Before Our Eyes, by Pastor Kinsey
Mason grows up before our very eyes, in the movie Boyhood. Following Mason, who’s played by Ellar Coltrane, over the actual 12 years of Mason’s/slash Ellar’s life, beginning at the age of 8 – is very moving, and of course, completely innovative! Even though nothing earth-shattering, nothing out of the ordinary happens, it manages to get inside you, and change, how you look at, yourself.
This is not a documentary, but a fictional story, presented in real time. Mason, grows up in front of our eyes, along with actors, Ethan Hawke, as Mason Sr., and Patricia Arquette, as Olivia, his mom. His parents are already divorced in the first scene, and Mason lives with his mom. She will divorce twice more, before finding a healthy and compatible partner – and through those tumultuous relationships, she manages to develop her talent, even while keeping a roof over their heads. His dad slowly grows up during the film, from a self-centered, rock-star-wanna-be, to a much more involved and caring father to Mason, though never more than a week-end dad.
And so Mason must learn to find himself and his place in the world, as he literally grows up before our very eyes.
As a high school junior, Mason shows an unusual talent for photography. One day, when the rest of the class is working on a photo assignment digitally, on their computers, Mason is perfecting his artistic eye using good old fashioned film. His teacher, Mr. Turlington, finds Mason in the dark room, developing his latest photographs, and delivers what he thinks is a motivational speech – that Mason’s basically wasting his talent, and he needs to grow up and take his art seriously. Not everyone has the talent and gift he does, but unless you work hard at developing a “career” you will be just like all the other loser artists – and you’re better than that.
Mason is gracious, but not convinced. So Mr. Turlington gives Mason a new assignment, to cover the HS football game, thinking that it will show Mason how to cultivate a trade with his photography skills. Mason goes to the game alright, but he shoots artsy shots of the football equipment and people in the stands, instead of the game!
In his senior year, Mason is working as a bus boy in a chain restaurant. The manager catches him laughing with a waitress in the kitchen, because they just shared some un-eaten shrimp off a customer’s plate, instead of throwing it out. The touching interaction between the teenagers, is suddenly arrested, when the manager bursts in to accuse Mason of slacking on the job. Mason points out that he’s otherwise been working hard, and it’s not his fault that the other bus boy assigned for that shift didn’t show.
Finally, when Mason’s girlfriend is breaking up with him, right before they are set to go to college together, Mason takes it pretty hard. His dad shows up to give him support, telling him, she wasn’t the right one, and he knew it from the beginning. She was too square for him, and didn’t get his artistic side, and, don’t worry, there’ll be other girls at college! Mason likes his dad, and appreciates the effort, but it doesn’t really help him to get over his loss.
Well, surely, the Golden Rule, if not one of the Ten Commandments of our time, as author Garret Keizer says, is, “Thou shalt be supportive!” Parents and friends, practice unfailing support! Often it means simply projecting, our issues, and what has worked for us, on to others. But Mason, bless his heart, as desperate as he is to find parents and friends that love and appreciate him, for who is, doesn’t acquiesce easily to their often, less-than-helpful attempts at supporting him, as he continues to grow up before our very eyes. Mason really does have artistic talent. But he’s also still a kid, and needs more time to figure it out. Mason needs love and honesty, from those who are willing to go deep with him, in facing life, in all its complexities.
Boyhood, I’d have to say, is not a classic film, but it is, honest!
Jesus, has 12 supporters, who follow him, more or less, anyway, to the end. But when they try to become supportive teachers, thinking they better understand how the world works, or supportive bosses, who are on the lookout for following the narrow road to success, Jesus knows he’s being played.
In our reading from last week, when Jesus takes the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, the Las Vegas of Palestine, headlined by the Roman god Pan, and asked them, who do people say that I am; who do you say that I am? Peter confesses, he is the Messiah, the anointed one of God.
And this story continues in our Reading today, as Jesus begins to explain what it means to be the Messiah. He has come to reveal a new way, different from the other gods, different from the religions which had infected the world with a contagious mechanism of violence people used, and still use, against each other, that we call holy or sacred, because it can keep the peace for the winners, for us, or whoever that is, but only for a time, until the next time it has to be played out all over again. But this is not God’s way! On the cross, Jesus reveals our sin in this system. God’s way is not conquering, lording it over others, but rather demanding justice for all, living Shalom, peace-fully. Jesus tells his disciples that the elders, the chief priests and scribes will arrest and condemn Jesus, and insist that he is the trouble maker. If we just get rid of him, we can have peace and calm again – he can be our scapegoat, and order will be restored, if we kill him. On the cross, Jesus reveals this lie! (The truth has come out!)
The disciples know one thing, that he is controversial enough that the authorities, and 1%ers in power, probably do seek to kill him. But they want Jesus to fight back – because, their minds, being infected by the ‘sacred violence contagion, they think they cannot fail, God, after all, will be on their side. But Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus came to save the whole world by revealing our human failings to live this life God gave us, not by grace and generosity and peace, but to reveal our false, sacred-violence, that demands others, pay the price in our place, sometimes in a noble effort to protect ourselves and our loved ones – but still a contagion that is not divine, but of this world.
“If you want to become my follower,” Jesus tells Peter and the 12, then “take up your cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
It’s easy to be, a friendly, or parental supporter, if you avoid the hard stuff. But is that what your friend, or family member, really wants, or needs?
Jesus is God’s Son, because he perfectly mimicked the love and grace of the kingdom and realm of God, here among us, where the culture of sin and sacred violence is so very contagious. He didn’t ask his followers to be kindly surface supporters of the status quo, and mimic the virus of violence. He asked us to become more fully human, living a life balanced somewhere between the two stumbling blocks Jesus identified: 1) sacrificing our ego’s for others, to the point of playing the victim, and, 2) being so self-absorbed that we can only take care of #1. To become fully human, as God has structured and created this world, God sent Jesus, a healthy contagion, a model of Self that is self-respecting, and that respects every other Self in the world, by insisting on peace and justice for all.
The death and resurrection of Jesus reveals this to the world! “For what will it profit us if we gain the whole world but forfeit our life,” said Jesus? “Or what will we give in return for our life?”
Mason had a difficult “boyhood.” By the end of the movie, he is still searching to become more fully human. But we hope that, maybe, just maybe, by staying true to who God made him, and the talent and gift he’s been given, he might have the courage, and find the faith, to live into it. Not to settle for surface supporters, in his life, but to go deep, to take up his cross, and follow the one… who has walked this way, before.