Feb 1, 2010


This past weekend I went to the cinema with some friends and saw the film, Precious. Here is a short synopsis from Hollywood.com:

"Set in Harlem in 1987, it is the story of Claireece Precious Jones, a sixteen-year-old African-American girl born into a life no one would want. She's pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother, a poisonously angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos, and Precious has reached the ninth grade with good marks and an awful secret: she can neither read nor write. Precious may sometimes be down, but she is never out. Beneath her impassive expression is a watchful, curious young woman with an inchoate but unshakeable sense that other possibilities exist for her. Threatened with expulsion, Precious is
offered the chance to transfer to an alternative school, Each One/Teach One. Precious doesnt know the meaning of alternative, but her instincts tell her this is the chance she has been waiting for. In the literacy workshop taught by the patient yet firm Ms. Rain, Precious begins a journey that will lead her from darkness, pain and powerlessness to light, love and self-determination."

This movie is certainly not a "feel-good" movie. "Viewer discretion" is certainly advised. It's raw. It's brutal. It's depressing, really. But I'm glad I saw it because it stirred something within me and I hope that it would do the same for anyone else who sees it. The young actress who plays Precious was born to play this role, in my opinion. Movies these days are full of pointless profanity and violence, but occasionally one comes along that actually gives meaning to it all. And since most of us aren't going to move to Harlem and live this young girl's life, seeing a film like this is probably as close as any of us are going to get to understanding what it must be like to be born into and live under such circumstances. And once you're aware of it, you want to do something about it.

The day after seeing the movie, I went with my friend to a Community of Christ meeting (formerly known as the RLDS church). The meeting was simple and I enjoyed it. Since there were only 5 or 6 of us and we were in a private home, there was no organ or hymn singing, but they played some spiritually uplifting music on CD. One of the songs they chose was by one of my favourite groups, Secret Garden, the Norwegian-Irish duo who composed the original version of "You Raise Me Up" (the song made famous by Josh Groban). The song they chose to play is called "Sometimes A Prayer Will Do" and the vocalist is the same African American gospel artist who sang in the original version of "You Raise Me Up." My friend and I both reflected upon the movie of the previous night as we heard the song and I think we both felt pretty moved.

The movie's tagline is:

"Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is
rich. Life is precious."

Indeed. But sadly, I think that many get stuck in the "painful" parts, never to attain the "rich," and are robbed of the "precious."

So I've been thinking about the huge gap between my life and that of a person like Precious. How do we bridge that gap? How do we truly "bear one another's burdens?" I can sit and cry about her circumstances, and my heart can be filled with all the compassion in the world. But how does that help her?

I'd like to believe that "sometimes a prayer will do," but sometimes it just seems so horribly inadequate.


J G-W said...

We saw this movie too... I knew I had to see it, but put off seeing it for a long time because I knew it would not be easy to watch. I was right. But I am very glad we saw it.

You know, there is a danger of indulging in pity when you see a film like this... Pity distances us from the truth of the suffering.

The film really is about human resourcefulness; about the ability to transcend one's own circumstances no matter how painful. It's also about the importance of love, and the faith and hope that are created when one human being reaches out to another human being in love...

We all have to make the journey that Precious makes... We all have to search deeply within, find out what it really is that we want in life, and then keep faith with our deepest desires, despite the obstacles that tell us we're nothing, or that would have us give up and wallow in self-pity.

You also realize that sometimes even the smallest, most minuscule steps can be an utter triumph. I came away from that movie feeling that there are no excuses left...

Bored in Vernal said...

Thank you for this review--it's a movie that just wouldn't have been on my radar if I hadn't read this.

I struggle with the questions you ask here because my life is so insular. I have good intentions, but I never seem to get beyond the figurative four walls of my own home.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"We all have to make the journey that Precious makes... We all have to search deeply within, find out what it really is that we want in life, and then keep faith with our deepest desires, despite the obstacles that tell us we're nothing, or that would have us give up and wallow in self-pity."

Very true, JGW. I don't want to confuse compassion with pity. I guess what I'm left asking myself is what I (or society in general) can do to help bridge the gap between the state that people like Precious are in, and those of us who have so much. After watching the movie, my friends and I were discussing the need to elevate the competence and status of social workers.

BiV, I can tell you that I haven't been so moved by anything since I read A Thousand Splendid Suns. Totally different story, but my reaction was much the same.

J G-W said...

Speaking as a foster parent with some experience dealing with social workers... Many are extremely competent and compassionate and do an excellent job. But many (most probably) are overworked, and can't do as good a job as they would like. Probably the best thing the state could do is hire more of them!!

The same thing holds true for the teaching profession...!

I didn't see the movie as any sort of indictment of social workers... The mother was deliberately deceiving them (and intimidating everyone around her into collaborating with her deceit). The movie portrays them as fairly sympathetic, and as pretty much doing the right thing, once they get the correct information.

Of course the character in the movie who really makes a difference is the alternative school teacher (and to a lesser extent the principal at her old school, who did what she could to keep Precious in school). What Precious really needed was somebody who believed enough in her worth to make her believe in it herself...

The Faithful Dissident said...

