Monday, August 16, 2010

Topsy-Turvy

As a ring of gold in a swine's snout
So is a beautiful woman
who lacks discretion.
Proverbs 11:22*



Once upon a time there was a girl named Poppy in a movie called "Happy-Go-Lucky".  She is the girl.  She's the prototype of eccentricity bottled in the body of an extroverted, skinny Brit, school teacher.  She is Poppy, and she'll be smiling at you all day.


  The question is: do you smile back?

Mike Leigh created Poppy as the centerpiece to a film who's theme appears to be in the title.  The film never tries to be anything more than a case study of a woman who walks around laughing at the silliness of the world and all the characters in it.  The most climactic scenes of the film are birthed out of characters interacting with Poppy who are not Happy-Go-Lucky.  This is the inquiry the film delves into -- does the sourness of the world crush blithe spirits like Poppy?

The first lines of the film are spoken by Poppy after she gets out of her cutsy bicycle to rummage through a used book store.  She flutters about through the store, and comments on a book she's just pulled from the shelf; "The Road to Reality... don't wanna be going there!"  We're being told that we're entering her world, not our own.  And yet, despite the spoken word, a moment later Poppy ventures back into the outside world only to discover that her cutsy-potootsie bike has been hijacked (think "The Bicycle Thieves").  Poppy shrugs it off.

That intro scene is really all we need to know about the movie.  We have a character who is happy.  She will continue to be confronted with harsh and potentially debilitating realities of the world.  But she will overcome all these things by shrugging them off.

What is deeply fascinating here is not the film itself per se, but rather, what the film intuitively causes us to do.  (Note: Today I'm assuming that the common public thinks the way I do --- I know, it's a stretch, but a man has to live!)  Because Poppy is our main character; because she is so happy, and because everyone who isn't happy with Poppy just isn't happy, we are naturally bent to form a dichotomy.


Are you like her, or are you not?  

Throughout the film I found myself weighing the evidence.  The film gently forces your hand to try to converge your self-image to that of Poppy or Anti-Poppy.  Leaving the experience, if you find yourself in the Anti-Poppy self-image allotment crowd, you are likely not-so inspired.  Or maybe it sends you in the direction of change.  I guess that would be good.  But...

I've been at a conference in Switzerland all this week, and in the morning sessions our group has been working through the first three chapters of the book of Ephesians in the New Testament.  Unsurprisingly (but by no means remorsefully), the general theme of the discussions has been on grace.  Scandalous grace.  Now, grace is an easy concept to say (what with it being only one syllable and all), but an intricate beast to really grasp.  Stay with me.  This applies to the movie.  Just you hold your horses.

The following is my translation of the teaching I've engorged myself on this week:
Christianity, at least, the faith in the work of Jesus of Nazareth, is an utterly unique tradition.  It is, at its very core, absolutely unique from the religions of the world.  All other religions (as far as I know -- feel free to show me my error if you are in the know) run on a certain operating system.  It's the same operating system that movies run on, and it's a very natural thing.  The world operates on a Performance Based Value System.  If you'd prefer, you can substitute the word Merit in for Performance.  This PBVSystem is quite simple; you get what you deserve.  If you're a good citizen of the world, you reap good rewards.  If you are bad, your endgame is badness.  That all sounds fine and dandy.  It sounds justicefull.  But there's a problem: there are so many glaring exceptions to the rule.  Evil often excels at life.  Bad people get to be movie stars and presidents and generals.  And when those bad people get into power, the good people receive the outpouring of those in power.  Sigh.  Perhaps because of this internal draw towards justice, or because of the amount of exceptions that the world burdens us with, we tend to seek happiness and fulfillment through comparison.  And so I base my contentedness on how I stack up to other people.  Furthermore, in a film like "Happy-Go-Lucky", I'm bound to lose because Poppy comes out of it all so blissfully perfect.

If, and let us stress that if, we choose to run our lives on a PBVSystem, then we will compare ourselves, because we are constantly seeking for a standard by which to compare ourselves to.  We need to know if we come out of it all better than par.

If, on the other hand, we embrace the words of Jesus and the Bible, then we are to operate our lives on a Grace Based System, which will never be based on comparison.  Living by grace is living with the knowledge that I failed.  I sucked at life.  I have done bad things.  All it ever took was one bad thing to fail --- and I've stumbled over myself so many times I can't count it all.  You have too.  Everyone has.  But, do to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has removed all my demerits.  So, the therefore that comes out of that, is that my operating system is not based on my accomplishments.  No, it's based on the gratitude I have for God because he saved me from my own failure.

Poppy, as happy as she is, is a trap.  I am happy and made right not by acting like her, or trying to adopt her lifestyle.  Some of us can never be extroverted the way she is.  We just are not all wired that way.  Be who you are, because God has extended a new operating system out to you (the Liger?).

Boy, this entry was especially Gospely.  I guess this is my natural reaction to the Swiss Alps.                                Excellent.


"But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for He Himself is our peace... by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances..." Ephesians 2:13-15

*All Bible quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible translation

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