The director and the actor, part 2

This will not make sense unless you read Part 1.

Time went on. The actor thought he was being quite patient with this inept actress. He made a constant effort to be helpful: pointing out every mistake of hers that he noticed, letting her know how extraordinarily difficult she was to work with, reminding her that she was not the person he wanted for the part, and telling her how unhappy he was about working with her. He even let her know how unpleasant her personality was. He thought all this would encourage her to improve but, to his growing disgust, she stubbornly refused to change.

Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and, once again, he poured out his mounting frustration to the director. He expected sympathy — after all, they were friends — and that the director would force the actress to change her ways immediately, so he didn’t hold back at all in his litany of complaints. He must have talked nonstop for almost an hour, because the actress had so many faults, but he finally paused for breath, right after exclaiming for about the tenth time that she was a dismal failure of an actress.

When the director responded, the actor wondered of he had even been listening. “Neither of you are good at acting. That’s why you are both here. Hours of Our Lives is not just a soap opera; I designed it to be an on-the-job acting school.” The director anticipated his protest. “I know you think you are a good actor, and that the problems are all hers, but please listen to me.” After an extremely reluctant and begrudging nod from the actor, the director continued. “There are definitely some major things I’m working through with her. She can be a difficult student. She doesn’t always listen to me. She is easily distracted. Then there is her clumsiness, the problems she has paying attention — that makes for lots of mistakes. And, as you know, she sometimes wanders off the set. Her shyness, lack of confidence, and tendency towards self-absorption interferes with her acting, as does her impatience and her temper. But do you know what her biggest problem is?”

If the actor had been paying better attention, instead of feeling a smug satisfaction over hearing the director finally admitting how terrible the actress was, he would have noticed the tears of pain in the director’s eyes as he said, “Her biggest problem is that she doesn’t really believe that I’m her friend.” After a pause, he went on, almost as if thinking out loud, in a voice that was tender and sorrowful, “Once in a while, she plays her role exactly as I’m directing her. She opens up and pours her heart and soul into her performance. It’s amazing. You don’t realize it, but it takes other people’s breath away. I’m so proud of her, so delighted in her, those times when she manages to capture the very essence of her role, as if she were reading my mind. And I’m standing at the sidelines, overjoyed, whispering, ‘Brava! Brava!’ only…only she never seems to hear me…”

The actor hadn’t been following everything the director said but the following caught his attention: “You don’t make many mistakes. You’re not clumsy. You are disciplined, a hard worker, a loyal friend, and you’ve never wandered off the set. You try to follow my script carefully, except for those times when you either don’t understand it or disagree strongly. Then you can be quite stubborn and uncooperative in your refusal. And, most of the time, your acting is wooden, detached, lacking in depth and emotion, so the audience has a hard time connecting with your character. Because of the way you play him, he doesn’t seem genuine. But do you know what your biggest problem is?” he asked, only to be immediately interrupted.

Without letting the director get a word in edgewise, the actor seized a few of the things he had said about the actress, using them as an excuse to launch into a diatribe about how disappointed — angry and resentful even — he was that the director had forced him to work with such an untalented, unlikable actress, while refusing to make her change. When his angry complaints and accusations were at long last exhausted, he paused, hoping that he had finally managed to make his point.

Instead, the director went on as if the actor had said nothing. “Don’t you want to know what your biggest problem is?”

“Wait! You don’t understand. I’m not the one with the problems — she is! Why won’t you do anything about that?”

Again, the director spoke as if the actor had not said a thing. “The two of you have so much to teach each other — ”

“But I am trying to teach her! She refuses to listen to me!”

“Oh, no, you’re wrong. She listens to you. In fact, that’s part of the problem: she listens to you far too well, and she takes the things you say far too much to heart. Remember how I was telling you about the times she performs her role so magnificently? Afterward, I applaud her, tell her how well she did, how proud I am of her, how much I love her…but she doesn’t hear me. Do you know why? Your voice drowns mine out.” The actor tried to interrupt and defend himself, but something about the way the director looked at him made him stop.

He had never seen the director look that way. There was anguish in his eyes, and a sternness that was almost frightening. At the same time, there was a love so deep that it seemed impossible, and a tender compassion so overwhelming that it began to melt the actor’s anger and resentment.

