Monday, August 8, 2011


While overseas, access to choice films was limited. In my search for engaging entertainment, I stumbled across the movie "Ink." It's a B fantasy movie with a plot that rises and falls primarily in the dream world. The film is rather simple; the special effects are mostly tricks of light and shadows, which is actually a pleasant relief from the sensory overload in the big budget flicks. The good guys represent light (good dreams), and the bad guys can only project light (nightmares). Though based on what happens in our dreams, it could just as easily relate to the battle I imagine happening in the spirit world: invisible entities going at it Matrix-style, fighting for our spiritual liberation with a backward elbow thrust to the throat, or a gentle forehead touch. In this way, Ink managed to nudge this viewer's consciousness from passively viewing a fantasy to more actively considering what might be happening in our spiritual reality.

The best line in the film is this: "You know, the downward spiral is essentially a chain thing begets the next: a man has a weakness, he's flawed. That flaw leads him to guilt. The guilt leads to shame, the shame he compensates with pride and vanity and when that pride fails, despair takes over and they all lead to his destruction which will become his fate. Something's gotta stop the flow."

Those who know their headed downhill are in the best position in terms of recovery; at least they are aware of their direction. Awareness is the step we take right before we decide to do something about our fall. But many times, people are completely unaware. This is a most dangerous station in life, since whatever ends up stopping the flow to jolt us awake is often so violent and shocking it almost always seems unfair, unjustified, or flat out wrong. Yet, this is usually exactly what is necessary for change to happen.

Without a flow stop, we rely on our own perception and conscious, which can be as jaded and corrupt as our flaws. Ink reveals what happens when we are left to our own devices; pride and vanity serve as a cocoon, a shell in which we incubate into otherness not of the Spirit, but of our small selves. Our mini-me's run around believing we are more (or less) than we are. If we continue on in this direction, we find ourselves living a waking nightmare, or - as in the case of the father character in this film - an incubus. His daughter is trapped in a nightmare which is directly connected to his own spiraling condition. To escape, a blind Pathfinder must create an interruption in the chain reaction to “Shake the shit out of him” - in essence, to stop the flow.

In the movie, a major traffic accident does the trick. But in life, what might that flow stop look like? This inquiry led me to a quick prayer that my Lord would not require such a dramatic catalyst. But then I started thinking of a different approach altogether. What if we back up the chain reaction a bit: suppose we took out a couple necessary links in the chain that lead to the decent? Take guilt and shame, for instance. What if our flaws no longer lead to either one? What if the perception of the flaw is no longer considered a problem, and is instead reduced, excused or even embraced? Without one or the other, would the reaction even take place?

The one film that has remained among my top five all time favorites is Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. When I first viewed this classic, I loved it for all the right reasons: the art of love, the love of art, the film’s sense of texture, the rhythms, bold colors, vivid passion, and raw human emotion. I was in my late twenties and I must have watched that movie every day for weeks. The soundtrack of the film was my musical mantra. I even painted my apartment walls to match the mood of the film. I could identify with Maya in every aspect of her life from beginning to end.

Fifteen years later, I still love it for the reasons mentioned, but the script takes on new meaning at age 40. Having memorized most of lines, one kept coming up after I watched Ink. Raja, a favored concubine of a previous King, gives Maya a new perspective on the fuss and shame created by Maya’s illicit affair with the reigning King. “Honor and shame may be two sides of the same coin,” Raja says. Though this perspective casts light into Maya’s culturally mortifying mistake, the glimmer of hope is deceiving. Coins, after all can only project light. Maya learns to embrace and master her seductive gifts, but the chain reaction caused by her mastery is heartbreaking.

Nobody wants to feel guilty or ashamed. Most of us go through great lengths to relieve ourselves of these debilitating burdens. But they exist for a reason. No other creature on earth feels either way. These emotions are uniquely felt by humans. Some might say they are social constructions created by cultural rules or religion. I agree, but only to a certain degree because at our very core, in a deep spiritual place, we know when we are making a mistake. We know it because of the guilt and shame that follows our choice of direction.

I believe we need to feel guilt and shame as much as we need to feel honor and respect. Take away guilt and there is no opportunity for confession. Remove the shame, and there is no desire to repent. No repentance, no possibility of reconciliation, and no salvation. Without guilt from sin, there is no need to be saved from the death sin brings. Thus, destruction becomes our only fate. American culture and society is in the midst of such a downward spiral. Rather than waking up when the stop flows were put in place, such as 9/11 or the housing crisis, and now the A&P credit downgrade, American leaders distance themselves from any sense of guilt or shame, resorting instead to denial and blame. Their leadership is followed by the American masses resulting in the following impression: America has no shame.

