Doubt A parable

Here’s an interesting thing: at this moment (and this could change in the next) I find the preface to Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley a more interesting thing to think about and discuss than the play itself. Which feels like a foolish thing to say because, of course, the preface is directly related to the play. Doubt is a play that tackles a lot without hitting you over the head with what it’s tackling. It’s a prime example of the audience participating in the moment with live theater (I imagine…I haven’t actually seen the play I’ve just read it). The moment John Patrick Shanley wrote is real and, I think, still relevant, but the spine of the play, doubt, and his ideas about it are more relevant than ever in the  context of 2016.

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I’ll say this about Doubt, it is interesting and incredibly well written. It’s set in a Catholic Church/school and tackles so many issues that could appear in that setting without really ever directly attacking them. It’s an artful incitation of doubt. As a written piece it’s clear to see why it’s produced (small cast, easy sets, ect) and as a story it’s easy to see why people watch it and love to talk about it. In researching it a little bit I found that the original cast liked to say that the second act of the play is the audience leaving and discussing it to try and decide what they believed. I think that’s exactly what I love so much about it. Given the opportunity I would love to see this performed and strongly recommend it to people who do have that opportunity!

All that said, I would also like to recommend the preface to the play. You know how people describe things like Shakespeare and Van Gogh and Mean Girls as timeless? I don’t know for sure that Doubt is timeless, it’s an “only time will tell” type of thing. Will we always remember the scandals of the Catholic Church?  Will the Catholic Church continue to be relevant?  I suspect for a very long time, at least, it will; but the idea behind the play, the doubt, the discussion he has in the preface, I don’t think that will ever go away.

In the preface Shanley asks, “Have you ever held a position in an argument past the point of comfort?” Even if the answer to that used to be no, if you live in the USA, after this last election your answer has almost certainly changed. He asks, “Have you ever given service to a creed you no longer utterly believe?” Even if we’re not willing to own to doing this, at the very least we can point to many many many people that have (for the record, it is my opinion that those that aren’t willing to admit to this are, invariably currently doing it…just one ladies opinion).  Many of us have found ourselves on shaky ground and staring down disbelief at the decisions of friends and family and power. It is Shanley’s point that this disbelief, the shaky ground, the doubt, is an opportunity for growth. It’s an opportunity to lean into the unknown and let yourself fly away from the “shared certainty”.

I’ve had and overheard several conversations in the past couple weeks that amount to, “what now?”  The ground is as shaky as it’s ever been and the doubt is but one aspect of a tangible and valid fear. The storm of self-reflection that happened immediately after the election was at once overwhelming and encouraging. What I see now is people yearning for a place of comfort. The answer to the questions, “What now?” and “How do we continue?” should not involve a place of shared certainty. The desire for comfort and someone telling us what is right and wrong, the trust in outdated systems that have forgotten what the spine of their purpose is will lead us to ruin.

Read the preface to Doubt (it won’t take more than 10 minutes) and you’ll find him writing about a place you recognize.  Shanley points to “that crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.” as a moment of change, of courage, and of passion.  We are in that moment, what we do with it is entirely up to us.

Read the preface here.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Common Place Book Entries

“deep down under the chatter we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know…anything. But nobody’s willing to say that.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“When a man feels unsteady, when he falters, when hard-won knowledge evaporates before his eyes, he’s on the verge of growth.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“When trust is the order of the day, predators are free to plunder.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“The beginning of change is the moment of Doubt. It is the crucial moment when I renew my humanity or become a lie.”

-Preface to Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

“But innocence can only be wisdom in a world without evil.”

-Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

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