my filmy Easters
First read this wonderful post, Ends and beginnings, by Theophrastus. And also read the inspired and inspiring, personal comments of Victoria and Courtney. Here’s my own response.
My wife and I have grown up in the Southern Baptist tradition, her father a preacher, a “home missionary” from Texas to Washington state and then California, and my dad also a preacher but a “foreign missionary” from the USA to South Vietnam and Indonesia. We both were raised going to church Sunday mornings for the worship service and for Sunday school, Sunday evenings for [her] Girls Auxiliary and [my] Royal Ambassadors [for boys], Wednesday evenings for prayer meeting, and Friday evenings for fellowship time. At Christmas time, our fathers focused sermon series and lessons around the baby Jesus and the Great Commission for the Lottie Moon Christmas offering to support the Cooperative Program for worldwide missions. At Easter time, the focus was on the post-passion resurrected Jesus, who preached the Great Commission.
At any rate, we saw Jesus films. Last night, we were watching television, flipping through the channels, and I came upon The Passion of the Christ, one of the most gruesome of the many bloody scenes. But I kept going. My wife asked, rhetorically, poking at deep feelings within me that Southern Baptist preachers kids and missionary kids share: Are you really going to flip through this sacred scene to that comedy show? I’ve seen the Jesus film in the village at Easter enough, I think, I said.
The Jesus film is based on the Book of Luke. Here’s from the website of that film so familiar to me:
Based on the Gospel of Luke, the “JESUS” film has now been translated into more than 1,120 languages, with new languages being added every month. This allows God’s Word to speak to people in more than 200 countries in languages they know and understand.
Every eight seconds, somewhere in the world, another person indicates a decision to follow Christ after watching the “JESUS” film.
Every eight seconds… that’s 10,800 people per day, 324,000 per month and more than 3.8 million per year! That’s like the population of the entire city of Pittsburgh, PA coming to Christ every 28 ¼ days. And yet, if you are like many people, you may have never even heard of it.
There’s this assumption, right or wrong, that if you just get someone to watch, then they will in all likelihood perpetuate this 1 decision per every 8 seconds. And at Easter, that rate might just increase additionally and exponentially.
What bothers me about this as much as anything is the suggestion that film watching is all one should do, that the film will capture the essence of Easter, that the response that must be right is this “decision to follow Christ.” The assumption that a film will push anyone into any decision is bothersome, like propaganda is.
And yet, learning about Passover or Easter or Pentecost might better involve the literary rather than just the evangelical Christian missionary filminess. The warning to Bible readers, who feel pushed by cultural Bible pushers, may nonetheless be this: you might stop reading the Bible for the wrong reason, just to avoid being pushed around. So please do read anyway and please just be prepared to be surprised without expectation. I just love the title of Theophrastus’s post we just read: “Ends and beginnings”! Why must there be the finality of this one decision as if that’s it and that’s the only tradition that counts?
Well, I just read Annie Dillard again. I’m compelled after reading Dillard’s reading of one of the gospels, her essay entitled “The Book of Luke”, on this Good Friday, to end this post with it. It’s in some ways a beginning for me, another reading from my own experience. Let it be, perhaps, a beginning for some of you, as you like.
Here is an early excerpt and then her final two pages of her essay propelling some of us to keep on reading (and my apologies for just putting in images at the end, since I’m running short on time, as I get ready for my mother coming to visit for Easter):
Historians of every school agree – with varying enthusiasm that this certain Jewish man lived, wandered in Galilee and Judea, and preached a radically spiritual doctrine of prayer, poverty, forgiveness, and mercy for all under the fathership of God; he attracted a following and was crucified by soldiers of the occupying Roman army. There is no reason to hate him, unless the idea of a God who knows, hears, and acts – which idea he proclaimed – is itself offensive. In Luke, Jesus makes no claims to be the only Son of God. Luke is….
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When I was a child, the adult members of Pittsburgh society adverted to the Bible unreasonably often. What arcana! Why did they spread this scandalous document before our eyes? If they had read it, I thought, they would have hid it. They did not recognize the lively danger that we would, through repeated exposure, catch a dose of its virulent opposition to their world. Instead they bade us study great chunks of it, and think about those chunks, and commit them to memory, and ignore them. By dipping us children in the Bible so often, they hoped, I think, to give our lives a serious tint, and to provide us with quaintly magnificent snatches of prayer to produce as charms while, say, being mugged for our cash or jewels.