Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: True-Life Heroes for True-Life Families

What kinds of movies do nuns like? The response I most often get when I ask my sisters in religious life is: “True life stories.” It seems to me that films based on real-life stories have developed into a genre that is increasingly well-crafted. One of the latest in this genre, Netflix film The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, is no exception.

 

 

The directorial debut of Chiwetel Ejiofor (perhaps best known for his award-winning role as the lead actor in 12 Years a Slave) is a moving tribute to true-life hero William Kamkwamba, as well as an uplifting portrayal of family and the power of human hope and determination to unite and save a village. Powerful acting, a traditional, well-crafted rising storyline with life-and-death stakes, all rooted in the very real famine in Malawi in 2002, make The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind a no-brainer for family movie night.

Listen to Deacon Pedro and I talk about our favorite parts of the film together at this week’s Salt + Light Radio Hour!

Strengths

Bright young teen William Kamkwamba has just been enrolled in a new school due to the great sacrifice of his family. But William is soon expelled when his family is unable to pay school tuition due to a severe flood followed by drought which destroys his family’s (and the region’s) crops. Desperate for an education, William sneaks into the library and discovers a book about wind turbines that gives him an idea for how to help his family.

As the threat of famine spreads throughout the region, William becomes more and more determined to build a wind turbine that can power the well-pump, thus making it possible to irrigate crops during the dry season and save not only his family but the village.

William’s success is never in question if you know the film’s title or have seen the movie trailers. What carries the film is the well-written script (adapted by director Eijofor from the book co-authored by William himself), the rising tension, and the creative persistence of young William through obstacles that start small—with the school principal’s not allowing William into the library—but that rapidly grow into seeming insurmountable. As survival becomes more and more precarious, it is impossible not to root for young William and his family, who so bravely face every challenge despite incredibly limited resources. Director Eijofor pulls strong performances from the entire cast, notably from young Maxwell Simba, whose portrayal of William feels absolutely authentic. (Eijofor’s own performance as William’s father Tyrell, and Aïssa Maïga’s amazing performance as William’s mother Agnes are both superb.)

 

Limitations

Despite heartwarming characters and story, I found this straightforward film a bit too predictable, perhaps with an overly-simplistic portrayal of obstacles overcome. Taken together, these can make the film feel a bit contrived and even somewhat sentimental. One of the strengths of the film’s simplicity is how comfortably easy it feels to quickly identify with the Kamkwamba family; yet this raises a question of the authenticity of the film’s portrayal of Malawian culture. Should it have taken a bit more effort for a viewer like me to enter into Malawian culture? Nevertheless, from my limited research of Malawi, the film’s depiction seems authentic. (I have been learning about Malawi situation since 2017, when my congregation, the Daughters of Saint Paul, founded our first community there.)

 

Window to the Soul?

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a refreshing choice amid the majority of Netflix’s dark and violence-driven programming. Sympathetic characters and a compelling storyline portray important human values such as community, familial love, forgiveness, humility, respect for elders, the value of education, and the power of hope. Religion receives a welcome portrayal as simply a part of life. Perhaps the strongest parts of the story were the explorations of tension between family members, as each member struggles to protect one another and then survive in increasingly desperate circumstances. Without downplaying anyone, every member of the family is portrayed as having an important role to play in the crisis.

With its somewhat simplified storyline, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is especially suitable for family viewing (with TV-PG rating). An inspiring story that enables us to enter into the very different culture of an African country on the brink of devastation, William’s example encourages us to appreciate family, to value education, and to persevere in doing the most we can with what we have, not giving up no matter how many seemingly impossible obstacles we face.

 

Meeting Jesus at the Movies Guide will be available shortly for those who wish to enhance family and classroom viewing.

A Few of My Favorite Things as a Christian Writer

Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

I recently rediscovered some welcome encouragement for writers that I have found inspiring in my own intensive writing days. I think that anyone involved in any kind of creative pursuit can appreciate these inspiring words.

One of the reasons I find these kinds of reflections so encouraging is that our most important creative pursuit is, of course, co-creating with God the masterpiece of our own lives. I love how whatever advice is given for artistry or craft—whether attention, focus, discipline, gentleness, freedom, trust—becomes even truer when I apply that advice to my life.

