Monthly Archives: May 2014
I know I’ve hardly wrtten at all this month, but life has been unusually busy with my new position at work and the added activities I have been doing on the weekends (both of which have been very good for me, but not conducive to blog writing!). So I won’t say I’m back to writing on a regular basis, I’ll just say that I’m writing whenever I have the words and the time. This might be monthly, or weekly, or multiple times a week. It just depends.
Anyway, today what I want to write about is a revelation I had while visiting a very dear friend of mine last weekend. As you may know if you read many of my blog posts about church, I have quite the love-hate relationship with it. In fact, with the exception of last Sunday when I went to church with my friend, I hadn’t attended an actual church service in about a month and a half (I’ve just been going to Sunday school instead). I’ve just been feeling quite disillusioned in general, and I’ve found that going to church often makes me feel frustrated instead of fulfilled, so I just haven’t been going at all.
So that’s my context. Now for my friend’s context. She’d grown up going to a tiny United Methodist church her whole life, and found that it did not meet her needs for spiritual sustenance and sound teaching. She has found all of that at the church she is attending now, and she is even considering becoming a member. She is s grateful to have found the church that she has, and feels blessed to be included there.
The sermon on Sunday was on the passage in 1 John 2 that talks about how the church at that time had “anti-christs” in its midst, and how the believers must be wary of such teachings. The pastor went on to talk about how we today must be wary as well, and to denounce as “anti-christs” anyone who teaches ideas contrary to the gospel.
This is an important message, to be sure. But I started bristling and becoming defensive when the pastor offered an example of an “anti-christ” which I didn’t all think fit the bill, then proceeded to offer other examples of people whose counsel Christians ought to shun, all of which I thought were problematic.
That’s all I’ll say about the sermon, but suffice it to say that I listened to it with a terribly judgmental spirit, resisting the pastor’s words even though the over-arching point—Christians should cling to the truth of the Gospel and be wary of those whose ideas run contrary to it—was a sound one.
Anyway, I voiced all these grievances to my friend on our drive home, and she ended up telling me that she felt hurt that I was so antagonistic toward the pastor’s ideas, because she believed in his message. I apologized, and we were fine after that.
But our discussion—and my reaction to the pastor—got me thinking. I don’t even know what kind of Christian I am any more. I’m the kind of Christian who walks into a sanctuary with my arms folded metaphorically, with a mind that is already filtering the pastor’s words with the lens of my own experience and ideas and my own understanding of God’s Word. I’m the kind of Christian who analyzes the living daylights out of pastors whose beliefs are generally conservative, as this pastor’s was, yet who drinks in the sermons of more progressive pastors (for example, I listened to an Adam Hamilton podcast sermon on the drive up to visit my friend, and his sermon was basically the opposite of the one I heard at my friend’s church, and I really thought it was a good sermon!).
Here’s the truth. In reality, I’m the kind of Christian who hasn’t truly felt at home in an evangelical church for a good long while. I recognize that this is partially because of my own attitude, and my own bitter heart, and my own antagonistic disposition that is wary anytime a pastor uses the phrases “biblical principles” and “God’s truth” and such like that in the same sentence. But I don’t know what to do with that just yet, because I also don’t want to be the sort of Christian who blindly accepts the word of every pastor who tells me this is what it means to be faithful to the Gospel, and this is what it means to be an anti-christ.
So my revelation was two-fold: I realized for the first time that I’ve got an attitude problem that needs to change if I’m ever going to feel comfortable with a body of believers. And I realized I need to remember what my friend and her roommate wisely told me: God doesn’t separate people based on conservative or progressive beliefs. He judges us by our hearts, and while this doesn’t give us carte blanche to accept harmful beliefs, it should give us pause and remind us that in the end God’s judges the hearts of men, not us. If I remember that, I think I might find it a little easier to get along with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and not be so hard on them and their beliefs.
Before I delve into the wonderful gem of a film that is Philomena, let me offer a quick apology for the lengthy hiatus. Work and life have been keeping me very occupied these last few weeks, and I just haven’t had the time to write as much as I would like. Now that I’m falling back into a routine, hopefully I’ll be able to write much more regularly.
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Let me be blunt, right from the start: Philomena is one of the most captivating films I’ve seen in a very long time. The film touched my heart and left me in awe of the power of storytelling to leave such a profound impact. The acting is fantasic, the storyline is well-paced and the plot is irresistibly alluring. I found myself watching this film, and hoping desperately for a happy ending even as the tone of the film revealed itself for the bittersweet, realistic portrayal of heartbreak and healing.
Philomena centers around two characters: Philomena Lee, an elderly woman with a gentle yet spirited character; and Martin Sixsmith, a cynical, witty journalist whose career has taken a turn for the worse. Together, Philomena and Martin embark on a quest to locate Philomena’s long-lost son, a boy she gave birth to in a convent as a teenager, who was later given up for adoption against her will. Through flashbacks, we learn of Philomena’s traumatic experiences at the convent and the injustices she endured as a young woman desperate to be with her son, yet parted from him unexpectedly. Martin, upon hearing what happened to her, agrees to accompany her on her search and write a human interest story about their journey.
One of the best qualities of this film is the masterful way it balances light, witty humor with heavy, serious content. The weight of the film lies almost exclusively on the relationship between Philomena and Martin, who form an unlikely friendship despite having personalities that couldn’t possibly be more different. There are moments of dialogue that left me breathless with laughter, followed by seamless shifts in tone when the film turns to its more sobering content.
Both Philomena and Martin process what she went through in different ways: Martin expresses his frustration and distaste for organized religion and the way the convent nuns mistreated Philomena. He defends Philomena in a way she refuses to do for herself, and angrily confronts the nuns responsible for giving her son away. He is blunt in his disapproval of Christianity, yet he never disrespects Philomena for her faith.
Philomena herself reacts very differently to everything that happened to her. She bears no ill will for the convent sisters, and even defends them in some cases. Yet her sorrow at a lifetime of not knowing the whereabouts of her son is also evident, so the terrible actions of the nuns are never presented as anything less than atrocious, despite Philomena’s forgiving spirit.
Sometimes, the best faith films are the ones that are subtle, as Philomena is. It is clear that Philomena is a woman of faith, and the audience sees the fruit of her faith in her ability to forgive and her simple, confident responses to Martin’s tirades about God. Conversely, Martin is a deeply conflicted character filled with angst and cynicism, yet as his character is fleshed out we come to see the goodness of his heart, expressed by his desire to achieve justice for Philomena.
From faith to doubt, hard revelations and redemptive forgiveness, this film is relatable on so many levels, and presents a perspective on the Christian faith that is both critical and positive at the same time. So if you’re the sort of person who appreciates incredible character development, a gripping storyline, and a realistic portrayal of the consequences of abusing religion while remaining true to its ability to bring peace in a troubled life, I highly recommend Philomena.