Love the Oscars? My Changing Appetite.

What changed?

I loved the movies, windows into other worlds, but as I’ve pursued the spiritual more deeply, I love them less. I think it is because the world that satisfies is the spiritual one, and as you pursue it, this world pales by comparison, and “dramatizations” of this world are even dimmer, removed as they are from the real life, which is the spiritual life. (This is what I think CS Lewis was referring to in “Mere Christianity” when he said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”)

An exception might be dramatizations exploring the one true myth–the good, the true or the beautiful. I am drawn towards stories in which fallen and flawed characters move towards personal redemption, maturing in the arc of the story. My friends disagree with me, but I did not see that in “Sideways.” There is an educational, forewarning moral value in the exploration of deeply flawed individuals, but “The Aviator” was obsessive-compulsive and so it becomes instructive primarility as a study in the effects of mental illness.

When movies avoid redemptive themes and are satisfied to chronicle our fallen-ness without exploring root causes and resolution, they lose their instructive value because frankly, we already know we are fallen, we’d like to know why and what we can do about it. They tell the truth, but it is a truth we already know too well. Consuming a steady diet of this stuff engages us in a prurient endeavor; it is like “reality TV,” except with bigger budgets and name stars.

Narrative story is a popular buzzword these days, but story in and of itself has limited value. What has value is a story worth telling because it reveals something worth knowing.

The world of film is stagnating as a storytelling medium precisely because most filmmakers are disconnected from the one story worth telling underlying all other stories.

Walter Bagehot said “The reason so few good books are written is that so few people who can write, know anything!” And Ingmar Bergman adds a theological insight: “Art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days, the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans: eternal values, immortality and masterpiece were terms not applicable in his case. The ability to create was a gift. In such a world flourished vulnerable and natural humility.”

I think this vacuum could be filled by talented artists and creators who are Christian, but their work will only bring probing depth and insight if they have drunk deeply of the fathomless spiritual waters. Few have. I fear the crop of next generation Christian artists, filmmakers and songwriters, being as they often are a product of a shallow American Christianity-lite, will only be capable of imitating the fallen art forms on which they have been weaned. I am not optimistic about the future of faith or art without a thorough and deep spiritual awakening that exposes the shallowness and spiritual poverty we now call faith and culture.

The awards we win for our accomplishments in a spiritually and aesthetically bankrupt culture should not comfort their recipients we will all be judged by a higher standard who is the “Great Artist” and has a different standard of what is good.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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