A Film for Advent 2: To Kill a Mockingbird

Patience

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
Psalm 13:1

Miss Maudie Atkinson: Jem.
Jem: Yes, ma’am?
Miss Maudie Atkinson: I don’t know if  it will help saying this to you… some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us… your father is one of them.

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes have trouble waiting for things. Perhaps especially with the arrival of Wi-Fi, iMessages, and same-day shipping, more and more I expect the world to be at my beck and call. A “TLDR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read) culture may be encroaching on your conscience even as you read this post, and if that’s the case, I assure you, I am the worst of offenders.

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This restive posture pervades our lives and beings, affecting how we desire, treat one another and think about the world. Nicholas Carr presciently observes in his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, “Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.” The cost, according to Carr, is that over time we lose our neurological capacity for “deep processing,” the willingness to sit with complex issues (religious extremism, refugee crises, systemic racism, etc.) for extended periods, turning them over in our minds, seeking counterpoints, embracing nuances.

Thanks to the World Wide Web, we have unprecedented breadth of access to life on this planet, and we are rightly horrified, convicted and moved by what we often find trending. However, it takes much more than access to plumb the depths of these issues via the web; it takes intense focus, almost tunnel vision to ward off the myriad distractions built into our news sources, not to mention our own waning attention spans. Even in the middle of writing the above sentence, I heard a song I liked, compelling me to go online, find the song’s music video and send it to some friends (Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” in case you were wondering). Warding off this deluge of distractions– hyper-links, banner ads, auto-play kitten videos– in the hope meaningfully reflecting upon a given topic takes significant discipline.

Depth of conviction is easily won, easily expressed, and can wield immense social power; depth of understanding is hard-earned, taking years of patient diligence, and the measurable outcomes are often slow in coming, incremental, proximate. The season of Advent invites us to take a long-view of those things that most grip our souls. It reminds us that injustice’s roots run deeper than we often care to admit (in our societies and in ourselves), but reassures us that the Great Uprooting has already begun.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas describes the season this way, “Advent is patience. It’s how God has made us a people of promise in a world of impatience.” We are impatient, and in a sense we ought to be. There is so much brokenness in the world around us that it’s natural to want to cry out in indignation and defiance. However, without a deep and patient commitment to a cause, it’s likely that all our yelling will only leave us hoarse, burnt out, apathetically “waiting on the world to change.” Patience, in this sense, is not passive but stalwart, focused, and often unpopular.

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The character of Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) from the 1962 classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, offers as compelling a model for this kind of patience as we have in film (and in literature). A small-town Alabama lawyer in the midst of the Great Depression, Atticus is asked to defend Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man, who is accused of raping and assaulting Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox Paxton), a white woman. Atticus decides to take the case, knowing full well that this decision would be exceedingly unpopular in certain pockets of the town where deep conviction without the desire for deep understanding held sway. He knows that this decision could even put his children in harms way. And yet, he moves forward, building a strong case he knows has little chance of winning in the local court.

Atticus knows the game is rigged, but instead of resorting to vigilante justice or dissolving into apathy as soon as things become inconvenient, he submits his whole self into the task at hand. Perhaps the most poignant image of Advent Patience in the film comes the night before the trial, when Tom is moved into the local jail. A lynch mob descends on his cell, only to find Atticus sitting calmly in front of it, armed only with the book he was reading. This is what deep conviction looks like embedded in a patient pursuit of deep understanding.

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  • How do the themes of Justice and Mercy interact in this film?
  • How does Atticus handle his sometimes-conflicting vocations of lawyer and father?
  • What might be made out of the juxtaposition of the mob scene and online shaming culture? Is there a particular issue where we might be part of the mob?
  • Do you know other Atticus-like people, living in a consistent direction over a long period of time?
  • How does patience play into this film in areas I did not discuss above?
  • What might the transformation of Atticus in Go Set a Watchman teach us about the fragility of the human spirit?

 

Drew Masterson is an Associate Editor at The Washington Institute, as well as an Assistant Producer at Citygate Films.

Images: Flickr: Galaxy fm, Maia Valenzuela

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  • EHenderson

    Thank you for this image of patience! So needed today.
    “Atticus knows the game is rigged, but instead of resorting to vigilante
    justice or dissolving into apathy as soon as things become inconvenient,
    he submits his whole self into the task at hand.”