“Surely you can’t be serious!”
“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”
The Net was abuzz this week with the sad passing of Leslie Nielsen, the actor who defined the slapstick genre of movies with Airplane!, the Naked Gun series, and numerous other movie spoofs. What a great story. The guy was in the movie machine back in the 50’s as a standard handsome leading man, and then was able to find success in his love of comedy after Airplane! took off (groan) in 1980. My mom’s name was Shirley, so we always loved that joke and played off of it and the irony for her saying it.
A child of the 80’s, I really enjoyed these movies. The slapstick and play on of words were great, but there were lots of things I didn’t get watching them initially as a teenager (I was rather naive, thankfully). There’s a ton of sexual innuendo, but I didn’t understand much of it. I thought they were harmless movies.
In 1991 I went on a Discipleship Training School with YWAM. We had three months of training in Montana, learning about the character and ways of God, the Bible, prayer, evangelism, worship, etc. Then we had a two month practical outreach in Thailand. It was a such an investment for me to make, right out of high school. It really changed so much of my perspective, from learning so much about God and who He is, to seeing the bigger world and all the needs out there. Quite a perspective for this Idaho boy.
What does this have to do with Leslie Nielsen? It’s not a cheap attempt to draw search engine traffic here. On the flight back from Thailand the movie was The Naked Gun 2 1/2 (gotta love the 1/2!). I had watched it prior to the DTS and thought it was hilarious. Something was different this time. I saw so much that went against God’s standards and ways. It was like I had a different lens to look through, and there was so much junk in it. Maybe it was that my internal lenses were cleaned, and I could see garbage for what it was.
I didn’t enjoy it the second time, and I think I ended up not watching the rest of the movie.
Leslie Nielsen was a remarkable comedic actor, with great timing and funny faces galore. Still, those movies too quickly went for lowest common denominator humor. As an immature 17 year old, it was awesome. After spending 5 months pursuing the Lord in a concentrated manner every day, it was repulsive. The show didn’t change. I did.
I think of that experience sometimes when I see what goes on in popular culture. I wasn’t trying to be holier-than-thou about it, but it was a natural response after getting close to Him. I’m sad to say that I probably am not bothered by a lot of things I watch anymore, because I have to live in “real life” and don’t have the time to dedicate to Jesus like I did in those days. When you get to live like that, then your spiritual sensitivity naturally goes up.
I have no excuse for not being there now. I could do a lot better in my relationship with the Lord, even though the DTS was a special time that is hard to replicate in the day to day of living.
So strange as it may seem, when I think of Leslie Nielsen, I think of holiness. I am reminded of such a wonderful time in my life. And I think of Shirley. A laugh, a tear, and a sigh mixed together.
Thanks for the chuckles, Mr. Nielsen, and for the memories. Here’s hoping God’s grace finds you.