Archive for the ‘Friends’ Category

MOVIE: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Choices

 

by Randall Allen Dunn

 

“Now, as you know, each and every one of you was searched upon your arrival here tonight. And you have the right to know why. Once there was a young man who, like you, sat in this very hall, walked this castle’s corridors, slept under its roofs. He seemed to all the world a student like any other. His name: Tom Riddle. Today, of course, he’s known all over the world by another name. Which is why, as I stand looking out upon you all tonight, I’m reminded of a sobering fact: Every day, every hour, this very minute, perhaps, dark forces attempt to penetrate this castle’s walls. But in the end, their greatest weapon … is you.”

 

Sooner or later, each of us must make a difficult choice. Sometimes the right choices are easy ones. Especially if we have trained ourselves to maintain good habits. We know that if we follow the proper instructions, we will be successful in our projects and assignments. We know that if we show kindness to others, most people will be kind to us in return. We know that if we work hard, study hard, or train hard, we will improve our skills and strength.

But when making a choice means putting our personal interests – even our reputations or our lives – at risk, making the right moral choice becomes very difficult.

In the film, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returns to his sixth year at Hogwart’s school, to find that it has added new security measures. The school’s headmaster, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), warns the students that evil forces are attempting to break into the school. He knows that he and Harry have personally dealt a blow to their enemies, the Death Eaters, successfully imprisoning one of their lead members, Lucius Malfoy.

Malfoy’s son, Draco (Tom Felton), is also back at Hogwart’s, with a secret mission to kill Dumbledore. His task was assigned to him by Lord Voldemort, who rules the Death Eaters and wants to establish a reign of terror over the entire wizarding world. At sixteen years old, Draco must decide whether he believes in the Death Eaters’ cause enough to become a murderer.

Unfortunately, Draco knows that if he fails to kill Dumbledore, Voldemort will kill him. He must choose whether to kill or be killed.

That is how many of our tough decisions feel. Whether to sacrifice ourselves to do what we know is right, or save our own necks and let others suffer. Even the simplest choices we face still boil down to the same question: whether to dowhat we want and serve our own short-term interests, or do what will benefit others and ultimately benefit ourselves more.

Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) also has a difficult choice to make. Dumbledore personally asked to return to Hogwart’s as a teacher, but Slughorn knows that Dumbledore actually wants him to reveal secrets of what he told Voldemort while the evil wizard was still a young student. Dumbledore is anxious to learn their secret conversation in order to discover Voldemort’s current plans.

But Slughorn knows he provided young Voldemort with dangerous information that helped him rise to power. Information he should never have shared with any student. To reveal his horrible act could ruin his reputation as a teacher forever.

But Harry urges him to be brave and do the right thing now, in order to honor the memories of Harry’s mother and all the other students who trusted and respected Slughorn. Convicted by this, Slughorn finally reveals the truth.

Harry also has a hard choice to make. He’s discovered a used textbook in his Potions class that states it is “Property of the Half-Blood Prince”. It contains special notes and instructions that allow him to excel in class, creating potions that no other student can concoct.Seeing the wealth of secret information he possesses, he studies the book deeply, becoming obsessed with it, learning spells that he never even knew existed.

Meanwhile, having made enemies with Draco over the years, Harry is the first to suspect him of becoming a Death Eater and of being responsible for the recent attacks on students. Attacks that were meant to kill Dumbledore instead.

When one such attempt nearly kills Harry’s best friend, Ron (Rupert Grint), Harry launches a personal attack on Draco. All their years of hatred for one another explode in a violent battle of wands. Harry finally attempts to end the conflict, once and for all, by using a secret spell he learned from his old textbook. A spell that the book reserves “for enemies”.

But when he casts it, he discovers that it not only defeats Draco, but leaves him lying on the bathroom floor bleeding to death. Thankfully, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) arrives and works to slowly heal Draco.

And preventing Harry from becoming a murderer himself.

Harry’s friends form an intervention group to meet with him and persuade him – specifically, help him – to choose to get rid of the book, once and for all. Harry has become so dependent on the book and its power that he can no longer choose wisely without some help. And his anger toward Draco has clouded his judgment too much for him to act wisely while holding such dangerous power. He agrees with his friends that the book must be destroyed, and he wisely agrees to let them help him get rid of it. Before its addictive power turns Harry into something he does not want to become.

Our choices will ultimately define us. What we choose for our lives will determine whether we become noble and courageous, or selfish and destructive. Whether we honor those we love and those who depend on us, or whether we seek our own interests instead, sending the message to others that we don’t care enough about them to change our ways.

