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HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES:The Fool’s Quest to Understand

January 31, AD2013

\"John

Simply put, I want to show how to help others find faith by watching movies.

\”Wait!\” I hear you say. \”Not with the movies so popular today. How is that possible?\”

Believe it or not, it is possible when we consider the following four steps.

A. Link the Hero’s Journey to the Decision-Maker’s Path ™

While I suspect most of my colleagues and commenters on this blog will doubtless take other paths to helping others find faith, especially our Catholic faith, let me give a brief bit of history from my own experience to show how watching movies to find one\’s faith can work.

In my previous post, I made reference to the mono-mythic hero’s journey. I first heard about this shortly after the Star Wars epic trilogy [click through via linked images to reach further references] first hit the theaters. My friend, Bob Provan and I went to see the baseball movie, Bull Durham, when it first came out. Among other things you may recall, “Annie Savoy” invites the audience to join take part in the great Church of Baseball.

After attending the baseball \”services\” she and the other characters showed us, Bob and I went out for a beer to discuss what we had experienced. Bob had taken a screenwriter’s course from Christopher Vogler. Vogler early on recognized that George Lucas\’ Star Wars followed Joseph Campbell\’s book The Hero With A Thousand Faces in the way its underlying plot structure was set up. As Bob proceeded to tell me his analysis of the Bull Durham\’s, with keen awareness of the heroic stages involved, I was struck by its explanatory power and at the same time by a different level of analysis.

I saw the movie not only as depicting the hero’s journey as an external activity, but also revealing an unspoken model of the hero’s internal decision-making process.

For several years thereafter, I worked with Vogler’s approach (which he turned into The Writer’s Journey) and converted its statements of the external stages into internal questions for decision-makers. This was followed by some serious reading.

Two books I want to direct your attention to from the outset: Bernard Lonergan’s Insight: A Study of Human Understanding and John Sanford’s Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language. These books were instrumental in starting me on my own journey to learn more about Catholicism, but certainly not in the way I expected.

Though I am a cradle Catholic, my adult journey began when I read Lonergan writing about our human blind spots. In his book he had provided me with sweeping insights into understanding the insights and oversights of math, science, and even common sense, a stunning book in this regard.

But it was when he wrote about dreams that I was caught unprepared. He described how dreams revealed our blind spots, especially those that lead to oversights and away from insights. Apparently I was not aware of my blind spots, despite the suggestions from others that I had more than a few.  The practical significance of this oversight on my part was more telling than I imagined. As Lonergan writes at page xiv:

\”There remains the question, What practical good can come of this book? The answer is more forthright than might be expected. For insight is the source not only of theoretical knowledge but also of all practical applications and, indeed, of all intelligent activity. Insight into insight, then will reveal what activity is intelligent, and insight into oversights will reveal what activity is unintelligent. But to be practical is to do the intelligent thing and to be unpractical is to keep blundering about. It follows that insight into both insight and oversight is the very key to practicality.\”

So in a deliberate effort to be practical and to discover more about my blind spots, I finally faced my sense of deep loneliness in this world. I went on an 8-day, silent retreat at the Jesuit Spirituality Center at Grand Coteau, Louisiana.

There, each night I found my dreams profoundly revealing. Insights and oversights, and new insights into both.

Next I discovered John Sanford’s Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language. I quickly understood how the figures in my dreams function like angels, with messages worthy of consideration. I realized I no longer had to resort exclusively to the psychological approaches made famous by FreudJung, and others, with their resulting personality type-casting (e.g. Please Understand Me) that reach even into approaches to prayer.

But, as I’m sure you already know and probably agree, most people do not want to talk about their own dreams. Too crazy. Too revealing. Too painful. Too incredible.

Finding this reluctance, I looked for a workable substitute, a surrogate. I began to talk to people about movies as if they were community dreams. In effect, we could all have the same dream and try to learn more about the functions of the characters in the stories, working the movies as dreams by analogy.

Eventually, reading movies like dreams enabled me to envision writing some screenplays. And, God willing, I became quite successful at it. I hope to bring the value of a Catholic screenwriter to our discussions.

