Tuesday, 17 March 2009


During the Great Depression in America, when folk had lost heart as well as homes and livelihoods, people were in great need of heroic figures to help them forget their troubles. On to this scene SEABISCUIT appeared. The movie relates a moving story of acceptance, friendship and devotion in restoring the main characters' fractured lives. It interweaves the life stories of an undersized horse, an oversized jockey, a redundant trainer and a millionaire owner, who knows nothing about race horses. Each of them has experienced pain and loss and significant misjudgement by others. The film accurately portrays the real people and events of those troubled times and how, through not giving up on each other, they became more and achieve more, as a team, than they could have ever done individually. It is a truly inspiring film with top class actors, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Toby McGuire.

38.05 – 41.18 – Every Horse is Good for Something
The first scene I focus on is when the millionaire, persuaded by his new, younger wife, decides to invest in a race horse and so begins to look for a trainer. He ends up meeting Tom Smith, a trainer shunned by other ‘experts’ in this field. The millionaire Howard is impressed to see that Smith has taken on a horse that was going to be put down because it had become lame. Through the tender patient care of this old trainer the horse is beginning to get better. The millionaire is inquisitive. “Will he race again?” He asks. He could see the value of taking this time and trouble for a horse that would race again, but it didn’t make sense to do it for any other reason. He pushes further, “Why did you do it?” The trainers answer is telling, “Because I can!” I love this answer. The issue was not what was in the horse in terms of its’ utilitarian value or usefulness. The real issue was what was in the trainer – how he perceived the horse and what abilities lay in him to make it better.

This is similar to how God has intervened in life to save people. Like the horse in the movie we are all broken to some extent. The Bible calls the root of this problem sin. It is the choices we make in life to act independently of our creator, to our own hurt. But despite this situation God takes the initiative to step in and save us, to heal and restore us and if anyone were to ask, “Why?” We might hear the same answer, “Because I can!” God does not save people so much because of their need, even though that is great. He saves people because of who He is. He can do it and chooses to; such is the nature of His love. Like the trainer in the movie, God feels about people the way Tom Smith felt about horses. “Every horse is good for something......and that one even looks good”.

Today we live in a ‘throw-away culture’. When things get broken it is seldom worth the time, trouble or money to fix them. From disposable ink cartridges to disposable nappies we like to get rid of what is not useful. But this attitude is almost a philosophy of life in Western cultures. Only recently has our community conscience begun to take a more ‘green’ approach to life through re-cycling our throw-away goods. I was recently in India. The contrast I experienced there was very different. There everything is used and re-used and fixed many times over. They simply don’t have the abundance we in the West take for granted and so they learn to make do. Tom Smith refused to accept that a lame horse should be shot. He saw horses differently to everyone else – even most other trainers. He placed a different value on them; a value that reflected what was important in life to him. In this sense he helps us understand the value God places on people.

42.3 – 50.52 He just needs to learn how to be a Horse again
The second scene is an extended clip. It shows us the history of the horse Seabiscuit and why he was such a difficult horse to manage. Quite simply he had been grossly misjudged by previous owners and trainers until he finally did what he was taught to do – loose. This made the horse bitter and angry. The problem was that he didn’t fit the accepted mould of what thoroughbreds should look like. Winners were tall, sleek and aggressive. This horse was none of those things; and so everything about his appearance made the experts feel justified in their opinion. The millionaire Charles Howard is somewhat incredulous when Tom Smith suggests he buy Seabiscuit. “What is it about this horse you like?” “He’s got spirit” is his reply. I like this. It reminds me of people I have met who have been misjudged by others. Their anger is due to a refusal to conform to the expectations of others – yet they have spirit. Something deep within them is looking for the right context, the right connection, the right person to release the potential that still lies dormant.

The anger of this horse was matched almost equally by the jockey Red Pollard. Here is a young man who has been separated from his family as a teenager and has had to live by his wits just to get by. Eventually he takes the horse for a ride to show him off to the new owners. He runs in every direction. It’s at this point that one of the most powerful lines is delivered. “They’ve got him running in circles for so long he’s forgotten what he was born to do. He just needs to learn how to be a horse again”. And here we see a connection to another Biblical truth. Sin has had such a devastating effect on humanity that we have forgotten how to be human. We have forgotten how to live. We need to learn again this simple lesson of life.

