Last Sunday was the Oscar Show in the Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles. For us peasants watching the show is like sorta kinda being in the neighborhood of a fancy-schmanzy private party and you have to peak in through the window from the outside to see the glitz. It is one of the few events outside of sports that broadcast live around the country and the world. Yeah there’s the seven second delay to give censors time to drop in the occasional “bleep” when people start swearing because, I guess, we’ve never heard those words before. In 1970 I attended the 42nd Academy Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in L.A and walked the Red Carpet. I won’t bore you with the glitzy details (unless you invite me for dinner sometime) but I was present to see “Midnight Cowboy” win the best picture of 1969, the first (and only) X-rated movie to win in that category. Liz Taylor with a huge diamond around her neck presented the trophy that night. The previous year it was a G-rated film “Oliver” which took the top prize. G to X in a year. The X rating eventually gave way to NC-17 which, of course, clears everything up and keeps us safe. John Wayne (obvious name-drop), whom I met at the ceremony, won for best actor. It was a pretty thrilling experience for an outsider who got invited inside.
Sunday was also the first Sunday in Lent and the readings recount the story of the 3 temptations of Jesus in the desert. Jesus would begin his public ministry shortly thereafter. The whole idea of fasting for 40 days in solitude is kind of intriguing to me as if a retreat or a time for reflection before undertaking any venture is essential. It was a time for taking time to pray and think and listen and reflect before forging ahead. Buddha and Mohammed took quiet time before action. Thinking and reflection before speaking seems novel in this age of knee-jerk reactionary pronouncements and Tweets that we hear from politicians and TV personalities. Maybe a slogan can be made for these people, something on the order of “think-count to ten-then speak.” (Like “being” in a helicopter shot down over Iraq or in a “war zone” observed from 1200 miles away or heard a shotgun blast also 1200 miles away or saw nuns killed in El Salvador…or, sadly “The President doesn’t love me”…think before you speak guys.)
The three temptations ultimately have to do with power and ego. The “evil one” (or as I like to call him “the me-first shadow”) seems to know where human weakness lurks behind the veneer of toughness and self-confidence. The three temptations as recounted in Luke and Matthew’s Gospels deal with the self and it’s relationship with this world specifically. It’s all about the now. It’s about me looking in the mirror alone and falling in love with that image. The temptations (not the MoTown singing group) focus on the power of this world which, if you are a student of history, in and of itself really doesn’t last all that long. I am reminded of the lyrics from Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar after the Hosanna song on Palm Sunday as way of an explaination. Jesus responds to the crowd and Simon the Zealot’s demand that Jesus seize the glory of this day to defeat the Romans. For Simon this is real power. You can read the lyrics here. The take away from the words is that we really don’t know what power and glory are. The words taken together suggest that real power and real glory is love, it is selflessness it is caring for the “other.” Sure it’s not as glitzy or American Sniper-ish, but it is more powerful and long lasting.
Which brings us back around to looking at the Oscars. The glory of winning cannot be denied. It is being the “best” at something as decreed by your peers. It is a joyous evening to be the winner and maybe a bitter one if one is not. You’ve heard the saying “It is just a honor to be nominated” but, you know and I know, in reality it is much better if you win. Eddie Redmayne over Michael Keaton? Really? But then, again, I am an outsider in the cold pressing his nose against the window pane looking in at someone else’s party. “Sic transit, gloria mundi” So passes the glory of the world. For a brief moment the winner shines in the spotlight and the trophy he/she receives will be a reminder of that brief glory long after the ceremony is over. But like everything else in this world, the moment will pass into the faded memory of history only to be recalled as a footnote or the answer to a trivia question down the years. Just as a test, do you know what popular western was nominated for Best Picture at the 42nd Awards ceremony? Guess. (It’s ok, I know you looked it up)
So what’s the point? Accomplishments are a good thing, we take pride in them and sometimes the affects of those accomplishments are long-lasting. But we also remember that immediate personal power does not last and while we take time to bask in the good fortune that has come our way or that we ourselves have created we also know there is more to be done. We say enjoy the moment, absorb the glow, take the compliments! Then as the hoopla dies down we can turn away from staring at the self’s image in the mirror and embrace the “other” who is standing, perhaps invisibly, right behind us. We have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. -Robt Frost
and so it goes…