In light of my work with dreams and movies, I have continued to probe my initial set of decision-making questions more deeply. The more I meditated on these questions, the more other questions arose. Finally I settled on a number of them that I saw fitting from a variety of approaches and themes. Finally, I compared them with key stages and events in the life of Jesus to test the approach, following St. Paul’s advice:

Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
– St. Paul the Apostle
1 Thessalonians 5: 19-22

B. Acknowledge Current Dis-Integration and Goal of Faithful Integration

In this series of columns, then, I want to give my readers the opportunity to see how the Decision-Maker’s Path ™,  as I have come to call it, works using movies (and other Spirit inspired works) to help guide someone to make a decision about faith, especially faith in Jesus and the Catholic People of God.

Given the present state of characters in the movies, I recognize that it may seem to some that this is a fool’s quest. But perhaps that’s because many of us today actually identify with the nearly unconscious hero in Ground Hog Day, working in a rut and waking up to the same grind day in and day out.

Within such a rut may well be the signs of a gradual process of dis-integration that others are more aware of and more up front about. How does the dis-integration change the ways of knowing, our smarts, so to speak? What does such dis-integration look like in movies?

  • Fathers, who may be logic smart, facing deep resignation about how the past seems to be dictating the future (see  The Human Factor)?
  • Youngest daughters, who may be music smart, wanting to make the harmonic moves in a modern-day dystopia, fearing the effects of a continually predicted apocalypse (see V for Vendetta)?
  • Oldest daughters, who may be word smart, wondering whether they can endure the unspeakable anymore after experiencing the world’s actual violence  (see The Silence of the Lambs)?
  • Middle daughters, who may be body smart, done fighting the good fight, but drained by thoughts of what change may come next (see Aliens)?
  • Middle sons, who may be intrapersonally smart, fearing failure before completion of some world-changing agenda (see Kiss of the Spider Woman)?
  • Oldest sons, who may be design smart, seemingly succeeding, but not yet finding happiness (see Citizen Kane)?
  • Youngest sons, who may be interpersonally smart, endlessly courting the consequences of taking the blue or the red pill with others, or not (see The Matrix)?
  • Mothers, who may be nature smart, facing stagnation in the midst of unfaithful relationships (see The Unbearable Lightness of Being)?

In part my aim is to show how faith, including the Catholic faith, offers the best approach to re-integration, for example by achieving it for such people by the end of the journey, so that:

  • Mothers are becoming more accepting of God’s abundance, instead of paralyzing stagnation;
  • Oldest sons are becoming surprised by happiness, instead of settling for unsatisfying success;
  • Youngest daughters are finding serenity, instead of chasing after movements;
  • Middle daughters are becoming able to appreciate true attachment, instead of worrying about change;
  • Middle sons are becoming able to face the abyss, instead of falling in;
  • Youngest sons are becoming committed, instead of endless courting; and
  • Oldest daughters are welcoming God’s beauty and grace as it gently penetrates their hearts, instead of enduring burn out;
  • Fathers are becoming creative again, instead of being fatally resigned.

I am quick to note, though, that this does not mean I am pursuing some Utopian dream, with either mystical or scientific cures for all human problems. God Himself allows evil to exist in this world for many purposes, some of which we understand, some not so much. By addressing the concerns that flawed, if not down-right bad, characters foist upon us in movies, my hope is to see glimpses of Heaven on Earth, despite their real-life, non-fiction counterparts. I hope to show how religious faith, especially the Catholic religion, provides the best way to live our lives amid the good and the evil around us.

To accomplish all of this on a public blog may be asking too much. But given the stakes, I want to give it a try.

Want to join me? \”Maybe,\” you say. \”But how will we deal with disagreements along the journey?\”

C. Address How to Deal with Illusions of Truth

As we attempt to move from dis-integration to integration as a group, through the process of making decisions, especially about matters of faith, we will doubtless encounter many disagreements, often based on illusions of truth.

And though our goal may be to make decisions without illusions, I prefer we all remember just as importantly something Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his book The Point of View for My Work as an Author. To me this is the best way to work with another, even myself, when illusions about what is true and what is not abound, especially in matters of faith. Kierkegaard advises as follows:

\”…A direct attack only strengthens a person in his illusion, and at the same time embitters him. There is nothing that requires such gentle handling as an illusion, if one wishes to dispel it. If anything prompts the prospective captive to set his will in opposition, all is lost. And this is why a direct attack achieves, and it implies moreover the presumption [the flip side of the sin of despair, I am quick to point out] requiring a man to make to another person, or in his presence, an admission which he can make most profitably to himself privately. This is what is achieved by the indirect method which, loving and serving the truth, arranges everything dialectically for the prospective captive, and then shyly withdraws (for love is always shy), so as not to witness the admission which he makes to himself alone before God — that he has loved hitherto in an illusion.

