God as Found in Lars and the Real Girl

The movie I chose today is called Lars and the Real Girl. How many got a chance to see the movie? Lars and the Real girl is a story about an extremely shy guy in a small town. Through a few events he ends up buying a sex doll on the Internet and introduces her as Bianca, his girlfriend, to all his friends and family. Most of the movie is about Lars relationship with this doll. They argue; they go to parties; they spend time together alone and with others. I thought this movie was brilliant on a number of levels and I know that a few of you here did also.

Moving away from the movie for a second, let me present a question and we’ll see how we would answer it. This question has been presented to school classes, leadership teams, and studies.

“If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbageman, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would you choose?”

Most of us feel awkward answering this question, so let’s talk about what it would look like on this boat. What would the conversations look like?

This question is posed to different people at different times. I first read it in Donald Miller’s book, Searching For God Knows What. The answers are always interesting. This is called the lifeboat theory. Basically what ends up happening in a situation like this is you have everyone on the boat fighting for their lives by judging others in an effort to show that they are more valuable than the other people on the boat. It’s a ridiculous situation right? Not really realistic? Cause it’s not really happening? Then I wonder why our lives look like this boat. This question really has nothing to do with the boat; this question is about our lives. Our lives end up looking like this lifeboat where we are constantly trying to prove ourselves more valuable than others to make sure that they get thrown off the lifeboat first. Rather than seeing all people as equal, we rely on “foolish methods of comparison like athletic prowess, or good looks, or intelligence, and on and on.” We compare ourselves to others on almost every level. If they make more money, if they are better parents, if they are smarter, if they are nicer, if they are funnier, if they have a bigger house, if their kids are the most successful…and on and on. Henri Nouwen speaks to this idea.

“When we start being impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to measure our worth. And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our souls to the many grade-givers. That means we are not only in the world, but also of the world. Then we become what the world makes us. We are intelligent because someone gives us a high grade. We are helpful because someone gives us a high grade. We are helpful because someone says thanks. We are likable because someone likes us. and we are important because someone considers us indespensible. In short, we are worthwhile because we have successes. and the more we allow our accomplishments – the results of our actions – to become the criteria of our self-esteem, the more we are going to walk on our mental and spiritual toes, never sure if we will be able to live up to the expectations which we created by our last succeses.”
–Henri Nouwen

This kind of lifeboat theory explains why “I so desperately want to be smart, why religious people want to be right,” why Joe wants to be cool…I struggle with this when it comes to business or leadership. I have a hard time separating who is valuable to me and it usually is determined on what they can accomplish for me. Ultimately the lifeboat theory is about who’s stays in the boat because of the affirmation they receive from those around them. That affirmation comes from “slam dunks, good looks, intelligence, wealth, or rightness.” As the church though, we can’t be living in any sort of way from this lifeboat mentality. The lifeboat isn’t real. So to make ourselves feel better by convincing ourselves that those around us are going first doesn’t get us anywhere.

Where do you see the lifeboat theory playing itself out in your life?

What mentality should we be living with and why? What gives us value?

What if when we are with God, we feel that we have glory, we feel His love for us and know in a way infinitely more satisfying than a parent’s love or a lover’s love, that we matter? I think that would be very beautiful and if I could press a button to go back to the way it was in the Garden of Eden, I would, because so many times I don’t feel like I have any glory at all. I feel like I am in a lifeboat trying to get other people to say I am important and valued, and even when they do, it feels as through their opinion isn’t strong enough to give me the feeling I need, the feeling that quit at the Fall. … In the context of the lifeboat (motivated by self-preservation), the characteristics of “other people” become inferior simply because they are not our characteristics. Logic is thrown out the window, or worse, used as a tool to validate our prejudices. Philosophies, ideals, and even religious convictions become weapons for slaughter. In my own life, I notice I validate people who like or validate me. When I say so-and-so is a nice person, what I really mean is so-and-so thinks I am a nice person. And if I sense a person doesn’t like me, or thinks he is better than me, my mind will find all sorts of criticism, noticing his temper or his dense intellect. After all, how many people do we dislike who don’t dislike us as well?
Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

Some of the discussion brought up in the service brought the idea out that if we don’t live by these lifeboat values then we might get crushed, fired or not make it in the world, or even be able to support our loved ones. These are valid concerns, I just think that when God called us to love by a different set of values; he understood that we would fail at the worlds, and to him that is ok. The point isn’t to succeed by the world’s standards.

So back to the movie. The reason I found Lars and the real girl so brilliant was not because of Lars or the doll, but because of how the community responded to Lars and the doll. See Lars lived in his brothers’ garage and his girlfriend Bianca lived in the house. Bianca was very religious and didn’t want to have sex before she was married. The brother and his wife thought Lars needed to see a doctor but the only way to get him near one was if Bianca was sick. So Lars would bring Bianca to see the doctor every week for special treatment while the doctor spent time with Lars just listening to him and being his friend. Despite what his friends and relatives thought, the doctor notes that Lars has a highly functioning personality and he threatens no one, the delusion that he is having is a sign that he is working through some personal issues and people should play along with it. The entire town eventually participates in the delusion by including her as a real person in the community. The clip I’m going to show is when the community really starts to embrace Lars and the doll into their lives and accepting him as a real member of the community.

There are communities all around the world called L’Arche communities. L’Arche is French for the ark in the biblical story of Noah and the flood. The following is quoted heavily from their website from this page.

L’Arche is committed to helping create an open, inclusive and compassionate Canadian society where every person is valued and can make a contribution. In L’Arche, people who have developmental disabilities and those who come to assist share life and daytime activities together in family-like settings that are integrated into local neighbourhoods. It undertakes Canada-wide educational and community-building initiatives that extend the values and vision of L’Arche into the wider society.

