The Group Monthly Letter - The God East of Eden
An image from Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’
This will be a lengthy letter, so apologies. I’m just trying to process something, an experience that I don’t think is uncommon, but this is my spin on it.
“For someone like me, who should have been dead three times by the age of 8 (in order: choking on a dummy –soother-, hit by a van, and lastly by a motor bike). My early years were precariously perched on the edge of the rocky outcrop called life. This is what I think has produced in me a ‘matter of life and death’ perseverance to trials and tribulations, a kind of artistic stoicism. Anyway, that’s what I put it down to, rather than any allusion to sainthood.
If we are told to take up our cross, then this for me is talking about calling, because if art is anything, it is costly to pursue. Whether in the form of writing, sculpting, choreographing, painting or filming, it is a calling which will cost us dearly. For the hobbyist this isn’t a matter of life and death, because there is no cross to take up!
So, over the last two years, it all started with a dream which led to a screenplay being written and then me working on getting a team together, of businesses, organisations, along with crew who have worked with Ang Lee, a BAFTA Nominated Producer, the best darn cameraman I know and other people to advise me on business, taxation and other fine things that make the skin bristle with anticipation. On contracting an investment consultant who knows his stuff and then all things pointing to us shooting in October and having a substantial presence on the cultural landscape of our calling, a major investor just drops out, leaving a considerable gap in the budget. There are no polite words for this and so I will move on.
All of this is now in jeopardy and so I ask the question, where is God in this?
This has brought me to conceive of a God East of Eden. If young know of the book, then I’d be Cal Trask, the black sheep of the family, as opposed to Aron Trask, the father’s favourite! If that helps; good. If it doesn’t, forget I ever mentioned Steinbeck’s book!
Anyway, this God East of Eden is quite different from the God of Eden it seems. The latter provides all we need; environment, resources, even our skills are rooted in being created as creators in the image and likeness of God. What more could we need? This God is approachable in the cool of the evening, encourages and instructs us and yes, is a good friend.
East of Eden, places us in an environment that is wild, barren, unwelcoming and threatens our lives and livelihood, our relationships and well-being.
And so this is the scenario I’ve written with the God of the Institution and the God of, well, what some have called The Desert of the Real.
In the former, God is our best friend, gives us words of encouragement, heals our wounds and unlike the Government only charges a 10% tax! This God is a safe God, who has been tamed by priestly trainers, who, like a pet we bring out on any given Sunday to stroke, in a therapeutic way.
However, the God East of Eden is wild, untamed, doesn’t like cuddles and is, most of the time, elusive and shrouded in mystery.
The God of the Kingdom manifests ‘his’ rule with love and acts of power, whilst the God of The Desert of the Real is difficult to track down. We remember seeing a single set of footprints somewhere in the sand, but they didn’t lead anywhere; they just went on and on and on across the landscape.
Back in the Kingdom, there are provisions aplenty as we serve our best friend and work for ‘him’ through offering friendly words of encouragement, tender touches of healing and Divine cuddles. Here you get the car, the house, the wife or husband, the great job that allows you 2 weeks holiday each year, along with 2 romantic City Breaks anywhere in Europe; when you and your partner can re-image that cuddling, tactile God. This is where mummies and daddies come from!
If you are allowed to work artistically then you create Christian Art, Christian Music, Christian Dance, or Christian Poetry. Everything is neatly labelled so that we know what it is and that it has theological verity.
Beyond this lovely Garden’s fence you eke out a living (I like the word eke, it’s great to write and sound out. Try it, “eke”. There you go!) However, I don’t like the experience that goes with the word! Outside of Eden this wild God has actually savaged us at times. We experience, live with depression, stress, anxiety and very meagre (another word I like, with the same reservations!) resources. For it is here that we understand the dilemma, that our best chum, God, calls and equips, but East of Eden this untameable God doesn’t share resources, doesn’t show up to hear our prayers, or does but sits quietly aloof from us; elusively sitting to one side and doesn’t get involved in the human madness of those who pursue a calling and really take things like justice, redemption and transformation seriously enough to make this the focus of their lives…and pay the price daily.
The artist in this neck of the woods; the woods of ‘Oriens’, a tangled mass of brambles and flesh-ripping vegetation (only the brave eat there), has lost all the labels for their work. What they produce has an edge or number of edges to it and sometimes shows their unhappiness with the God of Eden and the Kingdom Resort of the Costa del Sol. Such artists actually look older than they are; with male patent-baldness, craggy faces, some may have saggy breasts or bottoms, they seem like the last people you’d trust with this amazing project, to set things right on planet Earth.
And yet they continue to try and make sense of all this by writing words or music, in choreographing movement, chiselling wood or stone, casting colourful images on the wall of a darkened room, or fix an image on paper, or by using sticky colourful pigments. It all comes with that thing called ‘calling’, it’s cross-shaped for a reason, and maybe that should suggest a warning. It comes with the hope of resurrection, although it’s pretty hard to see the empty tomb across the garden, when you are locked inside your own!
So, today, I’m wrestling with the God East of Eden, but in truth I wouldn’t want the tameable kind of God, the cuddly pet God, because that is the god of our own making, that helps cover the cracks in the reality outside of Eden’s white picket fence, where actually all of us live and move and have our being.
And so, how to end this?
In a world tearing itself apart with violence and hate, we need to be love. In a world deformed by tyranny, we need to be…freedom. In a world where everyone is reduced to a commodity, we have to be, and show, humanity as the animated image and likeness of God. And God has got to start resourcing those called East of Eden, where the plants don’t have labels, and once there to image such qualities.
If that doesn’t happen then God needs to stop complaining about the darkness which shrouds this world and allow those with light and appropriate gardening tools to shine.
Sometimes writing is a perfect foil to all this anxiety and stress, as I get to lock myself away from the harsh desert terrain and the demands of Eastern living, maybe like one of the Desert Fathers. It’s where I can try and make sense of this world and as I sit (analogically) under the cracked dome of Il Duomo di Firenze, teasing out the Polyfilla in the cracks of the dome, I apologise to Giorgio Vasari, as the light streams through.
And that’s as far as my thoughts have developed on this day in June, 2014. I hope this makes sense.