Friday, August 22, 2014

MacGuffins and discipleship

Last week, I spent some time with a young man that our team is discipling.  Amissi has consistently shown maturity and promise.  Unfortunately, though, over the past few months, another church leader has caused him (and us) a lot of pain.  As we bumped along the dirt road together, Amissi and I talked about the different ways he could respond.  This was his conclusion: "Some people are telling me that I should come to terms with the fact that this man is just always going to treat me that way.  They say I should just keep working with him, ignoring the problem.  Others are saying, though, that it may be time for me to distance myself from him and treat him like an unbeliever...But, I can't do either of those things.  He is my brother in Christ - I must be reconciled to him."

I appreciate so much that Amissi is committed to doing the hard work of reconciliation.  And I carefully expressed to him that while his goal is a worthy one, at some point he may need to let go of the possibility of real reconciliation if this other leader is unwilling to do the 'dance of reconciliation" with him.  But, I tried hard to emphasize that his spirit reminded me of Jesus' promise that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.  His desire for true fellowship is a good and a worthy goal.  While it would be easier to follow his friends advice and either abandon the relationship or accept a counterfeit reconciliation, Amissi is rejecting those poor substitutes for peace and holding out for genuine trust and cooperation.

The truth is that Amissi, Gamito and others are in a complicated, life-draining situation that has dragged on and is distracting the whole church from being a light in the community.  These two men feel that strain and deeply long for resolution.  So, as I've been praying and thinking about this scenario, I've asked God why this leadership problem continues to persist.

Why doesn't God just help us resolve it so we can more on?

What I've begun to realize is that by not taking shortcuts, Amissi and Gamito are being more fully formed into disciples of Jesus.  All this time of struggling and wrestling to figure out how to live in community is maturing them.  I don't know how well I expressed it or how it made them feel, but I tried to share my hunch with Amissi that it seems that God is using their difficult situation to prepare and refine them into better agents of the Kingdom for further service here in this life as well as preparing them for the age to come.     

In his book, The Idolatry of God, Peter Rollins introduces the concept of the MacGuffin and describes its use in the film industry this way:

"Hollywood has made billions of dollars playing into this human experience of the gap, providing myths in which the lost object we believe will make us whole is finally gained.  Film theorists call this lost object the MacGuffin, a term popularized by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s.  The MacGuffin is a name that is given to whatever object helps drive the narrative forward, providing the necessary tension to keep an audience interested.  The MacGuffin is that X for which some or all of the main characters are willing to sacrifice everything.  In this way the object they seek is more than something they want in order to make their lives a little better; it is something that evokes in them an obsessive form of desire.  The object might take the form of money, fame, victory, power, a man, or a woman.  The point is not what actually fills the role of the MacGuffin, but that there is something that has that role, something that people want in an excessive way.  It is the object for which everything will be sacrificed, the object that seems to promise fulfillment, satisfaction, and lasting pleasure." (p. 17)

"In life we find ourselves pursuing various MacGuffins - impotent things we falsely believe will make us whole.  What we see in the structure of Hollywood movies is but a clear reflection of this structure.  And just as Hollywood movies generally hide the importance of what we seek, so our dreams and fantasies do the same - ultimately covering over the fact that what we think will satisfy our souls is really powerless to do the same." (p. 19)

"What we see played out again and again is a situation in which the protagonist actually gets what he or she wants above all else - the kiss, the money, the bad guy, etc.  However, we rarely see what happens after the hero grasps what is sought, for if we did, the impotence of the MacGuffin would be revealed and we would not get the feel-good fantasy of fulfillment that so much of popular cinema offers." (p. 34)

One obvious application of this concept to discipleship is the need to identify MacGuffins (i.e. idols) that are keeping followers of Jesus from their true quest and fulfillment in God.  The painful truth is that humanity's longing for meaning and purpose is so powerful that we will accept a counterfeit substitute when a real one seems unavailable.  While in different cultures the specifics of those MacGuffins and the way they entrap people may be different, their essence and power is still the same - these false gods/ideals can cause us great harm.  (They can misshape our professional lives as well as our personal lives.  Let's be honest, mission work isn't immune.  It also has its share of potential MacGuffins:  holism, sustainability, publication, efficiency, working alongside a "successful church-planting-movement"... these are all good goals and potentially healthy pursuits, but they are not the ultimate reality that will sustain us.)

Another potential MacGuffin in the life of a church, though, maybe one we seldom consider, is that of "Artificial Peace."  The process of real reconciliation is painful and difficult.  But, we must deal with the termites chewing through the wood, otherwise slapping on a fresh coat of paint only puts on a false front and serves to push our problems down the road.  Peeling back the thin layer of plastered-over-reconciliation often reveals the emptiness beneath.

I am thankful that Amissi and others are willing to reject the MacGuffin of insincere reconciliation and hold out for God's best.  That's the quest that, no matter what the results, should lead to a better end.  And along the way, rejecting that MacGuffin will help form him into a person that fits the image of Jesus.

The good news of grace is that we are all offered mulligans on our MacGuffins.   
We have a chance to choose anew the worthy quest we will devote ourselves to.

May we be a people who reject false substitutes both in our personal lives and in our communities.  May we chose to give ourselves to the One who is real and life-giving.

Grace and Peace,

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