\”…if real success is to attend the effort to bring a man to a definite position, one must first of all take pains to find him where he is and begin there. This is the secret art of helping others. Anyone who has not mastered this is himself deluded when he proposes to help others. In order to help another effectively I must understand what he understands. If I do not know that, my greater understanding will be of no help to him…all true effort to help begins with self-humiliation: the helper must first humble himself under him he would help, and therewith must understand that to help does not mean to be a sovereign but to be a servant, that to help does not mean to be ambitious but to be patient, that to help means to endure for the time being the imputation that one is in the wrong and does not understand what the other understands….”

Hopefully, we can respect each other enough to proceed without presumption or despair.

D. Start the Fool’s Quest to Understand

So here’s my proposal. I invite you to join me and others to undertake, via this post and accompanying comments, the first stage of the hero’s-journey-turned-Decision-Maker’s-Path ™.

As envisioned, this will essentially be like an online class, with new posts from me once a month.

During each month, we will exchange thoughts about answers to a brief set of questions from the Decision-Maker’s Path ™.

In the chart below, you will find the first set of themes and questions prepared for this first stage of our journey. I have added links to a select set of musical \”warm-ups,\” to movies, and to images for meditation on the life of Jesus as provided on Gustave Dore Gallery to provide more context for our exchange of thoughts and concerns.

No.

Theme

Question

Musical Warm-Up

Movie

Meditation

1.1. The Fool WHERE ARE YOU COMING FROM? Foolish Heart The Rookie The Annunciation
1.2. Wealth What values are you serving? This Land Is Your Land Wall Street The Magi
1.3. Family Whom are you serving? Can’t Find My Way Home Spencer’s Mountain The Nativity
1.4. Innocence Are you serving innocence? Dance with My Father Again  To Kill A Mockingbird Escape to Egypt
1.5. Youthful folly How are you serving youth? I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) West Side Story The Massacre of Innocents

To help get the hang of the Decision-Maker’s Path ™, let me suggest my initial responses to key aspects of the ordinary world of the decision-maker who is undertaking this quest to understand faith better.

1.1.  The Fool: \”WHERE ARE YOU COMING FROM?\”

Acting the fool, in St. Paul\’s view, is OK so long as one is a Fool for Christ. This I can understand. I have found myself doing it many times. When I listen to the song \”Foolish Heart\” by Steve Perry, I am deeply stirred and understand how, especially as an older rookie baseball player, I would have and usually do have some trepidation about change and taking on new challenges. This is especially true when it comes to asking me \”WHERE ARE YOU COMING FROM?\” There is a sense in which I know where I come from and yet don\’t. Elsewhere on this blog I have set out a bit of my biographical info. I have a sense of \”home\” and yet know my homes are not sufficient to my deepest longings. When I meditate on \”The Annunciation\” to Mary, I get the feeling I too would have said \”yes\” to a similar  invitation, if I were her. Has an invitation to experience God in a special way already been extended to me? To you? To us? What have I done with it?

1.2. Wealth: \”What values are you serving?\” 

How does wealth tell about where I am coming from? Is my life really only about wealth? I will never forget the hilarious scene in Jerry Maguire where \”Jerry\” is asked to shout out \”Show me the money!\” for his sports client. (See this clip.) But then I recall the Woody Guthrie song \”This Land Is Your Land\” and I realize not all of us are as well of as others. The movie Wall Street seemed to offered up a morality tale to help undermine our common sense of accepting greed as a good thing, but the more I read people\’s thoughts on professionals\’ sites like LinkedIn, I\’m not so sure that people got a true fix on the underlying moral problems of wealth accumulation. Then one evening at Mass, I heard one of our priests suggest an answer to the \”What values are you serving?\”  question. He said simply that everything we have has been given to us. In my mind, I pushed back hard on this, thinking of all the work I have done to earn my way. But then over time, I began to give in  as I looked back on my life and remembered what my parents and siblings gave to me; what my teachers taught me above and beyond my tuition; what my clients gave me in terms of opportunities to learn my profession; what my absent teachers taught me with the countless books I have read; what my wife and children and grandchildren give me. The many gifts began to boggle my mind. Then I meditated on the gifts of the Magi. That\’s when it truly hit me. These wise kings were giving gifts to a baby they did not know personally but did expect great things from. It was not a matter of figuring out how they knew about Jesus (though this is the subject of a fascinating documentary of a lawyer who went looking for answers to his children\’s questions; see The Star of Bethlehem); but rather about the value they were serving in the process of coming to find him. What am I really seeking in my search for true value?

