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We're the Millers

This was a great movie, though the person I saw it with told me that she was disappointed. I heard her laughing much while watching it, but after it was over she told me that "Due Date" was a better film. For me, though, "We're the Millers" was great, and now the day after I saw it I am still thinking about it and feeling good because of it. Maybe I just like it especially much because my last name is Miller; or maybe it is because I am a fan of Jennifer Anniston.

There is actually much that is medieval about the movie, even though it takes place in the year 2013 in the United States and Mexico, which had not yet been discovered by Europeans during the Middle Ages. It is essentially a pilgrimage. The four main characters must travel from Denver to Mexico, then return. The first part of their journey is easy, as they take a plane from one airport to another. The return is much more complicated, as they drive a large recreational vehicle more than a thousand miles. While in Mexico, they pick up a large amount of marijuana, which they must deliver to Denver. This puts them in great danger first from Mexican police, then while crossing the border into the U.S., then while driving through the State of New Mexico and into Colorado. Their R.V. breaks down, so they have to seek help from another family. In the end, they arrive, and then their lives are good.

Pilgrimages were important during the Middle Ages. Most people lived their entire lives in the same place. They were born in a village, and they died in the same village, and they never traveled as far as twenty miles, except if they went on pilgrimage. The top pilgrimage was to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Such a trip could take several years, especially for the poor who did not have horses, and for those wealthy individuals who had horses but chose to walk so as to do penance for their sins. When a pilgrimage was meant as penance for sins, it was supposed to be difficult, and so instead of trying to make it as enjoyable as possible, the pilgrims tried to make it as painful as possible, without making it completely impossible. On the other hand, there were some individuals for whom pilgrimage was more of a vacation than an act of penance. Eleanor of Aquitain comes to mind; she went on pilgrimage from France to the Holy Land, and it is said that she slept with many men along the way. Some individuals sailed from Italy instead of traveling over land. This shortened the time required, but it exposed them to the dangers of the sea, one of which was shipwreck caused by poor weather, and the other was capture by pirates and then enslavement. If it were you, which would you choose? Would you spend a year traveling over land? Or would you face the dangers of a sea voyage to save time? Rome was the second-best pilgrimage destination. It was much easier to get there for Europeans, and the Pope was there, except during the Babylonian Captivity of the fourteenth century when he was in France. The third-best pilgrimage location was Saint John of Compostella in Spain. That pilgrimage rout began in France at Le Puy, which I visited. When I was there, at the church on top of a hill, in front of which were perhaps as many as one hundred stairs going down to the road upon which the pilgrims walk hundreds of miles to Compostella, I could well imagine what that would be like. People still make that pilgrimage even today; I have met some of them. It is both a religious experience, and good exercise. Those who walked from Le Puy to Compostella told me that it is great for prayer, because they travel with others all going from the same start to the same finish, and so they do not have to worry about getting lost. I do not pray when I am driving my car, because I need to concentrate on the road so that I do not get lost or have an accident. If I were walking with a group, however, then I could pray, because I would not have to worry about anything but could simply follow the group. The fourth greatest pilgrimage destination during the Middle Ages was the cathedral of Canterbury at which Saint Thomas a Becket was martyred. I was there; I saw the spot where his enemies sliced his head open with a sword. Chaucer wrote a famous book titled The Canterbury Tales about pilgrims traveling to Canterbury. The book seems rather accurate, as it depicts the different types of people, some of whom were pious and had religious motivations, others of whom were more crude and worldly. One of them, by the way, was a Miller.

