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Embracing life (The Englishman)

I suppose it's not for everyone, but I watched a movie not long ago that I found not only to be utterly delightful but seriously inspiring as well (far more than I imagine was the intent of its makers). The complete title of the movie is The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. It’s been around a couple of decades and you can stream it on Netflix. It’s a comedy, but as with all comedies that are well done, you'll find yourself appreciating the truths that bubble up to the surface.

It's the story of a small village in Wales (Ffynnon Garw) during the First World War. The war has brought hardship and loss; those who haven't fallen are on the battlefields of France or working long hours in the local mines to supply the war effort. Connected with the war to a lesser degree, two English cartographers show up to take measurements of the area for map making purposes. In the course of their surveying, they measure the local mountain and find it to be 984 feet high—16 feet short of the 1,000 feet that is required to be recognized as a mountain. What the people of Fynnon Garw have is a hill, and hills don’t make it on to maps.

The villagers are devastated! The mountain is a source of great community pride and this bad news heightens the sense of disintegration they already feel due to the stress of wartime conditions.  In a mixture of humor and pathos, the narrator tells us, “How could we face those who survived when they returned to find no mountain? While they had fought the Germans, we had lost the mountain to the English?”  Something must be done!

What they decide to do (minor spoiler alert), is to haul dirt up to the top of the mountain until it measures 1,000 feet. In a transcendent scene the village’s elderly minister tells his parishioners;

And I will build that mound and dedicate it to God. I will build that mound in memory of our loved ones who will not return from the war. And I will build that mound as a humble echo of the great mountains the Lord has given us. And I will build that mountain in celebration of the joy our mountain has given us. And I will build that mountain knowing that the Lord God is with me.

This is humanity at their best—coming together for God’s glory and the good of others.  But that can’t be someone says, “God’s not interested in something as silly as adding enough dirt to a hill to make it a mountain.” Really? He was pretty interested when some people built a tower (Genesis 11). And this is the opposite of Babel! They want to build the mountain for noble reasons.

There’s something profoundly sad about disciples who can’t laugh, or think that everything worthwhile must somehow be connected to a church building. What God is interested in is life—in all of its depth, breadth and glory. This is brought home in a resounding way when the minister says, “Therefore, even though it is a Sunday but especially because it is a Sunday, you will see me immediately after this service climbing Ffynnon Garw with God’s soil in my hand.”

Living life fully is practicing community, celebrating God’s gifts, and responding to opportunities and challenges. Disciples need to understand that in embracing Jesus they are embracing life!   

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