Arts Losing My Religion
posted by May 30 at 13:12 PMon
This is how it happened:
I was seven, spending the summer in Seattle (from DC), and expending a large amount of mental energy in the doomed project of removing the African accent from my developing American English. I was tired of classmates, particularly black American classmates, making fun of it and wanted to return to school that fall sounding just like Flip Wilson, my hero at the time. For complicated reasons—busy parents, culture shock, lack of friends outside of the family circle—I had reached the age of seven without seeing a single movie. The whole business was a mystery to me. What is it people saw in those big boxes?
Because everyone was talking about Star Wars that summer, I begged my Maiguru Sana (Auntie Sana, my mother’s sister) to take me to a screening of it in Ballard. She agreed. She too had never seen a movie in her life—she was 33. Because her husband’s time was completely occupied by a doctorate dissertation, she had the free time to watch this Star Wars with me. We went to Ballard, we entered the theater, we sat near the front row, the screen opened, the spectacle began, the spectacle ran, the spectacle ended, and I was totally transformed. (My Maiguru, on the other hand, slept during the whole movie—even the loud space battle couldn’t wake her up.)
Now to explain the meaning and cause of the great transformation. I went into Star Wars a Christian and walked out of it an atheist. Before seeing the movie, I understood the war of Good against Evil to be an entirely Christian one: God vs. Satan. The war happened on the ground, in the sky above, and the immense dark space beyond the moon. The universe was ordered by heaven and hell. So imagine the shock of seeing on the screen a whole different order, a whole different war between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil; a war, furthermore, that made no mention of Jesus, or Lucifer, or the star of Bethlehem, the Romans, the beasts in “The Book of Revelations,” the Last Supper. Yet, in the absolute absence of these Christian codes of goodness, I still sided with these other codes and acts of goodness taking place in a faraway galaxy.
In the bright afternoon light of that day, I realized that God was limited, and what was infinite was the Good itself, and that the Good could take on different shapes (Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi, John, Luke Skywalker, Jesus, Princess Leia, Mary). In the bus back to the University District, my head was on fire. It was like seeing the world for the first time. I was born again.