“Saving Mr. Banks” and traumatic echo – hunger for a happier ending

I’m probably going to own Saving Mr. Banks, the story-behind-the-story of Walt Disney’s making of the movie based on her story Mary Poppins.

Using the old but effective present-to-past flashback technique, the story of author P.L. Travers‘ (née Helen Lyndon Goff) childhood is projected into the story of her masterpiece.   Disney had promised his family that he would make the story into a movie and doing so proved an adventure of persuasion to the point of sacrifice.  But the film was made.

The interplay of the songwriting brothers Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman and Travers was very well portrayed, with their liberties with the story and the songs being written presented very tenuously, and withdrawn at the first whim of Travers’ objection.  But by the end, Travers was delighting in the joy of the compositions and the fit into her story.

I don’t know how real the story of Travers’ childhood being superimposed into Mary Poppins is.  I do care, but I care more about the power of redemption afforded by it.

In Saving Mr. Banks Travers’ father, Travers Goff, struggled as a worker at a bank and struggled worse with alcohol, slipping into depression and dying when she was still a girl in Australia.  He was unhappy with seemingly everything except being her father.  And she knew his love, but was tortured by his destruction.  The character of Mr. Banks is seen as an obvious portrayal of her father and his pain in trying to be a professional banker is a key target of the “ministry” of Mary Poppins in the story.

The echo is loud and clear.

I recommend watching the movie; I intend to again and again.

A repeating pattern in my ministry and personal life is the echoes of past trauma that keep getting replayed and replayed.  I believe it’s universal, though clearly some have a worse problem here than others.

I’ve sought for a reason that I (and others) do this.  I believe it’s because I want to “get it right” this time; I want the story to have a happy ending.  Of course it does not, at least in my memory, recalling the trauma or shame or pain of the past.

But Walt Disney pulls off a good ending for Travers.  The scene where she sings along with Lets Go Fly A Kite is a view of real healing.

There is redemption.  There is a different ending.  And we can have it today.

Stories abound with endings like this; we love them because we need them.  One I love is the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.  The analogous scene of redemption in that story happens after Joseph’s father, Jacob, has died and his brothers now fear for their lives because of the horrible way they treated Joseph, selling him into slavery years ago.  But he says this and their is deep healing:

Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

So for me, the challenge is to see good being accomplished in the evil intentions, words and deeds of people and even in circumstances I consider painful.  That”s how to resolve traumatic echo.  And it’s seen in God’s good purpose which is thankfully not thwarted by anything.

Leading in balance – Ruling by fear

I don’t like to work for or with people who scare others into doing things.

It bothers me; and I generally stay away from it when I am called upon to lead, as I am and have been for years.

Instead, I do my best to enunciate the goals of the organization/institution so that people sign up for those, and when they do, they sign up for what I ask them to do.  And it works a good deal of the time.

But there’s a chink in my armor, a hole in my thinking.  I knew about it a long time ago but it’s being trumpeted over my leadership style by an entire brass section lately.

There are those who won’t be ruled any other way than fear.

I’m reading through War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy as I do my daily time on the treadmill (43 minutes, count ’em).    It is such a long book with so many vignettes and scenes that I hope they don’t turn into one big mushy mess in my mind, but for now there is one I recall clearly:

[begin scene with commentary]

The French army has invaded Russia.  They are on the move.  The gentry – which is the class that Tolstoy writes about the whole book – is fleeing the countryside.  The serfs, at that time little more than lifelong indentured servants, sense the disorder to come and begin throwing off their bonds and start to drink and rebel.  Princess (meaning rich lady) Mary is stuck because of this; no one will drive her in a carriage away from her dead father’s estate in the country to safety in Moscow or Petersburg.  She despairs.

Into the scene comes riding Nicholas Rostov, one of Tolstoy’s main heroes in the book.  He is a Russian hussar (calvary soldier) and is dressed as such.  He finds Mary, whom he remembers as the sister of one who was engaged to HIS sister Natasha.  He is infuriated by the behavior of the peasants and goes out, two against 20 (?) and intimidates them back into serving the princess and her attendant.  She gets a ride away from danger and her heart is won by Nicholas (I haven’t seen how that will turn out yet; Tolstoy’s love plots are incredibly twisted).

[end scene with commentary]

Now I work with no Russian 19th century peasantry and I think I’m thankful for that.  Not thankful for having no contact with the poor, but for the dissolution of the institution of serfdom that kept the poor that way.

But there are those who, like those poor serfs in the story, will take advantage of any let up in authority, any sense of “getting away with it” or living for their own agenda, given a lack of strong consequences for doing so.

I have not dealt well with them and I’ve paid the price of latent and more severe consequences, which is no fun for anyone.  But I’ve learned and am getting better at it.

So there is a place and a time for ruling by fear, for some will be ruled no other way:

Romans 13:2-5 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.  For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

One of the problems I have (and we have) with this principle is the obvious abuse of authority.  We cite examples of that faster than almost any kind of relational phenomenon.  But abused authority doesn’t negate the need for it nor its proper and helpful use.  Can I read that part of the passage?  Can we?  Or do we only see the wrath and feel the spanking?

Now, this has to be tempered with the blessing of free choices – and they do exist in my life at least – we have in the 21st century.  If my job is oppressive, I can leave.  And not everyone will fit in every organization.  As I have said many times, if I am not someone you can work with in submission – and that’s not a dirty word – then 1) find someone who you can work with in that capacity or 2) start your own institution, organization or tribe.  I begrudge no one who moves on like that.

For sure, I will rule by fear over some.  Not oppressively but with resolution and applied force.  Because it’s the only way in which the organization will properly function.