About a year ago I was standing in line at church for food and someone not very far in front of me was discussing with some friends about whether to object to the wedding of one of our mutual friends . In the end, nothing of the sort happened, but it is worth reflecting upon at least that there is a cliché from Hollywood movies about last-minute objections to the wedding, a cliché that has not held true in the weddings that I have attended, where if anyone thought to object they did not make it as plain as my acquaintance did, although generally if there is something to object, the time for that objection is long before someone is walking down the aisle. Hollywood clichés aside, most of the time if something is going to go horribly wrong, even where one knows it is likely to go wrong, there is the brave attempt to make the best in the ceremony, and then the sort of slow but inevitable realization of truth.
There are at least two movies I can think of where a dramatic attempt at objections to weddings took place, and both of the examples are rather telling. In the Graduate, the protagonist objects to the wedding of the girl he loves, who has been understandably upset about his affair with her mother, and they drive off together happily ever after. Or not, if you look at the ill-conceived sequel to the movie, Rumor Has It, where the same gentleman ends up carrying on with someone who may be his daughter, which is all kinds of gross. There is a biblical law, it should be noted, recorded in Leviticus 18:17, that prohibits a man from uncovering the nakedness of a mother and her daughter; it was not thought necessary to prohibit three generations since only a Hollywood screenwriter was apparently capable of conceiving of such an outrage. In the movie What About Bob?, a charismatic but not strictly sane patient of a therapist he drives insane, Bob marries into the therapist’s family, but the therapist is unable to make his objections plain.
What these examples have in common is the use of insanity for comic purposes. Mrs. Robinson is viewed as the insane party in The Graduate, using a sultry sexuality to take advantage of her daughter’s boyfriend. Here a mother and a daughter become the rivals for the affection and intimacy of someone, clearly not strictly a sane situation. In What About Bob?, the insanity is brought by the lovable and wacky Bill Murray, playing down the serious angle of insanity and passing himself off as a better catch than he is. In both cases weddings are involved that cause problems, because something is viewed as not right about the wedding from someone’s perspective, but in neither case is the real issue viewed from a moral perspective, but rather viewed from a perspective that moves the plot along or that gives credit and glory to the protagonist of the story. In most stories, it should be noted, the protagonist (or, in the case of a romantic comedy, the central couple) is the character around whom the plot turns, and which the story is generally a vehicle in supporting. Supporting characters support the plot and the interests of the main character, while blocking characters or villains seek to thwart the interests of the main character.
The retired pastor of my congregation once gave a sermon about the book of Job that brought this point out very well. How do we sort out the various roles of the “characters” in Job? They are based on their relationship to the story’s protagonist, namely Job. God has a role in Job that is similar to the role of Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare In Love or, perhaps more to the point, like the role of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Fuente Ovejuna. This role is the role of the monarch, of which the main character is a subject. This is the sort of role that appears towards the end, sorts out everything, and ends up winning awards from dazzled voters. Elihu is given prominent credit as a supporting actor, probably with an “Introducing Elihu” note. Satan and Job’s friends are blocking characters or villains. Others, like Job’s wife, are definitely minor characters who appear, if at all, three names to a line in the ending credits. When we examine our lives, we must recognize that we are all the leading protagonists in our own tale, though not the sovereigns of the universe we happen to reside in, and determining the nature of the stories we live is an important one, for we are protagonists in our own stories, supporting characters in the stories of some others, blocking characters or villains in still other stories, and bit characters with a line or two, if that, in still other tales. We have to know our role, and perform it well.
In late 2010, Taylor Swift released her third studio album, called Speak Now. The song included a somewhat grisly “dear John” song to a fellow singer-songwriter, a pointed sendoff to a mean critic in “Mean,” and a love song, of sorts, between a young man the singer was pining on and herself, told from the point of view of what would have happened if she would have let her guard down so that he could fall in love with a careless man’s careful daughter, looking back after a successful romance at the timid start of the relationship. There is a lot that can be said about the music of Taylor Swift, and especially the lyrics and the repeating cycles of songs she writes about over and over again, but one thing that can be said about her is that she knows her role in a song, and she plays it to the hilt, whether we are talking about an apologetic former lover, or a drama queen looking for blank spaces to write the names of unwitting men .
