Monday, March 16, 2015


In pondering what to write about this morning, my thoughts were triggered by my watching the Academy Award nominated movie Whiplash. The movie tells the story of a young man studying at one of the foremost music conservatories in the nation. He's a drummer and wants to be a successful jazz drummer. Only 19 he's admitted into the top jazz band in the school, led by a rather sadistic teacher played powerfully by J.K. Simmons (an Academy Award winner for best supporting actor).

Andrew Neiman wants to succeed.  He wants to become a great drummer, but Fletcher, his teacher, both encourages and discourages him. The teacher demands a perfection only he understands.  There is violence of language and physicality in the relationship.  So driven is the young man that he practices until his hands bleed.  He wants to be the top drummer. He wants to impress. But can he? Near the end of the movie, after Andrew has been kicked out of the school for actions on his part (I don't want to reveal too much) and Fletcher has been fired from his teaching position because of his abusiveness, the two meet in a bar where Fletcher is playing. There Fletcher tells Andrew that he pushes students beyond what is expected so as to move them toward greatness.  Andrew asks him whether there a line beyond which one can go too far,  

The movie raises the question of what it means to be driven by the need to succeed. I would guess that there are personal reasons that drove Andrew. His father was loving and supportive, but others in the extended family don't seem to understand what it means to excel as a jazz drummer. Being a football player -- that has value, but not being a musician.  As I thought about the movie and its focus on power and its ability to lift and destroy, I began thinking about the broader aspects of life. Why do some people feel driven, and others don't. Why do some thrive under pressure and others don't.  I began thinking spiritually -- is it right to be driven to succeed?  I look at biblical characters and many of them, including Paul appear driven by something. Paul seems to need to undo his actions as a persecutor. He desires to turn the world upside down, and yet he also understands that God's "grace is sufficient," that "power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).    

At the same time Paul is not one to give in easily.  After all, it is Paul who writes to the same Corinthian church:
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  (1 Corinthians 9:24).
As the season of Lent begins to wind down what does it mean to rest in the grace of God, so that whatever we do we do to the glory of God?


Mark Powell said...

Are you thinking here about inaction as acedia? I sometimes see in myself an overload of ??? and options, so that what must be done becomes unclear. It may be helpful to keep our actions simple. Pray. Help the one in front of you. Pray. Keep your head down. Pray. Trust His grace. Pray.

Robert Cornwall said...

Mark, the movie caused me to think about my own drivenness -- a times -- and the call to let it go in discipleship. Whatever we undertake, it would seem that grace is central.