“I love you,” the director said. “You are more than my friend; you are like a son to me. You know that. And I have not stopped loving you like my own flesh and blood this entire time, even though you have disappointed me so much, and hurt me with your anger and resentment. I love her too. She is more than my friend; she is like a daughter to me. It breaks my heart that she finds that so difficult to believe.” The tears began flowing down the director’s face as he spoke. “Oh, if you would only learn from me! You never bothered to really look at her, or you would have noticed she struggles with a limp. You see, she had a near-fatal and extremely traumatic injury years ago, and I nursed her back to health. It’s not something she likes to talk about, which is why she never said anything all those times you complained that she walked too slowly or wasn’t graceful enough. But your words wounded her tender heart. I had hoped that you knew me well enough and were enough like me that you would try to treat her as I do. But you didn’t. Your words didn’t just drown mine out; they contradicted mine, and they made it harder for her to hear me and believe me.”

The actor looked away in shame. He couldn’t bear the tears on his friend’s face.

“I’ve asked you twice if you knew what your biggest problem was, but you didn’t want to know. Perhaps you’re finally ready to hear it. Your biggest problem is that, despite all of our years of friendship, you still don’t trust me. When I wrote this role for you, when I cast two of my dearest friends to play husband and wife, I was giving you the most precious gift I could, besides my friendship. But you didn’t trust me. Instead, you despised my gift so much that you have been angry with me. Oh, how I wish you trusted me enough to want a truly close, intimate friendship with me! Because then you would understand me, and we could become like kindred spirits…and, oh…you would realize what a precious gift I gave you, what a priceless opportunity!”

It was a struggle for the actor to hold back his own tears.

The director continued, “You are dutiful, responsible, and a hard worker. Those are wonderful traits, but the script also calls for your character to be loving, gentle, encouraging, and compassionate. Unfortunately, I can never get you to put your heart into that aspect of your role. It seems too risky to you, and you always insist on playing it safe. It breaks my heart that, after all our years of friendship, after all I’ve done for you, after almost a lifetime of being loved like my own son, you still trust me so little.” Almost completely overcome by his tears, the director had to stop speaking.

***********

Continue with Part 3.


The director and the actor, part 1

I don’t write allegories. Well, except for this one — inspired over two years ago by someone’s chance comment —  which practically wrote itself.

Like all allegories, it’s not perfect, so please don’t plumb it for depths of meaning or hold it up to theological scrutiny. Also, please don’t assume you can guess at the identities of the actor and the actress— they aren’t representations of anyone in particular. They could be an unhappily married couple…a pastor and his unruly flock…people trying to minister to the lost and broken..coworkers…family members…fellow Believers…or just about anyone. 

If you find anything in this allegory helpful or appropriate to your own situation, that’s great. I’m dusting this off and showing it the light of day only because I hope it might provide someone else with the same hope and comfort — and sorrowful conviction of sin — that it gave me back when my writing it caught me by surprise. 

More recently, I added a fourth part. Stay tuned.

The director sighed. “Are you serious?” he asked.

“Of course I’m serious!” the actor retorted. “I shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff. Things need to change!”

The director replied calmly and gently. “Look, I hope by now you know how much you mean to me, my friend. But it’s time you faced reality. You’re not the big star in a blockbuster movie; you’re just one of the many actors in Hours of Our Lives. Julia Roberts doesn’t even waste her talent on soap operas and, even if she did, our show couldn’t afford her. Plus, she’s way, way out of your league — she is very picky about her leading men.”

“OK, maybe not Julia Roberts, but someone else…anyone else! You cast the wrong person for this role! And the script — it’s all wrong!”

“Wait a minute. Didn’t you come to me, asking for my help and guidance? You could have chosen another director with a script you liked better. I warned you that working for me can be difficult and painful at times, even dangerous, and that I might ask you to make some big sacrifices. But you insisted you wanted me — and no one else — to direct you, that you trusted me, and that you would play any role I gave you. I tailor-made your part of the script for you, and I hand-picked the actress to play opposite you. Are you telling me you that I don’t know what I’m doing?”

“Of course not. You’re a great director, and you know how much our friendship means to me. But, you see, I have my own script. And, in my script, I have a much better wife. The one you came up with to play that role is terrible! She’s one big royal pain in the rear to work with. She argues with me all the time. It’s gotten so bad that I hate coming to rehearsals. She refuses to follow my script. She can barely act. She’s not at all pretty. How could you do this to me? It’s hard to even like her! Either you made some big mistake, or you’re trying to ruin my life. I know she is!”

