Mistaken Virtues

My husband and I live in what is known as an Intentional Community or a Co-Housing Community on Whidbey Island, in Washington State.  We call it MCC, for short.  We did not seek out this Intentional/Co-housing Community, and would not recommend living in one except if called by God to do so.  What brought us here was faith and a willingness to go where God desired us to go.  We are now and always have been uncertain as to why we are here, what our purpose in this community might be, and what lessons or growth we might be either undertaking or providing others. And so, until directed otherwise, here we are.

This community is certainly not what one might call religious, although a noticable and substantial dose of spiritualism abides.  There are regular, monthly ‘business meetings’ at which we disucuss the same non-issues in new ways, and the semblance of organization and communication appears through email and typed-up task lists. There is a meditation yurt and something called a Common House, in which said meetings are held, as are semi-weekly potlucks and the occasional movie.

One of the movies held in the CH was one called ‘As it is in Heaven.’  It came to us on recommendation from two of our community members, who claimed it reflected the qualities we are striving for at MCC and illustrated the ‘harmony’ we all desired for the whole.  This is not at all the way I tend to speak about my life, tending instead toward the concepts of intellect, creativity and improvement through shared gifts.  But I am willing to look at the world, as Atticus Finch urges us to do, through someone else’s eyes, to ‘walk around in their shoes.’   So it was given the green light and shown one Saturday evening for the viewing pleasure of the community.

John and I missed the actual showing at the CH but we borrowed the movie and watched it at home so that we could better understand our neighbors–for that is what we are, despite whatever labels we wish to give either ourselves or others.  And better understand our neigbors we certainly did.

While we felt obligated to watch this movie, I believe both of us had higher hopes for it, and greater expectations. We very much desired something with more depth, more meaning, and more substance.  Both of the women who recommended this film claimed it bore reseblance (they were not explicit in their comparisions) to our community, but all of the parallels I made–and I made plenty–were unflattering ones, negative ones, strong ones.

The film is in a combination of languages: Swedish, English, some German, and it is set in Sweden, in a remote and snowy village in the nondescript present.  Our protagonist is a composer and our supporting cast is his ‘choir’, the church singers.  The circumstances which draw him to both this directorial job and to the village itself–his former hometown–are nebulous, but one is given to understand that he is searching for meaning, attempting to reclaim a lost youth, or simply hiding from his better self.

He takes on the choir as a sort of project but constantly loses his temper at them, yelling at and berating them time and again.  Admittedly, he has some reason to be frustrated: his charges arrive late to practice, take calls while they are in the middle of rehearsal, talk meanly to and about one another and act, generally, like children.  But instead of instructing them and leading by kindness, he allows this anger and the memory of his sad youth to run its course, flying into a temper and shirking responsibility and abandoning leadership at every turn. This of course produces not resolution, but more anger and more abuse.  When presented with the opportunity to protect, communicate, and instruct his choir of eager learners, the sad, abused composer instead sleeps with one of his choristers.

This becomes an almost masochistic prybar within the movie: everything this man touches becomes arrogant, puffed-up, vindictive and destructive. Not only were these citizens rude and misguided, they also claimed to ‘say their piece’ by insulting one another, abusing one another, and by dredging up the dead things of the past in the spirit of clearing the air.  I have learned that this becomes a mistaken virtue, and is a common occurrence in not only my community, but in life. It is far more satisfying to continue beating the drum of destruction than it is to lay down the drumsticks and walk in peace.  So instead of admitting we are in the wrong, and have long been in the wrong, we re-name our actions, calling them ‘virtue’ and cement our bargian with the devil by excusing the behavior in others.

Nowhere in this film was there a shred of forgiveness for having said or done such mean and spiteful things.  Neither was there a sense of responsibility in anyone for having caused these griefs or rifts in the first place.  One older gentleman who finally confessed his decades-long and silent love for a woman within the choir did so almost wistfully, but the natural and subsequent denouement of the moment was never seen: we never hear the object of his affection affirm or accept his gift.  And so we are again left empty, wondering, duped.

No one talked about anything except themselves in this movie, no one worked toward resolution, no one reflected on their errors or bad decisions or faults.  Once a matter had been dredged up, it was considered complete and everyone moved on, leaving the ugly mess to its own conclusions.  ‘As it is in Heaven’ was truly one of the least loving films I have ever seen, and yet it did, indeed, reflect my community.  It showed me how petty we are, and how unwilling MCC really is, and has been, to speak on the whole in the language of forgiveness or resolution or love.

Yet I should not be surprised, for the spiritual element here is not of the Holy Spirit but of Man’s Spirit and the Transcendence of Consciousness.  Everything is Connected, they say, and there is a God Within.  I do not believe this.  But I do believe they believe it, and I see now, from the film, what traits are engendered from this line of thought.  Yet no one else saw in the film what John and I saw. Instead, the hammering silences, the despair, the lovelessness were overlooked for the pathos of the final scene in which the protagonist, having consummated his relationship with the chorister, dies in the men’s room of the Vienna Opera House while his choir sings in the main hall above.

This scene is, I am given to understand, meant to represent each individual voice having meaning, each voice contributing to the whole so that, together, we are beautiful.  But it was not.  Because no one ever truly loved another and because no one sought reconciliation or forgiveness from  his neighbor, the sound was hollow, the choir arrogant, and the entire film baroque–a sad façade for true beauty.

What saddens me most isn’t the film–it is that my community believes the film to be good, inspiring, and even somewhat lovely.  I do not know what opportunity I may have to inject or introduce true beauty, but my presence is, I know, not lost here, not yet, at least.  It does grow difficult to see such artifice, however, and the need for Truth previls.


2 thoughts on “Mistaken Virtues

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