CODA made history last night as the first film distributed by a streaming service to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Jessica Chastain won her first Oscar when she was named Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and Will Smith received his first Academy Award when he won for Best Actor in King Richard.
But the headline story is that after comedian Chris Rock made a joke about actor Smith’s wife during the evening, Smith ran up on stage and struck Rock in the face. He later apologized “to the Academy and to all my fellow nominees” during his acceptance speech.
Of course, the conflict on everyone’s mind and heart is the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Several attendees at the Oscars paid tribute to Ukraine in various ways. Actress Mila Kunis, who was born in Ukraine, has partnered with her husband Ashton Kutcher to raise more than $35 million in humanitarian aid for the Ukrainian people. “Recent global events have left many of us feeling gutted,” she said last night. “Yet when you witness the strength and dignity of those facing such devastation, it’s impossible to not be moved by their resilience. One cannot help but be in awe of those who find strength to keep fighting through unimaginable darkness.”
Russian Nobel Prize winner will donate his medal for Ukraine relief
Kunis’ moving statement is not the only positive story amidst the horrific war in Ukraine. Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov has announced he will auction off the Nobel Peace Prize he won last year to raise money for Ukrainian refugees. He also called on Russia to stop combat fire, exchange prisoners, provide humanitarian assistance and corridors, release the bodies of the dead, and support refugees.
The Academy Awards and Vladimir Putin’s immoral invasion of Ukraine have this in common: they illustrate the brevity and fragility of life.
Who won last year’s Best Actor award? Anthony Hopkins. Best Actress? Frances McDormand. Best Picture? Nomadland. (I had to look up each answer).
Here’s an illustration of human frailty and fallenness from the Ukraine invasion: radioactive materials are reportedly missing from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Experts warn that they could be combined with conventional explosives to create a “dirty bomb” that would spread contamination over a wide area.
The weekend news brought more examples of life’s fragility:
- A Colorado wildfire forced the evacuation of nineteen thousand people.
- Country music singer Jeff Carson died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-eight.
- Phil Collins, who has been dealing with health concerns for years, held his last concert ever in London.
- A man who fell to his death from a Dallas rooftop had planned to propose to his longtime girlfriend.
- A fourteen-year-old boy fell to his death from an Orlando amusement ride.
- A mother was shot and killed while visiting her late son’s grave on his birthday.
- A Montana hiker and father of four was killed when he was apparently attacked by a grizzly bear outside Yellowstone National Park.
- Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins died at the age of fifty.
- A police officer was gunned down in a Starbucks parking lot north of Seattle.
Prayer as a spiritual weapon
Last week, we discussed ways God uses his people to advance his kingdom and change their culture. Today, in the midst of our crises and challenges, as we face daily the brevity and fragility of life, let’s focus on ways our Father can change us.
In a Public Discourse article, philosopher Joshua Hochschild brilliantly describes the ways digital technology and social media are changing not just our world but also our minds. He explains that artificial intelligence is now using algorithms that predict our patterns of behavior, present us with customized digital stimuli, and thus shape what we think and do.
How should we defend ourselves? Professor Hochschild points us to “the power of prayer, sometimes described as a spiritual weapon.” He notes, “More than any other deliberate activity, prayer activates and directs the soul’s various modes of cognition, disciplining them and orienting them to deeper understanding of self and union with God.”
He recommends the prayer cycle in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises as a model:
- Composition: Exercise your imagination and memory to recall sins and visualize yourself in the presence of God.
- Analysis: Use your intellect to conceive, understand, and assent to truths (especially from Scripture, I would add), reasoning about their implications and contemplating their connections to your life.
- Colloquy: Reflect on what you have learned and resolve to make good decisions, “exerting the will in acts of humility and love.”
“So shall my courage be firm”
Jesus promised us, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5a). But he warned that the converse is also true: “for apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5b).
Charles Spurgeon was right: “The stream must flow constantly from the fountainhead, or else the brook will soon be dry.” To this end, let’s make Scottish minister John Baillie’s prayer ours:
“By your grace, O God, I will go nowhere today where you cannot come, nor seek anyone’s presence that would rob me of yours. By your grace I will let no thought enter my heart that might hinder my closeness with you, nor let any word come from my mouth that is not meant for your ear. So shall my courage be firm and my heart be at peace.”
Is your heart at peace today?
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