As you read this post, possibly millions of people have read Go Set a Watchman, the highly anticipated first-written draft and sequel to the beloved To Kill a Mockingbirdboth by Harper Lee.

The first printing of Harper Lee’s anticipated first book, Go Set A Watchman made recent history with a first printing of 1-3 million copies (depending on last-minute pre-orders). For comparison, To Kill a Mockingbird printed only 5,000 copies in 1960 for its first printing. Most 8th and 9th graders in the United States read it in their English or American Literature classes and most likely will continue to do so for generations to come.

I don’t anticipate Go Set a Watchman to be received in the same way.

In addition, I am not ready to read this book and probably never will. 

I, and many others are still not convinced that Harper Lee has given genuine and of sound mind consent to have the book published. I would not expect there being legal issues, though. It is not definitive though whether she gave the publisher the “go” to publish it. Nevertheless, I am no conspiracy theorist as there are plenty of articles that have covered the issue. Due to her health, rumored to be almost blind and deaf, I cannot imagine she has even looked at the manuscript in years.

The title, Go Set a Watchman, comes from the Bible, Isaiah 21:6 (KJV):

For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.

It alludes to Scout, now commonly known as Jean Louise Finch, and her view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass (“watchman”) of Maycomb. Atticus Finch is indeed the watchman in To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Scout (Mary Badham) and Atticus (Gregory Peck in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1962)

Scout (Mary Badham) and Atticus (Gregory Peck in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (1962)

I read To Kill a Mockingbird twice in high school; once at my first high school in Kansas City, then again at my second high school in St. Louis. I read it during such an important point of my life, in my formative years and during a move in which I felt so alone and like an outsider, much like the characters in Mockingbird. The book helped me see people better from their perspective, to be patient, courageous, and not rush to judgment. I trust other children experienced it in similar ways.

It is hard not to admire Atticus. Played brilliantly by Gregory Peck in the movie by the same name soon after the book’s release, it is probably the finest adapted screenplay ever created. The American Film Institute in 2003 released its 100 Heroes in 100 Years list and Atticus Finch topped it. I don’t think I’ve ever stood up and cheered louder when the list was announced during the television special.

In the new book, Go Set a Watchman, the Atticus we know is humanized further and is discovered to be more of a racist and complex person. In Lee’s new book, he is a changed watchman.

Atticus Finch matters to me, and many others I suppose, because he is one of the closest personas we could envision to what God looks like as a our Father. We know Atticus is not perfect, unlike Christ, but he is as Peggy Noonan refers to as “calm, reliable, full of integrity and always there-the kind of father anyone would want and few would have.”

I mourn what has become of Atticus Finch in this book. But, who am I to judge? After all, he is just a fictional character. But he still matters like any beloved character we love who passes away – I wrote about this a few years ago as often times it can feel like we lost someone we really knew. I don’t want to lose Atticus, though.

But, we can rest assured.

“Atticus never lived and can never die, and if you want to visit him you can pick up a book. America is an interesting place and we don’t have to look to fiction to be inspired.” – Peggy Noonan

Wise and comforting words, Peggy.

There is more to Atticus, though.

If we truly want to find Atticus, read the book of John in the Bible and you’ll see him more beautifully than ever. Atticus is a mere modern-day reflection of our true Father.

He has always been there and has never left us. Rest assured.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

– John 1:1

 

 

Over the 4th of July drive this past week I listened to the audiobook of Conversations with Major Dick Winters: Life Lessons from the Commander of Band of Brothers.

For those of you who have watched the Emmy-award winning HBO Mini-series, Band of Brothers, or read the book of the same name by Stephen Ambrose, you know Major Winters. His life has been well documented to this point through that story as well as his memoirs, Beyond Band of Brothers

urlFollowing the publication of Beyond Band of Brothers, Conversations was a book Major Winters wanted to have written after spending hundreds of hours with Col. Cole Kingseed. There were lessons through Major Winters’ life that needed to be told.

Watching Band of Brothers is something I recommend any person to do whether they are interested in military history, or not. At least do it for the sake of honoring those who served World War II. The book made Easy Company famous. Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg through the mini-series helped make the company legendary. Thousands of baby boomers and people my age were given a unique view into their epic journey from Airborne training, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, and on to taking Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at the end of the war.

In the audiobook, Winters’ leadership principles were shared, as in Beyond Band of Brothers, and I think it is worth sharing with you. No matter your role in life, it is important to understand what it takes to lead. The military life can teach us a lot of things perhaps because the pressures seem greatest.

I have appreciated Major Winters  because of his “quiet strength” as a leader. Actor Damian Lewis played this very well on-screen in the mini-series.

I am humbled because as a leader I have far from mastered these lessons but they are principles that I need to be reminded of and develop on a daily basis. These lessons are applicable to any leader and not limited to the battlefield.

In the words of Major Winters, “Hang tough”.

Leadership At The Point Of a Bayonet

1. Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.

2. Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.

3. Stay in top physical shape–physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.

4. Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.

5. Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination and creativity.

6. Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.

7. Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.

8. Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.

9. True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. They key to a successful leader is to earn respect–not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.

10. Hang Tough!–Never, ever, give up.

Every spring brings a flood of new graduates to the world.

During my college years, I received a range of advice from people. Most of it felt sincere and wise while some seemed outlandish. Everyone has their opinions on what to do after college just like the ever-quotable ‘plastics” scene from The Graduate. I have compiled some of the best pieces of advice given to me when I graduated from college.

These are the five pieces of advice that stuck and have helped me most.

the-graduate-plastics1. Never stop learning (but time to start giving)

I was never much of a reader but I came from a family of readers, in particular my mother and grandmother. School always seemed to wear me out and the last thing I wanted to do was read for pleasure. When I graduated from college it dawned on me that I could now read whatever I like and my adult education began. It continued through reading 30-45 books a year, reading and re-reading Classics, history books, modern fiction, and even some other genres I did not study in college. I also have traveled more in some ways after college because when you read more, you develop a desire to visit the places you read about. By continuing your education, you gain a better understanding of the world and how to use your talents to help it. That is where the joy comes in a real education; you apply what you have learned to help others.

2. You will be judged not by test scores but by your head, your heart, and how hard you work.

I don’t miss testing in school and when I entered the work world I discovered that people were more interested in my thought process and work ethic more than what my GPA was in college. It was freeing because I felt I could work hard and be myself as opposed to fitting into a standard education system. For me, endless days caddying on the golf course in the summer showed me the value of hard work and relationships developed by talking with so many seasoned professionals. We are in a world where people serve other people and it is important to remember that people want to know who you are, not what you are.

Practically, my father encouraged me be curious. Take people out to coffee or lunch to learn about what they do. It shows you have initiative but it is also incredibly helpful to develop relationships for the sake of networking. The days are about over where you simply apply for a position and get it without some sort of personal connection.

3. Adventures don’t have to stop

I had a wonderful experience in college but I yearned for something more that was completely out of the ordinary.

In an internship, my boss told me to take time over a week to compile the top 100 things I wanted to do in life. It has become a ‘Bucket List’ more or less and without making it a simple checklist, it has become more of an exercise about dreaming and setting goals. I’ve learned that my goals and desires have changed as I’ve aged but what is underneath is a passion to live an adventure, accomplish things, and make a difference. That takes some serious thought, prayer, and work. It even takes acknowledging that a lot of these on the list can only be completed with the help of others. It even motivated me to graduate early from college and move to Scotland to work and learn about a different culture.

4. Be prepared for some setback

It is part of life. The greats of history (Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lincoln) all had setbacks. Their secret? They got back on their feet and kept moving. I have written about Churchill and Lincoln’s stories of failure and how they responded.

