It’s a Wonderful Life and the Courage to Live (and Create Art) Idealistically

Part 3 of 3-part series on It’s a Wonderful Life: Click here for Part 1.

Capra’s Christmas story came into my life just when I needed it most.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

In the fantasy tale Crow and Weasel,  Badger declares: “If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”[1]  It’s a Wonderful Life has been just such a story for me.

George Bailey experiences his personal “triumphal entry” into Bedford Falls

Sue and I were spending Christmas Eve far from family and friends, holed up in a downtown hotel in Kansas City, MO on one of the coldest nights on record. We had just made some of the most momentous decisions of our life. We would not return to China where we had thought we would spend our entire careers. We would not accept a prestigious internship that may have launched my career, but would have kept Sue and I apart for nearly a year. Instead, we would devote our lives to serving God as missionaries, not to a foreign country, but to a generation—young intellectuals, artists, and leaders who would shape the world for good.

To say that it was an idealistic decision is a gross understatement. We were going, “All in” to pursue a dream of cultural transformation that was hard to articulate without sounding crazy. Many friends, family members, bosses, and mentors simply didn’t understand. Frankly, we weren’t we sure we understood. Yet we were certain we were following God’s leading (at least as certain as two doubting idealists living in a physicalist culture can be.) So we talked our idealistic talk over a marvelous dinner in a famous KC steakhouse, prayed our idealistic prayers, and climbed into bed.

Enter It’s a Wonderful Life

Mindlessly, I flipped on the TV. A black and white image of two constellations talking to each other slowly materialized on the screen. Why we didn’t change channels I’ll never know, but slowly the magic of Frank Capra’s film drew us in. Instantly we identified with George and Mary Bailey and their struggle to live out their idealism in a world that seemed determined to beat it out of them. We were transfixed. It was our story. Here was a couple who kept taking punch after punch on the chin, but also kept pursuing their idealistic dream for the benefit of others, all the while wondering they were actually making any difference at all.

It was a holy moment. We wondered aloud if God wasn’t somehow using Capra’s story to communicate something of the kind of life our decisions would lead to. Boy, were we ever right.  Since that cold Kansas City night our long and winding journey from Big Ten universities, to Christian schools, to the Ivy League, and now Hollywood has proven to be even more of a challenge than we could have ever imagined. And when things have been their darkest, we have returned to the story of It’s a Wonderful Life again and again.

I know it is a bit melodramatic, but I’m not sure we would have made it this far without George Bailey’s example of self-sacrificing idealism vindicated by God’s direct intervention in the physicalist world. George and Mary Bailey were true two-handed warriors. Watching how their small idealistic decisions added up to the profound cultural influence fills my heart with strength to do the right thing on a day-to-day basis.  And in our darkest hours, just knowing that there is a God and his angels and a great cloud of witnesses looking on, helps us pray, “Lord, help me live again.”

So what lessons can modern day two handed warriors draw from Capra’s tale.  Let me propose three.

Don’t lose your idealist nerve.

The first lesson is just for filmmakers aspiring to both culture-making and faith-building, and it is this: Don’t lose your idealist nerve. By rooting his film in present-day America (at least it was present-day in 1946), Capra went against the trend of his day to express a theistic worldview only in “Bible films.” By portraying a clear and unmistakable (if comic) divine intervention, Capra went against the trend of his day to limit modern-day religious faith to the private subjective realm.[2] (See, Capra’s Saga of a Depressed Idealist.)

In an era when “magical” intervention in the physical world was established as a Hollywood staple, divine intervention is nearly completely missing. This is not to say that filmmakers of faith should never set their films in a physicalist worldview, or resort to a historical, fantasy, and even horror genres to convey their themes,[3] only that Capra’s courage to root George Bailey’s idealism in the radical repudiation of skeptical physicalism through the supernatural in-breaking of God is what is so desperately lacking in today’s films.  If filmmakers of faith won’t make divinely supernatural films, who will?

Certainly this kind of two-handed filmmaking will require remarkable wisdom and audacity. Wisdom, because physicalist Hollywood will automatically categorize any film with a supernatural element as “Fantasy.” (In fact, AFI now lists It’s a Wonderful Life as a “Fantasy Film.”) Physicalist (especially nihilist) films are held in such high honor in this town that nearly everything else is often viewed as “sentimental hogwash” (except when it is time to balance the budget.)  Making films that are both excellent and idealist and even theistic will be an incredible challenge, but I believe it can be done, because it has been done. Gladiator is a recent idealist example, even if it was a period piece.[4]

The truly audacious thing will be if someone follows Capra’s lead and manages to make a critically-acclaimed and commercially-viable theistic idealist film set it in present-day America. It will have to be a spectacular, genre-bending effort, but as Flannery O’Conner put so eloquently:

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”[5]

It will take the kind of courage Capra demonstrated in making Wonderful Life, and like Capra, it might take years for such courage to be vindicated on the earth, or in heaven. But is that any reason not to try?

In my life journey, I NEEDED a story like Capra’s “more than food to stay alive.” I don’t think I’m alone. But who will make the films that will sustain the next generation of two-handed warriors?  Only filmmakers like Capra with the courage to live idealistically. Is that you?

Don’t rely on Idealism alone

The second lesson I’d like to draw from Capra’s classic is for those of us–like Ricky Gervais–who are stuck between idealism we intuit to be “true” and physicalism we face with our senses everyday. (See, Ricky Gervais and Sentimental Hogwash.) Let’s be honest, some of us are way too idealistic.  We ground our faith in the unseen realm in such a way that our faith is little more than an existential and/or postmodern personal preference. Then, when someone criticizes or critiques our faith with data from the world of sense perceptions we defensively label them an “enemy of the faith.”  Perhaps they are. But isn’t it more likely that they are simply a skeptical physicalist waiting for us to provide a demonstration of the in-breaking of the idealist world into this “present evil age.” Maybe they aren’t rejecting our faith so much as the shallow level of experience we’re basing it on.

