Something Beautiful

This picture has been making the rounds on Facebook the past few weeks. The first picture shows what a child did to a wall. The next picture shows what the child’s mother did to that scribble.

Photographer Unknown via National Art Society on Facebook
Photographer Unknown via National Art Society on Facebook

The mother had taken a mistake and turned it into something beautiful.

God, through Jesus Christ, does the same with us. We are broken. We are dirty. We have made mistakes.  We have grand ideas of what our lives will turn out to be. We set out with hope and dreams to achieve those goals. We make plans not to make the mistakes we have seen others make.

But, life gets complicated. Relationships require more work than we thought. Our broken edges seem to be sharper. Our hopes seem out of reach, and our dreams seem to only cause us nightmares. And, when it finally comes down to it, we end up as scribbled lines on the wall.

And even though, like a tangled hummingbird trying to get free, we try to fix the scribbled lines on our now. But, we cannot fix it. We must be still and know the Lord God. It is through the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ that the scribbled lines become something beautiful. And the sooner we realize that we cannot make it on our own, and that we need Christ, the sooner we realize that grace is Plan A, not Plan B.

As the hymn says:

All I had to offer Him
Was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.

Juno (2007)

JunoUnder the direction of Jason Reitman and with a script by Diablo Cody, Juno breaks the mold of usual comedies. The film is so different from most films that there is very little doubt that it is something special. What begins as a somewhat screwball of a comedy turns out to be so much more. The characters are so well-developed that we come to love them in all of their screwballness. There is very little wonder that Roger Ebert said that Juno “is just about the best movie of the year.”

Ellen Page is Juno MacGuff. Page, 20 at the time, is brilliant, delivering Cody’s witting lines with class and style, all while making a theater full of people fall in love with her. Michael Cera is Paulie Bleeker, a tall, skinny, track runner, and Juno’s best friend. Juno convinces Paulie that they should experiment with sex. While Paulie is not as eager as Juno is, he complies and, of course, Juno gets pregnant. Teenage pregnancy is not usually a comedic moment. Reitman’s film, however, handles it with grace that portions of our society do not.

Juno decides to have an abortion. When she arrives at the clinic, a classmate of hers is protesting solo against abortions. Reitman is very careful here. The film is not about abortions – anti or pro. The film is about a teenage girl coming to terms with all of the changes in her life. While in the clinic, she is overwhelmed by the waiting room, and leaves quickly. She decides to have the child.

She knows, as a 16-year-old high school student, that she cannot raise this child, speaking to her maturity. Juno and her friend Leah (Olivia Thirby) look through ads in the Penny Saver for adoptive parents: “They have ‘Desperately Seeking Spawn’ right next to the pet ads.”

It is through the Penny Saver, that Juno finds Mark and Vanessa Loring, played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Gardener. The couple lives well, and they seem to be in love and a happy couple struggling with infertility. Juno decides they are the right couple and plans are made for them to adopt the baby. Juno connects with Mark, visiting him after school, even though her stepmother Bren (Allison Janney) cautions her about boundaries.

During one of those visits, Mark tells Juno that he is planning on leaving Vanessa. He suggests that he may have feelings for Juno, who does not share his feelings and is more concerned about making sure the baby grows up in a happy home. Juno storms out, unsure what to think.

Juno heads up at the convenience store, Honey and Milk the sign reads on two sides of the store. Juno is lying on the hood of her van staring up sty the stars pondering and discerning her next steps. Honey and Milk brings to mind the Old Testament proclamation for the Hebrew people to go to the land of milk and honey. The Promised Land. The land where all troubles, pains, and sorrows will be no more.

Of course, the land of milk and honey does not have to be an actual, physical land. It can be a spiritual state of mind. It is outside of the Honey and Milk store that Juno comes to understand what she has to do. She scribbles a note on the back of a Jiffy Lube receipt, drives back to the Loring’s, leaves the note on their front porch, rings the doorbell, and drives off.

The note, which Vanessa framed and hung in the nursery, read, “Vanessa – If you’re still in, I’m still in. – Juno.”  In an earlier scene, Juno asks her father Mac (J. K. Simmons), “I need to know that it’s possible for two people to stay happy together forever.” It is clear that Juno is no longer trying to be funny and witty. She has real emotions that she is taking seriously. She needs to know if love is possible for herself and for her baby.

Her dad answers, “The best thing you can do is to find someone who loves you for exactly what you are.”

Juno & PaulieJuno has an epiphany outside of the Honey and Milk, brining her to her land of milk and honey, that Vanessa already loves the unborn baby for what and who he is. And she has the epiphany that she loves Paulie for who and what he is.

Juno finds her promised land.

The film is one of those rare films that has no scenes that are out-of-place or extra. The story flows like a smooth river, heading in one, clear direction, making the film not only unique but refreshing. It is a film that is non-judgemental, being sure not to make a statement, but telling a story of real teenagers in the real world with grace. Reminding us all who live in the real world that we too can treat the unexpected things that happen around us with grace.

