Can I make a confession? When I sit down to write about kindness, I don’t always put on worship music in the background for inspiration. Sometimes I just keep a Frank Capra movie streaming nearby with the volume turned low. I was a Frank Capra fan even before I met Steve Sjogren, though it isn’t lost on me that one of the reasons we became friends was because he is the closest thing I have met in person that resembles a Capra leading man. At times he is the perfect blend of Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper and a whole bunch of Lionel Barrymore’s Martin Vanderof. Yeah, for the record, Jimmy was not the leading man of “You Can’t Take It With You,” Barrymore was. Of course, I am a bit biased since I played Grandpa once on a high school stage.
You can’t be around Steve for very long without thinking about your favorite Capra movie. You can see that influence in a good deal of his work and I would argue the reason he connects so well with strangers is because he is very much like those Capra characters. He is authentically kind. It’s not an act. Even if he just met you, when you engage him in conversation, when you are in his orbit, you feel like the most important person in the universe. He would lasso the moon for you. Reflecting on this got me to thinking that maybe every church planter, if they want to be effective, should start watching Capra flicks, if they are not already fans. Let’s take a quick look at the things we can learn about Kindness from Capra.
Of course, none of Steve Sjogren’s endeavors would have panned out without his wife Janie. Zero. None. Carla understood man is utterly worthless without the real brains of the operation: women. For Capra, Jean Arthur was the embodiment of that dynamic. Every church leader better have a Jean Arthur in their lives. She was Capra’s favorite actress. He and his writing team loved writing dialogue for her because she exuded wisdom and strength in every role she portrayed. She was playing strong female leads that usually were far wiser than her male protagonist long before Hollywood was remotely progressive. My two favorite Arthur scenes both occur in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. The first occurs just as Smith has the unpleasant epiphany that the man he most esteemed, the elder statesman from his home, is not only hip deep in graft, but he intends to accuse Smith of something heinous, just to Smith from blocking insidious legislation and to obfuscate the real crimes of a cabal of corrupt politicians and thieving businessman. Smith runs out of a meeting, not only disillusioned, but crushed. He finds himself wandering aimlessly around Washington until he is at the Lincoln memorial. He looks up, reads the inscription and collapses, weeping with despair. Arthur’s character, the feisty Saunders, steps from the shadows and delivers one of the greatest pep talks in cinematic history:
“You’re a good man. Nothing can stand against a person that has the weapons of goodness and decency. Kindness is the only thing that can fix this cockeyed world. Your rightness will overcome their evil. I have a plan. Sure it is a forty-foot dive into a tub of water, but that is nothing for a man of faith and goodness.”
Are the hairs on the back of you neck up?
The second comes the next day as Smith is being formally sanctioned by the Senate for something he never did. His idealism walks him right into a trap. Smith can’t see what Saunders had seen. Like always, Arthur’s character is light years ahead. They are sharpening knives on the Senate floor. Even as he is busy trying to prevent a horrible miscarriage of legislation, evil is lurking both from corrupt politicians and a fourth estate that pimps it’s front page to the highest bidder. It is amazing just how prophetic Capra was in predicting the times we would live in. The only choice Smith has, coached by Arthur, is to go out on the Senate floor and face his fellow senators, because he still believes most of them are noble public servants. She sees the avarice of the Washington establishment wanting to first use Smith completely up, and then destroy him. She knows they plan to attack his character with false accusations while he is busy playing by Robert’s Rules. She has a choice, play dirty or embrace Smith’s drive to change the world with kindness. So what does she do? She hits her knees and starts to pray right in the capital rotunda. Her colleague thinks she has flipped out and starts running off at the mouth with negativity about just how bad the situation is about to be and she responds: “Shut Up! I’m praying, and you should too, Dez, that is if you know how.”
For the entire thirty-six hour filibuster, she alternates between praying fervently, coaching Smith through the pitfalls of parliamentary procedure, and cajoling some of the other journalists to actually do their jobs.
If you are a church planter and don’t have a wife or friend like Jean Arthur that knows how to organically blend prayer with action and wisdom on the fly, find one soon.
Coming Soon! Capra On Kindness Part Two: “What We Can Learn About Crafting Excellent Third Places From It’s A Wonderful Life.”