Note: Some spoilers for Looper in this post – if you plan on seeing it, you might not want to read on.
I have seen two films in theater this week. I don’t get to the theater too often, as it is expensive, and there is rarely anything that I feel warrants the big-screen experience. However, this week I saw both the documentary Hellbound? by local Abbotsford filmmaker Kevin Miller, and the sci-fi thriller Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis.
While these are two radically different films on the surface, they actually had a connecting theme – Humanity’s obsession with death. Hellbound? explores the question of Hell – who goes there, why, and for how long (if at all). Miller and his team talk to a range of ‘experts’ on Hell, including pastors, an exorcist, and death-metal rockers. This question is intimately tied with the question of death. I believe we want to know where we’re going, because we are rarely satisfied with where we are now.
Looper, too, is about where we’re going, and why. In the movie, JGL (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) plays a ‘looper’, a hitman for unwanted fugitives from the future. Generally it’s an easy job – gangsters in the future send someone to JGL’s time tied up, JGL shoots them, and collects payment. Life is going pretty well until one target that jumps back turns out to be himself, from the future.
The movie twists and turns like any good time-travel sci-fi does. At the heart of all the action and weirdness is this question: What would you give to preserve your future? How far would you go to make sure that YOU are the one who has the happy ending? The movie ends on a rather bleak note, with either a supreme act of self-sacrifice or a nihilistic outlook on everything, depending on how you look at it. The question is, I think, where are you going, and how are you getting there?
Both of these films are concerned with the future, and how our actions today affect the future. While the future is a good thing to think about sometimes, the problem is that our society, both Church and secular, is so future-focused we have no time for the present. We fill our lives with busyness and always look to the future either with fear or wonder, and miss the present.
I myself often get caught up in this future-focused mindset, and I find that it causes me great anxiety. I remember a few years ago when the swine flu epidemic first broke in Mexico – I spent a whole afternoon on my porch, dwelling about the possible future. More recently, the stresses of the 24-hour news cycle and the unhealthy world economy had me tuning out all news sources for the better part of the year. God challenged me in this thinking, however, and gave me a new mandate: be Present.
Being Present means acknowledging the importance of today, and the importance of people who are in our path today. Jesus speaks about this in Matthew 6:25 – focusing on the future puts our faith in our own hands, rather than trusting in God. When I am Present, I trust that God will open up the way before me, that he goes with me no matter what – in fact, that he is there already. I don’t need to fear the future.
Here’s a quote from the book The Shack, a book I greatly appreciated, although it is imperfect, as all books are. The author, William Paul Young, is, by the way, also featured in Hellbound?. This is the character of Jesus (Young’s words, not scripture) talking to the main character, Mac.
“When I dwell with you, I do so in the present – I live in the present. Not the past, although much can be remembered and learned by looking back, but only for a visit, not an extended stay. And for sure, I do not dwell in the future you visualize or imagine. do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you? [Why, you ask?] It is your desperate attempt to get some control over something you can’t. It is impossible for you to take power over the future because it isn’t even real, nor will it ever be real. You try and play God, imagining the evil that you fear becoming reality, and then you try and make plans and contingencies to avoid what you fear.
[This is] because you don’t believe. You don’t know that we love you. The person who lives by their fears will not find freedom in my love. I am not talking about rational fears regarding legitimate dangers, but imagined fears, and especially the projection of those into the future. To the degree that those fears have a place in your life, you neither believe I am good nor know deep in your heart that I love you. You sing about it; you talk about it, but you don’t know it.
What Young is getting at is this: We never imagine a future with Christ in it. Our futures are always human-made and human-controlled. When we remain rooted in being Present, however, we can begin to see God working in miraculous ways all around us. I have related some such encounters on this blog already, and I’m sure there are more to come.
The second part of being Present is acknowledging the value of the people that you come across. I challenge myself to treat each person I come across as the most important person in that moment. I am rarely successful, but it does help open my eyes to the small encounters I have every day. I believe God often speaks through the minute encounters we have every day, and that if we focus on those encounters, we enter into the tapestry of God’s amazing plans as they unfold.
Heaven and Hell are important topics, don’t get me wrong, but they must be examined in a way that can allow us as Christians to remain grounded in the present. Too often the exploration of Heaven and Hell leads us to an escapist theology, or to a lack of care for anything – why bother, if everything is going to burn eventually anyway?
These are important topics, and the way that we think about them affects the way that we live. I believe being rooted in the present is the best way to be fully engaged with the Kingdom of God as it unfolds, and I challenge you to try it, at least for a time.