The Bible book of Proverbs says that a man who lacks self-control is like a city with its walls broken down. In other words, if we don’t control ourselves and the choices we make, we open ourselves up to dangerous invaders. This is the very reason that Hogwart’s installed extra security to keep out its aggressive enemies. Once dangerous choices come inside our gates, they can begin to rule and destroy us from within.

We all have choices to make. And resulting destinies to fulfill.

Be careful what you choose.

 

Find more reviews of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” at amazon.com!

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

MOVIE: SOUL SURFER – Deeper

by Randall Allen Dunn

 

When we experience a tragic loss, it becomes very difficult to think about anything other than our own suffering. It’s hard to get our eyes off of ourselves to think about anything else. People suggest we throw ourselves into our work or lean on family and friends for comfort. Sometimes those things help.

But when we suffer something too deeply to even express, throwing ourselves into work can seem pointless. The comfort of family and friends can turn hollow. Our pain is so huge that it swallows up everything that tries to squelch it.

In those times, the only way to be free of our suffering is to focus on something bigger than our pain. Something bigger than ourselves.

The film, “Soul Surfer”, chronicles the true story of Bethany Hamilton (Annasophia Robb), a teenage girl who dreams of becoming a champion surfer. Raised on the beaches of Hawaii by a family of surfers, she has a good chance of making it happen. Especially when she and her best friend, fellow surfer Alana Blanchard (Lorraine Nicholson), become sponsored by RipCurl, a major surfwear company.

But while surfing one afternoon with Alana and her father, Holt (Kevin Sorbo), Bethany’s left arm is bitten off at the shoulder by a shark. Bethany remains calm as she is rushed to the hospital, where her doctor (Craig T. Nelson) calls her survival miraculous.

Bethany is in good spirits, but doesn’t feel much like a miracle. Having only one arm makes it difficult to even tie her hair back, let alone put on her bathing suit.

Let alone surf.

But she’s determined to get back in the water and resume training for the Hawaiian Island Regionals. Unfortunately, she discovers that she can’t even swim out far enough to reach the big waves. The other surfers leave her in their wake, and her first surfing heat after the accident proves to be an embarrassing failure.

So she quits. When a few young girls ask for her autograph after the competition, she offers them every last one of her surfboards instead. She’s giving up surfing, for good.

Bethany’s mother, Cheri (Helen Hunt), is willing to let her quit surfing if she wants to. But her father, Tom (Dennis Quaid), refuses to accept it, which leads both parents into a frustrated argument.

“She’s a surfer,” Tom insists. “She’s a competitor.”

“She’s more than that,” Cheri argues.

“Cheri. If she walks away from this – if she quits – she may never get back in the water again and she will never be the same.”

“She will never be the same,” Cheri agrees. “And if she thinks the only life out there for her is surfing and she can’t make that happen, then she’s gonna be lost. Really, really lost.”

Tom finally sees Cheri’s point, and soon approaches Bethany as she sulks alone on the beach.

“Why did this happen?”Bethanywonders aloud. “Why did I have to lose everything?”

“You didn’t lose everything,Bethany. Not even close,” Tom says. “That shark didn’t kill you. You’re still here. You’re still alive, with a family that loves you.”

Bethanyasked what she should do with her life now, and Tom acknowledges that he has no answers. “When the time is right, you’ll know,” he says. “Until then, you pray. And you listen.”

“Listen for what?”

“For what comes next.”

Bethany had previously backed out of a commitment to join a short-term mission with her church youth group, which greatly disappointed her youth leader, Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood). Now, with time on her hands and a readiness to explore new opportunities, Bethany joins a new mission with the group to help rebuild a devastated community in Thailand that was struck by a tsunami. While there, she hears one woman’s story of how she lost her entire family to the tidal wave. Bethany is overwhelmed as she realizes that others have suffered and lost far more than she did.

She also soon learns she can do simple things – carrying supplies and water, ladling out soup in a soup line – that don’t require more than one arm. Simple things that mean a great deal to those who receive it.

When she asks about all the abandoned surfboards set on the beach, Bethany learns that the people are all too shaken by the tidal wave to return to the water. One boy won’t even speak or tell anyone his name. Bethany coaxes the boy into the water, grabbing a board and splashing around until he joins her. Soon everyone is heading back into the waves they feared. Bethany’s love of the water enabled her to inspire others in a way no one else could.

Returning from her trip, Bethany learns she has inspired fans all over the world who are ready to cheer her on in her next competition. Many of them are kids with missing limbs who are following her example. Bethany can’t understand how she inspired anyone by failing so badly in her competition, but Cheri tells her that people like the fact that she tried.

