I want to share how last Friday, August 26, went at the Mission with the showing of the film, The Pursuit of Happyness.
It was a hit! The people loved it!
I arrived at the Mission with dvd in hand about ten minutes before the film was set to start at 2:30pm. As opened the door to enter the chapel (which is the same large cafeteria we all eat in) a woman in her 50’s or 60’s was outside and asked if I was the preacher.
“Preacher? No, I’m not a preacher.” I answered.
“Oh, I’m sorry then…pastor said a preacher was coming and was gonna show a movie and talk about it.”
“Hmm. I see. Well, I guess I am the preacher then!” and with that I walked in.
The Pastor stood in the front of the chapel on the stage where the podium sits and where the band plays at the daily chapel services. He was finishing announcements as I approached the stage. He greeted me with a stiff handshake. I got the sense he preferred I didn’t go through with this.
I say this because when I first proposed in my meeting with him last week showing The Pursuit of Happyness the film he expressed suspicion about my motive. He thought I had a hidden agenda of only self-interest. He also was wary of any movie that did not openly promote Jesus Christ by name and title. He had seen The Pursuit of Happyness and liked it but was opposed to its message (as he understood it) which was a ‘self-help’ message that ‘did not glorify God and his son, Jesus’.
“Um, pastor….the scriptures say ‘God is love’, correct?” He nodded yes. “The father in the movie was inspired and motivated by his love for his son. Well, that love, and God is love, is what fueled and redeemed him. So God is all throughout the movie. It’s the same as when we go out into Nature and we’re surrounded by trees and sky and rivers and bird songs. In Nature, Creator’s presence is not explicit but implicit. Everything speaks the Voice of Creator but it’s only the heart, it’s only that soul which hungers to hear the Voice, to be one with the Voice, that will discern the Presence.”
“Which church do you attend?” he asked, leading me to wonder why he asked.
I felt uneasy having to answer this question. “I don’t attend any church, Pastor. I am happy to fellowship with anyone who invites me to any church or any religion. I will fellowship with anyone, but I will not join nor be a part of any church, religion, or group. I have no interest, no desire to be a member of anything. I choose to walk my path alone.”
He looked at me intently, studying me, and I wondered what his thoughts might be. I discerned nothing in his thoughts. Then he answered, “The scriptures say that fellowship is important and necessary; that we are to assemble with the congregation as the body of Christ for our edification and to praise God. Don’t you agree with that?”
“Sure I do. And I would join with anyone as an invited guest, just not as a member, that’s all. I seek deepest personal intimacy with Creator….in silence, in solitude, in spirit. I go to Turtle Bay every Sunday, for example, and I go to my ‘secret spot’ on the bank of the Sacramento where I can be alone and undisturbed, and there I spend time in prayer, in contemplation, and reading. When I am at the Sacramento I am blessed by the winds, by the trees swaying back and forth in them, by the butterfly reminding me of transformation, and the river whispering eternity in its flow. For all my life, consciously from the age of 5 when my mother first took me to Catholic mass, then in the Baptist Church I joined at age 12, on to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and beyond to other fellowships, I’ve sought to be One with Creator, to see Creator, to hear Creator, to feel Creator in all things seen and unseen. And I’ve always been adamant that no Human should stand between me and Creator, insisting always on direct experience and direct revelation only. And when I am here at the Mission, I see Creator in everyone there and I am blessed by it. And in everything that I may have judged and dismissed and rejected before, I now see Creator and that is all I seek. Then the kingdom of heaven, which is within, is fulfilled and that is my fellowship.”
He continued watching me, now with a mix of curiosity. Ultimately, he agreed to allow me to show the film and I was deeply thankful. I asked if that same 2:30 to 4:30 time slot would be available every Friday, and he said that it is available every Friday.
In answer to my question as to whether we could do this every week he said ‘yes, it’s possible….but the films must inspire people by mentioning Jesus and God.’ I could think of a hundred movies that inspire people in some way and that do mention Jesus and God….just not in the way he might be thinking.
“Absolutely, I said, “I think it’ll be great, Pastor. The people need inspiration here and this will do great things for them.”
“In fact,” he added, “I’ll let you give a little message if you like….I just ask that you open the floor to discussion and that you lift up our Lord.”
“Absolutely, Pastor, absolutely!”
He told me that he had been looking to fill that time slot with something edifying. He already had another bible study scheduled from 1:00 to 2:30pm on Fridays, every day in fact, so he wasn’t sure about adding another one back-to-back. I left his office that day with so much excitement I had almost forgotten my other responsibilities for that day.
Anyway, after Pastor gave me some last-minute instructions on how to work the dvd player he left. I started the film. There were about a dozen people when it started. In my ego I felt disappointed, let down. I took it personally….petty ego! By the time the film ended the chapel was almost full. It was great watching the people enjoy The Pursuit of Happyness. There were many tears shed at different points of the film and many applauded when Will Smith’s character finally accomplished his goal at the end. But more than applaud, they seemed to celebrate his triumph as if it were their own. It was moving to see.
Then it was time for the group discussion. I had nothing prepared, trusting Spirit as I always do to bring forth the words as the moment calls for it.
“Ok…by a show of hands,” I shouted, “how many people enjoyed the film?” Almost all had raised a hand. “Awesome! I want to start by thanking Pastor Honey for allowing this film to be shown. Now, I want to know – what in the film did you relate to the most? It could be anything at all that moved you but I want to know what did you personally relate to the most and please make it brief as we don’t have a lot of time.”
A good number of hands went up. I picked them one at a time.
“Faith. Hope,” said one man.
“Great. Can you share a little more about that?”
“Yeah, my faith in Jesus Christ….hope that it will all be ok.”
“Thank you, Brother! Anyone else?”
