Brando¬â„s way.

In Edward Jones National Book award-winning novel, “This Known World,” a central character embraces a life philosophy articulated by Milton in “Paradise Lost”: “I’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.”

I thought of that line when I read Psalm 84 today: “A day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

These contrasting views of life and reality came into focus when applied to Marlon Brando whose death was announced today.

Brando’s brilliance was fueled by an inner turmoil, fierce independence and exterior life marked by combativeness and conflict. As the AP reports: “His image was a studio’s nightmare. Millions of words were written about his weight, his many romances and three marriages, his tireless and, for some, tiresome support of the American Indian and other causes, his battles with film producers and directors, his refuge on a Tahitian isle. His most famous act of rebellion was his refusal in 1973 to accept the best actor Oscar for “The Godfather.” Instead, he sent a woman who called herself Sasheen Littlefeather to read a diatribe about Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans.”

AP goes on to report: “Brando’s private life turned tragic years later with his son’s conviction for killing the boyfriend of his half sister, Cheyenne Brando, in 1990. Five years later, Cheyenne committed suicide, still depressed over the killing. Still, the undying spotlight never made him conform. “I am myself,” he once declared, “and if I have to hit my head against a brick wall to remain true to myself, I will do it.”

Brando persisted in the proud & rebellious “I did it my way” despite a personal life darkened by murder, suicide, broken relationships and alcoholism. Or did he? Read this report about his son’s trial. “Before the sentencing, Marlon Brando delivered an hour of rambling testimony in which he said he and his ex-wife had failed Christian. He commented softly to members of the Drollet family: “I’m sorry. … If I could trade places with Dag, I would. I’m prepared for the consequences.”

If this was sincere repentance Dag’s family refused to believe it. “Afterward, Drollet’s father said he thought Marlon Brando was acting and his son was “getting away with murder.”

Bigger than life and now dead, Brando seems to be a tragic story of willful rebellion, a conscious decision to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven, and the tragic consequences that follow “doing it my way.” He died lonely, isolated, a bloated, wasted caricature of the dynamo that once ruled on stage and off. AS NYT reports: “his erratic career, obstinate eccentricities and recurring tragedies prevented him from fully realizing the promise of his early genius.”

In one of “the great artist’s” (GOD) counterintuitive truths, our greatest genius is realized by finding the flow of God’s will, not in the obstinate imposition of our own will. Whether a famous persona flashed on the screen or one of countless unknown players on small private stages, the themes are the same as those outlined to the children of Israel on God’s behalf in Deuteronomy 30: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish.”

Brando? I do not know the inner state or stages of his journey. Everyone passes through trials willfully imposed and the fortunate among us turn to God for His endless supplies of grace. It is my fervent prayer that I not be found guilty of casting stones at others, but instead that I will lavishly thank God for his manifest blessings on all unworthy and wretched sinners, beginning with me.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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