5. Embrace the unknown

It is okay to not know what to do. This is what happens on a true journey. Practically, you can test on your strengths (Strengthsfinder 2.0) and evaluate your personality (Myers Briggs)  to get a feel for what you want to do. In fact, as I took many of these assessments, they helped me figure out more what I did not want to do. The predictable life is boring, anyway. Pray, explore, and ask for guidance from those more experienced.

Last, I encourage you to watch David McCullough’s commencement speech to Wellesley High school titled “You Are Not Special.”  While the title gives you a double look, it is spot on to understand that we are ultimately part of a much bigger adventure. You are special in God’s eyes no doubt but on earth, the message is clear; humility, hard work, and taking joy in what you do is what will make the biggest difference for you in your journey.

——-

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding:
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6
——–
Cast your burden on the Lordand He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. – Psalm 55:22
——–
What about you? What is the best advice you received when you graduated from college (or moving into your career)? 

As a student of American History, I find it fascinating to learn from key figures who have shaped our nation over the past almost 250 years.

Reading about FDR, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Reagan, Kennedy, Jefferson, and Jackson is intriguing and each one has many admirable qualities. Each has shaped the nation based on the circumstances presented before them.

There is one who set the precedent for all of them, though: George Washington.

Washington today is often seen as a mythical yet distant figure since we get to stare at his face on the one dollar bill, quarter, and other official government documents. But we would be doing a disservice to him if we didn’t understand what separated him from other leaders.

George Washington was an admirable man because of his excellent leadership qualities but what separated him from most was his humility.

The Prayer at Valley Forge, Arnold Friberg's most well known painting. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Prayer at Valley Forge, Arnold Friberg’s most well-known painting. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Even at the height of his power, Washington set the tone for what being the leader of the President of the United States of America meant. In Europe at the time, the highest power in a nation was typically monarchial. Washington saw his position as a public servant. Although the power of the Presidency has ebbed and flowed over the past two centuries, what echoes most loudly is Washington’s humility.

Indeed, his humility was as much, perhaps even more so, a part of his greatness.

Here are 5 ways we can learn from Washington’s humility. 

  • Reluctance for Power: In 1783 when the war ended, Washington went back to his plantation in Virginia as a farmer. Five years later, he was quite pleased with his life, even despite the war’s fanfare. But he recognized that people needed him and he gave up a very comfortable life to come back to lead the nation in its infancy. It is easy to desire power but it must be at the right time and place and unless we are rooted in humility like Washington, we will fail.
  • Limited Service: Washington only served two terms in office. He saw the position as temporary and realized that the position was more important than his name. Presidents for the most part have followed his example since then. Our time on earth is short so it is important to always look at how we are training the next level of leaders to follow us.
  • A Man of the People: He dressed in civilian clothes as President. He was encouraged by some to wear his military uniform but he felt it would look too much like a military dictatorship and like most of Europe’s leadership. No matter our roles in life, we must always treat others with respect and dignity like Washington.
  • The Name of the President: He refused to be called a monarch or a more eloquent name like “His Majesty”, despite what John Adams and Alexander Hamilton wanted. He simply wanted to be called “Mr. President”. Washington was a man of deep Christian faith and was known to be in prayer often recognizing God’s power over his role. People follow courage and humility, not just titles.
  • Lead in the Hard Times: In the winter of 1777-78, Washington’s camp was at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. During this incredibly harsh winter, Washington was found to consistently walk through the camp to encourage and engage with his troops. He was never afraid to lead with them and not from behind.

Last, I found this story (more myth but the spirit is true) about Washington that reveals a lot about his servant leadership.

Once upon a time a rider came across a few soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success.

The corporal was standing by just watching as the men struggled.

The rider couldn’t believe it. He finally asked the corporal why he wasn’t helping.

The corporal replied: “I am the corporal. I give orders.

