In the movie, Bruce Almighty, there is a scene near the start where Bruce has lost his job, been beaten up by some thugs when he intervenes in them harassing a homeless guy (but gives them a mouthful when they walk away) and comes home to his girlfriend angry and wallowing in enormous self-pity. After explaining his really bad day and whinging for several minutes Grace, his girlfriend tries to comfort him and says:
“I’m just glad you’re okay – today could have been a whole lot worse.”
“Newsflash!,” says Bruce. “I’m not okay! I’m not okay with a mediocre job. I’m not okay with a mediocre apartment! I’m not okay with a mediocre life!”
“Is that what you think we have – a mediocre life?”
“Don’t make this about you.”
“How could I make this about me? It’s about you. It’s always about you.”
“Oh great! I’ll have the worst day of my life with a side order of guilt please!“ and Bruce storms out of the apartment.
This begins an encounter with God whom he has blamed constantly for the whole thing, accusing God of caring for others but not Bruce! When God materialises in his life Bruce gets the job of being God. Bruce uses these new-found powers with glee and ‘rights a few wrongs’ in his life. Along the way, however, he learns something about humanity and life and what is good and bad for people. He ultimately tries to give everyone everything they want and ask for but that only creates chaos in the town in which he lives as competing wants and desires conflict with each other. He also learns that people don’t always want what they need and don’t always ask for what is good for them. There is also a tendency towards a focus on self rather than on the well-being of the community and the greater good (or common good). Through these experiences Bruce is transformed. He puts aside his obsession with gaining more power, prestige and money. He becomes satisfied with what he has and the things that money can’t buy but actually offer richer meaning and joy in life. He takes part in communal activities and delights in other people laughing and playing together. He delights in the life he has and even gains patience towards his dog.
One of the most important lessons for Bruce is that he cannot change anyone or make them happy – either as Bruce or God. God cannot make anyone do something they don’t want to do. Bruce has to come to the understanding that if he wants to restore his relationship with Grace, he can only love her and allow her to make the decision to love him in return. He cannot change her, he can only love her and be patience and gentle.
I thought of this movie with all of its themes and insightful moments this week. I thought of it after attending a ‘Meet the Election Candidates Forum’ at our local Uniting Church. Three candidates accepted the invitation. Two were sitting MP’s for different electorates and opposite parties. The third was a Greens candidate for one of the electorates. They each spoke and introduced their policies for a few minutes each. They each spoke well. Then there was an open session for questions from the floor. Questions ranged from Climate Change/Environment to Superannuation to Affordable Housing to funding for Science and restoring funding to CSIRO and funding for the Arts to Foreign Aid… Some of the answers went to the heart of the issues but many seemed to say little with many impressive words. I looked through the Uniting Church’s resources that named the significant issues from a faith perspective. The papers don’t tell us who to vote for but what the important issues are and what the church believes on these issues. I found myself nodding in agreement as I read. I left the evening somewhat dismayed that the major parties were not able to come very close to what the church, and myself, seem to believe is really important for our nation and the world.
I wonder what most Australians think. I wonder what we will do as a nation when it comes to the crucial issues confronting the world, such as climate change, refugees, slavery and human trafficking (sex slaves, sweatshops other forms – 25-30 million people!), war and conflict and world poverty that is only getting more significant. I also wonder how we will continue to respond to important issues internal to Australia such as the serious rise in online gambling, access to quality aged care, corporate tax dodging, constitutional and other recognition for Aboriginal people (and restoration of their pride and esteem), taxation reform, renewable energy, and issues related to negative gearing and capital gains tax.
Many of these things don’t seem important to many people nor do they seem to gain much significance in the public forums of our political leaders. I wonder whether the movie Bruce Almighty speaks into our malaise and the individualism and expectation of accumulation of more assets that pervades public rhetoric in Australia?
This week’s New Testament passage (Galatians 5:1, 13-26) was also challenging as I read it. ‘For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ I pondered the slavery we feel and the freedom for which we yearn. Many of the above issues are about enslavement and oppressive forces and powers over people. Jesus speaks of liberation and so does Paul in this passage. Liberation from that which ties us down, oppresses or enslaves us. For some that is poverty, political persecution, war and conflict, impact of environmental crises, slavery etc. For others it is about the enslavement to expectations of affluence and material prosperity. We are enslaved by the expectations of a society that determines what we think about who we are and what we need.
If I get away from the messages, overt and subliminal, that confront me in advertising and societal expectations, I find that there is peace and joy in the simplicity of life. A walk by the local creek or enjoying the colour and wonder of the garden, listening to some good music or reading a book offer me something more than the constant stress to achieve or acquire, whether money, success, power, prestige… As I continued reading the passage, Paul reiterates Jesus’ words to love your neighbour as yourself, as being something life-giving and essential for the well-being of our world. He goes onto commend the fruit of God’s Spirit, that which God encourages and gives – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These are not the qualities I heard explicated the other night. Nor are they the qualities that Bruce first exhibited or sought. He wanted power and glory, fame and fortune. These ‘fruit’ are the things that create a beautiful world, one that each of us wants to be part of; where all are valued and have a place. They are the values Bruce discovered and I yearn for.