Each fall at Calvin, hundreds of first-year students plod through Prelude, a one-credit course that serves as an introduction to some of the key words and concepts that comprise the unique mission of the college. Some of these students are staring down the next four years of education with a sense of tired obligation; they’re here largely because of internal or external pressure. But most of these students are excited about what the next four years and beyond have in store for them.
Aided in part by the practice-oriented theology of the college, first-year students can develop huge expectations for how they personally intend to change the world. In some ways, these expectations are good. Dreaming small can be a mark of fear or apathy. However, such expectations can also cause us to miss opportunities for ordinary faithfulness because we’re always living in the future, or dreaming the spectacular life we wish we could have. As a caution against a humanist we-can-do-it attitude, students coming through Prelude read a chapter from Jerry Sittser’s book The Will of God as a Way of Life. He tells of his children, who always want to do something amazing for him on Father’s Day as a demonstration of their love, when what he truly desires is joyful honor and obedience in the things they do every day. He writes,
Too often we behave like children. We want to know what extraordinary deed we can perform for God sometime in the future—the ephemeral “will of God” that we seek to discover. But it is not the big things we want to do with such bravura but the little things we do every day that constitute his true will. God wants us to practice daily obedience. Such obedience requires attentiveness to God in our present circumstances.
Like many ambitious college students stand to be, Carl Fredricksen, the main character in the animated film Up, is in danger of viewing his mundane life as a failure. He and his late wife Ellie never achieved their childhood dream of living in South America at the peak of the pristine Paradise Falls. Finding the house he shared with Ellie threatened by skyscraper development and his spirit threatened by an impending move to a retirement village, the retired balloon salesman launches his home into the sky as a final effort to realize his ultimate dream.
Throughout the ensuing adventure, Carl learns to re-imagine his vision of success. Aided by the perspective of an unexpected young companion, a disturbing image of his childhood hero and finally by his wife’s contextualizing of her ordinary memories within the adventurous life she truly desired, Carl is able to rediscover a sense of purpose in the very place he began: home.
Up is a perfect film for re-orienting frantic college students as they near the end of a semester. Its delightful sense of humor and playfulness will call out the child that’s buried somewhere underneath the final projects, while its thoughtful story will serve as a reminder to hold loosely to ambitious goals for the future as we listen attentively in the moment for that voice—sometimes still and small, and sometimes the obnoxious ramblings of an overeager, stowaway Wilderness Explorer.