Streaming: Part 5, Welcoming Bianca

My friend Mark Love, the host of Streaming, is a pretty creative person.

One of the interesting things Mark did during Streaming was to sprinkle clips of the movie Lars and the Real Girl throughout the conference. It was amazing how effective this was.

If you've not seen the movie, a synopsis with not too many spoilers, just setting up the premise of the movie:

The protagonist of the movie is Lars Lindstrom. As the movie starts Lars is living in the garage of the family home which is occupied by Gus, Lars's older brother, and Gus's pregnant wife Karin.

As we observe Lars interact with Gus and Karin, his co-workers and church we quickly discover that Lars is emotionally closed and fearful of human connection. Lars even flinches from physical touch. As the movie goes on we find out that Lars's social and emotional withdrawal is due to fact that Lars's mother died giving birth to him and his being raised alone (Gus took off) by a distant and broken father.

One day at work a co-worker of Lars tells him about anatomically correct and life-size sex dolls. Lars doesn't seem interested, but later, and unbeknownst to this brother and sister-in-law, Lars orders a doll, dresses her up and introduces her to them as Bianca. Though Bianca is a sex doll Lars's relationship with her is very chaste, though clearly delusional. Lars talks to and treats Bianca as if she were a real person and expects Gus and Karin to do so as well. Not wanting to hurt Lars's feelings (or make matters worse) Gus and Karin go along and start to interact with Bianca as if she were a real person.

Eventually, the whole town is introduced to Bianca and for the sake of Lars they also begin to interact with Bianca as if she were a real person. It's all very funny. My favorite scene is a gathering of the church leaders who are asked by Gus and Karin to allow Lars to bring Bianca to church. You can view this scene here on YouTube.

Now what does all this have to do with hospitality and welcoming others?

Bianca is an externalization of Lars's brokenness, his fears of loss and intimacy. So in welcoming Bianca the people around Lars are welcoming Lars's brokenness, embracing it. And as we see the community welcoming Bianca--Lars's brokenness--Lars is slowly pulled back into the life of the community.

More, those welcoming Bianca are also changed. In welcoming Bianca the community and the church are pulled out of themselves and into deeper intimacy. By making sacrifices for Lars, by welcoming and accommodating Bianca, everyone's hearts are softened and changed.

It's a wonderful movie, rich in Christian imagery.

And here's why I'm writing about this and why I think Mark picked this film for Streaming. We all have a Bianca. There is some part of us that is broken or afraid. But unlike Lars we tend to keep our Bianca hidden and secret (sort of like how real sex dolls are kept secret and "in the closet"--the imagery is apt). We don't have the courage of a Lars to bring our Bianca out and introduce her to others. It's too scary a prospect.

But Lars and the Real Girl suggests that the only way we can create true and authentic community is if we are willing to welcome Bianca. Yours and mine.

In welcoming Bianca we are being hospitable to the brokenness of others. That is what Jesus was doing as he ate with tax-collectors and sinners. He was welcoming Bianca.

And the church? The church is sitting with Gus and Karin in the basement wondering what it should do. Should the church welcome Bianca? Isn't that going to get a little weird and messy? It is. Bianca is a bit out of place in the church scenes. But the decision of the church is made when the pastor asks the critical question.

What would Jesus do?

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29 thoughts on “Streaming: Part 5, Welcoming Bianca”

  1. Do you think the answer from the church (not to mention the viewing audience) would have been the same if it had been Bill, a male doll, instead of Bianca? There's other and then there's really other. I like the premise of the clips but as the really other, I can't help but wonder if I'd been more open about being gay at the conference, would I have really been welcome at the communion table there?

  2. Interesting...  :-D

    I'm thinking this:

    1.  Bianca is a harmless, inanimate object.  She (it) isn't really any threat to the church or the people.
    2.  Lars' interaction with Bianca is very proper (vs. kinky and/or disturbing), which certainly helps with public tolerance of his unusual behavior.

