That’s the actress Shawnee Smith, learning how to peel crawfish on Sunday after the liturgy at our church in south Louisiana. Shannon Tilley, a pillar of the church and an excellent boiler of crawfish, is her instructor. Shawnee, who was in the sitcom Becker, the Saw horror films, and who currently stars with Charlie Sheen in Anger Management, became an Orthodox Christian just over a year ago. When I met her in Malibu this spring, she told me what a profound difference Orthodoxy made in her life, and how she wanted to show the world what it meant to live and to love as an Orthodox Christian. She and producer Rotimi Rainwater are working on a documentary film tentatively titled Orthodoxy, A Love Story. They and a small film crew plan to travel around the US, and perhaps to Russia, profiling various Orthodox Christians and congregations, capturing the diversity of the faith, and talking with converts about why and how they were drawn to it.
Shawnee and the crew flew down on Friday to spend the weekend with us at St. John the Theologian mission here in south Louisiana, talking to some of us about the faith. After liturgy today, we had a crawfish boil for them, to show them how we do it in this corner of Orthodixie. We had a pastor and his family from Salt Lake City visiting as well. Here’s Father Michael van Opstall, who has one of the best beards in North American Orthodoxy, trying boiled crawfish for the first time:
Here’s parishioner Jack Cutrer, telling the story of Nelson Ray Coon, a raccoon that lived with his family when he was a kid:
Father Constantine, a monk who recently moved to town, lays down some monastic wisdom:
Shawnee is a fan of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, and is hoping to play Ruthie in the TV series a producer plans to make of the book. She wanted to meet my Starhill family while she was down here. My mom and dad came to the crawfish boil, as did Mike Leming and his daughter Rebekah. Here’s Mike and Shawnee:
Here’s Paw talking to Shawnee:
And here’s an image I captured of my two fathers: my dad, and my priest:
And finally, here’s a shot of Shawnee in our kitchen wielding Uncle Walker, the mighty, mighty ice-crushing mallet my friend Stephen Stirling made for mint julep time. Yes, reader, we had us some mint juleps on Saturday night:
We had a great time, and I think we all showed our new L.A. friends a good time too. I’m pretty excited about this documentary, and not just because our parish is in it. This is not really a movie about theology, or sociology of religion. Shawnee’s vision is to make a movie about how embracing Orthodoxy teaches those who do it how to love more perfectly. That means something different for each one. I talked about how my Orthodox faith, my priest, and my church community helped me through some difficult times when I moved back to Louisiana — and how they’re still helping me work through some hard things. I didn’t see Father Matthew’s interview, but Shawnee said he talked about some extremely painful things he saw and lived with as a police officer, and how the radical brokenness of the world pushed him further into his faith, and ultimately into the priesthood. There were other interviews too, with folks — all of us American converts — talking about how grateful we are that God used this ancient form of Christianity to call us to Himself, and to heal us.
Like I said, Shawnee, Rotimi, and their crew have an ambitious travel schedule, mostly around Orthodox America — but now they have to raise more money to finance the rest of the film. It’s a low-budget production, but even low-budget films cost a lot if they’re done well. And this one will be done well; we were all so impressed by the professionalism of the filmmaking team (and they were all so kind to my son Lucas, who hero-worshipped them, and carried lights and everything else for them all weekend). If you are an Orthodox Christian who would like to contribute funding to what is sure to be a terrific movie, one made by Hollywood professionals, please consider what you can give to making this project happen.
Shawnee and I were in a shop in town this weekend when someone asked her what the documentary was going to be about. One thing she said stuck with me: “The culture of death is everywhere. I’m wanting to show people, especially young people, that there’s another way. That there’s hope.” This woman is the real deal. I’ve talked to her for hours about her faith, and I believe her conversion was profound and true. It was an honor and a blessing to be a part of Orthodoxy, A Love Story, and I hope they can raise the money to finish the film and get it into people’s hands. Shawnee told me a couple of the stories Father Matthew told them on camera about what God did through Orthodoxy to restore him after seeing so much violence and death as a cop left him broken inside. These were things I did not know, and I thought, wow, this is going to change somebody’s life.