And regardless of our aspirations as writers, we must recognize that we are all part of stories. Sometimes those stories are happy ones, sometimes not. Sometimes we may be absolutely baffled by the complicated nature of the threads of the stories we are involved in, and may not be aware of the story arc in our own story. None of that is a problem, so long as we remember that we are not the only ones with a pen in the story, and that where we are not is not as important as where we are going and what we are being prepared for, and how we are making the best of whatever part in the story we have right now, even if we are not in the genre we would prefer to be. We have a part to play, and it is our job to play it, as best as we can, in the knowledge that so long as our story is not done it can change for the better. If we are determined to speak out about the lives we have lived, then we face the question of how we are to do so. Some people, like Taylor Swift, write songs about life. Others write books, maybe a memoir, maybe a thinly disguised novel, maybe a philosophical treatise with deeply layered double meanings, maybe all of the above.
For many of us, myself included, who find it difficult to speak in person about personal matters, and who find ourselves awkward and tongue tied and ill-equipped to convey the depth and sincerity of what we feel, writing is a natural way of discussing such matters. There may be times where, though, no matter how awkward speaking out, it is absolutely necessary for the sake of self defense. For example, over the past week there has been a slew of blog entries on worry and anxiety, some of them written by people I know personally, that fall under the category of actively unhelpful blog entries . These posts blame those who are anxious for lacking faith, posit all kinds of polyannaish claims about the ways God operates, and generally fail to meet the standard of emotional honesty and encouragement of those in trials and distress that is met by the Psalms, to give the most obvious example. One wonders what these writers, most of whom are ministers in some fashion, are trying to accomplish by encouraging guilt trips and engaging in abusive blaming and shaming. It is difficult for people to be honest and up front about their struggles with worry and anxiety and fear, especially the more serious forms of anxiety disorder and PTSD; it is even more difficult to do so when people in authority abuse their offices by seeking to marginalize and blame people for admitting such a struggle, as if one lacked faith because one was struggling in such matters.
In such circumstances, speaking out is of vital importance, because the integrity of the Gospel is at stake when people use the Gospel as a means to club others for lacking faith, rather than using it as an opportunity to provide gracious encouragement and edification. If we may compare people to buildings, such an approach as is taken by labeling worry or anxiety as an enemy of faith or the result of a lack of humility is acting like a civic authority that sees distressed property and seeks to tear them down in order to replace them with more attractive and lucrative buildings for urban gentrification, while the godly response is to seek to build up and restore what is distressed rather than mock it and seek to destroy it. After all, in Isaiah 42:3, quoted in Matthew 12:20, it is said of Jesus Christ that “a bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.” How often can it be said of those who purport to lead God’s people that the reverse is the case ? This is not to imply that such people wish to do wrong, or that their motives are bad, merely that they act from insecurity and lack competence in how to encourage others and how to recognize that the struggles of people are not a personal affront to them or a challenge to their office, but rather an opportunity to behave as a servant leader more concerned about the well-being of those who are being served than with the privileges and prerogatives of office.
What makes speaking out in some areas to be so important is that one is not only speaking out for oneself, but for others who are even more timid or awkward than oneself. We do not live for ourselves; the talents we have been given are meant to serve others. It is happiest, of course, when we can serve others and build up others while also serving in positions of honor within institutions. This is the ideal anyone would want–to marry and raise up godly children, to serve in responsible positions in civic and religious institutions, to be people of godly influence wherever one happens to be. Nevertheless, at times one must serve the well-being of others and live a life full of integrity by speaking against evil and exploitation, whether that means standing with those who suffer and encouraging them, living an example as best as one can, or speaking out about the evils that people must endure in this life, in the knowledge that God will eventually put us back together even more glorious than before, so that we can praise Him and serve for His glory. None of our struggles is too much for God to help us with, nor do any of our struggles make God look bad so long as we continue struggling until He blesses us and honors us as His faithful servants, committed to His ways and his family, to which we now turn.
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