Dad and I thoroughly enjoy watching movies together. One of my fondest early childhood memories was waiting in a line that was wrapped around the movie theater, anxiously waiting to see Star Wars. Flashforward nearly 40 years, and the two of us just spent an evening sitting in a giant dark room together watching The Avengers. I guess, in some ways, little has changed over the decades.
But technology has. I remember in the early 80’s when Dad brought home our first VCR. It was a game changer. Combined with a library card, we could watch movies nearly every day! We watched classic films starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, as well as “contemporary” movies like Jaws, Amadeus, Gremlins and the Karate Kid.
One of the movies that we enjoyed back then, and has transcended movie-watching and has moved into the “Real Stuff My Dad Says” category is Mr. Mom, starring Michael Keaton.
In the opening act, Keaton is an engineer at Ford Motor Company. Knowing that the auto industry was struggling, he seizes a moment on the production floor to encourage some of the guys working the line. He tells them that he recently watched the movie Rocky, and noticed that no matter how many times the guy got knocked to the canvas, he kept getting up over and over again until he was triumphant.
But Keaton is interrupted.
The guys he is talking to repeatedly ask him which Rocky movie it was that he saw. Was it Rocky 1, Rocky 2, or Rocky 3? Did he fight Apollo Creed or Mr. T? Was his manager alive or dead?
The guys totally missed Michael Keaton’s point and got hung up on the meaningless minutia of which Rocky installment he was talking about.
So, since watching Mr. Mom, anytime that my dad is trying to make a point and we get hung up on some meaningless details, he simply asks (seemingly out of nowhere), “Is his manager alive or dead?”
And this extends to almost any discussion. Dad has even experienced this at Bible study discussions. He has shared how much a particular passage had encouraged him in a particular situation and guys in the room ask, “Which translation of the Bible were you reading from?”
As if the particular translation mattered. It was a great verse for a much needed time in life.
We also see this when we try to impart wisdom on my pre-teen son. Dad and I will be at Starbucks, in the midst of an engaging conversation with my boy, when he starts asking questions about trivial side points of unrelated metaphors and rabbit trailing further and further away from our main point, when either Dad or I will ask him, “Is his manager alive or dead?”
What my dad means by asking this parallels what Charles E. Hummel wrote in Tyranny of the Urgent, which is essentially this: we get so wrapped up in what appears to be urgent that we neglect or ignore what is important in life.
But, when we take a half-step back and acknowledge what God has done for us in the past, the urgent seems less significant and the important takes its rightful place in our priority list.
In Biblical times, Old Testament leaders constantly built altars as a visible sign to refer to when life would become overwhelming and the “urgent” would begin to rule. Reflecting on the altar would help the people remember how God provided in the past and would continue to keep His promises.
When we apply this principle to our lives, the metaphor of whether or not “his manager is alive or dead” stops getting in the way of the important things that God is doing in our lives.
That’s not to say that we don’t deserve a break now and then.
There are many times in life when we need to take a respite for a bit, refocus our priorities and learn a new perspective in order to move forward in a tough situation.
Just be sure to 1) treat this short respite as just that – a respite, not an escape; 2) don’t fuss over distracting details within your respite that only detract from your refocusing and reprioritizing efforts; or worse 3) acknowledge what God is trying to reveal to you.
But, how are we supposed to recognize when something is a healthy respite or when it’s a trivial “manager alive or dead” distraction?
According to my dad, your attitude is key. Just like when two people will see the same movie and one will love it and the other hate it, often times their assessment of what they just saw is largely predicated on their attitude going into the theater, attitudes toward the actors or filmmakers, or attitudes toward the people in the theater with them.
Likewise, when we check our attitudes and make sure that we are open to hearing from God through the Bible, through prayer, through wise counsel and through the Holy Spirit, then the dividing lines between the important, the urgent and the distractions become much clearer.
Now, many people may list off a bunch of things that you can do in order to address the important things in life without being distracted: journaling, getting involved in ministries at your church, feeding people at a nearby shelter, etc. But the truth is, if your attitude isn’t corrected, these very things that you “do” may quickly turn into distractions themselves.
One of my dad’s favorite Bible passages is when Pilate is meeting with Jesus, thinking that he had the power, authority and ability to provide Jesus with life or death. They go back and forth, Pilate asking one question after another, culminating to “Jesus, what are you here for?” Jesus replied, “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:28-38)
Therefore, if we strive to be like Jesus and “testify to the truth”, or focus on God’s truth… God’s peace… what matters to God, then the “manager alive or dead” distractions utterly disappear.
Yet, if you still find yourself obsessed with the trivial things, here’s your answer: Rocky Balboa’s manager was alive in Rocky and Rocky 2, but he died in the middle of Rocky 3. With that out in the open, go on and tackle the important things in life!