I almost didn’t post this reflection, feeling like it was too small, but when I saw this ad in the Los Angeles Times today, I couldn’t photo (1)help myself. If I can save just one of you from sharing my misadventure in movie choice, it will be worth the risk of coming across as completely uncool. I cringe already as I think of my hippest friends, musicians, artists and filmmakers, alike saying,

“You didn’t like the latest Coen brother’s film? What’s wrong with you?”

On the night after Christmas, Tim and I had a rare opportunity to go on a date night with my sister and her husband. A movie was on the docket after our dinner at Eat Chow and three contenders were up: American Hustle, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Inside Llewyn Davis. The Coen brothers won, but ultimately, we lost: $20 and two hours of precious time.

I would offer a spoiler alert, but there is nothing to spoil. Nothing happens.

Let me rephrase that. Nothing happens that we care about.

Sure, Llewyn has a life. It’s just not a life you’d pay to watch. I’d pay to listen to him on stage. The music is phenomenal, but the character and the film is crap. He gets women pregnant, pays for abortions, sleeps on couches, drinks too much, takes advantage of friends and then blows up at them. He is smug and scornful of everyone surrounding him. None of those things necessarily preclude him from being a character I root for. The problem is that he doesn’t learn from any of it. He deliberately misses opportunities to do the right thing, or make a decent choice. Even when he tries to do right, it usually turns out all wrong. Basically he’s a prick, who doesn’t have the ability, or desire to be anything different. We all know guys like that, but we certainly don’t pay to watch them in action.

Tim and I needed to cleanse our palate, so we snuck away on Saturday morning and saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.imgres-1 This time, we were thrilled, perhaps overcompensating a bit for the debacle of Llewyn’s life. Walter is a man with a small life, trading it in for big daydreams. He “zones out,” content to imagine whom he might be. But when life amps up its inevitable challenges and Llewyn is content to stew in his inadequacies, Walter finally is not. He will step outside of himself, get on a plane, stand up to the bully, speak to the girl. Standard Hollywood fare perhaps, but well-done, beautifully shot, clever and compared to the Coens’ work, a relief.

Don’t get me wrong. I love art house films. I don’t need happy endings, or easy answers. Not every death needs to be followed by a resurrection, but offering viewers some way to connect, or empathize with the protagonist or villain is almost a requisite for a film to be worth watching (in my mind) and the Coen brothers didn’t provide it this time around.

Ironically, we chose the Coens’ film because of the critical reviews. Raves all around, but as I walked out of the theater, all I could think was that the emperor had no clothes. 93% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes told audiences to go, but I can’t believe 93% of the critics who watched this film and thought it was worth watching. I imagine at least half of them walked out as dumbstruck and disappointed as we were, but were also too afraid to admit it.

So be it. At the risk of coming across as naïve and uncultured, don’t go see Inside Llewyn Davis. Save yourself some time and money; if you like folk music, buy the soundtrack instead.

Pope Frances I

Like most of the world last spring, I watched in fascination as Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope. The first day, I was non-plussed. Another old, white guy? Big surprise. The second day, I began to take notice: he was a Jesuit and he chose the name Francis, the first Pope ever to do so. The third day, I got a little discouraged as Catholic pundits and news organizations across the nation scrambled to prop up his conservative credentials and hard line stances. But as the week unfolded, I heard the stories of how he paid his own bills, carried his own bags and rode in a modest sedan across town and my heart melted a little bit. Then came his ordination and in one Pope Disabled mansimple gesture, stopping to cradle a disabled man in his arms, he captured my imagination. I was willing to entertain the possibility that he just might be a different kind of Pope.

Reading the full interview from America Magazine confirmed it. Yesterday, my Facebook feed was abuzz with quotes, excerpts and articles about the interview, but it wasn’t until this morning when I read it for myself that I understood the import of what he had to say. I know journalists and news organizations need the juicy bits, and so focused on his words about homosexuality, abortion, divorce and birth control. Those issues concern me too, but I wanted to know the context. Did he really mean it that way? Did he follow up his compassionate comments with an even stronger emphasis on obedience to the Church, its hierarchy and doctrine?

He did not.

Not once.

Instead, Pope Francis offered an avalanche of Love, a deluge of Compassion, a flight of Hope. What I found most striking as I read the article was the consistency of his theme, no matter how far-ranging the topic. It was simply this:

You are Loved.

That is the bottom line, according to Pope Francis and when you are loved, you are forgiven and you are cherished. Your presence and company are desired. The Church is “not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people,” rather “it is the home of all.” He takes it a step further, strengthening a connection, which has become frayed and worn in recent years. He seems to say to each of us, “You belong to God and as such, you belong to God’s Church. As Christ’s servants on earth, you are our beloved and we must do a better job of treating you as such.”  He calls on the members of the church, particularly the clergy, to focus on the “proclamation of the saving love of God” before all else.

A few minutes after I finished the interview, I received an email from my brother, a soft-spoken, easy-going man and a practicing Catholic. This is what he wrote:

“This article almost brought me to tears…I LOVE OUR POPE. This pope can help this church heal wounds with love. He will open the doors to the church to people who have felt excluded. He will inspire the members to LOVE.

I believe he is exactly what the church needs at this time. 

I’m excited to be led by a guy who ‘gets it.’ The teachings of Christ were about loving one another not about following all the rules.

(Is it okay to refer to the pope as a guy? I think he would be okay with it!)”

And I laughed, because those were my very thoughts. Pope Francis “gets it.”

He knows compassion and mercy must come before discipline and correction. He wants to see church ministers behave “like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor,” instead of simply saying, “Get up and walk” – on the straight and narrow path.

As another theologian I know puts it, “Love wins” and Pope Francis may just have won my heart, by being so open, vulnerable, and humble, unafraid of mystery and content to go where God leads him. I like that in a guy.

He may not be the man of my dreams, but he’s allowed me to dream of a new direction and a new future for the Church.

If you haven’t read the full interview, it is well worth the time and can be found here.