today, I cringe with sorrow. In the age of 24 hour entertainment, there is little depth in anything children’s networks produce, at least for boys anyway. Superheroes have turned into teenage whiny brats who spend more time trying to develop their “chi” or learning how to cast spells than getting down and dirty with the next bad guy who is threatening the world. Although very young, my kids were lucky enough to experience the tail end of the age of the comic book superhero before Pokémon came on the scene and ruined it all. With the exception of The Avatar, I have not seen one action/adventure cartoon that has any decent story development at all, nor any “heroes” with any noble qualities that I would want my kids to develop. In fact, some of these so-called heroes often act in ways that I would feel the need to punish if they were my kids. If the attempt is to make the hero more human, writers today take it too far. Why do we need make-believe heroes in the first place? Is it not because we all know that in real life we simply don’t measure up? Kids need heroes to look up to, to emulate and learn from. The day to day grind of reality is enough to drag down the spirit of any man, but when properly inspired, that same man can be a hero when push comes to shove. Yet, how can we learn to become heroes as men, if we don’t have good models to teach us as boys, and if we don’t have the opportunity to spend hours of outdoor playtime pretending we are the hero saving the damsel in distress, or even the world from utter destruction? When I consider the man I am today, I can trace back many of my positive traits directly to the influence of my childhood heroes.

“With great power comes great responsibility” –Peter Parker, aka: Spiderman.

Even in my earliest memories, Spiderman is a part of my imagination. I can’t remember my first comic or cartoon; he was simply always there helping this shy, rejected kid feel like maybe someday I could be a hero too. Peter Parker was actually the first teen superhero who wasn’t just a sidekick, and his creator, Stan Lee, revolutionized the comic book industry when he gave him real life teenage problems. But there is a difference between Peter Parker and the teenage heroes we see today. Instead of always being a self-absorbed and snotty, he learned from his mistakes, he strove to be a good person. Though he was interested in and awkward around the opposite sex, he didn’t obsess over his loves interests (at least not inappropriately). He didn’t use his powers for the self-satisfaction of kicking ass and gaining glory; he was a genuine hero who saw his gift of superpowers as a gift to the world. Any Spiderman fan knows the great lesson that Peter Parker learned from the tragic death of his Uncle Ben: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” What was most amazing about the Amazing Spiderman was that his powers didn’t really bring him glory, but they actually became a burden to him as he desired to just have a normal life, yet he still made the choice to sacrifice his time and limited resources to go out and fight evil and save the lives of complete strangers. Peter Parker was a geek at school; he was an outcast, but as Spiderman, he sought to protect the very people who rejected him when his mask was off. He could have had a chip on his shoulder, but he made the choice to be a hero. He had real life problems, but he still gave his time and energy to help others he considered to be in greater need. When Stan Lee condensed decades of story writing into three movies, the hero’s journey that Peter Parker takes, not only as crime-fighter in tights, but as a boy becoming a true man, is even more evident. In addition to protecting the weak and innocent, the call to love your neighbor, to do good to those who persecute you, to find the freedom that forgiveness brings our souls, yet all the while standing up for justice and what is right and facing the hard choices we must make in the process, is written all over those scripts. I never had a radioactive spider mutate my DNA, but the hours of comic book reading, and the time I spent imagining I was the web-slinger himself surely mutated my spiritual DNA, and now I’m a man who knows you don’t have to be perfect to be a hero, you just have to be willing to give what you’ve got, and when the situation calls for it, you need to make sacrifices in your own life in order to do the right thing and even help save people who will likely never offer any thanks in return.

“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”  -Bruce Wayne, aka: Batman. 