The rider said nothing in response. Instead he dismounted his horse. He went up and stood by the soldiers and as they tried to lift the wood and he helped them.

With his help, the task was finally able to be carried out.

Who was this kind rider?

The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief.

He quietly mounted his horse and went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”

But the humble will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant prosperity. – Psalm 37:11

To learn more about George Washington, I recommend you to read a fascinating narrative of his life, “His Excellency” by Joseph J. Ellis.

This week has left me a bit unsettled in terms of movies. The Oscars came and went I just sighed, “oh well.”

I am usually pretty spot on with movie award nominations (and winners) but this year has been all over the place with no single film standing out for the masses.

As there are so many good books that get overlooked, there are also so many good movies who suffer the same anonymity, especially in the flare of blockbusters.

One that sticks out is the 2014 filmcalvary-8Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson (remember Hamish from Braveheart?), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids), and Kelly Reilly (Flight). It is an Irish-made film by the talented director, John Michael McDonagh. I watched it in theater last year and then again this past week at home. I have always had an affinity toward Irish films like The Commitments, Waking Ned Devine, Michael Connolly, In the Name of the Father, Bloody Sunday, and Once. There is something about the unique dry humor in Irish films as well as their ability to hit some of the deepest emotional themes in life through storytelling.

Calvary may just be one of the finest films that has ever moved me. My film aficionado friend Erik Parks featured Calvary as the top movie of 2014, even beating out some of the Oscar winners this year. I agree with him.

 

The Irish sure know how to tell a story, especially a familiar story.

Erik shared a great overview of the movie from his blog:

The opening of this film shows a good priest in confession as he listens to a mystery man recount his years of sexual abuse by a bad priest. He then tells the good priest that as an act of revenge, he plans on killing him in a week. Crazy setup but a fantastic film that shows a faithful man of God dealing with psychological torture as he continues to love and care for the wicked people of his town. Mercy, love, forgiveness and ultimately Christ-likeness are the overarching themes in this dark, but extraordinary little Irish film. (Rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use.)

calvary-butcherI’m not sure why people are so afraid of the Gospel. When you read about Jesus, this is what we get. It’s very R-rated. It’s bloody. It’s violent. It’s poignant and challenging. As you read in the Bible within the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you get the nitty-gritty of Jesus’ life and death and in Calvary the movie, it follows well. That is why Calvary succeeds because it doesn’t hold back from real life.

Calvary may be the best movie representation of the Gospel I’ve ever seen.

It is rich with symbolism as well as lines to make you contemplate and pray over.

Father James Lavelle: “God is great and the limits of his mercy have not been set.”

——-

Father James Lavelle: I think there’s too much talk about sins to be honest not enough talk about virtues.

Fiona Lavelle: What would be your number one?

Father James Lavelle: I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.

——-

Father James Lavelle: He was a good man, your husband? (to a lady who just lost her husband)

Teresa: Yes. He was a good man. We had a very good life together. We loved each other very much. And now… he has gone. And that is not unfair. That is just what happened. But many people don’t live good lives. They don’t feel love. That is why it’s unfair. I feel sorry for them.

calvary3Your life will be changed after watching it. My encouragement is to go see for yourself and let me know what you think.

 

 

With the release and success of the movie, American Sniper, whether they have seen the movie or not, everyone in the country, including many around the world, have strong opinions about it.

url-1Some say the movie is propaganda. Some say Chris Kyle is a murderer and a racist. Some say this is the greatest war movie of the past twenty years.

Unfortunately, most of these people have completely missed the point of the movie.

First, all war movies have a level of propaganda in them; from Band of Brothers to Saving Private Ryan, Platoon to Top Gun, and Lions for Lambs to Lone Survivor. Each one was created to cause viewers to learn and feel and do something.

Not every war movie resonates with people on such a mass scale, though. That is why American Sniper is so fascinating and worth the time to evaluate why.

It’s important to revisit the structure and purpose of a good story in order to best evaluate why this has happened.

