Monday, October 13, 2014

Birds of a Feather

Every October, I go on a scary movie binge. I'm not really a big fan of horror movies in general, because I have a low tolerance for blood and gore, but I love to watch classic monster movies (as I've shown before with posts about Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man). I also love movies with good suspense. It should be no surprise, then, that many of my favorite films to watch in October are those directed by the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock!

Hitch's thrillers typically have a psychological edge (which to me is always fascinating), and he has a way of building on many of our common fears. Frequently, what happens on screen isn't even as scary as what's happening in the viewer's mind! In fact, his movies were so scary for their times that Hitchcock once said he was afraid to watch his own movies!

Ornithophobia - the fear of birds - is apparently a fairly common fear, and it's said that even Hitchcock shared this phobia. This, plus the true story of thousands of birds that descended on a small California town one night in 1961, and a little bit of imagination all combined to make the perfect storm for a brilliant Hitchcock horror flick in 1963.

Granted, it's probably not likely that thousands of birds will suddenly attack YOU anytime soon, but part of what makes The Birds so effective, I think - and part of what made it such a success in the early 60s - is the fact that the reason for the bird attacks is never explained or resolved. This raises some interesting questions:

What do you do when an unexpected tragedy hits?
Where do you turn? How do you handle it? On whom do you rely?

In the movie, especially in the diner scene, we get a glimpse at some of the many ways that people respond to unexpected or inexplicable troubles.
  • Some, like Melanie, rush to share the news (whether it's gossiping or, as here, truly looking for help) without having all the facts. Sometimes this has a way of doing more harm than good.
  • Some, like the ornithologist, consider themselves experts, and they completely deny the reality of what's happening because it doesn't match what they "know".
  • Some, like the boat owner, don't know what to think, so their opinions are driven by whoever seems to know what they're talking about. Notice how his beliefs flip-flop as the scene goes on.
  • Some, like another character, immediately jump to the conclusion that it's "the end of the world", and they'll use anything (including Scripture) to support their fears and spread them to others.
  • Some, like the mother, simply panic and find themselves helpless to act. Their fears grow as they see the fear others have, and they don't know what to do at all.
The scene is an interesting look at some of the many natural reactions people sometimes have to life's troubles, but none of these perspectives seems to be all that helpful as the birds attack again and disaster spreads across the town.

So what should we do?

Actually, from the very first bird attack in the film, I think Hitchcock tries to give us part of the answer. See if you notice any pattern in the first few incidents:
  • Melanie is in the boat alone when a seagull catches her off-guard, and the bird draws blood.
  • Annie and Melanie are together in the house when a bird flies into the door, but they are not hurt.
  • The birds attack at Cathy's birthday party, but the adults are there to fend them off, and no one is seriously hurt.
  • Hundreds of birds come down the chimney, but the family fends them off together. Again, no one is seriously injured, though the family does become more and more worried.
  • Birds attack a farmer when he's home alone, and they kill him.
Notice anything interesting? In these attacks and, in fact, throughout the rest of the movie, the pattern seems to be that when someone faces danger on their own, then they are in greater peril and the risk of being injured or killed goes up, but when people are together, they are more likely to come out all right. It's not that the bad thing doesn't still happen - many times, characters are still attacked when they're together. And it's not that the danger is decreased - in fact, it seems to grow with each subsequent attack! But whenever people are together, they are able to help and defend each other, and things turn out better than they would if it was everyone for himself.

This is a Biblical principle that applies whether we're talking about spiritual battles or any of the trials of this life. Whether you see the danger coming or it happens all of a sudden, when we try to stand on our own, there is a greater danger, but when we band together, we are more likely to get through whatever we're facing. It doesn't mean bad things won't happen, and it doesn't mean we won't get hurt along the way, but we can make it through together because we're able to take care of each other.
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken."
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
When we pray for each other, when we encourage each other, when we keep each other accountable, when we listen to each other's hurts, when we work together for peace, when we help the needy or feed the hungry or visit the sick, when we point each other to the Lord - in each of these, we are fulfilling the call to love our neighbors, and we are declaring together victory over the things we could not have fought easily on our own.

Loneliness and depression lead many to believe there's no point in going on, but when we band together and encourage one another, we often find that troubles don't seem as big as they did when we were all alone.

"Bear one another’s burdens,
and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
- Galatians 6:2

Again and again, the Scriptures tell of the importance of togetherness and supporting each other (Proverbs 27:17; 1 Peter 3:8; Romans 12:3-5; Hebrews 10:24-25). Just as important, I think, is knowing who to trust in the midst of hard times. Whether you draw strength from fellow believers at church, from friends and family, or from a spouse or close loved one, it's important to know who you can depend on, and that you can depend on somebody.

Yes, there are times when people will let you down. Nobody is perfect, and people sometimes move or go through their own struggles or die, and they're not always able to give you what you need. This is highlighted in the movie when Lydia confides in Melanie:
"I wish I were a stronger person. I lost my husband four years ago, you know. It's terrible how you- you depend on someone else for strength, and then... suddenly all the strength is gone, and you're alone. I'd love to be able to relax sometime. I'd love to be able to sleep."
This is why it's important, as the movie shows, to have more than just one person to turn to for support. It's also why, as Christians, we make such a big point about trusting God in every situation, because he is the one friend who will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8). He is our strength (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). He is our comfort (Psalm 34:18-19). He is our refuge when everything seems to fall apart (Psalm 46:1-3).

Disastrous things can and will happen in this life, and sometimes, it really can be scary. Sometimes, you'll see it coming, and other times, it will hit with no warning and no explanation. But you can get through this - not by panicking or denying the reality or jumping to conclusions or cowering in fear - but by learning to seek out and trust in the help and encouragement of others, and most importantly, by seeking out and trusting in the help and encouragement that comes from the Lord.

To borrow a line from Edgar Allan Poe, will I be defeated by tragedy or fear?

Quoth the raven "Nevermore!"

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