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Monday, August 4, 2014

The Parable of the Wolf

When we lived in Lillington, North Carolina, we attended Crossroads, a non-traditional Baptist church pastored by Ken Dalton. Every summer he did something unique with his sermons: During the series, he would focus on a current or past movie, and point out biblical viewpoints and lessons to be learned. Not every movie he chose was G-rated. Few of the movies he chose were "Christian."

I thought about this regarding two movies my daughter and I watched the other day. We'd had a full day and wanted to relax, so the plan was movie-dinner-movie. The first selection was The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the tough, greedy, licentious Jordan Belfort. I am sorry to say it was based on a true story, but we'll get to that later.

The second movie was also based on a true story: Noah, with Russell Crowe in the title role as the ark-building, humanity-saving, animal-herding patriarch we've known since we were kids at Sunday school. For non-Sunday schoolers, many different cultures include a story of a great flood. And there's this big ark thing in Turkey that didn't get there on its own. But that's another blog.

Of the two movies, which had more to offer, from a strictly biblical standpoint? Hands down, it was the first. That's right. The graphic portrayal of the ruthless and decadent Belfort - although not one I would necessarily recommend, and certainly not for family viewing due to excessive language, nudity, sex, drugs...pretty much the whole thing.

Paul's first letter to the young man Timothy contains this warning in chapter 6:
9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
The Wolf of Wall Street shows us the reality of this in living color. It's as perfect and complete a picture of the downward spiral of greed as I can imagine. Jordan Belfort grew up poor and purposed never to be poor again. As a stock broker, he was introduced to the fast-paced, take-no-prisoners environment of easy money, easy sex, easy drugs. He became a drug addict. He lost his wife. Then he lost his second wife, plea-bargained with the FBI, served 22 months, and started a motivational speaking business.

What the movie doesn't tell us: He's apparently sober now, living close to his children, and in the process of paying back millions he bilked from clients. The story of Jordan Belfort isn't over. He could revert to the life of drugs and debauchery, or he may have learned his lesson. That's not for us to know, or to judge.

What pulled him down the slippery slope from hard-working husband to a broker pimp who snorted cocaine off a hooker's derriere? Not money. Money is a necessity in society. We use it to purchase goods and services we can't provide for ourselves. Money isn't evil. Sometimes we hear rants and raves against this rich person or that, as if their money automatically makes them greedy.

The most generous man I know is also the wealthiest - he sees himself as a conduit of God's blessings, which he believes he has received because he has used money according to biblical principals. He has tithed (given 10% back - and probably much, much more), given to the poor, been generous with others. He treated his workers well, before he retired. He taught his children the value of money, rather than spoiling them with things for which they were not grateful.

It's easy to see the contrast. It isn't money that's the problem, it's the love of money. The drive to accumulate more and more. Did Jordan Belfort help people along the way? Absolutely. The movie gives only one example of his charitable side, but there were probably others. But the ambition and greed he steeped himself in did not have positive results, because it was always about money, power, what he wanted, when he wanted it. Others, including his family, were there to please and serve him, not the other way around.

Bear in mind that the R rating here is not one of those like Schindler's List's, for brief nudity and some language. The language is relentless, F-bombs galore. Sex is graphically depicted. Lots (and lots) of skinny naked chicks. A disturbing scene in which little people are thrown around. As a cautionary tale, however - which parables sometimes were when Jesus told them - The Wolf of Wall Street has much to offer. Here's what NOT to do. Here's what happens when you don't care for anyone but yourself. Here's a little story 'bout a man named Jordan who loved money so much he lost the ability to love anyone or anything else.

Hopefully, his life has turned around. Hollywood's not as interested now, apparently which is probably a good sign.

And Noah? If you're a Crowe fan, go for it. If you want a truly exciting story, stick to the Bible. The movie version adds nuances and out-and-out fabrications that do nothing to enhance the original. Entertaining, but not the story of Noah you're likely to remember from Sunday school.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2014