Jesus never asked his followers to judge the truth-claims of his message based upon “pie-in-the-sky bye-and-bye” idealism. He asked them to base it upon the ideals of the kingdom of God breaking into the physical world through the “miracles” of supernatural answers to prayer (John 14:12).

Until Christ followers live lives marked by supernatural power and sacrificial love, I’m afraid that the Ricky Gervais’s of the world are going to have a very hard time taking our truth claims very seriously. Roman Emperor Julian despised the Christ followers of his day, yet he could no escape the reality of their faith in their lives when he confided in a friend:

“…the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of their dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause… these impious Galileans support our poor in addition to their own… outdoing us in good deeds while we ourselves are disgraced by laziness.”[6]

Sounds like a perfect description of George and Mary Bailey to me. Yet, I mean no disrespect when I say that many of the “media leader Christians” I encounter today remind me more of Mr. Potter than George Bailey. In their preoccupation with wealth and political power, their lives and their careers seem just as dominated by “me, me, me” as any other (nihilistic) physicalist. Is it any wonder that the Ricky Gervais’s of the world have a hard time believing the message we preach?

Co-labor with God

The third lesson I’d like to draw from It’s a Wonderful Life is for all two-handed warriors—whether you labor in the Ivy League, Hollywood, Wall Street, or Main Street—Don’t allow the story of skeptical physicalism to deter you from seeking to co-labor with God in the in-breaking of his kingdom in the world. Follow George Bailey’s lead and grow a pair. We might just live to see our work transform our own culture every bit as much George and Mary’s self-sacrificing idealism transformed Bedford Falls.  But even if we never see the full result of our idealistic actions on earth, we must live our lives the way we will wish we had lived them on that day when we finally will see our life from God’s perspective—because someday we will.

It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever get a George Bailey-esque  ‘advance screening’ of our life’s work. Yet Paul of Tarsus assures us that we will “all appear before the viewing seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). To be a true two handed warrior is to live for that heavenly red carpet affair, more than for its pale imitation at the Kodak theatre each year.

That day is the one when we want the Lord himself (and not some mere angel) to declare, “Well done, you good and faithful servant! You’ve really had a wonderful life.”

Merry Christmas!

Gary & Sue Stratton

Next: Bungee-Jumping to Eternity: The Existential Angst of Dead Poets Society

See also:

Hollywood and Higher Education: Teaching Worldview Through Academy Award-winning Films

Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview: Why Everyone Meets at Rick’s 

Fiddler on the Roof: Worldview Change and the Journey to Life-Interpreting Story

Crash goes the Worldview: Why Worldview Transformation Requires Changing Scripts

It’s a Wonderful Worldview: Frank Capra’s Theistic Masterpiece

 

 

Notes

[1] Barry Holstun Lopez, Crow and Weasel (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990).

[2] Look for a future post on the fascinating relationship between worldview and film genre.

[3] Such as Academy Award nominees, The Robe (1953), and The Ten Commandments (1956), and Oscar-winner Ben-Hur (1959).

[4] Look for a future post on Gladiator.

[5] Flannery O’Connor, Robert Fitzgerald, and Sally Fitzgerald, Mystery and Manners (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961). Italics mine.

[6] Julian Caesar, “Letter to Arsacius,” Based in part on the translation of Edward J. Chinnock, A Few Notes on Julian and a Translation of His Public Letters (London: David Nutt, 1901) pp. 75-78 as quoted in D. Brendan Nagle and Stanley M. Burstein, The Ancient World: Readings in Social and Cultural History (Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice Hall, 1995) pp. 314-315. Introduction and e-text copyright 2005 by David W. Koeller timemaster@thenagain.info. All rights reserved.

109 Replies to “It’s a Wonderful Life and the Courage to Live (and Create Art) Idealistically”

  1. I have seen IAWL 17 times in a theater and dozens of times on video (never on television…commercials are sacrilege). After 30+ years I still believe this is the greatest film ever made, and am not afraid to seem silly saying so in more rarified . No film has ever inspired or touched me more, and I find an instant kinship with anyone who shares my passion for the film. They are My Peeps.

    Something I’m wondering about… I think of the film as transformational, but I’m not really sure that’s true.

    The film tremendously inspires and encourages — gives fresh courage — to those already on the path, cheering us on to stay the course, fight the good fight, not give up…to see that “the battle of Bedford Falls” is not fought in vain (and not unseen), and that there is indeed a reward for those who persevere.

    But for those NOT on the path, I suspect that the film, like the cross (the REAL greatest story ever told) is foolishness.

    I don’t know…has anyone ever been converted by the film? Or is the transformation that I FEEL when I watch IAWL instead simply a profound confirmation of what I already believe and a divine affirmation that, in God’s economy and universe, goodness (the way of the cross) is its own reward?

    In any case, it is a message I need to hear on a regular basis. Time to schedule my annual viewing.

  2. I find myself wondering why I've never watched this film before, as I did really enjoy it. The storyline of good vs evil, David vs Goliath, son rebelling against father, they were all played out very well. It is easy to be in George's position in which he only looks to god when he is in trouble, as we do get tied up in our busy lives. That is why it is importiant to have a solid basis in our faith.

  3. Most of us can see ourselves living the life of George Bailey with his idealistic worldview. Many people want more than their world that surrounds them. Traveling and experiencing the world miles away from your town is a romantic notion where one can easily wake up from the dream. Making a difference does not mean that you have to leave everything behind and move miles away. You can make a difference in your immediate surroundings. People around you need you and you are there to serve a purpose. Don't fight the plan that God has; trust in God and he will send you where you are needed most. George Baily had Clarence the angel showing him that he was needed there. Maybe some people need an angel to show them that they are where they should be at.

