Today I did something very unusual for a Monday afternoon-I went to the movies. Even more unusual-unique, actually–I went with a dozen clergy colleagues from our Westport-Weston clergy group. We went, of course, to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
I didn’t want to go, really. I didn’t enjoy the film, but I wasn’t supposed to appreciate it, either. To my surprise, I did appreciate it.
After the film we went to Saugatuck Church and sat together for a discussion. We were asked to start with one word which said something about our response, either in general or something that described at least one reaction. I chose the word compassion. Others said things like: violent; turn-off, ignorant, awesome, and distracting.
Then the discussion began. I said that I had to divide my response between ‘personal and professional.’ I was afraid I would cave in to political correctness, especially since I made up my mind, before I saw the film, that I wasn’t going to appreciate it. I was supposed to be upset and angry. By the time I saw the film I’d already gone through those feelings, so I let them go.
It was a privilege to be present with my Jewish and Christian colleagues as we discussed the film, and wrestled with it’s implications. It was a serious discussion, characterized by a sense of mutual respect and thoughtfulness. Everyone used the first-person singular. I was proud of our group, and glad to be part of this process.
We struggled with the task of separating Gibson’s theology from our own. One member of the group had a Bible in hand to point out errors and liberties on the part of the film maker. The film opened with a passage from the Hebrew Scripture, from the prophet Isaiah: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried ours sorrows.by his wounds we are healed.” (chapter 53)
Yes, the film is filled with graphic violence. Was it gratuitous? I thought it was a bit over the top, but was prepared the worst. I didn’t have to turn away-I saw it as pure mythology. It made the point. Theodore Parker, a 19th century Unitarian minister, stated it as metaphor: “There has never been an age in which the Son of Man was not crucified again.”
Yes, it was a difficult film to watch. It was almost as violent as the daily stories in the New York Times–the murder and mayhem in Israel, Iraq, and Haiti. September 11. What’s more violent than that? What’s more violent than a suicide bomber stepping on to a bus filled with school children. Enough said.
I wouldn’t urge you to go to see the film-I don’t want that responsibility. I don’t share Mel Gibson’s theology-but I have my own: God is love, and every instance of compassion is a glimpse of God. It’s as much of God as I need. I’ll plan a sermon on the film, soon. I’m glad I saw it, and I look forward to putting my appreciation into words from the pulpit