That is what people do

I was re-watching a wonderful movie called “The Book Thief.” The story is about an adopted girl who survives in Poland post the invasion by Nazi Germany. She learns from her step-father (and step-mother) about treating others with kindness and humanity as they hide a Jewish friend in their basement and he speaks out in favor of a half-Jewish man who is being taken away by the soldiers. When she does something similar, her step-mother says “you are just like your father.” When she asks why is that so bad, she adds to her question, by saying “That is what people do.”

In our increasingly adversarial world where helping people becomes harder given the politicization of every issue, we sometimes lose sight of what people do. I often quote Gandhi who noted that a society’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of the least fortunate. In the Christian bible it is noted that “there but by the grace of God go I,” when describing the need to help those less fortunate. And, Jesus noted when you help people who have the least, you are honoring him.

When there is a tragedy, a flood, fire, hurricane, earthquake, mudslide,tornado or tsunami, we eagerly help people in need. Yet, today when people are in need because of generational poverty in areas where opportunities do not exist and hope is hard to find, we tend to define groups as less worthy. We seem to look to pat reasons why they are in poverty oftentimes blaming the victims of poverty more than we should or if at all. As I have noted, many of the poor I work with as a volunteer, have multiple jobs and work their fannies off.

We need to look rationally at the conditions that cause poverty and make sustainable efforts to remedy these conditions. This takes a longer level of commitment, as decades old problems can rarely be solved overnight. I ask that we look into our hearts as well as our heads to do what people do and help those in need. Help them find ways to climb ladders out of poverty. But, show the desire to help that we each have smoldering within us.

That is what people do. To do otherwise, is not very humanitarian.

Two movie reviews – one must see, one must not

We have a wonderful, locally and colorfully run video store in my city. It is organized in a genre fashion, with new releases on one wall. The manager and staff are eclectic people with large hearts and extensive movie knowledge, so it makes it a fun excursion when we go. We stopped by and picked up a couple of new releases to view this long weekend – “August: Osage County” and “The Book Thief.” I will not spoil these movies, but provide observations of what is in store for you if you rent them.

“August: Osage County” is a well-directed and well acted movie about one of the most dysfunctional families you will witness. We rented it because of the talented list of actors: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Julianne Nicholson, et al. With that said, unless your goal is to watch a loud and hateful train wreck of a family to make you feel better about your own challenges, my suggestion is to put it back on the shelf. There are only three redeeming characters in the whole movie, with all the others cursing and yelling throughout.

On the flip side, “The Book Thief” was a terrific movie based on the novel by Markus Zusak and set in Nazi Germany prior to and through World War II. Liesel is an adopted girl whose little brother dies on the train ride to their adopted family. She becomes the book thief, as she wants to learn to read and is encouraged by her adopted Papa and a young Jewish man, Max, who they are hiding in their basement. Liesel is played by Sophie Nelisse, while Geoffrey Rush plays a very kind-hearted Papa to his wife’s pragmatic and cool Mama played by Emily Watson. Ben Schnetzer plays Max.

Liesel is befriended by a young boy Rudy who is loyal to her. Yet, she has to keep the secret of their family’s hiding of Max or all of them will get in trouble. So, she cannot tell even Rudy until he surmises later what’s happening. The key to the movie is her love of books and how they are essential to keeping their humanity when all around them human decency is under brutal attack. This love of reading befriends her to even the burgermeister’s wife who helps because of her own love of reading, at a time when books are being burned. The woman observes Liesel saving a book from a smoldering fire as she looks on forelornly.

So, I would highly recommend the latter movie and advise you to stay away from the former. “The Book Thief” is also well acted, but the story has characters and a plot that have redeeming value to them.  While drawn to Sophie, I particularly liked Rush’s Papa character. If you have seen either or both movies, I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, if you read “The Book Thief” which I have not, please let me know how it stacks up to the movie and vice-versa.