Film Review: “The Tillman Story”

“The Tillman Story,” Amir Bar-Lev’s moving documentary about Pat Tillman, the NFL football player who left his lucrative career in sports to serve in Afghanistan, is a film that everyone should see.  It’s a hard film to see, though, because no one wants to believe–no one should have to know–that their government lies to them. 

Pat Tillman was a patriot, as were many members of his extended family, who through the years had served in the armed forces of our country.  Pat believed that a man should do the right thing, and when his brother joined the Rangers, Pat joined, too.  The brothers were sent to Iraq–a war Pat thought was illegal–and it is there that he was killed by “friendly fire.” 

Although Pat had made it clear in documents prepared ahead of time that if he were killed, in no way was he to be used for army propaganda, the army lied about the circumstances of his death and made him into a war hero who died under enemy fire while saving other soldiers.  It was only because of the dogged persistence of his parents that the truth was revealed.  But neither those at the highest levels (including Rumsfeld and Bush) nor the soldiers who carelessly killed Pat were ever held accountable. 

The film tells the awful truth, a truth that is hard to stomach.  At the same time, we are inspired by the family’s tenacity–in particular that of Pat’s mother–in finding that truth; and we are inspired by a family who believes that, above all else, one should live by the truth and insists that their government do the same.

Citizens want to believe in their leaders.  And our leaders have a sacred obligation, at the very least, to be truthful to those in their care and keeping.  When citizens are lied to–as we have been so very often–we develop a dark cynicism and are thrown back on individual concerns, unable to trust in the body politic.  People call for “less government.”  But what we need is not less government–we need government that is ethical, and we need public servants who, like Pat Tillman, are willing to put the country’s needs ahead of their own. 



How Does Privilege Work?

John Kitzhaber is being accused of . . . well, privilege.  In 1999 then-governor Kitzhaber accepted a $306,000 loan from Bidwell & Co., to buy a cottage.  Bidwell was an investment firm, not a bank, and had only one other loan on its books; the Kitzabler loan was with no down payment, a deal unheard of in those days.  Then 2 1/2 years later, Kitzhaber appointed Jerry Bidwell to the Oregon Investment Council, an unpaid position which nevertheless was prestigious and put Bidwell in regular contact with the most powerful individuals in the investment industry.  There was nothing illegal about the loan.  Kitzhaber didn’t even have to disclose it, because Bidwell’s firm was regulated by the state and therefore exempt from the disclosure rule.  Kitzhaber paid 8.25 percent interest at a time when 15- to 30-year loans were going for 7 to 7.4 percent, off the 5-year loan early interest, and he paid off the 5-year loan early.  So what’s the big deal?

Doesn’t everyone get a little help from their friends?  Isn’t it true that “it’s who you know” that determines who gets the job–or at least an interview?  Isn’t it OK that the next-door neighbor who is handy with automobiles helps you repair your car?  I mean, even if you live in the ghetto, don’t your buddies watch your back?  As a minister, I got all kinds of special privileges–tickets to performances, stays at lovely beachhouses owned by congregants, referrals to the best doctors.  Once when I needed to purchase a car, I got a “no money down, low interest rate” loan, just above dealer’s price, on the spot, because I was a minister. 

So what is the big deal about Kitzhaber?  It is that elected officials cannot afford to give even the suggestion that they might not be objective in their decision-making.  No one is saying that Bidwell was not qualified for the position on the Council, or that his company was given any special benefits from the state government.  But the fact is that when someone in political office is given a “favor,” it is an unwritten, unspoken expectation that the favor will be returned in some form or another.  These kinds of special privileges are given all the time–everything from nights in the Lincoln bedroom to meals in expensive restaurants to sought-after tickets at sports events.  “It’s nothing,” a wealthy politico will say.  “Do you think that a couple of tickets to a game is going to change my vote?”  Actually, yes, I do.  Not that it’s a one-for-one exchange, no–but it’s access to power, something that the little man (or woman) does not have.  It’s an ear that will hear when the phone rings.  It’s a handshake, a meeting of the eyes, however briefly, that says, “I know you.  We’re two of a kind.  I understand your needs, and I’ll be there for you.”

But lest those of us who are privileged begin to feel self-righteous, let it be said that we should recognize that we enjoy advantages that many others do not have.  What do I mean by “privileged”?  We know people who know people.  We have enough money to buy what we need, and to get the best professional help.  We can leave town when we need a break.  We give support, financial and otherwise, to certain people of power and influence.  Our skin is the right color.  We have had a chance to go to university.  And so on and so forth.  We need not feel guilty, but we should never feel that our accomplishments are all due to our hard work and moral superiority.  If we are so privileged, we should do all we can to even out the playing field.  We should never dare to congratulate ourselves on what we have become.  We’ve had a lot of help from our friends.


“Raw Faith” Goes to Sun Valley!

The documentary “Raw Faith” (director, Peter Wiedensmith), concerning my transition out of ministry and my surprise in falling in love for the first time, will be shown tomorrow night at 7:00 PM at the Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival.  I’ve been impressed with the quality of the other films selected (see info and the trailers at, and so my husband George and I are about to leave for our flight to Boise and our drive to the festival, through what I understand is beautiful country.  The festival is putting us up at the lodge (Peter and I will be speaking), so we’re looking forward to all these new experiences–and hoping that “Raw Faith” will win another award!  More upon my return next week.

How Do We Learn to Love?

