Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Company Men

The Company Men is a decent movie. Not great, but decent and worth renting. It's rated R for some crude language.

Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a successful Boston (where else?) executive who suddenly finds himself without a job when his employer, GTX Corporation, downsizes. Thousands of GTX employees around the country are laid off. Eventually Walker's boss, played by the great Tommie Lee Jones, gets the axe too. So does Phil Woodward, played well by Chris Cooper (shown in photo), only he can't cope with being out of work in his 60s and, sadly, ends up taking his own life.

The movie is written, produced, and directed by John Wells, who up to this point mostly worked in television. It kind of shows. I didn't quite feel the angst of the characters. It seemed a little like a TV movie.

Nevertheless, The Company Men sends an important message. When the bottom falls out, you need to have invested sufficiently in your family so you can weather the storm together. And you need some friends. And you need to somehow be able to keep moving forward. And, although he's conspicuously absent here, you need God.

While Bobby Walker hangs on to his family, friends, and fortitude, his colleague Phil Woodward has none of those props. He is the shell of a man who, as they say, spent his life climbing the ladder of success only to find (too late) that it had been leaning against the wrong wall. He is like the rich fool of Luke 12:16-21 who stored up things for himself but was not rich toward God. He is Edwin Arlington Robinson's Richard Cory. In the end, when Phil lost his job he lost everything.

Bobby, on the other hand, has loved his wife well. There are touching scenes of them leaning on each other as a husband and wife should. It seems, however, Bobby had been slowly growing apart from his teenage son. Bobby's loss of a job turns out to be an invitation to get reacquainted with his son, and that's a good thing. Bobby Walker reminds us that home is not necessarily a house.

As Jesus said, the rain will come, the streams will rise, and the winds of affliction will blow against the houses we build (Matthew 7:24-27). It's not a matter of if, but when. If your house is not built on the Rock, it won't stand.

"On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand."

Monday, January 02, 2012

Unleashed

It occurred to me while walking my dog Dabo the other day, that living in this fallen world is a lot like being on a leash. Dabo loves to take walks, but I can see it's frustrating for him to be tethered to me. He wants to be free - to run in circles if he wants to, to chase the ducks sitting by the pond, to run after other dogs with not a care in the world. But no...he has to be on a leash. He has to be restrained, held back, forced to deny his passions and impulses.

Now from my viewpoint, of course, the leash is protecting Dabo. He doesn't have the good sense not to run out in front of a car, so the leash is potentially keeping him alive. But not from Dabo's point of view. To him, the leash is a kind of death. He's been created to run loose, not to be pulled this way and that against his will. He's been made for freedom, for fun and games, for joy. The leash is a curse.

Similarly, we were created as God's vice-regents to rule the world with freedom and joy, to be fully alive and human, to explore the universe without restraint or compulsion. But sin ruined that picture. Sure, we still bear God's image, and in our better moments we still create, explore, celebrate, worship, and love. But we never get very far away from the curse. Pain in childbirth, work made oppressive, hiding in shame, blaming our problems on others, misplaced affections - all are the leash we must tolerate this side of heaven. Not to mention loss, sickness, death, and the constant temptations of the world, flesh, and devil.

Whenever I take Dabo on a walk, we always go past this lake in our subdivision. Actually it's a retention pond. But there's a huge expanse of grass beside this lake that belongs to no homeowner. It's sitting there just begging for dogs to run around and play in it. So I always take Dabo off his leash by that lake, and we run around in a big circle. Sometimes he sees a big bird or a family of ducks at the shore, and he takes off after them, imagining himself the Vicious Lake Bouncer of Eastwood. We have the best time...for a short time. Then it's back on the leash for Dabo, and the slow, restrained walk home.

The last time Dabo and I did the lake routine, I thought of my friends Fran and Christie. They both passed away last weekend. They were faithful men, true servants of Christ. In this life they'd been tethered to this fallen, sin-sick world. When they breathed their last, off came the leash. They were in Paradise.

Run free, Fran. Run free, Christie. And await with joy that great day when we will be finally and fully set free to run and play upon the new earth.

Prayer for the New Year

Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) is one of my heroes. If for no other reason, I just love his name. But more than that, Zinzendorf was a German evangelical reformer and bishop of the Moravian church. He founded Herrnhut, a Moravian village that became a center of Christian renewal and mission. Zinzendorf himself was a missionary. He traveled to America, the West Indies, Switzerland, Holland, England, and Livonia with the gospel.

But another contribution Zinzendorf made to the kingdom of God was writing some great hymns. My favorite is "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness." Another is "Jesus, Still Lead On." This one makes a very good prayer as we turn the calendar to 2012. Here is an 1846 translation by Jane Borthwick:

Jesus, still lead on,
Till our rest be won;
And although the way be cheerless,
We will follow, calm and fearless,
Guide us by Thy hand
To our fatherland.

If the way be drear,
If the foe be near,
Let not faithless fears o'ertake us,
Let not faith and hope forsake us;
For through many a foe
To our home we go.

When we seek relief
From a long-felt grief,
When temptations come alluring,
Make us patient and enduring;
Show us that bright shore
Where we weep no more.

Jesus, still lead on,
Till our rest be won;
Heavenly Leader, still direct us,
Still support, console, protect us,
Till we safely stand
In our fatherland.