Thursday, February 17, 2011
A Gun A Car A Blonde... A B grade movie, feeling rather Noir myself and... The Churches Idealised Past
The film tells the story of Richard Spraggins a terminally ill man who is advised by his friend, Duncan, to escape the pain and suffering he is going through by immersing himself in a 1950's Film Noir fantasy world. In his fantasy he is able to escape a sense of powerlessness by becoming private eye Richard Stone. In that fantasy world he is in charge and able to make sense of all the dysfunctional relationships in his real life world. He becomes the hero of his own story instead of the victim of circumstances, even if it is the battered almost anti-hero film noir way.
The film uses colour and black and white to move us in and out of Richard's real and fantasy life. In the end Richard dies and we are left with two images of this last reality. One is the slumped body in a wheel chair the other is Richard now in colour walking into his fantasy world this time in living vivid colour.
I couldn't help but think of the church when I watched this movie. Churches faced with the dynamic social changes over the past half century and the end of Christendom and many facing the spectre of closure, retreat to an idealised past to escape the pain and the challenges they face, or their image of the future is of a recapturing of that idealised past. be it (in New Zealand ) the days when numbers (at least in the PCANZ were the highest in the 1950's for some it is the Helicon days of the 1980's charismatic movement, where just one line of 'Majesty' and they are having an acid flash back, hand raised ecstatically and expectantly to the sky, "send a revival". Others find they return to the thrill of social protest and achieving break through, maybe even some new non denominational denominations look back to the thrill of the new when they were the flavour of the month and each week new people seemed to stream in the door. Or a historic inner city church wanting to recapture when they had social status and importance when what happened in their pulpits echoed round the city and society. Sadly of course they wait for the hope of a future glory beyond this world which usually resembles a glorified version of their idealised past.
In his Book 'Nudge" Leonard Sweet talks about people looking back to the golden apostolic age, looking back and saying 'those were the days' it seemed so easy for the early church or some other period in history, if only it could be like that again. Sweet is right each period of history in the church has had its positives and negatives and being a genuine disciple of Jesus in those times and sharing the good news has been hard as well as having its positives. But the challenge is to meet the realities we live in.
Almost as an aside it's interesting how the movie refelcts what happens in a lot of churches. Richard Spraggins does not leave his estate to his surviving relative but rather to the two ethnics who have cared for him in his illness. His african american nurse and latino house maid cook.
In the book of Haggai the prophet finds himself dealing with a similar situation (2:1-10) the people had come back from exile and at Haggai insistence had begun to rebuild the temple and as they stopped to celebrate re-establishing the foundations and rededicate the altar, they are to give a festive shout. But there is as much wailing and crying as there is shouts of joy. People remember the way it was before the exile the temple that was built when Israel was at its height as an empire. How can it ever be the same, how can this rag tag remnant be the same. Haggai has to bring them God's word. Not to be lost in the past but to have courage to face the future and work. He calls the leaders to have courage and the people to have courage and reminds them that 'the Lord of hosts' is with them and for them, he will provide the resources. That the glory of the latter temple will be greater than the one before. We too need to hear this message as we work at a time where in the west the Christian message seems to be in decline. The glory of the latter temple of course was that this was the one that Jesus would walk into and destroy and rebuild in three days. The bright future was because as Sweet maintains Jesus goes before us and waits for us not in an idealised black and white past.
I don't want to come across as critical of other church leaders because I have to admit I find myself looking back to the "those were the days in my own life, not for inspiration to move forward but often as a respite from the difficulties I face today. Not to renew my strength life David does in psalm 40 as he faces difficulties by remembering Gods salvation picking him up from the miry clay. Yes there are things in the past that can steady us to face the future but it’s a journey an adventure to something new. In a U2 moment it's "packing our suitcases for a place that we've never been, a place that has to be believed to be seen."
This blog entry is not criticism but encouragement for me to be willing to face the present context and future hope, and not to get drawn into the false hope of a better past.