Tuesday, August 12, 2014

5 Lessons for Pastors (and Others) from Dead Poets Society...Besides Carpe Diem


I was blessed to come of age among romantics, dreamers, artists. My closest friends in my teen and young adult years were deep thinkers and lovers of beauty. We asked big questions, dreamed big dreams, and looked at the universe as a grand home in which we were free to sprawl and traipse with muddy shoes. But we were also awkward, self-conscious, and searching. When the movie Dead Poets Society came out, we found in it something of an autobiography.

Here was a group of boys entering manhood, seeking comfort in their own skin while clothed in ill-fitting family armor. In Robin Williams’s John Keating they found a teacher, mentor, and friend who gave them permission to embrace and unleash the life-passion pounding in their young hearts. Mr. Keating didn’t place pressure on them to be themselves; he simply offered them encouragement to find themselves.

Dead Poets Society was, providentially for me and my mates, released only days after high school graduation. In my mind it set a course. I was going to be a composer, a poet, a professional romantic. I grew and aged and moved from being one of the schoolboys toward the role of the teacher—or at least some combination of the two. Then I became a pastor.

But I never forgot John Keating. I’ve continued to be inspired by this character, both as he was written and as Robin Williams played him. I hope that, at least in some ways, I am a pastor in the way that Keating was a teacher. I try to seize the day, I’m a lover of words, and when I preach I even sometimes tell the congregation to “huddle up!” But there are deeper lessons. In that spirit and in honor of the beautiful lifework of Robin Williams, I offer a few of the ways this plays out.

1. Pastor with Passion
Mr. Keating teaches from the heart. He speaks and listens intently. He teaches purposefully. He whistles the 1812 Overture. He stands on his desk and sounds his barbaric Yawp!...and encourages others to do so. Nothing is half-hearted.

The authority of the King and his kingdom mission are not to be undertaken lightly. What fuels our passion? What saps our passion? Feed the former and starve the latter.

2. Know What You’re About
In a private conversation with Neil, it is discovered that Keating has a significant other who is in London. Frustrated in his own struggle for identity, Neil says, “You can go anywhere. You can do anything. How can you stand being here?” Mr. Keating replies, “Because I love teaching. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

We must guard against double-mindedness and distraction, against giving our hearts to others who are more than willing to tell us what we’re about, and against a culture that is eager for us to be disappointed with ourselves and to buy their greener pastures.

3. Be Original
Examples of Mr. Keating’s “be original” message and methods abound. A key example of both is in the courtyard scene, in which Keating takes the boys out of the classroom (which is typical and also illustrates the point) and encourages them to take a stroll in the courtyard. Soon, some are in line, marching in step, as others stand by and clap in rhythm. They all conform to each other and to some indefinable pressure to be “right.”

Each of us is a God-made original, with our own ways of being a human and a pastor. We do well to find and follow our own unique manor in living our call and plying our craft.

4. Work Broadly
Keating leads the boys onto the athletic field. Each is given a line of verse to recite boldly (see #1) as they kick a ball, all to the accompaniment of a record playing exalting music. Sport, verse, music…comradeship. Another time, Keating reminds them that, ”… medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Pastoring is broad—teaching, counseling, scholarship, preaching, management, social justice, monasticism, and on and on. It reaches across the ages and sprawls into eternity. And Jesus’ kingdom mission reaches even more broadly. How blessed we are to engage, equip, and empower God’s many-splendored people as they bring God’s kingdom into their own disciplines and setting.

5. Stand for Truth
I can’t watch the end of Dead Poets Society without being stirred to tears. Who can?! As Todd finally emerges from his fear and “quiet desperation” to take a stand (literally) on behalf of his disgraced, scape-goated mentor, and as others follow his example, Mr. Keating smiles in satisfaction that the lessons he has tried to convey to them have indeed taken hold.

Like other professions, and like the young lives in Dead Poets Society, the pastor is haunted by the dark temptations of conformity, of waywardness and alienation, of going through the motions or doing whatever it takes to “succeed.” Too many of us have left behind the Truth of Jesus for a misguided and misleading message that big, rich, and famous are God-blessed, while small, poor, and anonymous are God-forsaken. We attend conferences and graph the metrics of J. Evans Pritchard, PhD., while Jesus is urging us onto our desks. 

Pastor with passion. Know what you’re about. Be original. Work broadly. Stand for truth. Find the barbaric yawp in your soul and let it out—not just once but always. Look to Jesus, that resurrected “sweaty-toothed madman,” as he charges ahead, and follow him into the thick of it, into the thick of life itself. “O Captain! my Captain!”



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent observations my friend. Quita

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