mystic


Jesus Through The Media

By: Brian Robertson


I watched a movie last night which some of you may have already seen — The Mist, the new movie based on a Stephen King short story. At the heart of it, it was a bit like watching an old episode of the Twilight Zone when I was a young kid and could more easily take ironically-laden tragic endings as some kind of an important message or clever twist. Now, I’m afraid, they’re just more apt to depress me.

But, aside from the extremely controversial ending to the film, there was something else in it — a wingnut, a horrible, grating, wacky, over-the-top character who was portrayed as a Christian who was vengeful enough to make the God in the Old Testament look like the host of a neighborhood tea party. Here’s the paradox — she makes the Old Testament-based Christian look like holy hell. Literally. In fact, she is so much so that when she gets drilled between the eyes the audience erupts into wild cheers and applause, punctuated by laughter.

If you take the movie as a whole, and the character in particular, I suppose metaphors were flying like the locust-inspired monsters in the film, and they collided and became mushed together in ways that made a lot of noise but, in the end, perhaps didn’t say or even point toward anything other than what it was, another one of those damn pesky doom-spouting Christians.

I realize that at the center of the plot’s “message” was something about people’s thin veneer of goodness being peeled away in crisis, about how one crackpot with the microphone can sway and convince a crowd of frightened, bewildered, lost people. We’ve seen it in real life in the Koolaid in Jonestown (referenced in the picture), as well as in the political moods and actions of our times. Heck, I remember the seeds for such a presentation, the classic Twilight Zone’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (probably because, as a 8 year old watching it, I actually lived on a street by that name!).

For something to be a metaphor, it has to point to another something beyond it’s self. That takes a certain amount of insight and intelligence on the part of the viewer/reader, but I suspect many if not most people will find themselves stuck on the crazed image of Christianity in the film and go no further. It all brings to mind the opportunity to wonder how people in this society, including both people who claim to be Christian or at least religious as well as nonbelievers or the disinterested view Christianity itself, the latter being people who scratch their heads at the whole Jesus thing and wonder what in the hell the fuss is all about?

I’m treading on thin ice here, I realize. But let’s look at the way things work in this society, driven by a craving for information as well as misinformation sometimes with precious little differentiation. From the media onslaught, certain members of our society have gained rather warped perspectives on what it means to be a beautiful woman, an image that has driven women to anorexia and despair; what it is to be gay, or a minority, or that senile old person in a sitcom, and, to extend the stereotype, a Christian. Too often the message is that Christians are staunchly conservative, judgmental, ignorant, goofy, judgmental, walking caricatures or punchlines. They are trapped in a world of “us against them.” The image of a Christian comes after years of hauling Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson out of the wings and in front of cameras whenever a talk show happened to need a “Christian” viewpoint. More thoughtful Christians, and I’ve seen a few now and then, just don’t have the exciting sound bite that’s needed for television, and they tend to try and talk about things in some detail and depth which is death to ratings as viewers pop their wrists out of place trying to quickly change the channel.

Brian McLaren mentions this oddity in one of his books — how ill-suited Jesus would be for today’s average new talk show that demands 30 second bites as building blocks, while, in reality, the authentic Jesus would try and offer up parables and stories only to have them cut off mid-sentence for a commercial for the newest Ford or Toyota or the next segment on making a holiday dessert.

It seems that the attention and the media spotlight shines on Christians who assume abortion, as terrible as it can be for all involved, is the number one problem, the litmus test by which things must be judged, while the rest of the issues (to which Jesus spoke) and the needs of groups such as the sick, the poor, the homeless be damned. This image of a Christian comes from people who own center stage on cable tv networks as they cajole, threaten, embezzle, bribe and frighten people into sending in money.

Who a Christian is also comes from movies such as The Mist which, if it meant the Christian whacko converting others to her side and demanding sacrifice of a child to the creatures in the mist was supposed to be read in some other way, politically, perhaps, it failed miserably, the damage already having been done. The image of Christianity is wildly misread on Web sites who make fun of the Jesus of some people’s malfunctioning sense of religion, perpetuating a myth through ridicule that has everything to do with someone’s concept of Jesus and nothing to do with reality of Jesus.