Each L’Arche community consists of a small number of households where people share in decision-making and each person contributes as they are able. L’Arche believes that meaningful work or day-time activities are very important to a person’s dignity. Many communities of L’Arche have day projects of various types. Some people in L’Arche may have regular jobs in the wider community, but most of the people with developmental disabilities who come to live in L’Arche need considerable support and find competitive employment is not an option. L’Arche seeks to provide environments where people can reach their full potential, lead lives rich in relationships of mutuality, and have a valid place in society where they can contribute.

L’Arche was founded in 1964 by Canadian humanitarian and social visionary, Jean Vanier. Distressed by the institutionalization and the isolation and loneliness of people with developmental disabilities, Jean Vanier invited two men from an institution to live with him in a small house. He called the house ”L’Arche,” a French word for ”the ark” in the biblical story of Noah and the flood. L’Arche grew quickly and spread around the world, attracting many young people who wanted to help and opening new homes and workshops. L’Arche began in Canada in 1969. Today, there are over 130 L’Arche communities in 34 countries on six continents.

These communities are revolutionary in nature and are doing exactly what we as the church are called to do. Now I’m not talking strictly about having mentally disabled people move into our spare bedrooms as much as I am talking about having a community that has an ethos of acceptance and seeing value in people beyond our typical shallow observances. What describes these L’Arche communities should also be describing the church, not just for developmentally challenged people, but for everyone. Unfortunately usually descriptions of big businesses or elite golf clubs sound a lot closer to the current state of the church.

This is what I believe our calling is when we call ourselves the church. That we actually believe and live as if our value comes from God loving us and giving us value and not anything else. What would a community look like that believed this? Instead, we constantly feel the need to compare ourselves to each other to push ourselves up higher in the lifeboat. I deserve this because I am this, or I don’t do this.

I think Jesus believed this and this is why everything he did usually involved someone who was outcast one form or another. Everything he did involved giving value to those that typically wouldn’t have any. Whether it be the disciples that he chose who were not chosen to follow other rabbis. Or the disease ridden people who people were afraid of. Or the poor who were constantly looked at as those who never tried. Or the tax collectors who were looked at as those who were robbing the poor. Or the prostitutes who didn’t care about themselves, were insecure and were dirty. Or the Pharisees who put pressure on their people to live lives that they themselves couldn’t live up to. You notice that every one of these people is our modern equivalents to pedophiles, TV evangelists, handicapped, the elderly, the drunks, the skanky girls at concerts. Yet we continually have an opinion about all these people that put ourselves above them on the lifeboat. So today is a message that is trying to do two things.

I’ll finish on this story. There is a parable in Luke 7 about a conversation between Simon the Pharisee and Jesus. Simon sees a prostitute cleaning Jesus’ feet and he gets upset because he believed that if Jesus knew who was cleaning his feet than he would have told her to stop. Jesus knowing what he was thinking asks him a question. Two guys have a debt, one is ten times bigger than the other and then both debts are cleared by the master, Jesus asks who Simon thinks would be more grateful. Simon answers (the way we would all answer probably) that the guy with the largest debt. Jesus tells him he is right and then drops a bomb. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Now at first we are under the impression that for us to love more we need to sin more so we can be forgiven of more. But really what Jesus is saying here is not that Simon didn’t sin enough, it’s that he never realized how sinful he was. See, Simon thought that he was ‘ok,’ that he had things together and that this prostitute was the dirtiest one around. He put himself above her on the lifeboat. Jesus points this out and acknowledges how much the prostitute can love him because she recognizes her sinfulness. She recognizes her state of need. Simon on the other hand didn’t get it. He didn’t understand how much forgiveness he really needed. He thought he needed to prove that he was better than her. He had created a scale and placed himself at the top of it, after all he was a Pharisee, the cleanest of them all. If Simon would only recognize that he is in the same boat as the prostitute, then he would realize his need for repentance and be able to love more. Relationships with God are ruined because we don’t think we really need all the forgiveness he has to offer and relationships with each other are ruined because we put ourselves on our scales and put everyone below us.

The problem with the church is that we don’t understand our own value or the people’s value around us. Simon had a hard time seeing the prostitutes value because he had convinced himself that on the lifeboat she would be the first to go before him and it was all based on shallow concepts of actions, money, ability or their lifestyle. This story is about how we see people and how we see ourselves. If we don’t see ourselves as in need for as just as much forgiveness as those that we despise or think we are better than, then we don’t really understand the value God has on us as humans and as people he loves. Our value comes from God’s love for us because we are his creation and him forgiving us despite how sinful we really are, not anything else.

I wonder who the people are with sex dolls in our lives? I wonder who the prostitutes are in our lives? I wonder who when we look at them we see weird odd people that we never would connect with and would only breed awkwardness? Who is it in our life that we should be extending our love to even though every part of us cringes at the thought of it? The point I don’t think is to see all these people with sex dolls as normal and go force friendships with them, instead rather to see ourselves as just as bad, or weird as that person. I don’t think the trick in valuing and loving people is really seeing what makes them special, but rather seeing yourself as no different and in just as need as forgiveness than them.

God, forgive us for we know not what we do. Forgive our pride and let us never forget where we have come from. Teach us to be forgiven, repentant and how to love. Help us see ourselves through the right lens so we may see others for who they really are. Thank-you God for giving us value and may we be constantly reminded of your love for us. May your love for us fuel our love for others. God forgive us but bring us into a new future, a future where we value people as you value us. Help us be a church that accepts the broken, weird, crippled, devalued and outcasts even when we don’t agree with them or understand them. Help us be a church that welcomes with outstretched arms because it’s part of who we are and not an agenda driven hug. Thank-you for giving us direction and hope for a new world and thank-you for sending your Spirit here and now with us so we can start that new world now. Amen.

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