Robert Duvall's film The Apostle was overlooked, despite Duvall's incredible performance In honor of Duvall we have gone hack to an earlier Duvall film, Tender Mercies, for which he did receive an Oscar 
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The gift of the ordinary

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By Robert K. Johnson
and Catherine Barsotti
     The 1998 Oscar Awards became the revenge of the big movie spectacular as Titanic led the major studios in a sweep of the awards. Unlike the year before, the smaller, often independent films got barely a glance. In particular, Robert Duvall's film The Apostle was overlooked, despite Duvall's incredible performance In honor of Duvall we have gone hack to an earlier Duvall film, Tender Mercies, for which he did receive an Oscar

     Tender Mercies, written by Horton Foote, tells the story of a has-been country singer and songwriter who has sunk as low as the bottom of his whiskey bottle. The movie begins with Mac Sledge collapsing after a drunken brawl, only to awaken two days later to find himself at a dilapidated motel/gas in rural Texas. It is run by Rosa Lee, a widow who is trying to make a living while raising her young son Sonny. Offering Mac a job as motel handyman in order to pay off his bill, Rosa Lee even more importantly provides Mac with quiet strength, simple faith and straightforward acceptance. As a result, Mac is able to escape from the wilderness of a lost voice, a lost career, and a lost family; Mac is, in time, re-born.

     The secret to Mae's new life is the undeserved grace of Rosa Lee. Though she is reserved and seldom smiles, her "tender mercies" are nevertheless regenerative. Life has been hard for both of them, and Mac has failed utterly. But for Rosa Lee, there is neither preaching nor condemnation. As the two learn slowly to talk to each other, they share their mutual pain. When one of Mac's songs is rejected, Rosa Lee offers support: "It's bound to be hard on you . . . I love you. When I thank the Lord for his tender mercies, you and Sonny head tire list."

     There is nothing sensationalized about Mac's transformation. No Hollywood romance, no miraculous conversion, no storybook ending. Only the appearance of a ring on Mac's finger and a simple baptism at the local church signal the viewer that Rosa Lee's Christian faith and steady love have proven transformative for Mac.

     Two of Mac's songs (both sung by Duvall himself) tell it all. The one that Mac writes says, "if you'll just hold the ladder, baby, I'll climb to the top" Not great words, but a profound insight nonetheless -one that Mac has personally experienced. Given Rosa Lee's confidence in him, given her unconditional love, Mac has the faith to climb out of the tomb. Moreover, what happens relationally for him also takes place spiritually. Rosa Lee's tender mercies become a window to God's tender mercies. As the film ends, Mac is singing a ballad. "On the wings of a snow white dove, he came with his pure white love." It is ultimately the Holy Spirit that brings new life to Mac. There are few movies in Hollywood that better portray the wonder of God's gift of salvation through his Spirit than this one.

     C. S. Lewis, in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, describes the fragile and elusive presence of grace in his life. Lewis could not produce it on command; when he tried to grasp it, it faded in his hand like a picked flower. But the quiet reality of grace which produced joy in the ordinary events of life proved so compelling that it sent him on a search for God. Lewis's conversion was hardly climatic; it happened quietly as he drove to the zoo one day. In his book, Lewis is at pains to separate the source of that joy -God himself- from our experience of it. As the psalmist reminds us, "The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Psalm 145:9). There might or might not he fireworks; but they are only our response to the grace that is given to us. Duvall and Foote understand that the miracle of grace is more important than any titanic result. And their Tender Mercies is the compelling result. This video should not he missed.

Robert K. Johnson is professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Catherine Barsotti is an independent real estate appraiser. They attend Pasadena Covenant Church


Subject: Tender Mercies
Date:Sat, 2 Mar 2002
From: MJ

I am also looking for the soundtrack to Tender Mercies. If anyone knows where to get one (preferably on CD), please let me know.

Subject: Tender Mercies
Date: Sun, 2 Dec 2001
From: RDM

I'm in a desperate search for the Tender Mercies soundtrack...I would love it in CD- If anyone out there has any info on this please feel free to give a shout.

Subject: Tender Mercies
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001
From: MF

I too am looking for a "Tender Mercies" (Robert Duvall) soundtrack if anyone knows how I can go about finding one (preferably on CD), please email me at: Thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to respond,

Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000
From: "Jay Riley"

i almost fainted when i first saw the movie, felt as if mac and i had worn the same boots, worked out of nashville till the mid seventies, divorced, had two daughters, which thanks be to god, i still have...still play with some of the old texas playboys, but with a smiling heart, and sober....duval and i have mutual friends in nashville, i never met him, but every writer who starts a novel should write with him in mind, larry mcmurtry surely had him in mind when penning the lonesome doves thing, would love to see duvall play charles goodnight, from whence lonesome dove really was inspired...tender mercies goes hand in hand with a smiling heart, duvalls performance enhances both ...jay riley

Jan 22 1999, I love this film. I too have learned to enjoy God's tender mercies. This film had much to do with my return to an active faith in the Lord

Jan 12 1999, My name is Melissa. This isn't a comment, but rather a request. I hope they are OK, too even though this request isn't directly related to what other people have been saying. Anyway, I'm trying to locate a "Tender Mercies" soundtrack. Does anyone know where I might find one? I've been told the sountrack is out of print, but I'm hoping there is *some* way to buy it. Does anyone have any information for me? Thanks. Melissa



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