“The Nature Of Existence”
            Director Roger Nygard, besides working on television comedies like “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” has also given us “Trekkies” (about the extreme fans of the “Star Trek” series) and “Six Days In Roswell” (about UFO enthusiasts).  So Mr. Nygard appears to have an affinity for showing us people’s heartfelt passions about the invisible, looked upon with an ironic air of comic absurdity.
            That’s pretty much the atmosphere of “The Nature Of Existence.”  Mr. Nygard, in a way that appears to be straightforward and sincere and genuinely inquiring, asks all sorts of people the basic meaning-of-life questions like “Why are we here?”  “Who is God?”  “Is there an afterlife?”  He asks everyone from taxi drivers to self-appointed spiritualists to gurus to mystics to street corner evangelists to professional wrestlers.  He travels the backwoods of the U.S. , and then all over the globe, including China and India and Palestine and England .  The more “out there” the religious impulse, the more interested Mr. Nygard appears to be.  Therefore, those who are regularly engaged in serious, lifelong, academically-defensible bible study, for instance, will find their point of view conspicuously absent.  Not to mention those of us who call ourselves practicing Christians, and are devoted to regular participation in congregational life as a way of expressing that faith.
            And yet, as a Christian Pastor myself, I’m put it an awkward position.  If I criticize Mr. Nygard or his methods too much, I’ll be doing to him precisely what I’d be complaining about that he’s doing to us.  I’d also be placing myself in the position of implying that I have the only correct point of view, and everyone else is in error.  If Mr. Nygard imposes any of his own values on this exercise, it’s this one:  nobody has a corner on the truth.  And yet, here is another conundrum for me:  if I agree that nobody’s right, then I deny the spiritual truth of what I believe;  if I claim that my way is the only way, then I demonstrate myself to be a hard-headed, even mean-spirited, bigot.  So I can’t win here, and I don’t like to play games where I can’t win.
            So, I will tap into a time-honored Christian teaching device, the parable.  Watching this movie is like watching someone who doesn’t know how to swim walking around a pool and talking about the methods of the people in the water who are swimming.  You can critique their form and style, and you can even claim that there can be many valid approaches, but there is no way you can truly experience what they are experiencing, because you refuse to immerse:  to get in the water and do it yourself.
            Another parable:  watching this movie is like listening to someone who has decided that he’s going to know human sexuality by availing himself of every sexual experience imaginable, with as many partners as he can recruit.  And then he’s eager to tell you about the strange ones, the unusual encounters, the memorable experiences, the odd requests, the couplings that were really “out there.”  But this man, while having a broad superficial breadth of sexual knowledge, would have no earthly idea what it would be like to have a real, committed, monogamous, long-term relationship with someone he loves, and who loves him back.  He could not possibly understand what it would be like to express his sexuality exclusively with one individual, and to do so in the context of being in a partnership for life.  His very method would preclude his understanding.  And the harder he tries, the farther away he gets.
            Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas