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Coach Carter, MovieMovie Review written in Foshan, China on June 23, 2005


On or about June 20, 2005, for the fifth time that year, I finished watching the movie, Coach Carter, and, as in the four times before, I felt the Holy Spirit move so intensely within me that I was shaken to my core. At the very moment that the troubled Timo Cruz (played by Rick Gonzalez) stood up and gave Coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) the answer to the coach’s repeated question, this was the exact time when I experienced my shocking, recurring epiphany and became troubled, myself.

In the movie, Coach Carter repeatedly asks Cruz: “What is your deepest fear young man?” Prior to the very poignant moment when Cruz gives his answer, neither Cruz nor his teammates has a clue as to why Coach Carter keeps asking Cruz this question. So, the question and the answer, then, both serve to give the storyline a marvelous dramatic effect—the “fait accompli” to Coach Carter’s attempts to get his basketball players to see that the biggest obstacle in their lives is their own fear of trying for more than they already have. Yet, instead of feeling inspired by Coach Carter’s seemingly irreversible accomplishment, the apparent inner change in his players, I am unsettled. I am troubled because, hitherto, I make no effort to address the issue of the deadly impact the movie’s hidden message has on the development of individuals’ spirituality.

Cruz answers:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us….

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.

…It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we  unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.                                                            

Here, Cruz is quoting Marianne Williamson from her book, A Return to Love:  Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES (1992, pp. 190-191). Her full quotation goes like this:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Even though from the “We ask…” sentence through the “You are a child…” sentence, plus the “We were born…” sentence of this quotation have been omitted from Cruz’s answer, both the full quotation and Cruz’s speech, on the surface, ring true—they sound a truthful note. On the surface, both the full quotation and Cruz’s speech SOUND affirming, positive, and uplifting, in as much as they both suggest that everybody is capable of being the captain of one’s own ship—that everybody is capable of taking control of one’s own destiny.

On the surface, both the full quotation and Cruz’s speech also SOUND “spiritual.” Yet, a closer examination shows that both Williamson’s language and Cruz’s interpretation of that language promote nothing more than the New Age ideas of self-actualization, self-assurance, self-belief, self-confidence, self-empowerment, self-esteem, self-healing, self-help, self-improvement, self-love, self-realization, self-reliance, self-respect, and self-satisfaction, with or without making any references to God or the Godhead. Thus, the deeper, subliminal message that the full quotation and Cruz’s speech make is that everybody is meant to evolve into the “god” that he or she has within; specifically, he and she ARE individual “gods,” too. Indeed, the New Age spiritualism language in Williamson’s words and Cruz’s use of her words endorse nothing more than self-centeredness.

In our world today, it is unlikely that people never will meet or never will have any encounters with selfish people. Inevitably, these happenings will take place because many of the people today are self-centered; they are “me first” folks who focus so much on themselves that their own needs, wishes and wants become the center of their world; to them their lives have no other purpose than finding that which satisfies them; this focus on “me” leaves them with little or no room for allowing Jesus to be the center of their lives, and little or no room for the Holy Spirit to fill and direct them.

Contrary to popular opinion, humbling oneself so that others might have the spotlight is enlightening and exactly what Jesus’ life teaches. Christ humbles Himself and suffers cruel abuse and the shame of the cross so that EVERY born-in-sin person could feel secure about one’s own redemption—about one’s own Christian identity—and, as a result, he or she would not be afraid to shine in this world. However, the “catch” is that there are very few people today who are genuinely humble individuals who will let others shine in their place, because in most instances the seemingly humble persons’ perception, or inner knowing, is saying: “you are the one who really has it going on” (are equal to or more powerful, intelligent, and confident than your siblings, relatives, fellow classmates, co-workers, friends, acquaintances, or any other individuals). Consequently, these wanna be humble individuals listen to their own perception or inner knowing and end up taking the spotlight that really was meant for the truly humble people.

Not only do most people lack sincere humility, but also many people lack authentic timidity. This phoniness (hypocrisy) in humans is also why it is unlikely that anybody will be able to find many people in today’s world who fear showing their own ‘brightness.’ By design, today’s masses want others to see how intelligent, beautiful, innovative, creative, superior, and worthy they are (even if they are not), and they might do anything and everything to accomplish this goal.

Case in point, in the film, Coach Carter, regardless of the personal struggles that the young basketball players face every day, these ballplayers still have delusions of grandeur. Therefore, they do not “play it small.” They, instead, want others to ‘see’ them as being ‘da bomb,’ as being the best that there is in high school basketball, and, in the movie, they stop just short of doing everything that they could do to get people to acknowledge their superior “skills,” as well as who they are—Richmond, California high school “stars.”

They are credit seekers—the “I” did this; “I” made this; and “I” got what “I” said “I” wanted for my life, individuals. In fact, it is precisely this self-centered attitude that gets the haven’t-got-a-clue Cruz kicked off the team in the opening scenes, and, later on, after being allowed to return, it is his repeated “me” first behavior that is the reason why he opts to leave the team for a second time.

In reality, most people don’t fear their own “light,” but rather they fear that others either will not see, understand, appreciate, or, more importantly, accept them for who they are–accept their light as well as their darkness; in short, accept them with warts and all. So, if people “play it small” these days, it is because these individuals fear their darkness (their ignorant, barren, or wicked natures) within them more than they fear their inner light; consequently, their “darkness” fear causes them to shrink away from trying to let their lights shine. They fear being found out; they fear not being either the person many people believe they are, or the person many people want them to be. Thus, Cruz’s shrinking from his ‘light’ represents what Christ means when He says, “…men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19, KJV).

Cruz evidently was more comfortable being in the darkness of the drug world than he was comfortable with being in the “light” of the worlds of academia and sports, because in his darkness he was able to say that his evil was “good,” because the evil in him had condemned that which was of the Light. Although he knew that being a dope runner was less glamorous than being a star basketball player, he ran to the dark world of drugs every time someone’s “light” seemed to reject him and his street-life bravado. Thus, in Coach Carter, it was only after Cruz experienced the death of his cousin (a dope dealer) did he realize that being back on the team that really accepted him for who he was would be better for him than being a dope runner in the streets of Richmond, California.

Once again, Cruz is reinstated as a team member, and shortly thereafter he makes his “Our Deepest Fear” speech. While the now enlightened Cruz seems humble and seems willing to give someone other than himself credit for saving his life, in this case, his Coach, the words of Cruz’s speech still promote a self-centered focus on his own inner “light.” Why? Because at no time does Cruz ever acknowledge God’s mercy and grace operating in his life. He completely misses the Divine Truth about who is the “real” source that supplies his inner light.

You may ask: “Doesn’t Christ, Himself, in telling people to let their lights shine, indicate that people should be self-confident, self-aware, self-reliant, self-affirming, etcetera?” No, He doesn’t. Yes, Christ tells believers to let their individual lights shine before mankind so that people will ‘see’ the good works in them (cf. Matthew 5:16). But the “LIGHT” that Christ is talking about is a giving, forgiving, humble, holy and righteous (Perfect) “LIGHT” rather than a selfish, vengeful, arrogant, self-righteous, and self-sufficient one (cf. Matthew 5:44-48). These latter kinds of lights are the New Age philosophy’s unholy, self-righteous, and self-centered lights that flood this world.

The “LIGHT” that Christ refers to, metaphorically speaking, is Creator God. Creator God is LIGHT because He not only is pure, (meaning, utterly holy and righteous), but also He is absolute Truth, Wisdom and Knowledge. Creator God also is LIGHT because He is the giver of all moral and spiritual enlightenments. Since God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are ONE–the Trinity/Godhead–through Christ, believers learn that Creator God’s LIGHT is that which Christ’s life fulfills as the Son, that which the Holy Spirit’s anointing and power authenticate as coming from the Truth bearer and mysteries revelator, and that by which Creator God’s Sovereignty decides with whom to entrust His power, authority and LIGHT, as He is the Father and Supreme Ruler of every living creation, all by Himself.

Accordingly, Creator God’s LIGHT, being also Jesus and the Holy Spirit in us, becomes the “greatness” that manifests through us. To this end, Creator God’s LIGHT should be evident in every believer, producing the kind of great works he or she should do that will glorify God. Like the great works that illumine through Christ’s life, shining in the face of adversities and calamities, as well as in times of favor and good fortune, believers’ “lights,” with the aid of the Holy Spirit, should reflect not only the same kind of great works but also greater works.

Christ, Himself, even tells us that we (together as One Body) will do greater works than He did (cf. John 14:12), but Christ clearly emphasizes that we should do these great works not so that we will get the honor and glory, but so that Creator God will. Therefore, we are cautioned against taking ANY credit for anything that we personally do and say, and cautioned against glorifying mankind by giving people God’s credit—especially when what any of us does and says glimmers with importance or radiates in perfection.

The ‘light’ in us should shine, but not so that it reflects our becoming all that we can be, in and of ourselves. Nor should it shine so that others can receive permission from us to let their “lights” shine. First off, both the commandment and permission to shine come from Christ who gets His instructions from Father God, the ONE who created every form of ‘light’ in this world and who engenders humans with portions of His eternal, spiritual LIGHT. Mankind, then, is neither the designer of ‘light’ nor the giver of ‘light.’ Secondly, to become all that Father God has purposed and created us to be–which is the image of Christ–can be achieved only if His Holy Spirit transforms us from our worldly souls to spiritual creations.

