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Roxane B. Salonen, Published March 15 2014

Living Faith: McConaughey Oscars speech focused on right priorities

Earlier this month, many Americans gathered around the tube to learn who’d made the biggest splash in movies this year.

As one who mostly passes on TV time, I missed out on the Oscars, but not entirely. Soon enough I caught the highlights – the list of winners along with some of the acceptance speeches.

Of special note was Matthew McConaughey’s for Best Actor award in the film, “Dallas Buyer’s Club.”

Some of the first words to leave McConaughey’s lips upon accepting his golden trophy were: “I want to thank God because that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand.”

It takes guts to stand up in front of hundreds of peers, not to mention hundreds of thousands of television viewers, and acknowledge what many in our society are increasingly calling a mirage.

To me, all is from God, beginning with life itself. So McConaughey’s decision to pay tribute to God first in a list of things most deserving of his gratitude earns my immediate respect.

In younger days I wrestled with the idea that God deserves kudos for our accomplishments.

Growing up, my mother was always pointing out the myriad “God signs” in our lives, including the things we did that shone brightly. My sister and I had a natural aptitude for music, for example. Learning the piano and playing the licorice stick came easily to me.

But how were our talents God’s doing?

Later, I reviewed the scenario and realized God could have put me in any family, but this is the one he chose for me – the one boasting a former concert pianist who used to claim a bloodline leading straight back to Bach.

Furthermore, my parents had encouraged me to sign up for lessons, which had been paid for through income from their jobs – jobs they’d worked hard to get. And yet someone had nudged them toward an education, and their health and intellect had been strong enough to get them to and through the finish line.

This tracing-back can be helpful in realizing that at bottom, all is from God. Only those lacking humility or a divinely-tuned heart would miss acknowledging “God’s hand,” as McConaughey calls it.

At any moment, our parents, or theirs before them, could have encountered obstacles preventing the blessings that inevitably flowed. Instead, in his provisions God allowed these good things to happen.

It perplexes me now when people point to themselves in extolling their achievements. Success doesn’t come from human efforts alone; not by a long shot.

Each day of our lives and every breath we take are gifts. Every good thing we have can be attributed to God. McConaughey was humble enough to know it and classy enough to name it before millions.

Still, I wanted to hear his whole speech. Imagine my shock to see an online story calling it “confounding.”

Confounding? What had McConaughey said to merit that, I wondered?

So I listened to a video replay, and all I heard were gracious words from a guy who understands his place in the world and wasn’t about to one-up his creator.

He also gave a nod to his parents, including his deceased father, whom he said was likely celebrating “with a pot of gumbo and a can of Miller Lite,” and the mother who’d taught him to respect himself.

Nevertheless, the writer of the Time Entertainment piece labeled McConaughey’s acceptance “a semi-bizarre tale about his inner life.”

I would have been completely disheartened had I not scrolled down to the comments below the article and noted how they largely defended the actor.

“Seriously, why is Hollywood so afraid of God?” one said.

Another chimed in, “That he was able to become a real actor and win the award had to be a divine intervention.”

A third called it “wonderful” that the actor would acknowledge God and his family, noting how sad it is “that so few Oscar winners acknowledge these vital forces.”

To those I’d add this: “Mr. McConaughey, if you keep going this way you might end up with fewer roles, but I’ll bet you’re going to be enjoying some mighty sweet heavenly gumbo someday.”

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com