Chariots of Fire

March 31, 2004 | 22 comments
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This morning in Seminary, I showed my students some clips from Chariots of Fire. We have been studying Isaiah, and I love the scene where Eric Liddell is preaching to a congregation in Paris while taking Sunday off from the 1924 Olympics. (Do they understand what he is saying with his Scottish accent?). During that scene, interposed with images of athletes stuggling to compete in slow motion to the haunting music by Vangelis, Liddell quotes from Isaiah 40:29-31:

He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.


This movie was released in 1981, and it won an Oscar for best picture. I was baptized in October 1981, a decision that was accompanied by a decision to give up competitive golf. If I were serious about being a Mormon, I reasoned, Sabbath observance would be part of the package. Chariots of Fire reinforced my resolve, and I still get tears when I see Eric Liddell face off against the Prince of Wales and members of the British athletic elite who are attempting to persuade him to run on Sunday. That this scene did not really occur does not lesson its impact. Liddell was a man of principle. He died as a missionary in China just after World War II.

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22 Responses to Chariots of Fire

  1. Dave on March 31, 2004 at 3:56 am

    Some lessons I learned from Chariots of Fire. (1) Money: I recall thinking how good the rich kid had it. Practicing hurdles in the back yard with champagne glasses perched on each hurdle. (2) Anti-Semitism: Jews had it tough in England then, even smart, fast ones. (3) Missionaries: Might give up more than just a medal.

  2. Russell Arben Fox on March 31, 2004 at 8:25 am

    Chariots of Fire was the first movie I ever saw that captured me as a work of cinema. Obviously the film is simply larded with manipulative visual and aural cues–the slow-motions scenes, the intrusive Vangelis score, etc. It doesn’t hold up as a tremendous movie. But I still adore it, because of the way it got inside me, and the way in showed me that films are something that can get inside you. I still find the early scene where Liddell is running the 400, falls, then gets up and runs again, arms flailing, head back, winning the race all while his rival Harold Abrams watches with horror and amazement from the stands, an awesome bit of filmmaking.

  3. Adam Greenwood on March 31, 2004 at 11:16 am

    This thread would be incomplete without a mention of Eli Herring, who turned down the NFL for the Sabbath’s sake. God bless you, brother. We remember you.

  4. John David Payne on March 31, 2004 at 11:22 am

    And it kills me to see the many NFL Mormons celebrated as heroes. I think we are as a people losing our sense of the special-ness of the Sabbath. But in this, as in all things, we are simply following American society after a respectable lagtime.

    HOUSE OF PAYNE

  5. John David Payne on March 31, 2004 at 11:37 am

    One more thing. When the pope recently spoke out against sports on Sunday, Yahoo filed it under “Oddly Enough,” their category for wierd or funny news.

    (I am here only repeating what was first pointed out by Clayton Cramer on his blog.)

    HOUSE OF PAYNE

  6. lyle on March 31, 2004 at 11:49 am

    But John…think of all the liberals whose hearts we are warming as we gradually conform on these social issues…I mean, maybe gay marriage could be next…or legalizing drugs…or . . .

    Don’t be mean now…they might get offended and stop coming to church.

  7. Gordon Smith on March 31, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    Russell, As I have noted here before, I am no movie critic (indeed, not much of a movie watcher), but I share your fondness for this film for “the way it got inside me.” If it had not arrived at that critical juncture in my life, this would be an inspiring movie, but not the special movie that it is to me.

  8. Kristine on March 31, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    Lyle, give me a break. I’m fairly certain that I’m the most “liberal” person here, and I am positively militant about Sabbath observance. Cool it with the gratuitous digs.

  9. Russell Arben Fox on March 31, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    “I’m fairly certain that I’m the most ‘liberal’ person here…”

    Depending on what you mean by the term, I’ll fight you for that title.

  10. Kaimi on March 31, 2004 at 12:54 pm

    Lyle,

    Do you really think that, if you crack open the pages of The Nation or Mother Jones, you’ll see editorial after editorial about why Sabbath observance is such a bad thing?

    Liberals, however defined, don’t have much of an effect on Sabbath observance. Perhaps it’s time to stop blaming the liberal bugbear and face the idea that lack of Sabbath observance is a problem that has been with us for a long time, and its roots (as always) can generally be traced to various combinations of member laziness, procrastination, and occasional genuine work needs.

    Or you could just blame it all on Clinton . . .