 

A Letter to Artists

Makoto Fujimura is a prominent artist, speaker, and writer, whose art has been exhibited around the world and who seeks to uplift culture through IAMCultureCare, integrating faith, art, and beauty. His websites offer many resources to artists of today, but I’d like to highlight his A Letter to Young Artists, which is a personal favorite of mine. In this essay, Fujimura offers wonderful advice about:

  • joy in creating
  • God as the author of all creativity
  • trusting the process—even the awkward beginning stages when our creative wings are “unformed lumps” (a reference to C.S. Lewis)
  • genuine creativity is sacrificial love

The Good Book tells us that we are loved. Because of that love, which exceeds our own love, we can move out to take risks in creativity. Love is the ultimate fruit of the Spirit and our total dependence on the true source of creativity will nurture love. Art, ultimately, is expression of that love. Therefore we cannot create but by sacrificial love. We need to redefine art and its effectiveness by how it helps us to love one another sacrificially. Fear and terror, in any form, will destroy creativity and people. Fear and terror will twist our creativity to expand our “Ground Zeros.” Even when we cannot paint or write, love is available to us a creative resource to share with others. Stand on the ashes of your “Ground Zero”; look up and create in love and hope. – A Letter to Artists by Makoto Fujimura

You may wish to browse the many wonderful resources Mako Fujimura offers for the creative life, including his own writings and the IAMCultureCare website. (On a personal note, I highly recommend Mako Fujimura’s book Silence and Beauty, as well as his video reflections on Martin Scorsese’s recent film Silence, which offer abundant material to deepen the themes of the film and Endo’s novel on which the film is based.)

Photo by Gerald Berliner on Unsplash

An Encouragement for Spring and the Writing Life

When I first read Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer, I found it full of practical wisdom about deeply living our vocation. (And I just discovered that he co-hosts a new podcast, The Growing Edge, which I’m going to check out.)

This 2014 short post by Parker Palmer, entitled An Encouragement for Spring and the Writing Life is fitting not just because some of us are tired of winter and ready for spring (Boston received its biggest snowfall so far this year in March!), but also because of the beautiful imagery his poem offers us to reflect on our own creative journey.

A Eucharistic Offertory for the Media

To continue with the theme of praying for the good use of the media, and in reparation for the misuse of the media, I’d like to invite you to pray a contemporary version of the original prayer, written by Blessed James Alberione, which he encouraged us to pray daily after communion. Originally entitled, For Those Who Thirst for Souls as Jesus Does, the current (adapted) version is entitled: A Eucharistic Offertory for the Media. In praying this prayer, you will be joined by all the Daughters of Saint Paul around the world. 

As you can see, the prayer has three main themes:

  1. Reparation for the misuse of the media
  2. Prayer for those using the media
  3. That we may all use the media to communicate Christ’s saving love

A Eucharistic Offertory for the Media

(Pauline Offertory)

Based on a prayer of Blessed James Alberione

Father, in union with all those celebrating the Eucharist throughout the world, I wish to unite myself with the heart and intentions of your beloved Son, Jesus, who offered his life for our salvation:

— that the media may always be used to support the good of each person and the common good; to uplift the sacred dignity of every human person, especially those who are poor and most vulnerable; to nurture marriage and family life; to bring about solidarity, peace, greater justice, and equality for all people; and to build respect for the gifts of God’s creation;

— in reparation for the errors and scandals spread throughout the world through the misuse of the media;

— to call down your mercy upon those who have been deceived or manipulated by the misuse of the media, and led away from your fatherly love;

— for the conversion of those who have spread error, violence, or a disregard for the dignity of the person by wrongly using the media and rejecting the teaching of Christ and his Church;

— that we may follow Christ alone whom you, Father, in your boundless love, sent into the world, saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear him”;

— to acknowledge and to make known that Jesus alone, the Word Incarnate, is the perfect Teacher, the trustworthy Way who leads to knowledge of you, Father, and to a participation in your very life;

— that in the Church the number of priests, religious, and lay people who are dedicated as apostles of the media will increase in number and grow in holiness, making resound throughout the world the message of salvation;

— that all those who work in the media with good will (writers, artists, directors, editors, technicians, producers, advertisers, and distributors) may grow in wisdom and uprightness, living and spreading worthy human and Christian values;

— that the undertakings of Catholics in all forms of media may continually increase, so that by more effectively promoting genuine human and Christian values, they will silence the voices that spread error and evil;

— that well aware of our inadequacy and unworthiness, we may recognize our need to draw near the font of life with great humility and trust and be nourished with your Word, Father, and with the Body of Christ, invoking light, love, and mercy for all men and women.

Humanizing the Internet: 2019 Message for World Communications Day


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“We are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25)

From social network communities to the human community.

