One of my all time favorite movies is “Scent of a Woman”, starring Al Pacino as a blind veteran that lost his eyesight when he was drunk and start fooling around with a hand grenade. Since his accident, he basically spends the majority of his time sitting in his daughter’s guest house on her property sucking down “John Daniels” (”He’s Jack to you. When you’ve known him as long as I have…”) and barking insults at most anyone that is unlucky enough to cross his path.
For the movie, he hires a young helper to take him to New York where he splurges on fine dining, fine women, and indulges in everything he’s ever wanted. He finally visits his estranged brother, and after making a complete mess of their Thanksgiving dinner due to his boozing and inappropriate stories, his brother stops him and Pacino says “I’m no f****ing good…and I never have been.”
Having gotten this off his chest, our hero goes home (and I won’t ruin it for you) but decides to blast his brains out while in his dress blues across his expensive room at the Waldorf Astoria. You’ll have to watch the movie to watch the rest. (Which, by the way, is an AMAZING movie that will make you smile for weeks).
I’ve been watching this movie at least once or twice a year since it came out in the mid ‘90s. For many many years I wasn’t exactly sure why I liked it so much and chalked it up to just some amazing writing and acting and one helluva story. The older I get, I am more retrospective about it, and find some very deep parallels about the urgency and depression that befall those that feel that they are no f***ing good anymore.
I’m one of them. And if you are honest, so are you. If you don’t think you’re no f***ing good, quit reading now and resume looking down at everyone at church that doesn’t drop their offering in the collection plate each week.
I’m sorry for my use of “f***ing”…but it’s just one of the most pivotal lines of the movie and it truly and succinctly and purposefully lays out exactly how our hero feels about himself. I mean, he couldn’t say “I’m not a nice guy” or “I just drink too much”….he HAD to say “I’m no f***ing good and I never have been” for us to get the full breadth of his emptiness.
Having watched the movie more times than I could ever count, I’ve made others watch it with me over the years. They will surely say “That was a good movie!” but I can tell that they don’t get my fascination with it. I don’t get the fascination, either. I suppose I’m just drawn to the raw honesty and desperation of the story and, sometimes, like right now, I can find a spiritual parallel and smirk with satisfaction that even through Pacino’s vile language and constant boozing, God can still talk to me.
Let me say this: The sooner you can say “I’m no good and I never have been”…the closer you are to where you need to be. If you gasp and say “But I’m a good person” or “I try my best” or “What? I’m a deacon at church!” then you are worse than I, and I’m telling you I’m no damn good. Guess what that makes you.
You are NO good, and you never have been. It’s a fact. Like it or not, God Himself said it countless times in the Bible. Even some of the most badass guys in the Bible that tore armies apart for God and crusaded for Christ’s Kingdom were some of the biggest dirtbags to ever live. Heck, the 12 disciples were 12 scalawags that Christ recruited on purpose because…they were no good. If you classify yourself as a PERSON, then you are a decrepit, sinful, lying, cheating, mess of a human being…and you always have been.
I’m smiling as I type this because I know that so many of you out there just raised your eyebrows and said “Who the heck is THIS guy?” Look, I’m just being honest and trust me, I’m applying the same to myself. Brennan Manning in the “Ragamuffin Gospel” said, ““Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games or pop psychology. IT IS AN ACT OF FAITH in the God of grace.”
Read that at least five times. Your self-acceptance is not due to your meditating and encouraging yourself on why you are a good person, or how your intentions are good, or why you pray every day, or any other virtuous characteristic you might profess. Your self-acceptance is only healthy when it begins with “I’m no good” and ends with “…but God’s grace saved me.”
That’s the one thing that Al Pacino didn’t understand in the movie – no matter how bad he saw himself, God still loved him and he was forgiven if he would simply accept it. And just the same as it’s true for Pacino, it’s true for you and I. But step one is to climb down off that enormous horse you find yourself, and say “Well, maybe I’m not as good as I thought.” Then when you really unpack the depths of your depravity which surely will only be shared and known between you and God, you might say “Well, it’s pretty clear – I’m no f***ing good and I never have been.”
When you finally reach that level of honesty, move into the grace that God showers upon you. That grace which you don’t want to accept because you don’t think you NEED it. But when you realize you NEED it, then you don’t think you DESERVE it. And then when you realize that God agrees with you that you don’t deserve it, yet He offers it anyway, then perhaps you’ll be able to bring this whole thing home with a recognition that we are ALL a mess, and not one of us deserves the grace that God gives us. But no matter how “no good” we are, God is still there with His hand out ready to save you from yourself and provide you an umbrella from the depression and the sadness that you absolutely DESERVE to experience.
Our friend Pacino didn’t know this truth, so he wallowed in his own misery. Had he known, despite his ugliness with his life, he would have understood that God was still there showering him with grace and finishing his sentence with”…and God’s grace saved me.”
I’m a mess. Hope you’ll join me in admitting this. It’s liberating, I promise. It makes grace all the more profound, important, and astonishing.
Love you all.