“Well, I’m a single mother struggling with my kids and the movie let me know that’s possible.” She’s the mother with three children who are out-of-control during meal times – jumping off chairs, climbing onto tables, playing inappropriately with adults and generally running around chaotically. And she yells at the children constantly, and curses the oldest of the three, a boy, like he was her husband. It rips my insides when I behold it….so I was thankful for her sharing.
“Thank you, Sister. Who else?”
Her son, the oldest child, who’s about 10 yrs old and wears his blonde hair in a kind mohawk-mullet hybrid, raised his hand. Hmm, I thought, this ought to be interesting.
“I…um….uhhh….ugh!….” and he gave up.
“Go ahead, little Brother, we’re listening….”
He gathered himself and gave it another shot, “Well, the boy….the boy in the movie….I kind of see myself in him. He was homeless like I’m homeless. And he made it….and…..and that means I can make it, too.”
He revealed a level of empathy that surprised me as did his display of sensitivity and vulnerability. If we give voice to our children, allowing them the freedom to express without coaching or censorship, without our conformist demands born from our insecurities and shadows, we will create the space for their liberation and ours.
“Hey, Bro!” I exclaimed, “I like that! I like that! Excellent, little Brother! I hope you keep sharing with us. What’s your name, Bro?”
“Jeremy,” he asserted, his face beaming with a pride suggesting he felt significant, that he meant something, something more than what he had been led to believe. He looked as if he had been delivered from prison.
“Good to meet you, Brother Jeremy. Hey folks,” I continued, “how many people here are homeless?”
Everyone raised their hand.
“Well, I’m here to tell you that YOU ARE NOT HOMELESS!” They all looked at me quizzically as I continued, “You’re not homeless! I’m not homeless! I know it sounds crazy but even though I’ve been living in my car since May and I’ve been coming here since August 15th, I don’t feel homeless….and I’m not! You see, the way I see it is home is where the heart is. Meaning, that when you are doing the thing you love you are home. Home is that place inside of you that comes alive when you are doing what you love, and when you are doing the thing you love to do you are home.
“I’m home when I’m sitting on the bank of the Sacramento enjoying a mango. I’m home when I am with my 2 beautiful sons, Solomon and Salvador. I’m home when I am sitting and writing; or when I am with friends and family having a good time; I’m home when I’m browsing books at a used book store or when I’m listening to old-school music from my childhood; I’m home when I am in prayer, when I am in deep contemplation of the mysteries of life. When I’m doing what I love to do, I am home.
“Who here has ever had a dream in their life? Who here has ever had a dream of something they wanted to do? Something they wanted to be? Because if you’ve ever had a dream for your life I want you to know that you can bring your dreams back to life! And when you bring your dreams back from the dead and back to life then you come alive! Bring your dreams back to life, Beloved, because we all need you to be alive because when you live we all live!
“Who would like to share their thoughts about this?”
It seemed every hand was raised and every face glowed with remembering and revelation. I called on the man who was sitting right in front of where I stood.
“Well, my name is Joey. I really like what you’re saying about not being homeless and about our dreams….I never thought of it that way…..I used to be a cam-operator in Hollywood. I did that for over 20 years. In fact, I used to work with Will Smith on his old tv show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air so it’s really cool that you showed this movie today. I was a cam-operator on the show. I actually worked on 3 Emmy award-winning shows. And I realize that I let my dream die, that I allowed the things that I love to do to die. And this film shows me that I can bring it back to life.”
I repeated what he shared so that everyone could hear. I felt truly inspired!
There is so much talent, so many dreams, so many gifts lying dormant within these precious souls. If only the world could see – as I do now! – that those living under shelter-less circumstances are Human and deserving of good, certainly more than the disdain cast their way like coins of contempt!
The fact is that I have seen demonstrated among these, the dregs of society, a humble selflessness and reflective honesty that shines brighter than the light professed by those living in the comfort of belonging and social acceptance.
I’ve seen greater love and the spirit of community demonstrated than evidenced in churches and spiritual communities; deeper knowing of the self than that professed by the ‘spiritually-minded’; and a greater willingness to accept their current circumstance while voicing humble gratitude and an indomitable spirit than any who enjoy the ‘creature comforts’ of normal living while complaining about their air conditioning not being cool enough or not having enough cargo space in their SUV.
Not everyone, of course. The Mission also contains shadows. This is not Shangri La. But I’ve experienced enough of the beauty of it that when I lift myself from this current circumstance, with the blessing of Creator Most High/Most Within, that I will look very differently upon these and countless other precious souls whose circumstances are in no way indicative of the Humanity and the Divinity residing within that life.
And this I know too – that no matter where I end up living and no matter what I end up driving and wearing, and no matter in whose company I might find myself, that I will not shy away nor look away from such a soul living under these circumstances, no matter how filthy or how smelly. Because, having been one of them, and being one with them, at this time and forevermore, I am become their Brother and Friend, and they are my Brothers and my Sisters; they are my Mothers and my Fathers; they are my neighbors, my friends.
In them I will always see my self, our Self, and our Creator.
I thanked Joey and in our eye contact in that moment I witnessed death give way to life. I found another Brother.
And in the faces of everyone there I witnessed transformation and resurrection; I witnessed souls entombed in the soul-less sameness of daily despair come alive with life and the joy in living. In that moment, as I looked around the room, I saw the children of heaven restored in every smile and glinting eye. I saw myself, I saw my Humanity, and I felt the power of transformation and what it could feel like for all of us when the kingdom of heaven bursts forth from graves of dreams deferred and hearts unmended.
I acknowledge and give thanks to Creator, the Spirit of All Living, who is my Source, my Strength and my Substance, my breath and my life, my power and my possibility, for the gift of true happiness, both its fulfillment and its pursuit.
Blessings, blessings, blessings…