Teri Orr: And the people say, Amen | ParkRecord.com

Teri Orr: And the people say, Amen

Teri Orr, Park Record columnist

For most of my adult life, I have had a problem with the Bible — any version, really. This week, at Sundance of all places, with a few movies, I was reminded why.

I have spent most of my life searching, in terms of faith. I have wandered in my own deserts and had moments of ecstasy and a feeling of oneness with others in the universe. Deep connections that make me celebrate the goodness of humanity and mourn the baseness of it as well.

I think of the Bible as a group of loosely created tales, allegorical at best, gathered over the years, meant to lend moral lessons to those in search of touchstones. I do not take the words in the Bible any more literally than I do the words of author David Foster Wallace. But both are sacred.

I can reference the exact point when this happened to me — I was a freshman in college and I took a class called The Bible as Literature. Expressions from "salt of the earth" to "my brother’s keeper" and hundreds of others were put in context and then contrasted with their modern day interpretations. The professor pointed out the same stories and themes/lessons were oft repeated in the Bible, in both testaments. And he challenged us to think about who gathered the stories and who edited them. And in those stories metaphorical, who wrote them down. Even then, even back in the ’70s, this male professor made us question how many of the stories were most-likely gathered and retold by the women. And did we find it strange, the lack of women-based stories in the Bible? And finally, who decided which stories made the cut and which were left on the desert floor?

It was powerful stuff to consider at 19 and it set me on a path of questioning that has continued to this day. Like the other afternoon, far from the theater at a small gathering, where I asked a question of Rodrigo Garcia, the director of "Last Days in the Desert," a film about the end of the Jesus’ fabled 40 days and nights in the desert, beautifully shot and paced with the addition of the having the fairy wand award bestowed upon them by Dolby with the fabulous Atmos sound. You hear every step in the sand and lizard scurrying on the rocks and each drop of water fall in the stream. I asked the director if the hummingbird, at the end of the film, who comes to Jesus as he is (spoiler alert) crucified, "is the hummingbird the devil?" And Rodrigo said "what do you think?" And I said, "I don’t know, I could make a case for the devil or the temporal, or a representative of what he was leaving behind." Rodrigo did that beautiful, rare thing. He looked at me, for an uncomfortable minute and he said, "I don’t know either. It just came to me, I should put him in there. I fudged a bit because the hummingbird only exists in North and South America, not the Middle East." And I loved the ambiguity of his answer.

Years ago, I had three nuns who lived next door to me here in Park Meadows (yes, God works in mysterious ways). I came home one day in the spring to find Sister Margo sitting on her deck with her trademark Manhattan in hand. As I crossed the street I saw she was sad. Very sad. And as we started to talk, a bit angry. I asked about her day and she said she had spent it at the bedside of a young teenage boy in a coma who was dying from a ski accident. The mother had broken down in tears declaring her son was going to hell. Sister Margo looked at her aghast and asked why would she say such a thing. And she "confessed" she had never had the boy baptized and so she knew by the laws of the Catholic Church, he could never go to heaven. Margo spent a great deal of time assuring her that simply wasn’t so. She said, you either believe in a punishing god, or a loving god and no loving god would send a child to hell. I remember thinking this was the first loving nun I had known.

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In the Sundance film "I am Michael," based on the true story of a gay activist from San Francisco who moves with his partner to Halifax and creates a national magazine for gay young men and is a spokesperson of the movement before he questions his own "path to heaven" and renounces his former lifestyle and partner and chooses to become a conservative (conflicted) Christian minister (with a brief flirtation at Buddhism) speaking hatefully about the gay life, you see all the nonsense of using religion to be a diversion. The choice at the end, of Tori Amos singing, "I crucify myself," kinda says it best. We all are capable of falling on crosses. No one pushes us there.

And finally, so far, my favorite film of the festival — "End of the Tour," about a Rolling Stone reporter interviewing David Foster Wallace, a genius author who lived a reclusive but honest life, was the best kind of spiritual story. When questioned about his genius by the young reporter, Wallace responds that he tried to understand/become everyman. And finally, frustrated with the reporter’s behavior he says simply, "Be a good man." And you understand how simply weighty those words are.

I didn’t plan on watching a few films, especially at Sundance, to end up feeling I got churched for the week but by some measure of grace that is precisely what happened. There are still a few days of discovery left where stories are unreeling, even this very Sunday in the Park….

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.