The Way: walking the pain changes us

He doesn’t expect to be making this trip.

He doesn’t expect to be joined by these people.

He certainly doesn’t expect to walk this road with his son’s ashes strapped to his back.

Thomas Avery didn’t expect life to turn like this. But it did. And when he finally opens himself to it, he’s changed. Isn’t that always the way?

On the first anniversary of my mom’s death, I snuck an order of sweet potato fries into the movie theater to see “The Way,” the 2010 film about Thomas Avery, a father who travels across the ocean to claim his son’s body after his tragic death, and then, chooses the unexpected: he walks the Camino de Santiago in his son’s stead. “The Way” was written, produced, and directed by Emilio Estevez, and stars his dad, Martin Sheen. Estevez appears in the movie as well. He’s Daniel, the son who dies, whose cremains the father carries, and sprinkles handfuls of along the Camino. Going to see that movie, on that day of all days, seemed like the thing to do because if my mom had been alive, we would’ve seen it together. My mom adored Martin Sheen. (Can’t Jeb Bartlett run for President?) And Emilio Estevez? Well, I’ve loved Two-Bit Mathews and Andrew Clark since I was a tween. (For those of you not up on your 80s teen flicks, those are characters Estevez played in “The Outsiders” and “The Breakfast Club,” respectively — two of my favorites.) That night, in 2010, the fries spilled all over my purse, the movie made me cry, and honestly, I didn’t understand entirely why.  (About Mom’s Death)

I decided to re-watch “The Way” a couple of weeks back. Like “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Christmas, this movie is a seasonal must-see. It’s a Lent movie that’s not about Lent itself, but what happens to us when we go where Lent invites us. Side road: Lent is the 40 day period – not including Sundays – that begins with the ancient ritual of donning our foreheads with ashes on Ash Wednesday and ends with the over-the-top, life-affirming, death-will-not-have-the-last-word celebration that is Easter. There’s something about the Lenten journey that changes us: new life is born out of pain when we really, truly walk through it. Think of it like that old camp song, “Going on a Bear Hunt”: can’t go around it, can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go through it.  It’s the going through it that becomes transformational.

It’s the “gotta go through it” path that Thomas Avery chooses.  He could’ve just shipped his son’s body home, buried his son and all their father-son mess with him, and gone back to his routine, a routine that includes ignoring his grief about his wife’s death. But he wakes the coroner of a tiny French village in the in the middle of the night to say, “I want to cremate the body,” then he wastes no time. The next day, he begins the walk. As we watch him go, clumsily at first and far too fast, we see glimpses of our own journeys. I did, at least, and that’s when this movie started to make sense in a way it didn’t the first time round. We’re never prepared to dive into life’s pain. “The Way” calls to mind the unexpected trips we’ve made, how life can take sudden, sorrowful turns. In the faces of Avery’s companions, we recognize people we’ve met, and how sometimes, surprisingly, strangers become trusted sojourners. As we watch Avery haul his deceased son’s backpack down the Camino de Santiago, sprinkling handfuls of his ashes at this shrine and on that cairn of rocks, we see the baggage we carry through life and how we let go of it when we’re ready. It’s the transformational journey we take when we are willing to give suffering over to God be used as soil for growth, rather than allowing the suffering to bury us.

As Richard Rohr says, “One of the enlightened themes that develops in the Judeo-Christian scriptures and reaches its fullness in…Jesus is the recognition of the transformative significance of human pain and suffering…how to hold, make use of, and transform our suffering into a new kind of life instead of an old kind of death.” (Transforming our Pain) Perhaps, that’s what’s so powerful about this movie – we see ourselves in Thomas Avery and how we too have experienced “new life instead of an old kind of death”.

We didn’t expect to be making this trip.

We didn’t expect to be joined by these people.

We certainly didn’t expect to walk this road with the ashes of memories, misgivings, and missteps strapped to our backs.

