Thursday, May 29, 2008

T Minus 4: May 21, 1996


I'm not sure how I'm going to introduce myself after Sunday. I honestly feel a little queasy about it, a little melancholy. It took me two years to get used to people calling me "pastor." So strange. Am I still an arts pastor on Monday? Am I a pastor? A writer? A guy? I haven't made art in three years.

I'm four days away from the end of my time at Hope Chapel and the reminiscing is starting to take over. Here is a journal entry I wrote during the fifth HopeArts Festival, on July 13, 2002, nearly six years ago. Near the bottom I recall the lunch I shared with Ron Parrish and Jack Dorman in which they officially invited me to be a church intern. That lunch took place on May 21, 1996. Goodness gracious, so much has happened since then.

July 13, 2002
w. david o. taylor
A Diary of an Arts Pastor
The Ragamuffin Film Fest

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. ~Ps. 37:4

The Confession
I made my first confession to Jeff Fish while standing a couple of feet away from the guacamole. “I don’t believe it,” I told him. A glass of Gingerale fizzled in my hand. I looked at my watch. It was 11:43 pm. My head hurt. The post-film fest party swirled around us, throbbing with high-pitched voices, bodies wound-up, sweating, swirling. “The Psalmist,” I said, “I don’t think I ever have believed that verse.” Jeff looked at me funny; his forehead wrinkled. “Who cares if it’s in the Bible.” I raised my voice.

“I still don’t believe it. I know life. It’s complicated. The bad guys win. They do. The good guys get ignored, or shot in the head, or told to wait for their reward when they die. It’s not a formula!” I ranted like a man without sleep for three days. “You can’t put two coins of Delight into the machine and get out a can of Desire. It doesn’t work. Never has!” Jeff nodded at me patiently.

The Passion
I cannot possibly tell you what an exciting adventure it was, day after day, attacking that rentable machine, shoving in dimes, pounding away like a crazed chimp, rushing upstairs to fetch more dimes, running in and out of the stacks, pulling books, scanning pages, breathing the finest pollen in the world, book dust, with which to develop literary allergies. Then racing back down blushing with love, having found some quote here, another there to shove or tuck into my burgeoning myth.

I was, like Melville’s hero, madness maddened. I had no way to stop. I did not write Farenheit 451—it wrote me. There was a cycling of energy off the page, into my eyeballs, and around down through my nervous system and out through my hands. The typewriter and I were Siamese twins, joined at the fingertips.

[Ray Bradbury, describing the process of writing Farenheit 451 in 1951.]

The Interview
Marc Savlov, principal film editor for The Chronicle, asks me, “Who are you? Where do you guys come from?” Perelandra, I say. “We’ve been around.” I tell him that had Jesus visited us today in America, he would have been hired by AdBusters. Marc says he probably would have been put in jail too. We laugh through the phone. That Jesus. So subversive. At the end of the interview Marc asks me, “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” Sure, Would the Chronicle like to hire Jesus?

The Big Screen
A bald-headed Mitch, manager for the night at the Alamo Drafthouse, looks at me and says, “You guys are doing a good job.” His tone is phlegmatic. Months earlier we’d asked the Alamo for Friday and Saturday night. They gave us Saturday night only. Mr. Sinus Theater, they informed us, would not be transgressed. It was their cash cow. We were Christians. So we asked for Sat night 7 and 9 pm: primetime movie time. They gave us instead 7 and 4:30: swimming pool time. We asked to split ticket sales 50%-50%; they asked for 60%-40%. We asked for food service; they almost forgot. We asked for a projectionist; they said, “Get one yourself.”

Finally it was Showtime. I asked how many tickets we’d sold for the 7 pm show. They said we’d oversold. Our cow was bulging at the shanks. Chairs would have to be added to the aisles. Drinks were bought and drunk and re-bought. 20% tips flew into waiters’ pockets. Money poured out of unexpected udders. Mitch and the assistant manager shake my hand and grin. If you’re a filmmaker in Austin, you want two people on your side: The Chronicle and the Alamo movie theaters. And sometimes the mountains really do get laid low and paths are made straight.