But, then again, perhaps that is the problem. Perhaps perception is reality. Perhaps what the crazies and the thieves and the paranoid and the hating and the spiritual racists say is Jesus is now Jesus, not because of any grounding in reality, but because they say it often enough and loudly enough that the truth becomes totally irrelevant and is replaced by the irreverent.

But, for a moment, consider this. Perhaps Jesus is not about the blaring cable evangelical channel or news of the the abortion clinic bomber or the so-called faith healer whose greed is matched only by the size of his comb-over. Perhaps, in reality, Jesus flies in under the radar, as it were, and the message is not possible in tall the glitz and dramatic sound bites, but, instead, hidden and secret, known to children and those child-like in pureness of their hearts or vision.

There is something going on, however, something that brushes aside the faith healer in the $2500 suit and the person protesting homosexuality at the funeral of a fallen war victim, something that is Christianity seeping through, or, more correctly, Jesus breaking through. Perhaps there are small moments going on that are really big moments and we have to be wise enough to see them and be thankful for them. For the last twenty-five years, we have seen the constant drumming since the 1980′s of the religious right and their lame-brained insistence on wedding themselves or being seduced by or ravaged by or exploited by the political agenda of those in power. Something very significant may be happening right now as evangelicals are questioning what it means to follow Jesus, if it is a road race to the pearly gates after death or a road lined with the sick and the lonely, with the truth being in not bringing Christ but in being Christs to each other.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it all, but I pray I’m not.

Rick Warren, who wrote The Purpose Driven Life, and featured on the CBS link above has been written about in the following:

Warren’s most striking and heartfelt comments came when he told CBS about his own awakening to the necessity of an evangelical response to the AIDS epidemic. “I have to admit, the church was late to the table on this AIDS issue,” Warren stated. “And we had to repent on it. I just personally had to repent. I didn’t get it for years.”

“I was raised in a tradition where we cared about the soul and undervalued the importance of the body,” Warren went on. “Jesus cared about the spiritual and the physical. He healed them physically and he healed them spiritually. … The Bible says that he went into every village preaching, teaching, and healing. … Christianity is a teaching and healing faith.”

Rick Warren has emerged over the last few years as a leading figure in pulling evangelical Christianity away from the grip of the extreme religious right. The Boston Globe wrote of him two years ago that “what Warren has started is a seismic shakeup of the American evangelical movement. … Warren, 51, has managed to marry a simple message — ‘It’s not about you’ — with an integrated mesh of mass media that is growing his audience exponentially. As American political life has shifted toward the right, Warren has assumed a place in the center of the movement, one of a new generation of leaders who have eclipsed and distanced themselves from controversy-dogged televangelists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.”

So what does all this mean? I means, I think, that it desperately matters if we look past the whizbang political soap opera of Hillary Clinton and the others candidates that CBS and media is trying to throw into our faces to keep the pot stirring. We have to be wise enough and gracious enough to see even a small change of heart and, I think, it can be that this is no small thing. Whether you who read this are wildly liberal or painstakingly conservative, it really doesn’t matter if we can focus on the central message that seems to be a bit clearer than it has been in a while, at least judging from what currents are flowing, some very deeply.

James, in one of my favorite books of the Bible, wrote that faith without works is dead. It is a concept that has been oddly missing from much of evangelical Christianity. But when we move towards seeing the life of Jesus as both spiritual guidance as well as healing, and when we move to act as if that is the case and that we have been charged with a great calling, in all this we must rejoice. We must hope that, in some small way, what it means to be a Christian has undergone a subtle shift in the public arena.

Again, liberal or conservative, if we have even a warm feeling in our breast toward the term “Christian mystic” and what it stands for, namely to experience God’s Presence, we rejoice, quietly but earnestly. Christianity can move away from simply congratulating ourselves on our beliefs, but, instead, can return to the concept of emptying ourselves and God’s love into the lives of those who desperately need not more dogma but, in reality, more love.

And if we are, as Christians, ever to have a chance to present our faith, we are called to do it in action, not words, as evidenced by none other than St. Francis and, I would suggest, in the figure standing before the tomb at the moment before Lazarus makes his appearance.

Blessings,

Brian Robertson


Comments:

[Thanks Brian,

It all boils down to Love. God is Love, Our Savior died out of Love

for us. We must follow Christ’s example and be Love to others,

God will work in us in this way if we let him. Love is all that

matters.

