Jun 6, 2008

Art, Dogma

Tonight I went to see my friend Erik's play, He Asked For It, a "frank and eye-opening view of contemporary urban gay culture that's hard-hitting, funny and tragic." (from the theater's website). Erik is such a gifted writer. His play was at places hysterically funny, yet he pulls no punches when dealing with the dark side of addictive sex, AIDS, death and forgiveness. I left the theater in tears and the last play that moved me that much was "Terra Nova," by Ted Tally. I can think of only a handful of films in the last few years that have moved me: The Lives of Others, The Station Agent, and my recent favorite, Lars and the Real Girl.
I was listening to a podcast in which Don Miller talked about story: the elements that make a good story are the same elements that make for a good life: a strong character, a deep desire, and of course conflict. Conflict shapes our character; joy and peace don't so much. And I mean conflict over high stakes issues, not getting a massive apartment or lots of Jimmy Choo shoes. Don quoted screenwriting guru Robert McKee. McKee is an agnostic and anti- religious, but he writes the following in the preface of his book, "Story."

"The final cause for the decline of story runs very deep. Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what's worth living for, what's worth dying for, what's foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth -- the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism -- a great confusion of values. As the family disintegrates and as sexual antagonisms rise, who, for example, feels he understands the nature of love? And how, if you do have a conviction, do you express it to an ever-more skeptical audience?"

How many movies have you seen that have presented that kind of story without preaching at you? Or boring you? Or going in the opposite direction and trying to convince you that the answer to your longing is in a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or a sexual conquest? And how many of us try to manipulate God into giving us what we want so that we DON'T have conflict? How many of us settle for a goal like a house or a Volvo, Don put it in this podcast.

Larry and I got invited to a literary 'salon' put on by a church known for its theological rectitude. The quote at the top of the evite said, "if Christians attempt to approach culture from a human, cultural standpoint, they will be acting in disobedience to God." (The evite also stated that "all food will be put away at 7pm ... All eating will stop at 7:00pm until after the discussion.) I understand, they don't want distractions during discussion. But it reminded me of Nurse Diesel in "High Anxiety": "Those who are tardy will not get fruit cup."
I couldn't help but notice the contrast between the scolding tone of the evite and the vulnerability of the play. Perhaps it's not fair to compare. One was a play; the other a discussion. But I don't understand how not to approach culture from a cultural standpoint. Isn't that like saying you shouldn't approaching sailing form a sailing standpoint? And how can I not talk about humanity in human terms, when I am human? Of course my perspective is limited and 'broken.' Of course I need to look at life through God's truth. But even God didn't sit up there on high; he ultimately became human to relate to us what it is to be truly human, full of grace and truth.

I've got to knock it off. I let certain language close my ears, I get defensive, and I start thinking I'm better than others; which is just the kind of exclusivity I despise. It reminds me of what author Sara Miles said in an interview: There’s something I need to learn from a relationship (with other Christians) that I didn’t choose. …That the Spirit has something to offer Pat Robertson through me, and has something to offer me through Pat Robertson. It’s precisely the non-exclusive welcome of Jesus that’s the most interesting (if the most difficult) thing about the faith. The thing is, I want to see everything. I don’t want to just see the parts I like.

So really maybe I need to be at that salon. Maybe I'll find it inspiring and wonderful and it will humble me. But I better get there before 7pm or I won't get any fruit cup.


Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I loved Lars. My friend and I talked about it for months after we saw it.

Anna said...

Amazing how brave we can be theologically, knowing that "the testing of your faith" produces all kinds of groovy things. But just put us in the middle of it, up to the neck in it, and it's, "WAAAAAAA!!! THIS SUCKS!!!!! I HATE THIS!!! GET ME THE HELL OUT OF THIS, LORD, ANYBODY!!"

Was at a high school commencement ceremony today, and the principal gave a speech about "daring huge things, going way out there, taking enormous chances." Now, I know nothing about the man's life. Maybe he took HUGE chances in his life to get to be principal of some mostly white suburban high school (and okay, I know that sounds sarcastic, but it's not. Well, maybe a tad.)

But don't we ALL say that? "Be bold!" "Take chances!" "Trust God!" "Dare to be different!" And then, the second we're IN it, it's back to


Wendy Melchior said...

Pat Buchanan was a guest on the Colbert Report recently, and I was all poised to be pissed at whatever he had to say as I waited for the segment. Turns out, he was funny and articulate, even though I didn't agree with half of his ideas. I had this moment where my own crap was challenged for a second (I'm back to being awful) and recognized my own presuppositions that hinder community. Great post.

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