  11. Kristine on March 31, 2004 at 12:57 pm

    Nah, Russell, no fight–you’ll be careful and philosophical; I was using it in the generally-accepted but sloppy and contentless way : )

  12. lyle on March 31, 2004 at 12:57 pm

    folks…let’s all laugh together. :)
    i was just highlighting the ridiculous idea that the Kingdom of God should “follow after society,” and my factual experience that whenever this tendency is resisted…some folks start getting offended.
    :)

    i’ve read some good articles in Mother Jones, btw.

  13. Kristine on March 31, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    Nope, lyle, you don’t get to say nasty things and then laugh it off. You can be a little more careful with what you say, or you can actually clarify or apologize afterwards. But all the : )s in the world don’t make it ok for you to just say whatever you want and then duck when people call you on it.

  14. lyle on March 31, 2004 at 1:04 pm

    Kristine: I’m not being nasty. But feel free to judge. The problem with the net is that words can be taken in any number of different ways…and the speaker really has about…um…zero control over how the reader interprets it. Take literary theory for example. Do you really think that the “author” whomever she might be…really ‘meant’ to put in all the things that are thereinafter attributed to him?

    If my sarcasm offends; I’ll try not to use it.

    Also…I doubt you are the most liberal. Esp. if we stick to the original meaning of liberal.

    :)

  15. John David Payne on March 31, 2004 at 1:14 pm

    Now, Lyle, no semantic games. We all know what Kristine meant when she said she was the most liberal.

    As for me, I don’t blame the decline in Sabbath observance on Bill Clinton or any other liberal bogeyman. It’s just part of being in the world, and more particularly, being part of American society. The influence is powerful and pervasive, and over the course of many years, it adds up.

    A hundred years ago, it was thought immodest in church circles for women to reveal their ankles. Fifty years ago, it was thought immodest to show calves by wearing shorts. Today it is thought immodest to show thighs.

    This pattern is borne out I think in a hundred other tiny things. Society changes, and we are changing, too. Some of the change I welcome: I’m glad to be able to wear shorts and garments at the same time. But some of the change is not so welcome, as is the case with the gradual erosion of Sabbath observance. Don’t know that there’s much to be done about it, though.

    HOUSE OF PAYNE

  16. Kristine on March 31, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    Lyle, it’s not a question of tone. When you say that liberals are likely to be happy about the decline of Sabbath observance, my disagreement is not with your tone, but with the *content* of your statement. Unless you want to claim some radical post-modern special usage (and you don’t want to have that argument with me; I have a few semesters of literary theory on you and you will get whupped and/or bored to death), you have to accept that people are going to assign some set of generally accepted denotative values to your words, and use them accordingly.

  17. lyle on March 31, 2004 at 1:25 pm

    Kristine:

    Sounds like a fun discussion. However…this thread might not be the place for it; lol.

    sum: I don’t have to accept any social assumptions. I’ve done fairly well ignoring most of them to date. Frankly, I’m rather tired of folks interpreting my words…so…I’ve simply thrown my hands in the air and said…”Fine, I’ll write what I want…and they will read what they want…and ce est la vie.” When you are dealing with lawyers…it gets alternatively boring & thrilling to hash over the meaning of every semicolon, colon and word.

  18. John David Payne on March 31, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    Lyle, don’t be a putz. If Kristine has wrongly characterized your argument, correct her. No harm in that. Throwing your hands in the air and saying people can read what they want into your words is too cute by half. Your words have meaning. If we misunderstand, educate us. Otherwise, why post?

  19. Kristine on March 31, 2004 at 1:37 pm

    Lyle, you don’t have to accept any social assumptions, it’s true, but if you want to have a discussion, you should use words the way most people use and understand them. If you choose not to do this, you should, at the very least, not get huffy when people ignore your comments.

  20. Steve Evans on March 31, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    p.s. Lyle — it’s “c’est la vie”. The French use a grammatical contraction between 2 words where one ends and one begins with a vowel.

    I guess this counts as people hashing over the meaning of every semicolon, colon, and word… sorry.

  21. lyle on March 31, 2004 at 2:13 pm

    Thanks for the correction Steve. I don’t speak French and for some strange reason; most folks seem to be able to understand the content of most words…except those that they disagree with…in which case contradictory instructions multiply on how to correct the deficiencies (sp).

    To address the argument made: My bad for attaching “liberal” political views with poor Sabbath observance. My good for attaching “liberal” political views with policies that degrade the capacity of families to live the gospel & that are sometimes (not always!) more concerned with what their neighbors/the world think that what the Gospel clearly says.

  22. lyle on March 31, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    p.s. I’m following Jeremy’s fine example…

    This will be my last post on the subject. What was meant as a cute tongue in cheek joke has spiralled out of control.

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