Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mary Poppins (Part 3) - Take your kids to work day?

Take your daughters and sons to work day?

Who knew Mary Poppins thought of this one more than 80 years ahead of Gloria Steinem! And seeing how badly this "take your kids to work day" turned out in 1910, no wonder we waited till the 1990s to give it another try.

Where were we? Continuing from the last two posts, I see that a prominent theme in the Disney version of Mary Poppins is the transformation of the father, George Banks.  From the get-go, Mary announced she would stay as the Banks' nanny until the wind changed.  Before that happens, George faces more than a change in the weather - a major Victorian mid-life crisis.

Back in 1910:

Flustered by the disorder and nonsensical talk of fantastic adventures, George Banks decides to give Mary Poppins a good talking to. Poor George doesn't know what hit him when this clever nanny turns the conversation around.  He ends up believing that taking Jane and Michael for an outing at his bank is actually his idea. 

The following day, it's take your children to work day at the bank in London.  But Michael does not fully cooperate.  This good hearted son wishes to buy crumbs from the Bird Woman, which Mary Poppins told him about, instead of depositing his tuppence in his father's bank.

Michael's fight with his father's boss over the tuppence precipitates a panic among the depositors and a run on the bank.  Chaos ensues.  The Banks children run from the pandemonium in terror.  And George haplessly finds himself at the epicenter of the worst crisis since the last run on the bank in 1773 when their financing of a shipment of tea was destroyed in the Boston Tea Party.

The first part of this clip from those critical moments in the movie.  Bert's talk with the children, especially about their father. 

I love Bert, for he has great empathy for their father. Mr. George Banks has imprisoned himself in a cold cage of work. Yet, feeling quite alone, George carries on, uncomplaining, shouldering his burdens in silence as it seems there is no one looking out for him and to whom he can go for help when trouble comes.

Even Mrs. Banks ignores the needs of her frightened children as she pawns them off on Bert while rushing off to do her own thing. Sadly, the mother is absent, both physically and emotionally, at a time when both  her children and her husband need her support.

Fast forward to 2010:

Many of us have faced or will face or are now facing that same lonely road -  losing our jobs, coping with an unwelcome change in our way of life.  The definition of who we thought we were is threatened. When bad things happen, we may feel very alone and forsaken.

While keeping our noses to the grindstone, we have created quite a prison for ourselves.  What has our preoccupation with the cares of life gotten us when we see our world about to crumble?  Where do we go for help?  Sadly, family and friends, those closest to us, may seem absent from our pain, and they are not there for us, at least emotionally, self-absorbed, busy doing their own thing.

Rewind to 1910:

Poor George.  Suddenly, he realizes his dreams are shattered; his spirit crushed.   His whole world has turned upside unexpectedly, suddenly, and everything he has worked for, hoped for, his dreams which were within his grasp have evaporated, as he laments such to Burt in this clip.

Bert is wonderful here.  George is reminded that, while grinding at that grindstone, he was letting his family, especially his children slip away from him.  His son and daughter both look up to him and they need him.  Does he see that?  Meanwhile, time flies, and soon his children will be grown, gone away, and it will be too late. 

At this low point, there appears one bright spot as George sees the love of his children, and George's hard exterior starts to crack.

Rightly said the prophet:  " ... and a little child shall lead them."  (Isaiah 11:6)

Fast forward to 2010:

Many in 2010 face the same type of challenges:  the 2008 banking crisis, rising debt, serious recession, high unemployment, stock market devaluations, shrinking bank accounts. For many of us, our world has come crashing down. The affluence and good life we were chasing has suddenly evaporated.

Grind, grind, grind at that grindstone?  In spite of that, what has our diligence gotten us anyway?  Our dreams are shattered.  Our world has crumbled.  Time waits for no one as children, family, loved ones grow up, move on, and slip away from us ....

But this catastrophe can be transformed to a eucatastrophe as I conclude in the final post to come.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mary Poppins (Part 2) - It's a Wonderful Life?

Recap of Part 1:

Revisiting the Disney version of Mary Poppins as an adult, I see the real story is about the father, George Banks, whose struggles in 1910 are not different than for many of us in 2010.

Now, let me explain ...

Back in 1910:

For starters, George Banks enjoys a comfortable life as a banker in the London at the twilight of the Victorian age. England is a superpower at the turn of the 20th century. With Queen Victoria's passing in 1901, King Edward is on the throne - "The Age of Men."

In 1910 Mr. Banks sees himself as the benevolent dictator of his household, laced in the straight jacket of order and patterns. He seems to be at the top of this game with the life he leads, as shown in this video clip.

Mrs. Banks, involved in the women's suffrage movement, comes across as more engaged in throwing eggs at the prime minister than paying any attention to the serious business at home. She sloughs off the responsibility of raising her children to nannies, servants, and later even the local chimney sweep, Bert.

At the start of the movie, one of a long string of nannies quits in a huff after losing track of the children in the park. Clearly, Jane and Michael Banks have been acting out, though they hardly seem like hellions by today's standards.

It's a Wonderful Life?

The Banks are one dysfunctional family, disconnected from each other. For the bigger picture from history, World War One will soon arise from the horizon, bringing with its ugly devastation much disillusion, shaking and shrinking the British empire.

