Secretariat: the Movie

I recently watched the movie Secretariat. (I am aware it is eight years old). But, it had my attention from the opening scene. It begins “More than three thousand years ago a man named Job complained to God about all his troubles and the Bible tells us that God answered. Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane? Do you make him leap like a locust, striking terror with his proud snorting? He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength and charges into the fray. He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing, he does not shy away from the sword. The quiver rattles against his side, along with the flashing spear and lance. In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground. He cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.” Did you know God had so much to say about a horse?

The story is carried by characters that are easy to like or not like and the tensions of loyalty vs. economics. But this story is interesting because of a horse. Not just any horse, Secretariat is likely the greatest race horse of all time. Indeed, if race times mean anything, Secretariat still holds the records for all three Triple Crown races (45 years later). Indeed, Secretariat was voted one of the top 50 athletes of the twentieth century.

The storyline includes a daughter’s love for her father and the things her father loved. It includes a coin flip to determine who gets what horse. By the way, the “loser” gets Secretariat. (Sign me up to lose my next coin flip). It includes Penny Chenery’s (played by Diane Lane) savvy at acquiring a trainer and a jockey. It includes some great lines like this one from trainer Lucien Laurin, “He lays against the back of that starting gate like he’s in a hammock in the Caribbean. And when he finally does get out of the gate, it takes him forever to find his stride.” It includes a rivalry with Pancho Martin, who worked with a pretty good horse as well. Sham was likely one of the fastest ever but spent his career chasing Secretariat. It includes a horse who loved to come out of the gate last but cross the finish line first.

Even though we know how the story goes, the movie keeps a hold on us. The Kentucky Derby followed the script. Secretariat came out of the gate slow but went on to win the race in the fastest time ever. One of my favorite characters in the movie, Eddie Sweat (played by Nelson Ellis) provided one of my favorite scenes the morning of the race. Secretariat had been struggling with a mouth abscess that kept him from eating. But the morning of the race Sweat comes out and announces “Hey Kentucky! Big old Red done ate his breakfast this morning! And you about to see something that you ain’t never even seen before!” At the end of the movie we learn that Sweat spent more time with Secretariat than any other human. Just saying, if I ever own a horse, I want Sweat to be nearby.

We cheer for Secretariat during the Preakness in the family living room as a reminder of the sacrifice and unexpected celebrity that came with owning this particular horse. But, let’s face it; this movie is always leading up to the Belmont. This is a race that is played up as being too long for Secretariat. In this race Secretariat didn’t come out of the gate last but first. Throughout this race, even loyal fans (including owner and trainer) were giving up because of the race speed. But in this race, Secretariat started fast and got faster. He averaged over 37 miles an hour for a mile and a half.

But to my favorite part, who am I kidding, probably everyone’s favorite part. The movie goes silent as we watch an empty track at the final turn. Until Diane Lane’s voice can be heard reading again words from the book of Job. “He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing, he does not shy away from the sword… He cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.” This is followed by the hoof beats of a solo horse and the appearance of Secretariat who goes on to win by 31 lengths. I love when Sweat adds to the scene “There you go Red!”

Critics and staunch history buffs may not like the way some events are portrayed or that Riva Ridge, a horse owned by Chenery, trained by Lucien Laurin, and who won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes just a year earlier was not even mentioned. So if you want a movie that sticks close to history, this may not be it. If you like underdogs, this may not be your movie either. Secretariat is so fast it sometimes doesn’t seem fair. But if you want to be reminded of greatness, in fact one of the greatest athletes in American history – this might be the movie for you.

A Cosmic Meeting

I sometimes wonder about the days when the sons of God, Satan among them, presented themselves before the Lord. I wonder if on one of those days the Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan would reply “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”

And then Satan would continue, “I know that you desire humans be your image bearers, your representatives on earth. But the human experiment has been a disaster. They disappoint at every turn. Do you remember what happened in Eden? Have you forgotten the corruption of the days of Noah? Must I remind you what they were doing at Babel? Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that humans will never become the representatives you had hoped for.”

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered the human Abraham? I have selected him to leave his home. His descendants will be many and his reputation will bring me glory. The whole earth will be influenced by this plan.”

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Have you considered his age? Have you considered he is childless and his wife is barren?” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, watch this plan change the world.”

Job: A Rhapsody of Wonder

The book of Job reveals a man in pain, in anguish.  Anything that could go wrong – does.  Having already lost his children and possessions, Job is afflicted with a disease.  Initially this is described as “sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”  Later, he describes his situation as “my flesh is clothed with worms and a crust of dirt; my skin hardens and runs.” And later, “I am decaying like a rotten thing, like a garment that is moth-eaten.”  Even later, “my skin turns black on me, and my bones burn with fever.”  The book of Job leaves us with questions about Job’s situation.

