In August, actor Alec Baldwin came to the lawn of our church in the Orient. He held the introductory talk in our series called “Spirituality in the Light of …” His topic was “Spirituality in the Light of COVID.”
Baldwin hit a kind of lecture circuit home that night. The about 100 people who came to the celebrity call left with a new friend. Baldwin could easily have behaved badly in this Norman Rockwell scene. He did just the opposite. He knew nothing about sarcasm or condescension. Instead, he seemed like an ordinary guy who had come to do a friend (me) a favor and talk about how he sees God and believes in the COVID-19 mess.
I was the new pastor of Orient Congregational Church and had known Baldwin in Greenwich Village, where I was also pastor of Judson Memorial Church, where we met.
On October 21, two months after his lecture in the Orient, Baldwin accidentally shot a movie theater on the set of the movie “Rust.”
Baldwin that day moved again out of the role of complex celebrity and into the role of human being. Yes, police believe he has an anger management problem. Yes, the paparazzi are attacking his wife for her name. Yes, he imitated the former president on Saturday Night Live. And yes, he played a famous hassle from high up in Rockefeller Center. He has an edge. And when the terrible accident happened, he could only say I’m so sorry.
If we ever get to the bottom of what happened, it’s going to be great. There are many theories that have led to much speculation. The truth is better than conjecture. Although he will not be charged, he will have to deal with the death of the film photographer for the rest of his life. How does someone do it, much less do it while being observed as a celebrity?
I do not write to defend my friend – who does not need to be protected. I’m not writing to accuse him either. I write to understand what you do after something like this happens to you. How do you talk to your kids about it? I write to understand spirituality in the face of unintentional death. I write to understand how much pity celebrities dare to have and how much they should be given. Whose story is this? The killer or the killer?
An old friend ran over his 2-year-old child. The child died. He’s never forgotten, and neither have I. He’s not a celebrity.
Baldwin belongs to the group of people who come to live through and outside of their fame. It is a blessing and a burden. Maybe I will invite him again to talk about this fight.
Lots of celebrities join ordinary people in having crosses to wear. Maybe Baldwin is coming out of the kitchen because he can not stand the heat. Maybe he will teach us a lesson in how to carry burdens.
I pray he will use his anxiety to turn his problems into art. The culture of shame and guilt thinks neither spiritually nor artistically very well. We believe that if we can just find out who shot the bullet or who is to blame, then we have solved the problem, whatever it is. That kind of thinking gives both bad art and bad politics.
And we do not need more of them either.
This guest essay reflects the views of Pastor Donna Schaper, pastor of the Orient Congregational Church.