Like most people now living in the twenty-first century, I have taken many trips to different parts of the world. I have been all over North America; I went to Europe seven times; I went to India once. Airplanes make such trips quick and easy. Each year I drive my beautiful Ford Mustang from Laredo, Texas where I live, to Destin, Florida where my parents live. I always enjoy that trip; I stop along the way and experience the places through which I pass. It usually takes me two or three days to go from my house to my parents' condominium. In the Middle Ages, when people traveled much more slowly because they lacked our modern technology, they did not choose to stop along the way so as to experience places; they stopped along the way because they needed to, and often they were tired, hungry and poor. There were charitable organizations associated with the Roman Catholic Church that had locations along pilgrimage routes where people could spend the night and receive some food. Here we see an important difference between the little adventures that we post-moderns enjoy, and the great adventure that used to be a pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. I stop along the way because I want to; they stopped along the way because they had to. I do not fear getting robbed by bandits or killed in some war that I did not know about (remember that during the Middle Ages there were no telephones, no televisions, no newspapers, and there were many small wars, so it was possible to be on pilgrimage and walk right into a war accidentally). If I am cold, I can get a warm motel room, or stop at a restaurant and eat hot soup. If I am lonely, I can go to a bar where there are many people. If I am bored, I can go to a tourist site and have a new experience. When I travel, there are many options, and that is the way it is normally for people today, but during the Middle Ages there were not so many options. A traveler had to keep going until he found the next place to stop, and if he was cold or tired, then he had to just endure. He was probably never bored, though, nor lonely. I am now 41-years-old, and have been traveling all my life (my father was an airline pilot, so because of him I traveled much). Though I still enjoy traveling, it is never a great adventure like it must have been for people during the Middle Ages. I know that, no matter where I am in the world, I can always get back home quickly and easily. When I was in India, I knew that if life there ever got too tough I could use my credit car to buy an airline ticket and fly back home. It would take about 24-hours to go from Bangalore to Laredo. When I was in France in June, I knew that I could be back in America in about ten hours, and back in Texas in about fifteen. What is more, people are civilized in every country I have ever visited. In Europe, Latin America and India all the people have been exposed to the modern Western civilization. A nice young woman named Ameena invited me to have lunch at her house in Bangalore. I accepted. Ameena was poor, but she had Pepsi at lunch, and after the meal we watched "The Big Bang Theory" on her television. No matter where I am, I am never very far, culturally, from the United States. During the Middle Ages, it was not like that. When traveling through Syria going towards Jerusalem, one had to adapt to the local culture. There were some castles in the Middle East that were build by Crusaders from France, so Frenchmen could find some places in the Middle East where they could feel at home, but for the most part they had to deal with situations which were more foreign to them than anything we ever experience. Just image what it must have been like for someone who had never before traveled more than twenty miles away from the spot where he was born to take off and spend a year walking thousands of miles to a completely different part of the world, from which he could not easily return. He could learn about where he was going by listening to others who had been there before, but he could not look at pictures, or watch movies about it, so everything he saw would be a surprise to him.

Now I am going to say something bold: the only truly great pilgrimage possible today is internal, and the best place to make such a pilgrimage is a monastery, or a convent. The world has become homogenous, and there is not much danger now. People who fear terrorism are rather foolish, because there are billions of people in the world but only a few thousands are killed by terrorists each year, meaning that the odds of getting killed by terrorists are about the same as the odds of winning millions of dollars playing the lottery; it is not worth worrying about. Without danger, or the possibility of getting entirely out of our post-modern Western culture, life can seem boring, but the internal life can be a real adventure. I lived in a monastery named St. Jodard for three years, and I have visited many other monasteries and convents around the world. Speaking from experience, I say that even though the monastery or convent might be in a city and therefore no more than a few yards away from an apartment building or a business of some kind, yet if the people inside the monastery or convent are determined, then they can really escape from the post-modern world and live as medieval people did, developing their inner lives, trying to become holy and live always in the presence of GOD. France is very much a Western country, but when I was living in St. Jodard it was like I was in a different world. I am not a monk, so I had to leave after three years and earn a living like a normal man, but I am extremely glad that I spent those three years living in a monastery. That was an adventure greater than any trip I have ever taken. The film "We're the Millers" is excellent because it shows precisely that: the inner journey is greater than the outer one. Though the four main characters are obviously traveling over a thousand miles in one direction and then back again, the greatest movement takes place inside them. At the beginning, all four are single and living without purpose. As they spend time together, they form bonds of love, and become a family, even though none of them is related by blood. They end the trip as better people than they had been when they began.

All of life is like a journey. Some people, like me, move around a lot. Others stay in the same town their whole lives. Either way, there is movement. Hopefully the movement is in the right direction - towards spiritual development. There is something very Judeo-Christian about this. This reality is also part of Islam, Hinduism, and probably every religion in the world, because it is an essential part of humanity. We are composite beings, formed of a spiritual soul and a physical body. By our spiritual soul, we transcend this material world, and so it does not matter where we are - America, Europe, at home, abroad, who cares? - but by our physical body it matters much where we are. Maintaining a harmony between the two essential elements of our being is difficult. Either we forget about our souls and care overly much about the comfort and pleasure of our bodies, or we forget about our bodies, and imagine that we are pure spirits, which always turns out badly after some time because our bodies demand that we pay attention to them. Those who try to ignore the natural desires of their bodies often fall into terrible perversions; it is better to simply do what nature requires, in a controlled and moral way. I think that people during the Middle Ages understood that better than many post-moderns do. A pilgrimage, including the inner pilgrimages that take place inside monasteries and convents, can be excellent for the body and the soul, if it is done right.