The questions about Job’s situation may deal with suffering or fairness or sovereignty.  Questions may be about faith or innocence or guilt.  But readers know that Job is more about questions than answers.

If there is something that a reading of Job leaves us certain about, it is that there will always be things we are not certain about.  Creation can not be explained.  Creation is like a psalm or rhapsody of wonder.  In Job, even the maker of all things is astonished at the things He has Himself made.

This is evidenced as the Lord lists some of his activities in response to Job.  Creating the world, dealing with the sea, providing places for light and darkness.  Concerns about sky, weather, and animals.  The Lord has much to be concerned about.

The sea may symbolize chaos, yet it does not battle with the Lord.  Instead it is like a babe that exits the womb and is wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Space may be a show of mystery, yet the Lord leads Orion, Pleiades, and the Bear around.

The Lord finds meals for lions and ravens.  He knows the intricacies of animal breeding.  What does Job know about these things?  The Lord’s speech seems to portray the ostrich as a stupid animal, lacking in wisdom, and yet it laughs at people who would try to catch it.

Behemoth is the Hebrew plural for beast.  This may be to emphasize the size and power of this monster.  Roland Murphy suggests that it may be better to emphasize the role, rather than the description.  Behemoth is a symbol of chaos.  Can Job capture him?  Can he control this beast?

Leviathan wears impenetrable armor, his teeth inspire terror, flames shoot from his eyes, nostrils, and mouth.  Weapons aimed at him are useless.  Can Job catch him with a fish hook?  The speech ends suddenly, but the point is clear; Job (and anybody else) is helpless before the monsters of chaos.  It is only the Lord that can control them.

Roland Murphy proposes that we should approach Job with imagination more than intellect.  Job is in misery and pain.  He is full of questions and demands.  And then God responds.  He woos him.  He dazzles him.  Mark Buchanan says it like this, “you have been sitting on this dung pile for so long, with this pain in your heart and in your flesh for so long, with these boring windbags haranguing you for so long, that you’ve grown blind to beauty.  Everyone’s trying to fix you, Job, fix your problem.  Not me.  I’m going to wow you.”

Job: Drama on Earth and in the Heavens

The Old Testament book of Job begins in the land of Uz.  As chapter one begins, Job is the greatest of all the men in the East, with possessions like no other.  We are told that he has seven sons and three daughters.  He also had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and many servants.  At the chapter ends, he has nothing.  (Talk about a bad day).  He tears his robe, shaves his head, and worships.  This is where we get that great line “the Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

That line may seem out of place considering what has just happened. But, Job is not introduced as just another character.  He is first introduced to us as “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil.”  Later he is introduced to Satan as “a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”  Job may be telling us that people described like this worship even on the worst of days.

The book of Job also places us in the heavenly court.  Chapter one tells of a meeting between the Lord and Satan.  The result of this meeting is Job losing all his possessions and children.  Chapter two tells of another of these meetings.  The result of this one is that Job himself is afflicted with some disease that leaves him in ashes scraping himself with potsherds.  I’ll bet that Job was glad that there were no more of these meetings.  I’ll bet that Job might have been asking if it was necessary to go on for 42 chapters?  Haven’t two been enough?

Job reminds us that we live on earth where we deal with acquisition and loss.  Where we deal with some who have things we would like.  With some who are in need of what we have.  With us constantly thinking that there is something else that we would like to acquire.  With memories of things we once had yet have lost.  Job also reminds us that we are players in a greater drama that takes place in heaven.  Where our actions are noticed.  Where decisions are made that affect us directly.  Where we ought to be storing our treasure.  Where we are reminded that there is more going on than we may know about. 

We may have never had as many camels as Job (I have not counted my camels recently).  We may not have lost everything in a day.  We have never felt the need to shave our head or tear our robe or sit in ashes or scrape ourselves with potsherds.  Yet, we can be certain that we are players in this same drama as Job.  One where earth and heaven meet.

Job: Wisdom and Where to Find It

When we think of Job we often think about suffering.  Rightly so, the unfortunate character of this book suffers a great deal.  Yet, Job is not only about suffering.  In fact, a reading of chapter 28 suggests that suffering is just part of the scenery intended to assist us in a search for wisdom.

Chapter 28 starts by reporting that humans have been pretty good at finding treasure.  Silver, gold, iron, copper, sapphires… we have become adept at finding some pretty important items, but the question remains, where is wisdom?  Human beings have demonstrated skill at digging deep into the earth for precious minerals.  However, after we have explored the deepest parts of the universe, we still search for wisdom.