  4. This was the first time I watched the movie. I saw myself in Gorge at times of deperation reaching to GOd for help. I also saw myself in times of self-sacrifice. I was impacted the most by the number of people George touched in his life and how the town "changed without him"
    There is a purpose for each of us and we can certaily make a difference in the world, just like Geroge, there is joys in our journeys and also challenges, but God is with us and this is in deed a wonderful life!

  5. Three thumbs up for It’s a Wonderful Life. WOW! A lot like you Gary, I felt this story was meant for my wife and I, well, maybe more for me but It was perfect timing. Without going into so much detail, George and Mary’s life resonated much with the both of us. I feel like we have given up a lot, especially for my Church. And now all these could’ve and should’ve thoughts are catching up to us. Well, to our surprise, Clarence showed up and told us that one-day it will be worth it all. I guess the idealistic side may have to take over for now. I’m happy I watched this movie.

  6. To me this movie was a re-afirming experience it showed me that to lead the life I desire to live is not easy; specially in todays world, but that living by my convictions, values and morals is more rewarding in the long run than to try to fullfil my emptyness with posessions or money like Mr. Potter. Mr. potter it's portraid as a man unable to experience, joy, compasion or a sense of conection with others his only drive its money. incontrast with George his life seems of less significance.

    1. There are many Mr. Potters in this world where money is the bottom-line. There is nothing wrong with making money but how you do it makes a difference. How you get there is most important. I am reminded of the new reality show Undercover Boss where the head a corporation does good deeds for their outstanding employees. Mr. Potter should watch this show!

  7. This was a timely movie for me at this point in my life. I have had to make difficult decisions at work and before i had to discuss a major decision i had made with my boss i was having a panic attack in my offce. My office faces the guthrie theatre in minneapolis. I stopped for a minute and prayed for the strength to have this meeting and that i was making the right decision. I looked up from my prayer and the word GOD appeared on the Guthrie sign! The three letters just stayed there for a a few seconds but it gave me the strength and the peace i was looking for, much like George!

    1. It is amazing how when we ask for help or guidance the message is returned to us is the most interesting ways. It all starts with asking just as George learned when his wife went out and asked the people that where George's friends for help. I hope the meeting with our boss went well for you.

    2. You give a perfect example of God revealing himself at the right time for you. He has done this at times in my life as well. It is a powerful and humbling experience. George Bailey was a great example of the best of humankind. He was faithful in his brokenness and God revealed himself when george needed him most.

    3. Noelle, this movie was timely for me too. I have seen this movie many times during Christmas while having guest at my home. I now know the reason why I had not been able to see the movie in its entirety. It was not because of the many welcomed interruptions. It's a Wonderful Life would not made sense then, but today it did. I've also been praying for God to send me sings and He sent me It's a Wonderful Life. George's character has a powerful meaning to my life now.

    4. WOW! That is amazing! I guess you'd have to say that God (or a Clarence) was there with you!

  8. I think we all need to live more like this. We need to stop living so much in physicalism and allow more idealism into our lives. I think we would all be much happier if we just thought about how good we really have it, even though life isn't always perfect. I especially need to work on this and learn to love life just the way God made it for me rather than grumbling at the things that go wrong and missing the things that go right.

    1. Hillary,

      Good point! We do have it good, but we are condition to think the we don't there is always products to "make us happy" we need to have and once we have those items they are out of style and then we need something else. looking at our ideals and trying the best we can to pursue them will bring more hapiness to our lifes than trying to "buy it"

  9. I have to admit that at first I wasn't sure I wanted to break tradition by watching a Christmas movie in the middle of June, but now I think everyone should watch this as a reminder of how amazing God is and what he can do. I have always loved this movie, but looking at it now and the worldviews that are in it made it a whole new experience. George was so frustrated at the beginning of the movie. He was angry that he got stuck at the Building and Loan and missed out on all of the experiences that he had dreamed about. He lost his idealism and got stuck in a physicalism rut. He let his frustration of being stuck overshadow all the wonderful blessings he got because he stayed. He had a wonderful family, a steady job (although not glamorous), and great friends who would help him anytime he needed. Thanks to Clarence (and God of course) he was able to see what a difference life would be if he wasn't in it and hadn't stayed in Bedford Falls.

    1. I'm glad you were willing to break tradition on this one. Great insights on "losing idealism!"

  10. part 2: He thinks highly of people who have gone through their own journey of discovery and are seeming to approach faith intellectually. To me, that sounds a bit like an oxymoron – "intellectual faith". Faith by it's very definition involves believing in what is unseen. I think Gary has a point in his article that we as Christians tend to oversimplify our Christianity. It would serve us all well to really dive into the Scriptures and study for ourselves what we believe and what we're basing the actions of our life on.

  11. I have one more comment on the article above from Gary David (not to be confused with the other Gary Strattons in the industry. 😉

    "Maybe they aren’t rejecting our faith so much as the shallow level of experience we’re basing it on." I think this is a very good point and is especially true for intellectual types. I had dinner with a good friend of mine last week that doesn't profess to be an athiest, but he definitely doesn't see a reason to be a Christian. What he's concerned with is education, things you can explain and what he can taste, touch and smell. He outright said that many people just accept their parents religions and don't seem to know why they believe what they do. He has no time of day for those people.

    1. Science has taught to many people that anything you cannot touch, taste, feel must not be real. This is a challenge to all Christians because faith in immeasurable. Faith strengthens us when we are week. Proving God does not exist is immpossible because you cannot prove a negative. What we can due is show are friends all teh places God does exist. He is in the stars, nature and in the goodness of people like George Bailey from It's A Wonderful Life. God may not be measurable but you can see him if you are open to look.

