Insights: "At" vs. "Along and Through
C.S. Lewis was famous for the distinction he made between looking at something verses looking along and through.1 If someone is looking at a film for example, it is viewed as external, impersonal and seen through their own lenses. They stand outside the film making judgments on its merit and art. Looking along and through however is an entirely different experience. In this way of viewing one enters and participates or inhabits the film thereby “living the story”. These two ways of “seeing” result in totally different experiences; one is creative, rich and productive while the other is unimaginative, sterile and barren.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Looking at the new Lionsgate film Salmon Fishing in Yemen one may see only a two and a half star Hollywood Romance starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt and directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Looking at the film one may view it as coming with a political agenda, an attempt to generate a good story out of the never ending crisis in the Middle East. After all one of the main characters says at the beginning “we need a good news story from the Middle East, a big one.” Okay here it is. Looking at the movie another temptation is to see everything in the light of the sacred/secular split; with a favorable spin on Islam in the East and an unfavorable one on Christianity in the West. For doesn’t another main character say “I don’t know anyone who goes to church anymore, on Sundays we go to Target.” Got it …Post Christian World; end of story. All these are versions of looking at the film, which results in chalking the movie up to sweet entertainment at best or letting it provoke you to anger, either way nothing creative or life giving is in it. But what happens if you look along and through? What happens if you actually enter the story and allow it to speak to you?
The opening scene is under water in a world of fish, salmon to be exact. Yes, at one level this is a film about salmon but the opening scene beckons you to enter the world of salmon and to see the salmon as a metaphor for human beings. The salmon are in a stream but so is someone else. The first shot out of the water is of a fisherman and not just any fisherman. Standing with his back to the camera in a flowing white robe, casting for salmon is a Royal Fisherman. This Royal Fisherman has a “project” which requires the help of one man and one woman. In the next scene Harriet Chetwode-Talbot and Dr. Alfred Jones are discussing the Royal Fisherman’s project; Salmon Fishing in Yemen.
Harriet Chetwode-Talbot represents the Royal Fisherman. She describes him to Dr. Jones as a visionary unlike any of the other wealthy clients she has known. She is a believer in his project, not because of his unlimited resources but because of his person. He is someone who wants to bring life into a desert, to bring restoration and community to his people, to be a fisherman not a member of the world class system. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot invites the unbelieving and skeptical Dr. Jones to meet the Royal Fisherman himself, so together they travel to his favorite estate.
Arriving at the estate Dr. Jones spends the most pleasant day he can remember. His toy fishing pole from his office is replaced with the very best salmon fishing rod and reel. He spends a glorious day fishing for real salmon in a magnificent setting, so unlike trying to snag the picture of his boss on his office door. That evening he is provided with splendid garments and led to a sumptuous feast at the Royal Fisherman’s banquet table. The offer is life if he will open his heart.
What has he been living in up to this point? Well death really. A life of unbelief in anything but a mortgage and the “safe” bureaucratic job which he hates. He takes solace from his lifeless and loveless job and marriage in feeding a few fish in a tiny pond in his back yard garden. (He really is a salmon specialist meant for taking care of salmon but this is the best he can manage). He is not different from all the other gray suits swimming downstream until he makes a turn . . . to get out of himself and into life and helping others.
A comparison is being drawn between Dr. Alfred Jones’ mundane life and the life of farm-bred salmon. They live in stagnant pools not running streams. They are bred in captivity for death; to end up in a freezer until they are taken out and disposed of. They are much more plentiful and easier to get than the real salmon; the kind that run upstream.
Death the Enemy
The “New Creation Project” looks like it will succeed. The farm-bred salmon survive the transfer to Yemen. What’s more Dr. Jones’ belief that it is in their DNA to choose life, to run if they are released into a stream of living, running water proves correct. For Harriet and Fred the project has “saved” them and all is well until the enemy of the Royal Fisherman releases his greatest weapon. Death comes flooding in, in many ways. The vision, the salmon, hope, love, life, faith all appear lost and wiped out. It is a Wadi washed out by death.
Until the most beautiful scene in the movie, this is so worth the price of admission. A giant regal looking salmon leaps out of the river of death and into life! Soon there are others and the “New Creation Project” of the Royal Fisherman requiring the help of a man and a woman is back on track with one major difference. This time they will start small with just a few salmon and bring others in so it will be a community project. The Royal Fisherman will make fishers of men.
Good News out of the Middle East
There is one very big “Good News” story that came out of the Middle East two thousand years ago. It is good news for all people, in all places, at all times; regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or financial status. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the “Good News” that God is now bringing in His New Creation, reconciling men to Himself and restoring His fallen creation. By defeating death Christ is now releasing the Holy Spirit of life, a river of living water and has opened the gates to the Kingdom Of God. To all who turn and receive Him and the life He brings with an open heart they become royal fishermen….and have an incredible part to play right now in His New Creation Project!
Note 1: See Meditation in a Tool Shed by C.S. Lewis