IVP - Strangely Dim - The Passion with Popcorn

April 8, 2004

The Passion with Popcorn

By David A. Zimmerman

As it turns out, I wasn't the last person on Earth to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. But I did commit what might be seen as an act of sedition in the culture war: I waited till long past opening weekend to make my pilgrimage to the theater. I waited till just shy of Palm Sunday.

Looking back I wish I hadn't waited so long--not because I feel convicted by my lack of devotion, mind you; I declined to buy into the notion that Hollywood would "get the message" that they can make lots of money if only they will make more family-friendly films about torture and execution. Rather, I regretted my delay because the multiplex that carried the film for me has moved on to more cheerful matters than the killing of God.

As a result, I stood in line for tickets behind a flock of junior high students hopped up on sugar and eager to catch Scooby Doo 2. I was directed to a door that read "Passion of Christ/Dawn of the Dead." I took my seat just inside the theater door and watched a commercial for a video game about flesh-eating zombies. Then I watched my Lord endure his passion, with occasional interruptions from the lobby noise sweeping through the swinging door.

I don't hold grudges against the theater or the other moviegoers. Nothing at the multiplex was out of the ordinary--nothing but the blood of Jesus. Such casualness represented a change from the opening week of The Passion, when whole churches were renting whole theaters and thereby avoiding the disconnect I faced six weeks later. I wish I had the foresight or the wherewithal to arrange for a private showing; instead I witnessed the ancient crucifixion surrounded by the trappings of my contemporary culture.

My experience probably was similar to the experience of Jesus' disciples. They brought three years' worth of context to the crucifixion, whereas onlookers had at best a passing curiosity about this itinerant preacher run afoul of the law. A seminal moment of human history to the untrained eye looked like just another day of imperial oppression.

Each Lenten season a church near me erects three crosses in front of a busy street. The display is completed by a sign bearing the text of a verse from the Old Testament book of Lamentations: "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?" This verse was originally written in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem long before Jesus came to Earth, but its accusation applies equally to the witnesses of the crucifixion as well as to me and the multitudes around me who neglect the injustices and inequities and general inhumanity we could witness daily. Like the homeless man sleeping in an entryway whom I passed without comment or intervention on my way from the theater to my car, just because we ignore something does not make it go away or rob it of its significance.

Fortunately for its victims, inhumanity does not pass unnoticed by God. He sees, and he acts. Easter, as benign as it has become, is proof of that. For most who pass by, Easter is nothing, but in a truer sense it is everything.

***

Pick up a discussion guide about Jesus' final week at www.ivpress.com.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at April 8, 2004 8:57 AM Bookmark and Share

Comments

I was able to "experience" the Passion a few days after it opened with other members of my church - yes, our church rented a theater for 6 showings of the Passion. Although I thought I knew the story of the crucifixion, the Passion helped me live through it. After the "experience" was over, my wife and I felt like we were leaving a funeral for a dear departed friend (or Father).

One last comment: during the Ash Wednesday service, the pastor of our church mentioned that we were living through a major historical moment. Jesus was being talked about all over the world (at roughly the same time) - He was being talked about in just about every type of media that exists. When has the story of Christ reached that many people at one time?

Comment by: Dan Webster at April 8, 2004 9:29 AM

Yeah. I was told yesterday that this film is running in countries that have laws on the books against proclaiming Christianity. Behold the power of art and faith.

I missed an opportunity to see the film with my church opening weekend because I had a prior engagement to see Starsky and Hutch with some friends. I'm starting to feel a bit embarrassed.

Comment by: Dave at April 8, 2004 9:40 AM

You just provided a good example of "modern culture" winning out over an opportunity to spread the word of Christ... of which we're all guilty. Well, maybe your situation wasn't a prime example, but I think you get the jist of the comment. (maybe?) I don't think it's anything to be embarrassed about - we're only human!

