I’ve long been a fan of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries. This is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, and Waiting for Guffman are some of the funniest movies I have ever seen. For fans of The Office, Parks and Recreation, or Modern Family, Guest’s movies are probably right up your alley. The other day, I revisited his 2000 release, Best in Show, and I was amazed that I had forgotten just how enjoyable it was.
Guest and his crew tell the stories of a handful of participants in the Mayflower Dog Show in Philadelphia. The characters are very colorful and extremely eccentric. They are so zany and so full of strange quirks, it would be easy to look down on these characters or to treat them as fodder for mockery. But that’s not what Guest and his cast do.
In each of Guest’s movies, he presents a unique set of persons, but he never does so in a way that tears down the characters, but rather, his cast tells the stories of these persons with great compassion. Today, that’s what I’m interested in.
I acted from the time I was a kid all the way through college. Being in plays was always fun, but more than being an enjoyable hobby for me, it was deeply formative on the way I understand relationships with people.
During one play, I was given a role that I hated. It wasn’t like the character was a bad person or anything like that; he was just boring. There didn’t seem to be too much to him. He seemed flat and uninteresting, and I couldn’t wait for the play to be done. After one rehearsal, my director asked me to stick around because he had something to say to me. As everyone was filtering out of the theater, he put his arm around my shoulder and simply said, “You know...You can’t really love him if you’re too busy judging him.”
And I was. I was judging him. I was judging him for being boring.
Guest and his cast are confronted by the stories of people that would be easy to dismiss as bizarre, as somehow over the top. The ensemble could easily tell these stories as slapstick, as caricatures. But they don’t. They listen to the stories of their characters, and they present them tenderly, gently, and with great love.
Art – television, film, music – is great because it allows us a safe space to “try on” different behaviors. It allows us to practice embracing the mysterious. It allows us to practice facing death. And it even allows us to practice loving people we might find to be otherwise bizarre, people with whom we might not readily associate or find “lovable.”
In the last episode of The Trench, I asked a question: what kind of mother has the Church been? And today, I’m wondering something similar.
Have we been a community that makes real room for people, in all their weirdness? Are we a community that tenderly handles persons that we might consider otherwise undesirable?
I think there is a great lesson we as a spiritual community could learn from actors: We can’t really love people, if we’re too busy judging them.
When actors play a role, their work is to tell a story with integrity, to advocate for their character fully and without irony. It is an act of love, and because an actor is that character’s only chance of having her story told truthfully, it is an act that demands the most sincere of attention.
What if we were more like this all the time? What if when people told us their stories, we really attended to them? What if we really listened to others with kind and open ears, rather than with ears that already think they know what the other will say?
I understand how difficult this is. I’ve been surrounded by my fair share of dullards. But we must remember: even the dullard is the icon of Christ.
This is why C.S. Lewis writes, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may be one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare" (Weight of Glory, 45).
We are all possible splendors, and we are all possible nightmares. But if we are going to walk toward the Light of Christ, we have to do it together, and we have to do it in love, and we can’t love each other, if we’re too busy judging each other.
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.