I start this entry by describing the best class of my undergraduate years. It was my final semester and I was taking 19.5 units. By that time, I had completed all my religious studies and I had only upper division psychology classes, including my thesis left. Oh, and one pesky general ed. class. I needed at least one fluff class that did not require much work. Theory of drama filled the ticket nicely. As described by my fellow undergraduates, you could take the class for pass/fail, you watch 1 movie a week at the professor’s house and then you had to make one intelligent comment about the movie, piece of cake.
This description had to be a load of crap. Nothing could be that easy. But it was. And it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life.
Now I had always been a movie buff. I never missed an opportunity to see movies when I was a kid. Once I could drive, I routinely saw a couple of movies or more a week. And that continued right into college. But like most things American, I was a super consumer of movies, quantity not quality. Actually the class’s professor was the “superest” of super consumers. The walls of his house were covered with cinderblock shelves of VHS tapes, at least a thousand tapes with 3 movies a piece…but I digress.
Don, the professor, showed the movie and would ask people what they thought. Here is a typical exchange:
Don: What did you like?
Student: I liked the character Eliza.
Don: Really, what did you like about her?
Student: She wanted something better.
Don: Yes, she did. And did she get it?
Student: Well not exactly.
Don: How so?
Student: Well she ended up getting more than she could ever dream of.
Don: I see. Well that was nice. Then she could go back to her normal life.
Student: Well not exactly?
Don: Oh? Why not?
Student: Well, she had been transformed.
Don: And have you ever experienced that? Wanting something small and getting way more than you bargained for and in the process being transformed into something completely different?
Student: Well, now that you mention it…
This exchange would commonly turn into a tearful gestalt effect where the kid’s whole life was transformed.
Don: Who else?
Student2: Well I liked the lighting.
I bring this up because memory up because as I try and incorporate my past with my future, this class serves as one possible model.
Much in the same way I consumed movies, in bulk, I think a lot of people are experiencing bulk lives. They work too many hours, they traipse around the cities to attend their children’s activities, they eat out, they may go to church, they watch some TV, they listen to the radio, and they do lots and lots of stuff. To use an old joke, I think most people hope that in the middle of all this shit, there has got to be a pony.
Church, Religion and spirituality is just one of the many things that we do, like going to the movies. We go to these tightly scripted services and hope to be transformed. But 55 minutes into it, we are already thinking about what comes next. “Where should we have lunch? I hope it is good.” Well it is never going to be good. It is just going to OK at best and intolerable at worst. But wait, in 45 minutes we are going shopping. I hope we will find something good.
What would happen if after church the following dialogue took place?
Seeker 1: Did you enjoy church?
Seeker 2: No, I was bored.
Seeker 1: Oh, why did you think it was boring?
Seeker 2: The room was felt like a conference room. The music sounded like pop music from the radio. There were announcements like the local news. And the sermon was an old rerun on TV.
Seeker 1: Wow, that is a lot of stuff. It sounds like what you do all week.
Seeker 2: Exactly!
Seeker 1: Sounds like you have a pretty mundane life. What do you wish your life was like?
Seeker 1: I…I…I don’t know.
Seeker 2: Now we are getting somewhere…
For many of us Church is one of the many things we do. It is a habit carried through childhood. Or it might have been an authentic transformational force in our lives. But as is often the case with transformational experiences, once the transformation is done, habit kicks in. If you remain on the consumer side of the equation, it gets stale and becomes just one of the many things you do.
Is that the churches fault? Maybe. I thought so in an earlier draft/rant. But having given it a bit more thought, I am not so sure. I have known people transformed by Quakers and people transformed by rock concerts. Different strokes for different folks. Is one inherently better than the other?
Back to the movies, is the “Elephant Man” better than “My Fair Lady?” (side note: My wife would have a definite opinion on that statement. I get a very different reaction when I say, “Papaplethed to meech chu your majusty” than when I sing The Rain in Spain.) They are two very different movies with very different views of the world. Yet both of those movies were in the class that I loved.
What made both of them great movies was dissecting them both and then reintegrating them into our own lives, using conversation. Now in my class there were a couple of luddites who made consistently stupid comments and there were definitely movies like “Honky Tonk Freeway” that would never make the Theory of Drama Class. But when quality movies met quality conversation, it was magic.
For the longest time, I was spiritually adrift. I never missed more than a week of church. I showed up and good things were happening all around me. But showing up is not being present. I sat off to the side. I only spoke during the greeting time and I departed like a bat out of hell when it was over. I got exactly what I put into it which was really nothing at all. I was caustic and sarcastic and basically unreachable while sitting in the sanctuary.
Then one day, over one cup of coffee, I bitched for an hour about god, spirituality and the dismal state of “the church.” The person listening said, “Your right, now let me show you how to change it.” That conversation led to another, and another, and another. Bit by bit, story by story, spirituality has worked its way back into my life.
I am not sure I will ever fit back into the mold of classic Christianity. During the church services, I still rarely if ever participate beyond going through the motions. I have become so insulated that very little gets through anymore. But put me in a room with a dozen people who start telling stories about their lives and I will not shut up.
Maybe my life was too much “Just do it.” And not enough of “Just do it…and then talk about it with others.” Naw, really it was more like, “Stew about it,” alone and in complete misery.
1200 words and going nowhere fast. Say goodnight, Benji.