You could say I hit the big time early on in my acting career when I landed a regular role in one of the most watched soaps on British TV. There’s nothing freakier than being given the ratings every week and being told that millions of people have watched you in their living rooms. British soaps aren’t like American ones; there’s none of the soft focus and glamour (no one ever suggested I do anything with my monobrow for example!), they’re gritty, edgy and, some would say, depressing in their depiction of humanity. But it means that the characters are accessible to the average viewer and therefore people really feel like they know you.
I’ll never forget attending a church in London and a woman I’d never met before recognized me from the TV and came over to talk to me. She congratulated me on my success in the show. Then her face clouded.
‘It must be so difficult for you. Living and working in that world,’ she said.
A bit taken aback, and unsure if she meant the fictional world of the show or a preconceived notion of the notorious world of the entertainment industry, I faltered and said that I wasn’t really finding it that difficult. I started to tell her all about the wonderful, hard working and generous people with whom I worked, the talent of the crew, the blessing of being able to work at something I loved, but she looked instantly disapproving.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, interrupting me ‘I thought you were a Christian.’ And she walked away.
There are schools of thought that followers of Christ should either avoid certain aspects of life and society because of the perceived evils connected to them or that we should infiltrate all areas of society in order to bring about its redemption and salvation.
I’m afraid I don’t settle comfortably into either of these groups.
There is evil everywhere, there is corruption and vice and immorality in every area of work. And I mean every area of work. It’s just that most primary school teachers, office workers, waiters don’t make the front pages of tabloids with their bad stuff. I used to say that it was probably harder for a Christian to work with integrity in the banking sector than the entertainment industry!
I also don’t see myself as an undercover special Christian agent out to convert everyone I meet to Christianity. Nor do I see it as my responsibility to set myself up as the poster child for ‘Christians in the Arts’ – been there, done that and felt the fall out when I was no longer famous enough to be useful for that agenda.
When we are called to create, to make art in whatever medium, we make it from where we are. We reflect our environment, respond to it, comment on it. We point to its beauty and brokenness. We look at the dark side of life and we cry out, ‘deliver us from evil’ and then we get on with brushing away our tears and working to reveal the Kingdom, which was there all along hidden in the debris of messy lives.
If we avoid going to those places where we think we see more darkness than light sometimes, then our faith is nothing but an escapist fantasy with no real hope for anyone. If we see everything as broken and in need of Christians to make it all ok, then we put ourselves on God’s throne and underestimate the gentleness of the Divine, who dwells in the broken places, even those places where evil resides.
Well may we pray ‘deliver us from evil’ but if God is in those places with us, then we have nothing to fear.
Melanie Clark Pullen is an actress and writer living in Ireland. She likes this quote by Oscar Wilde; “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at stars.”