  12. What I learned about Atheism, Idealism, and Physicalism is that the beholder of each of these beliefs views those values faithfully. Atheism seemed like the easy answer for those who seeks proof and are looking for solid evidence of a higher being. I disagree, I believe they need to find something solid to place their faith in. George was a classic example of sticking to his values despite multiple adversities. His idealism view of the world and of people took precedence over his own needs. Mr. Potter was a contrast character to George because he was self serving and also viewed wealth as having money. Mr. Potter's physicalism view was displayed by his greed and lack of sympathy for the people of Bedford Falls. George was rich with character and moral values. I can best relate to George's point of view because I myself have many times faced temptations and self serving decisions that I was able to walk away because it felt like these choices will compromise who my character is and what my moral beliefs are.

    1. I think that George was an idealist in multiple ways – his worldview that influenced his desire to help people was well-demonstrated, but he also idealized a life away from that, where he could have his own adventures and obtain wealth. That's why Mr. Potter was able to tempt him financially. We saw early on that his true self was selfless, and after going through the obstacles, his idealism and values won out.

    2. Great insight! "I believe they need to find something solid to place their faith in." I think everyone does!

  13. It’s a Wonderful Life has long been one of my favorite movies. As I watched the movie again, I realized that that George, like many of us, ends up being guided down a path that is not his own path or plan. Because George so desperately wants to experience a new life, outside of his hometown, we see his frustration as he is pulled back to Bedford Falls because God has another path or plan for him. We may believe that he stays because of fate or because ethically he just can’t say “no” to the townspeople. And, maybe this is true. However, I believe it is true because it is God’s calling for George. You might say it is in the “wiring” for George. There have been times in my own life that things just seem to fall into place, even when I have not really worked for them. Other times, there have been situations when I may push and push for a certain something and things work out differently than I had hoped, but end up even better. When it comes to Potter, even though it seems that he is almost acting as the devil by causing so much pain for George, maybe this too is part of God’s plan for George. When Potter feels no remorse even though he caused the crisis in George’s life (the $8000 missing) and then takes things even farther when he calls the authorities, it pushes George to the limit. The last nail in the coffin happens when Potter tells George that he is worth more dead than alive it is absolutely appalling. This sends George off the deep end and straight to the bridge. I wonder how many people experience something similar to this. When we see people do crazy and horrible things it makes me wonder what happened previously. I know that there are times when I do some crazy things that I may not have done if it were not for something happening earlier. Luckily, as in George’s case, God steps in and corrects my path.

    1. The movie made me realize I need to stop worrying about life and that my life rests in Gods hands. God has a plan for my life and I need to seek Him in order to better understand and recognize that plan.

    2. I think God tries to step in to direct our paths so often, but a lot of times we (as humans) do not allow Him to. We think we know best and that we have a better life plan for ourselves than He does. It's when we are silent and seek His will that He is faithful in showing us and guiding us. I'm so thankful he does.

    3. It's so interesting to think about all the times that I've had a certain path in mind, but God has other plans and hard as I try he always wins. It always ends up being a good path he leads me down, but I don't always go easily. It's so hard to just trust that he knows best and let him lead the way. I wonder why that is.

    4. Good post and interesting point of view on George actually following his plan or path all along, even though he didn't think so or like it. I agree, sometimes things are not working out the way we want and we ask for His help, only to think our prayer goes unaswered. However, down the road you often realize things worked out just they way they needed to.

  14. I found it very powerful in the end of the movie when the town came to show him how much they wanted to support him and all of his good will toward man had come to help him in the end. The book that Clarence had with him on their journey was signed and given to George this shows the correlation between physicalism and idealism. I believe that we all have a certain view of both worlds, and try to find symbols of idealism throughout our lives. Although I am unable to see God, I do feel his presence throughout certain situations, and it helps us get through tough times. Especially once you have made it through a difficult time in your life.

    1. The ending was powerful, I don't think George understood how many peoples lives he impacted until he was in need and they came to the rescue. My mother was like George in the sense that she always put others before herself. She was always giving away money and even took in homeless people at times. It wasn't until my mothers funeral that I could actually see the true picture of how many lives she impacted. The church was so full at her funeral that people had to stand. I could not believe all the people, where did they come from? My mother not only made a difference but left a legacy.

  15. This is the first time I have watched “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and it was such a learning experience for me. It really gives a good example of physicalism and idealism and how your world view can change your life. It is difficult at times to take that step and see beyond what you can see and touch. Throughout the movie George is faced with several different decisions, and each of those decisions are based on helping other people in the town and “doing the right thing.” I truly believe what is being said in the part two discussion of Two Handed Warriors. The fact that George is not only doing the right thing, but it is also “world changing.” His intention was to help other people, and was willing to give up money and his personal opportunities for others. My belief is that because of the wonderful things he did from others, Clarence was brought out the idealism in his life and he was able to realize what he needed to do.

    1. Shawna,

      You made some very good points about the good man that George was. I found it interesting that even at the young age working for Mr. Gower, George's character showed. I noticed that even though he was hit by Mr. Gower until his ear bled, he never told a soul about the poisonous pills that Mr. Gower would of accidentally prescribed. Retaliation or revenge was not in his mindset. After all of the many different curve balls that life threw his way, he was still a good man. These "life moments" never changed his world view of who he really was in his core character.

  16. part 2… If only we could all start and end our stories with an idealistic worldview. When we face trials, our perspective tends to change as well. We tend to allow our worldviews to be molded and shaped by our new experiences. This movie taught me that while our experiences are always going to change our life journeys, that they do not have to change our worldviews if our worldviews are based on the proper foundation – God.

    1. Well said, I believe that my foundation is with God and no matter how complicated life gets, it gives me the strength to do the right thing. In the movie, George does not realize how his life and his actions changed and improved so many lives. In the end the entire community came together to show George their support. It made me tear up, I have to admit.

      1. I had the same reaction. It totally made me tear up because through the entire movie George struggles, gives and self-sacrifices. It's nice to see that all worked out for him in the end. It would have been a completely different movie had he let the unfortunate incident with Billy bring him down and force him to give up.