Bethany decides to rejoin the world of competitive surfing, and Tom designs a handle for her surfboard that will allow her to hold onto it when she dives under the surface to reach the larger waves. With new confidence and a new drive, Bethany pushes on to compete, and ultimately to achieve her dream of becoming a professional surfer.

When we suffer a major loss, it’s hard to get a deeper perspective on life. Swallowed by our all-consuming pain, we can’t see the hurdles that others have to overcome.

When we look outside of ourselves, at the people who love and support us, and at a world in need of hope, we realize there’s more to life than what we suffer or experience. Outside of ourselves, we find deeper wounds, more difficult struggles and greater joys than we ever knew existed.

When we suffer deeply, we need to draw hope and strength by looking beyond our suffering to the potential life we can still have. The joy and hope we can still bring to others, simply by continuing to make an effort. Continuing to live. Continuing to be.

Don’t let a tragic loss keep you down and disabled.

Go deeper into the life you have yet to experience, and find your true worth.

 

Find more reviews of “Soul Surfer” at amazon.com!

Monday, October 1st, 2012

MOVIE: COURAGEOUS – Father Figures

 

by Randall Allen Dunn

 

The role of fathers is far more significant than many are willing to admit. Women’s liberation emphasized the importance of women’s roles in family and society to such an extent that people ultimately forgot the value of men’s impact, including the impact of fathers on their families. But the relationship we have with our fathers often influences the way we see God as a father, and the way we see ourselves in life.

In exploring this, the film, “Courageous”, starts with heart-pounding action, when a young man hijacks a man’s jeep at a gas station. To the thief’s surprise, the man chases after him, hanging desperately onto the side door as they race down a country highway. After the boy crashes the vehicle into a tree and the man tumbles away, witnesses jump out of their cars to help. One woman tells the car’s owner not to worry about his jeep as he crawls toward it. He assures her he’s not concerned about his car, struggling to open the back door to reveal his infant son crying in the back seat.

The deputies of Albany, Georgiameet the man, Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel), and learn he is scheduled to join their force the next day. His dangerous act later leads them to wonder whether they would have risked their own lives to save their kids that way.

As the deputies focus on stopping the flow of local drug traffic, their sheriff reports statistics that fatherless children are the most likely to get involved in gangs and crime. He therefore urges those who are fathers to spend time focusing on loving their families.

At home that night, Deputy Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick) rejects the persistent requests of his teenage son, Dylan (Rusty Martin), to join him in a father-son 5K race. Adam sees no need to exhaust himself just so they can spend time together. Later, he takes his daughter, Emily (Lauren Etchells), onto his lap to spend time with her. When the son walks back into the room and sees this, he knows instantly that she is the favorite child. Still, Adam chooses not to look foolish by dancing with Emily in public even when she begs him.

Meanwhile, Nathan works hard to protect his family, especially his teenage daughter, Jade (Taylor Hutcherson), who sees his no-dating policy as far too strict and old-fashioned. Having never known his biological father, Nathan is determined to be a good father to his own kids.

Adam soon meets Javier Martinez (Robert Amaya), a struggling Hispanic immigrant who can’t catch a break. He prays to God for help, but is once again disappointed when a promised job doesn’t work out.

Miraculously, he is hired on the spot by Adam to help him with some handiwork in his back yard, when Adam mistakes him for the “Javier” that a fellow deputy had promised to send to him that day. When Adam realizes a week later that the wrong man is working at his house, he decides that Javier’s work ethic and skill are so outstanding that he’s glad it happened. Javier makes fast friends with Adam and the rest of the deputies.

Later on, when a car accident claims Emily’s life, Adam is at a loss. He asks his wife, Victoria (Renee Jewell), how he can go on without his daughter, and she reminds him that he still has a child.

But when Adam tries to encourage Dylan in their shared grief, he encounters a cold stone wall. Dylan wants nothing to do with him, since Adam wanted nothing to do with Dylan before the accident. Dylan refuses to form a phony father-son bond or become a “replacement” child.

Adam soon realizes how far he has fallen short of being the father he should have been, and could still be. He sets a new standard for himself as a father, based on the requirements he finds listed in the Bible for fathers. Soon Javier, Nathan, and others decide to join him in his public commitment to uphold biblical standards for fatherhood, to love and lead their families, putting the needs of their wives and children above their own.

Their passion for this commitment provokes a rookie deputy, David Thomson (Ben Davies), to confess that he is also a father, but had abandoned his girlfriend after she refused to have an abortion. Encouraged by Nathan, he writes to his estranged girlfriend and ultimately receives her permission to become involved in his daughter’s life again, to be as much of a father to her as he can be.

