Amazing Grace – William Wilberforce

This past Friday night, a group of us watched the film “Amazing Grace” which is the story of William Wilberforce, his faith, and the fight he led for the abolition of slavery in England.  Wilberforce was pulled between the call to the religous life and the call to use his gifts and passion in the political process to abolish slavery.  Ultimately his choice was grounded in his deep faith.  God’s call on his life resulted in years of persistent, painful work in the face of the horrors of slavery.  Bill after bill failed in parliament.  Yet Wilberforce,  mentally and emotionally tortured by the horrors of slavery could do no other than to continue to fight.

Indeed, the the context of the story is the abolition of slavery; but the focus is the life of mature faith.

In discussion following the movie, we explored what sustained Wilberforce and what sustains us when the work is hard and the journey is long and we see defeat again and again.  Several sustaining influences were named:

the community that called him out, worked with him, and encouraged him along the way

Pitt, who needed Wilberforce (as Wilberforce needed Pitt)

the woman who became his spouse — who called him to talk about his deepest passion even when he said he could not because the pain was too great

the willingness of Wilberforce to pick up the witness begun by John Newton, to hear his confession, and to make it his own

the deep knowledge that God had found him — which as he stated “was terribly inconvenient.”

This is a film of passion, humor, and maturing faith.

I recommend going to the Amazing Grace website where pastors may order a copy of the film (free) for group use and teaching.  The Faith study guide is very helpful whether you are viewing and discussing the film in one sitting, or using clips for discussion.

The Soloist – Mental Illness

We saw the film The Soloist today.  As one who serves an inner city congregation and has contact with men and women who are mentally ill and who live on the streets, I found this portrayal to hold such deep truth.  So many men and women who are mentally ill live on the streets. They are first and foremost individuals, people with hearts, and histories, and the need for friends.  We are clear that our mental health system has abandoned so many.  Yet, the answers are not clear.  The issues and behaviors are complex, to say the least, and cannot be romanticized.  Those with extreme untreated schizophrenia live in a world that most of us cannot understand.  Very often we respond in fear, and in self protection.  I understand why:  not because they are violent (they seldom are) or are a threat to us, but because we are at a loss and do not know how to relate with care, while keeping appropriate boundaries for ourselves and for the one who is ill.   That requires a level of work and commitment that most of us are not ready to give.   The one who is mentally ill, very often does not function within expected and accepted  social boundaries.

In The Soloist, Nathanial and other homeless, mentally ill people in the community have needs and passions rooted in their life experiences — just as we all do.  Theirs are just muddled in a mind that is jumbled; that at least I don’t understand.  Nathanial’s ways of speech and expression are so familiar.  I confess that there have been times when I have heard this apparently nonsensical mixture of words, phrases and images and I have written that person off.  I have forgotten that she or he is someone trying to make sense of her/his world, trying to express a concern or a need.  Perhaps my care and respect for her as person is what I can give at that moment. All too often, it is not that those who are mentally ill and homeless do not have families; but that those who loved them have worn out, given up, reached the point of not knowing what to do.  Worn down by their behaviors, their families have backed away out of a need to care for themselves and others in the family.

The Soloist, though affirming the need to care for the individual as he is, leaves us with the difficult question of how we as communities best care for those living with mental illness.  Yes, we need to offer friendship without the need to “fix” the person.  On the other hand, how can we offer protection and care and, yes, helpful treatment when possible.  The need to respect the individuality and rights of the person cannot mean that we stop searching for ways to improve the life conditions of those who are ill.