“Mary Poppins” begins with the observation that the wind is changing: and on that changing wind Mary Poppins arrives to be the governness of the Banks’ children. The film ends similarly: the wind changes, and she has to go. Or, forget about “has to”: she goes.
Many years ago I had a book seminar on Mary Poppins, the book by P. L. Travers. It was the only seminar I’ve had that flat failed. The book is disjointed, and it is tied into strange metaphysical doctrines of a weird religion. It is, in fact, a sort of code for that religion’s philosophy. It is one of the few cases I know of where the movie is a decided improvement upon the book. (John Simon said the same thing about “Wise Blood,” based on Flannery O’Connor’s novel, but he was wrong. As, recently deceased, he may know by now.)
One day it is normal Dallas weather: people in shorts and T-shirts. The next day it’s 45 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit, the system God designed for human beings) (don’t get me going) and we’re wearing slickers and tucking our chins and walking as fast as we can.
The wind is changing.
To attend to “the signs of the times” was the desire of the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church when, in the 1960s, she modernized her liturgies and teachings. Anglicans are not immune. In a discussion of same-sex marriage, I once heard a lay leader (of a prominent, formerly conservative church) say, “We have to keep up with the times.”
Here’s what I think. Christian leaders need to listen to the world. We need to know what the world’s concerns are, and how the world thinks. We need to notice things like short attention span and the rapidity of social media. But those things in the world should not set our agenda.
At the end of “Mary Poppins” it is clear that the changing wind is within the household. The distant banker-father has come to notice and pay individual attention to his children as they really are. That is to say, the family dynamics have been healed of their root problems. As we metaphorically say, “the wind has changed.” Mary Poppins knows she is no longer needed.
So the world seems to want us to present Christianity in sound-bites, in small portions easily consumed. That’s how the world wants its news, its entertainment options, its shopping. Make it brief and make it quick.
Here’s how I think the wind is changing. A generation ago we might have thought we ought to change our Christian message into a form the world expects. But now there are counter-currents. There is unease about social media fixation. There is an interest in old things. Think of the appeal of “slow food,” of “artisanal” cheese. We Christians have something that is old, and curated, and re-discoverable, and slow, and authentic.
The wind is changing. It is time for Christianity to be offered to the world in its different-ness, not arrogantly, but with the invitation: Here is something that’s old, and in some ways hard, yet unusual, and attractive. It’s not a quick sugar high. But it’s worth your discovery.
Out & About. As their “theological visitor,” I will be in Oklahoma City at All Souls’ Church: to preach on their feast of title, All Saints’ Day (Saturday, Oct. 31, 5:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 1, at 8 and 10 a.m.). Then Monday through Wednesday I will offer two classes. At the noon hour, “Up with Leviticus” (yes!), and at 6 p.m., on friendship. These classes will also be on their website www.allsoulsokc.com, as will their Sunday 10 a.m. Eucharist. But they will also be in-person: so come, if you can.
In addition, the highly commendable Commonplace Books of Oklahoma City is hosting a short talk and conversation with yours truly on Friendship: The Heart of Being Human. It will be at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1. No registration needed. Commonplace Books is a hopeful addition to the urban scene, in many ways. https://www.commonplacebooksokc.com/
My lecture “What’s special about Anglicanism?” is here: https://www.facebook.com/270277900279/videos/3489142074500036
My sermon last Sunday—which is on the relationship of friendship to the summary of the Law, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all ...”—is here in the YouTube channel of the Church of the Resurrection in Plano, Tex.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kvxc7mYVPkg