recently, the wife and i went with some friends to see don and lori chaffer hoop it up at a local baptist church. this particular performance, here at the local baptist church, was a fund raising effort to support a mission that builds fresh water wells in africa. along with the fund raiser, the local texas A&M bsu hosted a two week challenge with some fancy name that asked students to drink only water for two weeks and donate the money they regularly would have spent on sodas and coffee and (Baptist Faith and Message forbid) alcohol towards these wells. the idea being that a little sacrifice increases our awareness and our appreciation of others' needs. i could not agree more.
a sophomore bsu kid launched the evening with a gloomy, guilt filled explanation of the wells project. he piled on the accusations, seething with bitter vile for american excess and consumption. he charged us with being happy when we should mourn, with feasting when we should be fasting, with having plenty when we should be in want. and he let us know that when the children die in africa, it is because we shop at wal-mart. his speech made me feel gross, especially when i realized that i would have made the same speech at his age. that much religiously fueled zeal for godliness can lead to such fits of melodrama.
then don and lori stand up to a room grieving the extravagance of rock-n-roll. and don says, "hey, this well project is great." and he goes on about the true gospel need to realize our personal excesses in the face of others' needs. but then he turned the boat a little, and he extolled the spiritual power of celebration. he mentioned his own trips into impoverished places and how each place exploded as much with giving and celebration as with hunger and mourning. and he said something i'll paraphrase:
"one similarity i have always seen among people of true poverty is their ability to celebrate life. and i'm convinced, even though it may be the old hippy in me, that sometimes the greatest thing we can do here in our homes to destroy all this heaviness and hunger in the world is to lives lives of excessive celebration. and the best way to do that, the gospel of Christ way to do that, is to invite the poor into our excess and into our celebration. sacrifice alone does not complete the gospel."
my friend jon kever leaned over to me when don finished speaking and said, "that was maturity cleaning up the talk."
what i loved about don chaffer's voice that night, so solidly opposing the previous message of accusation, is what i loved about danny boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. there are plenty of films (like BABEL and BLOOD DIAMOND) which depict the depravity of international needs through a manipulative voice of despair and gloom. as a viewer, i do not walk away from these films with a hope to participate or engage in relief; instead, i walk away hating myself for being male and white, overly aware of my gratuitous love for expensive beer and for unnecessary varieties of block cheese. and in the wake of such manipulation i realize that guilt is not a propellent: it's an anaesthetic.
danny boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, although an intensely emotional rollercoaster, stands in direct opposition to the manipulative voice of despair. all at once, boyle's film is tragic and horrific, while also triumphant and beautiful. boyle pulls no punches showing his viewers the squalor and filth of india's slums, where children splash about in sewers and run barefoot over decaying heaps of garbage. boyle does not hide the reality of religious intolerance in india, or the fact that children are bought and sold into markets that capitalize on the perversion of their innocence. and boyle does not shy away from the greed that is born in poverty, or the contradiction between india's true landscape and the western vantage point of tourism. however, boyle shows all of this while simultaneously blinding his viewers with color and laughter. in the squalor, we still see the children rejoicing. in the black markets, we see the children fight back against their oppressors. in the face of greed, we see moments of true redemption. as a viewer, i walked away from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE both exhausted and exhilarated, having received a small glimpse of a poverty that grieves me and of a people that astound me with their celebration. the clashing of the two intrigue me, and i feel hungry to know more.
i easily give SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE 5 latrine dives out of 5. this is one film i will not easily forget.