Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking Back On 2013: Walking In Jake Holman's Shoes

Warning: Spoilers for the movie "The Sand Pebbles" below!

Reflecting on the previous year (in this case, 2013) is something many people do at this time of year. For me, I thought of the movie "The Sand Pebbles" and Steve McQueen's character Jake Holman.
First, I'd like to give my kudos to Steve McQueen. When I was a kid, he was the coolest guy on the planet. I loved watching him in movies like Bullitt (cop), The Great Escape (soldier), and The Magnificent Seven (gunfighter). From what I heard, he was an avid motorcycle rider which I could really appreciate as well. He also fits into the quintessential American template: tough, cynical, rebellious, resourceful, and gritty. For some reason guys like him, Clint Eastwood, Humphrey Bogart, and yes, Bug Bunny resonate with me.

Watching "The Sand Pebbles" as a kid I enjoyed the action but not fully understanding the social and political issues that it was addressing. I also didn't give much thought to the personal growth of Jake Holman, Steve McQueen's character. He starts his new assignment as chief engineer of the San Pablo which is part of a peacekeeping force in 1926 China (during its revolution). His desire is to only do his job, working on a machine that is predictable and in many ways simple. I can relate to this as a software engineer, there's no emotion and only instructions and algorithms that drive a computer. What's difficult for Holman and for me in 2013 is that the social, political (in his case), emotional and relational complexities will take our simple world and cause us to question, feel, challenge and change our perceptions in life. Jake has to decide how he's going to react to the growing tensions with his shipmates, with the missionaries and with the revolutionaries who are all in conflict. Along the way he ends up shooting his close friend to end the torture he's enduring. He also has to decide where his loyalties truly lie. All of this is happening during a shifting landscape of a country in turmoil. 2013 for me felt a lot like that as I dealt with my own emotional frailties, my own personal failures, health issues (shingles) and relationship problems while activities around me (the birth of my first grandchild, the sickness and passing of my father, the sudden death of my cousin, being fired from a ministry position that I poured my heart into) continued to shift the landscape of my life.

"I was home. What happened? What the hell happened?"
Jake Holman: The Sand Pebbles

Ecclesiastes 1:17-18
Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

One of the most obvious things that both Holman and I experience is pain. In the past few years I've been trying more and more to live by my heart. That can have incredible highs like the awesomeness of holding Maddie, my granddaughter. It also means fully feeling the depth of pain. Holman's quote is his dying words and shows his longing for what is safe and familiar. I kept remembering this quote during some of my dark times this year. Holman is shot and killed in a foreign country basically behind enemy lines - home will never again be his. For me, I had to let go of my childhood home when we sold it after my dad's passing. Sometimes in the shock of pain you will wonder just what is going on; that happened quite often for me this year.
My Childhood Home

We all try to avoid pain. We insulate ourselves from it, deny it and medicate ourselves from it. I'm being taught right now to try find the positives in pain. It's a hard process since pain is sometimes unbearable. I know that pain is one of God's most powerful teachers and in some way His love can shine through it. I admit that I am truly still learning how to apply this. Somewhere inside of the pain we can find some rays of light into the reasons behind what is happening.
I was once told that Jake Holman's name has a double meaning. By the end of the film he has in fact become a much more "whole man". The simple questions and denial of the heart are slowly replaced with new feelings, thoughts and ideals. He is much more in touch with his heart because of the combat, conflict and loss he has experienced. My hope is (as I bid farewell to 2013) is that perhaps my personal growth mirrors his (I'd also like to hope I'm just as cool as he is too!): a Whole Man.

Finally, Happy New Year, 2014 to all! May you find God's path to wholeness each and every day.

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