I hope that the film will actually inspire people to become social workers. Watching the mother deceive them in the movie, I was thinking about how frustrating it must be for them. They must feel like their hands are tied. It's a thankless job for the most part, no doubt. That's why I mentioned the need to raise the status of social workers and inner-city public school teachers. They're underappreciated and probably undertrained, but they are probably the ones who have the most power and influence over a situation such as Precious'.

J G-W said...


Anonymous said...

Columbia University is something of an island of economic stability within Harlem, which was by no means the toughest place in the city to live.

When we were first married, I moved into my wife's apartment where the Columbia campus met Harlem. The need and the contrast within just a block or two were emotionally overwhelming. I never felt the inadequacy of either church or government to meet such needs more.

I think the "precious" part refers both to the worth of the individual soul, and to the price required to retrieve even one of them from the despair of the sub-culture once it has come into being.

The wealth required is going to be immense, so perhaps beyond prayer, we have to be willing to repress other demands for consumption by church or government first.

Oh, and FD, you see that I wasn't kidding about having a ward in your living room?


The Faithful Dissident said...

"I think the "precious" part refers both to the worth of the individual soul, and to the price required to retrieve even one of them from the despair of the sub-culture once it has come into being."

That was profound, Fire Tag. :)

"The wealth required is going to be immense, so perhaps beyond prayer, we have to be willing to repress other demands for consumption by church or government first."

Very true. I was glad to hear yesterday on CNN that Obama has scrapped plans to go to the moon on the grounds that it's too expensive. I guess there are more pressing issues. :)

"Oh, and FD, you see that I wasn't kidding about having a ward in your living room?"

Haha. Actually, it wasn't all that much smaller than my branch, so it didn't feel weird. They seemed like a nice group of people. Kerstin (the pastor) is German, married to a Norwegian, and I have to admit that it was neat to have a woman "in charge." :)

I liked how everyone knelt around a table when the sacrament was blessed. Not sure whether that's something that you do in bigger congregations, or whether they just do it that way because there are so few of them.

Kerstin mentioned how "Heavenly Father" was changed to "Heavenly Parent" in the sacrament prayer a few years ago. I think that a lot of Mormons would take offense at that, as if to say that the CofC has emasculated God or made him female. But I was also reminded of a podcast I heard with Claudia Bushman (wife of Richard Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling ). I wouldn't say she's a radical by any means and she's a member in good standing, but she also considers herself a feminist and I thought it was interesting that she voiced a personal theory she had that God could be both genders, since the scripture says we were created in his image, male and female. It's kind of hard to wrap my brain around it, but hey, if there are intersex people, who knows? I was wondering whether you have any more insight into why/what prompted this change (i.e. "Heavenly Parent") in the CofC.

Fire Tag, I really enjoyed the Mormon Stories podcasts with John Hamer. As I was listening, I was wondering how the CofC is able to reconcile certain aspects of Joseph Smith's life with their faith, the main ones being:

a) Since the CofC denounced polygamy from the beginning and eventually discovered it was mistaken in its claim that Joseph Smith never practiced it, I wonder how he was/is regarded in the RLDS/CofC. Do you regard him as an inspired man, or a prophet? Or even perhaps a fallen prophet?

b) I'm curious about how the CofC regards the First Vision. Since Joseph Smith claimed to have seen two separate beings -- both men -- I wonder how members are able to reconcile that with changes such as addressing gender neutral God and faith in the trinity.

After the meeting, we chatted briefly to an older man who has been a member since the 80's. He said that he had been a member of the LDS Church and loved many things about it, met some great people -- especially the missionaries, who he thought were lovely people -- but ultimately he felt stifled and pressured to believe certain things that he didn't feel comfortable with. The way he described it in Norwegian was "jeg er en person som trenger stor takhøyde," which is to say, "I am a person that needs a lot of overhead room." (It sounds better in Norwegian. :) Anyways, I think the point he was trying to make was that he felt he needed freedom of intellect and to be able to have some of his own ideas. And so he has been very happy all these years in CofC.

Anonymous said...


Kneeling facing the altar is standard practice except in cases of infirmity. What was interesting was that the Sacrament was held on the last Sunday of the month; it is more typical to have the Sacrament on the first Sunday of the month. THAT may reflect the small group size.

The church began allowing either the traditional D&C versions of the prayers or a more gender-neutral version some years ago. The discretion of which prayer version to use goes to the presiding officer for the service. Normally the decision will be based on the feelings of the congregation in order to avoid giving offense either way, but either version may be used in a given congregation during the year.

We do try to emphasize keeping the Sacrament fresh and meaningful, so we do tend to vary things a bit from month to month.

Even when we use traditional language (and carry such an image in our head from childhood), we haven't embedded the concept that God is a human male into any theology.

The presence of human personages in the First Vision (which we hold as a testimony rather than a Scripture) is, in our theology, an accomodation God makes to limits of the human mind rather than something inherent in God's own make-up. For example, we don't argue that God is a plant because God chose to appear to Moses in the form of a Burning Bush. :D

Once the notion of the relationship of God to a PARTICULAR physical form goes away (we'd be nonplussed if space probes discovered a planet of intelligent, God-worshipping starfish) the theology about the eternal family diverges rapidly between the two denominations. The CofChrist can stay very mainstream Christian on these questions.

