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I have a wasp in my fedora about the movie Pleasantville.

Among other reasons, it’s because I’m a color freak.  So while the idea of applying color to a black-and-white town and its black-and-white inhabitants thrills me, I hate that Pleasantville is so slapdash about applying it.  The application of color gets progressively more slapdash as the story hastens to its conclusion. By story’s climax, anything “in” a character — even cold fury — is enough to make him appear in color.

And what happens when all Pleasantville has taken on color?  Thus saith William H. Macy: “I don’t know.”  The story has shot its bolt.  Pleasantville purports to champion growth and change, but it ends in a place of indifference. Any further change would be as good as any other.  By the story’s own principle – as Toby Maguire’s hero says, “it’s not supposed to be anything” – straight-up stagnation, or even a return to black-and-white, would be as good as further change.  By defying the law of pleasantness, Pleasantville’s inhabitants win a town that’s . . . well, pleasant.  Granted, the place looks better in color, but at its end it’s a town colored by an idiot, full of vivid pigments, signifying nothing.

Pleasantville is a kind of postmodern broadside against the idea of perfection.  By its frequent allusions to Genesis’s account of the Garden it draws a parallel between the black-and-white perfection of Pleasantville and the perfection of Eden.  And so Paradise comes off as deathly stultifying, uninhabitable for actual flesh-and-blood humans.  Eden becomes Egypt; rebels become Moses; and the Fall turns into an Exodus.

ascensionMuch could be said by way of untangling the various threads (not all bad) that Pleasantville has left in a terrible tangle. On the occasion of this Feast of the Ascension, though, I seek to salvage just one thread from the knot: the thread of perfection. Our age has a perfection allergy.  This allergy shows itself particularly in ideas that perfection is boring, static, doesn’t allow for change and growth, doesn’t “translate filmically,”[1] and so forth.

Are these charges warranted?

The Church’s teaching about Jesus of Nazareth has traditionally maintained His perfection, from conception to Passion, Resurrection to Ascension.  Yet St. Luke says of Jesus that he “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”[2]  This isn’t an instance of Luke being a bad boy evangelist, defying the apostles’ teaching about Jesus.  Rather, it tells us something about the nature of true perfection: it can grow in wisdom and stature.

The startling conjunction of perfection and growth appears yet more boldly in one of the traditional readings for the Feast of the Ascension, the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Its author writes of Jesus that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[3]  Having said that, he goes one better in this rather astonishing passage:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.[4]

That is the perfect Man, the faithful, sympathetic High Priest. He is the only man yet to appear truly in color. Having entered into heaven, He has added to its rich palette the bright red of His own blood, bringing earth into heaven and full-color humanity before the God and Father of all. There He has gone to prepare a place for us, just as He had come here to prepare us for that place, giving us some of His color. There He lives, making intercession for us until the great day that He will be satisfied, when we will appear in color with Him and the colors of Heaven and Earth bleed into one.


[1] What Lord of the Rings screenwriter Philippa Boyens said to justify the transformation of Faramir from the “sea-green incorruptible” character who appears in J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic into the Boromir-lite version who appears in Peter Jackson’s films.

[2] St Luke 2:52 (ESV).

[3] Hebrews 4:15 (ESV).

[4] Hebrews 5:7-10 (ESV).

Adapted from Ascensiontide: Who’s afraid of a little perfection?, posted 5/21/2012 at Lantern Hollow Press’s blog, While We’re Paused.

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This week Eastertide runs into Ascensiontide, and, to mark this important segue in the Church calendar, I posted this essay at Lantern Hollow Press’s blog. I conceived the Eastertide essay as a sort of companion piece to this one on the Ascension. Meanwhile, my friend Carrie Givens had taken my short post on baseball and, like a master gardener turning a few seeds into a bed of flowers, written this essay, published yesterday in The Curator.

I add this brief postscript to point out a common thread that runs through the four posts: namely, they all have to do with heaven and earth, and their relationship to one another.

Now one might look at what is impressed upon what — heavenly patterns impressed upon earthly things — and say the heavens lord it over earth, imposing upon her a killing perfection. But, as Carrie duly notes, that doesn’t take into account the strange, resilient scrappiness built into earth by God from the beginning: “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?”  (1) Neither does it account for the faithful Priest who has entered into heaven itself — who was made like to his flesh-and-blood brothers and sisters, and gained admission to the heavenly of heavenlies precisely by means of marks and blood.

The prodigal made it home indeed — by a perfect hook slide that avoided his elder brother’s tag, and left dirt on his pants and a strawberry on his elbow. And the elegant heavens received the gritty prodigal with open arms, and blessed the dirt and the strawberry. No soap or band-aid necessary.

570_hook_slide

(1) Ecclesiastes 7:13 (AV)

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