Reflections on Movies, Muppets, and the Power of Redemption.
I ran to the doorway just in time to see a 37’ white stretch limousine pull up to the theater. Others jumped forward with cameras snapping pictures like paparazzi. The driver, wearing a black suit and sunglasses, stepped out of the limo and stood at attention. “They’re not ready yet,” he said in a deep gravely voice. I might have been intimidated had I not spent an hour on the phone with this gentleman just the day before; he desperately wanted to drive this limo run. It was personal.
Finally, the driver opened the back door and my son Max jumped out, his blue blazer waving with the cold March wind. And then one by one the VIP guests, five of Max’s buddies and four staff members from his day program, climbed out of the limousine. Their smiles were worthy of the silver screen.
It was time for a Movie with Max.
When Renee first approached me with this idea, she was holding her two-week old daughter in her arms. Renee had read about our painful experience in a movie theater at Christmas, and she wanted to do something. “Do you think Max would like it if we rented a theater?” she asked, the sunlight pouring through the church windows and lighting up her hair like red autumn leaves. I’d never met this woman before; I thought she was just an idea person. But one week later Pastor Paul was giving a charge to our congregation.
He was mid-sermon, preaching from Romans, chapter 15, when he began to recount our recent experience at a movie theater. It was when Max became startled in the previews and he cried out. Other moviegoers had no patience with Max, and they ran us out of the theater. As Paul told the story, I could feel my eyes well up. And then he changed his tone. “Leaving that all behind,” Paul said with a smile, “Renee from our church got this great idea.” Paul stepped away from the podium and toward the congregation. “She rented out an entire theater so that friends of Max can watch the Muppet movie with Max.” Paul knew this was more than a movie; it was an opportunity for the church to show love, especially to those who are often pushed aside. “If you’re a friend of Max,” Paul’s voice boomed, “you’re going to the movies, whether you like Muppets or not!”
Everyone laughed. And everyone bought tickets.
For three weeks Renee and I exchanged messages like giddy school girls. Suddenly, everyone wanted to help turn a painful story into something beautiful. A local limousine company even donated the best of their fleet, and this driver pushed others aside to get this assignment. He has a grandson with autism. It was personal. Everyone from the church and community gave their very best. And they got back more than they gave.
Max and I found our seats in the theater and the lights dimmed for the start of the movie, Muppets Most Wanted. My heart was pounding and Max had little beads of sweat on his brow from his limo ride. I scanned the crowd of people around us, everyone wearing a blue wristband printed with the words “Love to the Max.” 500 people came out for this night, many with disabilities, and even more without. There were people we’d never even met. No one came into this theater hoping for a perfect experience. Instead, everyone came into this theater hoping to give someone else a perfectly wonderful experience.
The theater was remarkably quiet, until the Muppets burst into their first song. The music catapulted Max right out of his seat. He jumped forward into the center aisle and began to leap and prance before the entire audience. Dance solo is his specialty. It was exactly where we stood just months before at Christmas, in another theater, when the patrons hurled cruelty toward us. But not this time. This time hearts were open. And Max knew it too. Everyone burst into applause as Max bounced down the aisle grabbing hands and pulling others into his dance. There was lightness in the air that spread like a fragrance. It was irresistible. And all around us we could hear the noises of autism playing in surround sound, the music of our beautiful kids who don’t often use words. It sounded like praise music.
As the movie came to a close, the Muppets began to sing what was clearly the grand finale. No one wanted the evening to end. Suddenly, people flooded into the aisles as if they were leaving. But instead, they began to dance. Everyone free. No armor. No barriers between us.
I looked around in awe and wondered if this is what Jesus envisioned when he said, “Love one another.” When He spoke those words, did he picture this very moment in a theater, when love would take our breath away and lift us out of our seats. When His love would win. God’s story of redemption is written across our lives over and over again.
I turned to see if Pastor Paul was still standing in the doorway where he had been for most of the movie. It had been easy to spot him; he never stopped smiling. He started this church some 25 years ago, a church that has become home to us. But I couldn’t see past the blur of arms and legs floating through the air. The movie screen cast a light on every face, showing the beauty, as if God’s image was glowing from within. I threw my arms around Max and breathed in the sweetness. All of us in the theater, with the popcorn and the Muppets, with our abilities and disabilities, with our hearts wide open, had become as one.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5
Written by Emily Colson