Children’s Time

A photo snapped by Linwood Campbell during worship last week. This is our Children’s Time, where I sit just about every week with our children in worship and talk about the scriptures. In this picture, we are talking about Peter walking on the water . . . . and Spider-Man. You never know what’s going to come up in a children’s time. 

Children's Time
photo by L. Campbell

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Good-Will-Hunting-movie-posterWill Hunting (Matt Damon) is a young man who is living on the edges headed toward total self-destruction. During the day he is a janitor at MIT, at night he is partying at bars with his buddies, picking and getting into fights. While he reads everything and anything he can get his hands on, he hides that intelligence. He may not be a student at MIT or Harvard, but he has a brilliance that baffles the smartest MIT professors.

Mostly, Will Hunting is in pain. His childhood has been filled with abuse, neglect, and abandonment. He hides from that pain, while acting out in that pain. It leads him to being jailed after hitting a police officer during a fight on a black top basketball court. In the meantime, Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) has been searching for Will because Will is the only person on campus who has solved an  unsolvable math problem.

Lambeau manages to work things out so that Will is released into his custody, under two conditions: 1. Will meets with Lambeau on a regular basis; and 2. Will meets with a counselor. Lambeau is unable to find a counselor that would be willing to work with Will, until Sean McGuire (Robin Williams). Sean, a former college roommate of Lambeau’s, is one of the people in Will’s life who works towards bringing him back from the edge of self-destruction.

Sean is a community college professor who has pain in his own life centering around the death of his wife. In a sense Will and Sean become an odd couple. They both have experienced great pain in their lives, and they both hide from that pain in their own ways. In a way, by bringing Will to Sean, Lambeau is an agent of healing for them both.

Robin Williams would win his only Oscar through his performance as Sean McGuire. While it is a dramatic role, one that most audiences were not used to seeing Williams in, there was still space for Williams to do his best improv. In the scene in Sean’s office where he is talking to Will about his dead wife, Williams ad-libs the whole monologue about his wife farting in her sleep.

In addition to Lambeau and Sean, there are others who are working to bring Will back from the edge. His best friend from his childhood, Chuckie (Ben Affleck), tells Will, “You’re sitting on a winning lottery ticket. It would be an insult to us if you’re still around here in twenty years.” Chuckie is telling Will to move on with his life, not to let the old neighborhood pull him back. Will has a chance to move on, a chance to grow, a chance to change. Chuckie sees that in him, and is encouraging Will to take the chance.

Skylar (Minnie Driver), who ironically was named after a girlfriend of Matt Damon’s when he co-wrote the script with Ben Affleck (for which they won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar), only to breakup with her and start dating Minnie Driver, is another character who sees potential in Will. Skylar is a British student attending Harvard who wants Will to go with her to California. She knows that he is hiding behind his past and the pain it holds. Leaving home will bring Will liberation.

Boston BenchEven though Will has these prophetic voices urging him to move forward, to change, and to embrace his future, Will is reluctant. Perhaps it is class pride, he does not want to leave his kind behind. Perhaps it is a lack of confidence. While Will seems to swim in his confidence, he is still hiding behind the pain, suggesting that he is not as confident in his God-given gifts and abilities, especially when he hides mosts of those gifts.

At an emotionally high point of the film, Sean tells Will, “You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.” The message of this statement echoes throughout the film. When Will lets his walls down and welcomes new relationships with Sean and Skylar, he welcomes the possibility of change. It was extremely difficult for Will to believe in himself when he went a lifetime of having no one believe in him.

Many of us may not have experienced the pain and abuse that Will has, or live with the levels of anger he does. But we all have walls up, hiding us from things we don’t want to face about ourselves and our relationships. If we let the walls down, and welcome a relationship with the One who gives new life, change is possible.

Sean was the first person to really believe in Will. Believe in who Will is, and to give him the permission to have the courage and the strength to be who he is on his own terms. We all need a prophetic mentor like Sean McGuire.

Healing from the Unimaginable

Originally posted on GLIDE:

Beth and Nick Solstice Parade

Since I heard of Robin Williams death, I cannot stop thinking of two sentences from my own son’s suicide note:

“I know that there are people who will be deeply negatively affected by this, and I am truly sorry.  There is no excuse for what I have done, and I ask forgiveness.”

“deeply negatively affected” – Nicholas, Robin, you had no idea.

I wonder where his wife and his children were when they found out.  I had been out for a nice dinner with a friend and was home watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind with one eye open.  I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. 

When the phone rang, I thought it was Nick.  The night before, we had talked about his high school literature club.  “People aren’t talking mom.”  So, he discussed the book with the teacher. 

It wasn’t Nick on the line, it was…

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Thank You, Mr. Williams


Today during staff meeting we recalled a hilarious scene from Robin Williams’ film RV. Then this evening, around 7PM EST, while we were getting ready for dinner, Megan and I first heard the shocking news. At the age of 63, Robin Williams died through an apparent suicide. Shocking because this man who made us laugh is no longer with us and that his depression was so deep and painful that the only way he saw out of it was to take his own life.

While Robin Williams has made us laugh through his stand-up, as the Genie, and anytime he ever appeared on David Letterman, his acting was so much more than that. He made us think, he made us cry, he made us want to be better people.

