Hollywood is known more for its myth than for its reality, at least in the eyes of the general public. For those who know Hollywood, it draws to mind that truism that “all that glitters is not gold.” The substance doesn’t always measure up to the presentation. Once the cameras and spotlights and red carpets have been removed, it isn’t always the nicest place in the world. In fact, Hollywood can be downright ugly at times.
Walking down Hollywood Boulevard can be a bit anti-climactic and even disillusioning. For the uninitiated, it’s as if the curtain has been pulled back and the wizard turns out, in a wearying sort of way, to be much less than anticipated. Although the powers-that-be have tried to clean Hollywood up a bit, this boulevard is populated by people of all sorts: prostitutes and drug addicts, religious peddlers and panhandlers, and even a few actors. The tourist shops are interspersed with the occasional adult bookstore or occult novelty shop. There is garbage, urine, and pollution.
Early in my acting career, I’d see all of this in the evening as I strolled to my scene study class, which met weekly in a studio just off of Hollywood Boulevard. The class itself was made up of quite an assorted bunch as well. One of the students worked as a bartender at the Playboy Mansion. Another was a dancer for the Los Angeles Lakers. The teacher’s language was, well, it was pretty colorful – although I probably should note that the color was usually one shade of blue or another.
Strangely enough, those people turned out to be some of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve known. There was an authenticity to many of them that was oddly compelling. Yes, off-color jokes were told, suggestive clothing was worn, swear words were… sworn. But there was a friendly camaraderie between us, and together, we were each attempting to discover what it means to be an actor as an artist. I liked the process, and still do. I liked those people, and even – oh, wow, please take this the right way – preferred them at times. I began to find gold beneath the glitter.
I suppose that right here would be a good place for me to insert an anecdote about how I stood on my chair, informed my fellow students of their problems, and called them to repentance and holiness. I mean, isn’t it my duty to set them straight? But even though my eyes were open for such an opportunity, it did not occur – at least, not in my acting class. I feel okay about that. There is a time for reproach, but apparently, that wasn’t it.
I’ve been slowly learning the art of grace, the art of intentionally inserting into each situation the grace that lives inside of me by the Holy Spirit. An act of kindness to somebody in need, an encouragement to someone else who is feeling down, a short word of wisdom from my limited supply, sometimes just a smile. I think that, like a painter with her brush, we have to learn to apply this grace with discerning strokes and swirls, painstakingly mixing the colors into the details, a touch here, a touch there, until – presto change-o! – beauty suddenly emerges where once there was chaos or ugliness.
I’m coming to find, as I move about here among the artists and actors, that being right is not the answer. Not that being theologically and morally correct isn’t a goal – it’s still important. But I’ve seen some people who, as they pointed out the wrongness of a particular action or inaction, were the ones who actually had become the monsters. I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of this as well. Like a horrifying werewolf emerging in the light of a full moon, I have howled my indignation at a person’s wrongdoing, repeatedly slashed them to pieces with my call to holiness, and left them dying as I lurched onward, a proud, lycanthropic smile on my face.
It is a little too easy to just be right, although there are many who have missed the mark here as well, myself included. It is much more difficult to be right and to extend grace. Not the sloppy “live and let live” kind of grace of turning a blind eye to sin, but grace that is extended in a very real, proactive sense. Without doing so, the best we can hope for is to be horribly right.
That is because holiness without grace is not holiness. To be right without the extension of grace is to be wrong.
All my best,