In John’s gospel we have Jesus’ famous words, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly”, John 10.10. The book begins with Him taking his disciples to a wedding. What could be more life related. Most discipleship manuals begin with a spiritual disciplines like, prayer, Bible study, Baptism or church attendance. Jesus begins with a wedding – and then makes more wine for those who have already drunk a lot! The middle of the book is about a funeral – Lazarus’. Again this is an everyday occurrence in life. Jesus doesn’t run away from this stuff. Rather He turns up and shows He is the Lord of Life by raising Lazarus from the dead. Finally John ends his gospel with a breakfast meal! All these major events are the ordinary stuff of life. Jesus has come to show us how to live – how to be human again. Somehow in the business of surviving or succeeding we forget how to live. Many testify that they feel their lives are part of a treadmill – they feel like they have simply lost control. They have substituted existing for living.

The answer for the horse is simply to let him run, not on a race track but out in the open fields. “How far should I go?” is the jockey’s question. “Till he stops” is the response. And that is just what he did. In the gospels the disciples left everything to follow Jesus. In a sense they went for a long run; a run that for them lasted three years. They ran until they learned what it meant to live again, to really live. They remembered what it meant to be human. They learned again about compassion, forgiveness, mercy, healing, purpose; all summarised by the word life.

1.17.48 – 1.19.25 – Handling Weakness in Others
In the third scene we catch the end of the Santa Anita race where for the first time Seabiscuit loses. The trainer is livid with the jockey and demands an answer, especially as this was the very competitor that he warned him about. In this heated confrontation the truth emerges – the jockey is blind in his right eye and simply didn’t see the competition until it was too late. Tom Smith is mad. “He lied to us”, he says to Charles Howard, the owner. This is hard for Tom. When he and Howard first meet each other in that first scene Howard asks him, “Do you always tell the truth?” “I try to”, is his response. Truth for Tom is an important value. He has many weaknesses but this is not one of them. But it is Red’s.

This young jockey knows he has a lot against him without disclosing his blindness in one eye too. So he keeps it hidden until it costs him the race. People lie for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes the intension is to deceive – to get one over on others. But many times it is out of fear; fear of what people will think; fear of what they will do or not do; fear that things will never be the same when others find out the truth. And so they remain imprisoned in their world of secret pain. Howard’s response is full of grace, “It’s OK Tom”. And then he quotes back to this trainer the very words he used when they first met, “You don’t throw away a life just because it’s beat up a little”. His words have come back to him; the grace that he so desperately wanted in his own life is now needed by someone else. And he is being challenged to be the channel for that grace. The challenge is that the young jockey Red needs grace in an area where Tom is strong – telling the truth.

The ultimate test of maturity as a believer is when we are able to give people the same measure of grace and forgiveness we have received, Matt 18. It’s easy to have compassion on those who share our own weaknesses, but what about those whose weakness happens to be our strength? What do we do then? The temptation is to become judgemental, to be angry, to hold a grudge. Jesus commands us to forgive – up to seventy times seven.

1.56.00 – 1.59.05 – Just let him Ride!
Just before our final scene both the horse and rider have become lame. Yet through the patient care of the trainer, once again Seabiscuit recovers and rides in races again. The road to recovery for his jockey, Red Pollard, is longer and so Red allows an old friend to take his place as the new rider. The horse goes on to win. But then the opportunity comes to enter Seabiscuit into the Santa Anita race. The very race that Red lost. The young jockey wants a chance to ride again – especially in this race. He wants to prove himself. Howard is reluctant to agree. He takes Red to see a doctor. The doctor says the slightest knock could break the leg and do irreparable damage. Howard is scared. He talks to the replacment jockey who makes an insightful comment, “It’s better to break a mans leg than to break his heart”. He talks to his wife who says, “Let him ride”. Desperately he tries to find someone who’ll agree with him – but he can’t.

For the real issue for this wealthy millionaire is his fear of losing this young man. It is his own loss he finds hard to handle. He has already lost a son. The pain is still present. Can he really face that kind of loss again? This is the agonising question of his heart. And so his reluctance is not really about Red’s well being, it’s about his own. Sometimes in life we hold back from allowing those we love to adventurous, even dangerous things, not because of what we truly fear will happen to them but because of what we fear will happen to us. This is no way to live. It is fear based, not faith based. We have to learn to let go of people we love and trust them into God’s care. Not to do this is to choose a path of fear, control and manipulation. This doesn’t build trust. It tears it down.

Howard faces his fear and agrees. And Red and Seabiscuit go on to win the Santa Anita race. Despite the brokenness of all these people they achieve greatness together. It’s a truly inspiring story. For like them we too are broken people. But this does not disqualify us from being used by God. Rather we become a testament to the grace of God; for He always chooses the despised and weak things of this world to confound the wise and bring to nothing the things that are, 1Cor 1.27-28. Watch this movie and be inspired!