Dear Friends of Second Church,
Earlier this week, Liz and I went to see “Eighth Grade,” a wonderful new movie that explores the daily life of a girl in the final weeks of middle school.
It is a movie in which “nothing happens,” and yet everything happens; on one level, there is no particular drama to the main character’s life, and yet on another level, the drama is profound and intense.
“Eighth Grade” explores all the awkwardness of becoming a teenager in cringe-worthy detail, from acne to bathing suits to living on a cell phone and learning about life via YouTube clips. (Be forewarned: that last one is not for the faint of heart.)
And of course, there is the all-too-familiar meanness of other kids and the anguish about whether you’ll ever fit in, anywhere.
It’s not easy watching — and don’t try to drag your eighth grader to go see it with you — but I highly recommend it.
It’s a reminder that the drama of becoming ourselves is filled with all kinds of peculiar milestones. From the outside, those milestones may seem utterly ordinary, scarcely even noticeable. Yet for us, they matter in ways we can scarcely put words to. A life in which “nothing happens” (or in which little has happened yet) still has plenty of drama. Plenty of becoming.
As a film, “Eighth Grade” may well torture you with your own memories of that drama. Watching it, you can’t help but see scenes from your own past playing out on the split screen of your mind.
But it will also remind you of the power of kindness — the incredible gift of someone who seems poised and perfect admitting their own nervousness and vulnerability. It acknowledges how momentous it can be when someone offers welcome for us that does not ask us to pretend we’re cool…because we’re cool enough just as we are.
In this, the movie is a powerful testament to the longing we feel when we’re searching for our tribe, and to the power of starting to find one.
And so, although it is not a “Christian” movie by any means, it might actually be the most Christian movie I have seen in a year.
It is not a film about a religious awakening.
But it names the longing of the human heart and the quest to understand the riddle of ourselves so honestly, without sentimentality or moralism. Its truths, such as they are, emerge from the messiness of living, which is the only way in which any of us, Christian or not, learn to live. And it affirms the power of authenticity, which is to be found only in turning away from the alluring prospect of assuming a fundamentally false self, and then in finding the strength to accept that we are accepted, even as we are.
Kierkegaard would love this movie. Other Christians should, too.
However it is that you are making it through the heat, humidity, and the many rainy afternoons of this summer, I hope you find your mind and heart growing, a sense of connection to your tribe, and a reminder of the power of stories to guide us.
See you in church.