Saturday, October 25, 2014

What to Tell the Children

This past week I had the luxury of spending a day at a seminary library.  This for me is like a shoe-lover spending the day at a shoe factory outlet; or an outdoor-devotee being assigned to shop all day in Bass Pro-Shop.  I did have a particular study subject in mind for the day, but, as you might imagine, being surrounded by thousands of books, I had to do a little hunting.  I pulled down volumes ancient and new, reading snippets and looking for gems worth noting.  One such gem came from a book called Confessing the Faith (D.J. Hall 1996 p.29).  “I simply do not believe in the inevitability of progress. I consider such a belief not only non-Christian but an alternative to Christianity.”  The footnote attached to this quote cites back to Kurt Vonnegut reflecting on a college library: “This library is full of stories of supposed triumphs, which makes me very suspicious of it.…It’s misleading for people to read about great successes, since even for middle-class and upper-class white people…failure is the norm.  It is unfair to youngsters particularly to leave them wholly unprepared for monster screwups and starring roles in Keystone Kop comedies and much, much worse.” (Hocus Pocus, 1990, p. 33)

The discovery of these quotes was juxtaposed to my earlier viewing of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  I enjoyed the movie, but the point of the original book, that all children, even those in Australia, have very bad days, gets lost in the movie version. The plot turns on Alexander making a wish that his entire family would suffer one of his very bad days and the “wish” comes true.  While the plot change makes for a funny movie, it loses what I think is the redeeming part of the original story: “hey, kids, life is not fair or fun every day.”  I suppose children eventually learn that on their own, but the message is important enough to tell them it early and often. 

That’s what I learned this week: we all get to star in the tragic comedies of life at some point.  In fact,  things don’t always get “better.” That’s the wrong word, though. Things don’t always “progress” as our human hearts desire.  All things, even our lives, come to an end.  Which is why we need to tell the children the companion truth: “Yet…God is a God who is committed in love to the good end and consummation of creation.” (Hall, p. 29) God makes promises which are unconditional and non-revocable.  We should tell the children that too: God sends a boat to save us in the storm.  The essence of our faith is not that bad days don’t happen; but that when they happen Jesus is the one at our bedside promising us a better beginning tomorrow.  The movie we star in today may look like a tragedy, but the movie of your life has a sequel with a cast of thousands and that movie never, ever ends. You are one of the stars. I promise. No, God promises. Tell the children that.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

"Playground Wisdom"

Tuesday was one of those days when I had to talk a long walk.  A couple of days earlier news had come that a friend had taken his own life.  The next day I learned of another good friend’s diagnosis of cancer.  Yet the sun was warming the cool fall air.  So I walked. I walked along the boardwalk which follows the river bank. I saw fish jump and geese land.  I saw the leaves dying, the evidence of which was their spectacular beauty.  It’s a wonder, isn’t it, that God chose the leaves of trees to paint for us a different picture of dying?  Do you doubt that the fall’s dying leaves will become spring’s baby buds?

On my return route, having thought for quite a while now about why my friend who died had lost all hope; pondering why cancer is so indiscriminate a disease; I took the upper route, which took me past a park.  I see children, middle-school aged, I guess, all in their black tee shirts and shorts. A gym class takes his charges outside today. The lesson plan is to have the children learn to toss a football. Groups of 3 or 4 children tossing a football back and forth, Mr. Teacher standing in the middle of the park, looking at me walk by and looking at the children and the footballs falling on the ground. Does Mr. Teacher have the look of someone who is lost or losing it? I cannot decide.

The 20 or 30 children toss and toss the footballs.  I begin to gain new admiration for the fact that there are enough passers to populate all of America’s high school’s football teams. I see now future quarterbacks today, for there is not one completed pass in the entire time of my viewing. One boy is throwing the ball off on a 45 degree angle. A girl tosses a wounded duck falling 10 feet short of her classmate target 20 feet away.  Another girl tells her mate, “You can throw the ball, but you can’t throw it where it’s supposed to go.”  The mate, who I envision as a future philosophy professor, exclaims, “Well, at least now we know our strengths and weaknesses. You can’t catch, but you can tell me what I am doing wrong. I can throw, but not in the right direction.” Toss-thud. Toss-thud. Toss-thud…

Maybe the philosopher quarterback got the point of the day’s lesson plan.  “At least we know our strengths and weaknesses.”  That might be enough to save a life.  In my weakness, Lord, make me strong.  My strength is in you, Lord. My hope is in you, Lord.  Lord, teach me to believe that you care for dying leaves and baby buds. And me.  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Finding Mr. Murray

When Ted Melfi decided to write his movie “Mr. Vincent”  he had one lead actor in mind, Bill Murray.  Bill Murray, he surmised, would be the perfect fit for the role of the gruff, self-absorbed Viet Nam vet whose life is redeemed by a child. (WSJ 10.3.14, D. Steinberg)  Mr. Melfi’s problem was that he didn’t know how to find Mr. Murray and Mr. Murray doesn’t like to be found, especially by a first time screen writer/ “wanna-be” director.  But Ted was sure that he needed Bill if this movie was going to be what he envisioned.  So Ted starts calling around Hollywood. (This is a true story.) He finds a producer, who he knew from other work, who had worked with Bill, who finally agrees to give out Bill’s 800 phone number. That’s it. An 800 number.

Ted starts calling the 800 number and leaving messages.  The 800 number is an answering service with a recorded voicemail voice telling him to press 5 and leave a message. This went on for a couple of months.  Finally, after leaving long voice mails describing the role and the movie and begging for a call back, one day an attorney calls Ted and direct him to send a one page letter describing the role to a post office box in New York.  A few weeks pass and Ted receives instructions to send the script to Martha’s Vineyard, and then a few weeks later to send it again to South Carolina.  Weeks pass. And then, one day Ted is driving along and his phone rings and the voice on the other end is, you guessed it, Bill Murray.

Bill tells Ted he likes the movie and they should talk. Now. In Cannes.  Mr. Melfi explains that he is working in Los Angeles.  So Bill says that maybe it’s not meant to be and hangs up. He’ll call some other time.  This drives Ted into such a state of stress that he throws out his back. He can hardly function, thinking his dream was ended. Until he gets a text two weeks later from Bill: let’s meet in an hour at the airport.  Ted puts on his back brace, takes his pain pills and goes to meet Bill.  They meet and drive for three hours to Bill’s place and, well, as they say, the rest is history. “Mr. Vincent” is coming to a theatre near you, starring (wait for it)…Bill Murray.

Whatever your dream is, what are you willing to do to make it come true? How long will you wait to find your “Mr. Murray”?  Oh, and, God doesn’t have an 800 number.