Fast forward to 2010:

Like England of a 100 years ago, America has risen to superpower status and has become the envy of the world in affluence and achievement.

Productivity is king. As a result, many Americans have become embroiled in work at the daily grindstone, putting in long hours during weekends and evenings, striving to climb the ladder of success or at least keep jobs in a troubling economy. Meanwhile, needs of spouses, significant others, children may be neglected as well as the workers own needs.

In 2010 with the barrage of 24/7 news coverage, there is an uneasy feeling as to what may be looming on the horizon. Another terrorist attack? A nuclear war? A Great Depression II? The situation in 2010 may not be that much different than that of George Banks' family back in 1910.

Rewind to 1910:

As the movie unfolds, Mary Poppins answers the desires of the children as their nanny of choice. Once hired on, she transports Jane and Michael from their stifling structured environs to magical adventures. As well as expanding their imagination, she administers the children a tender dose of humanity.

With her snowglobe of St. Paul's Cathedral, Mary gives the children a vision of the underclass, the working poor, living in the shadows of the affluent. Self-absorbed, consumed by the busy-ness of life, many seem to ignore the politically powerless, like the Bird Woman sitting at the cathedral steps selling her wares.

"Feed the Birds" is one of the loveliest, if not most poignant songs, in the movie. And Mary has a way of showing her employer, Mr. Banks, that he crosses paths with the Bird Woman on his way to work each day. Does he notice her?

Fast forward to 2010, again:

The poor, the underclass, the politically powerless in the shadows are still with us as Jesus had said some 2000 years ago:

"The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want...."
Mark 14:7 (New International Version)

Today, people are still hurting as houses are foreclosed, jobs are lost, wages reduced though cost of living is rising. The want of the underclass, the underemployed, the unemployed is more keenly felt especially during tough times. In the whirlwind of busy-ness, do we see them?

Part 3, the next post, George Banks journey continues as the man who seems to have had everything, suddenly faces losing everything ...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mary Poppins (Part 1) - from 1910 to 2010

It was one of those summer days near the mountains in 2010 ....

A thunderstorm was brewing as I sat in the comfort of my house, looking out the window, anticipating nature's free light show. And I was not disappointed. Storm clouds gathered. Lightening flashed on the mountain tops. Thunder roared. Then the unexpected happened.

Lightening struck ... our house. Or should say the ham radio antenna nearby. The antenna wires evaporated as a surge of electricity selectively damaged circuits and appliances. The TV set and DVD player were toast as well as our toaster. We had a mess to deal with.

As we waited on insurance and repairs, a concerned neighbor had lent us a spare TV set and we hooked up an old VHS player as replacements were on the way. Meanwhile, I got in touch with my inner child and checked out some classic Disney tapes from our local library. And one of them was "Mary Poppins."

Mary Poppins was good with dealing with messes, wasn't she? Remember "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down?"

I had fond memories of Mary Poppins. Back in the dark ages when I was in grade school, my music teacher had commented how much I looked like Jane Banks, the little girl in the story. I remember some of the silly songs. Can you spell "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?" When I learned to spell that word, I thought I was quite smart.

After watching the movie, again, as an adult in the 21st century, I saw another dimension. This really wasn't strictly a children's story. The Disney version had a la flavor of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, only not as scary, but still quite moving.

After stripping off the icing of magical adventures and fun songs and dance, it seemed that underlying story was about the father, George Banks. Mary Poppins and her friend Bert served as catalysts to precipitate George's release from the gilded cage, which he and society had created from himself.

The movie still has its appeal because it is timeless. What George Banks faced in 1910 is not so different than the crisis many of us are experiencing in 2010. Please hang in there for the next three posts as I make my case and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dancing on Top of the World Trade Center

Nine years ago .... We were in the ninth month of a new century, a new millennium.

Then on September 11 , America was attacked, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came tumbling down, and thousands of innocent lives were lost.

The War on Terror continues on to this day, and there still are so many questions ....

Why do bad things ... sometimes very bad things ... happen? Why is there evil in the world?

Many books have tried to get their arms around this big question of Why?
Check out:
* Rabbi Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
* Victor Frankl's Holocaust experience: Man's Search for Meaning
* William Young's The Shack .
* The world's best seller of all time - the Holy Bible ....

In 1973, Godspell - a musical based on the Gospel of St. Matthew - came to the big screen. One of its catchy numbers - All for the Best - tackles some of the why questions as the lyrics can be summed up by St. Paul's assertion:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (King James Version)
Below is a video clip of that number.
(It's almsot5 minutes long, but if you see anything, check out the final scene at 4:20 to 4:40.)

The final seconds of the last scene, they are literally ...

Dancing on Top of the World Trade Center

The Twin Towers were yet to be finished when Godspell was filmed, and 28 years later the World Trade Center came tumbling down.

I don't know why 9-11 - or countless other acts of evil - happen. Only God knows, and He has a plan. It seems He allows evil to run its course while moving forward with His purpose to the day when He will make all things right:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Revelation 21:4 (King James Version)

May the God of all Comfort be with all of you who suffered have loss, whether during the 9-11 attacks or the War on Terror. And God bless and protect our troops, who fight vigilantly to protect us and keep us safe.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons: World trade center aerial view March 2001