Common time: summer movies!
July 17, 2016
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2016
Luke 9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
The un-anxious presence
All of us receive measures of encouragement
and measures of chaos from our families.
Joy, the hopefully named hero of our story,
receives, as we soon learn,
a great, heaping measure of chaos from her family.
It’s based on a true story. Here’s what Wikipedia has:
Joy stars “Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a self-made millionaire who created her own business empire. Mangano was a divorced mother with three children in the early 1990s when she invented the Miracle Mop and became an overnight success, after which she patented many other products, often selling on the Home Shopping Network and QVC. The film is a semi-fictional and inspirational portrayal of how Mangano overcame personal and professional obstacles to rise to the top.”
I wonder how the rest of her family felt about the portrayal.
It would be especially rough to the be the half-sister, I think.
She really gets in the way, in the movie version,
and does not come across very sympathetically.
And even worse, to be the mother,
portrayed as a feckless lay-about,
watching day-time television.
And that’s where our movie starts,
with a black and white clip from a soap opera.
Will the woman take charge of her life,
and save her land?
Or will she be done in
by the people arrayed against her?
So it goes.
Joy starts out as an extraordinarily creative
She is a maker, inventive with her hands,
with an imagination for great stories,
which she demonstrates and tells
to her friend.
But then we see her at age nine.
A door slams. It is, as we come to quickly discover,
the door slamming on her dreams.
Her parents divorce with both acrimony
and just sheer disorder.
It is chaos.
Now it is 17 years later,
the generational life-cycle of the cicada,
as Joy is annoyed to notice.
Why does the number 17 bother her so much?
Because it is the number of years
she has buried her dreams.
Her dreams have been underground
for 17 years just like the stupid cicada
is underground for 17 years.
By now she is divorced,
has two children,
her ex-husband lives in the basement,
her mother is camped in front of the TV upstairs,
and now her father’s lady-friend returns him –
“return ex-husband to sender.”
Like Elvis sang:
“Return to sender; address unknown.”
Only her address is known.
And her emotional wreck of a father
He joins the ex-husband in the basement.
She is managing all this with as much
grace and aplomb as she can find.
She goes to work at her job
at a complaint counter.
After complaining bitterly, a woman looks at her name tag
and splutters at her:
“Joyous, eh? You don’t seem very joyful.”
Joy replies, and it is the name of the theme of her life right now:
“Perhaps I am not so joyous today.”
Only her grandmother Mimi
remembers who Joy is,
what she is capable of.
She just keeps reaffirming it to Joy.
At one point she says it all to Joy:
“You were born to be the un-anxious presence in the room.”
And wow, does her family need an un-anxious presence.
In our Bible passage, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem.
This is generally understood to mean that
he has become utterly clear
that he’s going to have to confront
the powerful people in Jerusalem.
And it’s not going to go well.
He’s bringing love. He won’t get thanks for that.
But he’s the loving presence in the room.
Which is another way of saying
the emotional systems word: “non-anxious.”
Jesus has also struggled with his family.
In Luke 8, they try to reach him, but can’t, because of the crowd.
But he won’t help.
Who are my mother and brothers and sisters?
Those who hear the word of God and do it.
This is not a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving family situation.
Mark goes further toward explaining Jesus frustration.
Jesus called the disciples to join him,
and he gave them authority to cast out demons:
in other words, to really make a difference
in the world, is how I would say it.
And then Mark writes: “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” –Mark 3:21
The miracle mop
So with Joy.
When she decides she’s had enough with
burying her dreams for 17 years,
she creates a self-wringing mop.
It has an enormous yardage of cotton fibers, very absorbent,
you can do the whole floor without wringing it.
And when you do wring it, you don’t have to touch the fibers.
The mop has a built in squeezing mechanism.
And then when it gets dirty, you can detach it,
and throw the whole mop-head in the washing machine.
She needs her family’s help to make it happen, however.
Her father’s new lady friend,
played with an intensely straight face by Isabella Rossellini,
has lots of money.
But she has a very intense list of requirements.
As does her father.
And he sister looks on with competitive sullenness.
As she struggles to try to sell her new invention,
the police confiscate all her stuff,
because she set up in a K-Mart parking lot.
Her dad reads the obituary to her dreams right away:
“Look, you were broke, bored, you had an idea. Lot’s of people have ideas. Go home and take care of your family.”
Which is all she’s been trying to do.
As they all seem to hang on to her pants
and drag her down.
Drag her down to their family hell.
Family, I always tell people in counseling,
is our river, the river that we first wake up in.
And by the time we wake up in it,
we’re already all wet and way downstream.
So the question always is with family,
not which river is my life river,
but how am I going to swim in this river
that I find myself in?
Life is not a matter of standing by,
carefully choosing your river,
and then setting sail.
Life is learning how to swim
with the ones what brung ya.
And then with others.
As I said at the beginning of this little reflection:
“All of us receive measures of encouragement
and measures of chaos from our families.”
And, truly, all of us also give measures of
encouragement and chaos as well.
And when we try to make change,
try to learn how to swim in our river a bit differently,
we quickly learn that the family will notice.
And we won’t necessarily help, as family.
The insight from family systems theory here is called
It means that the emotional system of the family
tends to resist change.
We become collectively addicted to the way
we’ve been with each other in our family systems.
We have our emotional habits.
They have grown up among us like vines,
and they quickly register the slightest vibration
up and down the network.
The corollary to “homeostasis” is “sabotage,”
which I talked about a couple of Sundays ago.
The system registers the possibility of change,
and acts to stop it.
We don’t even often know we’re doing this to each other.
We communicate it with the smallest gestures,
with a seemingly innocuous word or two:
We drop silences in where we might say something
We say “do you think that’s a good idea?”
We stand by the door, not exactly blocking it,
and not exactly opening it either.
If you wonder how homeostasis is working in your family
or other emotional system (church, workplace),
Ed Friedman had a self-test – do it at home!
Just change one thing in your own functioning.
Whatever you do, don’t make it illegal,
or physically harmful, or mean. Just a change.
And then watch how the people around you respond.
You will soon find out who are the strong
non-anxious presences in the room,
and who are the ones who are just hanging on
and want to tug you down.
Joy experiences this in waves of homeostasis.
She finally gets her chance to have her mop
demonstrated on the QVC (Quality, Value, Convenience)
But the guy doing the demonstration,
supposedly their star,
doesn’t even practice,
doesn’t even us the mop correctly.
So they want to drop her.
But she says “I can’t accept your answer. I can’t, and I won’t.
She marches in there,
and convinces them to let her
demo it herself.
She does and she’s a huge hit.
They sell like hot cakes.
It’s Christmas time, literally, and because of her success.
Then her beloved grandmother dies.
Then her father and sister conspire
behind her back to work with the parts producer.
They pay off the producer for a higher price he’s demanding.
But this make the mop unprofitable.
Then she goes and confronts the producer
and discovers he’s shaking her down,
and stealing her patent.
He claims it’s all due to his boss in Texas,
who’s demanding more money.
And the sister’s pay-off does something legally
that makes it possible for them to do that,
and impossible for Joy to challenge it in course.
She was improperly advised.
She gets put in jail for trespassing.
Her family comes to bail her out,
and what does her father’s lady-friend
say by way of support:
“I predicted tragedy, Joy; you’re wracking up quite a steep bill.
They convince her that the only path is bankruptcy.
Setting your face toward…
Jesus has been going along, casting out demons,
healing, caring for the poor,
feeding hungry crowds.
For thanks, he is accused over and over
of having a demon himself.
John 8:48, 49
The [religious people] answered him, ‘Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’ Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.
In the midst of all this,
his disciples go on ahead to set up a village visit,
and the village doesn’t want Jesus.
What do the disciples want to do,
after all the love that Jesus has demonstrated?
They want to rain fire down on the village.
It is at this moment that Jesus, as the Bible says,
“sets his face toward Jerusalem.”
He now knows what he needs to do.
And he does it.
So does Joy.
The next morning,
after the bankruptcy signing,
she is nowhere to be found.
During the night, she did the classic
girl-power thing and cut her hair.
Then she put on her reading glasses
and started reading the paper work
She discovered that she was being defrauded
by the man who was the boss in Texas.
She sets her face toward Texas.
And down she goes.
And she exposes the plot to him,
and through she quiet ferocity and clarity,
she gets him to pay her back and more.
And her mop goes on to be enormously profitable,
and about 100 other record-setting patents.
Now she is fabulously successful and wealthy.
What does her family do?
They try to sue her.
But she keeps on taking care of them.
What have been the moments
when you have “set your face toward Jerusalem or Texas?”
What have been times you have pulled decision
and strength out of the mire of nay-sayers
and made moves forward?
When have you found the courage, heart, and joy,
to take the good step, to learn how to swim
a different stroke in the family river,
or at work, or church or among friends?
And how has it made all the difference?
Parker Palmer calls this the moment
When we really show up, when we stop phoning it in,
when we get undivided, and wholehearted.
And the one I like the most,
it is the moment when we stop conspiring in our own diminishment.
The homeostasis wants to keep us diminished.
wants to drag us back to the good ol’ days.
Joy didn’t know what all would happen in Texas.
But she found herself walking down the street
in her leather and sunglasses,
with the Eric Clapton soundtrack popping
in the background: “I feel free…”
And she took care of business.
Jesus didn’t know what all would happen in Jerusalem.
He found himself arrested, then executed in agony.
And then the spirit-mystery happened.
If the movie is about the arrival of success
through great-hearted creativity,
the gospel is about the arrival of love,
through great-hearted joy and compassion.
That’s why we’re here.