Thursday, June 27, 2013

Seeing Things Darkly, Seeing Things Clearly

There's nothing like seeing random thoughts, memories, experiences, and a movie collide. It happened to me yesterday. I'm not sure what I expected would happen, but apparently that's what did. I'm still sorting it all out.

I'm reading Jeffrey Overstreet's Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies. Even better, I'm reading it as part of an online discussion group with whom I've read some other fabulous books this past year such as The Mind of the Maker which I reviewed last summer. Add to this fun, the author is contributing to the discussion, which makes for intriguing interactions. Overstreet wrote movie reviews for Christianity Today for a number of years, and his work still involves movie criticism, but he's also a gifted author and has written a terrific fantasy series, The Aurelia Thread.

So to say the least, the book is amazing. I have never been a connoisseur of movies; Kraig and I typically watch videos that require little brain engagement--something we can watch at night after the kids are in bed and we're doing some jobs that require hands and not brains (folding laundry, anyone?). But I do like to dissect things--I've always enjoyed literary criticism, or art, and dissecting movies is no different. Also, even though my movie viewing is fairly lightweight, I am always evaluating what I see and holding it up against the grid of what I believe. This book helps challenge that and is forcing me to think more.

It has also piqued my interest to see movies I would never have thought to watch, and why, yesterday, I clicked on a YouTube link to watch the 2004 documentary, Born Into Brothels. You just never know what kind of dangerous territory you may enter when you read, "Jennie knew, as I and so many others have discovered, that Zana Briski's documentary is bursting with joyful surprises and unforgettable characters. She knew that the darkness of the context only makes the lights flare out all the brighter, making this a veritable Fourth of July extravaganza." (p. 188)

The "unforgettable characters" of this film are the children of prostitutes in the Calcutta red light district. Briski, a photographer, went there in order to record and spread the word of the dire straights people live in in this part of the world. What she hadn't counted on was the curiosity of the children, and she ended up handing out cameras to these kids and teaching them photography. In the process, she saw their world through their eyes, and she recorded it for all the world to see. Overstreet writes, "Even sinful behavior, seen through the lens of a child, can tune the delicate intruments of our hearts so we see things the way they should be. By giving us beauty with the ugliness, joy with the pain, laughter with the groans, these revelations give us a vision more complete and more affecting than any slideshow of poverty and pain half a world away" (p. 189).

The beauty is inescapable. The eyes of these children are dark liquid pools that sparkle to life as they grin. When they are solemn, you feel the weight of their lives. They have wisdom beyond their years and certainly beyond their academic education. And yet it was like they were my Indian neighbors' children who play with my kids. This girl and boy are the children of affluent, educated parents who can travel back to India to see family every couple years. Yet they are as spiritually needy as the children born into brothels, and they have the same beauty as any creation of God. I was humbled, as I thought of how, more often than not, I'm annoyed by these two kids who tend to push my patience, show up at inconvenient times, and get into fights with my kids even as they long to play with them and be friends.

These children of the brothels were like the brother and sister I've been taking to VBS last week and this who live in the apartment complex within a mile of our home. It's a low-income complex that I've known only by reputation for eighteen years until I drove into it for the first time last week. I've gotten to know some of these kids and their parents through my daughter's school, but only at school, not at their homes. In the past couple weeks, I've had to evaluate my attitude. When I drove there after seeing this film yesterday, my mind kept superimposing images of chaotic Calcutta over the neat, quiet townhouses in that complex. What stories were the silent rows hiding inside? It made me wonder if the places were really that different...and if they were really that different from my own white-collar neighborhood. No, I don't live in a city of millions packed in tight quarters, much less even have remote experience with brothels, but isn't my hometown as lost as Calcutta? Aren't the children at my kids' school and in our neighborhood made in the image of God as much as the children that Zana Briski connected with? What am I doing to touch their lives? Am I doing all that I can to seek the beauty in them and help them connect to the Giver of True Beauty?

I am awash with this storm of thoughts and am still trying to process this. It was all so familiar, perhaps in part because there were cultural bits in the film that reminded me so much of my childhood in the Philippines. And I think it was also familiar because it was such a true picture of humanity. The joy in the film made the sorrow that much more poignant and real. So much more something that must be opposed.

I'm praying that I will be faithful to what God wants me to do to take part in this battle.

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