Duerfahrd recently brought his 29 students to the Music Box Theatre in Chicago for a special screening of the 2003 film “The Room,” widely reviled as the “Citizen Kane” of bad cinema.
“Everyone was talking during the movie and throwing things at it and chanting things at it and responding to it,” Duerfahrd said. “It was a beautiful event.”
Tommy Wiseau, director of the now cult-classic movie, was even on hand.
“The students all wanted to meet the man to blame for the movie,” Duerfahrd said. “It was more like a pilgrimage. Twenty-nine students wouldn’t have gone to see Spielberg or a successful director. They wanted to see Wiseau, this guy who made this horrible film.”
And that’s the heart of the professor’s respect for rotten movie making. It’s easy for us to watch and be entertained by a high-quality film. It’s a passive experience. Deriving enjoyment from a bad movie takes work, imagination and creativity – all the skills the bad movie’s creators failed to utilize.
“Most of the things that go on in our own life look like they’re out of a bad movie,” Duerfahrd said. “Forgotten lines, dropped engagement rings, poor acting. That’s what makes the bad movies so much like the life we lead.”
Sari Bari grew out of years of workers from the Word Made Flesh mission organization listening to women in the commercial sex industry in the south of India. As WMF befriended the women they would ask, “What would freedom look like for you? How would you like to attain that?” Based on their responses, a WMF field director in Kolkata, Sarah Lance, and a former WMF staffer, Kristin Keen, came up with an idea to recycle used saris, the traditional clothing Indian women wear. The saris could be sewn into quilts or purses and sold. The required speed-sewing skills were hard-won, requiring six months or more to learn. During that time, WMF also offers therapy, math and literacy instruction. But once the women finish the training, they can leave the sex trade and experience something more like freedom.
And the bags and quilts they produced were beautiful—so beautiful that the women realized they were making art, not just textiles. So they began to sign their work. In the sex trade these women often go by a false name that helps them disassociate from what they have to go through. But when they signed their artwork they used their real, given names.
Especially in evangelical circles, many will argue that earth is to be burnt up in the Judgment fire of God, and everything will be destroyed anyhow, so why worry about culture at all. Wright walks through this issue carefully in his book [Surprised by Hope], noting and clarifying many theological nuances deftly, correcting the knee-jerk anti-culture stance of the “Left Behind” theology. Even if you do not fully agree with all of his theological conclusions, his arguments are worth exploring.
I’ve always wondered why, for instance, in 2 Peter 3:10, it is not the earth that is burned up, but heaven. (“The heavens will disappear with a roar.”) And why 1 Corinthians 3 gives a resounding nod to the remarkable idea that even our works, and not only our souls, will remain after the Judgment. Further, as another theologian, Richard Mouw, points out in his wonderful book, When the Kings Come Marching in: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem, Isaiah 60 and Revelation seem to point to the final celebration of the coming of this new Reality, would have pagan Kings and secular ships sailing into the edges of New Jerusalem. In other words, cultural influencers of all types, whether classified as Christians or not, seem to end up joining the parade in some way. . . .
Culture shaping is not an escapist activity from our current woes: instead it is breathing life into the very ashes from our present and our past, and finding, with T.S. Eliot, “the still point of the turning world.” Generative creativity flows out of not just Eden, but out of this reality of “Life after Life after Death.” We can begin to deposit our efforts into the future, rather than hope to escape into our Edenic past. Our earth, no matter how bleak, is full of promise on this side of Easter. Heaven can invade into our art of life, right in the midst of our ground zeros.
And if the earth acts as a conduit of heaven, then this yeast-like hope can be worked into the dough of culture. Naturally, as I pondered Wright’s comments, I began to ask what if art is infused with heaven, what would that art look like? If true understanding of heaven is not mere escapism, but the physical manifestation of the “substance of things hoped for,” (Hebrews 11:1) then art needs to echo this promise into tangible reality. If Wright is correct, then even ephemeral expressions done in faith will remain etched in eternal reality, and somehow earth, all of earth, is fair game for heaven’s invasion. And every act, done in faith, will count.