Monday, July 16, 2007

God @ the Movies 2007: The Straight Story

Movies are today’s parables. Jesus spoke in story form and film just like His parables, have a way of drawing us in, getting us out of our heads and into our hearts. This is how truth comes to life.

Today we’ll look at The Straight Story, and no it’s not about coming out of the closet or anything like that! It’s the story of Alvin Straight and a bizarre journey he undertakes. It certainly won’t rival Live Free or Die Hard for action, but nonetheless is very profound. I had wanted to use it last year but couldn’t work it in.

As a story of forgiveness and reconciliation it is very powerful. As we begin today, I’d like you to think of two people who you’d like to forgive and perhaps reconcile with. It could be from the car ride over here today or it might date all the way back to an abusive relationship from childhood. Take a second to ask God who it might be.

This is a story of a healing journey and of the purpose of our life. There is a great deal that challenges the fast pace of life, of seeing where the kingdom of God is breaking in, not through the fast and the powerful but in simple hospitality, through the sharing of our sorrow together. It is a spiritual odyssey.

Let’s meet Alvin Straight, who is about 73 years old and has just fallen and been unable to get up. Here we see him in the doctor’s office following that experience:

Scene 1: chapter 3 9.10-10.30

Crusty old curmudgeon, hey?! Do you think he might be stubborn? Any of us here stubborn, too? Don’t ask my wife if I am!

Alvin lives in a small town in rural Iowa. One evening he and his daughter Rose are enjoying a summer storm when they get a phone call:

Scene 2: chapter 5 12.57-16.31

Life’s storms blow in unexpectedly and often we’re never the same. I know many of you have received traumatic calls like the call Alvin got. Alvin’s brother Lyle, whom he’s estranged with, has had a serious stroke.

I gotta go see Lyle’, says Alvin. His face is set upon forgiveness and reconciliation.

Lyle lives about the distance from here past Jasper to Valemount. Or probably from here to Saskatoon- and the terrain would be similar! He can’t drive and he hates the idea of taking a bus. Add that to the fact that this is a trip he must go alone and he is left with only one alternative:

Scene 3: chapter 7: 24.10- 26.12

I love the pan to the sky as if the question is being asked, “What does God think of this journey? Perhaps He would say, ‘This is my son in whom I am well pleased.’’

The road to reconciliation can be a lonely road, can’t it? When Rose first gets the inclination that her dad is going to undertake such a long trip with the mower the only thing she can say is, “Oh jeez dad, no!”

Well, the mower breaks down and Alvin is brought back into town on the back of a truck as his friends watch. He arrives home to shoot the old mower, but shortly thereafter buys a 1966 John Deere and is back on the road!

He passes the Grotto of the Redemption, West Bend, Iowa that is the largest religiously inspired grotto in the world. There is deep symbolism there. The Grotto tells in stone the story of the fall of humanity, and our Divine redemption through Jesus Christ.

On the journey Alvin passes a young hitchhiker who later shares that she’s running away from home because of an unwanted pregnancy. She feels that her family hates her. Here is Alvin’s response:

Scene 4: chapter 10 43.00- 46.53

What or who has hurt you? Who is your bundle? Can we share our wounds together and so experience healing and wholeness? The hospitality is so powerful in the movie. Notice too the work of the church in grace and how it’s ‘out there’, not in here.

Along the way there are many God-winks for Alvin, where his needs are provided for. These show confirmation that he’s on the right journey, be it ever so slow.

Let’s watch what happens when someone passes him on the highway:

Scene 5: chapter 13 54.08-56.38

Life happens. Mishaps, struggles, death, sadness and relational road kill. Notice how Alvin redeems the situation!

Along the way an angel named Danny, like our Danny, helps Alvin.

After the mower breaks down again the twin owners of the local John Deere outfit help Alvin. The twins are having their issues and so Alvin opens up a bit about his journey:

Scene 6: chapter 18 81.29- 82.18

Pride. ‘Nuff said about that. Well Alvin crosses the Mississippi River into Wisconsin and encounters a local Catholic priest at his church and nearby cemetery. Once again the symbolism of crossing the river, of encountering a holy place and a place where the dead are buried is rich.

Alvin talks with the priest:

Scene 7: chapter 20 91.32- 92.42

Cain and Abel. Anger and hatred. As Alvin nears Lyle’s place his tractor stalls one last time. Now Alvin is stuck in the middle of nowhere: he can’t walk out, can’t drive the mower. We all get stuck at some point. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t dealt with our past, or with our hurts. We need help. We’re never more stuck than when we’re in denial.

