The End of the Beginning

Just about everybody I’ve ever known has been to the movies. Everybody except a highly virtuous girl I knew in High School whose parents forbid her from gazing upon the idolatry of the silver screen. "Anyone with half-a-mind for God knows," they said, "Hollywood movies are of the Devil." They were probably right. Movies are probably the cause of the downfall of Western civilization.

But like with most things in America, people don’t tend to listen to the caution of prophetic parents these days –  even my friend, the virtuous girl. Rumor has it she ditched her North Carolina mountain roots and now works for a big movie producer in California. In hindsight, her story seems predictable.

We’ve all seen movies like her story. Ones you knew the ending five minutes into the thing. But most movies aren’t like that today. Movie creators have figured out we’re too sophisticated to buy a cheesy plot that’s so obvious at the beginning. They know movies are supposed to have a beginning, a middle and an end. And the ending better be good or watch out for rotten tomatoes!

Back in ancient times, you know, when people could go to the theater to watch a movie, it used to annoy me when a quarter of the way into the movie, some yokel sitting in front of me with a hat decided it was time to stand up and slouch his way up the aisle to refill his monster-sized Mountain Dew and get his girlfriend another pack of Jujubes. This always seemed to occur about the same time, in the section of the story that might be called the end of the beginning.  I suppose this guy had seen enough of the movie by that time to know what it was about, and, unlike the rest of the viewing public, he was so smart he didn’t need to see the middle to figure out how the thing was going to end. The end of the beginning was an end, wasn’t it? Time for a break.

Take the Wizard of Oz, for example. The story begins with Dorothy down on the farm with Aunt Em worried over threats by Ms. Gulch. When Dorothy decides to do something and runs away from home, a tornado stirs up. Talk about girl power! Immediately, Dorothy and Toto ride the flying house and land in the Land of Oz.  When Dorothy opens the door – now in color – we know we’ve come to the end of the beginning.

Now, I ask you. Is this any time to dip out of this movie? I don’t think so. Even after drinking 22-ounces of Coke, eating two boxes of Milk Duds and half a barrel of buttered popcorn, I was not about to skip out of my seat at this point for a pit stop no matter how loud nature called. I was sure I was going to miss something important that I needed to know in order to understand the rest of the story. If I’d missed the arrival of Glinda the Good Witch at the start of the middle, who would I think she was at the end of the movie? And missing the beginning of the middle, would the ruby slippers mean anything to me at the end?

Apparently, I’m strange. Some people today don’t want to understand anything. If movie theaters opened tomorrow, they would flock to them even at risk of spreading Covid19 just to say they could. These are likely the same people who don’t mind wearing a hat to a theater or walking up and down the theater aisle whenever they feel like it, even during a romantic love scene.

By now, you realize I’m not really talking about the movies. I’m talking about America in the year 2020. We’re living in a weird time that feels like a movie in a lot of ways. Even the best Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t have come up with the conflation of storylines, alternating personalities, and dramas now playing out in our communities:  Covid19, economic stress, George Floyd, civic unrest, and an impending and contentious national election. In this moment, we’re experiencing the end of the beginning of a new age, the end of a leg of a long-reaching story commanding our attention like a firebrand car chase, the end of which is far from certain.

How we behave during this time promises to have a strong bearing on the world in which we and our children will live tomorrow.  As Christians, we know that God is the author of our story no matter what the world around us throws at us or does. But scripture teaches us that we do not live to ourselves. We live to serve God and to serve our neighbors. What that means is, we all live in the presence of others during this unprecedented time of frustration and inconvenience. We are all a part of a diverse community as we enter the middle phase of the Covid19 new normal. And for once, it really matters what we each do and the example we set for others, hat wearers or not. So, let us all sit down, open our eyes, ears, and hearts and settle down a bit to let the Great Storyteller write a new world-healing story of grace under pressure with our lives.

Pastor Frank Waugh
Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Granite Falls, North Carolina