The question is asked in v.12 “But where can wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding?” and again in v.20 “where then does wisdom come from and where is the place of understanding?”  It is not a surprise to learn that wisdom is with God.  More specifically, while engaged in the work of creation, God did something with wisdom.  Only he knows the way to wisdom, and it cannot be found by digging or mining.

Job may be reluctant to answer this question with any certainty.  The point of chapter 28 is that God alone knows where wisdom is.  In the end, Job realizes that God knows more than we do.  He alone possesses the wisdom necessary to understand and we are at our best when we trust him and fear the Lord, the one who possesses this wisdom.

The chapter ends at 28.28 “behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”  I can’t help but remember how the story of Job began.  Back in the first chapter, Job is introduced to us as “fearing God, and turning away from evil” (1.1).  And later he is introduced to Satan as “fearing God and turning away from evil” (1.8).  We can’t help but consider whether chapter twenty eight is telling us to look again at the introduction of Job.  Does he know this wisdom and understanding from the beginning of the book?  One wonders if it was this wisdom that assisted him as he walked through the struggles he encountered throughout the story.

Roland Murphy states that after this, the debate is over.  Job’s friends have nothing else to say.  But Job continues to talk to God.  Perhaps that is a good place for us to be.  Talking with God.  Fearing the Lord.  Turning away from evil.

Job: A Reading in Reality

Sometimes we become convinced to expect blessings and success in return for following Jesus.  We are tempted to believe this not because we find it in our bible but because we like blessings and success.  It is important for us to remember that we do not share the same definitions of success and blessing as those who do not claim to be following Jesus.  You may drive a new Lexus, wear Ralph Lauren, and eat at Red Lobster – by all means recognize these things as gift – but it is important to realize that these are not reward for following Jesus.  These may be gifts from God but no more gift than a used Ford, Joe Boxer, or Ramen noodles.

This is not a new phenomenon.  The Old Testament book of Job may not mention Jesus, but it does remind us that doing the right thing does not always result in blessing.  Job has everything and is stripped to nothing.  Through it all, Job demonstrates, from start to finish, from plenty to nothing – God does not change and we do not figure him out.  Job is a reading in reality.

It has almost become Gospel in some churches to expect blessings and success in return for following Jesus.  But, we could never have seriously read Job (and certainly do not understand the cross) if we believe the Gospel is a promise of success and prosperity in this world.  In fact, this thinking is one of the major problems in Job.

We may never experience what Job experienced, but we will hold to inaccurate pictures of God (as Job and his friends) as long as we picture God as one who does not suffer.  Incarnation is illustration that God is not a mere spectator.  He is participating with us.  He does not merely tolerate suffering.  He does not only heal suffering.  He is active in it, even participates in it.  He even redeems and gives life through it.

Job: No Matter Your Circumstances

I have been paying close attention to the World Cup.  It is no surprise that we have already heard of unsportsmanlike conduct and referee mistakes.  But, we have also witnessed incredible team chemistry and impressive feats of skill.  (Or impressive feats with feets).

While the world wages war in winter on the pitch in South Africa, we experience summer.  I find myself mowing the lawn, weeding the gardens, staking tomatoes, grilling sliders, and making smoothies.  The garden is full of sage, thyme, and rosemary that I mix with garlic into little bison patties and eat with muenster and cheddar.  And if you have never tried the stuff that comes out of a blender when you mix fruit, ice, and yogurt – its time.

During all this, I have been reading the Old Testament book of Job.  Job is known for his suffering and the people around him who were full of counsel and advice.  An interesting time to read Job since I don’t feel like I am suffering and my friends are usually able to give some pretty good advice (well, some of them).  At any rate, watching the World Cup, eating sliders and smoothies, or reading about someone else’s suffering doesn’t feel like suffering.

But Job is a timely book that has a way of working its way into your soul no matter your circumstances.  For one, Job knows that we are not defined by our stuff.  Life is not about prosperity or the lack of it.  Job knows that this is not a new concern. Some claim the book of Job to be the first book of the bible ever written.  Whether or not this is true, Job is evidence that this danger has been around for a long time.

Like all books we want to read Job with what the author had in mind.  While it may be true that Job wants us to recognize that blessings are not directly related to goodness.  That suffering and pain may not be related to behavior.  That life is not consistently fair.  Job may also want us to be asking whether we serve God for God’s sake or for our own profit?  Perhaps Job wants us to explore our tendency for self centeredness.

If weeds overtake or summer heat scorches the garden.  If the lawn mower or the blender break down.  If the USA is eliminated from the World Cup earlier than I would like.  If my friends start telling me that these things are my fault.  I hope that I will hear Job above the distractions reminding me that it is not about me at all.  As with Job, it is about God.  It is always about God.