When dealing with forgiveness the size of transgression matters: The big ones are really hard to forgive and big numbers of transgressions mount up into a person who is hard to forgive. Alvin and his brother had gone over ten years without speaking!

“Injustice Gap”: the gap between my ideal and the way that I perceive that things currently stand. We all desire to see that gap closed somehow.

Our own personal injustice gap is affected by our perception that the offender hurt others and that the offender committed a transgression against God.

An apology helps close it, usually enough, but not always. Sometimes it takes restitution. Even apologies that aren’t heartfelt work at times, such as when you ‘ask’ one child to apologize to another child.

Decisional forgiveness: one’s intent to give up on revenge or avoidance and to treat the person as in the pre-transgression relationship.

If we don’t decide to forgive, and even sometimes when we have chosen decisional forgiveness, we don’t experience in our heart it because we ruminate too much. Rumination is simply the repetitive negative thinking related to our own hurt, depression, anxiety, and anger. This leads to emotional unforgiveness and a hardened and embittered heart.

Emotional Unforgiveness: A complex combination of negative emotions (i.e., resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger, and fear), that is experienced at some time after a transgression is perceived, that occurs after ruminating about the event and its consequences, and that motivates attempts to reduce the negative emotions.

‘I can’t believe she did that to me!’

Unforgiveness: Holding a grudge (emotional resentment, etc.) or holding vengeance motives or “get-even” motives. Alvin had all of that until he felt compassion for his brother Lyle. It helped close the injustice gap.

Emotional forgiveness, deep forgiveness, real forgiveness, this is what we desperately want to experience! It’s defined as the emotional replacement of negative unforgiving emotions with positive other-oriented emotions. eg. Empathy, Sympathy, Compassion, Agape love, Romantic love.

Here we experience Gratitude (for having been forgiven); Humility (recognition that I, too, have erred); and Hope (toward the future).

Fortunately for Alvin a farmer on a bigger tractor helps him out. Alvin pulls up outside of a decrepit shack:

Scene 8: chapter 23 100.30-103.10

You’ll have to watch the movie to see the finale.

As we come to communion, we recognize God undertook the ultimate act of reconciliation towards us. In eating the bread drinking the juice we remember the sacrifice of Jesus. And it was a big sacrifice where God Himself came to be one of us, and took all of our ‘stuff’ away to restore us to god the Father. And we are asked because of that to be forgivers of the same degree especially around God’s table.

It would not have been God's table

The bread and wine on their own are nothing.
To become a foretaste and a promise
of love made real and a world made whole,
they need a story and a blessing
and a people who believe…

It would not have been God’s table

if they hadn’t all been gathered around it:
the betrayer and the friend
the power-hungry and the justice seeker
the faithful and the fickle.

When Jesus poured the wine, and the bread was broken;

when everyone could eat -the outcast and the beloved
the arrogant and the gracious
the wrongdoer and the wrongly done by -the table became a foretaste
of love made real
and of a world made whole.

Your company at the table, will include the betrayer and the beloved

the wrongdoer and the wrongly done by.

It would not be God’s table without them.

And the promise is

that when you are together,
when you tell the story and give the blessing
when you break the bread and pour the wine
you will discover a foretaste
of love made real
and of a world made whole.

Let’s celebrate together.

Matthew 18:23-35
"The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn't pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

"The poor wretch threw himself at the king's feet and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' Touched by his plea, (empathy) and full of compassion the king let him off, erasing the debt.

"The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, 'Pay up. Now!' (Injustice gap)

"The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' But he wouldn't do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

"The king summoned the man and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn't you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?' The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that's exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn't forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy."

That’s the Straight Story as told by Jesus.


Anonymous Monique said...

I wasn't at church today, but I thought I'd catch up on the blog.

I saw this movie about 10 years ago and thought it was phenomenal. From what I remember, it wasn't very popular at the time.

I love the message of coming together in forgiveness and reconciliation. All too often we are stuck in the injustice gap.

12:17 AM  
Blogger Stew Carson said...

Hi Monique. The movie only made about 6 million at the box office, so yes it wasn't very popular. As a David Lynch film, I was amazed at the deeply significant spiritual symbolism he used.

You are one of the few to have seen it but all of us certainly can heed it's message in greater and greater ways. Peace...Stew

8:31 AM  

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