Pitying the Cowboy

There’s been some huge themes I’ve noticed in my first quarter at Fuller, one being narrative and the other being community.  At Fuller, you often hear about the Scriptures as a narrative, as a story. You hear about learning to see things in light of their being a story instead of a series of facts or a basket of concepts.  We are encouraged to live our stories, share our stories, listen to others’ stories.  Community is the other buzzword. One of the main texts for my systematic theology class was Stanley Grenz’s Theology for the Community of God. An excellent book; it breaks down the doctrine of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, etc. all through the lens of community. For Grenz, God in God’s self is all about community and created the world with community in mind. It’s really a lovely, postmodern idea and we’re starting to see it everywhere – it’s not just on Oprah anymore, it’s all over television and in books and magazines, and advertisements are using our awakened need for community to pitch their products to us.  The shaking of our country that started with 9/11 and has continued into this recession, paired with the slow spread of certain ideas in this new postmodern age, has opened America up to our need for community in new ways.  Rugged individualism is no longer prized, the life of a lone cowboy is not the glamorous dream it once was.  The postmodern American wants to be connected, wants to tell her story.  I just returned home from seeing the movie Up In the Air*, where this message is so clear. The charming George Clooney plays Ryan, whose job is to fire people, and who travels the country as a lone wolf, a hard and invincible cowboy of the jetset, racking up frequent flyer miles and loyal to nobody but American Airlines. As the movie unfolds, the audience is brilliantly guided into feeling pity for this poor lonely soul, so pathetic that he doesn’t even realize that he’s lonely. Unburdened by “stuff” and relationships, he is free to live as he pleases. But, as the line in the movie goes, “Life is better with company.” A watered-down way of saying, We all need community. The cowboys among us are not to be admired or emulated, but pitied and welcomed back into the clan when they decide to finally hang their hats and warm themselves by the fire with the rest of us.

Notice the tagline on the movie poster – “The story of a man ready to make a connection.”** Replace “man” with “nation” and you’ve got the movie poster for postmodern America. No wonder it’s received 6 nods for the Golden Globes….

Times they are a’changing.

*Do I recommend the movie?  Great directing, funny, good music…yes!

**Above, a picture of “a man making a connection.”


3 thoughts on “Pitying the Cowboy

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  1. ok this is totally racing off on a different track, but per your statement: “as the movie unfolds, the audience is brilliantly guided into feeling pity for this poor lonely soul, so pathetic that he doesn’t even realize that he’s lonely”, i am now wondering: if someone doesn’t realize they are lonely, is s/he actually, in fact, lonely? or do we think someone like ryan simply ought to feel lonely, because we figure we would feel that way in his place? and because as a society we think that being deeply connected is superior to being disconnected (and why do we think that)?

    these questions probably spring from my own somewhat complicated, and sometimes contradictory, feelings/thoughts about our need for community, and what community looks like. does it have to look the same for everyone? is there a prescribed level of connection that lets you know you have achieved real community?


    1. Grace, I love your comments! Very interesting. I know what you mean…I think that if a person does not know that he is lonely, and others are merely attributing loneliness to him, that does not make him lonely. However, I think it is possible for a person to be experiencing a certain set of emotions or restless state of being without having the appropriate language or self-awareness to label the feelings as “loneliness.” In the case of Ryan, the movie follows him in his slow awareness of his loneliness…or perhaps, in his suddenly sprouted and growing loneliness?


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