    Here are my really big, bottom-line thoughts, fwiw:

    A willingness to "sit" with a social outcast, to be kind and compassionate, is a very good start.  But...I think what tends to happen in reality is that the "weirdo" becomes the church's "project" -- someone to fix or improve or "save."  In other words, to make the person "just like us."  (That is, the "us" that we pretend to be with others -- strong, "together" and happy/blessed.)

    Do we assume a "happy ending" in the story of Lars?  What if...all of the church's hospitality and embrace of Lars fails to "cure" him of his attachment to Bianca?  Will the church feel disappointed or get tired of pretending along with Lars about Bianca?

    Mrs. Gruner's response was right on, in pointing out some of the odd habits of others in the church.  If Lars and Bianca's presence caused the church folk to be more honest and humble about their own "stuff," then that would be a truly amazing movement of the Holy Spirit in *authenticating* the confessing community.  When we stand with, and are willing to get real low, authentic community works.  If we refuse to come down from our lofty perches, and remain aloof, cold, and "clinical" about our role in *being* Christ's body for the world -- the whole world, even the weirdos and the outcasts -- then it will be neither believable nor palatable to those on the outside looking in.

    Keep it real -- and above all, be kind...  My prayer and #1 rule for living.

    Peace, Susan

  3. Thanks, Sandy. This question helps me realize where some churches have communicated that some secrets are harder, or worse, or more "other," than others.

    I don't think any church I've been to means to communicate this; I don't think any church I've been to would have welcomed you less. But it's far, far scarier for you to take the risk and find out, than it is for me to simply suggest that the church would welcome you.

    And the church's welcome would not be perfect--any more than you are perfect. Accepting weird people (people who dress up their kittens, send their money to UFO societies, or date blow-up dolls) also means accepting weird people who call a sex doll a Golden Calf--or weird people who equate homosexuality with Sodom and Gomorrah. I may even have to accept that I'm the weird person--that some in the community think I'm sick--and I cannot demand, with brittle and defensive pride, for the church to define me as normal and right.
    All of which is intensely uncomfortable. But maybe better than huddling in our separate enclaves, where gays are welcome (but rednecks definitely aren't), or where rednecks are welcome (but gays definitely aren't).

  4. Thanks, Susan.

    I can't help, however, wondering whether this "honest and humble" attitude toward our "stuff" is really what people want--or whether they want a dishonest, unhumble validation of anything and everything about them. In one sense, Lars was the one person with whom the people of this community could not (out of kindness) "keep it real" with.I often wonder: if I tell a person, "You are welcome at this church just the way you are, but we all think your blow-up girlfriend is weird and sick, just as all of us also have things about us that are weird and sick"--will that person accept a welcome, on those terms?What makes Lars "crazy" isn't that he does weird behavior (we all do)--it's that he can't bear truthful speech about his weird behavior. He has to be treated as a child, and have everyone hide from him what they really think (his girlfriend is a weird blow-up doll). Is this a model for how the church ought to treat people? What's this have to do with keeping it real?

  5. The blog post below yours in my google reader this morning: .

    Totally hilarious. 

    I love your articles and refer to them often.  Thanks for your insights.

  6. I like this article, but doubt if something like this could really happen. I would hope it could, but, it seems churches keep a lot of people away, or at least fail to engage with people who are different in race, hobby choices, who are disabled, homeless, etc. I love my church, but, they have a hard enough time understanding how's come my husband doesn't like sports and makes a living writing comic books, let alone someone bringing a sex doll to church and asking everyone to treat the doll like a real person. They don't even treat real people like real people sometimes.

    I pray that boundaries can be broken. That people can learn to see one another as individuals and not as part of a group, that they try to learn about the people who come into the doors before judging them, and that we all can realize that just because someone makes you uncomfortable doesn't mean God doesn't love them.

    Jesus would make a lot of us uncomfortable, I think. 

