The Gospel According to Mr. Holland: Compasses & Callings

A good movie about teachers is an even better movie when those teachers learn from each other.

I was a teenager when such a film, Mr. Holland's Opus, first appeared in theaters twenty years ago (yes, twenty years... do you feel as old as I do now?). I remember loving the music and crying when Mr. Holland sang "Beautiful Boy" to his son and applauding after the final scene. This summer I happened upon the film and noticed a story that had slipped right by me earlier.

Mr. Holland had barely begun his teaching career when Principal Jacobs approached him. He pointed out his strengths to her: he arrived on time, efficiently completed his tasks, and went home on time.  Yet Principal Jacobs noticed a void in the young band director.

A teacher has two jobs: fill young minds with knowledge, yes, but more important give those minds a compass... I don’t know what you’re doing with the knowledge, but as a compass, you’re stuck.
— Principal Jacobs, portrayed by Olympia Dukakis

Compasses provide guidance. direction. location, a sense of place. Mr. Holland struggled to give compasses to his students because his own was out-of-order. His goal was to compose his own music, to work full-time as a musician, and only to teach as long as he needed the salary. He had his eyes on a distant dream, a calling to change the world with his own music. With his vision so fixed on a future, distant place, he was oblivious to his current place--and the students right in front of him in search of their own callings.

When we talk about our "callings," we often jump to language of action. Like Mr. Holland, we fixate on doing something else to the point of losing sight of where God has called us for such a time as this. We associate calling with what we are currently doing with our lives or what we hope to do with our lives. Yet in Isaiah 6, when the Lord asks who will go, Isaiah's first response is not "send me." The action comes second. His initial response is "Here I am." Simply being before acting. Showing up. Checking his compass.

The end of one year and the beginning of another resurrect the dreamers in us. We revisit the language of "calling" and what the future might hold for ourselves, our families, our communities, etc. Perhaps the only resolution we need is not to make a resolution. Perhaps we simply need to say with Isaiah, "Here I am, Lord." Perhaps the only action we need to take is to look at our compass.

After a venting session with his wife, Mr. Holland starts to heed Principal Jacobs' advice. He does not abandon his calling to compose music, but he also does not abandon the young musicians he must teach. We, the viewers, begin to see his two callings merge into one. From Mr. Holland's musical direction, may we find our God-given direction to be all God desires us to be--right now.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian