At the Movies: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Scripture: Mark 14: 36
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
June 17, 2018

Since it is Father’s Day, I would like to share with you one of my most memorable stories about my father. When I was 10 yrs old, my mother one day took a walk in the neighborhood.  Usually, she was gone for about 45 minutes, but on this particular day, an hour had passed, 2 hrs had passed, 3 hrs had passed and she still wasn’t home.  My father and I were worried and so we jumped in the car to look for her.  We drove and drove and drove, but there was no sign of mom.  Finally, we decided to go to the end of our street where the canyon began.  Just maybe Mom took a walk in the canyon.  My dad said, “Look you stay here just in case she happens to walk by and I will go and look in the canyon.”  Well, 10 minutes went by, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes later there was no trace of Mom or Dad.  I began to worry that I was going to be without a Mom or Dad.  Finally, some friends from school were riding their horses out of the canyon and they had this total look of terror on their faces.  I got out of the car and said hello.  They were trembling and they said, “Jill, there’s this bum that’s following us.”  I said, “A bum?  No way.”  I had never seen a bum in my neighborhood and I began to think maybe it was the bum who got Mom and Dad.  They said, “Jill, look, there he is!”  I turned, looked, and said, “That’s no bum!  That’s my dad!”  I laughed and laughed, my friends were embarrassed, but I laughed.  The truth of the matter is my dad looked like a bum. He often didn’t comb his hair, he always had stubble; he had food stains all over his white t-shirt; he had holes in his oversize trousers and his shoes sometimes didn’t match.  My mother would say, “Honestly Harold, you’re really not going out in public looking like that, are you?”

“What’s wrong with the way I look?” he would ask.  And truthfully, I didn’t care about his ability or lack of ability to dress himself so that everything matched.  I just cared about his availability.

Availability. It is a key issue in our lives. Are we available for our loved ones? It is that very question on this Father’s Day that prompted me to choose the movie “Goodbye, Christopher Robin” for this morning’s message.

“Goodbye, Christopher Robin” is a true story. This cinema for the soul is about author and playwright A.A. Milne and the creation of Winnie the Pooh. A.A. Milne had a son whose real name was Christopher Robin. Christopher Robbin had a teddy bear named Winnie the Pooh. A.A.Milne fought in the WWI. He suffers from war trauma, which is triggered by loud noises and bangs. When he hears bees buzzing, he remembers the flies surrounding the corpses of fallen soldiers. It is into this life in London, England that Christopher Robin is born in 1920.

A.A. Milne’s flashbacks of the war push him to move his wife and young son away from the deeply triggering London to the quiet countryside. There he attempts to write a book that is against war.   Milne does not have much time for his son. He is not very good with young children. In one scene in the movie, Milne finds the infant Christopher crying in a stroller at the bottom of the stairs. As he puts Christopher in the crib, he comments weakly to his wife that he hardly knows which end of the cradle to put the baby in. His wife stares blankly at the wall and mumbles how Christopher’s birth practically killed her. A.A. Milne nor his wife are too good with babies or children. But as Christopher Robin grows into boyhood, he is not as concerned about his parents’ ability or lack of ability to relate to children, he is more interested in his parents’ availability to him. Christopher’s parents are emotionally absent from his life. The parents hire a nanny who raises Christopher.

A.A. Milne experiences writer’s block out in the countryside. His wife despairs of her husband’s lack of writing progress and bolts back to the London parties she loves. Not soon after, the Nanny must leave to look after her ailing mother. Suddenly, father and son are thrown together for days on end. Then the real magic happens.

Making himself available to his son, he takes Christopher Robin for walks in the woods and tells in tales of the wild animals that live there. It’s not often that the father-son relationship has a significant cinematic moment, but it does here. (Show scene of father and son in the woods together.)

The moment A.A. Milne makes himself available to his son that a relationship between the two becomes possible. And it is in making himself available to Christopher that finds inspiration for his writing. The imagination of a child, the wonder of nature, the close relationship formed in those few weeks leads to the creation of Winnie the Pooh. One of the most beloved children’s books of all time. A best seller. The book brings joy and lightness to post WWI London. (Show movie clip “One Hundred Acres” and the creation of “Winnie the Pooh.”)

Availability. It’s a key issue in our lives. Are we available to our loved ones?  I think that Milne finally understood that message for in his book, Winnie the Pooh says such things as:

“You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”

“If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus one so I will never have to live without you.”

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh. “There, there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

“Oh Bear!” said Christopher Robin. “How do I love you!” “So do I,” said Pooh.

Availability it is a key issue in our lives. Interestingly, a psychologist figured out that if we were to take a closer look at Winnie the Pooh and his friends, we would discover that what they lack in ability, they make up in availability. It’s been said that each character struggles with some kind of personality trait. Lacking ability.

Piglet is Pooh’s sidekick and is deemed the “worry wart” of the group. His catch phrase is “Oh d-d-dear” and his ears twitch when he gets anxious. In psychology terms, Piglet suffers from anxiety.

Tigger is a most loveable and energetic character. But he bounces off the walls, is easily distracted, and constantly is in trouble. In psychology terms, Tigger struggles with ADHD.

Eeyore is gloomy and pessimistic. Eeyore is said to suffer from depression.

Rabbit is obsessed with keeping his garden in order. Rabbit sometimes loses his temper when things don’t turn out perfectly. Rabbit is said to struggle from OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Owl is regarded as the smartest and wittiest of the group. Though he’s wise, he is often confused and disoriented and sometimes misspells his name “W-O-L.” Owl appears to be dyslexic.

Winnie the Pooh is fun-loving and caring, but overly obsessed with honey. He is willing to do whatever it takes to get it including putting himself in danger. This is described as excessive attachment (Wallis, A.,“The Deeper Meaning Behind Winnie the Pooh,” Nov. 10, 2015).

There you have it. Not a perfect group. But what they lack in ability, they make up in availability to one another. And you can watch that for yourself in the new movie that is coming out on August 3rd simply entitled: “Christopher Robin”. In that movie, Christopher Robin has a mid-life crisis. He’s struggling to balance a dead-end job with time for his family. In the midst of this struggle, Pooh shows up. Together they return to the one hundred acre woods and the entire gang with Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit, and Owl reunite. The joys of childhood have been extinguished with Christopher Robin and now it is up to his childhood animal friends to help show him the way again.

Like “Goodbye Christopher Robin”, this new movie, “Christopher Robin” playing in a theater near you on August 3rd is all about availability.

And so, too, is our scripture passage today. In this passage from Mark, Jesus calls God “Abba” which translates as “Daddy.” I know there are some among us who see God as a warm, loving mother, maybe with a big bosom in which to lay our head. There are others who see God as Spirit. Neither male nor female. Spirit like the wind cannot be seen, but we can feel spirit. Yes, some prefer to refer to God as Mother; others prefer God as Spirit, but Jesus refers to God as “Abba.” Abba is an Aramaic word that can best be translated as “Daddy.” It was a common term that young children would use to address their fathers. It signifies the close, intimate relationship of a father to his child, as well as the childlike trust that a young child puts in his “daddy.” God here is not viewed as the Almighty One, the distant deity far removed from our lives, but God as “Daddy” is viewed as one who is up close, personal, and available. In calling God “Abba,” Jesus says that the best ability is availability.

It is the same for us, too. Our best ability is our availability. Like Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit, Owl, or A.A. Milne himself, we may not be perfect, but we can make ourselves available to one another. Ultimately, our best ability is our availability. Amen.