  7. Hi doulos41,

    The fictitious example of Lars doesn't get at a situation in which a person's behavior is harmful, either to himself or others.  In Lars' case -- weird as it appears -- nobody was really being hurt.  The church people may have been uncomfortable with Bianca, but that's all.

    What is clear about Lars is that he is a person in pain.

    If being kind, gentle, patient, and compassionate is treating Lars "as a child" in your view, then YES!  Do that.

    I get the impression that speaking the truth, regardless of how callous or brutal it may be to the receiver, is a virtue that you value most highly.

    Lars is more than his immediate behavior with Bianca. Let's just pretend that Lars is a real human being, with a story.  Listen, learn about Lars, *see* him, and try to understand who he is, and why.  Then, perhaps you would be in a position to speak "truth" to Lars, in a *loving* spirit.

    Doesn't "doulos" mean helper, by the way?


  8. Sorry if tone is missing here. I think the movie is beautiful. I also think that it is sometimes beautiful to shut up and in a loving spirit, not "be real." Lars isn't hurting anyone. He is living in non-reality, however. No problems for me there--I have no desire to be callous or brutal. He's hurting, so treat him like a child if necessary--play pretend with him--no problem.

    But I do see a REAL dilemma, and a REAL irony in your response. Because you're the one (not I) who used the words "honest" and "get real" and "authentic" for a (fictional) situation in which everyone decides, for the sake of kindness, to simply pretend. And even if, for individuals like Lars we may decide to all play pretend, there may (or may not) come a point where the church speaks truthfully--as it did in that circle in the clip that Richard linked to. And that truth-telling is, by definition, less comfortable than the sort of play-acting that oh-so-kindly treats one another's lies as though they are true.

    So no, I don't value truth-speaking over all other virtues. But I do like naming things for what they are. And playing pretend in order to protect people's delusions, which is what our culture (and the movie) regards as kindness, is not authentic, it is not honest, it is not getting real. It may be far, far more virtuous than honesty--but it is not honesty.

  9. Richard,
    I have always enjoyed your thoughts. I like this.
    Now, I'm not a big fan of people recommending their blogs in comments, but I was caught off guard by the similarity to something I thought and wrote awhile back about this movie. You have a different twist though. Thanks for sharing.

  10. “Mama, dis my fwiend! I love her!”

    So hilarious! Thanks for the link and the smile.

  11. Well, Jana and I were on one side of communion and Ryan and Jess were at the other. Can't speak for everyone there, but you were welcomed to the table with open arms by the four of us--no matter which side you went to.

  12. Hi doulos41,
    May I offer a different type of example, in which truth telling is truth telling, but reason and purpose do differentiate whether it's helpful or something wholly other. (My apologies in advance for waxing long.)

    First, in self-disclosure, I have an editorial background. In my career just out of college, I was copy editor for a Dallas-based magazine, which my employer had begun as a hobby and expanded, during my employment to a total of four monthly national publications. In my job, I caught errors of various types: spelling, grammar, statistics. I rewrote a free-lance author's awkward sentence or paragraph for clarity. At times, I reworked an entire article such that it wouldn't be recognizable from its original form. In fact, that capability is what got me hired originally as an intern. But it wasn't my name in the byline, even when it was mostly my work in the finished article. And doing ghost work was perfectly all right by me. 

    That said, it should be noted that any time words are written, without exception, there will be errors. No one writes perfectly, especially first and/or fast drafts. So when mistakes occur, I notice. But more so, I notice the tone with which they're pointed out here by others. Some are gracious, or jovial. Some, in the past, have been mocking and condescending.  And regardless of tone, technically they may be right. But the difference in both how it's pointed out and why makes a difference.

    The reason for an editorial team in the publishing industry is to fix errors, because such mistakes distract from the actual content of the work, and the team's job is to make the author look stellar, without getting in the way editorially. But when such criticism is offered in a posturing manner, it may be"honest" in terms of being technically correct, but at the same time it can be distasteful and even inappropriate. 

