Thursday, February 22, 2018

After Billy Graham

When news of Billy Graham's death spread, my Facebook feed became filled with friends asking the same question: "Who will be the next Billy Graham?" I've been thinking about this question too, but I keep having this nagging thought that perhaps we're all asking the wrong question.

I dearly loved Rev. Graham, partly because my Mom made a profession of faith under his preaching. I read his books, and admired and respected so very much about the man. In its coverage of his death, USA Today included this pretty dead-on descriptive quote:

"He was so real, he made Christianity come true," said Susan Harding, an anthropologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz. "He was homespun, historical and newsworthy all at once. He could span the times from Christ to today, from the globe to you, all in one sentence."

Billy Graham was a product of his time. He came to Christ in a tent revival and it was a natural progression for his ministry to find its expression in revivalist form. He could speak of God and Jesus and people understood to Whom he was referring. This is what gives me pause about the "next" Billy Graham. In 2018, does our world need a celebrity preacher? I wonder about this. We have plenty of "celebrity preachers" out there, I know, but none have achieved Graham's preeminence. I wonder if any really can.  Today, can we still speak of Jesus and be universally understood as to Whom we are referring or do we need to define our terms? Is it the Jesus who preached love and acceptance without judgment as presented by many popular authors and preachers today? Or, it is the Jesus of Scripture who declares exclusivity ("I am the Way") and requires followers submit to Biblical parameters in their lives?

In this post-Christian age, I honestly wonder if a revivalist is what is needed today. We no longer have a shared national experience that synthesizes us. It is really possible for one person to represent Christianity? Maybe in 2018 evangelism is better done in the trenches - person to person, neighbor to neighbor, coworker to coworker, and student to student. It may be that the way forward is not found in the successes of the past. Perhaps this is a moment when we need to reevaluate and be like the children of Issachar "who had an understanding of their times and knew what Israel ought to do" 
(1 Chronicles 12:32).

Monday, January 29, 2018

"The Way" to a Great Movie

My husband and I unwind at the end of each day with a glass of wine and half a movie, finishing it the next evening.  Our cinematic preferences encompass a wide range of genres from the latest blockbuster to the small-budget independent films. It is often the small-budget films that stay with us the longest. These movies are story driven with characters and dialogue that require thoughtful consideration.  The Way, written by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen, is precisely that kind of movie.

The premise, as described by IMDB, is simple and poignant: “A father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the “El camino de Santiago,” and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.” The father [Tom] travels with his son Daniel’s ashes. It is a deeply moving movie interspersed with thoughtful dialogue and generously sprinkled comedic moments.  

Along the way, the lapsed Catholic Tom unwillingly acquires traveling companions Dutchman Joost, Canadian Sarah, and Irishman Jack. This unlikely foursome travel the El camino de Santiago, hurting and helping to heal one another along the way. Martin Sheen said of the movie, "Pilgrimage is structured so it takes you out of your comfort zone. You pack all the things you need and soon you realize it's too heavy and have to start unpacking. Then the transcendence starts on stuff you've packed in your interior life, and you begin opening those closets and cells and dungeons and letting all the people out you've been punishing all your life."

I’m a Protestant and was unfamiliar with this pilgrimage. I’m a conservative and thought I’d have little use for a movie written by the more liberal Estevez or his father. However, the movie presented to me an ecumenical window into the larger Christian community. Activist Sheen and I are diametrically opposed on most political issues, but we share an opposition to abortion and reverence for life. Politics aside, because of this movie I now see these men as fellow believers.

We return to The Way time and time again because the story is moving, the relationships real, and the community welcoming. It speaks of healing, forgiveness, acceptance, and love.