We don’t expect life to turn out like this, but it did. It does. It will. And when we open ourselves to the journey, we’re changed by it.  That’s always the way.

Even if you don’t keep Lent as a practice of faith, watch “The Way” sometime before Easter, would you? “The Way” will give you a new way to walk through this life.


Blessings, y’all….

Pop Culture Preacher


P.S. A big thanks to Dr. Marcia McFee whose Worship Design Studio series, inspired by this movie, prompted this post.

P.P.S. You can catch “The Way” on Netflix. Do it.

P.P.P.S. Four days after I re-watched “The Way” one of my congregants told me she is walking part of the Camino de Santiago this spring – crazy serendipity at work! She agreed to write a post about it when she returns.

Oo-da-lally: Remembering Brian Bedford

Cancer — 4; British actors/musicians/creative geniuses — 0.

In a little over two and a half weeks, cancer stole Lemmy Kilmister (Yes, this pastor not only knows who Lemmy was, but also liked Motörhead. My husband, also a Rev., saw them in concert once…adjust assumptions accordingly.), along with David Bowie, Alan Rickman, AND Brian Bedford, the Tony-award winning, Shakespearean actor who will forever be the voice of Disney’s Robin Hood.

So, first, cancer can suck it.

Now, about Mr. Bedford…

Is it wrong to have a crush on a cartoon character?

He’s a total fox. Oo-da-lally.

Seriously, though, what’s NOT to love? Robin Hood is a social justice bad boy who overturns the greedy, corrupt system that perpetually robs from the impoverished people of Nottingham, and gives back to the very people it belonged to in the first place. How very Jesus-like of him! It reminds me of that story is in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 21, verses 12-17, where Jesus overturns the tables in the temple and thus, overturns the greedy temple system that took advantage of the poor. Here, read it. It’s quick, I promise.

Rob is constantly looking out for old ladies and little kids. He’s not at all pretentious. Once he got in with Maid Marion, he didn’t leave his old buds, the local clergy and the not-so-little Little John, behind. This is also very Jesus-like: JC hung out with all the “wrong” people. For added coolness points, Robin Hood is an archer, ranking him with Chewbacca, Katniss Everdeen, and Daryl Dixon. Oo-da-lally.

Disney’s Robin Hood does it all with an ever-so-charming British accent, voiced by the late Brian Bedford, drawing you in with every lilting utterance of generosity and hope. “Keep your chin up,” he says, after handing a destitute mom a small bag of gold, “Soon there’ll be happiness in Nottingham again, you’ll see.”

In December, my seven year old and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life together. It’s a tradition. She’s on her third viewing. She’s seen it enough to anticipate the swimming pool scene and sing along with “Buffalo girls won’t you come out tonight?” This year, while Mr. Potter crabbed on about the “lazy” poor of his town while undoubtedly upping interest rates on their home loans, lying, and stealing, the seven year old said, “Momma, Mr. Potter is the Prince John of It’s a Wonderful Life! He’s so greedy. We like Robin Hood.”

Yes, child, we do like Robin Hood.

We live in a time of immense poverty and increasing economic inequality. I see it every week as the low-to-no income, often homeless, people who come to my office asking for assistance are now joined by middle class folk who can’t make ends meet. Our system is broken and needs fixing. When Alan-a-Dale sings, “Every town has its ups and downs. Sometimes ups outnumber the downs, but not in Nottingham,” he’s singing about all the Nottinghams of the world. And there are plenty. Maybe you’re living in one right now. Look around your town. Who could be cast as one of the poor of Nottingham?

So, I say, to honor the life of Brian Bedford, when it comes to Disney flicks, forget the Princesses. (Well, I would’ve said that anyway…) Why dream of growing up to be someone who needs rescuing when you can be someone who helps rescue the world from itself, from indifference, our penchant for greed and our lust of inequality?

If we all did that, then “Keep your chin up. Happiness will return one day,” will transform from a longed for hope to reality.

Blessings y’all…PopCulturePreacher