Contrary to popular beliefs, well-meaning and good-hearted men, women, boys and girls do not have all the power and all the wisdom, nor are they all-knowing beings. Therefore, the “light” in them, which they did not and cannot create, also in no way can compare with the Shekinah Glory that glows around and from the throne of the eternal, all-powerful, all-wise, and all-knowing Creator God. So how can any person take credit for anything that happens for the better in their lives or for the good of this entire world?

Yet, from the first time that Coach Carter asks Cruz about his deepest fear until the moment that Cruz gives Williamson’s “take” on self-awareness and self-help, the audience sees Coach Carter as the ballplayers’ own guru. The Coach even admits that he took the job thinking that he could bring about a “change” in these student/athletes, hoping to awaken them to a sense of the person they truly are and what they can achieve, if they are not afraid to try. However, even though this “change” and awareness that the Coach seeks, without a doubt, are “spiritual” ones, as their guru he is not leading them to the “true” LIGHT. Moreover, as with Cruz, even Coach Carter doesn’t give any credit to the Godhead’s influence in the lives of these basketball players. Coach Carter never acknowledges God as being the ONE who not only makes it possible for every person to let the “light” in him or her shine, but also he fails to teach that God is the reason why any person has any “light” within him or her, at all.

It is obvious that neither self-help gurus nor any of their books, tapes, CDs, motivational speeches/lectures, and so forth, can affect this kind of lasting inner or spiritual change in EVERY person. The proof of ‘this’ pudding, then, is in the eating. What hundreds of thousands of people find out after following the alleged ‘divine’ advice of their “gurus” is that they, even though obedient disciples, consistently continue to remain spiritually lost or disconnected, or they are bona fide twilight zone frequent visitors—they are WAY out there—(often seen as the people who are, at times, too heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good). The reason why these masses temporarily (or NEVER really) experience that mystical transcendence from old beliefs and traditions to a higher level of inner peace, authority and power is that this supernatural inner change cannot be accomplished through mere positive thinking methods/formulae, no matter whether these methods/formulae are subliminal, hypnotic or conscious.

While it is true that we should find out who we are–to know ourselves–or that we should learn what our deepest fears are, every bit of this ‘knowing’ is SPIRITUAL in nature, because this ‘knowing’ surpasses mankind’s collective knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. This kind of for certain ‘knowing’ only comes from Father God, the One who created each one of us and made us similar yet so uniquely different that He alone knows us 100%, inside and out. Thus, we find out who we are by going directly to Creator God, for He both commands us and gives us permission to seek Him for answers to our every problem or situation. By the by, this reachable level of irreversible spirituality only can be accessed through Father God’s Holy Spirit to whom Creator God gives permission to reveal everyone’s veritable inner self (and the mysteries of His Oneness), but ONLY if the seekers are believers who genuinely have accepted Christ as their personal Savior.

The conclusion of this whole matter is: God wants His children to recognize the enemy’s subtle ways he plots against mankind (like, placing ungodly messages in songs, movies, television programs, books, sermons, lectures, etcetera). God wants His children to realize that Satan’s primary aim is to get people, Christians especially, to take their focus off of Christ and place it elsewhere, like on New Age spiritualism. Specifically, then, God wants His children to become acutely aware of how easily the simple, sound-good, feel-good messages from people who claim to teach His ’spiritual principles’ can pique Christians’ interest and even enslave them. For the Christian believers these are not only harmful messages, but also deadly ones. If entangled by them, those Christians could become the biblical apostate end-time believers who have chosen to walk away from their trust (faith) in and reliance upon the ONE,TRUE and only Living Father God.

Since Christians are often very much like the ones who have not accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, in that, like non-Christians, believers also seek information that could possibly help them to overcome their struggles and/or problem areas, then Christians must take care to exercise a great deal of spiritual discernment (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1). They must take care not to endorse anyone who, or anything that, offers solutions to life’s struggles or problems that God’s Word does not approve of or sanctify (cf. Proverbs 14:12; Matthew 7:15; 2 Corinthians 11:13-14).

Finally, Christians must remember that the proof of the pudding is in the eating (that is to say that Christians who have tried, used, or experienced something, in this case the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel of Christ, usually are the ones who effectively can evaluate the quality of something deemed ‘spiritual’). So, if people write, speak, and do deeds that cannot pass the biblical Scripture or the Will of God tests, as revealed and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, then, because of the worldly spin on their actions and messages, what they do, speak, and write will be of no profit to Christians. Therefore, born-again believers should take care to guard their eyes, ears and mouth gates against the ungodly influences of worldly people and their doctrines and/or philosophies found within their books, movies, music, seminars, conferences, schools, institutions of higher learning, churches, and so forth. Indeed, born-again believers should avoid fellowshipping with any people who demonstrate the aforesaid worldly influences (cf. Isaiah 52:11-12; 2 Corinthians 6:17).