Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Christian Response to RENT

Last night, Michael and I watched the movie RENT for my first time. (Pause- if you're a music friend, you're probably gasping for air right now! It's true, I went to choir college and somehow never saw RENT!)  If you're not familiar with the story, all I can say is google it! I copied a brief synopsis from IMDB below, if you need it:

Rent tells the story of one year in the life of friends living the Bohemian life in modern day East Village, New York City. Among the group are nerdy filmmaker (Mark), his ex-girlfriend (Maureen) and her lesbian lover (Joanne); Mark's roommate (Roger), HIV-positive musician and former junkie; his girlfriend (Mimi), HIV-positive drug addicted S&M dancer; their former roommate, HIV-positive computer genius (Tom); and Tom's HIV-positive drag queen lover (Angel); and (Benny), a former member of the group who married for money and has since become their landlord and the opposite of everything they stand for.

There you have it. Not the stuff of typical "Christian movie nights" (again, if you've seen the film, you know what I'm talking about!) and it definitely got my attention! Two close friends, both in the arts world, asked about my reaction to the film and I have to admit, my reaction was strong enough to want to share! 

The story is absolutely gripping because it follows the lives of real people. The protagonists don't fit the usual cookie-cutter description. The romances are complex and messy. In other words, it ain't Disney! And honestly, that's refreshing. If movies only told the stories of Disney Princesses and their pain-free endings, they would not match real life. Real stories involve broken people, with painful pasts and hidden demons and life-changing illnesses and financial challenges. Rent honors that by showing the real complexity of human relationships and human struggle. 
One scene especially captured me. In an AIDS life support session, the members sing together,
"Will I lose my dignity? 
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow
From this nightmare?"
This is the plight of a suffering community that is largely unknown to me- I don't know if I've ever met a person with AIDS!- but this story taught me that I don't need to know all the details of the disease to know that people have truly suffered by it- physically, socially, and spiritually. I realized that I don't need to be an AIDS expert to see these men and women as fellow humans with real stories- stories filled with questions just like mine. Questions and fears and insecurities and a desire to be known and loved. 

Angel and Tom seek to answer these questions for each other. This is their song: 
Live in my house
I'll be your shelter
Just pay me back with one thousand kisses
Be my lover and I'll cover you
Open your door - I'll be your tenant
Don't got much baggage to lay at your feet
But sweet kisses I've got to spare
I'll be there - I'll cover you
That phrase, "I'll cover you" was heavy on me. Watching this film I was reminded that people of all different orientations and lifestyles are essentially asking the same questions and seeking the same thing. Who will accept me? Whose love has the power to protect me? Shelter me? Cover me? 

Watching this movie, I also couldn't help noticing the drastically different expression of morality and lifestyle represented here. The men and women in this story do not fall into a categorically "Christian" way of living- and in fact, in one scene (La Vie Boheme) they proudly make that known. 

So during this film I was thinking, it would be easy to write off the humanity of these characters because their lifestyle makes me uncomfortable. It would be easy to not give weight to their pain, their questions, their stories, because I disagree with the way they lead their lives. It would be easy, for example to say, "you chose to risk getting AIDS when you chose to become a junkie! You expect me to feel sorry for you? You got what you deserved!" It would be easy, but it wouldn't be right. 

And it would be equally easy to accept the solution the characters come up with for their problems; to get swept away in the emotion of Tom and Angel promising to "cover each other" and to be comforted by Mimi's "white light" experience with the afterlife. It would be easy, for example to say, "you've all found friends and lovers! You've covered your wounds and now everything's OK! live in the moment- no day but today- all we need is each other!" It would be easy, (and it would feel good!) but it wouldn't be true. 

That's when I realized that Jesus doesn't take the easy path. He doesn't condemn or write off even the most shocking of "sinners"- instead, He enters their story. He listens to their questions. He knows their fears. He weeps when they weep. Am I not just as "deserving" of my own suffering? I may have never taken a dirty needle but I've desperately clung to my own addictions, damaging myself and others. But Jesus is gentle with me. He listens to my cry for help and He comforts me, even when I'm the cause of my own pain. And yet neither does Jesus accept my pat answers. He doesn't just smile approvingly at songs I write for myself that give temporary comfort but long term deceit. In this story, He mourns with Angel and yet He continues to mourn when Angel turns to Tom for salvation. Jesus says, "I care for you, and I am the only one who can cover you. Let Me be your shelter." 

Real stories involve broken people. We're not not two-dimensional Disney royalty, you and me, we're Bohemians. We're real. Full of fear and pain. We can't be another person's covering, another person's shelter. We do have too much baggage for another to carry; it doesn't matter what particular shape it takes. The beauty is God knows this, and that's why He sent His Son. "Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) Jesus is the only Person without baggage, and He invites us, "Cast your cares upon Me, for I care for you." (1 Pet. 5:7) Jesus is the only Person who defeated His demons, and He promises us, "My perfect love casts out all fear." (1 John 4:18) Jesus is the only Person who put his dark past to death, and He offers to us, "I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten." (Joel 2:25)

Gay, straight, transvestite, junkie, AIDS patient, bigot, white supremacist, Disney princess, it makes no difference to Him. He knows you're broken. He cares for you. And He wants more for you than temporary relief. He wants to cover you with His perfect love, and in doing so, He wants to heal you. Are you willing to lay your baggage at His feet?


Juliana said...

Thanks so much for this, Hannah - watching the musical a few years ago I had some of these same thoughts but love they way you put them into words.

Tae said...

Hannah! I just found your blog after re-reading your Christmas email/card (is that weird that I kept it and just opened it again in March?) and I've been making my through your posts, from the most recent until this one... and I finally just had to comment. You are a great writer! And you write things honestly while still giving attention to all the complexities of your subject. I don't throw compliments around regarding peoples' blogs very often - I tend to think there are many blogs out there that are not worth the time... but YOU definitely have established a great thing here! I'm encouraged by it :) Keep up the good work, and I hope we get to cross paths with you and Mike soon. Much love, Tae