Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Double Feature

There are movies that I can watch again and again with pleasure because they conjure up for me the “olden” times of my life. The Birds and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? take me back to a quaint California of the early 1960s, my native state. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter take me back to books I enjoyed as a youth, and both were transformative, not only at how I looked at race and disability, but how I viewed myself as an outsider.

Recently I wanted to end a Sunday afternoon with such a movie, and I caught the last half of A Summer Place on Turner Classic Movies. It’s a peculiar story how I first happened to see the film. My occasionally non-conformist mother and a colleague of hers served as tricksters at the rather staid Christian school where they taught and which I attended, playing practical jokes on each other and exchanging funny, mischievous notes.

He suggested my parents and I—10 years old or so—join him to see Ben Hur at a drive-in movie theater. It happened to be half of a double feature with A Summer Place, a movie my parents had reservations about seeing themselves, let alone letting me see this film about lusty, illicit love. I can’t remember if it was shown first, and we had to watch it, or if last, and we stayed because we had already paid for it! (My parents, while generous, were even more frugal than I am!) But we watched the entire double feature.

In my book, As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage, I wrote how, of all the Hollywood movies about Jesus, I prefer Ben Hur, because the film never shows Jesus directly, but rather, depicts how he affected people—which is what I believe we have in Christian scriptures as well. I like this less literal and more indirect way of portraying Jesus.

Obviously it’s strange pairing this quasi-religious film with an incredibly secular film about older star-crossed lovers who leave their disastrous marriages to marry, and their teenage children who fall hopelessly in love, played by (to me, adorable) Troy Donahue and (to me, lucky) Sandra Dee. (When he died in 2001, I was saddened to learn that, after a serious bout with drugs and alcohol, his “summer place” was New York’s Central Park, before getting sober and getting on with his life.)

But the double feature awakened the double feature of my own life. Yes, I liked Jesus and things religious. And yes, I liked Troy Donahue, and things romantic. Religious or romantic, love would eventually come to me spiritually and sexually, thanks be to God!

Ever wonder why, after teaching at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, prolific Christian author Henri Nouwen spent the last ten years of his life as part of the L’Arche community, built around people with disabilities? Come find out as I lead a weekend retreat at Kirkridge May 2-4: “Henri Nouwen’s Road to L’Arche.”

Each Wednesday of Lent, I am providing links for the following six days, should you wish to use this blog as a Lenten resource for reflection.

Thursday:      Spiritual Yearnings
Friday:            Vacation and Vocation
Saturday:       If Jesus Read The New York Times

Holy Week
Palm Sunday:           Blessed Are the Prophets
Monday:                    The Temple of God’s Wounds
Tuesday:                   Spiritual Struggle [First full day of Passover]

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  1. Briefly. At the time it seemed rather in-line with what looked to others as some "do it to stand out" but i remember trying to keep sexuality and spirituality together maybe more than they should be?? At any rate, until i allowed them to seem separate i did not "get on" so to speak in either sphere. I believe you have spoken to "compartmentalization" quite a lot, but i am not remembering specifically what you have said about applying it.

  2. For me, a spiritual goal (among others) is integrity, integrating all aspects of one's life, including sexuality and spirituality. It's hard to do when we've been taught they oppose one another, rather than complement one another.