Giving, getting and The Black Panther

by Steve Brock on June 25, 2018

Black Panther poster

I recently (finally) saw the film, “Black Panther,” arguably one of the best of the Marvel superhero movies. At the heart of the film lies this question: “What if you value the richness of all that you own but are afraid to share it for fear that you will lose all that you have and stand for in the process?”

In the film’s case, the fictional African land of Wakanda sits on a reserve of vibranium, a metal from a meteorite that hit the land in the distant past. From this powerful and strong metal, the people of Wakanda have developed advanced technology and a way of life where everyone flourishes. They protect their secret from the outside world until a crisis causes the king and others to question if withholding their knowledge and riches is a good thing.

I’ll let you watch the movie to see how they resolve the question. But for us in our daily lives, we must wrestle with similar dilemmas.

We have a tendency, or at least I do, to hold on to and not share things I think matter most to me. It’s a natural response and seems justifiable until we delve deeper to ask why. On the surface, it seems we’re merely wanting to protect that which we value: creative ideas, material goods, relationships, our platform, reputation or connections or even our faith and core beliefs. But further reflection reveals that all too often, we don’t share because we’re fearful of what others will think or say. We don’t open up because we’re not sure what others may find. And those walls we put up keep us from the very relationships that would share in our joys and foster a greater appreciation of the treasures we hold. Thus, a downward spiral ensues.

The situation in Wakanda isn’t that different. It too reflects an unwillingness to open up or to share. It too stems from fear of loss.

We’ll have to wait for the next Black Panther movie to know how their situation plays out. But personally, here’s what I’ve seen and experienced.

When we step beyond our insecurities and fear and we share — our lives, our faith, our resources, our dreams — we run the risk of being misunderstood, mocked or abused. But if we don’t, we never experience the paradox of giving away that which we most value: We don’t lose it. We gain more of it.

I love this quote by Annie Dillard. I believe it applies to more than just writing:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now . . . Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Instead of hoarding and finding ashes, we can give and find something, new, something more and surprising. What we gain may not look the same as what we gave. And, as in anything related to love, we do risk pain. But the very thing we strive to protect by holding on and not sharing, that almost always withers. Only in giving it away does it blossom and grow to become more than we ever envisioned.

The only way you learn at the heart level about all that you get by releasing and sharing is to practice it. It isn’t easy. It’s not always immediately rewarding. But over time, the results can be stunning.

And you don’t even have to be a superhero to do it.

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“…notstop looking”

by Steve Brock on August 28, 2012

Thanks to a healthy backlog in my Netflix queue, I finally saw the film, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” this weekend.

I have heard others say that it is a hard film to watch. The main character, Oskar Schell, is a boy living in New York whose father, played by Tom Hanks, dies in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. So the inherent sadness of a story in which a child mourns for his father makes the movie painful. Yet that very pain is what makes the film so powerful.

Even before 9/11, Oskar sees the world in a unique way. He does so in part because he shows indicators of Asberger’s Syndrome, a kind of high functioning autism. Yet through this syndrome, we behold the depths of the father’s love for his son in scenes that take place before the tragic loss of life.

Oskar’s dad understands his son’s gifts and his limitations. To build on the former and transcend the latter, the father devises a special expedition – a kind of quest – for young Oskar.

The father tells his son about the “lost sixth borough of New York.” Oskar’s challenge is to find it or at least evidence of its existence. The father presents a series of clues that require Oskar to do what is uncomfortable for the son: to talk to others and to seek out items in unfamiliar places.

When Oskar complains that searching for clues is hard work, his dad replies, “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth finding.” With his father’s encouragement and enthusiasm, Oskar makes great progress on this quest. But then his dad dies.

Initially, Oskar is devastated. Then, one year after the tragedy, Oskar ventures into his father’s closet and discovers two things.

The first is a newspaper clipping he has seen before, one where his father has circled the words, “…notstop looking” a kind of credo for Oskar despite the missing space between “not” and “stop.” The second is an old key in a small envelope hidden in a blue vase.

