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A Parable at the Movies (August 17, 2018)

I went to the movies last week and I was surprised. I was expecting a couple of hours of mindless entertainment. Instead a parable broke out.

Before I tell you what movie it was, let me say a few words about what a parable is. Many of us are familiar with the notion of parables from the gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is presented as someone who was always telling parables—such as the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son. These are wonderful little stories which tell us something about God’s love for the world, and what it means to us to be good neighbours to one another.

So what is a parable? As simply as possible, a parable is a metaphorical story. Usually, it’s quite short, but there are a few very long parables as well. The main thing about a parable is that it connects one way of seeing things with another way.

That’s what makes it a metaphor. John Dominic Crossan gives the following simple example: “‘The clouds are sailing across the sea’ is a metaphor because it sees the blue sky as if it were the sea, and it sees the white clouds as if they were white–sailed ships. A metaphor sees one thing as something else.”

Now that’s a fairly simple illustration. It’s like saying “the snow is a white blanket” or “the classroom was a zoo”. Each phrase tells us something important about an experience by opening up a new world to our view as we think about it.

The same thing happens with a parable. As a metaphorical story, a parable helps us see something true about life from quite a different perspective.

Let me return to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke’s gospel, someone asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus doesn’t define a neighbour, as we might. Instead, he tells a parable, a metaphorical story. The story fleshes out what it means to act as a neighbour to another person. The story draws us in and works its magic in our hearts and souls as we interact with the characters in the story. We imagine how our lives might be different as we enter the rich world created in the story.

That was the experience I had when I went to watch “Christopher Robin”. It became a parable, the heart of which was about the importance of making a life instead of making a living.

The movie is based, of course, on the stories written by A. A. Milne about Winnie the Pooh and his friends Eeyore, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Piglet, and the human character Christopher Robin.

Spoiler Alert! The basic story of the movie is that Christopher Robin has grown up. He has left Ashdown Forest, has gone to war and returned home. He is married now, and is the father of a daughter. He works for a luggage company which consumes all his time and all his energy so that he has none for his wife and daughter and—most importantly—for himself. His job is threatened, and he has to find a way out.

So Winnie the Pooh comes from Ashdown Forest to find Christopher Robin, encouraging him to come back. At the same time, we see the pain and disappointment which his wife and daughter feel because he is not able to be present to them. Over and over again, Christopher says he is too busy, he’s got too much to do, he’s got no time for such frivolous activities, he needs to provide, he needs to do, he has to …

Before it’s too late, Pooh finds him and draws him back to Ashdown Forest. In the journey with the friends he has forgotten, Christopher Robin finds himself again. As he does so, he rediscovers his wife and daughter. He learns that life is not about making a living. Life, true life, is about making a good life, filled with relationships and a healthy balance of rest and work. Pooh reminds him, “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

I went to the show for a couple of hours of entertainment. I found myself transfixed in this gentle and wonderful movie. I was haunted by the words of A A Milne, and the delightful Pooh–isms which I had forgotten in my own adulthood.

It was a parable for me, because it caused me to reflect on my own life. I am often busy. Sometimes, I am too busy. It’s easier for me, because I don’t have a wife or daughter whom I am ignoring. While that makes it easier, it also makes it more difficult, because I have no one to call me on my busyness.

And here’s the thing about parables. They worm their way into my consciousness, and open me up to see something as if it were something else. For the last week or so, I’ve been exercising my imagination as I consider my life and as I discern how to make a life for myself. I’ve been invited into another world … maybe it’s not Ashdown Forest, but it is a place of grace and delight which makes me reconsider what I need in order for my life to be full, complete, abundant and joyful.

Go see the movie. You might just find yourself in it.

Rev. Yme Woensdregt