Wednesday, 31 October 2012

What Can I Say?

  Is there a place for mocking sincere Christians who are doing things that seem stupid to us?  I dunno.  I did that in 1993 and got kicked out of my church group for it.  I'm not convinced it's okay to do it.  I know the power and use of satire and parody, but they're also kinda like crack or steroids or something of that nature.  They can be too much, too heavy-handed, too harsh.
  And yet sometimes people in the bible use them.  And sometimes people in the bible are far harsher than satire or parody is likely to ever be.  So I'm of two minds.  Use responsibly, I guess.  If you make the point in a way that otherwise, it could fairly easily be shrugged off or dismissed, and you make it "stick," then maybe that's good.  
  Mocking a Sunday School pamphlet because the people who made it were so clueless they didn't know the title "Wild Whipped Cream" sounded like porn?  Maybe not the best or gentlest way of making a point about it.  I was raised to assume they wouldn't care or listen to what I had to say, so I did it that way, though it was only to amuse myself and wasn't supposed to get handed around.
  But I was about to experience my second local church upheaval/division, and there was a point no one was getting.  Everyone was getting terribly serious, terribly opinionated, terrible resolute about what was wrong and what had to be done and who was messing up and so on.  Terribly serious.  But kinda arrogant and proud.  "It's really very simple..." they would say, and then they would explain why they were right and the people who were against them were wrong.  What I thought they were missing was that it was all stupid.  Silly. Embarrassing.  Were they getting this?  They didn't look embarrassed.  And I made a YouTube video  (and part two) presenting how stupid the divisions were.  People were mortified to see themselves depicted in this way. This made me suspect maybe it was effective.  I'd like to think it's made people re-examine the whole issue.  
  But I've been trying not to mock any more than I need to lately. Trying to dial down the sarcasm, without any great success.  And right when I'd made a music video called "Because A Christian's What I Am," mocking the stereotypical, black and white, homophobic extreme Republican American evangelicals who were bugging me and who I was sick of being associated with, the Chik-Fil-A thing started.  And it was stupid and embarassing and I felt okay about mocking it.
  And then I made a video called "I Live Alone," which was more mocking me and my bachelor life, adolescence prolonged into middle age because I've got no one depending on me.  And that felt better.
  But then there was Susan Isaacs.  Susan Isaacs is a Hollywood actress.  You have probably never heard of her.  She played John Candy's wife in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, acting alongside him, only to see her role cut and cut until all that remained was her photograph in the final edit.  And she was one of Mallory's friends on Family Ties for a few episodes.  And she's done bit parts on Seinfeld, My Name Is Earl and Parks and Recreation.  But if you blink, you'll miss her.  Mostly she's made odd faces and done funny voices in countless commercials.
  But Don Miller name-checked her while touring his book Blue Like Jazz.  You see, she also had a book.  It was a much more personal work called Angry Conversations With God: A Snarky But Authentic Spiritual Memoir.  It reminded me of Confessions of a Would-Be Husband by Gabriel Heath, who I am close to.  In fact, it reminded me of my own life.
  And I emailed her, as I often email authors when I really like their books.  And she emailed back. And she helped Don Miller out with some lines in the Blue Like Jazz movie.  And she acted for him, and was then cut from the final edit.  He almost cut out his own cameo, in fact, in that scene.
  And then something very interesting happened.  She emailed, said her usual go-to music guy was unavailable, that she was doing a live, one-woman version of Angry Conversations With God, and needed some mock church music.  She sent me some repetitive rhyming lyrics and everything.  Was very specific about what kind of hipster west coast church she wanted it to sound like.  I was unfamiliar, as all I've experienced is Vineyard worship music, which is more draggy than what she wanted.  But I did as she asked.
  I came up with some church music per her instructions, and for a month, it was played as part of a gag in her sold-out shows in a small theatre in Studio City, California.  It was odd.  Just like when I'd recorded an odd little song called "The Vagina Song" after I'd woken up humming it and thought I ought to record it before I forgot it, and emailed it to a couple of local radio stations and it was played on the air on the morning show twice not two hours later, and just like the Church Division cartoon, and just like my video about me living the bachelor life, my serious songs were easily outdone by me making something silly and "in character" rather than honest or straightforward.  A similar thing happened when my editing scenes from Star Wars so Darth Vader's voice was James Earl Jones' audiobook of the bible became so popular that it got the attention of Twentieth Century Fox who got it taken down.  And my Fight Club parody of what tends to go wrong when smart people decide to have bible studies in small groups.
  Once again, what made people feel things and share things and pay attention was me being silly, irreverent, maybe even mocking.  Pondering what lesson is a good one to take from that.

Friday, 19 October 2012

I Don't Hate You/Us

  It has been brought to my attention that Christians in general, and Plymouth Brethren ones in particular, could perhaps be forgiven for thinking I "hate" them.  Them.  Us.  That's the problem, you see.  Plymouth Brethren aren't "them" to me.  They are us.
  It doesn't make any difference to me that my local group of PBs don't recognize me as part of "them."  I am nonetheless.
  And I want more for my people.  More than fear, more than denial, more than faking it.  I know that I took my upbringing among us/them very seriously, and really tried to live it and make it work.  Thing is, for various reasons, not the least of which were things like:

-the climate of my local assembly,
-the decade we were then living in and unthinkingly applying century-old isolationist views to,
-the specific spin being put on the teaching there,

it did not.  It did not work at all.  It did not make me love Jesus and Christians.  It did not make me feel grateful and blessed.  It made me want to be dead.  For years it made me want to be dead.
  As it was practiced, and as it was presented, and as it was wordlessly demanded and expected of me, it made me feel I could not be myself, nor pursue authentic thinking, feeling and relationship with God, Christianity, the bible or Christ.  I felt that if I wanted to pursue any of those, that I had to go through a process of setting aside pat, trite, acronymical answers.   I felt I had to accept that I didn't actually know and understand all the stuff I'd been taught to feel I did. I felt I had to open myself to more authentic stuff being available.  I believed God wanted to be found and could be, if one followed an honest seeking of Him as someone one would have to get to know over time, and have a chance to be a person in His own right, rather than merely a holding fast to ancient human traditions and doctrine, and all the boasts and claims that went along with it.  There was such a pervasive climate of "faking it," of telling everyone (including one's self) that one felt and thought whatever one thought was most devout, that I couldn't stand it.  And when I eventually got onto the Internet, simple blog entries like this one, or honest comments on forums would repeatedly result in two things:
-people seeing nothing offensive about congratulating me, a Christian, for being "honest."  What?!  That's novel now?  It's worthy of comment and accolades? Makes me stand out from the pack?
-people gushing about how "real" everyone, including themselves seemed effortlessly able to be.  On the fake, plastic Internet, often not even using their real name or picture.
  Even in my early twenties, I wanted more than all this empty fakery.  I believed in a God and believed that faking Him was an affront to Him, and confusion to any that might seek Him.  I had a life I was about to start living, and I wanted something I could do that worked, and I wasn't getting it.  This upset the locals and was a big part of why I couldn't fit, and why I was eventually quietly gotten rid of.  There is nothing more upsetting to a pat answer than a straight question that doesn't go away. But I've been asked why I feel the need of trying to bring "them" down.  Why I hate "them." (Us)
  So, decades later, I need to be clear.  I don't hate you/them/us.  I am you/them/us.  And I want more for us.