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At home with the Millers

I used to watch a lot of films. We married in a liminal age; a time when people still rented DVDs, but selected them online and had them home-delivered like a very slow and ultimately inedible pizza. As frugal students we made meticulous use of our LoveFilm account, steaming through as many acknowledged must-sees of the cinema world as the speed of Royal Mail allowed. But I got old; fidgety; conscious of the finity of hours and more greedy to create than to consume.

I'd like to say that I preserve my sapped appetite for screen time for the cream of the cinema crop. That I ponder over the Watershed program in careful search of a foreign language arthouse opus worthy of my next quarterly big screen pilgrimage. That I attend in solemn state supplied with fine red wine and an elegant Moleskine notebook in which to neatly print my cannily-observed remarks for later contemplation.

But the sad truth is that my selection criteria has descended to "whatever's free on Amazon Prime and promises to be bad enough to watch in 20 minute chunks without feeling guilty for not doing the production team's efforts full justice". These I view on my laptop, normally eating some highly creative (*ahem*) variation on a frittata (my go-to format for lone dining), equipped with a biro and the back of some-or-other research paper I've just been reviewing for when I have thoughts.

The habit is peculiarly enjoyable. Turns out that 'mindless US comedies' are a goldmine for insidious patriarchal messaging ... and as such extremely fun to pick apart and get angry with. According to The Heat, for instance, police brutality is commendable as long as it is perpetrated by a female officer. From The Internship we learn that life is simply not worth living without alcoholic excess and the objectification of women. And then there's Get Him To The Greek, in which an attractive young lady performs aggressive sex acts on a non-consenting man for our amusement.

My latest watch was We're the Millers. A small-time drug-dealer gets cornered into taking on a large-scale smuggling assignment requiring him to cross the Mexican border with an RV stacked to the rafters with two tons of (what turns out to be stolen) marijuana. This ambitious brief is only made the more difficult by his uncomfortable awareness that, on his own, he looks every bit the archetype of 'drug smuggler'. So he has the bright idea of recruiting a 'family' – who could possibly suspect mom and pop Miller, two teenage kids in tow, cheerfully road tripping along on their 4th July vacay?

All set I was – biro, indignation, and frittata at the ready. The first couple of sittings did not disappoint. I was particularly (justly so, I maintain) unimpressed by a 'sexual favours' negotiation in which the humour was derived from the fact that it wasn't the woman whose services the border guard requested but the teenage boy. (As victories over patriarchy go this one sure ticks the Pyrrhic box). But by the third and fourth I was feeling uneasy. It was winning me over. I could see too much unanticipated heart to have the heart to gripe.

You see, unlike most films of its ilk, the brokenness of the protagonists was more poignant than it was comic. A ~40 year old deadbeat still living the muddled, hedonistic, bachelor life of his 20s; a stripper recently abandoned and defrauded by her lowlife boyfriend; a teenage boy whose mother has walked out on him; a homeless girl who has run away from her family for reasons never elaborated. Genuinely sad stuff – particularly in the case of the two youngsters, victims of heartbreaking neglect and (it's implied) abuse from responsible adults.

And what do these four hurting, muddled people do? On the road and on the run – they only go find themselves at home. Accidentally, as a by-product of pretence, their essential yearnings and their essential goodnesses and kindnesses react in an affecting explosion of mutual love and compassion and respect and support. By the end, we have them putting one another's needs above their own – above the promised financial pay-off, above their individual dignities, at willing cost to their personal safety.

It was all so very ... well, Kingdom's the best word I have. It tapped in to something of the character of God and His desire for humankind in a way that I couldn't dismiss ...
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (Psalm 68:5-6, NIV) [1]
He settles the childless woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord. (Psalm 113:9) [2]
Likewise the unlikely sub-theme of boundary-setting as a valuable component of a loving parental relationship. A particularly sweet, hidden smile flickers on Casey's face when her 'parents' chastise her for staying out without telling them – the delight that someone cares enough to worry about her behaviour. Again, very present in the Bible's description of God's father love:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
        “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
             nor be weary when reproved by him.
        For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
             and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:5-8)
God's heart for home ... for inclusion, for restoration, for wholeness ... His own father relationship to humankind (cf. Ephesians 3:14) ... it's right there right through the Bible, not just in the bits I've picked out here. So too is our aching corresponding need, though self-examination will uncover the same quickly enough.

It wasn't quite what I expected from a 'silly' passing-the-time Amazon Prime comedy crime flick. The news, on the other hand, I know to be full of reminders ... of the need, and lack. Especially in this crisis season of mass displacement; countless lost and dispossessed, temporarily or permanently wrenched apart from family, losing livelihoods and risking lives. The situation seems immense; the task of addressing it, paralysingly difficult. But the church, as Jesus' body operating in the world – we should, I think, aspire to God's 'grand design' to make and be home for those without. Among those moving for this is a wonderful organisation called Home For Good, committed to mobilising the church to get stuck in with fostering, adopting, and supporting those who do. They have been particularly on the ball with responding to the needs of unaccompanied child asylum seekers. Their project strikes me as profoundly Jesus-following – embodying the good news of the Kingdom in life-transforming action. I won't pretend – I don't exactly feel at the 'take a child into my home' stage, but Home For Good are all about collective response, and there are places to start even for the me's of this world ...

[1] The ESV, which seems to have become my translation of default choice, renders verse 5a) "God settles the solitary in a home", which sounds like something one does to an elderly relative, possibly to their chagrin. I'm pretty sure this unfortunate evocation does not correspond with the heart of the original verse!
[2] In this case, the ESV renders 'childless' as 'barren' which no doubt is a more accurate translation but again (for me) rather distracts from the sense.

[Thumbnail image cc from Bill Ward's Brickpile on Flickr.]