Last night I watched the latest remake of the movie, “True Grit”. It was entertaining and well made, but the ending left me feeling dissatisfied.
The movie’s scenes were drifting in and out of my thoughts as I took my early morning walk today and I realized what a terrific basis this story would be for a Sunday School curriculum.
I’m not currently teaching a class, but over the years I’ve enjoyed writing lesson plans and teaching all age levels. My favorite ages have been middle-school through college, and “True Grit” would be perfect for those classes or even adults.
I would begin the unit by introducing the characters and using the first three class sessions to watch the movie together, asking the students to pay special attention to the three main characters and their apparent relationships to God.
On their own time the students would be encouraged to read the Charles Portis novel the movies are based upon and/or watch either of the movie versions to establish what they can discern about the spiritual lives of the young narrator, Matty Ross, gritty US Marshal Rooster Cogburn or the Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf.
On the surface, Matty is the more religious of the trio with her knowledge of Scripture, but her unswerving quest for vengeance is totally counter to Christ’s teaching.
Cogburn lives a self-indulgent life without apparent conscience or shame, yet he becomes extremely loyal to Matty, risking his life to save hers.
LaBoeuf appears to be the stereotypical man of honor in his single-minded pursuit of justice.
I would ask my students to hypothesize what events might have shaped the characters. I would ask how their lives match or diverge from Christ’s teachings.
We learn the most about Matty’s later years, since she is the story teller, but I would ask the students to imagine how her life might have been different if she had extended forgiveness to her father’s killer.
Cogburn dies before the end of the story and we are left to fill in the details of his life after it intersected with the others. I would ask the students to imagine what that gap of years might have been like if the encounter with Matty had caused him to change his life, compared with what would have transpired had Rooster remained unchanged.
The least is known about LaBoeuf, but that would give the students freedom to be creative in their suppositions about how he might have lived out his life after his experiences with the others.
I would use this story to try to get the students to see how a person’s faith and faithfulness in living out one’s convictions can effect not only one’s eternal life, but the life lived in this world, as well.
In the story, Matty Ross was intelligent, brave and had been raised in a Christian home of the era, yet her life was forever shaped by her lack of forgiveness.
Cogburn is a dissolute man and without honor. Could his one act of self-sacrifice have initiated a change in his life? Would that one act have purchased his entry into Heaven? Would repentance be possible for such a man, and, if so, should he be forgiven?
What of LaBoeuf? A man with a specific code of conduct, but we know nothing of his faith. He did not hesitate to strike a 14-year-old girl when she disobeyed him. Does that mean he was not a Christian? Can one determine a person’s faith from the way that person lives, if we do not know the motives behind his actions?
These are the sorts of questions I would have the students ponder about the lives of these characters. Then I would attempt to have them apply the answers to their own lives.
Our faith walk does not exist only when we are among fellow Christians, or only in church on Sundays. Our faith must infiltrate and inform our whole lives. It would be my goal to inspire my Sunday School students to sift all their experiences, including their entertainment choices, through the filter of their faith.
That’s a life that really shows true grit.