    2. When you say that our perspective tends to change when we face trials I could not agree more. We identify with what is closest to our heart….just human nature I guess.

    3. You are so right Tricia! We too often want that proof to make us believe something. We can't just trust God to do the right thing and work our lives out in the way he sees best. We also tend to follow the leader rather than the better choice at times. This movie is a great reminder that what we think we see isn't always the case. We need to step back and examine things from all angles, because even though things may not look perfect to us, they could be a whole lot worse.

    4. Good post. It is hard to truly quantify the value of the combination of experience and faith…it's hard to beat! I agree with your comment on Clarence…I wish we all had a Clarence to visit us and reveal the size of our footprint in life, either good or bad.

    5. Tricia, I love the way your put that, "when God shows up to transform someone's life." That is the exact point Capra was trying to make. Well done?

  17. It's a Wonderful Life – it's a classic for a good reason. The movie is a wonderful portrayal of what can happen when God shows up to transform someone's life. This movie was a great reminder that no matter who you are, that you matter to others and to God. God showed up in this movie in a very unexpected way at a very unexpected time for George Bailey. The movie portrays a battle between idealism and physicalism. George struggled to see more than what was right in front of him – what he could see, taste, touch and smell until the angel Clarence came into the picture to show George his true significance. If only all of us could have a Clarence to show us how we are making an impact in this world. God revealed himself to George and that revelation produced a renewed joy and determination for what truly matters in life.

    1. I feel like I do have a few Clarences in my life. I have a great circle of friends and family who remind me when I am down what a good person, mother, wife,friend and student I am. Our last class burnt me out and I would say that Hillary and Noelle were my Clarence and encouraged me to stick out the school thing. My children even told me they loved and supported my decision to try and finish school even though that meant less time spent with them.

  18. The movie was a great eye opener as I watched George look at a life where he didn't exist. It made me realize that one day I will stand before God and have to look in at my own life. What would I see? From a physical perspective, I would see the good deeds I did for others but I would also see the times when I was selfish and put my needs before others. I would also see a heart that loved God and a heart that at one point in life doubted God. This movie helped remind me that even though I can't physically see God He still sees me and knows my heart. When faced with challenges in life and when we feel at our lowest point, that is when we really need to shift from physicalism to idealism and trust in God to help us through life's challenges.

    1. Kelly great point. As we should shift from physicalism to idealism when we are at our lowest, often times that is when we find ourselves questioning or doubting god. As hard as it is to accept that things happen for a reason, its funny how they always seem to work out in the end.

    2. Kelly what an inspirational way to connect to this movie. Helping others and leaving legacies is a gracious way to live.

    3. Wow! I was hoping someone would see the connection that "one day I will stand before God and have to look in at my own life." George just got to do it early! Great work!

  19. So often people are caught up in the idea that good works (physicalism) will get you into heaven. As a Christian I believe in putting others first and doing good thing but that isn't what gets you into heaven. John 3:16 instructs that whoever believes (idealism) in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. This concept for physicalist is hard to grasp because you can't see belief. This concept makes sense for the idealist who has put their faith and trust in God. Just as George Bailey doubted his idealistic worldview when life through him a curve ball, many Christians experience doubt at pressing times in their life journey.

    1. Agreed, it is easy to get caught up in what we want and it can conflict in our lives with doing the right thing. George felt like a failure but when he was given a glimpse of what life would have been like had he not been born, his impact was unquestionable. His brother would have died young and not gone on to save many lives during the war and the pharmacist would have gone to prison for his mistake to name a few. People have a hard time realizes that their actions affect and can possibly change lives.

    2. Kelly, John 3:16 says it all. I love that verse and it is SO true! We are not perfect and never will be, but thankfully we were given a second chance by grace. I agree we all need to focus more on the idealism of life and not worry so much about the physicalism.

    3. Kelly, As a Christian, I too still get caught up in the works and the doubt. This journey isn't a easy one. Good post and reminder that our faith will take us all the way.

  20. It was amazing to see the different worldviews in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey started out with a physicalism worldview and then later combined that worldview with idealism. Ultimately, George turned to God and his worldview changed to a theistic masterpiece. Many times in life we are on a journey and not sure where our journey will take us. There have been times when I have cried out to God and I wondered “is He really hearing my prayers?” I know He does hear and I can look back at a hard time in my life and it was the best experience because I grew closer to God through the trial. I really liked the phrase in Part III, “But even if we never see the full result of our idealist actions on earth, we must live our lives the way we will wish we had lived them on that day when we finally will see our life from God’s perspective – because someday we will”. I enjoyed the movie and observing the different worldviews.

    1. The movie did put my belief in God into perspective. I believe I have turned to God as well, and asked for his help. It has not always gone the way I prayed for, but it usually seems to turn out in the best interest of myself and others. That is a great quote Linda! I am glad you pointed that out as it is very true.

    2. Your comment that "Many times in life we are on a journey and not sure where our journey will take us" is very similar to something I just posted. I called it a path or a plan, or even our "wiring" but I think we are all getting at the same thing….God's Plan.

    3. Linda,

      I absolutely agree. Most people I know already is living the life of their own idealism. Conflict or adversity arises when those idealism are challenged. My hope is that everyone's idealism is a morally positive one and not the latter. It is too bad that not everyone's idealism runs parallel with God's vision. In a perfect world, everyone would live by God's vision.

    4. Linda, Great analysis. I think the better way to put it is that George was always an idealist, but almost gave in to physicalism.