Adam starts restoring his broken relationship with Dylan, by taking him out to buy two new pairs of running shoes so they can start training for the father-son race. Meanwhile, Nathan takes Jade out for a special dinner, and gives her a purity ring that she is to wear until her wedding day, promising her heart to her father to save herself for the right man. This time, Jade doesn’t find it intrusive or old-fashioned, but understands how special she is to her father, and that any man she marries should honor her the same way.

Javier starts a new job and is finally making enough money to keep his family stable. But when his new employer offers him a promotion and also asks him to falsify some warehouse records, Javier and his wife, Carmen (Angelita Nelson), fear that if he refuses, his integrity will cost him the only real income they can count on. Committed to staying honest, Javier tells his employer he cannot play along. He is then informed that the request was a test, which several other employees before him had failed. Javier’s personal integrity ends up earning him a promotion.

Like it or not, children look to their fathers to set an example in life. To show us how to live responsibly with strength, conviction and compassion. Those who fail to set such an example are simply setting an example of apathy for their kids, that such standards don’t really matter.

At the same time, upholding personal standards while refusing to show our children how much we treasure them destroys the connection we were meant to have. Not only to lead by example or instruction, but by a strong loving bond that no outside influences can break.

Commit now to being the kind of father you were meant to be. The kind of father you still can be.

The kind of father you really want to be.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

Find more reviews of “Courageous” at amazon.com!

Friday, June 1st, 2012

MOVIE: THE POLAR EXPRESS – Making Belief

by Randall Allen Dunn

The problem with a fantasy story like “The Polar Express” is that you’re required to believe. We live in a skeptical world that doesn’t believe easily in things it can’t see or touch or prove in a court of law.

In other words, many people don’t believe in things that they can’t somehow control. Which is completely backwards. Believing in something means recognizing that some things exist that are outside of our experience and understanding, and trusting that we can find solutions that we don’t have yet. This is the essence of hope, which provides a strength far beyond that of many “realists”. Children are very good at making belief – finding ways to hope. But somewhere along the way, they “grow up”. That is, they stop hoping in the chance for change, and start planning for a life of disappointments.

“The Polar Express” is visually stunning for its detailed animation, to the reflection in the pupils of its main character, a young boy who is on the verge of abandoning his childhood beliefs in Santa Claus. He knows that some store employees and some fathers disguise themselves as Santa. He’s also looked up the North Pole in his encyclopedia and discovered it is incapable of sustaining life. By all appearances, the whole Santa Claus routine is just an enormous trick played on children.

Which is why an enormous steam engine appears on the street in front of his house shortly after midnight. Rushing out in his pajamas, he gapes at the train while its steam cloud slowly rises.

The train’s conductor (Tom Hanks) asks the boy, “Well? You comin’?”

“Where?” the boy asks.

“Why, to the North Pole, of course! This is the Polar Express!”

Naturally, the boy is confused. The conductor lists off concerns about the boy’s waning belief in Santa Claus: he has written no list, not sat on Santa’s lap at the store, and made his sister put out Santa’s milk and cookies. “Sounds to me like this is your crucial year,” the conductor says, leaning down to the boy’s face. “If I were you, I would think about climbing on board.”

The boy declines, nervous, and the train departs. At the last moment, the boy leaps onto the train and steps inside. There, he find several other children in pajamas, all intrigued at the prospect of visiting the North Pole. He meets another boy, a know-it-all who’s even more skeptical about Santa Claus – and everything else, for that matter – than he is. He also meets a friendly young girl who seems ready to believe and eager to help others.

Soon, they stop at the house of a poor boy on the other side of town, who declines the conductor’s invitation. But then he starts to run after the train at the last moment, just as the first boy had. But he’s too far away to catch up.

The first boy pulls the emergency brake, stopping the train so the other boy can climb aboard. When he does, he retreats to the caboose, separating himself from the other children. When everyone is served hot chocolate, the girl sets a spare tray aside to take to the boy in back.

But she forgets her train ticket on the seat. Knowing how vital it is to keep hold of their tickets, the first boy grabs it to take it back to her. But he loses it in the wind when he steps out the rear door.

But through the miraculous magic of the Polar Express, the ticket returns to the train a few minutes later for the boy to retrieve. Fearing the conductor intends to throw the girl off the train, the boy tries to find them. Pursuing them to the top of the train, he runs into a mysterious ghostly hobo, who encourages him not to be taken in by the whole idea of Santa Claus. “Seeing is believing. Am I right?” the hobo says.

