Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Martian Child: thoughts on knowledge and belonging

Somewhere in all of us there is a desire for clarity, a desire to find clean-cut, distinct, black-and-white answers. Even those of us who have become suspicious of absolutes and find ourselves unconvinced by the idea of objectivity are still drawn to distinctions. One might say, "I don't believe that anything's black-and-white but all that matters is..." Indeed, all of us are compelled by something--by that ever elusive "all that matters." We want to be able to know things even if only subjectively or for the sake of finding commonality with others who can affirm the same thing. This kind of knowledge, the knowledge which gives us a sense of commonality, becomes a part of our identity. Perhaps what draws us to clarity, what draws us to knowledge, is our longing to belong.

Last night I watched the movie Martian Child. It was really a great evening. After a long day down in El Cajon at Boomers with our Jr. High Youth Group, Amanda and I had some friends over for a feast. We ate chicken tacos with fresh guacamole, homemade french fries (one of my new specialties), Zucchini from the frying pan, Caesar salad, re-fried beans, nachos, jalapeno carrots, and those snicker-doodle cookies for dessert. We feasted and then watched Martian Child.

It's about a famous science fiction author whose wife has recently passed away. After grieving her death, he decides to adopt a child. Going back and forth in his mind about the decision, he finally ends up adopting a very peculiar boy. The boy is afraid of the sun, wears tons of sunblock, is very intellectually advanced, and believes that he's from Mars. He even wears a weight belt to keep him adjusted to Earth's gravitational pull. He has trouble identifying with peers, he keeps getting in trouble at school, and he's so convinced he's from Mars that he even starts to make the audience wonder. As his new adopted father learns more about him, grows closer to him, and falls in love with him the relationship challenges all their assumptions and all their presuppositions about life. The boy who doesn't even think he's from the same planet starts to feel wanted. The man who had a lot going for him and seemed pretty sure about where his future was headed began to wonder about his own ideas and plans. The relationship, as uncertain and convoluted as it was, changed them both. And as everything was turned upside down for both of them, they felt more and more at home, they felt like they belonged.

In the midst of chaos, we really want harmony. When it's hard to tell which way's up, we want to be able to belong to someone. This kind of belonging, this sort of clarity, is counter-intellectual--trans-intellectual even. It happens in the heart.

When we seek the kind of knowledge that's rigidly intellectual, black-and-white, and distinct we are often drawn further from others. We look for a few words and if someone can't affirm them then we are drawn apart... but at least we know where we stand. The kind of knowledge that comes within uncertainty, this sort of gray knowledge, the knowledge that makes us belong draws us closer to others. It makes us capable of love.

3 comments:

Cammie Novara said...

"We want to be able to know things even if only subjectively or for the sake of finding commonality with others who can affirm the same thing." Truer words you won't find on the internet.

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks... and perhaps this is why we're afraid of learning some things... because of who we might find commonality with and with whom we might lose it. And perhaps this is really why learning is often painful, it's perpetual rebirth.

Thanks for the comment Cammie!

Benjamyn said...

Thanks for writing this! It is awesome.