Sunday, November 01, 2009

There Is No King

Holly and I loved WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. It was emotionally moving, visually stimulating and well-written. I've gotta say Dave Eggers is a new force to be reckoned within the screenwriting world. Did you see AWAY WE GO? Wow.

There are so many beautiful psychological issues that are brought up in this film. And it's all done in a quite un-cliché sort of way. The frustrations of childhood, nearing adolescence, split home, parents dating again, sibling rivalry and exclusion. Stuff that most of us deal with in our later life as well. Perhaps our childhood is hyperbolic of what the rest of life will be like...I dunno.

There is a scene where Carol (the monster that, in some ways, represents Max's father) realizes that Max isn't really a king; he's only been pretending. And it just destroys Carol. He had been waiting and waiting and waiting for a real king. Someone to make sense of it all. Someone external to himself that would bring happiness, stability, sanity, hope. There had been several "false" kings who had come before Max (and met unfortunate fates), and they had left this group in a sort of constant existential turmoil, wondering what to do and how to live. This island is characterized by the confusion of a group in need of a leader...a group that refuses to turn inward to find it's own center.

"There is no king," the characters say. It's heartbreaking to watch Carol go through grieving process of this realization. But it seemed the only way to freedom...and the only way to have a healthy relationship with Max...or anyone.

Of all that the movie offered, that is what resonated most with me. I see so many of us scrambling to find signposts for how to live, what to do, where to go, etc. So, so, so many people externalize, not trusting themselves to find their own center. We use religious figures, political affiliations, authors, partners/spouses, careers, even celebrities to tell us where to go and what to do. But, of course, we hear all their words through our own filter, both personally and communally (which has layer upon layer).

What if we were to actually trust ourselves? And why do so few of us do this? We have been taught to trust only things that are "out there." We have built theological systems based on the smallness of myself. We disguise that in so-called humility when really, most of it is about a dis/mis-trust of self. We don't even know how to listen to ourselves very well. We busy our minds and bodies with things to do, studying the words, thoughts, actions of historical and contemporary figures.

Sure, sure, we do not come to realize ourselves alone. But still we are the only ones who can change ourselves. I am the only one who can change myself.

LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK (by Parker Palmer) was such a powerful book for me because it told me that it was okay to trust myself, even when I follow it into the dark places that I was taught to fear. That only by going deep into one's own self (psychosis, passion, leanings, etc.) can one free oneself.

I think this might be one of the greatest obstacles to human (social, spiritual, economic, educational, etc.) development. But the overcoming of this obstacle might just be the key to freedom.

There is no king. Deal with it.


kristi said...

i am having a very hard time with your last line.

but i still appreciate your honesty and that you are allowing us to read your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

And the Lord said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them... However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them."

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

I hope the last line was hard simply because it was provocative. :)

I really am just trying to get at how each of us perceives the world to work. I think it's important that Max and Carol have a relationship, but it cannot be healthy if Carol expects Max to be his make him happy, to give him meaning, to tell him how to live. I think we might need to re-examine what sort of relationship we have with other people/institutions/historic figures.

Tommy S. Barnes said...

Hey Ryan,

Thanks for sharing you thoughts. I like Kristi am troubled by the last line.

Do you really believe "There is no king. Deal with it."?

Blessings friend,


Ryan Lee Sharp said...

No, I don't believe there is a king. I believe the idea is something we create simply because we'd be afraid to live in a world without a king.

I am not denying the existence of God, if that is what you're wondering. But I am certainly taking a different perspective than the interventionist, "sovereign" (as is traditionally understood) Diety and/or Avatar (like Jesus).

But that isn't even the point...what I believe isn't the point. What I'm wondering here is why we mistrust ourselves by locating the locus of Truth "out there" instead of "in here".

Why are we so afraid that it might be true that there is not guiding externality? Would we cease to be good? To live with meaning? Would all be lost?

I don't think so. But I also don't think that we could expect that this new world would be the same sort of world that we currently live in either.

Tommy S. Barnes said...

Hey bud,

Thanks for replying! based on you blog post I thought you might say something like that.

Interesting, how things have changed since High School.


Anonymous said...