When the boy finally does reach the North Pole, he and the girl have met Billy, the poor boy secluding himself in the back of the train. Billy tells them, “Christmas just doesn’t work out for me. Never has.” And so he doesn’t plan to leave the train to meet Santa. The boy urges the conductor that Billy needs to leave the train, but the conductor tells him, “No one is required to see Santa.” Even when presented with the very thing they long for, each child must choose whether to accept it.

The boy and the girl try to reason with Billy in the caboose, which accidentally gets disconnected from the rest of the train and rolls down a hill. When it finally stops, the children are hopelessly lost in the vast city of Santa’s North Pole workshop. They eventually make their way back, in time to see the arrival of Santa Claus.

But the boy can’t see Santa over the crowd of cheering children. He can’t even hear the bells of Santa’s sleigh that the other kids seem to hear. Until one of the bells falls from a reindeer’s neck and rolls to his feet. The boy picks it up and shakes it, but still hears nothing.

Until he determines to believe, to the point of saying aloud, “I believe.” When he shakes it once more, it rings loud and clear. And he realizes that only believers can hear the sound.

At that moment, Santa Claus appears next to him. Soon, the boy is chosen to receive the first present of Christmas, so he asks for a bell from Santa’s sleigh. Handing it to him, Santa says, “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas, as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”

When they board the train to return home, the boy discovers the sleigh bell has fallen through a hole in his robe pocket. The train starts off before the children can look for it, and the bell is lost forever.

But the boy is encouraged when Billy returns home and finds that, this year, he has received a present from Santa. The next morning – Christmas day – the boy finds a special present under his tree. Wrapped in a box is a shining sleigh bell, which the parents cannot hear ringing. But the boy can. The film ends with the boy, narrating as an adult:

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell.

But as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found, one Christmas, that she could no longer hear its sweet sound.

Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.

Life is full of discouragement and disappointment. Christmases that “just don’t work out”. People that let us down, making us wonder why we trusted them. Losses of jobs, homes, health and loved ones that make us despair, ready to lay down in retreat rather than face one more day.

Learning to believe in possibilities outside of our own experience – learning to hope – is what keeps us going through disappointment and hard times. Knowing that we can endure one bad experience after another, because there is still a chance for something new to develop. The ones who give up on life are the ones who never learn how to hope. How to believe.

This Christmas, make a decision to hope. To expect things to change and to improve. To look for new solutions that you haven’t considered before. To talk to people that you haven’t talked to before, or those you haven’t talked to in a while. Imagine new possibilities, and believe when all the dust of Christmas settles and the decorations are taken down and the holiday light leaves everyone’s eyes, you’ll still be standing, in January and throughout the new year, and throughout the years to come.

Standing in hope.

Find more reviews of “The Polar Express” at amazon.com!

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

MOVIE: STAND BY ME – The Right Crowd

by Randall Allen Dunn

Parents often worry about the kinds of friends their kids are hanging around with. They fear that some of those friends might be a “bad influence”, who will lead them in the wrong direction in life.

Kids often shrug off their parents’ concerns, or argue hotly against them. They don’t worry so much about their ultimate destinies, and they’re usually convinced that they’ve chosen the right crowd to hang out with. Their buddies are people they can laugh and have fun with, who accept and care about them, no matter what.

Or so it seems. It’s important to be sure, before serious trouble comes, and you find out they’re not the friends you thought they were.

In the film, “Stand By Me”, a writer (Richard Dreyfuss) is recording the memoirs of his childhood. As a young boy, he had been Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), who loved to invent stories, but was always overshadowed by his athletic star brother, Denny (John Cusack).

Until the day that Denny died in a car accident, leaving Gordie with his parents who never paid as much attention to him as they had to his older brother. Gordie quickly begins to feel out of place in his own home.

His friends can relate. Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) comes from a family of criminals and alcoholics, so everyone in town assumes he’ll grow up to be just like them. Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) is an oddball whose father was put in a mental institution, after he pressed Teddy’s ear to a stove. Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) is full of phobias and extra fat, making him an easy target for kids to pick on.

Each of them feels trapped in life. By the destinies that others have presumed them to have, and by the feeling that they don’t really belong.

When they learn that a boy was struck dead by a train, they decide to make a name for themselves by being the first ones to find the body. The four misfits set off, and together face a series of misfortunes. While crossing train tracks over a bridge, they see the train approaching, as the overweight, terrified Vern struggles to crawl across the tracks faster. Urging Vern on, Gordie and the others barely escape with their lives.

Later, they encounter a junkyard owner, who mocks Teddy for having a father locked up in the asylum. Teddy’s friends have to drag him away as he vainly attempts to defend his father’s honor.

Chris confesses to Gordie that he fears he might actually become a criminal, like everyone expects him to be, though he has no interest in becoming one.

