Lisa and I finally made our way to the greener-grass side of the fence that we had been ogling for over thirteen years. Our day began with our kids making an impassioned plea for why we ought to take them to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakwal. Just before we began to draw straws to see who would endure 1.5 hours of animated, cinematic purgatory, something important occurred to us. Simultaneously, we came to the realization, “We have a thirteen-year-old capable of babysitting!”
In the time it takes a chicken to catch a June bug, Lisa and I had located a multiplex theatre that advertised a movie suitable for adult consumption at the same time as our childrens’ selection. Soon, our adult faces were bathed in the glow of movie trailer previews, that had nothing to do with super-rodents, or basketball playing golden retrievers, or characters in fat suits. We sat there, in “Theatre #4,” as content as the Buddha, remembering the familiar, bewildered looks on the young parents’ faces next door, in “Theatre #5″…where we dropped off our kids…where the floors were sticky with spilled Hawaiian Punch…where some zany, whacky, singing rodents were engaged in who-knows-what kind of hilarious high jinks?!
Lisa’s taste in movies runs broad and deep. She is right at home in the tissue-soaked/chick-flick end of the spectrum, as well as the white-knuckled world of the high tech shoot-em-up. But every-so-often a movie trailer will be transmitted in a “boy’s only” frequency. In these moments, Lisa wrinkles her nose, and beholds me as if I were some kind of amusing, but nonetheless alien species. In these moments, Lisa will say, “Maybe Mitch would like to see that with you?” Lisa didn’t even need to say that phrase when the movie-trailer with blue-skinned, simian tailed aliens showed up. I thought to myself, “I’ve gotta give Mitch a call! This thing looks awesome!” Lisa just squeezed my hand with a knowing smile.
Finally, I got around to my “Boys-only-Mitch Movie Night.” Together we watched blue skinned, simian-tailed creatures of Andora fend off the bad, bad, bad money-hungry, corporate mercenaries. Mitch and I cheered out loud while the dragon-riding, blue skinned good-guys, led by an ex-Marine, channeled some serious warrior energy and kicked some inter-Galactic-hiney.
The Avatar story joins the likes of other science fiction thrillers where a main character’s body is sent into a deep sleep, while the dormant person’s brain waves are transmitted into another, superior body that does its master’s bidding. In this movie, the main character joined a large tribe of aliens. Through feats of unimaginable bravery, and daring-do, the main character, in his alien body, rises through the ranks of his alien tribe hosts to become their chief.
As I sat next to Mitch, I found myself asking what attracts aliens of my species (i.e. men) to movies like this one? It occurred to me that there is a kind of energy within a man that longs to do something heroic…that longs to give the last full measure to something worthy of that gift of self. It’s the same impulse that causes a sports announcer to say in admiring tones that an athlete, “left it all out there on the court.”
According to Viktor Frankl, (holocaust survivor and father of existential psychology) the desire to give oneself away in service to something greater than ourselves is even more motivational than the release of libidinal energy (Freud), or the desire for power (Nietsche). In the crucible of Hitler’s death camps, Frankl noticed that those who lived in memory of another person, or a greater cause, tended to live longer, and thrive better than his or her colleagues who were not similarly fortified. His seminal Twentieth Century work has since been replicated many times over in the more recent findings of resilience researchers. Time and again, psychologists have found that a deep sense of purpose provides a kind of protective armor through life’s difficult circumstances.
In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 9: 18-24), we listened to Jesus, the Divine Psychologist, articulate a core conviction that presaged Frankl’s work by almost 2000 years. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” What Christ was pointing to, that resilience researchers have also pointed to: there is something in the heart of a human being that yearns for self-donation. All of us long for something, or someone to which we can give our whole selves. Christians have a name for that “something within” that invites us and persuades us toward self-giving. We call that the indwelling presence of God.
This Sunday, are you willing to allow Christ, the Divine Counselor, ask you a few challenging questions? “What is giving your life a sense of meaning and purpose lately? Does this purpose demand anything of you? Where in your life are you giving yourself away in either large ways or small ways?”