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An Experienced Life

January 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

One of my favorite and most inspirational movies of the past twenty years is Good Will Hunting (1997). It has many memorable and important scenes is between Robin Williams’ character as teacher and Matt Damon’s character Will Hunting. Damon’s character had just insulted William’s character so they sat down to have a talk. Watch the movie clip but you can also read part of it that I provided.

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone who could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you.”

This is the conversation that guides the story toward action and resolution for Damon’s character. This scene gives me chills every time I watch it. Damon’s character, although clearly brilliant, had not truly lived life in all of its pain and glory. He had been stuck in his neighborhood thinking he knew all there was to know about life. There was a bigger life to experience if he would open himself up. It is hard to  miss that I am like Damon’s character and fear the risk of going out into the world to really experience life.

Recently I visited one of the most infamous city settings in the world: Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. On November 22nd, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated here. Dealey Plaza rests on the southwest side of downtown Dallas. I’ve read multiple books and watched countless documentaries and movies about the JFK Assassination. But none of his compared to actually being at the site of this tragic event. As Robin Williams mentioned above, there is nothing like visiting it to smell the air, feel the history, and to stand where history changed us forever. It was eerie and it brought a bit of  sadness to me that I didn’t expect to feel. Reading and watching stories about JFK always brought intrigue but rarely did it ever bring emotion like this. Silently, I walked all around the area with my brother-in-law and my wife and toured the JFK 6th Floor Museum. It is an experience I will not forget.

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View from the 7th Floor of the infamous Texas School Book Depository overlooking Dealey Plaza. One floor directly down from me was assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s sniper nest.

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Standing next to the street where Kennedy was shot. Two “X’s” mark mark on the street where he was shot. To my left is the infamous grassy knoll where conspiracy theories point toward a second gunman.

Walking and visiting the places of history reminds us that we are part of a big story. It is full of beauty, adventure, victory, loss, and tragedy. It should provoke the feelings to make us want to make a lasting impact on this world because we are called to a great story. This trip reminded me that I can live life comfortably at home but if I don’t take a step out to truly explore what God is nudging me to do, I will miss the real life.

“To know there is a better story for your life and to choose something other is to choose to die.” – Donald Miller

Have you ever visited a place of history that gave you the chills?

Does it make you think about how your lasting impact will be on the world?

 

 

The bar/confrontation scene from Good Will Hunting (1998) is one of my favorite movie scenes because it reveals something uncomfortable about us; we are all posers. In the scene, Will Hunting played by Matt Damon and his friends, who are from a poor part of South Boston decide one night to visit a Harvard bar. After Will’s friend played by Ben Affleck attempts to pick up some girls, he is confronted by an arrogant MIchael Bolton look-a-like Harvard graduate student. The graduate student begins to taunt Affleck’s character in front of the ladies by showing off his supposed knowledge of early American History. The scene is full of class-tension but underneath there is something deeper; a man’s authenticity is being challenged.

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Watch the scene to understand.

“But at least I won’t be unoriginal”

Our education system creates unoriginal posers who are incentivized to memorize facts and other people’s ideas. This happens to people of all ages, not just in school. I work in an office that tempts to suck the creative spirit out of me. There are days when I feel the desire to go to graduate school but then I realize that another degree or a graduate degree will only serve as an entry point to feeding my pride. As I evaluate my heart, I catch myself yearning just to see extra initials after my name on a business card or a resume. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with a degree or a graduate degree.

My point is this.

You are only as good as what you do with your education. 

We are all posers unless we use our education for the better and for each person that will be something personal and hopefully unique. The viewer learns later in the film that Will Hunting was a poser for not using the gift that God had given him. We are left at the end of the movie not knowing what he does with his education but that is probably the beauty of the story to embrace.

I apply this scene to my life because God has given me many dreams that I can sit on or pursue. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words,

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

God gives us experience and the passions to act. By faith, he calls us to trust him in this journey. This is life’s great education. God gives us choice on what to do with this education and I am learning that I need to take seriously what he has given to me. I am awaken.

I am learning that it is not my degree or credentials that matter. He loves me no matter what and it is what I do with my education that matters. That is what makes the world stand up and clap.

