Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 29, “Attachment and Detachment”

Dear friend,

A couple of weeks ago, I named two movies that spoke to us in the late 1960s: “The King of Hearts” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a book that was especially influential during our days together at boarding school: Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 

Today let’s go to Broadway, where there is only one choice, one show that captured our generation. Of course, that show was “Hair.”

What everyone talked about was the nude scene before intermission, and how you got to dance on stage with the cast after the final curtain call. “Hair” was a happening.

The whole concept—a bunch of hippies singing and dancing about Vietnam, drugs, free love, et cetera, and without much of a plot to speak of—may seem quaint to our children. What was the big deal, after all? But the beauty of “Hair” was permanently grafted on my heart after I saw the 1979 film version by Milos Forman, with Treat Williams as Berger and John Savage as Claude Hooper Bukowski. A full narrative blossomed from the kernel in the Broadway musical, with Savage as the country bumpkin who buses to New York to enlist, only to be roped into the hippie shenanigans of Berger and friends.

The dancing in the movie was choreographed by Twyla Tharp, and there is no more moving piece of dance than the night scene where a park full of kids sing “Ain’t Go No.” Take a look, and then I’ll tell you what this has to do with Romano Guardini:

All the (“Rinso white”) purity of our generation—and the insight that possessions can stand in the way of happiness—is all here in this scene.

Interpreting the “strange” parable of the dishonest steward, Guardini speaks the language of that late-Sixties moment when talking about property:

“What Jesus is driving at is neither sociological nor economic. His words have nothing to do with secular morality; they simply state what sin has done: destroyed paradise. In paradise property of the one would not have been to the exclusion of others [my emphasis]. Just how this could have been is beyond human understanding. We can only surmise it when we meet someone who in the love of Christ has really become selfless.”

We meet such a figure in the movie, Treat Williams’s Berger, for whom freedom from attachment leads to the ultimate sacrifice.

The moment passed. The 1970s came and then the 1980s, and we grew old, then older. We cut our hair. We swapped jeans for three-piece suits, and—well—it’s all a cliché now. The generation of peace, love, freedom, happiness sold out for things that, as Guardini points out, you can’t take with you.


This series of posts continues here with chapter 30.

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