Joe Geiman]

 

[Thanks for your thoughtful entry.

There is no doubt that we, as Christians, can be our own worst enemies in misrepresenting Christ by our actions. Still, even when we are faithful to the Gospel, we are assured that some/man people in the world will consider us “whack-jobs”. Being a Christian is to be a counter-cultural subversive, and people who are wedded to culture will consider us a threat to be mocked, ridiculed, and in some cases, disposed of.]

 

[Brian -

In the flow of your response above you made one passing comment that I sincerely believe is revelatory to your entire point…..

“More thoughtful Christians, and I’ve seen a few now and then…”

Authentic “thoughtful” followers of Christ are “fewer” in number and are often happened upon “now & then”. Much of Scripture backs this subtle truth that the real followers of Christ will be few in number. We see this exemplified in Jesus’ impatience with his own disciples when they clearly cannot discern his parables upon first hearing the word. It is clear that even amongst his closest friends there was a tendency towards literalism with little spriritual reflection being shown. Even Nicodemus, a learned Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, embodied a literalistic mindset in his response….”How can a man be born a second time? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” In spite of their literalistic tendencies (and His own frustrations) Jesus stuck with both his disciples and Nicodemus and continued teaching them!!! Do not overlook this point …it is critical.

The “few” again are further justified by the classic teaching…. “narrow is the gate that leads to life and broad the way that leads to distruction.”

Jesus was very clear in his teachings that few would understand the spiritual and alegorical message. Bu knowing that in the end they would discern his parables spiritually…..he taught them repeatedly!!!

Where does all this lead us with respect to our “literalistic” minded Christian brethren? It leaves us in a position to teach….not shun and separate.

We are not in a counter-culture war with the likes of Stephen King (who is probably emulating a bad Jehovah’s Witness experience from his youth)…..nor are we to stand appalled at our fundamentalist counterparts. As Christian Mystics we are to stand firm in our spiritual vision. A Christian Mystic embodies Truth to the best of his/her abilities……and Truth in it’s ultimacy needs no defense.

John Lieberman]

 

[John:

Particularly fine comment, thank you! You’re exactly on target with what you said, and I believe the comments I get here from readers are simply the best I’ve seen on any spiritual or Christian blog.

Yes to King — I’m a big fan of his, and I wasn’t happy with what I’d written when I looked back on my point that I tried to make there. I can see the point he was making with the character, I can even see the character not strictly as a stand-in for a Christian at all but more along the lines of political and social manipulations, etc. I certainly don’t begrudge him. I just wondered what sort of things were operating on the audience level — is this the way Christians are seen? Did they see beyond it to the dynamics of the thing that could have been a political control going on? Or, like the old Twilight Zone, was it some kind of general human survival thing going on? Would anybody even look past it to a larger meaning or just hook on to it and let it be literal?

I very, very much enjoyed what you wrote, especially the part about how thick-headed and literal his own disciples or followers are presented as being — born again’s a perfect example — and how, in general the way’s often a tad bit narrow unless you can get through the narrow places without trying to do it while loaded up with all the baggage we humans have put on ourselves from so many sources.

Again, thanks to all the comments. It makes keeping this site and my own paltry comments going and makes the whole thing delightfully rewarding and educating for me.

Blessings,

Brian]

 

[Brian, John and other commentators

What a wonderful, thoughtful and authentic exchange.

The reminder on James “faith without works is dead, ” is a timely reminder to balance the spiritual with the corporeal. Thank you!

The outline on the impact of rightwing Christianity through its established links with the media is interesting. It is another reason not to tar all religious peoples around the world with the same brush. The Christian community too has it’s fair share of rent a fanatic too!

Fine words all of them; however I’m blown away by the paradoxical simplicity and deep layers of the words….”A Christian Mystic embodies Truth to the best of his/her abilities……and Truth in it’s ultimacy needs no defense.” ……..Wow!

God Bless Each of You

Andi]

 

[Thank you for such a thought provoking article.

I have notice the way that Christians are portrayed as negative people, both on television and in books. It seems to be ‘cool’ to laugh at the religous or those with faith. In a strange way, society seems to be saying that only those who doubt, doubt, doubt and are sceptical, can be trusted]