My first taste of Batman was the old Adam West TV show, and the original Super Friends cartoon. In the first he was nothing more than a silly clown, and the latter a pretentious jerk who depended on his silly gadgets to survive. In my opinion, Marvel Comics definitely had better heroes and more interesting stories than DC Comics, so I never bothered with any Batman comic books. That is, until I discovered Captain Blues Hens, the local comic-bookshop. The first time my mom dropped me off there, I held my breath as I saw the rows upon rows of classic comics, and the walls lined up with every new issue released, even from comic publishers I had never heard of before! I found that the owners celebrated Batman as much as Spidey. I soon discovered why. The original comic book Batman had all the mystery and swagger that makes a villain appealing, but he was still a good guy. He was The Dark Knight, a protector of the innocent. In addition to just being one cool dude, Batman was special because he didn’t actually have any superpowers at all. All his skill was based on personal training. True, he would not have been able to accomplish the status of “superhero” if he was not rich, but in some ways, that makes him even better; he chose to use his riches to develop all his killer crime fighting equipment: the Batmobile, the Utility Belt, the Batcave all used up resources that could have been spent on women and drugs and multiple vacation mansions, but he used his fortune to help prevent others from becoming victims of crime. Of course he had his front of being a playboy, but that was just to ensure he kept his secret identity safe. His nights were not spent with loose women, they were spent bringing justice to Gotham City. Bruce Wayne was inspired to become a superhero when he was just a boy and his parents were murdered in front of him during a mugging. His father was in charge of a large successful corporation that was left to his young son too early. Luckily, Bruce had Alfred, the butler who was almost a member of the family, to raise him and take care of him. The young boy decided to honor his parents’ death by becoming someone who would prevent others from suffering the same fate. The idea of Batman was born. Batman is more than just the fancy gadgets paid for by his successful corporation. Think about it, he was still sharp enough to ensure that his father’s corporation continued to make money and provide for his crime fighting habit. He had to have the mind of an inventor and scientist to create all his crime fighting equipment; he also needed to develop his intuition and detective skills, and he needed a deep mental and spiritual strength to train himself how to fight and to know when not to. Batman was smart enough not let his grief from his loss affect his emotions when fighting crime. He knew to keep his head clear, and he followed a strict rule to never kill his enemy, no matter what. He understood the difference between justice and revenge. Batman teaches us that to be successful in anything, whether it’s fighting crime or running a multimillion-dollar-corporation you need self-discipline and self-control. He teaches us that while physical strength and skills are important, brains are almost always better than brawn. Batman usually defeated his enemies through outwitting them. Like Spiderman, he made great sacrifices for the protection of others, but he made doing good and being smart look bad-ass.

“It’s not the years; it’s the mileage.” –Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr.

What boy who grew up in the 80s didn’t don the fedora, the brown leather jacket and the whip? Indiana Jones allowed me to play dress up (minus the whip of course) well into my teens without looking too silly. I still own my first leather jacket I picked out as a cool guy teenager; it is curiously familiar to Indy’s. What makes Indiana Jones such a hero is his lack of heroic qualities that he learns to overcome as a flawed man who steps up to do the right thing when faced with danger. There is no mask needed here. Dr. Jones shows us once again that intelligence trumps brute force as he and a small band of faithful friends defy evil armies and prevent them from gaining more power to further their reign of terror in the world. Indiana Jones is just as excited, even giddy, to gain more knowledge and understanding about his craft of archaeology as he is to overcome the bad guys in his adventures. One of my favorite lines from the last movie happens in the midst of Indy wiping up some bad guys, when his son (unbeknownst to either of them at time) proclaims: “You’re a teacher?!?” Considering that Temple of Doom actually takes place a few years before Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is easy to see a progression of maturity and heroism in each of the four movies. In Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones is seeking adventure for the sake of “fortune and glory,” but he chooses to save a village in poverty instead. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, he goes after the greatest archeological find ever, the Ark of the Covenant, and learns to sacrifice his find to save the ones he loves and for the greater good of fighting the evil Nazi regime.  Indy restores his relationship with his estranged father in The Last Crusade, in fact, he only goes on this adventure to save his father’s life.  His maturity culminates in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when he is finally able to step up as a true man and claim the woman he truly loves as his wife and begin a relationship with the son he unknowingly fathered with her. A typical movie begins with Indiana Jones on a personal quest either for himself or for his museum. However, eventually he has to make the choice to sacrifice his own goals and desires and possibly his life for the greater good. By the last movie, serving others is old habit. One other thing that is significant about Dr. Jones is that as a man of science, he still has a respect for the supernatural, and in his search for understanding through the study of ancient artifacts, he learns that there are forces in this world that can’t be explained by science or history alone. The original Indiana Jones Trilogy wet my appetite to search for truth in this chaotic world of ours. I wondered about different cultures both ancient and in the present, and I understood that the more I knew about the differences I have with others, the better chance I have of survival and peace with them. I also wondered about God’s role in our world, and whether or not he really cared about our tiny human affairs of evil régimes like the Nazis trying to take over the world. Indiana Jones played a legitimate part as one of the tools God used to invite me to seek him and discover who he really is.

