While I’ve been away from home this last week one of the things I did with extended family was attend the local theater. The featured show was a live production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats” We watched for the better part of two hours as nimble hard-working hard-singing young adults pretended to be cats.
It was a good small production but I was actually slightly bored. I’d seen the original on Broadway back in 1981 and there is just no comparing a Broadway show to a small local production taking place in an old dilapidated building. I went to support live theater in small town America, culture for everyone!
But I was glad I went because it got me started thinking about culture, the perceived culture war that those in fundamental patriarchy quiverfull circles claim is taking place all about them, an assault on them and their values. Everything is a plot to take down good believing Christians, although I’m not sure how even fundamentalists could object to the innocent fun of “Cats”. No cursing, no nudity, no violence, no sex.
I remember being told that all the movies, fashions, plays, video games, music with a syncopated rhythm and a myriad of other things were devious plots by the Enemy to seduce you and yours away from your faith. Separate you from the love of God by an evil demon beat, sort of like this scene from “Reefer Madness” where the lady starts stripping her clothes off and moaning because a man is playing jazz nearby.
There were many in my days there that would not own televisions, refused to go to movies, read magazines or any non-Christian books, saying that partaking of anything of the world would warp your minds. Immure yourself from The World by wrapping your brain with Bible pages and the CDs from the bigger Christian ministries but heaven forfend if you are to slip and watch a movie. It didn’t even matter what type of movie, it was equally sinful no matter if it was something as innocuous as “Sister Act” or hardcore violent like “Resident Evil”. It didn’t matter, it didn’t come from some ministry it was automatically evil.
Though I never asked anyone why live theater would be off limits I can imagine being told that it was a waste of money, time and resources that could be used in the service of God. Unless it’s one of those youth sketches one act plays that ministries love to use.
Another member once explained it to me as a theft of time and a theft of thought, all thoughts were to line up with the Lord’s and anything that took time away from trying to live out the great commission was considered to be of the Devil.
I remember being confronted by a few of the sisters because I used to watch one of the soap operas on television and read books written by a writer from my home town, Anne Rice. I’d casually mentioned something about loving the soundtrack for the musical “Chicago”. I was told that I should never, ever, ever, ever, ever like something that contained the sexuality and sinfulness this musical did. You’d fill your head with thoughts of extra marital sex and once those buggers were in your brain and soul Satan would have a foothold. Then it was just a slippery slide down the slope to degradation, liquor and adultery.
Embarrassed by the sisters I gave up Anne Rice and “The Bold and the Beautiful” After all, many of Anne Rice’s novels were about vampires and B&B featured the ever revolving adultery triangles of Ridge, Brooke, Eric, Taylor and a cast of many. Viewing adultery, Ridge in Speedos and reading about vampires opens a door straight down to hell, Satan and his capering minions, right? But I sure missed my random entertainment, switching instead to watching daily “The 700 Club” (thankfully Pat Robertson NEVER wore Speedos on the show!) and reading the works of William Branham. Not quite the same.
Sometimes we’d go over to Tom Smith’s house and sneak a peek at action movies as Tom considered action movies right up there with G-rated kids classics or things like “Fireproof” or “Flywheel”. But I always felt guilty after, like a gal that’s dieted hard all week and finds herself face down in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. The Bible never spoke of entertainment or the choices as in “Thou shalt not watch any movie containing Tom Cruise…” It would have been so much easier if it had spoken of that.
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight I can now see that “Chicago” or anything else wasn’t the real problem, it was the simplistic fear held by those around me. Fear, fear, fear of anything not inside that little Christian bubble. “Chicago” is just a pleasant diversion that explores the culture of the twenties and thirties in Chicago, Illinois, not some demon-addled plot to make everyone rush out and screw people they aren’t married to. But the rejection of “Chicago” is just another version of that men cannot control themselves sexually and woman are defrauding men by showing knees and shoulders.
Now I wonder if they, the patriarchal Christians, aren’t just a bunch of children, with a childlike understanding of faith that isn’t very deep and can be shaken to their core by the normality of life and the world around them. Don’t they even have enough confidence in their own faith to hold onto it any time something contrary to their own world view crosses their path? Atheists don’t run away shrieking when they view a manger scene or mezuzah.
That’s really unfortunate that they shun culture because there are many wonderful works of art out there that could enrich the lives of so many people, including those isolationist quiverfull bunch. And sometimes you can even find something that deepens and enriches your own spiritual experience out of the ‘things of the world’
A few years back I was watching the movie “Tommy” by The Who (I adore them!) and the last sequence came on, the song played has those lyrics, “Thinking of you I e” and I was suddenly struck that the song wasn’t about Tommy at all but about God, Tommy’s journey to find the deity that made him worship. Later I read Pete Townshend’s autobiography “Who I Am” and read about his spiritual journey to find the music of the angels he’d heard as a child. “Tommy” is a movie about spiritual journey but anyone in the patriarchal movement likely cannot see past the molestation and abuse of the main character to see the spiritual aspect of it.
Art is not only a means of expressing and embracing our deepest emotions, it also reflects what is going on around it in the realm of the world. Is that really a bad thing?
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NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce