« Holy Week »

My Easter sermon came from an unexpected place today. Some months ago, I talked my New Testament professor into crafting for me a must see/must read list, and I have tried to check a few things off the list from time to time. I gave him a range of interests of mine and cut him loose. One of the movies he suggested was On The Waterfront. I had never seen it so I could not come at it with prejudice. And a good thing. I took the day off from church today, even on Easter, because my weekend time is dear now that I work a straight 40 each week. So on this cool gray morning, I put in OTW and took it in, barely knowing what the plot was about. And, in the weird way that the universe times things, this movie gave me the total kick ass Holy Week sermon that I totally did not see coming. I had to watch the scene twice to be sure I didn't imagine it. It spoke to me in a truly deep way. It was visceral for me to watch. The sermon of course was when the priest came to give the last rights to Dugan after the industrial "accident" that would put the kibosh on his promised whistle blowing. The priest just cut loose in a passionate reminder to the other men what crucifixion really is in their own lives—the "accident," the conspiracy of silence whether out of fear or loyalty, and a host of other injustices that the men were faced with. He assured them that Jesus was among them, witnessing their suffering and their struggling against the mob bosses who keep them in economic limbo. Essentially, the crucifixion is any miscarriage of justice that kills the honest of the world while letting the guilty go off the hook. A righteous man, Jesus even, doesn't die for the sins of the world but because of them.

The other major part of my Holy Week experience was the memorial service for Caleb, written about in the previous blog. In addition, I went and watched a number of videos that his grandson had made in the last weeks or days or hours of his life, and some in the past week. And with all that, it was all the more impressive who he was and what he offered the world. Far from being a sobbing occasion, his memorial was to delight in because he was so rich an individual in all the best ways. I learned many more things about him from hearing folks speak about him. But the one thing that I think illustrates what a tremendous man he was was a story about how he had opened up the pulpit at his Colorado church to Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 50s so that King could address the white audience and bring his message before anyone who would listen and be inspired to act. All the more impressive is that when Caleb was asked years later how much of a difference he felt he made to the civil rights movement, Caleb told the story, and to add to the gravity of the story, he recalled for us that in his youth, his uncles went on lynching parties in his home state of Missouri. Did it make much of a difference, he asked rhetorically? Yes! If you consider that in one generation, that family went from lynching blacks to having Dr. King preach before a congregation of whites, being a part of such an historical shift in American history! Needless to say, Caleb defined my Easter 2007 weekend.

But it wasn't over.

Kelli and I watched a movie called In My Country, which is about the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and the painful process that the country had to go through in order to put apartheid behind them. This movie too, following on the footsteps of On the Waterfront, was gripping and wouldn't let me go. It too was a movie about crucifixion in the same way as the industrial injustice in OTW. But it was also about redemption and forgiveness when everything seems lost. The perpetrators of the war crimes would be exonerated if they would tell their sides of the stories in full honesty (and could prove they were under orders to commit such acts), and if they would hear the full stories of the victims or families of the victims. One of the most exceptional scenes was when an Afrikaner had to square with a little boy who stood by and saw his parents killed and who had remained mute since the incident years before. The Afrikaner was shattered at the testimony of the boy's guardians and he was desperate to get the monkey off his back, and he pleaded to do whatever would settle it. He got in front of the boy, and the boy rose, and after a long pause wherein he could have spat in the Afrikaner's face, or anything else one could expect when staring into the face of the man who killed your parents, the boy opened his arms and put them around the man in a hug that defied all logical thinking, but obviously would illustrate that love and forgiveness can transcend anything if we can just get out of the way.

And then, because two amazing movies on Easter isn't enough, Kelli and I went to dinner at Tara's. Tara and daughter Kalyn helped us do our dirt digging project last weekend (while Kalyn's brother Tyler was in Costa Rica on 8th grade trip), and they have been increasing presences in our lives. Tara had the whole Easter dinner, and it was a great time of connection, talk about cookies, gardening, their trip to Hawaii, pigs, and church. But since Tara and her kids get a kick out of feeding my "pig habit", we watched the movie Babe (a favorite of mine). I figured since eating ham for dinner was my transgression, cheering on the underdog pig (underhog?) to his exceptional victory would be my redeeming deed for the day. And so it was. This was the first year since Kelli and I got together that we didn't do Easter at Phil and Nancy's, and were it not for Tara being so exceedingly sweet, we might have had to fend for ourselves on only a day's notice.

Interesting that in this particular season when I have felt "churched out" and got away from my own church for a few months, I ended up going to Kelli's church at Mission Hills UCC for Maundy Thursday service, our church for Good Friday, and again for Caleb's memorial the day after. But on the day itself, the highest, holiest day of the Christian year, I skipped all of it in favor of something else that made me feel like a human who maybe is worth the water, oil, and air I consume. I guess this year I had to be honest enough with myself that I didn't want to just go through the motions anymore, or at least to not just leave it like that. It's too easy to decide to go to church on Easter and Christmas. But I felt Holy Week this week. It came from being alert to the human condition, whether it came in the form of movies, or interactions with my wife, or the little cat that visits the house as of late, or in having a good meal at a friend's home, and just sharing life. In fact, I could view my last several years as being an extended Holy Week, and the last one year or so being a resurrection for me, away from the time in the dark cave of the soul, reaching for the warmth of friends, or watching movies that grip me (even one with a pig as the star), or turning and irrigating my custom crafted organic soil a few times and feeling like life beckons and is good somehow, even in the messed up world filled with the injustices and crucifixions that surround us every day. As Elie Wiesel would say, the mystery of life is greater than the mystery of death. Move toward the light of life.

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