Saturday, April 24, 2010

The pains of truth

This is cross-posted for April 23 @

I've not been entranced by a film in the last few years as I was with today's.

The Lives of Others (2007) won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and deserves it.  I'd not heard of the film till Image Journal recommended it and Mom queued it on Netflix.

This is no easy post to write.  Forgive my rambling controversy off the cuff.  I'm feeling in the dark for something, moving through the dark air with words, hoping they land on something helpful.

In our movie, the time is 1984 in East Berlin before the Wall fell.  A playwright is watched by the Stasi (the socialist secret police).  One officer, a strict interrogator and party faithful, surveys the playwright day and night, searching to find conspiracy.  The Stasi, whose goal is to "know everything," tortures and coerces anyone that even smells of a differing opinion.  Even joking of the Stasi is off-limits.

This is the first movie I've watched that so eloquently captured the ethos of my college years in the south, before going to Talbot.

When I first attended Talbot, I had a roommate who defected from communist Czechoslovakia when he was 25.  Fifteen years later, our paths crossed as first year graduate students of philosophy at Biola.  We stayed up late at night, telling stories of his time in the military and athletic training.  His secret ways of coping with the ideology he grew up in.  He was, at one point, one of the country's top high jumpers.  But traveling out of country was unallowed if that risked a defection.  One day, with a crack in the system wedged open by an invisible Hand, he got a visa to leave.  He returned only after the regime fell.

I would share with him stories of my college years.  One night he sat up straight in his chair, shook his head and said through his thick Slavic accent, "That's just like communist country!"

The Lives of Others is filled with the suspicion of others, the fear of losing control, the leadership untouchable with criticism on pain of losing everything.  The playwright's lover, a leading actress, lost everything.
And the strict Stasi agent watching the playwright daily, softened.  Art touched him.  Beauty and heart changed him.  His change was nuanced and slow.  Surrounded by radio equipment and donned with large headphones, a quiet tear fell down his cheek.  My tears came too.

This is why I believe, contrary to postmodern thought, in the correspondence theory of truth.  Beauty, truth, goodness is the good news that comes crashing into any worldview without raising a hand.  These three face prisoners with an invitation for freedom.  Nothing can match it.  It is the stuff of the gospel.  One must, however, open one's soul to hear it, see it.  It dangerously transforms.  It topples Walls.

These optimistic, unhappy thoughts lead me to other dark trends in our world.  Scott Peck wrote an excellent chapter on "Group Evil" that is important for our time.  What allows someone to challenge the status quo?  Is the status quo to be challenged?  What are we willing to risk?

Group evil flourishes with fear and laziness.  Fear is a lack of courage, a concern that we'll lose too much: our homes, jobs, family, reputations, our lives.

Laziness is a lack of hard work.  Hard work means openness to reality at all costs, searching, exploring, reading, conversing with opinions opposed to your own.  It is peeking over the Berlin Wall and seeing freedom on the other side, though the freedom may cause fear.  Laziness means we choose the "safe" thing and not the true thing.

Involvement in group evil is easy.  Don't read or study outside what the "authority" gives you.  Find your approval from the "authority" over you.  Believe "authority" knows what's best and go with it.
Group evil is always among us. Do we recognize it?  Why did it take so long for Christians to stand up to Hitler?  Why did it take so long for white Christians to support Martin Luther King?  Why do so many issues of the past look so obvious to us today when they were not obvious to the masses back then?  What group evil is among us?  It is here.  But are we willing to name it in our midst?

We understand the courage it takes to stand up against it. But do we understand the work it takes to name it?
Twice in the last year, Mom and I have both been removed from book projects (one was very popular) by publishers because of our views on gender.  The projects were not even about gender.  With a swift sweep of the hand, we were done, like giving someone an "F" after he aced his math test because he likes the color blue.   Why the prejudice against blue?  What has that to do with math?  And why be so prejudiced against our view of gender so much that it clouds all other contributions?  Our view fits within orthodoxy.  In fact, it fits in between the polar views that are currently battling in the church that we are hit with barrages from both sides.

That we as a church tolerate these behind-closed-doors decisions saddens me.  But publishers know their constituents and how much money they would lose over the  preposterous idea that men and women have equal value, not only before God, but before each other.  Preposterous ideas worthy of political power plays, right?

But my expression here isn't about gender.  It's about silencing people who express doubt about the status quo.  Group evil happens because many will not study the subjects of controversy and often name-call the stranger.  I remember when I was suspicious of the great theologian, Gordon Fee.  He has such a brilliant, aged, scholarly mind.  But I thought, "He can't be that bright, because he's missed a huge glaring problem in gender.  He's egalitarian."  I didn't pause to question that perhaps, Fee knew something I didn't.  He was wrong because my subculture said so, because my elementary reading of Scripture said so.  And my subculture read only my subculture's books.  And we were quite convinced, after reading each others' books, that we were right.

We create propaganda for ourselves. Yes, we even silence ourselves for protection.

Our Stasi officer stepped out and saved a life.  By saving a life, he lost everything.  Then the Wall fell.  The Group Evil, and the remaining Stasi officers, fell with it.  And truth won.

You will have to take the blows when you stand against evil.  It's always been like this, as Jesus taught us.  It will always be like this until kingdom come.  Yet we're not called to be faithful to the kingdoms of men or church organizations claiming to be the last preservers of truth.  We're called to be faithful to the Messiah, following truth boldly.  Knowing him, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.

And, Finn (my son), you can count on Mom and me, as long as we have breath, to take the blows so we can preserve and unearth the precious gems of truth.  And hold those gems dear for you.  Those gems of truth that bring freedom.  Those gems that makes room for love.  The only gems worthy of our humanity.

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