Meanwhile, Gordie is tormented by his parents’ quiet rejection, even suffering a nightmare in which his father buries his older brother, Denny, then tells Gordie, “It should have been you, son.”

Through all of their fears, flaws and mishaps, they stick by one another, the way true friends should.

By contrast, Vern’s older brother is hanging out with a small “gang”, led by Ace Merrill (Keiffer Sutherland), who has little regard for their welfare.

Ace nearly kills them all in a road race, playing chicken with an oncoming truck instead of pulling away. When the truck veers off the road and runs into the ditch, Ace congratulates himself for his recklessness, telling his frightened buddies, “I won.”

When they discover Gordie and his friends have beaten them to the corpse they meant to find themselves, Ace is enraged. He makes it clear that he’s ready and willing to kill Chris to make him and his friends back off. He holds a knife to Chris’ throat, ignoring his buddy’s pleas not to kill his little brother.

The wrong crowd can get you and your family killed.

People like Ace are out to satisfy themselves, whatever it takes. Even if you’re the one getting in their way.

I wouldn’t feel safe having someone like Ace as a friend. I would never know when I had outlived my usefulness to him, and he would suddenly stop supporting or protecting me. He might not pull a knife on me or my family, but he would stop listening to my concerns. He would stop defending me in front of other people. He would stop supporting my interests. And suddenly, the friend I thought I had would decide, on a whim, to stop being a friend.

When we’re hanging with friends, we shouldn’t have to spend any time looking over our shoulders.

But the right crowd sticks by you even when it’s inconvenient.

When you’re too fat and too scared to cross the railroad tracks, good friends will risk their lives to save you.

When your mentally ill father is ridiculed by a junkyard owner, good friends will help you back to your feet.

Good friends will make sure you know they appreciate you, when you fear that you’re destined to become a criminal, or your parents love you less than your sports celebrity brother.

The right crowd will keep you going, in the midst of life’s difficulties and heartaches. When other people reject you, insult you, or threaten you, the right crowd will always stand by you.

The Bible says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20) The people you spend time with help make you who you are, so make sure you’re hanging with the right crowd. When trouble comes, will your friends really help you through it, or leave you in the ditch?

Find friends you can count on.

Find more reviews of “Stand By Me” at amazon.com!

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

BOOK: THE FREEDOM WRITERS DIARY – Against Yourself

by Randall Allen Dunn

Standing up for yourself and for the truth sometimes means going against your family and friends. When those closest to you all agree to cover up their wrongdoing, there’s an overwhelming pressure to join in.

The Freedom Writers Diary is a collection of journal entries from high schoolers, dealing with such daily hardships as parental abuse, racial intolerance and gang violence. In one of the many entries, a girl dares to question whether she should go along with the scheme of her family and friends. She can choose to go against “her own”, or go against herself.

The following excerpt tells her story.

The Freedom Writers Diary

Diary 33

Dear Diary,

“You can’t go against your own people, your own blood!”

Those words kept ringing in my mind as I walked down the courtroom aisle to sit in a cold, empty chair next to the judge. I kept telling myself, “Get your **** together, you don’t want to contradict yourself on the witness stand, your homie’s future lies in your hands.” I was convinced that I had to lie to protect my own, the way I was always taught to do. As I walked through the courtroom, I kept my eyes focused straight ahead, afraid to make eye contact with anyone. It was so quiet that the only things I could hear were the steps I took walking across the marble floor and my heart.

As I sat in the chair, I felt as if I was exposed to different eyes. Those eyes, in some strange way, were touching a part of me that was deep inside, everyone was waiting for my reaction.

When I sat down, I noticed that the courtroom was divided. On one side, there was my family and my friends. Most of them are from one of the most notorious gangs in California. They had all come because they were worried about what the other side might do to me after the verdict. Even though they were there to protect me, I didn’t feel safe. I guess it was because they couldn’t protect me from the one thing I was actually afraid of, the guilt I had inside. But all I had to do was look in the eyes of my people for them to reassure me that I had no choice but to take care of my own. I had to protect Paco no matter what went down. We all knew, that no matter what, I wasn’t going to rat on my homeboy. He would give his life for me, without hesitation, the same way I would give mine for his. All I had to do was sit there and lie about what had happened that night. The night when Paco was only proving, once again, that he would do anything for his main girl. He was only protecting me, and sending out a warning not to mess with me again.

