How Challenging Art Teaches You to Love Your Neighbor
At some point during the COVID-19 pandemic, my wife and I started watching David Lynch’s 1990s cult classic television show Twin Peaks. Somewhere along the way, it worked its way into my consciousness through various pop culture references—cherry pie, black coffee, Kyle MacLachlan, and the allure of David Lynch in general. And we figured now was as good a time as any to see what it was all about.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show, the premise isn’t too complicated. A chipper, unassuming fisherman from a small town in the Pacific Northwest has his morning ruined when he comes across the body of a local young woman that washed up on the shore. This triggers an FBI investigation. Viewers follow special agent Dale Cooper and discover that the obviously creepy town of Twin Peaks has even more secrets than you would have expected.
I generally liked the show. MacLachlan’s persistent optimism drew me in, and the tension of good and evil kept me there. However, I learned something more important while watching Twin Peaks.
I learned how to listen.
This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Read Part 1: Why I Didn’t Watch The Queen’s Gambit (and You Don’t Have to Either).
Challenging art leads to better listening
The show is not what anyone would call traditional. Performances sometimes feel like they belong in a soap opera rather than an award-winning drama. There’s lots of talk about diner food. And the show moves into the surreal with giants whispering cryptic messages and dream sequences of a dancing dwarf in a red suit speaking in reverse.
What begins as a simple whodunit progresses to a philosophical, surrealist conundrum at hyper speed. The audience is left asking a practical question: what the heck happened here?
Viewers of the show Lost might have a sense of what I’m talking about, even if they’ve never heard of Twin Peaks. Remember when Lost was about surviving on an island after a plane crash? Then it took on time-travel, nosebleeds, and thinly veiled references to purgatory? Lost took 6 seasons to develop that level of strangeness. Twin Peaks did it in an hour and a half.
Like Lost, people have mixed feelings about Twin Peaks. It’s not for everyone (and at first, it didn’t seem like it was for me, either). I had to lean on its reputation to give it the benefit of the doubt. I had to trust that despite its strangeness, something about it must be worth it. After all, people have been talking about it for 30 years.
What’s the key to understanding the hype? Letting the show speak for itself.
It doesn’t have to be at the top of my list, but I figured it’s unfair to judge it without trying to understand first. This was more of a struggle than I’m used to. I don’t typically work so hard for a new show. But I gained from the effort because it forced me to practice listening.
Listening makes us better neighbors
Listening is underrated in the modern era. Today, we are people who speak. Log in to Twitter, and the first thing you’ll see is a little box asking, “What’s on your mind?”. Instagram thrives because people love showing off what they do. Sure, there are elements of listening involved, but it’s curated. Users choose who to follow, who to hear from, and who to share with.
We have to go out of our way to engage with something new.
Streaming services work the same way. Algorithms draw on your interests and continue to feed them. You can easily go through your life avoiding every little thing that challenges you.
But when we avoid what’s challenging, we miss out on learning to become good listeners. Listening is easy when everything sounds like your own voice, but God calls us to something more.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. But our neighbors are not picked by algorithms or follow buttons. And our fellow church members aren’t either. They’re strangers, and strangers, by definition, are strange to us. Maybe even as strange as the wild moments of Twin Peaks. If we want to love them, we have to retrain ourselves to listen.
Choose to practice listening
One practical way we can do this is by taking art that challenges us seriously.
My wife and I chose to do this with Twin Peaks. It was strange at first, but we learned to listen to it explain itself. And through that, we were able to practice the art of listening. When weird things happened, we chose to lean in, seeking to understand. And eventually, we started appreciating the show’s complexities, the strange things that made it unique.
Like difficult art, strangers and neighbors are full of complexities, too. They don’t live up to our preconceived ideas of how someone should act. They might have differing political views or wild stances that frustrate you.
The biggest challenge of loving others is their complexities. Natural reactions may lead us to say, “I just don’t get it.” But we can’t turn people off like we can TV. They’re not here for our entertainment. Loving them requires us to lean in and listen.
For your next movie night, skip the “Recommended for You” section and choose something strange. A foreign film or a documentary or a critically acclaimed TV show—anything outside your normal viewing. Don’t worry about enjoying it, just practice listening. Look for the value. Fight to see the “why” behind the weird parts. And know that as you do, you’re also sharpening your ability to love your neighbors like Jesus does.
What are some more practical steps you can take to start listening to and loving others? Check out this Ten Minute Bible Talks interview with Chris and Elizabeth McKinney on how to love your neighbor.
Don’t miss the rest of our three-part series What (and How) We Watch Matters:
- Why I Didn’t Watch The Queen’s Gambit (and You Don’t Have to Either) (Part 1)
- How Challenging Art Teaches You to Love Your Neighbor (Part 2)
- How to Actively Engage with What You’re Watching (Part 3)
About the Author
Joseph Honescko writes about art, faith, and culture from his home in McKinney, Texas where he lives with his wife, Ginny, and their baby girl, Louella. He’s interested in the connection between cultural narratives and daily habits. In addition to writing, Joseph teaches High School English and Apologetics. He hates social media but looks for alternative ways to connect with readers at josephrhonescko.com.