The Question
May 21, 1996, a corner table in a Chinese restaurant. I can’t quite remember which, somewhere off Far West Boulevard. They all smell the same to me, white man raised in Central America. I sit across from a senior pastor named Ron Parrish. I barely know Ron and Jack Dorman who though huggable like a bear, I find suspicious like all Assembly of God-raised worship leaders. Gnawing on my greasy egg role I recall the famous words of the third-century church father Tertullian: “What does Pentecostalism have to do with Theological Graduate School?”

Ron leans over the table and smiles. “So David, what would you like to do?” I take a sip of my lemon water, wipe my lips with my starchy cloth napkin. The question. This is the question they’ve been waiting to ask me. Jack picks disinterestedly at his too-fried rice. What do I want to do—as an intern at Hope Chapel, my first ever church internship? I swore to myself in college that I would never end up in a job where I was stuck inside the four walls of a church office building. I couldn’t imagine something more boring than that. What do church interns do?

I wonder what my non-Christian Chuy’s friends will think. My chicken and cashews grow cold with waiting. “I’d like to teach a class on world religions and I’d like to muck around with art.” Ron chews on his broccoli-soaked beef strips, switching from the left side of his mouth to his right, back and forth, and back again. Jack stares at me through his beady eyes. Is that a verb, I think to myself? To muck. Possibly. It’s sufficiently ambiguous to trick us all into thinking that I know what I’m talking about. “Sure,” Ron says, after rinsing his mouth with iced tea. He looks over to Jack for agreement. “Sure,” Jack repeats.

Sure. That’s it. Just sure. I can’t figure if we’re all really na├»ve or if I’m sitting in front of two amazingly trustworthy people. Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourselves into?

Six years later I’m sitting in a densely packed Alamo Drafthouse, voted “Best Theater in Austin,” with a copy of Marc’s article in my back pocket and the words of the Psalmist floating through the back door of my head. I still don’t believe in formulas. Or Desire Machines. I do believe however in a God whose imagination is greater than mine.

I never would have imagined this—this Ragamuffin Film Festival—sitting at that corner table in that nameless Chinese restaurant back in the spring of 1996.

Sure you can muck around with art.

Sure.

4 comments:

livingpalm said...

hey, Pastor David Taylor, I'm in the middle of a major project at church and am looking forward to reading your new post and your letter regarding the future for you and Phaedra.
in the meantime I will pray as you come to mind. recently I was watching I.J. and the Last Crusade with my kids (had to intro the classic before seeing the new!) I imagine you and Phaedra at the mouth of the cave, looking over the ravine placing your foot midair and counting on your Abba for that bridge.
walk forward, brother.

w. david o. taylor said...

Thanks, Tamara. Very kind. We'll take the prayers happily. And I've always loved that image from the Last Crusade. I've used it in talks before. The metaphor works.

Well one of these days we'll travel northeast and get to visit you. Soon.

Ahna said...

This is why I never ask anyone, "What do you do?" I always ask, "So, are you employed in something that you feel says something about who you are?"

It's far more of a conversation-starter, and I have found it opens the way for a much more meaningful connection. Also, it's amazing how many people smile, relax, and seem really relieved to have been asked something that they actually get to do a little self-reflection about.

I still haven't figured out a way to gracefully (and succinctly)reframe the question of "What do you do?" when it is posed to me, but at least I can be sure never to put someone else in the awkward position of feeling like they need to have a "good" answer for how they pay their bills.

________

As for you, my friend, I just got that long letter from you and Phaedra that clearly indicates you know exactly what your vocation is. You might not know all the details for the steps along the way, but please don't let the poor phrasing of our contemporary culture mess with your sense of identity. Your calling will be no different on the 2nd of June than it was on the 1st.

w. david o. taylor said...

I love that phrasing, Ahna. Thank you. I'm going to try it on for size and see what happens. And thank you for your kind encouragement!

I've had a brainstorm. On Monday instead of introducing myself as an arts pastor, I'm going to say, "Yes, well, I'm an arts bishop." You think the foreheads wrinkled when they heard arts pastor. Their brains will ex-pa-lode on this one. They'll think I've told them I'm an actor and I play an arts bishop on TV. "An arts bishop? What's that?"

"Oh, you've never heard of it? Huh. I'm sorry. I guess you're not very hip and with it, are you? But I'll tell you what it is: it's lots and lots of serious cash!

Hm. But what if I were an arts cardinal? Hmmmm.