THEOLOGY AT THE MOVIES
This is two weeks late, because “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966) is a classic low-budget fright fest often televised at Halloween. Don Knotts plays his Barney-Fife self: Luther Heggs is a 98-pound wimp who boasts that he’s taking karate lessons by mail. “I’ve made my whole body a weapon.” The film is comically punctuated by an off-screen character who keeps hollering out: “Attaboy, Luther!” His love interest is Alma, a girl much prettier than he could possibly hope to attain. She’s played by Joan Staley, who posed for Playboy in 1958 (oops), but is now active in her church and a prison ministry.
There’s a cute scene where she cooks him dinner and they’re sitting on the porch afterwards. He knows this is his one and only romantic shot, and he’s got to make some progress. But he stumbles through an overture which is quickly disintegrating. Finally he just blurts it out: “Look, Alma, you’re a real attractive girl. Way above average.”
Oh. “Well, thank you, Luther.”
“Um, well, that’s okay. Now me, I’m just your average guy.” No argument there.
Then he says the wistful line I have always cherished. “‘Average’ is just darned lucky to be sitting on the same porch with ‘above average.’”
I confess that for 37 years of marriage, that’s been the signature pitch at my house as well.
But here’s my deeper take on Luther’s confession. We serve a wonderful and infinite God who could bring the entire planet to repentance in one galactic display. He doesn’t need our efforts, our witnessing, our missionary sacrifices. He could commission the angels to reap a harvest of souls.
But for some reason He sent my parents to Thailand for 17 years. He invites me to live as a light for Him on a secular college campus. And I go: “Really? Me? Jesus, You want ME? I don’t get it. Because in the vineyard of evangelism, ‘average’ is just plain lucky to be working side by side with ‘above average,’ with our King of kings.”
I sure don’t get it. But thank You, Jesus. It’s a priceless honor to be on Your team.
P.S. By the way, the story ends with Luther and Alma’s wedding. He scores a chaste kiss off his bride, and the triumphant yodel comes through one final time: “Attaboy, Luther!”