I Do Declare – Looking For Truth in The Leftovers

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I grew up on a healthy diet on Bugs Bunny cartoons. A few years ago, I happened upon one of my favorites, while flipping the channels. I was shocked to see how unaware I had been of the off-color jokes about race, women and southerners, when watching as a kid. In more than one episode, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, or Bugs himself would imitate someone born below the Mason-Dixon by saying, “Well, I do declare.” I never heard anyone actually utter the phrase growing up in the South, but I was born after 1970, so perhaps it was a generational thing. I was aware of what it meant. When someone said, “I do declare,” it meant that they were shocked or surprised by someone’s words or actions. I predict we will soon hear this sentiment when The Leftovers finally premieres on HBO in a few days.

Talking about the show in a recent edition of Entertainment Weekly, Damon Lindelof said, “The idea that was so persuasive and strong in The Leftovers for me was [exploring] the wake of what one would call a spiritual event, or some higher power essentially saying, “I declare that I exist, but I offer no explanation or instructions beyond this.” Certainly, many Christians will take issue with Lindelof’s statement, pointing to Biblical references that offer explanation and instruction. However, it’s easy to miss the power of what Lindelof was getting at. For God to declare to us He exists – for Him to declare I AM – is a massive concept that is easy to take far too lightly.

Even the most devout believer experiences seasons where the One they put their faith in seems to be hiding. Every parent knows the impact it has on their child for them to declare, “I am here.” Ignoring the millions of questions we would love to have answered about the nature of God, have we quickly bypassed the idea that He would declare He exists? Lindelof goes on to say “Is there any better metaphor for religion, which is like ‘I’m going to just leave you this book, but I’m not going to make myself available to answer any follow up questions that you may have about the wild inconsistencies in this book nor will I allow you to amend it.’”

I’m going to guess that many of the Faithful will balk at the perceived theological inaccuracies they find in The Leftovers. I hope I’m wrong but if recent comments about HBO shows by Christian celebs such as John Piper are any indication, I doubt I am. We’ve seen similar reactions to virtually every piece of faith-exploring media that didn’t come directly from a Christian “insider,” The Passion of The Christ notwithstanding. It’s unfortunate that we have not made media art a safe place for those exploring matters and questions of faith to do so. Perhaps, it’s because we don’t really understand art. Perhaps it’s because we have already made up our mind about media. Perhaps it’s because we become easily afraid that something might shake our own faith or the faith of someone we love.

Have we lost the ability to appreciate something without having to agree with every aspect of it? Have we become that simple-minded? Have we forgotten how to be excited when we find traces of gold buried in the rubble or one sheep that was lost from the herd?

Granted, not every piece of art is right for every audience and not every audience is right for every piece of art. That’s not really the issue here. My experience has been that when the truth really is the truth, you can throw all the rocks you want at it and it still comes out being the truth. I am looking forward to the questions, challenges and yes, TRUTH, I know I will see in The Leftovers. I hope we will spend a lot less time concerning ourselves with what might distract people from the truth and a lot more time concerning ourselves with the truth declaring its presence to us.

The Leftovers airs Sunday nights on HBO beginning June 29. I will be blogging weekly about the show and its relationship to faith and pop culture.

 

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