  21. Hard to believe, but this was the first time I actually watched It’s a Wonderful Life in its entirety. I know this is on television every Christmas eve, however I’ve only seen the last 15-20 minutes when George is seeing the world without him. Seeing the entire movie, I really enjoyed the movie and the message. I thought the worldviews expressed in the film were much easier to identify following the discussion on the levels of worldview last week. I tended to categorize the characters into two buckets of either idealists or physicalists. However, I realized that was overly simplistic and many people are partially in both camps. You could certainly see that behavior in George at times during the movie. One trait I realized I share with George is getting caught up or lost in what I don’t have or give up, not appreciating what’s right in front of me. It’s amazing how easy it is to identify that when it’s happening to someone else, but much harder when looking at yourself. The discussions and movies the past couple of weeks have given me a new perspective on this.

    1. Great post! It is so easy to get lost in what you don't have, and almost makes you take for granted what you do have. It is much easier to see from the outside in, because it is definitely more difficult to see what is happening right in front of you. Both movies have also helped to give me a different perspective on my worldviews. It helps when you can relate to the characters.

    2. There have been several times that I have watched the movie and ended up falling asleep….what a shame. This time I paid very close attention and enjoyed it more than ever. I think I enjoyed the movie more this time because I have some new information about world views and how the film can be looked at in a new, more real way.

    3. Earnie,

      It's hard not to look at the thinks I don't have. We have so much in this country, so many options. The more physical stuff we have the more problems. Technology is great, but I'm not sure it has made my life less busy. I keep telling myself to slow down and take in the moment.

    4. Excellent point Earnie! In the beginning of the film, I was immediately reminded of all the travel that I had wanted to do before I reached my current age and yet I realize that God has blessed me with people and experiences I could never have thought to ask for. Stories like 'It's a Wonderful Life' certainly are life affirming and give us a new perspective on what is right in front of us. I literally cried a couple of tears of joy at the end of the film and went upstairs to hug my husband.

    5. Earnie, your post about how it is easy to see the arc in others but not personally is a great point. It is hard to think big picture all the time and see how everything is intertwined.

  22. Wow! What a beautiful and inspiring movie. The world we live in today cares less about a true and caring heart. The world looks at life from a physicalism prospective. George Bailey was a man not only caught up between two prospectives (physicalism & Idealism), but a man who maintains his Idealistic view. In a greater sense, he realizes that there is something more than what physicalism expects one to believe and live by. We know for the fact that there is a God. He steps into our lives sometimes when we have nowhere else to turn. He shows up in a way that is much more beyond the imagination of humankind. Yet others have not been driven to experience His power or presence. This movie gives me the insight to continue to do what is right in the sight of God even if the world thinks that it is meaningless.

    1. I love it! To "continue to do what is right in the sight of God even if the world thinks that it is meaningless" is exactly what Capra would want you to have gained from the movie.

    2. I also found the movie to be inspiring and beautiful. It taught us many things about life. George did find out for himself that God can and will intervene. George turned to suicide but that was not the answer, only trusting in God is the answer in his idealistic view.

    3. Ronelle,

      I believe everyone has in their simple ways experience the many miracles that God has worked. The reason they have not acknowledge these happenings is that they have not opened their eyes. They see and experience it on a daily basis with the rising of the sun to the air in their lungs but their world view regard those miracles as something else. One can not see what they will not acknowledge. Once they are able to comprehend, seeing is second nature.

    4. I agree. A great movie. It does make a person reflect on their own life. Movies like this can give us strength to continue, and do the right things.

  23. Jerry, Thank you for your personal reflection about your experiences with God. Much like we saw with the character, George Bailey–it seems that you cried out to God and experienced His divine intervention. How true that we don't always experience His presence or answer to prayer in a way we expected, but we can trust that He will be there as we seek His direction and guidance. I so appreciated the tie-in with comments in the "It's a Wonderful Life-Part 2" article: "…George Bailey reaffirms his commitment to his unseen ideals because of God's physical intervention in his life…". You seem to model this thought in your perspectives. Thanks!

  24. It’s a Wonderful Life makes me think of my daughter Holly. When she was born we had no idea that she had a chromosome anomaly which would make me/us the parent of a special needs child. Holly is now 21, adorable and has an IQ of about 40. She sees life and joy in things that I would not have noticed without her influence. When one is a parent of a special needs child there is a mourning process that they go through. Holly will never – be married, have kids, live on her own, go to college, etc. Tthe mindset eventually turns around to what Holly can do – know every person that lives in the City of Chaska, have a close relationship with God, sing Christian music, be confirmed, go to prom and graduate high school. These are things that she can do that help us all to celebrate her and not mourn what she could have been, as we love who she has become. The fact that God entrusted us to care for Holly is such an honor that I cannot explain.
    We all have value and influence people in ways that we may not fully understand, unconditional love and grace is around us if we are patient enough and open to receiving it and appreciate it. We all have a purpose, God does not make mistakes!

    1. Beautiful, Jeannie! I think the special needs kids are a gift of God to show us what really matters. Thank you for the reminder and tell Holly think you too!

    2. Great post, Jeannie. I cannot say "I understand," because I haven't walked in your shoes. However, I have "an understanding." I remember pushing my son in a wheelchair through Mall of America. I wanted to stop each and every stranger to brag about Ian. "This first-grader can add a column of 3-digit numbers in his head; can you?" I wanted them to understand that this boy was worth knowing, no matter his appearance.

      I believe that God is the same way. He sent His Son in a guise that hid all of Jesus' heavenly glory, giving him an appearance that nobody would find attractive. For 2,000 years, the church's mission has been to declare to the human race, "Hey-do you know just how incredible this man is?"

    3. Jeannie,

      Thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagen the challenges your family faced and I admired you love and commitment to your daugther.
      I agee we all have a purpose in life and no body else can live our life for us, fight our battles or rejoyce in our happines.

    4. Jeannie, Your posting is very convicting. My pastor has a beautiful girl that is going to be wheel chair bound for the rest of her life. I sometimes wonder if I would be able to handle that kind of responsibility, considering how selfish and in to this world I am. My whole journey through Bethel and seeing this movie is shaping a new me, a person with better character. I look up to parents like you. God picked you to journey through life with Holly for a reason.