On the other side of the courtroom were the family members of the guy who was being falsely accused of murder. Those people, his family and his friends, of course, were looking at me with rage. I knew why, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t afraid of them. They were our rivals and they had it coming. They had already killed one of our friends, and they had jumped me a couple of weeks before. Then one person on his side caught my eye. Her look wasn’t filled with rage, there was strength and sadness, which made it painfully familiar. She looked at me, tears rolling down her cheeks, and hugged the little girl on her lap.

When I saw her tears, a little voice inside of me whispered very quietly, “Doesn’t she remind you of someone you love more than anyone else in the world?” I tried to ignore the little voice, but then the voice spoke louder. It told me that this woman was my mother, and that little girl was me. I couldn’t help but stare back, imagining how life would be for that little girl without her father. I pictured her waiting for her father to come home, knowing he wasn’t. I pictured her visiting him, and not being able to touch him because of an unbreakable window, and I imagined her wanting to unlock his cage, knowing she couldn’t. The same memories I have of my father in prison. The woman looked at me again, and I could see that she was suffering the same way my mother suffered when my dad and brother went to prison. I wondered how they could be so different. My mother is Mexican and this woman black, yet the emotions that made them cry came from a heart that was tearing apart the same way.

Throughout my life I’ve always heard the same thing: “You can’t go against your own people, your own blood.” It got so engraved in my head that even as I sat on the witness stand, I kept thinking of those same words. “You can’t go against your own …” Yet, my so-called familia, my so-called people, had put me in the worst position of my life. My feelings were starting to change. I began to have second thoughts. I was convinced that I was going to lie before I entered the courtroom, before I saw the woman, before I saw the little girl, but now I wasn’t so sure.

Suddenly, his lawyer interrupted my thoughts by busting out with questions. Who shot the guy? Then I looked at my friend. He was just staring at me with a smug look on his face. He wasn’t worried about anything even though he was guilty, even though he knew I had witnessed everything. When he shot the guy he looked at me and said, “This is for you.” He knew I was going to lie, he knew that I had always had his back before, so I had no reason to turn on him now. I turned to look at him, and my eyes started getting watery. He was surprised, as if it wasn’t a big deal, but this time it was a big deal.

Then I glanced at my mom, she shook her head, and it was as if she knew that I wanted to say the truth. I never told her what actually happened that night, but she knew my friend had done it. When she had asked me what I was going to say, I told her, “I’m going to protect my own … you know how it is. You have to know, you and every other person in my family taught me about my own.”

“I know how it is, but why does it always have to be that way?” She never spoke that way to me before, after all, my father is in prison and most of my family is in a gang. I always figured that my mom accepted how things were. That’s just the way things go when you’re in a gang. Then she asked me, “How does it feel to be sending an innocent person to prison? You probably feel like that man that sent your father to prison knowing he was innocent, you know, he was only protecting his own, too.” And for the first time in my life, the image of my mother made me believe that I could change the way things were. Because at that moment I locked eyes with Paco and said, “Paco did it. Paco shot the guy!”

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Thursday, September 1st, 2011

MOVIE: MR. DESTINY – What I Might Have Been

A few months back, I had the weirdest Facebook request ever. My email account sent a message that read, “Randall Dunn wants to be your friend.”

I’ve always wanted to be my own best friend, so I would never be alone. Still, I assumed it was some bizarre internet glitch.

But it wasn’t. It was actually another person named Randall Dunn, a boy who looked much like I did at age ten. I thought about the “Twilight Zone” episode in which a woman sees herself – same coat and hair and face – getting onto a bus outside some diner. She later learns that she has spotted a doppelganger, her exact double from a parallel universe.

So I clicked “Ignore”, then ran from the room, screaming in terror. I tried shouting, “Help! I’m after me!” But no one responded.

… Okay, actually, I made all that stuff up. Except for the part about the kid who looked like me. He’s still out there somewhere …

Seeing a mirror image of yourself makes you consider the direction you’ve taken in life. That can make you happy about the decisions you’ve made, or make you run away screaming. Especially if you see a more innocent version of yourself, before you made all those really bad choices. Where could you have taken your life by simply choosing something better?

In the film, “Mr. Destiny”, Larry Burrows (Jim Belushi) feels he’s let himself down in life. His life isn’t bad. It’s just nothing to brag about. Larry never came close to realizing his dreams.

One fateful night, Larry determines that he would have succeeded in life if he had only accomplished one thing: catching that fly ball to win the game for his high school baseball team. Instead, he dropped the ball on that fateful day, dropping all of his future hopes with it. For the rest of his life, he remained a loser – the guy who had lost the game all those years ago.

