Short term 12

Not really a sermon but I used this in place of a sermon on 29th June 2014. The reading I chose was John 14:1-13.

The kids were away on Friday night so my wife and I could choose the film we wanted to watch. Freed of the kids desire for action/adventure or romantic comedy we could choose something a little more quirky, maybe something a little more challenging. It was difficult to fond anything just flicking through the films BlinkBox suggested so I visited a list of the best 50 films of last year and my eye was caught by an entry for Short Term 12.

This is a low budget independent film which only had a very limited release in UK. It’s set in a home for troubled teenagers in Los Angeles. The main characters is Grace one of the care workers and the story focusses on her relationship with her boyfriend and three of the kids.

In the opening scene Grace and her co-workers are having a conversation outside the front door of the facility. Sammy, clearly having distressed, bursts out of the house and starts running for the boundary. The policy is that staff can restrain the kids within the grounds but can do nothing if outside so Grace and her boyfriend Mason set off in pursuit. They catch Sammy who is distressed and violent and they just hold him safely and securely while his anger passes. Once this has happened Sammy reverts to a sad and introverted young boy who meekly allows himself to his room where he just lies motionless on the bed. No-one knows what thoughts are passing through his mind.

Marcus is one of the older residents who is approaching his 18th birthday and the time when he will have to return to his physically abusive mother. His emotions are focussed by the death of the goldfish that he has nurtured. It is grace who finds him slumped on the floor after he has attempted to commit suicide and reacts quickly to save his life and get him to hospital.

Finally a Jayden comes as a new resident. She’s quite hostile to the other kids believing that she’ll be returning to her father before long and that there’s just no point building relationship for the short time while she’s there. Grace discovers that they share a common love of drawing and through this starts to build a relationship. Jayden opens up enough to tell Grace a children’s story she has written. Grace interprets this of evidence that Jayden has been abused by her father and is able to support her to come to terms with this.

Throughout this we see Grace as the central person in the small team of care workers within the facility. Her position comes from her personal qualities. It is quite clear that her position within the staff hierarchy is quite a junior one.  It is her that is bonding most powerfully and constructively with the kid though. For several of them she is the only person that can communicate effectively with them. The only person who they can see cares for them. She is … Grace – a gift of God which, when people experience it, allows them to make sense of their lives and gives them reassurance.

But this story of Grace as a provider of comfort and a giver of life is only one side of her character. As the plot progresses we come to realise that Grace is mixed up and vulnerable herself. We are shown glimpses of the intimacy of her relationship with her boyfriend but also of these unravelling for no apparent reason. It emerges that she herself was been abused by her father who was imprisoned for what he had done and is shortly to be released. In one scene when Jayden has been cutting herself Grace shows her the scars on her legs where she cut herself as a child.

Grace is who she is, and can offer what she does, because of the experiences she herself had been through and has survived. We begin to realise that the strong relationships she is able to develop are born of empathy and understanding. Out of her brokenness she is able to create wholeness.  Her brokenness is not just a thing of the past. It is a thing of the present. She is still broken, she still needs to come to terms with her own experience, but in the depths of this turmoil in her own life she can still bring wholeness to the lives of others.

The final scene mirrors the first one. Grace and her co-workers are chatting outside the front door. Once again Sammy bursts through the door and starts running for the entrance. Grace and the others aren’t quite so quick off the mark this time and it looks as if Sammy is going to make it to the entrance and to freedom. At the last minute, however, just as he’s going to get there, he veers off course and allows himself to be caught. We realise that he’s not been running to break free. He’s running to be captured. Captured and held in the arms of the one person who understands him and  loves him. Captured and held in the arms of Grace.


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