I’ll admit that whenever a movie touches a place deep within my soul my obsessive/compulsive tendency kicks into high gear.
If you’re catching my drift, then you won’t be too startled to hear me say, You absolutely must see “Get Low”!
The movie is set in the Tennessee hills in the 1930s. In an early scene Robert Duvall, playing the part of Felix Bush, an ornery backwoods hermit, gets news of an old friend’s death. Thus, prompted to make plans for his own, Felix heads into town, enters a local church, plunks down a fist full of cash, and tells the preacher, “I need a funeral.”
After some conversation, the preacher says, “What matters is that, when you come to the end of your life, that you’re ready for the next one. Now have you made peace with God, sir?”
Unflinchingly, Felix looks him in the eye and says, “I’ve paid.”
The preacher replies, “Mr. Bush, you can’t buy forgiveness. It’s free, but you have to ask for it.”
Grabbing his money and defiantly stalking out without saying a word, Felix leaves no room for doubt that he’s a man who intends to personally pay for his sins.
Later, another preacher—an old friend and the only one who knows the truth of Felix’s hidden sin —asks if he’s confessed and sought forgiveness. Felix replies, “I built my own jail and put myself in it. And I stayed in it for forty god d— years. No wife, no kids, no friends, no nothing… Forty years. Now, if that’s not enough…”
The preacher replies, “You know it’s not.”
Again, Felix storms away. Later, all alone, he murmurs, “They keep talking about forgiveness. Ask Jesus for forgiveness. Well, I never did nothin’ to him.” The meaning to me is apparent: “So why would Jesus do anything for me?”
When a crowd gathers for Felix’s “living funeral” a weary, worn, and broken man who’s now on the brink of being set free says to the crowd, “I did something I was ashamed of; something I couldn’t ever fix. But I didn’t want forgiveness; I needed to hold on to what I did, to be sick from it every day of my life… This was all my fault… I’m so ashamed… I would like forgiveness now, if possible… and then I don’t mind dying for real next time, but please forgive me.”
I love this movie. Like Felix’s soul, mine was once ripped apart by haunting memories of blunders in my past. For years I was dogged by the nagging fear that I was hopelessly flawed and yet I was determined to make things right. However, Felix’s freedom and mine came only after telling the ugly truth and acknowledging that I couldn’t fix it.
These words from my latest book Breaking the Rules express the longing in my soul that this movie rekindled:
My highest hope is for all of us to stop trying to fool others… we need to become better known for what and who we actually are. Perhaps a good place to begin would be telling the world – before the world does its own investigation – that we’re not as bad as they think. We’re worse. At least I know I’m worse.
Let’s get real. For every mean-spirited, judgmental thing some preacher has said, I’ve thought something nastier, more hateful and more cutting about one of my neighbors. For every alleged act of homophobia by my fellow Christians, I’ve done something stupid to demonstrate my manliness. For every brother or sister whose moral failure has been exposed, I’ve failed privately… If we really believe the gospel we proclaim, we’ll be honest about our own beauty and brokenness, and the beautiful One will make himself known to our neighbors through the chinks in our armor—and in theirs.
“Get Low” was a great reminder that my soul’s only hope is to “Get Real,” and remain that way.
Do you find yourself trying to earn forgiveness—from Jesus or from others? What might drive you to that?
What are the ways that God is inviting you to “get real” after reading Fil’s reflection on “Get Low”?
Fil Anderson is Executive Director of Journey Resources, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He’s a frequent speaker at conferences, offers individual spiritual direction, and directs retreats and workshops around the country. He's the author of two books, Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.