This year’s Message for World Communications Day provides a helpful overview of the internet, detailing some of the challenges of the pervasiveness of the digital continent which we find so greatly influences so many aspects of our lives. These challenges become the basis for the Pope’s insights and concrete suggestions as to how we can make the internet fulfill its great potential as a resource for building up the solidarity of the whole human family. Rather than offer a commentary on the Message, I am simply going to give a quick summary, with the challenges Pope Francis raises, his insights, and the wisdom he offers to “humanize” the internet.

In this year’s Message, Pope Francis highlights these challenges of the internet today:

  • The internet used as a source of disinformation (conscious and targeted distortion of both facts and interpersonal relationships)
  • The internet used to manipulate, for political or economic advantage, while disrespecting the person and his or her rights
  • Cyberbullying
  • The internet “works” [only] when all its elements share responsibility
  • Social network “communities” are not automatically true communities, but often promote an identity based on opposition, or what divides us. Social network communities that start with what divides gives rise to suspicion, exclusion, the “venting” of prejudice, the growth of unbridled individualism and narcissism, and can incite spirals of hatred.
  • The illusion that connecting digitally is the same as in-depth personal relationships—an illusion that most easily deceives young people
  • The risk of isolation or alienation from society

All of these challenges threaten the building up of true communion of the human family. Pope Francis offers us a metaphor drawn from Saint Paul to give us a framework in which to respond to these challenges: “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each to his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25).

This metaphor is particularly helpful for Christians, who see ourselves as members of the Body of Christ. And it helps us to remember that other people are not potential competitors, nor adversaries, but persons like us: our brothers and sisters.

The question then becomes, How can we find our true communitarian identity, aware of the responsibility we have towards one another in the online network as well?

Pope Francis offers these helpful insights:

  • Multiplying connections is not the answer.
  • We don’t need an adversary in order to define ourselves.
  • Created in the image of the Trinitarian God who is Communion and Communication-of-Self, every human being longs to live in communion, to truly belong.
  • As Christians, we are called to manifest that communion which marks our identity as believers. Faith itself is a relationship, and our encounter with God’s love for us becomes the impetus for us to welcome, understand, and respond to the gift of “the other”
  • See (and use) the internet as an extension of in-person (in the flesh) encounters.
  • In the Church, true unity is based not on “likes,” but on the truth, on the “Amen” by which each one clings to the Body of Christ and welcomes others.

The advice Pope Francis offers is not easy; in fact, I think this year’s message is among the most challenging of all the World Communication Day Messages. But, the solutions offered here are more urgent than ever before. In this Message, the Church is calling us to infuse all our interaction on social media with the same human characteristics that we use in face-to-face interactions: respect, friendliness, seeking common ground, sympathy, compassion, even smiles and tenderness. 

  • Learn to see with the all-encompassing gaze of Christ, from whom we can discover that “otherness” is an integral part—and condition—of true relationship and closeness with another. (We can only receive the “gift” of the other when we are open to their “otherness.”)
  • Invest in relationships.
  • Affirm the interpersonal nature of our humanity—including online. We are truly human only if we relate to others.
  • Move from “individual” to “personal”: the authentic path of becoming more human is to move from being an individual who perceives the other as a rival, to a person who recognizes others as traveling companions.
  • Use the internet as an extension of in-person (in the flesh) encounters.

This year’s World Communications Day Message offers us all timely, much-needed wisdom of how we can use the internet to liberate, to protect communion among people, to promote truthful and respectful encounters, to open the path to dialogue, deeper encounter, and expressions of genuine human connection.

Radical Prayer: Offering Reparation for the Misuse of the Media

 

Some years it takes me longer to reflect on the Pope’s annual World Communications Day Message. Sometimes it is because I want to deepen it, sometimes it is because it contains a theme or idea that I haven’t thought about before and want to explore, and sometimes because it is extra challenging.

This year, I have to confess that it has taken me longer, in part because the Message itself is challenging, but also because I have been personally wrestling in my prayer with the evils that the misuse of the media can cause. It’s not that I’ve been naive about the harm that the media can cause—it’s something I have been aware of and prayed about for most of my life. But for some reason, a number of recent instances of the misuse of social media—some participated in by people of good will—touched me more personally.

To overcome the temptation to discouragement I’ve felt, I have been digging deep into both the Message and our Pauline spirituality, bringing the misuse of the media repeatedly to prayer over the past several weeks. My prayer has brought me face to face with one of the most beautiful and demanding aspects of our spirituality as today’s media apostles.

