Greetings of the Easter season to you, Reader! Today is a fairly overcast and chilly day here at the Wicket Gate, but it is Friday and the Spirit of the resurrection remains while I settle in to make something coherent of my sermon for Sunday.
I hope that these first few months of 2018 have gone well for you. Thank you for your holding this space (to whatever degree you did; forgetting it existed is totally valid) while I took some time to figure out where my soul went. It came across the river to the church where I work, it turns out, and we meet from time to time when I remember to tune into the presence of the God Who called me in the first place. School is still awful, and in point of fact is more awful with each week because I wanted it so badly to be what it is not. But there are only a few weeks left in the semester, I’m going home to the Land of Pilgrims for the summer, and then I only have one more year. This, too, shall pass.
In the meantime, I wanted to do a short film review. On Holy Saturday I went to see Paul, Apostle of Christ because I never stop being fascinated by the marriage of Scripture and Hollywood and y’know, I kinda liked it.
One of the first things I had to recognize was that I have learned (whether I have been deliberately taught this doesn’t matter) to be overly critical of anything having to do with Scripture and theology, so the first 15 or so minutes of the film were me trying to remember how to be charitable in watching. The film is set in Nero’s Rome, where we learn Paul is imprisoned and facing execution. Luke (who is here a real person who really wrote the Gospel) travels to Rome to get the last of Paul’s stories—what becomes the Acts of the Apostles. The story swings between the conversations of Luke and Paul, the frustrations of the Roman prison guard, and the small and fearful community of Christians trying to deal with Nero’s war on them and their faith.
I know that a lot of people are not fans of Paul at all, but I have a soft spot for him. I’m definitely not a fan of some of the things his letters have been used to do—I am a female cleric, after all. But in this film I give all the snaps for the guy who played Paul; he did it with gravitas and dignity and curmudgeonliness and a bit of humor, which is how I imagine the actual Paul to have been toward the end of his ministry. And the way they work the language of Paul’s letters into his lines is fantastic; exploring what it must have been like to look back over his life and hold fast to the belief that grace is sufficient, that nothing separates us from the love of Christ, that even Nero can’t stop the Kingdom gave new weight to the words.
The way in which the film complicated the Romans was marvelous (although I hate hate hated the flatness of the prison guard’s wife). Not all Romans were on board with Nero’s crazy and many understood he was nuts but didn’t know what to do about it. And not all Romans were cynical about their worship—many were truly devout to their gods. And definitely not all Jewish leaders were terrible people, so props to this film underscoring and bolding the fact that it was Rome that killed Jesus, it was Rome that persecuted the early Christians, and it was Rome that outlawed the faith. Not Jews.
Also, holla holla for no conversion moment. The Roman guard is primed for it, but one of the things that drives me batty about Christian films is that there’s always this weirdly coerced conversion moment to somehow prove the efficacy of the message and y’all, it’s not necessary. God’s word won’t return void, so you don’t need to include an uncomfortable template for your film audience to understand that we should give this Jesus Guy a go.
There were definitely some things I think weren’t grand about the film: they really overdid the slo-mo emotional moments and the heavy-handed music, which I get but always irks me. The story has pathos abounding, you don’t need to help it in post-production. Women are still only mothers and wives rather than leaders in their own right, but at least they have decent speaking roles now. The fact that the Jews weren’t being blamed for the plight of Christians was great, but there seemed to be no Jews around to do much of anything. Where did they go? We know they were part of the early communities. And lastly the whole film was dedicated to “those persecuted for their faith,” but I doubt that that extends to all people persecuted for all faiths and I always get a bit squelchy when Christians, mostly American Christians, talk about persecution. There has never been a time when American Christians were persecuted. Never. Not in the whole history of this country. But sure, the early Christians were, and we need to remember that. It is good to question how one holds both of those truths.
All in all it was a good movie that made me want to go back to Acts and the letters and read them, which is exactly what one would hope for out of a movie like this. There was even a great one-liner about the repetitiveness of Acts, which I appreciate. And Paul has a line to the Roman guard that “you will be fully known and fully loved—I pray for that for you.”
I pray that for both of us, Reader. And I delight in the example of Paul to do so. Go see the film if you’ve a free evening—or just read Acts with some inspiring classical music on in the background, if you’re all booked up. I’ll be back in two weeks with something new, or something old, depending on how you view the ever-appearing examples of this faith thing.