“You don’t raise heroes; you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes…” – Walter Schirra Sr.

Parents who believe that the media they allow their kids to be exposed to doesn’t hold much sway over their hearts are fools. I see two extremes with parents these days. Some want to lock their kids down so tight they shun anything that involves any hint of the imagination. Others allow their kids to be exposed to almost anything they want. I was shocked to one day overhear a conversation between my son and his friends when they were about ten years old. They were spending the night and were complaining that I was being too overprotective because I didn’t let him watch South Park and Family Guy. Apparently all their parents felt that since the shows were cartoons they were for kids! Considering the kids’ knowledge of the content of the shows, I am sure at least a few were getting a steady dose. What a wonderful logic of parenting! The painful truth is that ever since our fall in the Garden, childhood largely consists of a loss of innocence into the harsh reality of the fallen world. We have the difficult task of encouraging our sons to hold onto their imagination and faith so they can enter the Kingdom of God like a child ready to submit to their heavenly Father, and at the same time raise them to be mature men of God, spiritual-warriors even, so they are ready for the assault the enemy of our souls will surely wage on them. All this while working out our own salvation—no small task. Parents who shelter their boys too long and stifle their imagination will raise adults unable to cope with sin’s tempations and unable to act against evil when confronted by it. Parents who allow their boy’s flower of innocence to be cut too early will raise adults who are stuck in perpetual adolescence, believing that promiscuity is the only way for excitement and vulgarity is the only way to make a joke. As parents, we bear the image of God to our children. That is why a young boy’s greatest hero is his dad. It is a high calling that we will most certainly fail at because we are human. That is why we must encourage our sons to have heroes who arouse their curiosity about life and truth and the right way to live. We need to set before them men and women, super or otherwise, who make good choices and feel the painful consequences when they don’t. We need to give them room to breath and explore and imagine, but we also need to make sure the world they are exploring has safe boundaries. As they grow older and learn responsibility and morality, we increase their boundaries little by little so when the day comes for them to leave through the gate, they have the inner strength they need to fight evil and protect good at all costs, to fight for a woman’s honor, not to take it from her and abuse it, and even, if called to do so, to lay down their lives for the greater good of all. Boys need to see what true heroism looks like; they need to be able to spend time imagining and playing the hero, so they can one day become men who will be the hero.

Peter L Richardson*
7/21/10

*Pete’s Disclaimer: I stopped collecting comics in 1991 when I sold my comic collection for money for food shortly after I dropped out of college (my first attempt). Comics were already well on their way towards a dark trend that was geared to an adult audience. Although, to my knowledge, Spiderman comics remained mostly unaffected, there are a number of Batman works that are definitely inappropriate for children, and in some cases even teens. As with everything, parents need to monitor what their kids are reading, viewing, playing, etc. and use wisdom to know what each child can handle and offer guidance with any material they choose to allow. There is a reason the Indiana Jones films are rated PG13.

Come.  And be my Baby
Maya Angelou

The highway is full of big cars going nowhere fast
And folks is smoking anything that’ll burn
Some people wrap their lives around a cocktail glass
And you sit wondering
where you’re going to turn.
I got it.
Come.  And be my baby.

Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow
But others say we’ve got a week or two
The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror
And you sit wondering
what you’re gonna do.
I got it.
Come.  And be my baby.

Close Reading On, “Come.  And be my Baby,”  by Maya Angelou.

At first glance this is a pretty simple poem. Two stanzas, each with a simple abab rhyme scheme, and each with a closing statement that can be found in thousands of songs. The style is written in the vernacular and contains clichés that are easily understood by a common people. I don’t know much about Maya Angelou except that she is African American and that she likes children or monsters or maybe both (she was often on Sesame Street when my boys were young enough to watch it). Although not nearly as strong as other works by Black Poets I’ve read, this poem has a bit of an ebonic feel to it. It is certainly in familiar style with the Blues. Take the repetition of the last two lines in each stanza coinciding with the dark and lonely content of the work and we have got the Blues. I can hear the old man with his guitar wailing; “Oh, life is hard, life is bad, so come on and be my baby. Oh, the world is hard, the world is bad, so come on and be my baby…” However, all this is only surface appeal. A closer look reveals much more action taking place in all these common clichés.

