Sometimes, we can look at sin right in the mirror and not recognize it. But when we see it through a camera’s lens, it’s easier to spot.
Sometimes we Christians don’t see the sin right in front of our faces; our culture, upbringing, or personal attitudes seem to block it. And that’s where the arts can help us — whether the sin is deep in the past, or very much in the present.
Last week a film opened that beautifully illustrates my point. It’s called The Help, and it’s based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett. The story is set in the early 1960s, in Jackson, Mississippi, when the fight for civil rights was gaining international attention. The film tells the story of a young, socially prominent white girl named Skeeter who’s just graduated from college. Skeeter wants to be a writer, and comes up with a dangerous idea: To secretly interview the black maids who raise the white children of Jackson, Mississippi, and find out how they really feel about their employers.
Their answers are a revelation. Skeeter’s eyes are opened to the irony of white employers who depend on their maids to raise their children — and yet won’t allow them to use the same bathrooms. If a piece of silver goes missing, a maid can be blamed, based on no evidence whatsoever, and arrested. When a maid named Yule May asks her employer for a loan to help her sons attend college, she’s treated like a simple-minded child.
Although the white employers are church-going Christians, they are often blind to the humanity of those who work for them — blind to their right to be treated with as much respect as their white neighbors. Ironically, these same white Christians raise funds for poor African children, but aren’t concerned with the financial needs of blacks in their own area — maids and gardeners who are badly paid for their hard work.
As Skeeter gains a greater understanding of how unfairly blacks are treated, she begins to rebel against the attitudes of her own friends and family. She ultimately pays a price for breaking the rules — ostracized from social gatherings and a permanent breach from the boy she loves. When Skeeter’s book of interviews is published, the town explodes.
The Help, of course, is a work of fiction and it is no indictment of the South; it is meant to illustrate how we all are so often oblivious to our own sins, and we are often better able to see them through fiction than by abstract theological discourses.
Biblical figures knew all about the power of a good story. Remember when the Old Testament prophet, Nathan, confronted King David about his affair with Bathsheba? Nathan didn’t offer David a dry lecture on the sin of adultery. Instead, Nathan spun a story about a rich man who took the only lamb belonging to a poor man. In order to get past David’s defenses, Nathan told an allegorical story.
The Help is a reminder of the racism in America’s history, but more to the point, it reminds us how easy it is for us to be blinded to personal and societal sin.
The Help is rated PG-13 for thematic reasons. If you see it, discuss it with your friends over dinner. And then ask yourself a hard question: Are there any sinful attitudes in your own life that you have been blind to? Attitudes that violate the letter and the spirit of the teachings of Christ?
Sometimes we just need a little artistic help to see them.
More Information: The Help is playing at theaters nationwide. It’s rated PG-13 for thematic situations and mild profanity.