Movie Chaplain, TV Spree, Bad Church Signs

"For three things I thank God every day of my life: thanks that he has vouchsafed me knowledge of his works; deep thanks that he has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to--a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song." ~ Helen Keller

Virginia Todd Burton, aka Toddy, asked me to play chaplain for her current film shoot. I wake up at 5:50 am, drive to the day's location, find Toddy (writer-director), Graham (producer), Nathaniel (director of photography), and Jeff (2nd AD) and lead the little flock of filmmakers in a 7-minute morning devotional. It's only a seven-day shoot so it's not too bad. One day I couldn't make it because of church staff meetings, one day I had to preach the Sunday morning service.
Otherwise I've been there with Book of Common Prayer in hand and Helly Hanson baseball cap performing hair duty.

I recite an invocation, somebody reads Ps. 91 (each morning in a different translation), each of us prays a spontaneous prayer, we pray the Our Father and I end with a benediction. 7 minutes, maybe 6, sometimes 8. And then we hear the voice of the 1st AD in the background barking orders for the day's schedule.

My first day on set, on the sound stage at Studio 501, I sit in a chair by the food table and watch the Gaffer, a grad student from Bulgaria, Iskra the cute little brunette, oversee the lighting of the stage. Toddy joins me intermittently. Any time a new crew member walks by she introduces me.

"Hey, Jessica, this is my friend, David. He's the arts pastor at my church."

I look up and, offering my hand, smile and pretend like it's the most normal thing to hear--on a film set at 6:30 am. "Arts pastor."
"Food scientist."
"Hypnotist for Clowns and Rockstars."

"What are you doing here again?" the make-up mistress asks me when Toddy's gone.

I try not to make too much of a fuss about being a churchman, Ted Haggard notwithstanding, but Toddy doesn't seem to mind in the least. She's digging it. Toddy's a graduate of Brown University in her last year of grad at UT. She got cancer three years ago and is now making a short film about a cancer patient with an alter ego, The Aviatrix. The Aviatrix is a superhero with powers over t-cells, tumors, and all things metastatic. The Aviatrix wears a very cool black leather outfit with souped-up pod-racer glasses. In the real world, she throws up green goop and shivers in bed.

Toddy's a sharp writer. She writes film reviews for Austin's arts and entertainment weekly, The Chronicle. She has a nice comic timing and she has a way of disarming non-Christians. Mostly they'd never guess she were a Christian, not because she plays HYPER CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY CHRISTIAN where the goal is to make it ten million times difficult for your non-believer friends to ever guess you smelled anything like Jesus, but because she has a disarming savoir faire about herself.

She also laughs like a trumpet.

Then again, so do I, so we're good audience for fledgling student films. We make them sound funny.

I'm getting a kick out of my movie chaplain role. I think it's truly the best way to be an arts pastor, on set, on site, in the thick of pre-dawn action. It helps me see and hear and taste what her life is like. It lets me be present. I love to pray and getting to pray with the four of them, not from a distance but in the middle of their work, is a great privilege. I also think it's re-arranging the furniture of the cast and crew's expectations of a Christian.

"What're you doing here again?"

"I'm praying," I answer. "I'm praying with Toddy and for y'alls shoot today."

"Oh. Huh. That's cool. That's f-ing cool," the makeup mistress says, gazing away, and turns to continue prep-ing Anne-the-Aviatrix's sketch book with super swooshes and $3000-dollar laser guns with blinking lights.

I don't own a TV but I'm catching up, you know I am.

I have launched a TV-watching spree in the Taylor household. I haven't owned a TV in at least ten years and I've no idea what's happening out in TV Land. So I've decided to tackle the Greats.
I started with Sex in the City.

I'm only usually watching Season 1, Disc 1, so after five episodes of Pathetic Single Women Trying To Get It As Much As Men And Think They Can Get Away With It And Dupe Female Viewers In The Process, well, I thought, I am impressed. That's genius, a Stephen Hawkins of Horniness hard at work. The human capacity for stupidity is prodigious. Are women that gullible? Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda sit in the temple, the holy of holies, and broadcast via bullhorn their holy sexual passions as if they were a bunch of baboons. G. K. Chesterton once quipped, "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God." I've just put in an order to my Netflix account for Season 6, Disc 6, to see if they find God after all. I mean seriously, I'm all in favor of sex, sensuality, nudity and making sense of all the taboos that define and protect us. I'm in favor of the Perils of Nude Modeling. But SITC was more disappointing and pathetic than empowering or enlightening or whatever other silliness was suggested by the show's creators.

And then off I went to The Sopranos. Great writing, great acting, fascinating peek into the saucy innerds of the New Jersey Italian Mafia. I watched Goodfellas just last week and found it funny that a lot of Scorsese's 1990 actors ended up in David Chase's 1999 Sopranos. But after seven or eight episodes I started to get indigestion. I couldn't figure why at first. It was a great show. I was learning lots. Then it crept up on me. I realized I was eating too much nihilism in one sitting. So I moved on.

To crack. I watched disc one, season one of 24 non-stop. Shoot dog that's serious addiction. I sent my disk back and vowed not to order another till I could reserve an entire Saturday, dawn to dusk, to watch Jack get the bad guy. Mama pajama, crack is hot.

