I did finish Breslin’s book, and I do appreciate his desire to not let the authorities and their short-sighted attempts to keep the whole sex abuse matter quiet for their own political reasons be the final word. There are two ways of viewing the Church — the traditional view sees the clergy as the rulers and the rest of us the ruled, but the other view looks on all of us as the Church. In that case, it is possible for the ruled to stand up and make their voices heard, and that is the best way to avoid the situation that has gone on for too long.
But I have to admit that, on the last day of Lent, I played hooky. I watched Liberal Arts, a film starring Josh Radnor — I guess I was feeling a longing for Ted Mosby. In the film, he plays the same sort of guy he played in How I Met Your Mother.
I’m glad that I watched Liberal Arts. As a film about people who are very much bound by books, and what that might mean, the film did speak to me as a person who’s spent his life in education and in libraries (and book stores, too). My reflections on Lent this year were book related, as was last year’s reflections on Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. And just about anything I say or feel is likely filtered through books or film. I’m very much like Woody Allen’s film geek in Play It Again, Sam. His lover, played by Louise Lasser, leaves him at the beginning of the film because he’s a watcher, not a doer. The same might apply to Radnor’s character here, who is a reader, and not a doer. And yet, over the course of the film, Radnor, the reader, grows up and learns to say “yes” to life, a lesson he learned by a near romantic fling with a college student sixteen years his junior, who is part of an Improv Group. And I think that the # 1 rule of Improv is a good rule for living one’s life — say “yes” and add to the scene. That saying “yes” is what the “leap of faith” in my own tradition is all about. And when I think of the victims of abuse, one of the saddest things about them is that their experience as children, saying yes to an authority figure who abused their trust, has taught them to be very wary of saying “yes.” And some may never get that back, which is something no apology, however deeply felt, from their abuser, should any such apology come, will restore. But I think that some do learn to say “yes” again to life and love despite their experience.
But one of the great things about this film (which was not a great film, but a good one) is that Radnor’s character, when the college sophomore wants to sleep with him, doesn’t say yes. And though it is painful in the moment, and as we watch it, we’re thinking, “D’oh!” I think we realize that he made the right decision. The film opens with a line that “He that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow!” And, in a sense, it’s true. The more we know the more that stuff can get in the way of living life. But there is such a thing as wisdom, and learning can lead to wisdom. And pain, to a good end, is better than pleasure to a bad end. There is a danger in only doing stuff that makes us feel good. Life is not all joy, and would not be much of a life if that’s all we knew.
And I thought of Improv and what it can mean to someone who’s read a lot of books, and seen a lot of movies. I think that Improv can teach us (or maybe help us learn is better) how to take our life experience, but also all those words and plots and everything else we have in our heads, and play with that, to enter into a dialog with authors, and each other about ideas presented in literature. We can learn to be better in our use of language, become more poetic, and more graceful, and that’s a good thing. So, Happy Easter — a real time of new beginnings (so much more so than New Year’s Day, in the midst of winter). And my thoughts this Easter will be with the abuse victims, but also with James Martin, SJ, and Josh Radnor.