If there is no external king and you locate the source of truth "in here", are you in a way declaring yourself king?
I find it strange that you juxtapose questions of no outside guide and meaning? is meaning in life not found with a external source? or are you focusing more on passion for life?
in addition while the human race may be capable of good, we have a long way to go before it is fair to say we are (or could cease to be) good

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Joel (and others who find this difficult), yes, I am saying that the only person who is king of one's life is oneself. Is this so difficult to agree on? :)

Even theological or political assent is chosen by that person, right? And then the way that person interacts with whatever group/community is their unique way, yes?

I agree that we've a long way to go to say the human race is fair or good (based on my perceptions), but I don't think that point really speaks to what I'm saying here. (Religion and politics and other forms of external verification have caused at least as much harm as anything else, don't you think?)

I can see this is ruffling some feathers...which is good, but I want to make sure my point isn't missed. I really think that it's an honest thing to ask ourselves how we'd behave if there weren't a god...or some external force "keeping us in line."

Would you live your life differently if there were no king?

kelly said...

a book suggestion that seems appropriate for the conversation: The Forgotten Body by Elissa Cobb.

russ said...

Looked up 'king' on Here are the first two listings...

1. a male sovereign or monarch; a man who holds by life tenure, and usually by hereditary right, the chief authority over a country and people.

2. (initial capital letter) God or Christ.

If we are going to use the descriptor of 'king' for God (as the scripture does), then we must do so in one of two ways.

a. We can apply the human understanding of 'king' to God, which has very limited merit, and taken too literally immediately leads to distortion (as should be readily apparent looking at the first definition above). This would be taking definition one and applying it to our understanding of God and thinking it is a pretty good general understanding.

b. Or, when we say 'King' to refer to God we can skip definition one entirely and say that in this usage it is not 'king' that properly defines God, but God that properly defines 'King.

So we might say that in 'Wild Things,' Carol is looking for a (definition one) king. So were we when Christ came. I don't think it is a stretch to say that the message to those looking for a (definition one) king was/is, there is no (definition one) king. Certainly not in the eternal, transcendent sense. Certainly not in the sense that would make any difference for us.

There is no king.

So related to perceived problems of the idea of God as King, the real problem is not God, but our understanding, limited by language and experience, of the term 'king.'

But here's the rub. If we say that the antidote to the problem of God as a (definition one) king is that we should think of ourselves as king instead, then all we are doing is transferring definition one from our understanding of God to our understanding of ourselves.

Or, we could say that we are King in the definition two sense. This would simply be a declaration that we are God. This could be the implication of the idea of 'actually trusting ourselves,' which is the part of the post that gave me the most pause.

So I guess, from my vantage point and experience, I would respond to "there is no king' with a tentative amen, and 'actually trust myself' (in this context) with a tremble.

Some food for thought... the more one skews ones view of the great mystery of the Christ as fully human and fully God toward the human side (Jesus and the cross as more of an example to us than an actual, transcendent victory over sin and death for instance), the more distasteful we will find the concept of Christ/God as king.

Pax Christi

Unknown said...

what i take from your thought provoking (and well written) review of what i consider to be the best fictional film of the year (so far), is that when we as humans ponder on what the word "king" translates to, we tend to think of a mighty ruler. one that governs with a heavy hand and looks down upon his subjects. i find it destructive when we mix this view of a king with our concept of God. in the past this is how i had viewed God and his role in my life. i am so grateful to have been set free from that mindset! i now tend to think of him as more of a father figure. one that walks WITH me through life and trusts the intellect he has blessed me with to make responsible decisions. a king is one who punishes the one who makes mistakes and my God is the one who's arms i rest in when i feel my mistakes swallowing me.

it was actually when i abandoned my searching for this "something" and just focused inward that my my mind and heart were opened up. i have never felt more free or more loved. there is such joy in walking with a father that loves me enough to let me make mistakes, and learn from them.

i do see the point of the first half of the previous comment in regards to definition one versus definition two. but one definition that my dictionary gives is "a playing card bearing a representation of a king, normally ranking next below an ace."

so i say, who needs a king when my father is one hell of an ace! ;)

russ said...

God as the ultimate Ace. Love it.