And you've read and commented on some of my personal ideas about how the Eternal Family works in the thread "You've Read this Post Before" and "Duality and Divinity". Which I guess proves we allow lots of intellectual freedom even to people with absolutely bizarre ideas like me.

We also recognize that prophets make mistakes; prophets criticize previous prophets, and have pulled, with the consent of the world conference, previous sections from the D&C when we could not reconcile them with the larger body of accepted Scripture.

It's theologically scary, but we are ultimately responsible for our own souls.


Anonymous said...

FireTag, you touch on an interesting issue. God is not twin-gendered — Elohim (plural of El, or God) is he and his wife. Mother and Father. That's how we were created in his image; that's how we are co-creators with him with our spouses.

So simple, yet so shocking to many people. No, we don't talk much about the Mother, but she's there.

Anonymous said...


I guess in the framework I come from in the CofChrist, I do not think of being created in God's image as having ANYTHING to do with human form. I am quite confident that God has other children who look nothing like humans. (Guess that comes about when our two churches differ as to whether the Book of Abraham is scriptural.)

And in the framework of my training as a physicist, I don't think time is going to be related to concepts like "preexistence" or "afterlife" in a way that has much to do with "pre" or "after".

I think both of those things are real concepts about the relationship of the spiritual and physical, but the limitations of human language, which is limited to the temporal, is more misleading than helpful.

Mormonheretic said...

Great post FD. It looks like a tough film to watch, along the lines of Shindler's List, Hotel Rwanda, or even Awakenings. The most moving films deal with the toughest subject matter.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Fire Tag, thanks for answering those questions. I think I get it better now.

The CofC Oslo congregation meets only about once a month or every three weeks, probably because there are so few of them and the pastor has young kids. At the end of the meeting, the members talked about when they would meet next at the end of February. I think they sometimes meet in different homes of the members.

"FireTag, you touch on an interesting issue. God is not twin-gendered — Elohim (plural of El, or God) is he and his wife. Mother and Father. That's how we were created in his image; that's how we are co-creators with him with our spouses. So simple, yet so shocking to many people."

It's been interesting as I've been looking at some different faiths and thinking about my own from a much different perspective. It has occurred to me that what is "simple" or "shocking" can really vary from person to person. When I was a teenager and used to go out with the sister missionaries and meet with good, seemingly very sincere people, it always puzzled me why some just couldn't accept the LDS truths since they were just so OBVIOUSLY true to me. I would always blame the investigator as not being sincere enough, not having enough faith, etc, etc. But now I just think there's a lot more to it than that. Right now I'm studying Hinduism and it's not at all what I thought it was. I really love it and although some of it seems a little "out there" to me, much of it makes perfect sense. I think that what "speaks" to us as individuals really is influenced very heavily by our life experience, culture, personality, world view, etc. -- much more than we are aware of.

MH, it's definitely a very moving film. A word of caution, there is a lot of bad language in it. Usually that amount would make me hate the movie, but in this one it's almost as if it was necessary to portray the reality of the main character's life and the mother's deeply disturbed personality.

Anonymous said...

I'll be awaiting a post about what you find in Hinduism. I'll be particularly interested in whatcyou think about the destroyer aspects of divinity in that religious view.


The Faithful Dissident said...

Sounds interesting, Fire Tag. I'm reading The Idiot's Guide To Hinduism. It got great reviews, supposed to be a very good intro to the faith. I'll let you know if it mentions the destroyer aspects. I've just read about their view on the age of the world, their cyclical view of time, how history keeps on repeating itself, etc. It got me thinking about that scripture in D&C about how God has created "worlds without number." Maybe the worlds without number have been on the same planet all these years. :)

Anonymous said...

Exact copies of earth do recur as a consequence of space or time being infinite in most modern cosmological theories.

I remember sitting in a forum in Independence a few years ago (with a couple of the 12 and at least one of the Presidency in the audience. There was a panel going on from local "clergy" of various world religions. I remember thinking that the guy telling me that everyone was worth treating as family because everyone would be family sometime or other was probably closest to my thinking of anyone in the room.

I think you'll find the destroyer aspects of Hindu belief under Shiva.

Kaylanamars said...

I concur, FD. Wonderful post. I just bought the book to read and then maybe the movie later on. Right now I'm studying up on Martin Luther King, Jr and black history. It's really opening my eyes more and more to white culture and society and how that inevitably leads to less opportunities and equality for minorities. It's so hard to even imagine what it's like. I don't have a great answer on what can be done...I think awareness is a big one. Being aware of inherent racism in white culture and society is a big step. so opening my eyes up to these inherent problems has been big...also when I read Black and Mormon which contains so many of the same themes...I just get so angry at it all.

Anyway, great post and discussion.

Anonymous said...

I see your friend mg has just become a columnist at saintsherald.com. I'm sure his ideas will add to the discussions there.


The Faithful Dissident said...

Yes, he and John Hamer got into contact with each other on another forum and John thought he would be a perfect fit. I look forward to reading his work there! :)