“Come.  And be my Baby.” Though the phrase is common enough, the punctuation is unusual and warns us we are being invited in a work that is more then just a simple love poem. In the first line we are presented with a highway “full of big cars that are going nowhere fast.” Life is full of action, full of commotion, and full of big cars. The poem starts off with people racing for bigger and better things, chasing after greed, but where are they going? Nowhere fast. The idea of living simply to gain leads to a life of futility and unfulfillment. So, we end up with “folks … smoking anything that’ll burn.” The image of people getting high. Unfulfilled people reach out to find happiness and comfort artificially and they end up burning their lives away, destroying themselves. And yet, “Some people wrap their lives around a cocktail glass.” When a person is wrapped up in something the impression is that they are consumed by it. What is literally wrapped around the cocktail glass is the hand. The alcoholic drink represents addiction. This life is so futile that people are consumed by their addictions and they grasp them and cling to them to try again to fill their need for comfort. “And you sit wondering/ where you’re going to turn.” The last line of this thought is the first time the reader is addressed. We are spoken to as if we are confused and lost, not knowing what we can rely on and as if we are looking for answers. “I got it.” And the poet offers us a solution to our troubles. She tells us to “Come.” Then she invites us to be her baby. What we have now is the image of two people looking for meaning and not finding fulfillment in greed, artificial happiness, or addiction. They therefore can only cling to each other and find comfort in one another.

But then the second stanza opens up in the midst of the apocalypse and full of doom: “Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow.” We can cling to each other all we want, but what if the world ends? Where does that leave us? “But others say we’ve got a week or two.” Maybe there is a little time, maybe we have a little hope, but still “The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror.” If these lines don’t represent the end of all things, they at least show us the uncertainty of life and the chaos that ensues in the world. However, this time when we, the readers, are addressed, we are not simply looking for a place to turn to, we are wondering what we’re “gonna do.” This time we are given the power to take an action, to do something about all this futility and chaos. “I got it.” And the poet offers us the very same solution; “Come.  And be my baby.” But this time these words have more depth and power, perhaps caused by our invitation to do something. This time there is a greater sense of love, the idea that when we are able to love one another, to cling to each other and support our fellow man, we can have hope against the chaos of the world and give meaning to life. And if there is a unifying force of love that can bind us together, can we not take that idea one step further in this poem?

“I got it.” I’ve got a solution:  “Come.”  The period after “come” makes the statement a command. The double space between this statement and the next phrase, “And be my baby,” creates a pause that puts more emphasis on both statements. We are forced to reflect on them, there is the sense that there is more going on in this poem than just a call for lonely people to take comfort in each other. In fact, I think there is an element of the Divine here. Throughout the Bible, in the Old Testament, God constantly appeals to his people to “Come.” Come and know me and my goodness, come and buy silver and gold from me (metaphors for spiritual wealth), come to me and find forgiveness. In the New Testament, Jesus consistently makes the same appeal, “Come to me you who are weary, thirsty, etc.” and he opens up the call to all mankind. “Come.  And be my baby.” The people of God in the Bible are also repeatedly spoken of metaphorically as his bride, even with language that is often passionate and sometimes explicit. Perhaps, underneath the seeming simplicity of the Blues in this poem is a call from the Divine. Perhaps the poet herself becomes a prophetess speaking hope, rather than doom. Perhaps through Maya Angelou God himself is declaring:

“Without me, life is meaningless, without me, the world is chaos, but ‘I got it.’ I’ve got a solution: ‘Come.  And be my baby.’ Come away from your futile greed, your artificial high and addiction; come away from the pain, the fear, and the horror. ‘Come.  And be my baby.’”

Peter L Richardson
9/12/2002

The Gospel According to Jake and Elwood Blues

Elwood: It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.

