“I needed to be back on track. Pity is the last thing you need. Pity is hopeless. Pity is what someone gives you because he is afraid to take care of you. I didn’t need that”, said Phillipe regarding why, in spite of 90 highly qualified applicants, he hired an ex-con with no experience to be his care giver after his paragliding accident which left him a quadriplegic. The story of his relationship with his caregiver, Abdel, nicknamed Driss, is explored in the marvelous movie “Intouchables”, presently available on DVD.
In a London Telegraph interview, Abdel is asked where he’d be had he not met Phillipe. His answer: “I would probably be dead, or in prison.” Intouchables, then, is more than a marvelously crafted film that seamlessly weaves laughter and poignant pain. It is ultimately a story of redemption and transformation, a story of hope. I’m reminded by the watching that God speaks to humans through story, because this story fanned eternal truths into flame that sometimes lie dormant in the recesses of my heart. Truths like these:
1. We’re shaped by the people in our lives – One of the ugly trends in fundamentalist circles is our tendency to make the Bible the sole and singular means by which God speaks to us. At our worst we like the people in John 5:39 who knew the book, but were unwilling to know the person of whom the book spoke. Their mistake? They thought that if they could just learn enough details about the book, and obey the book, they’d live well. Adopting such a mindset is both isolating and arrogance inducing. Thinking our ‘quiet time’ is when we hear from God allows us to move into the world solely as “answer people”, ready to impart what we’ve received.
This is rubbish. The truth of it is that God would like to speak with us through all sorts of people. “Inhospitables”, like Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of the Father” reminds us to delight in relationships with all people, but especially people who are different than us. This lays the foundation for us to receive and learn what God is saying through life, not just the book. Often, truths that have failed to pierce the shield of my heart through Bible study, have found their way in through people. Memories of late night conversations, or on the ski lift, or in the hospital emergency room have been profoundly transformational.
When I began to see that creation, our mutual brokenness, and the beauty of Christ’s body are all speaking truth for me, then I approach life as both student and teacher, giver and receiver, doctor and patient. When this is the perspective, every day becomes an adventure ripe with possibilities of learning and transformation.
2. Brokenness breaks down walls. When would you ever find an ex-con and the son of a French Duke driving around together in a Rolls Royce, sharing meals, music, and each others o so different worlds? Only, it seems, when they’re brought together through their mutual brokenness. The quadriplegic and the con are both outcasts, untouchables, broken.
“You too? Wow!” AA has real fellowship, authenticity, humility, and support that doesn’t lapse into pity because mutual brokenness is visible. The beautiful, upwardly mobile, educated people of the world, on the other hand, become skilled in airbrushing their lives so that you’re left wondering if you’re the only one who struggles with doubt, anxiety, failure, body image, shame. The problem in such a culture is loneliness and isolation.
The solution isn’t to become broken. It’s to acknowledge the brokenness each of us already has. This is a bit of what James means when he tells us to confess our sins to one another ‘that we might be healed’. He’s not advocating an esoteric priesthood with the power to forgive sins. He’s telling us that sharing our lives with each other becomes a context for intimacy and honest support, and those elements are what we need for our healing! Watching Phillipe and Driss’s friendship grow out of the soil of their mutual brokenness can speak to some people more powerfully than yet another talk on the importance of fellowship. “As your own poets have said….” – we need each other.
3. Laughter is healing– This verse reminds me that a joyful heart is good medicine. This is why healthy marriages, and workplaces, and churches are places not only of truth telling and exposure, but of laughter. Because we’re so far removed from the Bible’s cultural context, I don’t think we have any idea how often Jesus’ was the joker, carefully selecting words intended to evoke laughter. The New Jerusalem Bible gives an accurate expression of Colossians 4 when it says, “Talk agreeably and with a flavor of wit (“ seasoned with salt ” in the Revised Standard Version Bible), and try to fit your answers to the needs of each one.” (Colossians 4:6, NJB).
Life is hard. We know that. And of course there must be a place for lament in our world, in our faith. On the other hand, there’s a time for everything, and my suspicion is that much of what passes for “mourning and lament” in our lives is actually just worry and fear. If that’s the case, we need to let it go. Regardless, we need to look for joy each day, find it, and celebrate it. Good friends help each other do that.
I read my Bible nearly every day, but because I believe that God’s speaking all the time, sometimes truth is received most powerfully when the book of the Bible is closed and the book of life is open. That’s what happened on Friday night when my wife and watched a delightful film, reminding us all to cross social divides, give each other a chance, and laugh a bit more. I hope you’ll enjoy too.
(not for kids! subtitled, language, some drug use)