Comment by: Dan Webster at April 8, 2004 9:56 AM

That sounds like a challenge. How did going to a movie other than The Passion prevent me from spreading the word of Christ? I'll gladly admit that Starsky and Hutch aren't the apostles Peter and Paul, but evangelization got along pretty well for twenty centuries without movies, including movies about Jesus. In fact, movies about Jesus have the capacity to corrupt Jesus' message: instead of directing people toward Jesus' lordship or proclaiming the salvation delivered at the cross, many Passion plays have inadvertently led to acts of violence toward Jews (check out recent poll data reported at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/news_syndication/article_04044pssn.shtml). Meanwhile films like The Last Temptation of Christ or network television programs cast doubt on Jesus' divinity.

I don't know--should I be embarrassed or ashamed that I saw Starsky & Hutch when others saw The Passion of Christ? Or should I be ashamed or embarrassed because I convinced myself that two hours in silence staring at a movie screen was "quality time with my friends"?

Some people consider moviegoing sinful. Some people consider films about Jesus "graven images" that have no rightful place in the life of a Christian. Some people criticize the film because it doesn't spend enough time on Jesus as Teacher or Jesus as Resurrected Messiah. The film is just one piece of the ongoing conversation; the challenge is to keep giving witness to Jesus the Son of God and the gospel of his salvation.

Blah blah blah. I'll give someone else a turn now.

Comment by: Dave at April 8, 2004 10:21 AM

That sounds like a challenge. How did going to a movie other than The Passion prevent me from spreading the word of Christ? I'll gladly admit that Starsky and Hutch aren't the apostles Peter and Paul, but evangelization got along pretty well for twenty centuries without movies, including movies about Jesus. In fact, movies about Jesus have the capacity to corrupt Jesus' message: instead of directing people toward Jesus' lordship or proclaiming the salvation delivered at the cross, many Passion plays have inadvertently led to acts of violence toward Jews (check out recent poll data reported at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/news_syndication/article_04044pssn.shtml). Meanwhile films like The Last Temptation of Christ or network television programs cast doubt on Jesus' divinity.

I don't know--should I be embarrassed or ashamed that I saw Starsky & Hutch when others saw The Passion of Christ? Or should I be ashamed or embarrassed because I convinced myself that two hours in silence staring at a movie screen was "quality time with my friends"?

Some people consider moviegoing sinful. Some people consider films about Jesus "graven images" that have no rightful place in the life of a Christian. Some people criticize the film because it doesn't spend enough time on Jesus as Teacher or Jesus as Resurrected Messiah. The film is just one piece of the ongoing conversation; the challenge is to keep giving witness to Jesus the Son of God and the gospel of his salvation.

Blah blah blah. I'll give someone else a turn now.

Comment by: Dave at April 8, 2004 10:21 AM

I have seen The Passion but, similar to Dave, waited until a week before Palm Sunday to see it. In fact, I wasn't even sure if I was going to see it. The publicity leading up to the film influenced me to move from cynical about the movie to skeptical and then mildly interested.

As I said, I saw the movie. Sure, I have some positive things to say about it. But the movie did not change my life. In fact, I'll even go so far as to say that I think there are things that could have and even should have been done better to be a better movie.

But, what I'd really like to take up is Mr. Webster's comment about Dave providing a "good example of "modern culture" winning out over an opportunity to spread the word of Christ... of which we're all guilty."

It's very striking to me that modern culture is, based on your comment, somehow sinful. "After all, we're only human!" you comment. I would think that if evanglizing were so important, modern culture would be a lot more Christian and therefore be something TO participate in. Don't we want modern culture to be inclusive of our faith?

Hey, Mr. Webster, I'm not saying that spreading the word of Christ is a bad thing. No, no. But I would like to say that spreading the word of Christ (I assume what you mean here is EVANGELIZING) is not necessarily better than participating in modern culture.

I believe that God has given us two calls and we tend to think only of one. The Great Commission (evanglizing and spreading the word of God) is one of those calls and you mention it in your comment. The other, however, is The Cultural Mandate (taking care of creation and everything in it) and I'm concerned that, regardless of the quality of The Passion, some viewers and certainly some Christians believe this movie is better than others simply because it is about Christ. But that isn't being a responsible follower of God either.

So, to be a "good Christian," we should make good movies too - whether they're about the passion of Christ or Starsky & Hutch.

