I promised in my post about August 1914 to tell the story about how I read Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show as a pastoral duty while in seminary.
They were making the highly acclaimed movie that stared Cybill Shepherd in Archer City, Texas. The book was semi-autobiographical and Archer City was Larry McMurtry’s hometown. They changed its name to Anarene for the movie.
And Archer City was one of my preaching points. Preaching points were small churches that gave seminary students a chance to preach and experience church life. Most of these churches saw being a preaching point and aiding the development of ministers as a mission.
Anyway I was in Archer City on weekends when they were making The Last Picture Show and when it came out. It is hard to tell you how controversial and offensive the movie was to some town folks. The pastor of the biggest Baptist church challenged McMurtry to a debate and grandstanded the whole thing.
The son of a former Baptist preacher there had been involved in an incident something like the preacher’s kid who molested a child according to the movie. In fact, most of the scandalous happenings in the book and the movie had some basis in fact. They happened over a period of more than 30 years. The movie and book made it seem like they had happened in one year.
It is not hard to see why this offended people. For one thing, the style of the movie was to make the town look much more dusty and windblown than it really is. But mostly there are scenes and dialogue that make the people there seem horrible. This clip is an example both.
People did not realize how bad the movie would be for them until it came out. The movie company had spent some money in Archer City. They had downplayed how scandalous it would be. They had made nice to the ministers. They had donated the pool table from the movie to our youth coffee house. (I have played pool on the table you see in the movie.)
As an outsider, I was more amused than offended. I was sympathetic to McMurtry. If you have issues with your childhood, after all, what is the point of becoming a novelist unless you can work them out in your novels. I was also amused that many people from Archer City would not go to the movie in nearby Wichita Falls but snuck clear off to Dallas so that no one who knew them would see them go in.
But it was a pastoral care issue in Archer City. The book and movie depicted sex, which still made small-town America uncomfortable. It hurt people. But it also gave them an opportunity to talk about some things they would never other wise have brought up.
This experience was useful to me decades later, when as an intentional interim pastor, I was asked to go into a congregation that had been devastated by a sex scandal. I knew that people were hurt, but also that within the hurt there was a healing opportunity.