A mysterious bartender named Mike (Michael Caine) discusses Larry’s problem, and – unbeknownst to Larry – grants him his wish. When Larry leaves the bar and heads home, his wife, Ellen (Linda Hamilton), refuses to let him in. The next morning, he returns to the drudgery of his job. But everyone now treats him with respect, awe, and a little bit of fear. Larry soon learns that everyone thinks he’s the company president.

He eventually discovers that his life story has been altered. In this alternate reality, he actually did catch that baseball and win for his team. As a result, everyone – including Larry – started viewing him differently: as a success.

Thrilled, Larry finds that he now lives in a mansion filled with expensive sportscars, champagne, and his wife, Cindy Jo (Rene Russo), the most sought-after girl from his high school. All his dreams have come true in a single night!

A few months after I graduated college, I applied for an acting/modeling job. (I was not always fat.) The recruiters liked my face and wanted to add my name to a list of models for jeans and other clothes at nearby stores. They would pay for my flights whenever they sent me to an exhibition in California or elsewhere, and such jobs often led to other job opportunities for acting. But they warned that I would have to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice, because they might call me in the middle of the week and would need me to fly me out the next day.

I was really intrigued, but I couldn’t accept their terms. I had no job, but I had just agreed to start directing weekly dramas for my church, so I couldn’t be “on call” for them. Of course, I could have simply backed out of the drama ministry. We had a small church and I had only directed a few dramas, so it wouldn’t make much difference to stop doing something that we had only started a month before. But I didn’t feel right about breaking my promise to my pastor and my church.

Over the years, I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I had said “yes”, and actually become a model and Hollywood actor. I might have become rich and famous, and instead of blogging to you now, I would be giving a TV interview about my latest film role. Or promoting my new line of health care products or salad dressing with my face on the cover.

But I said “no”, so I don’t know what I might have gained by choosing that path. I can only tell you what I would have lost.

I would have lost the drama ministry at my church that helped me improve my writing and changed a lot of people’s lives.

I would have moved away to Hollywood, losing contact with family and friends that have supported me so much over the years, and with whom I’ve laughed, cried, and created lifelong memories.

I wouldn’t have been there for my brother, Robert, at a time when he needed my help, which resulted in him joining our church and working with me in the drama ministry. The same church and drama ministry that his girlfriend, Laura, later joined. The same church they were married in.

I wouldn’t have gotten to watch their kids grow up.

I wouldn’t have found a different job, through which I met my best friend, Thom Reese. We wouldn’t have gotten together time and time again to discuss our writing plans and goals, along with other dreams for our families and our faith.

I wouldn’t have learned about the Write-to-Publish Conference in Wheaton, Illinois, to which I commuted nearly every summer, learning most of what I know about writing and publishing.

I wouldn’t have learned how to be a good husband and father. It’s hard to learn that when you’re surrounded by people who live in the fast lane of luxury, feeling constant pressure to compromise their principles. It was much easier to learn it as part of a small church, in close proximity with people who strived to honor God and bless their families. As one of the few singles in the church, I got to observe families working through marital struggles and figuring out how to raise their kids before having to learn it through my own experiences. Through the church, I learned how real families stay strong.

I wouldn’t have met my wife. I might have married someone else and been rich, but we wouldn’t have laughed together as much as Nicki and I do. I might have married some supermodel, but I doubt her face would light up with the same love and joy that Nicki has when she’s hugging me or holding our daughter. I might have even found a woman who wanted to adopt a child, but that child would not have been as clever, funny or frighteningly energetic as Abby.

In “Mr. Destiny”, it doesn’t take long for Larry to discover the downside of his new “dream” life. His closest friends now avoid him whenever possible. When he does talk with them, they’re stunned and edgy, expecting him to threaten their jobs.

Not only has Larry become the boss, he’s become a cold-hearted boss.

His former wife, Ellen, another company employee, has been actively campaigning against Larry and his ruthless corporate strategies. When Larry realizes how much Ellen loathes him, he seeks her out, only to find that she wants nothing to do with him.

Larry finally realizes that he was better off with his old life. He didn’t have the fastest cars or the biggest mansion or the most alluring wife. But he could still respect the person he saw in the mirror.

My family and I have struggled over the years. There are things that I wish I hadn’t done. Choices I wish I hadn’t made. Circumstances I would rather have avoided.

But there’s one choice I don’t regret making. One temptation I don’t regret walking away from. I’m glad I chose to stick around and live a simpler life, rather than devote my life to glitz and glamour. At the time, all I had was a small church and a simple commitment to help start a drama ministry. I had no idea it would result in more wisdom, more friendships, more writing experience, and a beautiful family.

No matter how I got here, I really like the place that I’m in right now.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

Find more reviews of “Mr. Destiny” at amazon.com!

 

Thursday, December 31st, 2009