      1. Thank you for the responses. Tou, 21 years ago I thought the same thing, there would be no way I would be able to "handle" the responsibility, patience required, etc. However, you do – you might kick and scream a bit, but it does come :). Today I had to go to the local coffee shop to take a time out for myself to finish my homework. Olga, you are correct about no one else being able to truly rejoice in our happiness, I like that! We can be happy for someone else, but that is not the same. Tom, your son continues to be worth knowing and I cannot profess to know what you have gone thru either. But we can be supportive as parents and friends to all.

  25. First of all I would like to say thank you to you for sharing part of your "life story" with us. It really helps me put my life into perspective. When I first saw that I had to watch this movie I was kind of bummed. I had tried to watch it before and ended up bored and fell asleep, I will admit, I procrastinated. I really didn’t want to be subjected to another “old movie”, but again I was blown away.
    I think learning about “life stories” and “world views” is helping me to see the older movies for the great works of art that they are. I also appreciate them more and walk away with a completely different perspective then what I had before I watched them.
    I also have enjoyed reading your blogs after watching the movies, which also helps me get an overall view of the movie from a different side than I had. For all the insight I would like to say thank you.

    1. Hi Troy,
      I totally agree with you, I felt blessed to ready Gary's story and the blogs do add another dimension.. As far as watching the movie again for the umpteenth time, I too was reluctant. However, being in this class does bring a different dynamic when viewing movies and looking for hidden messages that were always there, but I just did not see. I do believe that God is always with us and helps guide us on this journey of life, we just have to be open to hearing him and also willing to accept we are not always in control.

      1. Jeanine,

        You made a good point accepting we are not in conrol is a challence. It was for me! Now is differente, my worldview chnaged. I know I'm not in control (I never was) and God will certainly take were I need to be when I need to be there and for me to trust him and live up to what's expected of me and to enjoy the ride!

  26. I have seen this movie numerous times. I liked it because of the old story lines-man meets girl, good triumphs or evil. I never thought much about Gods intervention into the physical world. George is like a lot of other people in that they don’t really involve God until a crisis occurs. This occurred for me many years ago. I asked God to break in to this physical world for help. He did and he has done so ever since. (not all the time, and not always the way I think it should go). It is because of what God can do that helps me be an idealist in the hardest of times. I am well aware of my own short comings and being an atheist(I am God) would be too much of a load for me to carry.

    Gary, thanks for your testimony! “the journey is A Wonderful Life”

    1. Jerry,

      Reading your words has strengthened the courage and determination within me. I too have experienced help from God in this broken life. Knowing that others have also experienced God’s power and love in this world of physical limitation helps me adopt a healthier Worldview. I am beginning to realize the magnitude of importance it is for those touched by the Unseen to have a voice and share with others the significance God has on people. Thank you for your post on Two Handed Warriors.

      Bob R.

    2. Jerry,
      As a kid I was drawn to the old black and white movies, I loved all of the Abott and Costello stuff, Charlie Chan and Shirley Temple. Simple story lines and usually good basic values, good triumphs over evil. It's always encouraging to hear of God intervening into someones circumstances.

    3. Jerry, this is wounderful. God has always been there. For one fact, most of us just don't need Him as much in the good times. Only when things get ugly then we seek Him and expect an immediate response. He acts in His own time. We just have to be a bit patient. He has come thru for many of us.

    4. Excellent point, Jerry! Being our own God's would certainly be too much of a load to carry. Yet, I think we still try to do that all the time – whether we realize it or not. There are sins, desires, gifts, etc…that God asks for us to lay at His feet during our journey. The true test is whether or not we do that or if we refuse and continue on setting out with our own agenda's. George Bailey certainly had his own agenda in the beginning of the movie, but God changed his agenda when he chose to the the "right thing" instead of what he wanted to do.

    5. Thank you for sharing Jerry! It is so true that God's intervention is usually not what we originally intend, but it always works perfectly for our own good. I love what you wrote, certainly knowing how God has sustained me and my family in the past bring my idealist hopes AND physicalist evidence of prays answered back to the forefront of my memory.

  27. “What I learned from It’s a Wonderful Life about Atheism, Idealism, and Physicalism and their impact in my life.”

    After watching the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and reading the three parts of this post, I now understand the struggles I wrestle with, caught between two Worldviews of idealism and physicalism. I am another George Bailey. Meeting with my wits end, I too asked God for help. My worldviews took me in numerous directions. I am now learning to use God’s truth as a reference to the direction I travel in. Without using God’s truth to guide me in my journey I easily become lost in God’s larger story. Learning about Worldviews has taught me that things just don’t happen. Actions result in consequences that sometimes cause me to suffer. I am now engaged in rewriting my story in accordance with God’s reality, not mine. I no longer have to wait for a wonderful life; I already have one. This attitude of faith and recognition has gifted me with happiness and brought me more power and confidence in doing the right thing day to day.

    1. George’s divine experience surely helped to transform his outlook on life and I assume others in the town of Bedford Falls were influenced alike. I overlooked the theme of the power of community prayer when I first watched this movie. The story begins on Christmas Eve, with citizens of Bedford Falls praying to God to help George. The story ends with Mary, Uncle Billy, and a flood of townspeople arriving, with more than enough donations to save George and the Building and Loan. Potter had been defeated by answered prayer. God heard the unseen prayers from Bedford Falls and His response manifested in the hearts of His small town beloved people.
      Experiencing responses from God increases our faith in prayer. Knowing God develops a trust in God. When the going gets tough we can act with hope, confidence and courage. The people of Bedford Falls appear to have known and trusted God. I believe that George’s exuberance at the end of the movie gave witness to God’s presence and control over the lives that lived in this small town. God had arrived.
      What a relief it is to know that you have been blessed with a wonderful life by an unseen God.