    I see a correlation between trying to fix grammatical errors, and trying to fix people. Someone can be "right" and come at another person with such a demeanor that makes his "rightness" completely repellent. Grammatical errors aren't a matter of life and death, and most of the criticisms leveled at others aren't either. Theologically, the denomination I've abandoned comes at others with a "get it right or go to hell" message, with variations in demeanor. And Richard has done a fantastic job of exposing the Terror Management motivations underlying a lot of that theology. But the kindness factor in that theology is often lacking. And I love that in this story of Lars, his need for grace, recognized in his brokenness, trumps the church's need to correct and fix him so that he sees reality rightly. Given enough grace, might not God be permitted to do the fixing? But with graceless rejection, how can God ever reach the brokenhearted?   


  13. I know and I really do appreciate that. It was the first time I'd been back in a setting that I couldn't count on being affirming since leaving my previous church (which wasn't affirming). And it did kind of throw me more than I anticipated. I found myself on the first day of the conference throwing up walls that maybe weren't necessary in order to protect myself (a Star-Trekian "shields up" sort of thing). I suspect if I'd worn my "lesbrarian" t-shirt, there might have been a howl when I approached for communion, even if your arms were open. And the peculiar thing is that that howl lives in my head, even when it doesn't actually happen. And that's my junk to deal with. I think what I've learned from all this is that when you're really other, you can't (or won't) assume that you're welcome unless it's explicitly stated.

  14. I'm currently huddling in an enclave (MCC congregation, albeit with some straight members too) and I don't think I would go back to a non-affirming church.  It's wearying being the weird person who has to be reminded of her weirdness (something that really wasn't done to Lars). Mostly, I just want to get on with the business of Jesus--love God, love your neighbor, feed the hungry, etc. When you're in an enclave, the whole LGBT thing is just a non-issue and you can get on with that. It's refreshing to be able to focus on Jesus and not the weirdness. I don't think MCCs are the only places where it's a non-issue but there's something to be said for the enclaves. And don't assume gay people can't be rednecks. :)

  15. doulos41, how about this:

    *You* be painfully honest with yourself, and feel free to present yourself honestly and humbly (not perfect, not possessing all knowledge) with others, and before God.

    Instead of -- needing to point out the dishonesty and delusions and "weirdness" of others.

    Being "real" in my opinion is above all else about kindness (and all the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit in one's life).

    I do agree with one thing you've said.  A false humility and phony "niceness" will not fool most people.  You are right about that not being what is wanted or needed from the body of Christ in the world.  We have to remember that it isn't just a social activity to which we welcome people as a church; it is to Christ himself that we invite others to come.

    Lastly, in being so truthful and honest, maybe it would be a good idea to ask ourselves (honestly and prayerfully) who is being served by our so-called truth-telling:  the receiver, the church, God/Christ, or myself/yourself.  If our burning need to tell someone the "truth" is mostly for our own satisfaction, all kindness and tenderness aside, then, Houston, I think we have a problem.


  16. Thanks, Patricia.  Final paragraph:  Bingo!  Well-said, my doubt a much more gracious response than mine.  Nicely illustrated, too.  :-)  ~Peace~

  17. Enjoying your comments about Streaming.  Thought you might like to read this blog written by a friend after she heard sermons that arose from study of Unclean -    Sara Barton

  18. I really enjoyed this movie a few years ago, but after reading this post I LOVE the connection Richard! Wow! What a great example of genuine acceptance of the other in their brokenness. If we can't welcome each other AS each other, then our community of faith will be no more than a country club.

  19. "What would Jesus do" is a bad question... I think. None of us really knows what he would do and often the answers that people come up with are really just their own, not Jesus'. Why not really own your own response, understanding, ideas, feelings, etc. It's good to look at the things Jesus did and then explore together what his actions might mean for us now, but i think it's an abduction of personal and communal responsibility at times to ask, WWJD?

