There are a lot of film buffs in this world, folks who can’t wait for the next Star Wars or cult classic, and who sometimes stand in line for hours just to get in to the first showing of a new “sensation.” I’m not one of those; I dislike sitting in theaters where someone six feet seven inches sits in front of me, the backlight of the cellphone in the next seat is blinding, and a child persists in kicking the back of my seat. I prefer to sit at home and wait for it on Netflix or Amazon, when I can sit in my rocking chair with a lap robe, snack, and a cat on my lap to enjoy a peaceful viewing.
I don’t watch many movies, but I do have favorites. Probably my greatest one is a 1951 black-and-white perpetual favorite, “The African Queen.” Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) was very upright and uptight missionary, who had to be rescued from a bad situation by a rather uncouth and definitely irreligious boat captain, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart). It’s quite an adjustment for Rose’s character, and she frequently resorts to rather pithy statements to attempt to alter Mr. Allnut’s rather rough character traits. One of the pithiest and greatest comments she uttered was, “Human nature, Mr Allnut, is what we were put on this earth to rise above.” I can still hear that line spoken in a very proper British accent as she looks down her nose at the man who undoubtedly saved her life.
The beauty of the statement is that I can see a lot of truth in it. We all have a human nature inside of us, consisting of many factors including our upbringing, our environment, our heredity, our physical and mental health, educational level, financial status, and our class in society. “The African Queen” is a meeting of stiff and starchy middle-class English morality versus a lower-class but much more freewheeling and happy-go-lucky personality. Personality clashes abound, but gradually each finds the need to change, to rise above their differences to not just wreak havoc on the Germans in the area but to survive themselves and, ultimately, to fall in love.
We show our human nature every day. We are judged or at least categorized by those with whom I come in contact, by what we say, do, and how we act. We learned certain things from our families, some things are just ingrained my shyness or extroversion. Some are fond of books and reading while others would rather spend time kicking around soccer balls or playing baseball. Some seem to have a rather perverse human nature who relishes hurting people and animals, and who may or may not, depending on many factors, either grow up to be a serial killer or find a way to change their predilections. Human nature gives us some adaptability and a lot of choice in the matter, and those choices are what are important.
As Christians, we are brought up to believe in God, in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, although the spirit gets relatively less publicity than the former two. We go to Sunday school and we dutifully absorb the stories like Noah’s Ark, where Noah obediently builds a large boat to save those whom God deemed worthy of salvation, namely his family and animals of various species and numbers. We don’t hear that much about Noah not really wanting to do this and grumbling the whole way, that is, until the rain started coming and God told him to close the door. He built the ark, endured his neighbors’ jibes and sarcastic comments, but he did the job, and that’s what we’re supposed to learn.
We learn stories about Jesus, about how at age 12 he went to the temple with his parents for a very important holy day, and, as they were on the road for three days, all of a sudden, the parents missed the boy. What is always confusing to me is how can a parent forget a child, even 12-year-old child and travel such a distance without realizing that Jesus wasn’t with them. It seems they should have noticed and stayed to look for him, or that would have been the natural thing for parents to do. Jesus was showing his human nature by willfully staying behind and talking to the rabbis and the elders and amazing them with what he knew and what he observed. Two different kinds of human nature the focused child, and the forgetful parents, give a portrait of a very unusual family.
One of the messages of Jesus was that we needed to overcome our basic human natures and rise above them as we listened to his parables and his stories and learn to subdue the parts of us that don’t work to benefit others for glorify God. It’s hard to change; just ask anybody who’s been in a 12-step program. They will tell you it is very difficult. It is becoming more and more difficult all the time, because our culture has changed, and it seems now that is all right to be selfish, it’s all right to put “Me first,” and it’s all right to ignore others if they get in our way or if they aren’t better than we are.
That’s not the way Jesus wanted us to do. It’s the result of our own willfulness and it is not loving one’s neighbor as oneself or taking care of each other. I wonder, if Jesus came and stood in front of us just out of the blue, and we responded, how would we look in his eyes and feel we had done our share, or done our best to live up to what he asked us to do?
I think this week I will have to work with Miss Rose’s line about rising above my human nature. I don’t think I can become a saint; I think I’m so far beyond that possibility that it’s ridiculous, but if I try, even just a little bit harder, who knows? I may find my human nature can rise a bit higher than I originally aspired to. And who knows, I may become a better Christian because of it.
Image: Still from The African Queen