About a Boy: Community, Isolation and the Gospel of Jesus

In my opinion, all men are islands. And what’s more, now’s the time to be one. This is an island age. 

Now, you may very well dismiss this statement out of hand, pointing out the fact that nobody can do life alone. You may also identify with the cultural malady that such an idea points towards. Now is the time to be an island? Really? Well, what better time than now to live life alone? Anybody can work from home these days, emailing, blogging and twittering to replace personal interaction. If you can come up with two minutes of energy to sell on youtube and the blogosphere, then you can quite conceivably live a long and prosperous life. Alone.

Hugh Grant’s character, Will, personifies this island-man in the 2002 movie About a Boy (Universal). Will’s father was a songwriter whose efforts left him as a so-called “one-hit-wonder.” Although his career never amounted to much, the royalties from the one song were enough to allow Will to live that comfortable, lazy and unemployed life that each of us dream of every Monday morning. He was an island, impervious to the risks that are involved in work, career, and, most of all, relationships.

Will lived his life exactly like many of us would, had we been given the opportunity. The main difference is that most of us have to go to work, are in some ways compelled into career decisions and find ourselves in relationships with family, spouses and friends all unintentionally. The moment our job gets hard and unsatisfying we disengage and begin looking for a replacement. The same stands for relationships with friends and families. If we get right down to it, we can echo Will’s sentiment:

The thing is, a person’s life is like a TV show. I was the star of The Will Show. And The Will Show wasn’t an ensemble drama. Guests came and went, but I was the regular. It came down to me and me alone.

If we are honest, we can all admit to being very much like him in this way. Our stories feature an ensemble cast of revolving and replaceable characters. The main character, in my instance, Casey is the one constant. We are all familiar with island living.

Things start to change for Will when he encounters Marcus, an awkward 12-year old boy with a severely depressed, suicidal mom. Marcus’ father had divorced his mom and was largely absent from his life. Marcus awkwardly forces himself into the island life of Will, coming by his London flat every day after school to hang out and watch television. Over the course of a few months, Will finds that Marcus has finally broken through the walls that were so carefully constructed through years of isolation. Will, against his own plans, realizes that he finally cares for his young friend. The island has been invaded. Will was no longer alone.

Far from Marcus’ presence in Will’s life providing the solution, this new relationship only highlights the miserable state of mind his island living to which has brought him. He begins to discover that his self-interested decisions not only affect his own life but also those around him. Not only has Will been deprived of friends but in the process of isolating himself from the world, he has robbed himself of love that must be shared to be experienced.

It is only when Will intentionally forgets himself that he starts to really live. You should go and watch the movie and look for this moment.

Good. Now that you’ve seen the movie, did you see the part when the uber-cool thirty-something Will not only stood by young Marcus in his embarrassing public singing escapade? Of course you did. But then you also saw the part when Will closes his eyes and keeps on playing! Were you squirming with embarrassment for him in that moment? I know I was!

Will takes a punch (or rather a flurry of punches) for young Marcus. He stands in his place and is willingly shamed on his account. He takes on all of Marcus’ weakness because he loves him.

Will loves another person and for the first time in the story the tale is not about him. All of a sudden it is about a boy. For an hour and a half we have seen a story about a selfish man and now we see such a stark contrast. He gladly takes on Marcus’ shame out of stark and simple love.

Is this not just like what the writer of Hebrews described as Jesus’ mission? Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame… Will becomes a sort of Christ figure when he takes the ridicule and mocking laughs that would have otherwise belonged to his young friend. Jesus did this for us- and so much more. He not only took the shame of our guilt away but the guilt itself. He took not only the mocking insults of Herod, Pontius Pilate and an angry mob upon himself but the righteous fury of God himself upon himself. In simple terms, Jesus took not only our shame on himself but so much more, our guilt.

And what a wonderful picture of the Christian community, right? Is this not a striking picture of Paul’s command to “bear one another’s burdens?” When Marcus was weak, Will stood by him and invited the schoolyard taunting upon his own head. This is what the church is called to be, a community that bears one another’s burdens.

This is what life together looks like. We stand together through thick and thin. We are for one another simply because we know that God is for us.

And all of a sudden, we find it is a better time to be a community than an island. This is our reality because Jesus sits down at the right hand of the Father right now and prays for us to love one another just like this.

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