The director sighed again, and spoke even more gently, “I can see that you’re upset. I know this is not an easy role that I’ve given you. But it’s nowhere near as bad as your description! I think you are making things more difficult than they need to be. Don’t you trust me?”

“Of course I do. How can you even ask that? It’s just that I have this really great script I’ve been working on for years, and I know it’s the right one for me — and I know this…this ‘actress’ you came up with is completely wrong for the role of my character’s wife.”

“I see.” The director sounded grieved. “So you think your script is better than mine?”

“Um, no. I just thought maybe we could work on the script together, you know…a lot of my ideas are based on your script, anyway. For example, there’s the part in your script that describes the wife as being ‘sensitive’. Well, my script has all these scenes showing exactly how a sensitive wife should treat her husband, and your script seems to be missing that.”

“But my script has scenes about how a loving husband is supposed to treat his wife, yet you refuse to play them.”

“That’s not true! I play them exactly as written! My character is extremely forgiving towards his awful shrew of a wife. Even though she is so terrible, he puts up with her.”

“I don’t think you’ve read my script carefully enough,” the director said, but his voice was so soft that the actor chose to ignore it. So then the director said, “You need to realize something. The actress you are so upset with is also my friend. You know how I give you the lines you need each day? Neither of you has read each other’s parts…and neither of you has read the entire script. You don’t know how it plays out.”

“Well, if you’re friends with her, you must know how awful she is and what a terrible job she’s doing with this role! I can’t believe that she is even consulting your script — surely you wouldn’t write such a horrible story!”

“Oh, she comes in here a lot — ”

“What? She’s probably complaining about me — she is always complaining — and I bet she argues with you a lot — she is such a contentious woman that I dread being around her!”

“Not at all. I love her company…even when she cries. Unfortunately, she does that a lot —”

“Trying to manipulate you with her tears, huh?” the actor didn’t bother hiding his contempt.

“No.” The director looked straight into the actor’s eyes and, although his voice stayed gentle, there was a firm edge to it. “I think you are forgetting what I just said. She is my friend. And I am the director, remember? That makes her a friend of the director. You don’t know her as well as I do. Just like you, she is one of my most precious friends. I was hoping you and she could be friends also, but instead, I have watched you snub her, deliberately rebuff her every offer of friendship, and even go so far as to publicly humiliate her.”

At this point, the actor got defensive and tried to make excuses, but the director cut him off. “You can pretend to yourself, but I see right through it.” He paused and then went on, “You know how you often tell me that you want to be just like me, that I’m your role model? Then why are you refusing to follow my example?” He held up his hand to silence the actor’s protests. “If you were like me,” he said in the saddest voice the actor had heard him use in a long time, “you would love her, because I love her. Besides, she is trying to be like me also — if you were truly my friend, you would love her for the ways she takes after me. And you would thank me for choosing her to play the role of your character’s wife.”

Love her? Thank him? What kind of crazy talk was that? The actor muttered after he left in a huff. Obviously the director didn’t understand. That terrible actress was nothing like the director! He grew angrier the more he thought about their conversation. “That’s some fine way for the director to treat me after all my years of devotion to him! I’ll play in his stupid show, because I’m a decent guy who keeps his word, but I’m only doing it out of a sense of duty. I’m not going to like it, and there is no way I will ever thank him for making me work with such a terrible actress!”

**********

Read Part 2.

Purity: it’s not just for virgins | Preaching to the choir

There are a lot of wrong messages coming out of “purity culture”, and I’ve written quite a bit about my concerns. One of the things that troubles me greatly is that the message of the gospel is too often being perverted by a false teaching of what purity is. The entire concept that we are born pure and can lose our purity should seem like jarringly false doctrine to evangelical Christians who believe in original sin and the power of redemption. It should, but all too often it doesn’t.

Another troubling aspect of “purity culture” is that it’s all about what one shouldn’t do, and doesn’t give a hope-filled message of what one should do. Furthermore, it’s a message that becomes meaningless the instant one marries…or at least the instant the marriage is consummated. The message is also skewed heavily towards young women, especially when the emphasis is on an intact hymen and the vehicle is father-daughter “purity balls”. Purity is seen as less important for young men.

This is not a Christian ethic, no matter what one tries to claim.