One of the reasons that Blessed James Alberione founded the Daughters of Saint Paul was because of the great harm that the misuse of the media was causing in his time—and he foresaw how much this harm would multiply. The mission that he gave the Daughters of Saint Paul was really twofold:

1) To evangelize with the media, and

2) To offer our prayers, actions, consecration, our very lives in reparation for the evil caused by the misuse of the media. (He invited us to do this with a daily prayer, originally entitled: For Those Who Thirst for Souls as Jesus Does, which you can find here. I’ll post more about this beautiful, powerful prayer laterBut I invite you to bring your use of social media to your daily prayer, if you don’t already.)

So in these weeks, I’ve prayed specifically for the people using social media who, lacking in goodwill, have deceived and misled others, even those with the best of intentions, to the point that the truth has seemed lost. I’ve also been praying for those who, despite their goodwill, have been swept up on social media by the trends, sensationalism, or “causes” that really don’t reflect the Gospel. A focus of both my prayers and sacrifices has been reparation for the lies, division, and hatred fostered by this misuse of media.

This year’s Message for World Communications Day directly addresses this challenge of people who misuse social media by stating outright, “The [inter]net works because all its elements share responsibility.” This is where we can find the hope of using social media for good, for building up human solidarity: to increase the number of people who want to use social media for good. But it’s not enough just to have good will. We also need to be wise and discerning in how we use social media. In that spirit, I’d like to share this insightful article written by social media Catholic hipster Tommy Tighe, who invites each of us to reflect on our personal use of social media, in the spirit of Blessed James Alberione.

Next week, I will post some of my reflections on this year’s World Communications Day Message, which is so timely and relevant to what is happening in and through social media today. In the meantime, if you are looking for a patron for your social media, I cannot recommend Blessed James Alberione enough. Even though he died in 1971, his use of the media and his influence in changing and developing the Church’s approach to media is amazing. You can read more about him here. He is the saint to pray to about the media, because he promised to watch over and care for those who seek to use the media for good:

“This is how I intend to belong to this marvelous Pauline Family: as a servant both now and in heaven. There, I will care for those who use the most effective modern means to do good: in holiness, in Christ, and in the Church.” – Blessed James Alberione

 

 

Here is the prayer that I pray daily for his intercession:

Most Holy Trinity,
who has willed to revive in the Church
the apostolic charism of Saint Paul,
revealing yourself in the light of the Eucharist
to Blessed James Alberione, Founder of the Pauline Family,
grant that the presence of Christ the Master, Way, Truth, and Life,
may shine in the world through Mary, Mother and Queen of the Apostles.
Glorify in your Church this apostle of the new evangelization
and raise up men and women open to the “signs of the times,”
who, following his example,
will use the modern means of communication
to lead all of humanity to you.
Through the intercession of Blessed James,
grant me the grace that I ask for at this time…
Amen.

Writerly fun & resources

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to other writers talking about writing. I believe I have highlighted this author before, but K.M. Weiland is one of my very favorite podcasting authors. I find her podcast, Helping Writers Become Authors, always enlightening and thought-provoking (plus it’s super-quick). And, she has an amazing series within the podcast on plot and character arcs that essentially teaches you how to write the life of a saint in an interesting way (because saints don’t always have character arcs!) She has oodles of materials and resources to help beginning writers at her amazing site, Helping Writers Become Authorslots of valuable resources that are free with her blog, all about writing craft. Plus you can delve into her published books for further depth.

She even wrote the notes in the Writers Digest Annotated Version of Jane Eyre, one of the best primers for writing a great novel that I’ve ever seen.

Can you tell I love her work?

She also does really, really fun book launches, and she has a new novel out today, Wayfarer, which is right up my alley: gaslamp fantasy.  This one line of her write-up got me: Think being a superhero is hard? Try being the first one.

So if you are looking for a little writing support or writing inspiration (or a lot), check out her site here. And if you want a good read for these cold winter days, check out Wayfarer. And don’t forget to enter the super-fun book launch below, which gives you a chance to win fun prizes and helps her promote her new novel. (And I’m giving her this space in a blog post not because I know K.M. Weiland personally, but because I have been impressed over the years with how generously she has helped so many writers – including me!- and I felt she deserved some recognition for her good work. Besides, it’s fun to share the work of someone you wholeheartedly enjoy.)

 


My absolute favorites of K.M. Weiland’s work:

Podcast Helping Writers Become Authors(you can subscribe in iTunes)

Jane Eyre (Annotated Version)

Invaluable Series on Character Arcs

Invaluable Series on Story Structure

This blogpost is a good place to start if you just want to get introduced to the work of K.M. Weiland.

A Christmas Prayer!