The search for the lock that fits the key becomes a final quest from the father to the son. And what happens on that quest is what makes the movie so brilliant. You’ll have to watch it yourself to find that out.

I’m usually wary of attempts to read into a story more than was intended. Yet here, I cannot resist making comparisons of Oskar’s journey to our own. We may not have a form of autism, but we all have our issues. And we too, have a Father, a heavenly one, who knows our strengths and our weaknesses better than we ourselves do. He has given each of us a quest and has left clues behind for us to find. And with each discovery, we come closer to understanding both Him and ourselves better.

But the beauty of this story, and ours as well, is that we do not travel alone. Oskar can only complete his quest through the kindness and assistance of others. Some of the most poignant scenes in the film are when we witness the impact that Oskar has on the many, many people he meets. In their response to him, they gain much more than they have given.

The sweet irony of his journey is this: It is not in spite of, but because of his brokenness and his “disability” that he is able to complete his quest. He is welcomed by strangers who are disarmed by his blunt innocence and who empathize through their own post-911 loss Oskar’s need for closure.

We too travel more completely in our own incompleteness. The very things we shy away from – vulnerability, dependability, incompetence – are what make us most human, and most inviting to others.  If we travel in such a manner, however uncomfortable that may initially feel, we find, as Oskar does, that our fears dissipate and our connections increase.

And like Oskar, we may reach the end of our quest only to find that what we have discovered is different and yet more powerful and fulfilling than what we thought we were looking for.

But we only find it, as did Oskar, if we are careful to not stop looking.


P.S. As my son pointed out after experiencing the movie, God is not only like Oskar’s father in the film, but like his mother as well. I’ll say no more to avoid giving anything away. But watch the movie and see just how stunning that insight is.

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Notice the glory

by Steve Brock on May 8, 2012

I finally saw the film, Tree of Life, on video.

I’m not sure I fully understand it. I could go online and look for reviews and clarification but I don’t want to. I understand enough, I think (after watching key scenes a second time which made a huge difference). Anything more would likely inform but also possibly disappoint.

If you haven’t seen it, be aware that it isn’t quite as opaque as say, “2001 – A Space Odyssey” but it is highly symbolic and hard to fathom at times. Yet it is stunningly beautiful and the acting of both adults and youth is spot on (or so it seems to me).

At its heart is this line:

“There are two ways in life, the way of nature and the way of grace.”

The former is exemplified by the father in the movie, played by Brad Pitt, who looks out for himself, seeks to get ahead and teaches his sons to be tough and to do whatever it takes to succeed.

The mother in the film chooses the way of grace, a life of sacrifice, care and love that does not seek its own but the best for others.

I will have to spoil the story here to get to my point, so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to, read no further.

Near the end of the movie, the father is brought to a point of crisis when he loses his job. With the loss comes the awareness that his whole approach to life – the way of nature – has failed him.

This is the voiceover at that point: “I wanted to be loved because I was brave. A big man. I’m nothing. Nothing. The glory around us. Trees. Birds. I left in shame (Note: I’m not actually sure about that line even after reviewing it a half dozen times). I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory. A foolish man.”

He comes to the way of grace by realizing that his own attempts at success, the way of nature, haven’t worked. But in his words I find something painfully familiar: “I dishonored it all and didn’t notice the glory.”

How often do we do the same in our own daily lives? We miss “the glory around us.” We simply don’t notice it.

I travel in part to see that glory, to refresh eyes that have become so accustomed to the glory all around me that I fail to appreciate or even be aware of it. In the unfamiliarity of a new place, I see the familiar anew. And when I do, I realize, at least in part, the glory around me.

So here’s my question for me and for you: If you can’t immediately travel, what can you do this day – wait no longer – to notice the glory? Trees. Birds. Loved ones. The very breath you take this moment. What will it be?

Choose grace.

Notice the glory.

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Media, marketing and meaningful travel – Part 1

by Steve Brock September 28, 2011

The documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” sparks some thoughts on how not to let wonder become a casualty in our media saturated world.

Read the full article →