Sunday, September 27, 2009
Yesterday afternoon John and I saw Love Happens starring Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Anniston. It was a pleasant enough movie: sort of an old fashioned boy meets girl comedic romance. Both actors did an excellent job in their roles, Eckhart as, Burke, a successful author and self-help life counselor; Anniston as, Eloise, a florist with a series of bad relationships.
While the budding romance between Burke and Eloise is the primary focus of the movie, it blossoms only amid the back story of the tragedy that set Burke on the path of authorship and self-help guru. Three years prior to the current events his wife died in a car accident near Seattle where they lived.
Burke has now returned to Seattle to conduct one of his “A-OK” seminars. For all appearances, he has completely recovered form his wife’s death. Attendees have (apparently) read his book and now expect the same sort of recovery for the tragedy in their own lives through group sessions and upbeat lectures by Burke. Now and again some pearls of “wisdom” are dropped from his mouth, the greatest of which is that those suffering from a tragedy in life must confront their fear before they can move on; i.e., overcome or move through their grief. The big surprise (Not really for those of us who can practically write such films in our sleep!) is that Burke has not come to grips with his own fear. (No spoilers here, but again, for those of us who can practically write these things ourselves, there were no surprises, either.)
“Fear” it seems, is a code word for guilt, the G-spot. Can’t call it that, of course, because guilt it tied to sin and sin means there is a God. Oh! what a piteous word-playing world we live in! Guilt often hides behind a mask, from sexual promiscuity to fear and anger. In Love Happens, guilt hiding behind a mask of fear, can be handled quite easily: Just do one thing you are truly afraid of, like walking on a bed of hot coals, and your g-spot is lessened. The release of tension brought about by one fear abated grants permission for another to be set free. Soon your g-spot is entirely set free.
What a concept! Perhaps we can do that in our churches. We can have coal-and-ash beds implanted into the entry way of every church so that as each one enters he can be absolved. His G-spot can eventually be eradicated. Isn’t that the way so many think of Confession and Absolution–as if they were being asked to walk on a bed of hot coals? As if it were the most fearful of all things imaginable? Yet we believe, teach and confess that “confession is to be retained for the sake of absolution” (AC: II; xxv; 13. Tappert).
Absolution is what the seminar attendees are truly seeking, after all. The death of a child can in fact be “just an accident,” but the parent who could not save his own son will nonetheless punish himself for what he could not do. Drat! that g-spot. The husband who was driving the car in which his wife was killed will do the same. There goes the g-spot again.
The guilt of grief takes many forms; each one finds its answer in only one place, and yet in this movie once again the world hears that the answer can be found in the silence of one’s own doing-ness. In another movie the lead character yelled to the night sky, confessing his sins to God. The answer was the silence of the stars brightly shining upon him. In Love Happens, the Absolution comes in shopping at Home Depot and walking on hot coals, but not in words of comfort relating to life and death itself. Too bad they weren't thieves hung on crosses so they could hear from their Savior Himself.
“It was an accident. It wasn’t your fault.” How true. How very true. Accidents happen. Now there’s a good movie title: Accidents Happen. When accidents happen, who sends them? Scripture says God disciplines us as His own sons (Deu 8:5; He 12:7). Yet in the same way God took Abraham’s son and then returned him to Abraham by way of the ram He sent for the sacrifice, what God takes from us He gives back to us through His Son. God’s discipline is for the sake of our repentance. There is no such thing as an accident that happens for no purpose, as if to say “Accidents happen” with a shrug of the shoulder in the same way one would intone, “skubalon happens.” Joseph received all the injustices to his life from the hands of his own brothers as if purposed by God, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” Gen 50:50. Joseph spoke these words to his brothers when they stood before him, convicted of their guilt for crimes against their own father, brother, and God in heaven. Joseph’s words were an absolution to them. Ah! There’s another movie title: Repentance Happens.
All humans have the capacity to believe, and do believe in something. Movies like Love Happens bring to the forefront a need grounded in that capacity, to be absolved of one’s guilt. When repentance happens, who is there to speak the words of forgiveness as if Christ Himself is present? Christ instituted the means whereby His words of Absolution should be spoken by His servant and received by the hearer (John 20:22-23). If anything at all, Love Happens, in a quirky mixed up way, redefines why it is important to be where the things of Christ are going on and to receive them as often as one is able. That thief comes whenever he will. His Absolution is the only cure for that nasty g-spot that accuses and wills not to be silent. His comfort is the only true one, and is found nowhere but in the things of Christ and the unity of His Body.