Lessons from ‘Grand Torino’

I think I’ve said it before, but I love Netflix. I’ve been waiting months for the movie Grand Torino to become quickly available and the wait came to an end yesterday. I watched it with Lynn last night and I loved it. The language was rough (understatement), but the story was great. At one point, Lynn said, “Crap, that’s what you’re going to be like when you get old.” She’s probably right, but without the constant stream of racial slurs (I hope).

I loved the movie because I saw myself and the church in it. Clint Eastwood’s character is rough, angry, mean, racist, violent, bitter, rebellious against God and the church. If you looked at the lists of vice of Galatians 5, Eastwood’s character epitomized many of them. Yet, there was a stir of goodness in him also. He rescues a young man from a gang, helps him get a job, takes him under his wing, teaches him, gives him tools. He loves this family to the point of laying his life down for his friends in an act of love and courage that redeems a situation that looks to be without hope. He was, as his Hmong friend kept telling him, a good man. In Eastwood, I saw me and my struggle against sin and self (the flesh). Granted, it’s all exaggerated in the movie so as to help us see it (in most of us these attitudes lie just below the surface – in the movie the skin of the character was peeled back so his attitudes were observable). dLike Eastwood, I’m a good man. It’s not because of anything I’ve done or am doing. No, it’s the Spirit’s regenerating, renewing work in my life has made me a child of God, a saint – a good man. He’s making me a loving, kind, gentle, peaceful, bold, courageous man of God (I have a long way to go).

Unfortunately, there is still that other aspect of me that clings on and I daily struggle to kill. It shows itself more often than I like to admit. It isn’t winning, thank God. But it’s frustrating, not only to me but to those around me who feel the brunt of my fleshly impatience, anger or bitterness.

Yet, you also see in this movie that Eastwood is accepted and loved by those around him (not everyone, obviously). He’s loved and welcomed into the Hmong family (and the broader Hmong community) despite his rudeness and overt racism. I see this is a beautiful picture for what the church should be. In the church, when it’s being the body of Christ, the community of grace it should be, I’m accepted despite myself. I’m surrounded by a group of people that see the Spirit’s work in me and encourage it – calling me to be better, not in my own strength, but in the power Christ gives. And, as a part of the body, I’m to be doing the same thing for others. It’s easy to get turned off by people’s sin and rough exteriors, but as a recipient of grace I’m to extend it to others also, seeing in them the work of the Spirit, affirming it, encouraging it and helping them along as they grow to be the ‘good men/women’ God is shaping them to be.