The Blues Brothers is one of those movies my friends and I would quote to each other whenever the situation called for it. It is one of the few movies that I still watch repeatedly and never get bored. I even own the two hour and twenty eight minute collectors edition which includes all the less important scenes that never should have gotten cut in the first place. The Blues Brothers was revolutionary with its car chases and car crashes, and it broke new ground as a modern musical, and through the music it revealed a cross section of black and white culture in a time when it was still not popular to do so. Because of the Blues Brothers I discovered the roots of the rock-n-roll I so dearly loved, and I gained a respect and love of black music and black culture that I might not have found otherwise. Since I’ve become a Christian, however, I found my love for The Blues Brothers suspect in many situations. You see, it does have the dreaded ‘R’ rating because it contains multiple uses of the “F” word. But even when I would urge some friends to watch it with me while it was edited for television—so they could experience the joy I knew—some refused claiming it was sacrilegious. I do not want to be one who tempts my brother to sin, so I’ve chosen to keep my love for this film on the down low. However, thirty years after its release, the Catholic Church has finally put their stamp of approval on the film. It seems that The Blues Brothers is finally being recognized for its spiritual value. I grew up on the Blues Brothers. My cousin and I used to dress up like Jake and Elwood and imitate their singing and dancing (unfortunately, some of those dance moves still unexpectedly come out of me today!). The Blues Brothers helped shape my love of music, my understanding of comedy, and, yes, my theology and my faith. When you follow the movie beyond its comedic value, what you have is a classic prodigal son tale of redemption including all the warts and bruises and miracles and lessons from trying to follow God’s plan.

Curtis Blues: Boys, you got to learn not to talk to nuns that way.

We need to start at the beginning. The movie starts with Jake getting an early release from jail for good behavior. Elwood picks up Jake and makes him visit “the Penguin” to fulfill a promise Jake made to her. The Penguin is the nun who ran the orphanage the two grew up in. Jake at first refuses, but Elwood reasons that you can’t lie to a nun. Their visit to her is hilariously disastrous as she tells them the orphanage needs $5,000 to stay open. Jake offers to help and she refuses money gained by criminal means, so he ends up cursing. She pulls out the yardstick and the more she hits them the more they curse until they fall down the stairs outside her office and land at the feet of Curtis Blues. Curtis (played by Cab Calloway) is the janitor and handy man at the orphanage and often becomes the only family for the kids, tucking them into bed and singing them old blues songs. The contrast between Curtis and the Penguin allows for great comedic effect, but even as the characters are foils of one another, they also can represent the dual nature of God. God is Justice and Mercy working together. God’s Justice brought the Law that causes us to realize our need for repentance, but it his Mercy inspired by Love that causes Him to forgive us and allows us access to Him and to love him in return. After Jake and Elwood speak to Curtis, they desire to find a legit way to help the orphanage but feel helpless.

Reverend Cleophus James: And now, people… And now, people… When I woke up this mornin’, I heard a distubin’ sound. I said When I woke up this mornin’, I heard a disturbin’ sound! What I heard was the jingle-jangle of a thousand lost souls! I’m talkin’ ’bout the souls of mortal men and women, departed from this life. Wait a minute! Those lost angry souls roamin’ unseen on the earth, seekin’ to find life they’ll not find, because it’s too late! Tooooo late, yeah! Too late for they’ll never see again the life they choose not to follow. Alright! Alright! Don’t be lost when your time comes! For the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night!

Curtis agrees with the Penguin; the boys need “a little churchin’ up.” He encourages them to slide on over to the church of Reverend Cleophus James (played by James Brown). When I was a child I was awestruck at this service. My mom drug me to a church where all I really knew was that I couldn’t make a sound or even put my head down and fall asleep, but this service was wild. It was like a party! I dare to say that while God’s holiness often provokes a deep silence and reverence in our souls, I think that the rejoicing in heaven is much more like the service we see in this movie than what is usually found in the services of most Traditional-Western churches. As a child I thought this service must be extremely exaggerated for the movie; I was pleasantly surprised the first time I had the opportunity to visit a Black Church on Booth St, a run down part of Elkton, MD, and discovered that the service led by James Brown was not so far from reality.

Reverend Cleophus James: DO YOU SEE THE LIGHT?
Jake: THE BAND!

