Friday, March 25, 2005

And the part of Peter will be played

Some rigorous honesty for Good Friday....

I hated The Passion of the Christ.

You heard me. I wanted to love it, but I. Just. Hated. It.

Know why? Because I'm a wimp. A puss. A pud. A softie. I get weak in the stomach and the knees at the sight of blood. I despise violence, and yet I fear getting involved. I hated it for the same reason I hated Saving Private Ryan - because deep down, I never wanted to know just how bad it really was, back then.

A terrible admission, remembering Saving Private Ryan: there is a scene in that movie where one lone American solidier and German soldier fight, and wrestle, and the stronger German soldier gets the upper hand, and slowly drives a knife into the chest of the American soldier...all the while softly urging him to relax and just let it happen. Watching the film in the theatre, at that moment I found this murderous rage boiling within me...mostly because I identified with the weakening, dying American. You see, to put it oh-so-mildly, I am a physical weakling: a 14 year old with a letter opener could have done the same thing to me. And I hated to watch it...because I knew, in the same situation, it would be me. It just made me want to run screaming from the theatre, because I just did not want to face that truth about myself. And if I had not been absolutely center-of-the-packed-theatre and surrounded by friends, I would have done just exactly that.

Here's where it gets bad. Watching that scene on-screen, I had this mental flash of being in the real-life scene, and coming upon the German soldier immediately as he finished driving that knife into the American. In my mind's eye, I would have shot the German in both legs and both arms to brutally, painfully disable him, and then I would have gutted him like a fish...all the while quietly whispering to him to let go and let it happen, just as he had done to his victim.

the kind of hate it aroused in me. And God help me, but that's the kind of Monster that lives in me, at times. I hate to admit it, but both the Monster and the Coward are still very much alive in me. Only a very thin veneer of civilization and compassion separates the me I want to be from the me I'm terrified I could become.

On Good Friday? It wouldn't have been The Monster you'd see - it would have been The Coward that showed up. I would have been with the disciples, running like hell from Gethsemane - mostly because I wouldn't want to be arrested and killed, but at least partly because I wouldn't want to witness the barbarity that Jesus was sure to endure - let alone endure it myself. After all, I love being on the side of God and good and right - but I'm enough of a coward that I really, really don't want to go to jail for it - let alone die for it. I wish I could tell you otherwise - that I would somehow be braver, nobler, and stronger - but that would be at least three complete lies.

(An aside: I think last year was the first year that I didn't receive the perennial email that supposedly contained a physician's graphic description of the physiological effects of crucifixion. We no longer needed it; we'd seen acres and acres of footage of gore to show us just exactly what it was like. No speculation or imagination required. It still sends shivers up my spine. Thanks a lot, Mel...)

The person with whom I most identify in the tale of Thursday and Friday, however, would be Peter.

"You will never wash my feet." "OK, then wash ALL of me!" "I will lay down my life for you!" Falling asleep when the Son of God begs for wakefulness and companionship. Forsaking everything about loving one's neighbor to slice off the ear of the high priest's servant...go with what you know, eh Peter? Following Jesus (but only at a safe distance...) on the way to the high priest's house. "Do you know him?" "Not me, sir, no way..." knowing the truth all the while, and feeling the truth scorch the soul. The rooster's crow like a laser, cutting straight into his heart. Look what a disciple you are, eh, Pete? What a piece of work you are...

Oh, yes. I know that role well. I have been there. In some ways, I am there tonight. I don't have to look hard at my life to know that I have not been the disciple I should have been. I am not the disciple I could be. On ninety-nine days out of a hundred, I'd much rather switch than fight. And I'm terribly afraid that when push comes to shove, I might still abandon you to save myself - and then hate myself for all time afterwards.

The Monster, and the Coward. On Good Friday, I face them both. And my only hope resides in this: that Jesus went to the cross for me - not for the person I'd like to be, not for the church member, or the seminarian, or the employee, or the neighbor - but for the Monster, and for the Coward. In the words of Max Lucado, Jesus died and descended to Hell for me rather than go to Heaven without me. And for this child of God, it is that truth - and only that - that makes anything about this Friday "Good."

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)


Poor Mad Peter said...

We're all "there", Steve, and have been for eons. Beating ourselves up about it will get us not a whit closer to God or make us better persons here and now.

And there are very good reasons to dislike Gibson's Passion film that have nothing to do with being "wimpy". How about his obsession with physical violence that amounts to pornography (to name but one good reason)? I suggest that deep down, you aren't so much wimpy as realizing that Gibson is handing us all a bill of goods, a pig in a poke, and all the more tragic as it involves our greatest Teacher. And you choke on the bullshit. Would that more of us did...

As for your rage, I bless it as the rage of one who identifies with the downtrodden, the weaker, the victim.

May I suggest that God is smiling upon you in your own agony this minute, and blessing you?

So I Go said...

incredible post, Steve.. thank you once again for your honesty, that raw honesty that helps us hold a mirror to our own shortcomings and our humanity. this is a Good Friday post that so many need to read.. thank you thank you.

Lee Anne said...

Steve, THAT scene in "Saving Private Ryan," the one you describe, is the reason I cannot watch that movie all the way through. I always have to leave during that scene. You see, I identify with the other American soldier in the scene, the one who is just outside the room where this life-and-death struggle is going on ... and he could rush in and come to the aid of his brother in arms, but he is too afraid. He listens to the horror of what is happening ... and cannot bring himself to stop it. Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I am Peter, too.

Popsicle Pete said...

You know Steven, I can so identify with your thoughts and feelings on pretty much on all the subjects you touched on.
It shows a sensitivity that comes from fellowship with our best friend and the changes He has made in us from the inside out.

Bless you brother

Rick said...

Brother that was great! The Monster and the coward. You will never believe what I have been writing and will post as soon as I can. The two ooposites. I know it is must be our being twins. It is getting a bit spooky. LOL.

I am with you on this monster/ coward. All depending I am one or the other.

Great post.


MesoEd said...

Count me in the Peter club... in my Christian walk, I'm good at saying one thing than setting a record turn-around time before I do the exact opposite.

Of course, despite all of Peter's failures, in Mark 16 the angel of the Lord specifically tells the women who came to the tomb to tell is disciples, AND Peter. The Lord seeks Peter out specifically to give him new life though the resurrection. Oh yeah, I'm like Peter. Jesus continues to seek me out despite myself.