Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Clarence would give his wings back

(for my new readers:  I was raised Evangelical, left it behind in my twenties, and am now... eclectic?  Mostly agnostic and Christian with Buddhist, pagan and a whole bunch of skepticism thrown in for good measure.  My family-of-origin is still very evangelical.  I apologize in advance if I offend anyone here.)

After a couple of weeks and a chance to catch up on my sleep, things are back to normal with my mom and me.  We will never agree on many things, but really she is the best. We were both just stressed and exhausted for the holidays.  

But I'm still thinking through some of the things that happened while she was here in December.  One is the movie she brought for us to watch.  My mom and I have a long history of disagreeing over movies.  We both love the old Rogers and Hammerstein movies (Oklahoma, South Pacific, The King and I, Sound of Music), but I can't think of any others we agree on.  She loves sappy sweet tearjerkers, most rom coms, most Christian movies, and Kate and Leopold.  I could barely sit through Kate and Leopold; it is my mom's favorite movie. 

So when she was here, every time she mentioned the DVD that she brought that she wanted us to watch, I put her off.  I've done this before, it has worked many times.  But this time she was determined.  So Nell, a friend, mom and I sat down the day to watch this movie before mom left.  I brought down the basket of nail polish so we could do our toenails while we watched; at least the time spent wouldn't be a complete loss that way.

When I sat down to write this, I couldn't remember the name of the movie, but I remembered John Ratzenberger from Cheers was in it, so it was quick work on IMDB to find it.  It's called What If.  The backstory:  a man who leaves behind his Evangelical girlfriend and his plans to be a pastor and goes into investment banking instead.  Years later, when the story opens, he is in a high-powered career, but he is miserable.  An angel (played by John Ratzenberger) gives him the opportunity to see what his life would have been like if he'd married his original girlfriend and become a pastor instead.  It is an Evangelical version of It's a Wonderful Life, except the point is to see how great his life would be if he'd followed the straight and narrow, instead of the mess it has become.

I found it to be enormously disturbing, but I haven't been able to figure out exactly why.  It's easy to pinpoint the things that are wrong with it:  its overly-rosy view of middle class American evangelicalism (if you were one of us, you'd be happy!); the way it sets up straw men and then knocks them down (yup, if you set up the terms of the argument the way you want them so that all your assumptions are reinforced, then sure enough! you can win the argument!); and the way that at the end, after his (smirk) come-to-Jesus moment, the guy completely blows off his previous friends and his fiancĂ© in the business world so can track down the sweet Christian girl he left behind.  I mean, given that he is an evangelical, shouldn't he care for, love and want to witness to his former colleagues?  But he leaves them behind faster than a middle school mean girl leaving behind her grade school friends who turned out geeky.

Anyway.  That stuff isn't what disturbed me--that's just par for the course for a Christian  movie.  What disturbed me was the part of it that was true, and that I've left behind myself.  There were a couple of moments in it that really moved me, and that gave me pause--things that aren't specific to evangelicalism, but to spiritual health in general.  I haven't been able to pinpoint exactly what those moments were, and I'm not about to watch the movie again.  The thought makes my stomach turn.

But it did make me think that maybe it's time for me to start thinking about Christianity again. Not that I've ever entirely stopped; it's always knocking around in my head somewhere.  I'm just giving you fair warning that there's more to come.  (Or maybe not, since we're in the middle of moving and I lose my roll of strapping tape and my Sharpie marker at least 5 times a day, which does not bode well for my ability to think coherently enough to write blog posts.)(not that any of these are exactly stellar examples of clear thinking.)  I know I lose some of you when I start on religion, so feel free to skip right over when you see one of these, I'll try to come up with some kind of title so you can recognize them.


  1. Oh good! Those are the posts of yours that get me thinking the most. C'mon, Barb! Jumpstart my brain!

    let's see if this will actually comment . . . .

  2. I agree with Karen, those are the posts that get me thinking, especially as we came from the same "evangelical pot" if that is the best way to say it. I am still within the "Christian fold" but ask Dan what my reaction was the last time I stepped into a Southern Baptist church in June. Brought back unhappy childhood and early adult memories to be sure.