I needed something gentler, so I turned to Grey's Anatomy. Great writing again--and that's the kind of stuff that gets me high, the writing--but I observed to my housemate a curious fact: all the characters are single. Isn't that funny. I didn't know our species was that interesting. I thought we were just eunuchs in waiting, half-breeds in limbo. No, actually, we're footloose, fancy free, and we get to do whatever we want with whomever we want however we want and not worry about covenantal responsibility. I'll finish out season one eventually, but I've moved on.

To Six Feet Under, the telegenic ode to undertakers. The writing isn't as strong and the acting is uneven, but it's got some nifty life lessons tucked in between the embalming and the fraternal dog fights.

I'm not even going to touch LOST until I can organize a flock of friends to, well, get lost for seven discs of Let's See How We Can Enchant and Frustrate Viewers With The Elusive Hope Of A Mystery That May or May Not Get Disclosed Or Even Make Sense In The End But Heck We'll Have Hot Lassies And Lads Twist And Turn Through Adventures That Make Us Think We're Becoming Better Human Beings If You Can Just Hang On Until The Commercials Are Over--And Get Lost Again!

Hm. That's sounding cynical. I'm not, really. I'm not even trying to be a party pooper. I just find TV Land so silly, silly in the way it takes itself so seriously. I'm 100% pro entertainment. Creation is full of amusements, and I believe it's a holy endeavor for humans to make amusing art for no other reason than laughter and the pleasure of a shared experience. But TV Land is so often banal. Worse, it's just all so metaphysically anorexic. Make your stories gaudy, grotesque, silly, edgy, thrilling, protesting, whimsical but, for crying out loud, tether them to something transcendent, to something that pulls us like a backward parachute into a larger meaning, a meaning that makes us solid, earthy human beings with holy gusto and an ability to penetrate all the harrowing and mundane aspects of our life with greater faith, hope, and love; not fake but honestly, not pretending but energized to weep when we need to weep our heads off and laugh when we need to laugh our heads off, and be silent, and be loud, and live a quiet life, work with our hands, and mind our own business or get in the face of the powers that falsely assume godlike rule; art, that is, that helps us be persons, full, rounded, angel-animal, fallen yet redeemed persons. To quote Pope John Paul II:

"I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and devoted to the metaphysical sense and mystery of the person. It seems to me that the debate today is being played out on that level. The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order. To this disintegration planned at times by atheistic ideologies we must propose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of "recapitulation" of the inviolable mystery of the person."

I guess the question is this: How do we as Christians bless and sanctify the art of television in such a way that viewers do not become amused to death? How do we do this in a way that's not holy petooty syrupy, blanched with sentimental views of life, but robust and intelligent?

I don't know, but I bet somebody out there does.

And now for a commercial break: "The weird and the wacky!"

This collector of bad church signs cracks me up. Oh my. I laughed for a good twenty minutes straight with his WTF section.

Really wacky but fascinating modern dance here, especially „Seine hohle Form…" (2000-2002).

Magical paper art here. Samantha Wedelich would love this stuff, in particular "Looking Back."

Some absolutely gorgeous homemade art cards here. Whom does she make me think of . . . ? In the words of the artist: "We started Studio dei Neri as we were adopting our daughter, in the hope of adopting many more children. Adoptions are not inexpensive, and we saw the need to establish a business that would help to fund future adoptions."

And this isn't exactly wacky . . . and I'm not sure this will transfer into blog link, but here's the result of the interview with Aspiring Retail (see under "Rising Awareness of the Arts"), the official publication for Christian Booksellers Association. Three cheers and a sharp hooray for bookstores, because it ain't easy to keep one running.

Books currently reading: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbot (publ. 1884), Understanding People by Larry Crabb, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't by Jim Collins, Philip Yancey's Rumors of Another World: What on earth are we missing?, and Johann David Wyss' The Swiss Family Robinson.

Lastly I guess, I've officially gone part time at Hope Chapel in order to pursue three longer-term interests: writing the book, organizing an art conference for pastors (March 2008), and beginning the process of establishing an arts center in Austin.

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." ~ Albert Einstein

(PHOTO: Toddy about to be baptized.)


s. e. wedelich said…
i DO love those paper pieces.... brilliant that they interact with the background and i love the miniature aspects.

p.s. our netflix queue often features the simpsons... we like our family values packaged in some good ol' fashioned sarcasm and hyperbole.
ellen said…
But David. TV is free! :-) for poor flute-playing grad students, it has managed to become a decent excuse for weekly potluck dinners. cheap. good company. etc.....

commercials are good conversation breaks. in movies you can't stop and chat. :-)

hope all is well in austin. my recital is on monday! eeeeek!!!!
David, Try The Office. I love it.
Cathy Hutchison said…
Would be curious to know if you would enjoy Firefly. It only ran one season. Complex characters. Odd mix of western and sci-fi genres. Action mixed with quirky humor.

The creator of Firefly also wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I don't believe Josh Whedon professes Christianity, but as you might expect in a series with demonic characters, there is a lot of philosophy on good vs. evil.
I found it interesting that evil is evil. There's no Melendez-brother, poor-tragic-murderer angle.

The Angel character was my favorite...a vampire who is cursed with his soul. He now feels remorse for everything he's done, but he's still a vampire. Makes for interesting moral dilemmas as the good and evil within him battle.

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