  20. Thank you. Yes, painful honesty about ourselves first is the point, isn't it? Still, I was struck by the fact that the clip which Richard linked to was a very gracious moment of trying to get a GROUP to acknowledge that we as a GROUP are messed-up and imperfect. This is, it seems to me, a healthy next step after I individually confess my own messed-up state. . . .

    I appreciate your focus on kindness--you always give, in a well-articulated manner, a defense of the kindest approach. I, myself, think that kindness is one virtue but not every virtue--that I can learn from you (who are kinder than I am) and also from others (who are more honest than I am), and that learning from all of Christ's body often puts me in a place where I am trying to balance a lot of different things at once!

    I appreciate your recognition that phony "niceness" doesn't always work--and you are VERY astute in asking who is being served by any particular truth-telling. Perhaps for that reason (and because I am a pleaser) I usually go along, behave kindly, and don't rock the boat.

    But if I am going to respond to Richard's call to be hospitable to the brokenness of others, I have to have the working assumption that they do indeed have brokenness to which I can be hospitable. In my experience, most people do not want me to welcome their brokenness--they want me to join them in utterly denying that they have any brokenness. This may be very kind, but it is not (quite) "getting real" and it is not (quite) "welcoming brokenness."

  21. Interesting analogy. I suppose that, as a teacher, I've been more struck by those moments when students think that any correction is unkind--that anything besides an A+, anything besides a total validation of their own perfection, is unkind. I don't know of any people who, unsolicited, try to correct grammar errors--but I do honor those people who, when they ask for correction, really appreciate the correction that they receive.

    Yes, your last paragraph is lovely. We do not fix people--I don't think I've ever even persuaded anyone of anything! God does the fixing, and God can use anything--even a bunch of church people who, from kindness, decide to play make believe.

    I think I just come from a fundamentally different experience--one that is less obsessed with "rightness" (at the expense of kindness), but rather one that is obsessed with "kindness" at the expense of transparency. People accept me--but they don't accept my brokenness, because they are TERRIFIED of naming anything about me (or about them) as broken. For me, the liberating moments are when someone cares enough to tell me, "Yes, you are broken--and I love you."

  22. "People accept me--but they don't accept my brokenness, because they are TERRIFIED of naming anything about me (or about them) as broken."
    Or perhaps, out of respect, people simply figure it's none of their business to be naming and listing your faults. Or yours to name theirs. :-) It takes an intimate relationship with a high degree of trust to be that blunt. 

  23. Fair enough. Quite frankly, talking about brokenness doesn't happen--and shouldn't happen--in all settings. Usually we should just be super-kind and super-accepting, and let it go at that.

    I guess that Richard's language ("true and authentic community," etc.) invites me to think about a deeper, more intimate layer of welcome and acceptance. If I just want people who will treat me kindly, I can find that at a gas station--at a sports bar--wherever.  Almost anywhere in life, people will "humor" my brokenness, give me a cheerful smile, and pretend Bianca's real. Church is one of the few places I can hope to move beyond surface niceness--a group that will address the fact that I know, and they know, that my Bianca is a plastic doll and that I've been faking it all along.

    Last night I attended my first 12-step meeting, so that's part of what I'm thinking about as a sort of model for church. . . . also been reading Brennan Manning, who (perhaps because he is a recovering alcoholic?) equates grace and acceptance with the willingness to talk about brokenness. Nobody wants someone else to list our faults, but some of us do crave a love that is based on seeing us for who we really are--terrifying as that can be. . . . 

    Somebody who barges into AA and says, "You all are a bunch of pathetic drunks" is not particularly helpful to the sort of community they may be trying to build, but neither is someone who marches in and says, "I can drink as much as I want whenever I want, and don't you dare name my behavior as alcoholism."