Jonah Sachs writes from Winning the Story Wars,

“Good stories are structured just like baseballs. On the surface, we find the story’s visible elements: the setting, the characters, and the actions those characters undertake. These are the elements of stories we’ve all been familiar with since childhood. We know the cover and think we know everything there is to know. But there is so much more.

Just beneath the surface, the story finds its structure in the moral of the story. Without some kind of moral we instinctively reject a story as poorly told.

And then there’s the story’s core, hidden one layer deeper at the center of it all.

The values at the core of the myth provide its meaning and, unless we are looking for them, these values often remain hidden from our conscious minds.

Ultimately in a good story, the hero grows up.

Good stories are about healing a broken world through a life’s journey. Perhaps that was the point of the creators.

How does this apply to American Sniper?

american-sniper-bradley-cooper-sienna-miller1

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

 

In the movie, we follow Chris Kyle, a boy growing up to become a man. If this were Greek mythology, the Texas cowboy would be on a journey like Odysseus, Achilles or Perseus.

What I expected going into the movie was a patriotic feeling after finishing the movie. Yes, I felt very proud of Kyle as well as those many others who have volunteered to sacrifice their lives for our nation. The movie doesn’t address the politics of the Iraq war in any major way and some people think this makes it pro-war.

Director Clint Eastwood responded to critics that the movie is all about pro-war propaganda,

“The biggest anti-war statement in any film can make is to show ‘the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did,'”

He went on.

“One of my favorite war movies that I’ve been involved with is ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,'” he continued. “And that was about family, about being taken away from life, being sent someplace. In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case no good deed went unpunished.”

Screenwriter Jason Hall shared,

“Chris was a man who believed in something and who therefore was useful to a government that needed him to go to war. It cost him his physical health, his mental health and almost cost him his family — but Chris probably would have paid the price over and over again if he’d been asked, which is both patriotic and totally tragic.”

The biggest surprise of the movie

It was a feeling deep inside that was difficult to describe at time. The movie kept tugging at me to be a better husband and father. You leave with a feeling of wanting to do the right thing and make more of your life at the core of who you are. You get the sense that our lives are progressing toward something meaningful.

Still of Bradley Cooper and Madeleine McGraw in American Sniper (2014)

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Chris Kyle transforms in the story from being a boy to a rough cowboy, then to become a soldier, husband, father, and one wanting to help others.

To re-analyze the story structure of the movie; The surface story follows cowboy life, the soldier feeling the duty going to war, and every other fact of his life. The moral of the story is that war is glory and hell and causes incredible stress to family because of the psychological toll. The core of the story is Kyle’s journey to become a man.

It is fruitless to read another article about the movie until you have processed the core of the story. Leave the surface and moral to the pundits because they missed the big picture of what moves people.

American Sniper reminded me that often the surface themes of a movie are not enough. That is why I recommend re-reading books and re-watching movies. We can often miss the core of a story that ultimately will move us. That is why American Sniper is resonating.

The core of American Sniper is one that we are meant for a grand journey of life. It is not perfect but it is a true journey in our hearts.

 

 

Four years ago when I first read the highly acclaimed book, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit), I thought, this was an important book that was going to fly because of how strong the story was in the life of Louis Zamperini. Working in the publishing industry, it has been so encouraging to see people from all types of backgrounds read this story and enthusiastically recommend it to others.

I have since given the book as presents to numerous people. I seek out those who haven’t read it because Zamperini’s story is so inspiring. You don’t need to be a World War II enthusiast to appreciate it. It is a beautiful story of endurance and redemption.

A few years ago I read that the movie was quickly optioned to be adapted into a movie. It would be created by multiple Oscar winners; directed by Angelina Jolie and the screenplay would be adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen and a few others.

It was hard to not be excited about the possibility of how great this movie could be.