It is at this church that Jake receives his vision and revelation from God: “The band.” It’s simple, they just need to put their old band back together and they’ll be able to raise the money for the orphanage. There is much we can learn from this. Jake is easily one of the most offensive and selfish persons in the movie, yet God chooses to speak to him and reveal his plan. Is this any different from the Apostle Paul? Did not God have a plan to use him while he was approving of the death of Stephen and later dragging more “followers of the Way” to their deaths? We should not despise those around us, no matter who they are; we need to be aware that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Look all through scripture and you will see that God prefers to use the underdog to get his work done. As the movie progresses we discover the childlike faith that both Jake and Elwood have. There is much resistance keeping them from their goal, but they literally plow through every obstacle with the security that God is on their side and the expectation that he will get them through. Each time they are met with resistance, whether it’s a reluctant band member (or his wife played by Aretha Franklin) or the cops or a redneck-country-western band or the Nazis, their reply is always the famous line: “they’re not gonna catch us, we’re on a mission from God.” Would that Christians today had the faith of Jake and Elwood Blues! Imagine what God could accomplish through his children if we could only walk into the journey he’s called each of us to with confidence in his power and trusting in the security in his love! What a wonderful world that would be.

Willie ‘Too Big’ Hall: You’ll never get Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy and Mr. Fabulous out of them high-payin’ gigs.
Jake: Oh yeah? Well me and the Lord, we have an understanding.

It turns out that putting the band (all the members are played by professional musicians) back together is not so easy. Jake has been in jail for three years, and most of them have pretty much gone their separate ways. After much work, manipulation and grace, they manage to get the full band back and get their manager to book a show that will make enough money to save the orphanage—if they can fill the concert hall. Despite wrecking havoc throughout the greater Chicago area, they somehow avoid arrest and get enough support to help advertise, and the show is sold out. This teaches that when God is on your side, he will enable you to reach your goal, because it’s His goal. Jake and Elwood had set out to save the orphanage they grew up in; it’s clear in the scriptures that God has a special place in his heart for orphans. When you are confident you are walking in his will, you can trust God to come through for you. God will surround you with people who will support your vision, sometimes without even realizing what they are supporting. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend going about it the way Jake and Elwood did, but then we wouldn’t have half as many laughs in the movie if they had been a bit more conservative.

Jake: First you traded the Cadillac in for a microphone. Then you lied to me about the band. And now you’re gonna put me right back in the joint!
Elwood: They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God.

They managed to do such a good job advertising the show, that in addition to their fans, all their enemies showed up as well, including the country-western band, the Nazis and the entire local police department. They were surrounded, and it looked unlikely they would make it out the door, but “if God is for us, who can be against us?” Their job was not finished; they still needed to get the money to the Cook County Property Assessment Office in Chicago. King David often speaks in the Psalms of being surrounded by his enemies on every side, yet trusting in God to save him. Not only did they find a way out, but the man who showed it to them happened to be a record producer who hooked them up with enough money to save the orphanage, pay the band all the money they owed them, and pay off all their debt to Ray’s Music Exchange (the owner played by Ray Charles). This supports the principle that when we are obedient to God, he will do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or imagine. The only thing left to do was to get the money to Chicago before the deadline. This is brings us to the Bluesmobile.

Elwood: It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say; is it the new Bluesmobile or what?
Jake: Fix the cigarette lighter.

The Bluesmobile has mythology all to its own. The original one was a Cadillac, but while Jake was in jail, Elwood traded it for a microphone. He was able to pick up an old Dodge police car at an auction to replace it. When Jake protests that his own brother picks him up from jail in a police car, Elwood convinces him that the car is worthy of the title of Bluesmobile by jumping an opening drawbridge. The movie progresses and the car is able to perform greater and greater feats as the police, the country-western band, and the Nazis close in on them. One of the scenes that got cut from the movie implies that the car draws its power from Elwood parking it illegally in a high voltage area near his apartment. However, the end of the famous Police Car Chase Finale (which held the record of most wrecked cars in a movie for a very long time) implies that the power was actually coming from a higher source. The truth is that when we have faith, God will come through for us with miracles. The amazing feats of the Bluesmobile teach us that when human nature fails us, the supernatural will kick in and God will provide us with what it takes to get the job done. However, sometimes he will provide only what we actually need. Once Jake and Elwood made it to the Assessment Office, the car literally fell into a heap as they exited it. This shows that even when we are struggling to survive, God will “hold together” whatever objects or circumstances we need as long as we actually need them. When the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years, the scripture says none of their possessions wore out. True story: after my divorce, I took a risk and followed God’s lead to go back to college and get my teaching degree. Needless to say with two kids to help support, I was poor, and my car, a 1983 Chevy Nova (not the cool Novas, this year’s model was an imitation Honda) got progressively worse during that time but somehow puttered along. When I finally got my first paycheck as a teacher, I was ready to take on car payments, and as I pulled into a used car lot that advertised they would take any trade-in, no matter how bad, the Nova broke down. On that same lot was the exact car I was looking for in great condition and with an affordable price; it was even in my favorite color: a 1997 Forrest Green Jeep Cherokee. Being such a fan of the Blues Brothers, the irony was not lost on me. God does have a sense of humor.

