First, let me say a word of thanks for the prayers and words of encouragement. My mother-in-law is “ahead of schedule” according to her doctor: she was moved to a room Saturday morning and was up walking down the hall less than forty-eight hours after the surgery. She is weak but in good spirits. I’m really proud of her. Ginger came home Saturday night to be here for church today and goes back to Birmingham tomorrow to stay for the week. Keep praying as we try to figure out how life goes in the days and weeks to come.
Tonight we had our first meeting of Senior High Fellowship for the year. For me, it marks the beginning of the end of my time at Hanover. After today I have three more Sundays until I leave. We had ten or twelve kids show up and part of what we did as a way of introducing ourselves was name one of our favorite movies. I’m not sure what I was expecting to hear, but I was surprised. Here is a partial list:
- The Lord of the Rings
- American Graffiti
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- V for Vendetta
- Funny Farm
- The Big Lebowski
- Fight Club
- Legends of the Fall
- The Brave Little Toaster
As each of us named our favorite film, others chimed in with favorite scenes or sayings. The discussion continued over ice cream and a few of us came to the conclusion that one of the things that makes a movie an enduring favorite is its quotability: the more lines that become a part of your conversation, the better the film. Robert, the head chef at the Red Lion claims he would not have a personality if were not for movie lines. In seminary, several of us who went to Baylor together moved up I-35 to Southwestern Seminary. We had all sat through multiple viewings of Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Three Amigos, among others. One day, a new acquaintance to our group said to me, “I need you to give me a list of the ten movies I need to watch so I can be a part of your conversation.”
There is something powerful in the language of ritual. The shared memory we tap into in repeating the lines again and again is important work. This week marks thirty years since I met my friend Burt. I was a junior at Baylor when he entered as a freshman. We have been friends ever since. For a guy who moved around growing up and lost track of everyone pre-college (though I have found some of them again, thankfully), it is with a great sense of accomplishment that I say that Burt and I have been friends for thirty years. Ours is a friendship that has flourished and thrived on ritual, much of which came out of things we saw and heard together – the words of Barney Fife and Inspector Clousseau in particular.
There is the sense of shared experience, and there is something in the language – in the DNA of the words themselves – that becomes part of our beings; we are not just repeating words, we are inhabiting them together. One of the hymnals we use at church made a valiant attempt to be more meaningful and relevant by making the language of the hymns more inclusive, which means they had to quite radically alter some of the hymns that mean the most to me. Hymns in church are to me what movie lines are to friendships and I get tripped up by the word changes. I understand what they were trying to do, but I’m not sure they realized the consequences of their good intentions. I keep singing the original words because they are deep abiding connections to God for me. The ritual of singing the songs the way I learned them is one I’m not ready to let go.
Though Ginger and I can have a rather spirited discussion about the value of our hymnal, we share a growing collection of verbal rituals, thanks to many songs and movies, as well as a few of our own creation. I continue to be moved and amazed by the power of a familiar phrase to remind me of what I know is true. Just like Lola and Gracie know that when you come in from outside you get a cookie (which means you are loved), I know that the often repeated phrases carry with them the power and promise of a life lived together.
All of the movies that matter most to me matter because of who I was with when I saw them. The phrases we repeat to one another still make us laugh out loud and remember what matters most. All of this makes me want to stay up late watching movies and then makes lots of phone calls tomorrow to say the lines and tighten the bonds.