I waited in anticipation to see the movie and finally was able to this past week. The movie suffered what happens to so many great books.

unbrokenUnbroken the movie was good, but not great.

And I’m mad.

I’m mad because good movies don’t get shared by word of mouth. Great movies do and this just was not a great movie.

I also don’t want to hear the typical excuse from people, “the book is always better than the book.” That is an ignorant statement because movies and books are just different mediums of telling story.

I knew the film would not match the book and I was okay with it only because I read the full story of Zamperini’s life told so well by Hillenbrand. I was disappointed because so many people have gone to see the film, left disappointed, and probably did not know why. Sure they were impressed with his incredible life and enduring so much.

So, why did the movie fall flat?

According to authority on story told through film, Robert McKee, the first principle of adaptation is the following: The purer the novel, the purer the play, the worse the film.

All this means is that because Unbroken was a great book, it was much more difficult to transfer its greatness to film. But, it could be done.

Also, when a lesser talent (writer or director) attempt to adapt genius, the genius of the original writing will most likely be dragged down to the level of the adaptor.

Now, a lot of people will point out that Angelina Jolie is still a young director but I felt she did a fine job with the film for only her second time directing a feature film. There are many things in the movie that just felt awkward and disrupted the story. For example, why would you do a flashback in the middle of an intense air battle? The ending is also what fell flat because it is too abrupt. Finally, the core of an epic movie is the soundtrack and it just did not match the dramatic story being told. Finally, the key ingredient missing was the movie not being able to show the full transformation of Louie Zamperini. I don’t want to ruin the story for you but the final act of the book is what makes the first part of his dramatic story more meaningful; following Zamperini’s troubled youth, running in the 1936 Olympics, watching his life as a WWII bombardier, crashing in the Pacific and drifting for 47 days, and enduring over two years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

unbroken-cover_custom-s6-c10McKee also writes, “The unique power and splendor of the cinema is the dramatization of extra-personal conflict, huge and vivid images of human beings wrapped inside their society and environment, striving with life.” He goes on. “This is what film does best, better than play or novel.”

The movie could have been great like the book but also different.

The filmmakers failed to show the full transformation of Zamperini’s life, which is where we witness true greatness.

Despite everything, I am thankful for this movie because Louis Zamperini got to spend in-depth time with Angelina Jolie, arguably one of the most populate entertainment stars in the world. Zamperini had the opportunity to share who he truly was to her, a man who lived an extraordinary life and one saved only by grace in Jesus.

In summary, if you are dissatisfied with the movie, turn back to the book. Read it. Then re-read it.

After all, good story always wins. Go read Unbroken. Go read good stories. 

 

Here are a few great movie adaptations to consider after you read and see Unbroken

To Kill a Mockingbird: It is rare that a great book can become a great film as well but it was done. I can’t imagine Atticus Finch better than how well Gregory Peck played him.

Gone Girl: I read the book last year and was mesmerized by its plot twists and turns. I couldn’t imagine how Gone Girl could be turned into such a great thriller of a movie but David Fincher did an excellent job

Lone Survivor: I read the book by Marcus Luttrell right after it came out in 2007. Director Peter Berg fought hard to make sure the movie was told well and did an excellent job adapting this true story to film.

World War Z: I loved the book, which serves as a first hand account of a fictional zombie war. When Brad Pitt led this great book to film, it was very different and faster as a movie but it had to be different. This is a rare movie that did a fabulous job to preserve the spirit of the book but also recognized that it had to be different to work well on-screen.

The Hobbit vs. Lord of the Rings: No doubt that LOTR and Hobbit are classic pieces of literature from J.R.R. Tolkien. LOTR the movies are treasures of bringing the books to life on film but The Hobbit falls very flat in its adaptation.

American Sniper: The book is highly acclaimed and I can only imagine how well Clint Eastwood will do with the movie, which releases in January, 2015.

If you are looking at some other great book to movie adaptations, here is a good list.