I used to watch horror movies and chain-smoke cigarettes with my friend John. This was our method of church bread-breaking, granted most of the bread that we broke consisted of Reece’s and the baked goodies of his girlfriend. If memory serves, one of the films consisted of a monster mutant baby crawling through sewers and consuming the unwitting late-night street wanderers (heaven knows how a tiny baby stomach can tolerate a strict diet of human flesh). We both struggled with sleeping at the time and tended to keep unsettlingly late nights. We concluded every evening with a final smoke on the porch glancing unhappily towards the loud wine bar in the building across the street.
If I were to be honest about that stretch of time in my life I was unbelievably lonely. I had gone through a divorce only a couple of years back and had basically written myself off as a completely unloveable human being. The write-off felt validated by a terribly unhelpful view of the primary foundations of my faith. I still lived exclusively in the miserable land of transactional faith. I do something good. God gives me good person points and I ascend the ever-upward ladder of faith. When you get divorced that devastates all of the good-person stock that you were holding on to for a rainy day and puts you back at zero. What utter shame-driven bullshit.
I talk about John here because he is an artist and the nature of art is to define something or lend a realness to a truth by subverting it. This was the primary function of “Grindhouse” night. The primary difference between a sewer-dwelling, flesh-eating baby and howling pitch-black loneliness is that one of them is really scary. One of them has the potential to strip all of the joy and hope out of your life while the other makes you laugh with a friend. One can actually kill you, though I would still shy away from those late-night sewer strolls you had planned. Good art is able to take the unholy and strip it down to its base desire which, at its root, is a desperate attempt to find the enormous beating heart of a greater love and mercy. It is a shattering of the ability to simplify honest human struggling into a series of idiotic and convenient religious platitudes. A real act of grace doesn’t tend to look all that holy. There may not even be a verse stenciled across it in gold-leaf. It might look a bit like cigarettes, horror movies, candy and a place to be other than a really empty and dark apartment.
If I recall correctly from a documentary a couple of years back, Caravaggio got into hot water with the church and lost some money when he painted dirt onto the heels of the feet of saints. The lemon-pucker of disapproval at such a shocking indecency forming on the faces of those fancy church folks in charge.
God forgive us for the good, the kind, the merciful, the true, the beautiful that we have called evil. Sometimes offensive art can and should be a sucker-punch to that which we mistakingly regard as holy.