Odd Combinations

by

The review said, “Finding Forrester is a movie about a most unusual and unlikely friendship between two people coming from two very different worlds.”

In the movie, a friendship develops between a reclusive, alcoholic, angry, paranoid writer (William Forrester, played by Sean Connery) and an intellectual, high school student-athlete (Jamal Wallace, played by Rob Brown). The young Wallace is given an academic scholarship to a prestigious private prep school, but it is only slightly veiled that their interest in him comes mostly from his potential contribution to their basketball team. He is taken from a mostly Black world and put into an almost exclusively White world. Forrester, on the other hand, is a caricature of J.D. Salinger. He wrote “the Great American Novel” following the War, but never published another book. For the last few decades, he’s been living in his apartment in the Bronx while the world around him changes.

One night, on a dare, Jamal breaks into Forrester’s apartment where the odd recluse scares him to death (imagine James Bond coming after you!), and in his flight he leaves his backpack with his writing notebooks. The next day, Forrester has the backpack hanging in his window in a bit of a taunt. Eventually, the pack falls to the street, and when Jamal gets home, he sees that his notebooks have been critiqued. He slowly develops a special relationship with Forrester, who he eventually discovers to be a famous writer.

Once again, the review said it “…is a movie about a most unusual and unlikely friendship between two people coming from two very different worlds.”

It is my proposal that this makes this a movie that reflects the kingdom of God.

1: There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2: And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3: And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4: but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. 5: Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.

The text of ISAIAH 11 begins with a picture of a stump, something seen at every turn in South Mississippi these days. It represents destruction. Something has been cut down. And in Isaiah’s prophecy, it is his people destroyed by God for their unfaithfulness, their inattention to justice.

The stump has a name. Now Jesse is a fine name for a stump I suppose, but the connection it seems is that from Jesse came King David. In this passage, something reminiscent of King David arrives in the form of a shoot. A sign of life emerges on this sign of destruction, but not just a shoot; instead, this sign of life grows to the point of producing fruit where there was once only desolation.

I believe this to be Jesus.

In the verses that follow we see the description of this sign of life in the midst of ugliness. God’s Spirit is on him, which gives him remarkable wisdom, allows him the pure and delightful fear of the Lord, bequeaths power to punish evil, but also a commitment to bring justice to the oppressed. I say, Jesus.

In the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t shy away from this metaphor in the least. In JOHN 15, Jesus teaches his disciples that in his Kingdom his followers would bear fruit, too, but only if they stay connected to him. By extension, we become branches of that tree, too, if we do what God commands, and it is vital to notice the command Jesus emphasized: LOVE EACH OTHER. This is important. It must be key to fruit production.

Back to ISAIAH 11.

6: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7: The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8: The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9: They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. 10: In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.

If the first five verses explained the hope of Jesus and what he would be, then the next five offer a description of what would be seen in this kingdom. And what is seen? Predator/prey relationships, odd combinations that, instead of their natural tendencies to attack and destroy, now enjoy peace and reconciliation.

Now it doesn’t take us long to see that this world is not reflective of this today, but I propose that if we open our eyes – like in Finding Forrester – we can see instances of kingdom life. Of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. And we can see that the obeying of Jesus’ command to love each other can bring this kind of fruit.

It is “…a movie about a most unusual and unlikely friendship between two people coming from two very different worlds.” Does that sound like the world Isaiah describes?

In ROMANS 15, Paul brings this point home by in fact quoting ISAIAH 11 at the end of his lengthy letter to teach his most valuable lesson, that no one on earth can claim superiority in a relationship with God based on pedigree or anything else, but that God has made a way through Jesus to bring the shalom to the world that had long since been missing. He makes the point that Jesus came to bring people together – predator/prey people together – unlikely people together – and that we bring about this kingdom dream when we continue to learn how to love each other.

Here’s my thesis: It is my belief that the Church of Jesus Christ exists to break down walls that the world has constructed by our ability to learn how to love each other.

Where our world constructs racial walls, even though maintained most fiercely in many instances by organized religion (“…the most segregated hour in America is on Sunday morning…”), the kingdom Jesus proposed breaks through anyway and brings people together.

Where our world constructs economic walls, even though neighborhoods are built to keep certain people out, the kingdom Jesus proposed breaks through and brings people together anyway.

Where our world constructs political walls, with a clear 50% on each side of the chasm, and in the face of organized religion that apparently caters more to one side of the aisle, the kingdom Jesus proposed still seeks to break through anyway to bring people together.

And where any separation exists between “insiders” and “outsiders” in this world on any level, either with the sanction of religion or without (remember the Pharisees?), the kingdom Jesus proposed finds a way to break through and offer peace and reconciliation.

In an article for Christianity Today titled, “Why I Don’t Go To a Megachurch,” Philip Yancey wrote the following, “Given a choice, I tend to hang out with folks like me: people who have college degrees, drink only Starbucks dark roast coffee, listen to classical music, and buy their cars based on epa gas mileage ratings. Yet, after a short while I get bored with people like me. Smaller groups (and smaller churches) force me to rub shoulders with everybody else. Henri Nouwen defines “community” as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community. The Christian church was the first institution in history to bring together on equal footing Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. The apostle Paul waxed eloquent on this “mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God.” By forming a community out of diverse members, Paul said, we have the opportunity to capture the attention of the world and even the supernatural world beyond (Eph. 3:9-10). In some ways, the church has sadly failed in this assignment.”

The kingdom won’t fail, however. So my overarching question becomes less Do you go to church? and more, Are you a part of the kingdom of God?

Some think that war will bring peace on earth, goodwill toward men. That’s a theory, but not the theory offered by Jesus. Some believe that if a society passes the right laws or adopts the correct economic system that peace will result. Once again, not the path offered by Jesus. Still others give up on peace and do their best to build walls and form clubs of people they find most palatable. It’s a common practice, this broad path, but not the narrow path offered by Jesus.

Instead, he offers “love one another” as the path toward the realization of peace on earth, of a place where people who hate each other learn to live in harmony.

I’m not defending him necessarily. I’m just a witness. What do you think?

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2 Responses to “Odd Combinations”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    Great article, Al. I like the example from Isaiah. Part of the radical nature of Christianity is its un-naturalness. It is so very counter-intuitive. Which is what makes it so hard, I think. And since your last article was about fear, it’s not only hard to love one another, it’s hard to get over the fear of others. The lion and the lamb have to overcome fears and learn to trust each other (and I’d say we’re both the lion and the lamb in different situations in life).

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, Mikey.

    Since I know where you grew up, I’ll say that one of the things I like about where I live now is that the church, yea even the community, is less homogeneous. I think that’s one of the things that left me so unsatisfied with a life lived in the community of my childhood. Something calls to me beyond the “lambs club” or “lions club” (your opinion).

    I’ve always hoped it to be God calling me.

    I think this blog is another of my attempts to reach in this direction.

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