1.3. Family: \”Whom are you serving?\”

Now it is much clearer than way back when I first heard Cream\’s \”Can’t Find My Way Home.\” I lived through the 1960s at the peak of cultural revolutions in the United States. But I do remember where, when, and with whom I first saw \”Spencer’s Mountain\” and watched the TV series The Waltons that elaborated the story for many seasons. Despite the impact of The Waltons on me and my desire to write like John-Boy Walton, it did take me time to find my way back \”home.\” But with the birth of each new child of mine, I gradually saw much more profoundly why \”The Nativity\” of Jesus is the cause of such ongoing celebrations throughout the world. The family of God, for us Trinitarians, appeared in the world just as my children did. To be part of that family, the People of God, did become more intriguing to me as my own family grew and matured.

1.4. Innocence: \”Are you serving innocence?\”

My father was a professional engineer for over 40 years. Deeply religious, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he seemed to me to only get holier and holier as he neared death. We had very different personalities though and this resulted in not as much talking as I am pleased to have now with my own children. So I always find Luther Vandross\’s \”Dance with My Father Again\” especially poignant. It reminds me of when I last sat with Dad listening to Christopher  Cross\’s song \”Sailing.\” He loved to sail. I was off to college before Dad got his boat. Oh, how I wish Dad would have told me more about his thoughts when he sailed. I think Cross\’s song may tell it like Dad would had he been a singer. Whenever the wind comes up now, wherever I am, the wind like the Holy Spirit puts me back in touch with him. My Dad\’s brother, my uncle, and I were more alike. He was a lawyer and helped me learn my approach to the profession. Watching \”To Kill A Mockingbird\” brings together in one character, Atticus Finch, the strength of my two wonderful male role models. In their different ways, they preserved me with a sense of abiding innocence. They offered me the kind of protection I see Joseph giving Mary and Jesus as he took them out of harms way.

1.5. Youthful folly: \”How are you serving youth?\”

Whitney Huston\’s \”I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)\” does indeed bring back memories of when I was still in the market looking. While I did not face the Romeo and Juliet drama of a West Side Story, I did and still do appreciate how many obstacles there are for young people trying to grow up in our world. When I first started studying decision-making, I began to realize how little time and focus is given over in our system of education, especially in the public sector, to learning about how to make decisions. Oh, I know we emphasize making choices and I know children are taught about making judgments. But I see decisions as a very different process. Judgments are oriented to the past; choices are oriented to the present. Decisions are oriented to the future. The bad decision that Herod made in \”The Massacre of Innocents\” brings to my mind something I did not expect. I had expected I would see a parallel between that incident and our current struggle over abortion. Some undoubtedly raise it. But no, not me at first. What I found myself wondering was whether Jesus was told later in life how he escaped this ruthless massacre. Did Jesus think from early on in his childhood about why he was spared? Why are any of us spared? What lies ahead for those of us who survive past our youthful follies? Is Jesus the one we all want to dance with?

I look forward to reading your initial responses. Please feel free to change your answers as we learn more from each other. I know I will.

The remaining stages will follow along in order of the hero\’s journey. Thus, for instance, next time we will be called to begin the adventure of considering key issues that we are trying to deal with.

Finally, please remember Blaise Pascal\’s famous observation as we set out on our journey:

\”Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas.\” (\”The heart has reasons that reason does not know.\”)

Thanks in advance for your participation.

© 2013 John Darrouzet. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

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About the Author:

John Darrouzet is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, an accomplished lawyer, a student of decision-making, and a deeply committed Roman Catholic layman who is FINDING FAITH AT THE MOVIES. Read more about John here.

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