Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini's death sparks some religious debate

James Gandolfini's sudden death has sparked some religious debate on two fronts.

Some people object to the fact that a popular actor's death gets far more press than people who have "accomplished much more for the greater good".

Others (or in some cases, the same people) are frustrated that his major claim to fame is having portrayed the part of Tony Soprano, the "likable" brutal mobster.

In the comments section of a post on The Episcopal Cafe, editor Jim Naughton counters these two objections:

Expect no apologies from the Cafe for giving a man who created an iconic role on one of the most significant and morally complex programs in television history his due. 

And while I am at it: Church folks, if you feel the need to deliver instruction to the broader population on how its most innocent pleasure reveal how far it has fallen below the high standards that you uphold, take a breath. No one is going to attend a church whose leaders make a specialty of telling people that the things they care about are not actually important and that they should hold their immediate reactions in check until they are validated by their moral superiors. 

David Chase and James Gandolfini explored the nature of evil and complicity at a depth not reached by any preacher I've ever heard. They didn't undermine my faith, they deepened it.

As of yet, I haven't seen any of The Sopranos:  I don't have HBO, and the series I watch tend to be viewed with my wife who doesn't like violent shows (although exceptions were made for all of Joss Whedon's canon).

But my sense is that Jim is spot on here...


Kurt said...

Still thinking about this one line, especially as a preacher:

"David Chase and James Gandolfini explored the nature of evil and complicity at a depth not reached by any preacher I've ever heard."

But you've never heard ME preach Jim!


Seriously, your words ring true to me: a nuanced, truth-filled storyline with compelling, complex characters (which is usually a TV or book series, but occasionally a feature length movie) is far superior to even the best preaching in exploring humanity and the world, perhaps in its ability to explore characters relationships and development over time.

Star Trek...Buffy...M*A*S*H...Harry Potter...the list could go on and on.

That's why preaching, in my opinion, is much better in its 8 to 15 minute form: say what you want to point people to, in a way that people can hear it and can be further considered & explored, and sit your butt down.

Ann said...

A pretty sweeping generalization - more depth than any preacher. What about listening to a couple of Desmond Tutu's sermons.

Eric Funston said...

I'm the one who apparently sparked the debate over in the Cafe and, frankly, none of what is said here or in that conversation accurately characterizes what I said there or on the blog post to which I linked. -- I can't disagree with the question of whether Gandolfini and the producers of "The Sopranos" explored deep issues. Like Kurt, I've not seen the show. But, in general, I can agree that popular culture through the shows Kurt has mentioned (and many others and through other media) explores deep religious issues. That was not the point I was raising in my comments in the Cafe or in my blog, not by a long shot. My point (which was brought to mind by the story of the widow's mite in the Daily Office reading) was that we pay too much attention to celebrities (dead or alive) and not enough to the everyday folk who make a small but steady difference in their small and largely ignore communities. I said in my blog that we need to do what Jesus does in the Temple as he watched the widow make her donation - we need to notice them. That is not a critique of, nor have anything to do with, the way in which "The Sopranos" or any other popular show addresses deep issues.

Kurt said...

Perhaps the problem is that its an apples to oranges comparison: preaching, even from someone like the remarkable Desmond Tutu, is not usually something that is connected to each other like a story and the character development that unfolds in a continuing series.

Even if it is a series of sermons, it just can't (and probably shouldn't) be connected this way because the text changes, and those in the room changes. Preaching has to assume people missed last week's episode, or the episode from three weeks past.

The ability to go "in depth" in the way Jim is talking about is better suited for TV, book, and movie form.

Consider for a moment: the Gospel of Mark, is meant to be read from start to finish: that's what the author the whole story to fully understand.

Preaching is contextual or thematic: it is a piece of a whole. No preacher can fully "explore the nature of evil and complicity" to the full depth that The Gospel of Mark does...that's the nature of the medium.

Good preaching connects us to those often explores an aspect with deep meaning...but the medium does not go to the same depth.