The Cast and Crew: Everybody on the whole cell block / Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse rock!

God loves to laugh, and he is full of joy and love and peace, but he is also holy and righteous, and despite his grace and mercy, like a good father, he allows us to pay the consequences of our actions when we continually act in ways that displease him. I think if it wasn’t for the end of the movie, the sacrilegious argument could be justified. However, after Jake and Elwood pay the $5000 property tax for the orphanage, they end up in jail; they pay the consequences for their careless and foolish actions throughout the film. This doesn’t contradict God’s mercy and grace. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us gave us access to God with a renewed relationship, but his resurrection gave us the ability to receive the Holy Spirit who gives us a greater power to walk away from sin and into a greater trust in God. We have to make daily choices to follow God and do the right thing. Where Jake and Elwood went wrong on their renewed walk with God was they felt they needed to manipulate certain situations to accomplish their goal. They weren’t mature enough to trust that if they consistently did the right thing, God would still come through in his way and his time. Though most Christians don’t commit offenses nearly as bad as the Blues Brothers did, how often do we get impatient with God and take matters into our own hands only to screw things up in the long run. For the sake of grace and for the sake of accomplishing his will on Earth, God will put up with our foolishness for a time, but unless we get back on track, we will pay the consequences. The more we make right choices, the easier they become, but if God didn’t allow us to suffer the consequences of bad choices; we would never learn how to live righteously. The reality is that even when we are following the Lord’s will, if we screw up and sin in the midst of it, we still have to pay the consequences, but it is for our own good.

Elwood: We certainly hope you all enjoy the show. And remember, people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there’re still some things that makes us all the same. You. Me. Them. Everybody. Everybody…Everybody Needs Somebody to Love…

God is not above using vulgarity to reach people who would never step foot in a church, or even to get his own children’s attention. If you think that statement is sacrilegious, go read Ezekiel 16 and 23 (and most of our modern English translations are translated in the nicest possible way). C.L. Lewis said, “Suppose the image is vulgar. If it gets across to the unbeliever what the unbeliever desperately needs to know, the vulgarity must be endured.” I am by no way advocating that Christians should feel the freedom to use foul language or even make viewing films that clearly contain vulgarity in them a regular part of their lives, but I do believe that the majority of the Church spends so much time fearing the vulgarity of the world that they become closed off to what God could be doing through them to bring truth and light into the darkness of the world. A common Church doctrine tells us that we are to “be in the world, but not of it.” We are not of the world because we follow a higher law of love that Jesus has placed in our hearts, but it is that that law of love that should be causing us to “go out into the world and make disciples of all men.” When I watch The Blues Brothers on television with all the cursing edited out, it is just as funny. There is no reason why Christians shouldn’t be making art that is both as appealing and humerous as The Blues Brothers and also speaks as much truth as it does. John Landis and Dan Akroyd were the principle writers of the movie. I don’t know what kind of faith either of them have. One of them must have at least grown up Catholic, but much of their other work implies the faith didn’t stick. In the very first sermon to the “unchurched” after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Apostle Peter quotes the Prophet Joel, “In those days I will pour out my spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:14-41). Many interpret this passage to mean that the gospel is for all the peoples and nations of the earth, and while I certainly agree with that truth, I believe the Lord also means something deeper. I believe he often prophetically inspires unbelievers to speak his truth, so that those who refuse to listen to those in the church can have a chance to wonder about a God in heaven and maybe even begin to talk to him and connect with the longing of their souls. John Calvin said, “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not reject it; for it has come from God.” When Christians reject all art that comes from the world, we are losing opportunities to water the seed of truth that was planted by that art. God once spoke truth through Balaam’s ass, why wouldn’t he take the opportunity to speak through John Landis, Dan Akroyd, and John Belushi in the same way?

The Blues Brothers Band: I got everything I need, almost. I got everything I need, almost. But I don’t got you, and you’re the thing I need the most.

Peter L Richardson
7/1/2010