Interestingly, the ace can also be a 'one,' or the lowliest, most humble card in the deck. :-)

I would still challenge you guys on this 'looking inward' business. Certainly, it depends on what all you mean by that. But, I do not believe that eternal answers are to be found there, strictly speaking. The older I get, the surer I am of that!

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments.

My real point of all this is that so many of us (perhaps all?) have a tendency to look "out there" for meaning, decision-making, ethics, hope, direction.

And I wonder if that is misplaced. There is no real way to grasp what is out there since it is, after all, brought in through our own filter.

For example, I have read book upon book that is certain that Jesus meant this when he said this. And I have read many books refuting this or that and showing why they are the ones who REALLY understand God.

There are soooooooo many ways to understand these many texts, Christian, religious, even political and contemporary.

We spend so much time trying to pick up on the breadcrumbs that we assume were left for us. All our energy is focused on making sure we can just read it correctly. Or that we can hear in the "right" way.

But what are we even listening for? We will only hear that which we are prepared to hear.

So again, my point here is simply that we have forgotten (if we ever knew) how to trust ourselves. It's a simple matter of shifting responsibility away from ourselves and onto another, whether diety or partner or institution or party.

Again, thanks to everyone for their thoughts.

joel said...

If I may interject here, but the idea that we have 'forgotten' or never 'knew' how to trust ourselves presupposes much. Even in the midst of leaning on something external of ourselves, we are seeking to trust ourselves with that knowledge. It seems to me that the constant battle is always about us trusting us with said knowledge, no matter how one frames that can remove a mythic trope and replace it with a Ayn Rand style of Objectivism and they'll still need some sort of self-help book(i am using this loosely...thinking on some of the books you have mentioned that helped you get to where you are) to help them muddle through the mire.

So the question seems to be for me, does it matter what lens one uses to filter the knowledge of others to better understand themselves? It could be said that one man's Jesus is another man's Wilber.

And this is why I found the character of Carol so invigorating. Carol, to me, seemed to represent Max's inner turmoil with the King's that he had created in his life, ie mom and sister. I think that's why the idea of Carol eating their kings was so profound was because Max had built this people up only to tear them down when they invariably failed -- yelling at mom from the counter top and destroying the heart note he made for his sister, for example. In this, he (carol) learned how imperfect we all are and that grace must be the central tenant of any least, that's how i saw it.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

In so many ways, I agree with you, Joel.

In the end, we are responsible for ourselves and our actions.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

I think De Mello offers some insight on all this. Just watched this video today.

russ said...

Lord, have mercy.

As far as the nature of support, trust and love, I hope no one thinks De Mello is saying anything other than what we already know to be true. For instance, when we say we love someone, thinking people understand that what we are loving is something that we have constructed in our mind (of course it is prejudiced, of course it is distorted) based on our experience regarding that person. De Mello is using linguistic game-playing to make it seem like he is saying something 'earth shattering' so that he can get us to think we need some sort of fundamental shift in the way we think about oursleves and our relationships with others. De Mello, in this video, is using general truisms to make some sort of convoluted point... and I'm not even sure what it is aside from a view of humanity and community that seems far from true.

Buyer beware. ;-)

Unknown said...

I just saw the film and loved it. I disagree that the character, Carol, was the representation of Max's father, though this may be.

It seems more likely the character Carol, is really representing Max. He is who Max is on the inside. Insecure, dealing with youth, and who is the king. As Max pushes away from the island, and Carol, he is pushing away from his old self.

I agree that the movie is about being the king of yourself, or that there is no king.

Raquel said...

This post and following discussion made me think of a book by Paulo Coelho called, The Pilgrimage.
In particular, a passage at the end- a pilgrim's prayer.

"You came among us to teach
us all that we were capable of becoming, and we did not want to accept this. You showed us that the power and the glory were within every person’s reach, and this
sudden vision of our capacity was too much for us. We crucified you, not because we were ungrateful to the Son of God but because we were fearful of accepting our own capacity. We crucified you fearing that we might be transformed into gods. With time and tradition, you
came to be just a distant divinity, and we returned to our destiny as human beings."

Jon said...

Wow, again! Catching up is going to be fun. I fully agree with you, and though I haven't seen it yet, I can't wait to watch the movie. Thanks for the link to the DeMello teaching. Great stuff!