  24. I can understand wanting church to fill that kind of intimacy in community. Phillip Yancey has also written about how AA should be a model for church. My own biography repeatedly has found church groups and Christians in prominence to be something very otherwise, however. Dana Carvey's Church Lady character is not really an exaggeration. As Richard has quoted before, "There is no history: only biography." I wish you well. Blessings.

  25. You're welcome.  I am glad that I could be of some help to you.

    There is much more that I could say.  And believe me, I *really* wanted to.

    "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...patience, kindness, goodness... faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control!  Against such things there is no law."

    It took me an hour of briskly marching up and down the trail in the heat of the sun to beat back the temptation to open my mouth and unleash my unwholesome thoughts at you, here and now!  Out of respect and gratitude for Dr. Beck, I have attempted throughout my history as a commenter here to honor his hospitality by being kind and generally Christlike in all of my interactions.

    You and I are very different people, "doulos".  We seem to have processed our faith for radically different interpretations and practices.

    Even if I meet a person whom I perceive to be "broken" and "in denial", I do not feel it is my place to hammer them over the head with "the truth."

    If such a broken and delusional person shows up in church, of all places, I would take that as an opportunity to show some love to that person, build them up, in order that they might have the courage to trust the community of faith, and God, to face their fears and failures, and stop living like a refugee (in the words of a Tom Petty classic, lol.)

    The tough love approach is rarely helpful with a person who is already beaten down and broken.  Actually, it is unnecessarily rough and downright cruel.  IMHO.

    Furthermore, every single one of us is "cracked" in some way.  I have not met a perfect person yet...only people pretending to be perfect.  Plenty of those, yes.  Cracked eikons that we are notwithstanding, I believe that every single one of us possesses a spark of the Divine (the "image of God"), waiting to be revealed and lit on fire.

    If, "doulos", you are determined to confront others and "speak the truth" I would challenge you to look for the beautiful, good, and true shining through the cracks.  Encourage and build up what is beautiful, good, and true about each person you meet.  Bear with them, patiently and gently, as they work out their own salvation (flaws, defects, brokenness, "weirdness", fears, and shameful failures included.)

    Be present with others.  Speak of hope.

    Would you not hope for other to treat you in this way?

    Sometimes "brokenness" can be "fixed".  And sometimes it is something we
    have to accept in ourselves and others, and learn how to live with.  FWIW, I think this is what
    terrifies people more than admitting their own brokenness -- and seeing
    the brokenness of others:  the possibility that healing, improvement, perfection/wholeness
    will not and cannot happen in this earthly life.  What's the term for
    that existential defense mechanism?  Terror Management?

    It *is* terrifying to contemplate that faith
    doesn't necessarily rid us of the painful, hard aspects of our
    existence.  Crosses to bear and all that...  I believe that Christ calls us to give a shit about others who are carrying heavy loads.  He suffered (and continues to suffer) *with* us, not just in place of us.

    When a person has entrusted me with a painful truth of their "brokenness", my impulse is to reach out in compassionate care, and to help if it is at all within my power.  I've honestly never been inclined to be anything but gentle and nurturing toward a person who is hurting and lost.  By the same token, it is those people in my life who have expressed love and kindness toward me, in my grief, for whom I have been the most grateful.

    The hard-ass preachers of "truth", not so much.  Sorry if that's too blunt and bordering on the unkind, doulos41.  Just being perfectly honest with you.

    Now I am shaking off the dust and moving on.  I wish you well.  ~Peace~

  26. Thanks Richard,

    'Lars and the Real Girl' has been on my recommended films list since watching it when it first came out on DVD. I was completely struck by the healing of hospitality in the film. While I agree with other's suspicion that the brokeness analogy breaks down if we push it too far (Bianca is mostly harmless and thus does not correlate to abusive brokeness), I still believe this film paints a powerful picture of inclusion and grace in the face of our awkward vulnerabilities. There is a foolishness to their acceptance of Bianca that rings with the truth of the gospel. 'Punchdrunk Love' is another film I would place in a similar vein.

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