I can still remember sitting in a movie theater in Durham, North Carolina with friends to see Patch Adams. We had gone to see a funny movie because we wanted to laugh – a lot. And we did. But, I remember well coming out of that movie experience with a  renewed sense of justice and compassion. Williams’ Patch Adams went against the grain. He broke the rules to help others, especially children. He was governed by a sense of justice (all should have access to health care) fueled by compassion to listen to others and to meet them where they are.

So many of Williams’ roles did that.

His films have made me a better educator and a better minister. A youth ministry colleague tweeted that whenever he needed encouragement, he would watch Dead Poet’s Society. Mr. Keating was another such character that broke rules as he was governed by justice and fueled by compassion to make a difference. This was one of the films that originally inspired me to become an educator. I wanted to change lives. I wanted to make the world better. I wanted to be Mr. Keating.

It may seem strange that fictional characters in movies were a source of inspiration to become who God has called me to be. But it’s true. There was something deeply spiritual about Williams’ performances in those films, bringing those characters to life, that I connected with. Maybe because I have not had enough time with my thoughts yet to process what exactly that is, but its there. When I think of Robin Williams, I think of justice and compassion. I think of being a better person and making the world a little bit better.

I could go on. But it is safe to say that Williams has left a legacy of change makers in his path. I only hope that I can do the same.

Thank you, Mr. Williams, for this legacy.


Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)


On the outskirts of New Orleans lies a narrow piece of land known as Isle de Jean Charles. It is slowly disappearing into the Terrebonne Bay. It lies just outside the levees that protect New Orleans. This is the inspiration of the fictional Bathtub in Benh Zeitlin’s film Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The Bathtub is a Louisiana wilderness of poverty. The community struggles to survive the incoming storms, and just survive period. The Bathtub looks and feels post-apoloypatic. At first, as the film begins, it is hard to tell when and where the film is. Eventually we know that we are outside of New Orleans, with drilling rigs and oil refineries in the background.

Despite its rough appearance, Hushpuppy, the six-year-old heroine of the film, thinks the Bathtub is the “prettiest place on Earth.” Hushpuppy has a connection to the natural world. She picks up every animal she can, lifts it up to her ear, and listens to it. This is just one of the glimpses into Hushpuppy’s soul. A tender soul that is connected to more than just the natural, but to the spiritual as well.  Hushpuppy has been described as a mystic, a person who seeks unity with the Holy. Hushpuppy does this through her connection through the natural world around her.

The Bathtub is her sanctuary.

Quvenzhané Wallis is the first-time actress who plays Hushpuppy and is beyond incredible. She was five when she was cast for the movie, and seven when filming was completed. So much of her is in the character of Hushpuppy to the point that Hushpuppy would not be Hushpuppy without Wallis. It is hard to believe this is her first time acting.

An unwanted storm is on the way to the Bathtub. Which is hard to believe, as it appears that the residents of the Bathtub already live in a post-storm world. Hushpuppy narrates much of the film with her six-year-old philosophy about the world. It is just one of the ways in which we get a glimpse at the world through the wide eyes of Hushpuppy. She knows just how big and powerful she is in this world, which is evident when she comes face-to-face with the mythical, giant, wild boars who escape from the melting glaciers. The boars, of course, are not real. They are a part of Hushpuppy’s imagination based on the climate change theory of her teacher’s: “Any day now, the fabric of the universe is coming unraveled . . . Y’all better learn to survive.”


When the hurricane force winds and rain arrive, Hushpuppy and her father, Wink (Dwight Henry, another first-time actor who is a baker in the Third Ward of New Orleans), do not leave the Bathtub despite the mandatory evacuation. (“Daddy says brave men don’t run from their place.”) Rescue workers come in and take them, and the other storm survivors, to a shelter on the other side of the levees. The levees become a symbol of the barrier between these two worlds.

While at the shelter, doctors discover that Wink has a terminal illness and is dying. It is another way in which Hushpuppy’s world is coming unraveled. The father-daughter relationship here is unique to their situation and environment. At times, they are more like partners, codependent upon one another. At other times, Wink is the disciplinarian, smacking Hushpuppy on the head when she does wrong. Most of the time Wink calls her, “Man,” suggesting an equality between them.

Despite all that Hushpuppy goes through – surviving a house fire, living without her mother, leading a group of orphaned children, and seeing her father ill – Hushpuppy takes up the challenge to repair the world.

Hushpuppy: I see that I’m a little piece of a big universe, and that makes things right.

Hushpuppy comes to understand that she is one part of the larger puzzle of what repairs the world. It doesn’t take much to convince us that the world is unraveling around us. We each are a part of the universe, and we each play a roll in making things right. This is what is means to be a part of the Body of Christ.

Just as Hushpuppy is a mystic, living in the mysteries of the Holy doing her part to make things right, the film carries the viewer into the mysteries of an unfolding world. One where suffering is a reality and answers to life’s problems are not as black and white as we would like them to be. One where, as Hushpuppy says, “depends on everything fitting together just right.”