Monday over Coffee: "Unreservedly"

Published November 28, 2022 by Greg Funderburk

Like it more unreservedly.
— Christopher Nolan

After finishing law school and coming home to Houston in my mid-twenties, I started attending church, but did so in a very tentative, reserved, and on-my-own-terms kind of way. About once, maybe twice a month, I'd arrive, and just as worship started, I'd find an empty pew near the back of the Sanctuary. I'd follow along in the hymnal as everyone sang, maybe humming a bit during the refrains, then listen to the sermon somewhat engaged. As the service edged to a close, I'd check my watch as if I had somewhere else to be and quietly slip out the back. I might nod earnestly to an unavoidable usher or smile pleasantly at a congregant in my path, but my general strategy and overarching goal was to avoid any and all conversation that might lead to being cornered into some commitment I didn't want to take on board. Having said all this, I liked going. I liked being there. My arrangement worked out just great—for me. It went on for several years like this.

I'm reading a book right now about one of our generation's most fascinating movie directors, Christopher Nolan. The book, The Nolan Variations by Tom Shone, recounts a series of dialogues between Shone and Nolan about Nolan's compelling films, including my favorite one, Interstellar. While this remarkable movie can be categorized as a science fiction epic—a high-stakes rescue tale set deep in space and one that tackles complex scientific ideas like the nature of time and relativity—at its core, it's really a cinematic hymn about the enduring bonds between a father and daughter, the remarkable human capacity for hope, and most strikingly of all, the dimension-crossing eternal power of love itself.

In the chapter that focuses exclusively on Interstellar, one entitled "Emotion," Shone explains how Nolan evokes feelings of awe in the film with well-crafted shots, astonishing imagery, and an arresting musical score perfectly tailored to the movie and its themes. But then Shone turns a more critical eye on the film's intricately layered story, recounting the critics' complaints that there were holes in the plot and that Nolan had wrapped everything up a little too cleanly, a little too easily—too triumphantly—at the end. As the conversation between author and director proceeds, Nolan, one can tell, becomes a little impatient with what he views as poorly grounded criticism, eventually telling Shone that people who really like the film don't see it this way.

"But I do like the film," Shone insists.

"Like it more unreservedly," Nolan replies.

Sometimes, I sense God, with a graceful smile, might be saying the same thing to us: "Look at the imagery all around you," I imagine God saying, "Its color and its glory. The stars above. The wonders to your left, to your right, and at your feet. Listen to the music that soundtracks your days—in the forest, at sea, in your symphony halls, and through your invisible airwaves. Consider the resonant artistry of the science that dictates how your world and the galaxies spin. Even taking into account the unexpected twists and turns you might consider plot holes in the storyline of your own lives, gaze at the whole before you. Yes, there are things to criticize, and some of your complaints are quite legitimate. There is suffering. Things don't always go according to the script. From the beginning this has been the case, but I am the great director and composer, even the great improviser when this is required. And all shall end, if not so easily, triumphantly nevertheless."

Maybe it's counter to our natures to commit to anything without reservation—to arrive early, engage fully, and sing with abandon—but maybe we should try it. Maybe our desire to experience God on our own terms rather than on God's is exactly what's holding us back. Maybe it's what is keeping us from fully comprehending and embracing God's rescuing, enduring, dimension-crossing, eternal love for us and for all of Creation.

God — Rid me of my faith's reservations. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk