Sunday, April 22, 2012

Challenging Horizons and Stuff, Part II

So people might be watching me, and they might potentially do what I do without thinking it is sin--even if they think it's wrong--just because I'm doing it, and that would mean they are sinning.  (If you missed Part I, be sure to read that first.)  How am I supposed to live with that in mind?

Should I stop doing anything that might cause anyone to stumble?  No more art museums, no more science fiction and fantasy, no more theater, no more anime or manga, no more Monty Python, no more gay friends, no more poetry, no more drinking (root beer because alcohol smells gross and is expensive) at bars with classmates after a reading, no more music, no more MPR, no more movies, no more trousers . . . ? 

It gets ridiculous fast. If I'm not allowed to engage with anything or anyone for fear of it causing someone else to sin, then I really need to go to a monastery.  In fact, we all do.  Except there will be people there, and people are sinful and . . .  Solitary confinement for life seems the only way to go.

My contention that if someone thinks something is wrong, s/he should voice that they are not comfortable with it and then not participate is shot down by those who are or know those who are incapable of such standing up for their beliefs/personal convictions.  I respect people who take that stand and say, "This is not appropriate for me.  I'll see you later."  I've seen it happen, and I've told people who did it how much I respect them whether I personally find the thing they object to sinful or not. I think it's maybe part of being salt and light if it's done right.

When people make a big, public deal about it and deny the challenging, learning, and growing that could have belonged to others sans sin, I get angry and sad.  Why do others have to get dragged down to the lowest common denominator?  Just because it is your struggle does not mean it is everyone's struggle.  Just because it is sin to you does not mean it is sin to everyone.  This sounds postmodern, but it's biblical.

The arts always get a lot of flak for this, especially in conservative Christian circles.  Often the assumption seems to be that all artists are liberals (unless they're propaganda artists or PR folks).  Some artists are about pushing boundaries and making people uncomfortable and trying to force them to think in unfamiliar ways; that's certainly true.  But really, what is so inherently wrong with wrestling critically with ideas?

I look back on who I was in college and how (yes) liberal I must appear now.  I remember how I used to organize and sponsor these critical thinking and engagement forums where the honors student organization would partner with another organization and bring speakers from different perspectives on an issue to campus and invite students to listen and bring questions (faith and politics, faith and Harry Potter, ect.).  One of these events was a failure in terms of turnout because our location kept getting moved around and then we were forced to change the date at the last minute due to scheduling problems with the rooms, and the new date was right before a break or midterms/finals or something.  That was the forum on faith and art. 

One professor and a working actor he knew were all we could get in terms of speakers, and only a handful of students showed up.  Technically it was a failure, but it was incredibly valuable to me.  I spent a lot of time talking to that actor.  One thing I still remember is how he said that if a role came up that he liked and thought said something important, he wouldn't care if that role was a homosexual one, and that blew my mind.  I still lived in a subculture where the underlying assumption seemed to be that depiction = endorsement, and the fact that a thinking Christian could believe otherwise had never come over my horizon. 

I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with that depiction = endorsement equation because if this assumption were true, it meant that, as an artist, it wouldn't be okay for me to wrestle with important ideas and questions or have characters who were realistic.  And I wanted to challenge people (including myself) to think critically no matter what I did.

One of my writing professors said my work at the time was too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals.  I think that's still true.  But since I'm not writing for the liberals or conservatives, it doesn't really matter to me. 

I guess I'll end this ramble with a paraphrase of the words of a wise man (found in Matthew 15 and Mark 7): What you take in isn't what makes you unclean; it's what you do with it, how you act on it.  As a teacher and a writer, I encourage people (including me) to think about the hard stuff and then do right things, so that what we do matches what we say we believe.  Good luck with that.

Any thoughts on the whole depiction = endorsement thing or how you practically deal with the catering to the weaker brother out of love or any of the other myriad topics brought up here? : )

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