      1. Bob,
        Great point about not realizing the town praying. I own the movie and have viewed this film more times than I could count like eveyone else I suppose. The power of prayer from the town and George does speak to me now more as well.
        I guess since God has us in this learning seat of wisdom (hopefully) he is going to show us more and more as we are open.
        How God loves for His children to reley on Him, I am thankful we do not have to deal with an inconsistant mood.

      2. Hi Bob,

        I also agree with Amy that it's an awesome point about the town praying. After reading your post i remembered hearing that at the beginning, but then I didn't remeber it again until you did. Great attention to detail.

      3. Bob,
        How wonderful it is having a community pray on your behalf. This means that there is power in prayer. George must have done something right in the sight of God that he was remembered. The kindness that he had rendered to the people of the community paid off in the end. God sees and knows the heart of a good man.

      4. Great insight! I also think the dialogue about George at the beginning includes a comment about it being "the time" or "his time." Something along those lines that infers a "plan" in addition to the prayer of the community, supporting the Theistic worldview in the film. I'm going to go back and watch the opening again, but that jumped out in my memory when reading your post.

    2. Wow Bob! That was a great response! I too am engaged in rewriting my story in accordance with God's reality, not mine! And I'm loving it! It's wonderful to be able to step back and understand our situations as stories instead of life and death responses. I can rewrite anything that has happened to me!!!

    3. Bob,
      I love these words…
      I am now engaged in rewriting my story in accordance with God’s reality, not mine. I no longer have to wait for a wonderful life; I already have one.

      Well, said, I agree things don't just happen, but actions create results. I am in the rewritting process too, and it's a much better story than before.

    4. Bob,

      Your poignant comments about "already having a wonderful life" were encouraging. It can be easy to become "lost and befuddled" with the circumstances of life–such as we saw modeled in George's story. The reminder to look for God's direction and guidance in our lives certainly can help change our perspective and worldview. You seem to understand this well, and are modeling what you have learned. Thanks for sharing.

    5. Hi Bob, I am also working on re-writing my story and looking at the "characters" – family members – and how we all interact with one another and what our roles are within the family structure; this is something bigger than myself and I am praying for guidance.

      Recognizing you already have a wonderful life is a testament to God and your friends/family/influencers in your life.

    6. Thanks for sharing your story. We all struggle at one time or another in our lives to allow God to guide us on our journey. Man's sinful nature tends us to want to stray at times. It is so easy to get caught up in the physicalism worldview. Keep the faith and continue your wonderful life. It is a gift from above.

    7. Bob,

      I think it's great that you see your life as a wonderful; your trust is in God and you know you are in good hands. My worldview has also changed in the course of the years, things that used to matter are not longer inportant and that change certainly opened my eyes to see the woderful life I have.

  28. Thank, Key. Let me give your top movie list idea some thought. Interestingly, I had someone tell me that they thought "A Miracle on 34th Street" was a great contrast of idealism versus physicalism. I think they're right, but it is clearly a fantasy film so it somewhat defeats what I am getting at. Keep pushing. This is great. -Gary

  29. Amen to all the above, brother Gary, and first, a very moving testimony!

    Second, I’m growing more and more attracted to your semantic usage of “physicalist” and “physicalism”; much easier to say and hold in mind than “empiricist” and “empiricism”!

    Third, you’ve reminded me of the great 2006 song by Martina McBride, “Do It Anyway,” based on a favorite poem of Mother Teresa’s, written by Kent Keith. McBride’s lyrics include:

    You can spend your whole life building something from nothing.
    One storm can come and blow it all away…
    Build it anyway!
    You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach,
    and you know it might not ever come your way…
    Dream it anyway!

    CHORUS:
    God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good.
    And when I pray, it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should…
    But I do it anyway, I do it anyway! Do it anyway! etc.

    Fourth, I’ve just watched another, made-in-2010 movie that could certainly join “It’s a Wonderful Life” among the finely entertaining anthems to self-sacrificing idealism: “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”. Amazing animation, terrific characters, intense battle scenes, and great allusions to the physicalistic cult of “genetic superiority” and the “logical” corollary of “might makes right.”

    Watch and see: It’ll get you “right in the gizzard”!

    And then of course there’s 2008’s “Horton Hears A Who”, which is all about the hero utterly sacrificing his reputation and risking his life for the sake of creatures he can’t even see!

    And there are many more well-done mainstream films that we on “this” side of the issue should rent, study and learn from!

    For starters, I think we should all look back at your top-25 list of favorite movies, as well as your list of top Christmas movies, and from them sort out the ones that do the best jobs of illustrating the idealism-breaking-in-from-outside-the-physicalist-box concept — where they’ve done it cleverly, artistically, and with sufficient recognition that we all still live in a very “physical-feeling” world, even as our idealistic minds are trying hard to maintain a grip on the balancing, “invisible” ideals.

    Anybody else want to add their own movies to this list of movies promoting self-sacrificing idealism???

    Key P.

    1. Key,
      Great post, thanks for sharing your great understanding of Gary's work which I fully enjoy and learn from.
      Well I sure like the new films out by that Baptist Church in Texas is it? I am sure everyone has heard of them if not viewed their great message: "Facing the Giants", "Fireproof" and "Faith is like Potatoes"(not sure if this is by the same church group of film makers).
      The heroes in these films definitely displayed sacrifice. They evangelized their idealism and God showed His power and faithfulness.
      The box the heroes had to break out of in all three movies moved me and when I need reminding it is nice to watch as a family.

    2. Key,

      I love that song, do it anyway. one of my most favorites. I thought of Truman Show, it shows Truman living in the ideal world and yet, he eventually finds out that nothing is real and he try is hardest to get out of the perfect world that was created for him. This film as I think about it, kind of reminds me of Adam and Eve. God put them in this perfect world and they wanted to know the real world.

      I will post more movies as I think of them but I agree that there are good movies that we can learned from.

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