At the first Transforming Theology Conference last year, Tripp Fuller and I videoed the participants answering a select group of theological questions from a pool submitted online. These questions included, “Who is God,” “Does God Do Anything,” “What Did God Do in Jesus That We Couldn’t Do for Ourselves,” “What is Truth?” By far, one of the most complex (if the limited amount of people who answered it is any indication) was “Is God as Arbitrary as Life?” While each answer was different, one would be hard-pressed to deny the main assertion of that question…life is arbitrary…or at least it seems so to us mere mortals. A recent documentary, the surprisingly uplifting and inspiring Life.Support.Music., reveals this arbitrariness, and though it doesn’t take it as its main focus, a discussion of it after viewing the film is inevitable.
In 2004, while playing a gig at a bar in Manhattan, Jason Crigler, a renowned, popular guitarist who backed the likes of Norah Jones, suffered a brain hemorrhage. Doctors quickly asserted that he would not live and that if he did, he would surely be a vegetable. Yet Jason’s family, his parents Lynn and Carol, his wife Monica, and his sister Marjorie, as well as a host of unflagging friends and therapists, would not give up on him. Over time, thanks to this wealth of support, Jason made a miraculous recovery. At the close of the film, his father-in-law speculates that they have him back at something close to 98%. Regardless, images of a physically, mentally wrecked Jason, book-ended by stunning musical performances, are almost unbelievable.
What Jason and his family had to endure is not unique to them, though it is their story. We hear of such tragedies on an all-too-frequent basis. Jason’s condition was complicated due to Monica’s pregnancy: she gave birth to their daughter only a few months after his illness, in the heart of some of the darkest days of his recovery. The image of a seemingly disconnected Jason holding his newborn daughter does nothing if not call to mind that theological question that troubled/troubles all of us theologians even still. Monica recognizes that they life they have regained with Jason must be spent, in part, in service to those who are and will experience similar traumas. The film includes images of Jason speaking and playing guitar at a school for children with brain injuries.
Jason’s story does seem unique, and lucky, because of the lengths that his family could…and did…go to to ensure his rehabilitation. They exhibited a confidence and faith in his recovery that must have, at times, seemed ludicrous. His sister prophetically considered the benefits of keeping Jason at home rather than having him in a nursing home or step-down facility, arguing that such institutions (helpful though they certainly are) simply could not offer him the myriad stimulations that life at home and around family could. The doctors, at the end of the film, reveal that she was right. Unfortunately, many people cannot afford such sacrifices, logistical or financial, and, indeed, Jason’s family was blessed by the outpouring of support from the music community in New York. Moreover, they were blessed, as Marjorie recognizes, to have lived in a region of the country, and the world, that provided such phenomenal health care. What if Jason had endured his hemorrhage in a less-equipped location.
Life.Support.Music. is a phenomenal documentary that reveals not only Jason’s courage to recover, but his family’s courage to ensure that recovery, against all odds, while implicitly raising some deep theological questions. This proves to be one of the most uplifiting documentaries that I have seen in quite some time.
Life.Support.Music. is available on DVD through Netflix.