There’s an old-fashioned word I don’t hear very much, at least not in Protestant circles, but it’s an important one to use in discussions of sexual purity. That word is chastity. Sometimes chastity is thought to be synonymous with celibacy; however, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches otherwise:

Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.  Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end.

This flies in the face of what is taught to too many girls within “purity culture”, where purity is equated with virginity marked by an intact hymen. This emphasis is so out of proportion to reality that I’ve known girls who agonized over whether using a tampon would cause them to “lose their virginity” and thus sacrifice their “purity”. I’ve read of a growing number of young brides who grieve the loss of their virginity on their honeymoons when they “give up their purity” to their husbands. What now? they wonder. The most valuable thing about them is gone forever. The precious gift has been given, sometimes to a husband who acts more entitled than appreciative, and now what do they have left?

Chastity, on the other hand, is a lifestyle. It is not something we are born with and must guard lest we lose it to the wrong person. It is, instead, a virtue we must cultivate with the help of the Holy Spirit, and it is just as important, if not more so, after the wedding night as before. Chastity is the healthy, God-honoring expression of our sexuality in a way appropriate to where we are in life, whether single or married. It is one way in which we present our bodies to Christ as a living sacrifice. It is one of the outworkings of sanctification.

By the grace of God, one can begin living a chaste life at any point. Even the most sordid past sins can be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit can empower the weakest of the weak to walk in repentance, in purity, and in holiness.

That’s the power of the gospel.

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  (Philippians‬ ‭1:9-11‬)

Purity: it’s not what you think, part 2 | Preaching to the choir

Why am I so opposed to equating virginity with purity? It’s not just because I grew up in the era of “technical virgins” who did “everything but”. It’s not because, as some legalists might accuse, I “hate purity”. In fact, it’s because I value purity so much that I don’t want to denigrate it, reduce it to something that it isn’t, or render it meaningless. (Read the rest of my previous post here.)

I’ve written about what purity isn’t, without saying enough about what it is. If we are discussing a Biblical perspective of purity, obviously we need to look at what the Bible has to say on the topic.

From BibleStudyTools.com:

In the New Testament, there is little emphasis on ritual purity. Rather, the focus is on moral purity or purification: chastity ( 2 Cor 11:2 ;  Titus 2:5 ); innocence in one’s attitude toward members of the church ( 2 Cor 7:11 ); and moral purity or uprightness ( Php 4:8 ;  1 Tim 5:22 ;  1 Peter 3:2 … ). Purity is associated with understanding, patience and kindness ( 2 Cor 6:6 ); speech, life, love, and faith ( 1 Tim 4:12 ); and reverence ( 1 Peter 3:2 ).

Purity is far more than virginity, and it’s not just about sex. I’ve noticed that those I know who walk out a lifestyle of radical purity are not trumpeting it forth loudly on the internet, nor do they draw undue attention to themselves in general, nor do they boast of their purity. It just becomes apparent as you get to know them, and it also becomes apparent that their purity is accompanied by other virtues…especially, it seems, humility.

IMG_3343

I have always loved the promise of 1 John 3:2-3 — that seeing our Savior as He really is will transform us radically. We shall be like Him! In the meantime, if that is our hope and our longing, we should be purifying ourselves, following the example of Christ.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” said Jesus in Matthew 11:29. We never find Christ boasting about the sins He didn’t commit. Instead, we find Him serving, being about His Father’s business, loving the unlovely, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, seeking and saving the lost, binding up the brokenhearted, setting the captives free, and sacrificing His very life for us. All along the way, He keeps reminding us that, when He lived among us in bodily form, He was showing us the Father.

We can’t become like Jesus all by ourselves. First, we need Christ to cleanse us from our sins, but then we need the power of the Holy Spirit to undertake the process of sanctification — that old-fashioned theological term that can be defined simply as being used for the purpose God intends. That means an ongoing, radical transformation…or at least it should, if we truly want to follow Jesus. More obedience, less rebellion and wandering. More love, less selfishness. More compassion, less indifference. More of His will, less of mine. More of Him, less of me. Gradually, we should become more and more holy — consecrated and set apart for service to God, more and more conforming to His will.

That’s purity. Anything less, and we’re just kidding ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve still got a long, long way to go.

Purity: it’s not what you think | Preaching to the choir

Purity is not what most purity advocates think it is.

But, before we get to that, it’s time we admitted that there is a lot of immodest behavior going on among those advocating modesty and decorum. For women claiming “freedom from boastfulness” and “behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency”, there is way too much “Look at me! I am so modest! And I’m hottest!”

