In The Ear of the Other, Derrida begins with the passage from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra where Zarathustra tells of meeting a man who was all ear, attached to a tiny stalk of a human, who was said to be a genius. This parable of Nietzsche’s and Derrida’s treatment of it came to mind as I read Popcorn and Prophet’s. Eric Kuiper emphasizes church as a place to hear God, and encourages hearing God in film particularly the prophetic voices of documentary film makers. I don’t think the author intended me to see those gathered in church or in a theater as a gathering of these over sized ears with puny underdeveloped bodies, yet that is where his exhortation took me initially.
In the passage Zarathustra is clear, what he observes in the world is people who are not developed fully as human beings but have grotesquely developed one trait or characteristic or sense and only that one. I felt at least in Eric’s essay that we were encouraged to develop our hearing of God (as the means to our moral and spiritual development) and that perhaps Eric on some level believes that the point or essence of church is found in hearing from God. For those who come out of any Protestant tradition that emphasizes preaching and the reading of scripture, such a description of church probably sounds correct. Or in the least describes what church was in their experience. However, Eric was encouraging us to hear, in order that we might do. Probably knowing well the Scriptural exhortation to not be merely hearers of the word but also doers. So there is then also in Popcorn and Prophets a strong sense of the ethical component of church, we are to hear God, and to go out and live according to what we hear. So perhaps I wasn’t so much to see members of the Church as human beings with very large ears and puny bodies, but the church as (and thus film) as this apparatus by which we can hear God. The amplifying and sound system for God voice.
Still I think we have a similar problem simply located outside the person and not inside the person, church is in someway either an ear or oriented towards the ears of human beings. Similarly this focus on hearing God which allowed him to draw parallels and nearly claim the cinema as church, leaves it up to us to go out (from the church?) and be different and better people. This focus while it works for drawing a possible parallel between film and church, reinforces a myopia about church that I find common in various Protestant strains. We seem to be constantly trying to find that one thing the Church is, or our congregations should be about. While Eric’s reduction may have no further intent than finding one place of connection and or analogy between film and the activities of the church, such a reduction plays into various unhelpful reductions of church. And it falls into the hyper- Protestant orientation in worship to words and hearing, the emphasis of the ear over the body (oddly enough considering he wrote about a visual medium, but consistent with the prophets “The Word of the Lord came to me .. and I saw…”).
Yet, Eric’s reduction does not stop there, or as noted it is not in our hearing, but is in the doing. Eric’s comparison of church and film leaves out the possibility of the church as the place of our transformation. As I see it Church is not a place out of which I go (like a theater or cinema) and act upon what i heard there. Rather the church is the very matrix (and I use that word very deliberately) that allows me to act upon what I hear from God, and makes possible the change and transformation of my life according to that Word which I not only hear, or see, but consume in bread and wine, and meet in others gathered. The church is not so much about ears and hearing and doing, as bodies that are transformed through engagement of the whole human being.