Maybe you stayed up too late one night and found the incredibly weird movie – Being John Malkovich. Probably not, but if you did, then you know just what a strange movie that is.
No. It’s not the weirdest of all time, but it will make VH1’s top 100 Weird list whenever they get around to producing THAT show on your Thanxgiving weekend. I bet it places in the top 20, and probably the top 10.
I have plugged it enough now. I won’t even try to explain the plot. I will just say that John Cusack finds a strange tunnel in his office at work behind the filing cabinet, and when he crawls inside it, he finds himself looking out the eyes of John Malkovich, and living in Malkovich’s head briefly.
It’s a really strange way of “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” actually. To see the world through their eyes and maybe feel their feelings and so forth. And honestly, I could have just said THAT and likened my post to THAT kind of experience, and it would make better sense – mostly. But I did stay up too late one night, and my poor mind is now infected with Being John Malkovich forever after, and actually, the experience I want to describe is pretty strange – to me, anyway – and so the Malkovich thingy (by comparison) helps me feel a bit more normal.
Here’s the thing (and I want to be charitable to my friend and brother A.C. Olivet (not his real name, btw)):
A.C. was, in my eyes, an old man when I met him about 20 years ago. The older I get, the less intense that age gap seems to me anymore, but he was older than my parents. However, upon my very first visit to V-Church (my beloved church which for a long while had me believing I might really LOVE church), it was A.C. who greeted me at the door, most warmly too, I might add. I still knew practically nothing about this church, but his was the very first friendly face I met there.
Now… to be clear. I did not become close with A.C. And in fact, it didn’t take long before I came to see A.C. as the old codger, the curmudgeon (as one terms it), among our ranks. I never personally saw or heard him pitch a fit, but I did come to see him as very “old school” about church. He worshipped with the V-Church congregation which had a reputation around town (I soon found out) as one of, if not the, most liberal within our denomination. V-Church was not the biggest, most trendy church in town, but we had some of the most brash innovations in the brotherhood. And A.C., apparently, resisted every ounce of it.
But he didn’t leave.
I don’t know why not. He could have thrown in the towel, so to speak. He could have been so “comfortable” at half a dozen more moderate or conservative congregations, but he persisted in his commitment to be at V-Church.
And A.C. was a player there. He had been, in former years, one of the shepherds there. He had a solid reputation and education for church leadership. But he found himself having practically no influence on the congregation of which he was committed to being a part.
On several occasions, I witnessed A.C. corner our preacher after a Sunday service and quietly grill him. I never heard the words shared, and I never asked A.C. what specifically he didn’t agree with. I can probably imagine, but I did not verify, and it would not be fair of me to try and characterize it. But I don’t doubt one moment that A.C.’s views were of a conservative sort. And I watched our preacher listen to A.C. with great patience, all meek and everything upon these scolding sessions, and it always seemed that our preacher appeared a little beat up afterward. In fact, I always felt for the preacher and considered A.C. to be almost a bully outa step with both the times AND with God.
The thing is… these labels like “liberal” and “conservative” may be fairly useful to a degree, but they are not nearly so iron-clad as they seem. I remember once listening to Dr. Carol Osborne lecturing and suddenly finding it necessary to place himself on the map of liberal vs. conservative by introducing the term “fundamentalist” so as to relieve some of the pressure on himself as he identified as “conservative, but not fundamentalist.”
You see, even though I don’t know the issues A.C. found particularly aggravating, I know some of the issues his generation championed and I know some of the issues the school he graduated from also championed, and so I am clear that A.C. was “old school” about whatever it was that bothered him. And I watched as leadership, including our preacher, showed him deference and respect to his face, as they refrained from outright belittling him behind his back (though from time to time complaints were voiced), and thus I saw that A.C. was tolerated patiently. But I also saw that he got practically no traction for his trouble, and very little in the way of LOVE from the church or its leadership. (There is a difference between being tolerated and being loved.)
It is a real surprise to me to find myself in A.C.’s position vis-à-vis the church these days. No doubt, I am the conservative one, bordering on fundamentalist in some people’s eyes. You know… insisting we do like Jesus does and tells us to do IN THE BIBLE and all. I have education and experience with leadership too, and it barely warrants a modicum of respect to my face, yet earns me absolutely no traction or influence.
I am a muttering old man. Muttering for Jesus. No one has to listen to me; so they don’t.
I am sure I could choose to champion at least half a dozen issues facing the church today, and a few I feel strongly about, yet I only focus on one – Open the door to the poor and invite them to our party. That’s it. Yet I am shunned for this.
I am being A.C. Olivet.
And I must say, I think I feel what A.C. felt.
Whether I would be persuaded by his views, if I could go back and discuss them with him, or not, I feel the futility of trying to be a minister in this church for God. And if I could at least acknowledge THAT much with him now, I would.
(I also think this insight has bearing on American politics… but that is another story for another time.)