Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity

Escape from Pleasantville

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In the movie Pleasantville, two teenagers, a brother and sister are pulled into their Reese-in-Pleasantville-reese-witherspoon-5771114-1280-720TV set and into the fictional world of a late 1950’s sitcom, Pleasantville. In the world of the sitcom, the wife stays home, always dressed & made up, even in kitchen. The husband comes home from work, hangs his hat, calls out “Honey, I’m home” and finds dinner waiting. It never rains in Pleasantville. There are no fires; the only job for the firemen is to rescue cats on trees! The high school basketball team never misses a basket. No girl ever turns down a date. Nothing changes in the daily routine. Everything is perfect and predictable.

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And because it’s a 1950’s TV show, EVERYTHING IS IN BLACK AND WHITE! The entire town and everyone in it are in black and white. It’s a monochromatic world; there is no color. But, of course, the two teenagers from the present disrupt the predictability of life in Plesantville and COLOR STARTS APPEARING. The appearance of  color provokes crisis and change in Pleasantville.

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The movie is a parable, of course. It’s human nature to see the world in monochromatic terms. And we do it with religion. We even have a word for it: orthodox! But “orthodox” has two meanings: right thinking & right praise/glory.

If you focus on right thinking, you get division and conflict. The labels “orthodox” and “unorthodox” are not only in religion, but politics, economics, and anything that involves group-think. Pleasantville is a very orthodox place!

What about the other meaning of “orthodox”? Does right praise mean only one way of praising God? That’s usually how we think about it. But you see, there’s the problem, the word “think”! How we “think” about it. How about if we leave the “think” out of it? How about we DO the second meaning, instead of THINK it? Who knows, perhaps it will end up changing how we “think” as well? Perhaps it will help us see the world in colors instead of monochromatic!

ISIS, or whatever they call themselves, see the world in monochromatic terms. We also do it, though not with violent acts. Perhaps we need to SEE Jesus, and not just THINK of Jesus. Some Greeks went to see Jesus (John 12:21). According to Paul, Greeks seek wisdom – but Paul prefers to preach Jesus crucified. Okay Paul, preach Jesus crucified. But don’t exclude wisdom. Oh wait, he doesn’t exclude wisdom!ChristWisdomOfGod smaller

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).

Wisdom unites, wisdom gives color to the world. Thank goodness we have icons in our church. They help us see the colors of existence. Thank goodness our faith does not begin and end with the Bible. In case you hadn’t noticed, the pages of the Bible are in black & white! And if your faith begins and ends in the Bible, there’s a risk you end up in the make-believe monochromatic world of Pleasantville!

Jesus comes to us not only crucified and redeemer, but also as teacher of wisdom. The 6th chapter of Luke offers plenty of wisdom teaching from Jesus:

“As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? …. first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” 

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.” (verses 31-45)

These are not commandments – but rather windows into a life worth living. If there is a commandment here, it is like the “commandment” in Psalm 133:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing: life for evermore.

Those Greeks who wanted to “see” Jesus should also be every one of us. I want to see Jesus, in all his colors, in all the fullness of his wisdom, so I can learn to live in the real world.

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-25)

So also with our thinking. Sometimes it just needs to die so we can see God’s wisdom in all its colors. Too bad the early church rejected so many books that were written about Jesus Christ. Some of them were truly worth keeping, because they added so much color to our understanding of Jesus. We are fortunate that some of these rejected books were rediscovered in the 20th century. One of the most important is the so-called Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, “If you are searching, you must not stop until you find. When i_vu164byou find, however, you will be-come troubled. But your confusion will give way to wonder. In wonder you will reign over all things. And having reigned, you will rest.” (Thomas, Logion 2)

Jesus said, “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all has come forth, and to me all has reached. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Pick up a stone, and you will find me there.” (Thomas, Logion 77)

Life is a search. And the search culminates in Jesus. He is our way out of the monochromatic world of Pleasantville.

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