Comment by: Judi at April 8, 2004 11:18 AM

Wow! We got a game on. The book Hollywood Worldviews sets up a range of approaches to culture, with "cultural gluttons" on one end and "cultural anorexics" (my apologies to anyone with an eating disorder) on the other. You can take a self-assessment on page 21 of the introduction, viewable at http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2321-I.pdf.

I'll bet Dan would appreciate hearing from the nongluttons among us. I'm going to eat my second candy bar of the day now.

Comment by: dave at April 8, 2004 12:24 PM

Dave: perhaps my wording for "your example" (as I put it) was written out of context for what I wanted to get across... Of course, choosing to go to Starsky & Hutch with some friends instead of going to the Passion would not prevent you from evangelizing... I agree with your statement that "evangelization got along fine for twenty centuries without movies..." but movies are a part of our culture. (I am referring mostly to stereotypical North American Culture - I don't want to open that can of worms...) TV, movies, newspapers, and other sorts of media appear to be the main focus of a lot of folks - so having a movie about Christ that raised such a stir for so many people is one way that Mel Gibson was trying to evangelize. Granted, there are good and a bad side to this issue, but that goes with the territory. Alas, I believe I went off on a bit of a tangent... in any case, I was not challenging you, but trying to state a point that our "culture" sometimes leads us to make choices that don't necessarily let us focus on God. (I just left myself wide open for that comment...)

Judi: You mentioned the "publicity leading up to the film" -- good example of today's culture influencing our decisions one way or another. Also, I don't necessarily think that modern culture is sinful in itself. All humans are born into sin - so it would seem logical that that sin would spill over into our culture. I also agree with your statement about wanting "modern culture to be inclusive of our faith." I believe that many people are afraid to talk with other about God / Jesus / Religion in general. There could be a multitude of reasons, but the fear of having an uncomfortable situation arise because a person mentions Jesus or God (in a biblical way) in a conversation is something that many try to avoid. Our faith DOES have a place in modern culture, but in my opinion, we are partially responsible for getting the word out.

I have just recently found my faith, so some of the things that I write may seem a bit out of whack... but I do appreciate the friendly banter.

Comment by: Dan Webster at April 8, 2004 12:34 PM

Look at that--eight comments and not one having to do with mortgages or pharmaceuticals. Granted, I posted the same comment twice by accident . . .

I'm eating this stuff up. I'm talking to a bunch of college students about culture next week, and I don't know what I'm talking about. (Take that however you like.) This is good grist for the mill, as they say.

I decided to eat some ice cream instead of a second candy bar. Somehow I feel more self-disciplined that way.

Comment by: dave at April 8, 2004 12:40 PM

Give Starsky & Hutch what is Starsky & Hutchs’. Give to Christ your heart. Does it matter whether one chooses to see one movie first. No! I think what has been proven by Dave’s article, is that today’s culture does affect how we live our faith. That is why Mel Gibson made this picture. The Passion, like the cross of 2000 years ago has placed God and what He is about on the forefront of current culture. No movie in modern times has dominated the airwaves and spurred so many conversations. Instead of sitting on the sidelines (or another film - metaphorically speaking) participate in discussion. Regardless if you have seen the film or not, you are a believer. Join in the discussion with those who believe and those who do not.

I recently engaged in a two week on-line debate with an atheist who had not seen the film. Someday he may believe, I hope, but my Christian responsibility for that moment was lived out. Maybe you could go to Starsky & Hutch and grow a friendship that will lead someday to a conversation about Christ. I think the problem with today is that we are too concerned with what others will say or think of us. Christians should not be concerned with image, to other Christians. Be concerned about the lost, however you live that out......just live it out. Afterall David danced (naked or in tunic) and God was pleased.

Comment by: Dave#2 at April 9, 2004 8:41 AM

Just so we're clear, I'm not the David who danced naked or in a tunic. Put it out of your minds--please.

Comment by: dave at April 12, 2004 8:19 AM

From one blog to another, I guess...

Check out this site:

http://www.polytropos.org/archives/000353.html

Comment by: Judi at April 12, 2004 5:34 PM

Comments are closed for this entry.

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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