 

That brings us to immodesty under the guise of “purity”. A young woman who describes herself as a “preacher of purity” wants the entire world to know the results of her premarital gynecological exam, or at least the condition of the part of her sexual anatomy she wants to boast about.

This isn’t my first post about “purity culture” (see The problem with “purity culture” is not purity and “Purity Culture” doesn’t really understand purity) and I don’t want to belabor my previous points. However, there is one thing I would like to urge everyone, especially “preachers of purity”:

Stop using “purity” as a euphemism for “virginity” or “intact hymen”. STOP. The words do not mean the same thing.

To be graphic, I once met a girl who was safeguarding the intact state of her hymen but bragged to me that she had lost count of how many boys and men she had given blow jobs. She could have given her father a “certificate of virginity” on her wedding day, but there was more than one young men at her wedding who — from personal experience with her — would have snickered at the very idea that the “Blow Job Queen” ever possessed even a hint of purity.

Why am I so opposed to equating virginity with purity? It’s not just because I grew up in the era of “technical virgins” who did “everything but”. It’s not because, as some legalists might accuse, I “hate purity”. In fact, it’s because I value purity so much that I don’t want to denigrate it, reduce it to something that it isn’t, or render it meaningless.

Face it: there is no physical marker of purity. 

I might as well confess up front: I believe in original sin. To me, this means that we live in a fallen world and have a bent towards selfishness and sin. While most girl babies are born with hymens and all babies are born in a state of innocence, I do not believe we are born possessing “purity”, and that we lose this the instant — to put it bluntly — a penis breaks our hymen.

The sad truth is that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. And the avid sex-obsessed reader of steamy romance novels cannot claim “purity” and moral superiority because of her virginity any more than person who indulges in masturbation, porn, or plain old lust — even if these people have not as much as held hands with a member of the opposite sex, they have still sinned sexually.  After all, Jesus spoke against sins of the heart, and warned against being whitewashed sepluchres, all clean on the outside but filled with sin and death. Purity is a state of the mind, heart and soul far more than it is a state of the body.

And it’s not just about sex either, as we learn in ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:9-11‬:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Ever been greedy? Ever reviled — criticized in an abusive or angrily insulting manner — anyone? All of the boasting in the world over your intact hymen will not help you inherit the kingdom of God.

But here’s the good news:

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

That is the gospel. It’s about Jesus far, far more than it is about us.

Contrast this with a post from the enthusiastic but sadly misguided young bride:

“Still enjoying my amazing honeymoon, but just saw this! Only the beginning! Thanks for all your support on social media over the last couple of days! We will continue to push & celebrate our decision. Thank you for helping us push a positive message! If one person has made a decision to wait until marriage or decide to stop & wait we have done our job! Let’s make Jesus famous! -Mrs. B #meetthebowmans#purity #livingmybestdays”

We don’t “make Jesus famous” by boasting about our intact hymens: “See? See?! I’ve got proof from a doctor!! Look at me! Look at me!!” We make Jesus famous by talking about what He has done, not by bragging about which particular sex acts we avoided before marriage. We make Jesus famous by not hogging the limelight. We make Jesus famous by pointing to Him instead of ourselves. We make Jesus famous by telling the truth about purity: it’s all because of Him, not us.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians‬ ‭6:14‬)

He also wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:2-5‬)

None of us are pure. We all need washing. Some might have the sort of obvious sins and stains that make us look dirty on the outside. The road to true purity — being washed clean by Jesus and, increasingly, sanctified and set apart for Him — is, paradoxically, often far easier for us “blatant sinners” than for those with hidden or socially acceptable sins and stains. Far too many of the outwardly “good” might give lip service to God’s sustaining grace (“Let’s make Jesus famous by talking about how pure I have kept myself!”) but pride, judgmentalism, and self-sufficiency often blind them to the seriousness of their unholy and lost condition. Their faith rests too easily in themselves.

Thank God that His grace is sufficient for every sin and that His mercy extends even to those who do not fully comprehend how desperately they need Him. May their eyes be opened so that they will stop boasting in their flesh…whether they are boasting about their good deeds, the sins they didn’t commit, their circumcision, or their intact hymens. May even the most prideful and arrogant of boastful brides repent of her sin and learn to put her faith in God, and Him alone.

**********************

For a follow-up post, read here.