Pilgrim and the Movies

As Christian and Faithful journeyed on, they saw an elevated wooden stage built in the centre of a large field. Around it were gathered the town folk of nearby Endless Distraction. They were seated on chairs they had brought out, and chattered happily before the show began.

Christian and Faithful were curious of this scene and paused to consider it.

“Come and watch, weary travellers!” said a rather overweight man walking up to them, whom they later found out was named Flippant. “When you have been taking life so seriously, you need a bit of relief.”

“Relief and rest are indeed promised by our Master, but watching others pretend at life is surely not one of the ways He desires us to do so,” said Christian.

“Ah, but none can engage himself incessantly in the pilgrim life, without growing morbid. Afford yourselves the chance to rest your eyes and ears and receive a story without effort.”

“Yea, stories we treasure, for therein our hearts are fired to persevere. Yea, parables and portraits of truth are much to be desired. But these lawful things do first require our girded minds to consider. They must first pass the gate of the mind, before being allowed into the banqueting hall of the affections. What you offer us rushes headlong into that banqueting hall uninvited. Before we can take our thoughts captive for our Master’s pleasure, they have already been wedded with affections and eloped with our hearts.”

Flippant looked them up and down. “Ye have been heeding too many voices of the past. Methinks ye have sat at the feet of such fanatics as Augustine, Tertullian or Cyprian. These primitives had many blind-spots, young sir. Beware of zeal without knowledge.”

“Zeal without knowledge is indeed a curse, and we would desire to escape it. But the three giants you mention are but three links of a chain of voices that has never ceased condemning the thing you invite us to partake of,” Christian replied.

Flippant did not give up. “See here, Master Pilgrim. It was good and fitting for pilgrims like yourself to condemn such things when the plays were bawdy, vile, rowdy or when such plays mocked us pilgrims. But see, this play has none of those elements. It is actually a story of how to be a good pilgrim.”

A wave of doubt seemed to flicker across Christian’s face, but it passed and he remained resolute.

“Nevertheless, your shows teach us insincerity and hypocrisy. For what profit is it if a man and a woman pretend at prayer, play at piety and act holy without being so? What gain is there if those souls do but feign gracious affections for the pleasure of the spectators? Does this not teach both your actors and your audience to regard it all but lightly?”

“Nay, good sir, but the opposite. For rising from this show, the audience is provoked to be better pilgrims. Their hearts are warmed.”

They are zealously affected, but not in a good thing. The warmth you speak of may be a fire in the bosom. For if inordinate passions are stirred up together with what seemeth to be godly desires, who can say what those desires are of a truth? Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? And if the affections are raised by things feigned, of what nature are those affections?”

A silence followed Christian’s words, and Flippant’s expression hardened. “I see you are a contrary man, with a melancholy disposition. If ye would walk a path of bitter cheerlessness, be it upon your own head. I know the Master well, and He greatly blesses and uses our stage plays.”

Christian marvelled at the throng that was gathered around the stage.

“We will not watch your drama, sir, but we will watch those who watch it, to test the truth of your words.”

“As you wish, sirs. Good day to you.”

Christian and Faithful moved to where the stage was out of their vision, and the faces of those who gazed were plain and discernible.

The play began. The expressions of the crowd seemed to be connected to marionette strings held by the Stage-master, Manipulus. He could tug up and down, and change them as he wished. At his chosen moment they would laugh. At his chosen moment, they would cry. At his chosen moment, they would tremble. Faithful wondered at how powerful the stage was.

The play came to an end. The crowd cheered, wiped their tears, and shook the hand of Manipulus.

“Now,” said Christian to Faithful, “let us behold what affections have been stirred up, and whereunto they do lead.”

As the town folk departed, they talked longingly about being faithful pilgrims. They spoke of their deep admiration for fearless and guileless travellers to the Celestial City. They agreed how helpful it was to view such things for their inspiration.

And then they all returned to the town of Endless Distraction.

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