Finding Truth in Unlikely Places
Recently I’ve been watching “Desperate Housewives” on DVD from the 2007-08 season. Now, that probably surprises some of you. I gather from fellow Christians that we’re not “supposed” to watch and enjoy shows like that. But I’ve found the show to be extremely well-written, laugh-out-loud funny, and to top it off, surprisingly deep. It explores human truth at its essence, and is constantly pointing out how we all have so much good inside, but we all have a dark side too. The show dares to point out the difficulty of accepting that we aren’t all bad or all good. We have both.
How many Christians can deal with that? How many people can deal with that?
One of the biggest themes on the program is secrets. Characters are always hiding things from each other – and often from themselves – but never without consequence. The pitfalls of secret-keeping and living a double life are made abundantly clear. Over and over the characters learn that it’s best to live in the light rather than the dark.
Even though Desperate Housewives has a reputation for being raunchy (and parts of it definitely are), the themes are solidly on the side of good morals. Characters don’t have affairs without major negative repercussions. They don’t lie without it coming back to bite them. They don’t embezzle millions of dollars and then go on to enjoy living off the money. They don’t screw up as parents without learning their lessons and having broken hearts over it. The show consistently delivers the message that being married and having an intact family is better than divorce or promiscuous singlehood. It also repeatedly portrays the significance of the family in shaping children’s lives and futures. Most of all, the show is built on the friendships between these women, always coming back to the theme that we all need each other, we’re not meant to be alone.
I was particularly impressed with the show’s handling of faith in a couple of the episodes. One of the housewives, Lynette, has no heritage of religion, but has been through countless traumas. One Sunday morning she suddenly decides, “We need to go to church!” She realizes she can no longer handle life on her own. She wants help, and she wants answers. What transpires is a funny but insightful series of attempts to find a church and find faith.
Most of the other characters on the show are regular churchgoers; Lynette’s struggle exposes the roteness of this, and encourages at least one other character to examine her faith more deeply. Viewers see the difference between religion and real faith. We hear a minister explaining, “Faith is not about answers; it’s about the questions.” In the touching conclusion to one of the episodes, we see Lynette and another housewife sitting on the porch, heads together, sticky-note-laden Bible between them, deep in conversation.
It gave me chills to watch it. This writing comes from the “secular” world but reinforces that the divisions we Christians create between “religious” and “secular” are artificial.
Here are some of the things I’ve been pondering while watching Desperate Housewives:
1. Christians may rob themselves of potentially life-altering insights (and possibly some worthwhile entertainment) when they try to insulate themselves from the secular world of art, television, movies, and books.
2. As writers, we should be paying attention to the best writing wherever we can find it – television, books, movies – and examining how and why it works.
3. As writers, we can’t be afraid of the truth. Sometimes it feels too messy for Christian writing. Sometimes it may seem too dark. But we must grapple with human experience as it actually exists, not as we wish it were. That’s where our best writing will come from.
4. We might shake our heads at the portrayal of upscale, spoiled housewives as desperate. But that’s the point of the show. The outer trappings of our lives are unimportant; inside, we’re all humans, we all struggle with faith and friendship and marriage and living lives of integrity. In our quiet moments, every single one of us has moments where we feel desperate. (If you haven’t yet, perhaps you are not old enough or have not experienced enough of life’s hardship.)
5. Finally, as Christians, it’s important to be discerning about what kinds of entertainment we allow into our lives. But we need to be careful that our discernment doesn’t turn into fear. We can’t be afraid of the world. God has a way of making Himself seen and known in the most unlikely places.
So what about you? Found any spiritual truths in unlikely places lately? I’d love to hear about it.