The Overnighters (2014)   1 comment

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Above:  The Title Card of The Overnighters

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

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THE OVERNIGHTERS (2014)

Directed by Jesse Moss

Rated PG-13

1 Hour, 42 Minutes

The Overnighters is a powerful documentary which reminds me of George Carlin‘s critique of the American Dream:  we call it that because we must be asleep to believe it.  The setting is Williston, North Dakota, an oil boomtown which the film presents as a place dominated by residents fearful of job seekers moving into the community.  The rapid change includes the presence of more job seekers (including desperate men with criminal records) than jobs.  Where will they sleep until they find work and housing?  And what, if anything, should the city government do to extend hospitality to them or to make the town a less inviting place?

The biblical commandment to extend hospitality is an order to save lives.  Violations of that command reside at the heart of Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah) and Matthew 25:31-46.  The Good Samaritan–an oxymoron in the opinions of many people in the original audience for the parable–extended hospitality to the brutalized traveler in Luke 10:25-37.  In that parable the main question is, who acted as a neighbor to the man on the road to Jericho?  The conclusion is that the Good Samaritan was that neighbor, and that we who encounter that story have a mandate from God to go and do likewise.

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Above:  Jay Reinke Being Introspective

A Screen Capture via PowerDVD

Pastor Jay Reinke of Concordia Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) went and did likewise.  During the period of about two years (until the City of Williston shut down the Overnighters program) more than a thousand people slept in the church building and hundreds more slept in their cars, which they parked in the church’s parking lot.  The Overnighters program prompted much hostility in the community, opposition in the church, an exodus of members from the congregation, strained Reinke’s marriage, and filled much time he would have spent with this family otherwise.

The members of the Reinke family–all of them remarkable, generous, compassionate, and Christian people–made themselves vulnerable.  They did the right thing at the right time at the right place–even taking some of the Overnighters into their home.  Jay Reinke, the main figure in the documentary, admits to being a broken person (all people are broken, he says accurately) and questions his motives.  He also makes difficult decisions–sometimes making the wrong decisions–and finds that former allies have become bitter enemies.  Reinke is a mere mortal, for better and for worse–more of the former than the latter.  Who of us always makes good decisions, especially in difficult circumstances?  And who of us acts consistently out of pure motives?  I am not Reinke’s judge.  I conclude, in fact, that his greatest strength as a minister is his awareness of his weaknesses, for that helps him to recognize the potential in people and to reach out to assist them.  His cracks let the light in.

The documentary takes a dramatic turn in the final minutes, after the Overnighters program has ceased.  Reinke’s wife, who has known for years that he struggles with same-sex attraction, learns of a fairly recent infidelity which has led to extortion.  This revelation leads to Reinke’s public confession and the termination of his time as pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church, for The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is officially homophobic.  The documentary informs us that Reinke is seeking work in the oil fields.  He has, in fact, found work as a salesman in that industry.  He can support his family, but he is not using his greatest gifts to do so.

The recent decline in oil and gasoline prices, which constitute good news for many of us, constitutes bad news for the oil industry in North Dakota.  I wonder how this reality will affect Reinke and many others working in that industry there.  I also hope that he will find a professional position which will permit him to support his family and to utilize his ministerial vocation, for that is where he belongs.  His story deserves a happy conclusion.

The Overnighters challenges me to ask myself if I would have acted hospitably in the context of the events of the documentary or if I would have acted out of fear.  Then it challenges me to look around where I am and ask myself if I am acting hospitably in the city where I reside.  Affirming pious principles is easier than acting according to them.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 26, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EMILY MALBONE MORGAN, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

THE FEAST OF FRED ROGERS, EDUCATOR AND U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

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  1. Pingback: Guide to Posts Regarding The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (1847-) | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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