My friend April King wrote me a note giving me her thoughts on the film that we looked at for God at the movies last weekend, Philomena. I asked her if we could use it on the blog site because I think it’s excellent and for you Journey people it is a great take and application of Journey DNA.
Here you go and thanks to April.
Tic and I were having a discussion about why our programming team picked certain movies for the “God at the Movies” series. I was explaining why I thought Philomena was a perfect pick for our church. Not only was this movie an intriguing true story told well, but it seemed to illustrate concepts from Blue Ocean Faith-ways of trusting and responding to God that you have been teaching our people this past year. I went on to explain the connections I saw to Tic. He asked me to write down my thoughts and send them to you. Here are a few of them:
Blue Ocean Faith speaks of “the centered-set movement” where Jesus is at the center; and what is most important is the direction we are heading–toward Jesus or away from him. Even those who appear to be closer to him can actually be moving away from him. (This was especially true of the older nun in the Philomena story, who was full of self-righteousness judgment -unwilling to give mercy-so far from the heart of Jesus.) Concurrently, some that appear far off (like the journalist) can actually be moving in the direction of Jesus, because they are asking and wrestling with the questions of faith. Then there are those like Philomena who keep moving steadfastly toward Jesus. In spite of the hurts and losses in her life, undeterred by the cynicism and callousness of those whose words warred against the concept that God is truly good, she simply and stubbornly believed.
The creator of the Blue Ocean Faith movement, Dave Schmelzer, is also the author of Not the Religious Type-Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist. As I read this book, I saw many familiar things in a new way as he gave his interpretation of psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck’s “four stages of spiritual development”. He calls Peck’s first stage the criminal stage-corresponding to the toddler years-where life is all about you. The second stage is called the rules-based stage-corresponding to age six or seven-where a person cares what Mom and Dad want and what the rules are. Though there is nothing wrong with keeping the rules, people tend to make what Dave Schmelzer calls “a closed set”, a corral of rules—where if you obey the rules, you are in, but if you disobey, you are out. (I recognized that some of the nuns in the convent where Philomena had her baby were in this stage. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they seemed to be the ones closest to God, but they were in truth continuously moving away from Him and His heart.) Dave describes Stage 3 as the rebellious stage-corresponding to the teen years, where rules and the reasons behind the rules are questioned. Stage 3 people often feel contempt toward Stage 2 spirituality. (The journalist in the movie Philomena was in this stage. However, as the story progressed, his questioning seemed to lead him closer to the Jesus Philomena believed in.) Finally, Dave describes Stage 4 of spiritual development calling it the mystical stage-where “one suddenly realizes that most of the things we were taught in stage 2 are, in fact, true, but in a much richer and more mysterious sense than we would have, or could have, imagined.” (page 23) He goes on to say, “Stage 4 is all about life transformation, about a God who actually does stuff that we very much want done in our lives, a God who navigates his way through all the evil and pain in the world to somehow triumph in the end, both in our moment-to-moment lives and in the world itself.”
(page 25) I think that Philomena was in this stage of spiritual development. She didn’t profess to have all the answers. She was humble. She was willing to forgive the nuns that lied to and mistreated her. When she found out about her son, she was more interested in finding out who he was as a person than in condemning the lifestyle he had embraced. Finally, as I read about Stage 4 spirituality in Dave’s book, I was struck with his comment on pg. 57, that “if you were to split the atom of stage 4, in the middle of all of its sorrows and challenges, you’d find joy.” Philomena was able to find joy in even the smallest of things (a fiction book with its unexpected ending that she found delightful and in friendly conversations with people who served her at the hotel). In contrast, Dave points out how so few people stuck in stages 1, 2, or 3 spirituality seem to possess joy.
Tic thought that maybe some of what struck me about this movie might be helpful to you as you help us explore and savor this rich and meaningful film in search of God’s great story.