Monday, March 30, 2015

The Overnighters



Palm Sunday signals in the liturgical calendar the tumultuous week called Holy. I say tumultuous because nothing says crazy more than a triumphal entry followed by a crucifixion. Holy Week reveals the cracks in humanity, man’s capability of othering. It is a time of turning inward and outward with terrible results.

Which leads me into a review for the documentary The Overnighters. Jesse Moss and his film crew followed a local pastor around as he searched for ways to accommodate the overwhelming tide of workers flooding a small North Dakotan town during the onslaught of the oil and gas boom. One minute you are hailed as a hero for showing compassion and the next you are the sacrificial goat left out to draw flies. The congregation knows all about the Golden Rule to do unto others, but certainly not for this long or not when the sanctuary carpet is getting ruined. My favorite line was when the pastor’s wife casually comments: I can’t wait for things to go back to how they were.

And I’m thinking, Honey, they never will.

Of course, there is so much that gets revealed. Not only the town’s growing animosity towards the homeless workers but also the pastor’s weaknesses. Beneath the evanescent willingness to take in strangers and help others, we see that he is driven by some unnamed need or compulsion. He readily admits, it is hard for him to say no. He also confesses that he is broken and, therefore, wants to reach out to other broken people. He feels that he understands them.

Unfortunately, some of the people he tries to help turn their back on him. Their brokenness goes beyond a warm bed, a place to shower, and other social resources. Some wounds can’t be healed so easily.

From the film’s website: “Like a punch in the gut. I can’t remember the last time a documentary hit me so hard… layered, provocative, and surprisingly intimate”
Leonard Maltin

We see through the course of the documentary a congregation unravel, a town divide, and a pastor come apart, his family face-to-face with inevitable change. Nothing will ever go back to how it used to be.

I think this is an important film—social agencies and congregations, Sunday school classes and catechism classes should sit down and watch it and then find time to discuss what they’ve seen. It’s about how we all start out just wanting to help and end up with so many questions about ourselves and our own motivations. We were able to get the movie from the library. Probably also available on Netflix.

CLICK here for trailer

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