I’m still working on a post about the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, but in the meantime here’s one on the Gospel reading for today’s Eucharist, Matthew 24:42-51.
When I was a teenager in Glasgow, we used to watch Aussie soap Neighbours and dream of sunshine. (Truth be told, I still watch Neighbours.)
For two-and-a-half years from (our spring; their autumn) 1986 to (our autumn, their spring) 1988, Vivean Gray played the character Nell Mangel. Mrs Mangel was a particularly sour woman, whom you would not want as a neighbour. Gray became subject to constant abuse from members of the general public, and in particular young adults, who were unable to distinguish the actress from the character. Eventually she had enough, and left the show. She left acting, and left Australia, returning to her native England (as a young woman she had left England in order to pursue a career in acting in Australia). Now in her nineties, she lives an essentially reclusive life.
It is ironic that Mrs Mangel became an iconic favourite among long-term Neighbours fans. It is even more ironic that Vivean Gray received such abuse from young adults, given that she was apparently very popular with the younger members of the Neighbours cast, who found her encouraging and supportive of them as they set out in acting.
Jesus told a parable in which he concludes that those who live as if they are not accountable to God will find that ‘[God] will cut [them] in pieces and put [them] with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The term hypocrites means actors – those who performed in the Greek theatre, who wore masks to play a persona that was not their true selves, and who acted-out exaggerated emotions they did not own.
In acting, it is essential that there is a differentiation between the actor and the part they are playing. An actor who can only play themselves is not a convincing actor. The sad case of Vivean Gray/Nell Mangel aside, most of us know that there is a difference – even where an actor gets type-cast.
But in life, if life is to be lived fully, it is essential that our heart (choices) and mind (thoughts and emotions) and strength (actions) and soul (our life) are unified.
Jesus implies that when we live as if we are not accountable to God, our parts are cut apart, are no longer of a piece. This is not the lashing-out of an ego that cannot bear our indifference towards it. In effect, God – whose intention for our lives is that we experience relationship and responsibility; that we operate from God-given authority and so handle power to empower others – gives us over to the consequence of our decision.
Rather than being ourselves – rather than owning and living-out our souls – we progressively become actors caught in a parody of life, with over-the-top responses lacking genuine connection to our true personality.
It should be noted that Jesus’ main point here is not one of destination and destruction, but rather of direction and dis/integration. The parable is told within the context of a wider discourse on the future of the people and in particular of the city of Jerusalem. His words contain a warning against a destination of destruction – a warning that is ultimately ignored, resulting in the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 – but they are spoken in the hope of repentance, of a change-of-direction response (in other words, direction and dis/integration are the primary point, destination and destruction the secondary point). That which is cut in pieces can be sewn together again.
Theatre – of which soap opera is a form – definitely has its place, and a worthwhile role to play in the rich tapestry of life. But we ought not to confuse characters with actors. Or our personhood with any other persona.