When nearly every immoral act becomes culturally relative, or worse socially acceptable, guilt and shame serve no purpose in a society. Generally speaking, we are no longer held accountable for our own shameful behavior; someone or something in our environment, external to ourselves, is blamed for our own weaknesses and failures. Politicians blame the other party, corporate executives deny culpability. Private citizens hire service professionals to tell us our mistakes aren’t our fault, that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, that we’re doing the best we can with the information we have available. And if this doesn’t satisfy as sufficient excuse, one can always claim “the devil made me do it!” To an extent, both in a real world and a spiritual sense, this latter claim is viable, but ultimately it is not sustainable. In the long run, we all must come to terms with our responsibility for our own behavior.

This is difficult to do in a society where music and movies have reprogrammed what is right and wrong. What was historically gross immorality has become is perfectly acceptable, even reasonable today. Good is mocked as square or unrealistic at best, intolerant or narrow-minded being the surest way to ignore a right mind. The inevitable consequence of this reversal of poles might parallel what is happening in the natural world: sudden and dramatic tidalwaves of violence and chaos culminating into extreme degrees of cataclysmic, ground shaking events never before witnessed in the history of the world.

Despite all the reports clearly indicating that we are going in the wrong direction, the average American believes that changing or stopping the flow is simply not within his control. People with this mindset resign from being active agents in his or her own story. Looking at the big picture, we shrug our shoulders with a sigh, "It is what it is.” We swallow this pill for our personal wrong doing as well, "I am what I am." The apathy inherent in this false assumption is easier to live with than guilt and shame. When the conscious speaks out against the lie, the disharmony is too uncomfortable for most. The discomfort might be a stop-flow were it not for the prescription drug industry's ready supply of products to desensitize our anxious, depressed, or sleepless dysfunction.

I self-medicated for years to numb my own hypocrisy. When that failed I simply popped in my favorite movie that helped to justify elimination of both guilt and shame. “The fuss, the shame,” as Maya proclaimed, would melt away by Raja’s consolation. At the time, I was glad to be so open to other worldly views. I could embrace what suited my situation, picking this culture’s right to amend my wrong, thus easing my conscious. Cultural relativity tuned my discord into a harmony that allowed me to keep singing my blues without ever having to do anything about it.

Now, however, after having experienced a spiritual shaking of my shit, so to speak, things have become clearer. Though I’m not one to promote dichotomous thinking, I have a more definitive sense that differentiates righteousness from iniquity. My desensitized conscious was reborn and it is made alive by God’s word - which doesn’t change, whether we wants it to or not. Light will always win in the end, no matter how painful the truth is. This is the lesson in Ink: when we take responsibility for what we have done, or what we have failed to do, we are released from the burden of guilt and shame. This liberation empowers us to transform our lives and the lives of others. When the father accepts his part in the abduction of his child, he allows the light to come in. This revelation releases him from the hold of darkness, strengthening him in battle and leading him to victory. He is delivered from the spirits that were blinding him, but what ultimately gave him power to win - and this is where Americans will be called to act - came from choosing to remove the blindfold. But only he had the power to do this, no one could do it for him.

This movie was fiction. But the battle is real. Regardless of one’s beliefs, one need only read the headlines to see there are forces hard at work to minimize the effect of the flow stopper or simply remove the necessary links, guilt and shame, that might awaken the dreamers. If this continues, we can look forward to more of this: "....the love of many shall wax cold" (Matthew 24:12) and "People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having the form of godliness but denying its power... always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." (2 Timothy 3:2-7) Welcome to the year 2011.

The top stories today blatently declare our downward spiral. "Market Meltdown: Dow Plummets 634 points." "Chaotic Wave of Civil Disobedience:UK Riots Worst in Three Decades." "Black Man Run Down in Mississippi Hate Crime." "3.2 million People Starving in Somalia." This is not a dream. This is not a movie. This is both our physical and spiritual reality. Let us pray for what we really need; a little sense of guilt and shame can go a long way to mend a broken world. Should that fail, shakin’ the bleep out of some of us may be the next best bet.