Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
The other night while we were washing dishes, my son Jacob said he’d seen a trailer for a movie he wanted to see. “Oh yeah? Which one?” I asked.
“The new Red Dawn.”
“Ugh.” I said. “Why would you want to see that one? You know they’ve been sitting on it for a couple of years because they knew it was a stinker. I think they’re only releasing it now because it’s got Thor and Peeta in it and they’re hoping they can cash in on their popularity and at least get something back for their poor investment.”
Jacob continued, unfazed. “It’s also got an actor in it who I used to love when I was a kid—Josh from Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh. I’d really like to see what he’s doing now.”
Undeterred, I continued my diatribe. “Well, I loved the original when I was a kid in the ’80s, but this one got TERRIBLE reviews. It’s going to be bad. I’m just telling you because I don’t want you to waste your money.”
About the time these last words came out of my mouth, I began to realize how much of a self-righteous jerk I was being. Unfortunately this is not uncommon for me—I can be oppressively opinionated and uppity. By God’s grace, however, I am learning to recognize it better and quicker. I’m so grateful for growing conviction, the evidence that God is still at work in my life.
A part of my problem is that sometimes I care about the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sometimes I care about fairness instead of generosity. Sometimes I care about someone else’s theological accuracy when quiet listening would be better. In this particular instance I was caring more about the quality of a film than I was caring about the quality of a conversation with my son. (In fact, I think he knew that I wouldn’t care for this movie but brought it up anyway, risking my scorn. Brave.)
Of course it’s good to care about things, and I do care about well-crafted films and good storytelling. I care, too, about nuanced and cathartic performances that are as delicious to the soul as a fine meal is to the palette. I am grateful for my capacity to enjoy these and other forms of art-making: books, music, painting, and on down the list. I care about these things because I’m convinced that beauty matters and is both a grace to be enjoyed and a calling to participate in.
But in that moment with Jacob, my care for a certain kind of beauty turned ugly and it was because I was picking the wrong thing to care about. Consequently I failed to recognize a more subtle and significant beauty that was being offered to me: the beauty of my son sharing his simple desire to see a movie—one that reminded him of fond memories of his childhood.
In that moment I had also been offered a chance to create something beautiful myself: a generous response with the power to foster a culture of kindness, grace, and intimacy in our home. What work of art—be it a song, a book, or a film—can compare to this?
By God’s grace I recognized what I’d done early enough to maybe do something about it. “Ah Jacob. I’m sorry. What a jerk I am sometimes. Can we try this again, would you let me? Let’s start over. Tell me again what movie you want to see.”
He laughed, but played along. “Dad, there’s this movie I really want to see. It’s called Red Dawn.”
“Oh yeah? Man I loved that movie when I was kid. Tell me more about it, why do you want to see it?”
“Well, it’s got Peeta from the Hunger Games in it. It’s also got Josh from Drake and Josh” and just looks kind of cool to me.”
He was creating something beautiful of his own by graciously playing along with me, giving me a chance to make amends. This is the beauty of grace. “Awesome! Well, let me know when it comes out and maybe we can watch it together.” I said, smiling.
“Okay, dad,” he said, smiling back. He had accepted my apology and offered me a way back into his world. He is a kind boy.
Later that night my youngest son Gus asked if I’d lay by him in his bed a little bit before he went to sleep. After a little reading (from The Jesus Storybook Bible—Woot!), we lay there a bit in the dark. Kipper and Jacob had come upstairs and were across the hall talking with their mom, laughing, being rambunctious and making some noise.
I sensed it was distracting Gus in the quiet of the moment we were sharing. With every word and bark of laughter he heard from across the hall his body would tense. I could tell he was about to holler down the hall for them to be quiet because he was trying to sleep. I was about to say, jokingly, “Man, your brothers are noisy!” But remembering my earlier moment with Jacob, I wondered if there was something else I might say that would be better, something that might help foster kindness, grace, and intimacy in our home. What was the right thing to care about?
“It’s nice to hear their voices, isn’t it?” I whispered to Gus in the dark.
“Yeah,” he said as his body noticeably relaxed. He was quiet for a moment, and then said, “That’s just what I was going to say.”