I need to write.

I need to take the risks.

I need to engage fearlessly with my wife and my kids.

I need to leave the excuses behind and go forward with this education.

I may not have multiple PhDs. But my hope in life is that at least I won’t be unoriginal.

What are you learning about your education? What do you want to do with it?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:43-45 ESV

In my Christian life, I have struggled with identifying who “my enemy” is and how to respond to them. Facing an enemy, I feel frustration, confusion, and hatred. These emotions can eat me up if gone unchecked. What do we do with this struggle of emotion?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up how we deal with our enemies properly.

“The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified.”

As I read this quote from Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship against scripture, three portraits of reconciliation come to mind that help me work through reconciliation and suggest ways to love my enemies.

I pray they help you too.

1. Reconciliation after Apartheid

In the dramatic storytelling of the 1994 Rugby World Cup through the movie  Invictus (2009), we see the nation of South Africa struggling to overcome decades of abuse under Apartheid. Black South Africans had been persecuted for generations under the white ruling class. But a new president had come to power: Nelson Mandela. Mandela was an activist and then a prisoner under the old regime for twenty-seven years. But now he recognized that in order to bring the nation together, he must lead by example and embrace the mostly white rugby team in their quest for the cup. The nation would see white and black, former foes, all as newly united South Africans. And it could not have been done without courage and leadership by Mandela and the rugby team. Invictus is a beautiful portrayal on how a few with great courage can make such a difference.

Morgan Freeman as South Africa President Nelson Mandela shaking hands with South Africa Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Morgan Freeman as South Africa President Nelson Mandela shaking hands with South Africa Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2. Reconciliation after The American Civil War

On April 9th 1865, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America surrendered in Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia to General U.S. Grant of the Union forces. The fate was sealed for the Confederacy after four years of intense battle. Typically the conquered like Lee would be placed in prison, hanged, or publicly humiliated after defeat. But this name was like no other before it.

The American Civil War was one of the bloodiest in the history of mankind. Most of the south was destroyed, and there were over one million casualties, among these 650,000+ dead soldiers, and 50,000 dead civilians. Both sides had good reason to hate one another after four years of extreme bloodshed and destruction.

In the book April 1865 the author described Lee’s exit after agreeing to the terms of surrender. As he left the house of surrender, General Grant walked out after Lee with his staff and all saluted the famous General as he left. Lee was not to leave as one conquered, but as a man with dignity and honor. Other soldiers showed similar grace.

“Without having planned it-and without any official sanction (Joshua L.) Chamberlain suddenly gave the order for Union soldiers to “carry arms as a sign of their deepest mark of military respect. A bugle call instantly rang out. All along the road, Union soldiers raised their muskets to their shoulders, the solute of honor.”

Enemies had been made from smallest to greatest, from the smallest families and most rural communities up to the largest cities, the most prosperous states, and even to the nation itself. And now each one who fought as enemies needed healing. The time after The Civil War is known as “Reconstruction” but it should be called “Reconciliation”.

"The Last Offer of Reconciliation" courtesy of the Library of Congress

“The Last Offer of Reconciliation” by Kimmel & Forster, courtesy of the Library of Congress

3. Reconciliation through a Handshake

Described at the end of Unbroken, after Louis Zamperini spent years in prison being tortured by the Japanese he went back years later to visit his captors. The author noted,

“Before Louie left Sugamo (the prison), the colonel who was attending him asked Louie’s former guards to come forward. In the back of the room, the prisoners stood up and shuffled into the aisle. They moved hesitantly, looking up at Louie with small faces. Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. Before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face.”

Beautiful.

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Along with scripture, I encourage you to read these stories and watch these movies to better understand reconciliation. My faith is strengthened by these stories, and they have helped me to better understand how to love my enemies.

Your enemy may be a person in a far away culture, or it could be your next door neighbor. Consider offering that hand as Christ offered it to you through the cross.

Reconciliation is beautiful because Christ was the example of it on the cross.

For me. For you.

What does reconciliation teach you about your own faith? What stories teach you about reconciliation?