I just re-read A General Theory of Love, a book about the origin and powerof love–and in fact a book grounded in hard science.  The book was written by three psychiatrists–Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon–and it argues that we learn to love, starting perhaps even before birth with the sound of our mother’s voice, and that our physiological health demands that we continue to make relatedness and connection central, lest we risk unfulfilled lives or even early death.

The authors’ theory goes like this:

*The human brain is composed of three parts: reptilian, limbic, and neocortical.  The reptilian brain houses the survival centers: breath, heartbeat, swallowing, etc.; the limbic brain is the seat of the emotions; the neocortex handles functions like speaking, reasoning, writing, and planning.

*Through limbic resonance, a mutually responsive emotional exchange, we develop our social sense–i.e., learn to love and to connect.  This exchange happens first and most significantly with the mother.  Without it, physiological systems fail, and the child dies (the syndrome known as “failure to thrive.”)

*Even with the best parentling, children never develop a completely self-tuning physiology: we are social animals, and we continue to need the emotional regulation that we receive through emotional exchange in intimate relationships.  “Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying with them.”

*As children mature, they extract knowledge about human behavior through implicit memory, which is not subject to reason and is not part of the conscious mind.  Individuals who have poor or erratic parenting find themselves drawn to people who replicate the negative patterns of behavior they learned in their family of origin.

*Limbic revision is possible, but is not  an easy task–it is a remodeling of the emotional, or limbic, pathways in the brain.  In therapy, limbic revision does not come through insight, for emotional familiarity exercises a stronger pull than reason.  Rather, it comes through a healthy, loving and  extended relationship with the therapist.  It can also be facilitated through close relationships with people who know how to love well.

*The authors warn against the intense use of “electronic stewards” for our children: television, videos, computer games.  These cannot substitute for face-to-face emotional exchange.  Anxiety and depression are the consequences of ignoring limbic needs, and these are epidemic in the U.S. today.

A General Theory of Love is profoundly counter-cultural in several ways:

–It calls into question the American ideals of individualism and independence: human beings are ever and always interdependent, regulating one another emotionally–loving one another into life and health.

–It questions a mental health system which depends so heavily on medication.  Medication can be useful, but cannot provide limbic revision.  It questions an insurance system that provides so little coverage for mental health.  It questions the efficacy of “insight therapy.”

–It questions a social policy that asks single mothers to “get a real job” rather than raise their children–and indeed, a society that is generally unsupportive of women who choose to work in the home.

–It questions our growing substitution of electronics for actual human contact.

–It questions our culture’s pursuit of consumer goods rather than relationships, calling modern American culture “an extended experiment in the effects of depriving people of what they crave most.”

–It questions a corporate culture that asks workers to pour their hearts into a job, when the corporation itself has no attachment inclinations such as loyalty, concern, affection.

–It questions our cultural attitude that relationships don’t need much time and attention–that there can be an “efficiency” in relationships, as with the other areas of our living.

A General Theory of Love is not a self-help book–it aims to change consciousness, not just pose ideas.  And when such a shift occurs, we can’t ever see the world again in exactly the same way.  We stop, we sense an internal shift, we change.  In an anti-life culture, this book is one of those rare ones that help us choose life.


The Unfair, Unwarranted, Unbelievable Passage of Time

My husband George and I are going to the beach on Friday for the week, and during that time we’ll be celebrating our first wedding anniversary.  How can that be?  It still feels strange to call George “my husband.”  Sometimes I look at him in a kind of wondering, dazed way, and think, “I’m married to this man?”  And already a year gone.

This coming anniversary brings to mind the unfair, unwarranted, unbelievable passage of time.  Like most of us, I believe that I have forever–forever to travel, forever to write, forever to forgive, forever to love.  But then the markers come: another New Year, another birthday, another anniversary.  One day it’s fairly easy to do that 6-mile hike, and the next . . . well, not so easy.  My body is saying “slow down,” and yet I’m so hungry to soak up every moment of experience from every day.  Rest?  How unfair, to have to rest!

I realize that I’m trapped in the finite–with the infinite, there is no boundary called “time.”  But I’m flesh and blood, and so I hear the clock ticking.  I will not have a lifetime with my new husband, for instance.  I told him when we married that he had to give me at least 30 years.  But can he?  Can I give him thirty years?  I only know that every moment we share is precious.  I don’t want to waste any of the life we have left with wondering or arguing or posturing.  And yet because I’m human, I toss off moments like I have an infinite number.  This anniversary reminds me that I don’t.

Likewise, there are the children to consider: George’s children and my children, and our grandchildren.  We don’t tell our children while they’re growing up, “Life is not easy.  It’s hard to live well–to live with integrity, I mean.  It’s hard to love well.  Dangers abound.”  What do they need from us, in the years we have left?  Can we be there for them in the ways they need us?

And what about our work, our gifts to the larger world?  What remains to be given?  What is significant and what is not?   Our days our numbered.  Time pushes us to make choices.  Not that any one of us is irreplaceable, or is going to save the world from its headlong rush into darkness, but we have to answer to ourselves.  Have we exploited our gifts to the fullest, have we done what we have been given to do by whatever powers that be?

And so I approach this anniversary with some degree of melancholy, yes, but also with awe and thanksgiving.  I know the moment is everything.  I’m living with the full understanding that I will not be living one day, and that understanding makes each day sweet and full of possibility.  Of course, I’m heir to all the human stuff that plagues us all: I want to lose 10 pounds–well, maybe 15; I wish the construction noise would stop; I don’t understand why my husband take the longer route home, when I’ve told him better.  Let it go, I say, just let it go.  Pay attention to what really matters.