Thesis 13: Inventing Synecdoches

This post is part of a series of meditations on each of Luther's "95 Theses." You can view all posts in the series here.
13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.
Philip Seymour Hoffman died today. He was a fantastic actor, easily one of the best of his generation. I've seen many movies in which he played a leading role, and I enjoyed almost every one of them. But when the news of his death started making its way around Facebook today, all I could think of was, "Man, that guy was such a dick."

For quite a while during the time we lived in New York, I worked at Starbucks on 6th Ave. in Manhattan. Perched near NYU, Washington Square Park, and the birthplace of the gay rights movement, we got all kinds in that coffee shop. The kind that was always the most interesting, though, were the celebrities.

Every morning for about two or three weeks, Mr. Hoffman would come into my Starbucks pretty early, typically before 7am. There was rarely a line, and most customers and employees recognized him, even if they couldn't quite place where they'd seen him. He ordered some basic iced espresso drink if I recall correctly, and he was very particular about what size cup his drink was supposed to go in, regardless of the size cup we typically served it in. He never cracked a smile. He never said thanks. He was a horrible tipper. He rarely said hello.

Celebrities came in and out of our store all the time. Frequently, I actually got the chance to strike up a conversation, to literally thank an artist to his or her face for the work I enjoyed so much, that I paid money for. Their candor or kindness made me excited to actually support them as human beings. Not Hoffman.

I remember the morning he came in when we were out of the grande size cups he liked his tall drink served in.

"Don't you guys have any more in the back?!"

"No, sir. We don't. Completely out."

"Well I know there are several Starbucks near here. Can't you get more from there?!"

"Sorry. Already tried. All we have are the tall and venti cups."

[grumblemumblegrrrrr] [picks up phone and distracts himself with phone call to agent]

Me, upon serving his drink two minutes later: "Aaaaaand we only have small straws too, not the large ones that fit this size cup. Sorry!" [grinning and running into the back pretending to be getting something to avoid PSH's early morning pissyness]

Today, I have a choice about how to remember this man. My initial reaction made me realize what a cynical bastard I can be most of the time towards celebrities. Don't get me started on Reese Witherspoon, for example.

I was haunted by his performances in Synecdoche, New York, for example, which completely changed my ideas about how linear narrative works to tell a story. His early role in Boogie Nights was nothing short of earnest and heartbreaking. And none of us can say we'll see Truman Capote the same after his portrayal of that famous author.

He brought me so much life throughout so many years through the art of acting. Yet, I keep choosing to tell his story as a mostly negative one. I let the mistakes he made outweigh the beauty he helped create.

Do we do the same thing with the Church when we're trying to innovate? Do we allow the mistakes (granted, sometimes horrible, brutal ones) made throughout the centuries outweigh the overarching beauty of trying to be God's people in the world? If the Church is already dead or on hospice, can we start to tell the life of that institution as one who launched our new innovations into the future where we create new life again? Or will we talk shit as the Church lies in its casket, robbing it of a peaceful, proper funeral?

Life springs eternal just as death does. May we take that seriously as we create beauty out of our relationships. May we take that seriously as we forge futures as yet without shape.


  1. Yeah I wonder how often we act like dicks to people in anonymous service-industry interactions because we've got a deep anxiety screaming out from inside of us.

  2. Precisely. Made me think of having done that on so many occasions both as the customer and the employee. So many cultural expectations in those transactional situations that force us to forget we're just silly things floating around on the earth.


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