The Theology of “Up In The Air”

Posted: January 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

Fred Craddock tells the story of an ancient land where, once a year, they would sacrifice hundreds of oxen to appease their gods.  One day, on the eve of this national holiday, the king of the country is being carried through the streets when he makes eye contact with a single ox that is be slaughtered the next day.  The king halts his servants and orders that the ox be spared.  Later, one of his advisors dares to ask the king why he would spare only one ox out of hundreds and the king replies, “Because I saw that ox.”

We are surrounded constantly by tragic news (Haiti, Iran, etc.) but we are largely numb to it because it is not close enough for us to look it in the eye.  Before the devestation of Haiti, the news was filled with the woes surrounding double digit unemployment but for those with jobs and a comfortable routine it was just another in a long line of sad stories that we shook our head at before ordering a pizza.

Up In The Air is compellingly written, acted and directed film about Ryan, played by George Clooney, who fires people for a living and, while he doesn’t really seem to feel anything for his job, he loves the fact that his job keeps him in airports, hotels and rental cars-the only place he feels at home.  His only goal in life is to earn 10 million miles on American Airlines and enter the airlines most elite club.  His life is one of pampered detachment.

Of course there is a crisis-Ryan’s boss wants to begin firing people via skype, which would ground Ryan short of his goal and just as Ryan has met a fellow road warrior (played by Vera Farmiga) with whom he actually enjoys spending time. 

Yet, the real power of Up In The Air is packed into the scenes in which Ryan fires people who always protest even though they know Ryan has no power to help them.  Anyone who has read anything about the film knows that many of the  people being terminated in the film are not actors but people actually left unemployed by the latest recession.  Even though Ryan has been firing people for so long that it doesn’t really affect him anymore than it would a priest slaughtering his hundredth ox, many of us are finally forced to look the statistics on the front of USA Today in the eye.  May we all be challenged to move out of our comfortable routines and look those in the eye who are in pain and somehow, someway bring help and comfort in the name of King Jesus, who, though being God and knowing all the suffering that spanned his globe, is remembered by his followers to have looked directly upon those in pain and was moved to merciful action.

Grace and peace.

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