Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

I have to confess one of my major heresies--I find 99% of religious movies and quasi-religious movies incredibly campy; the exceptions being both versions of Ben Hur. (I especially love the chariot scene in the silent version). Even then, I still make fun of how incredibly non-lepromatous Judah Ben-Hur's mom and sister appear in both versions.

This has popped into my mind because I'm sitting here while a rerun of the 1965 flick "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is on Turner Classic Movies at the moment, which I refer to as "The Most Boring Story Ever Told." I've been so incredibly un-enamored with that one since childhood. If the real Jesus were as stiff and serious as Max von Sydow, He'd have had trouble snagging one disciple, let alone twelve. (I always felt bad for Max in this movie; he's a great actor but what was he thinkin' when he inked this gig?)

Now, it's not that this movie has its moments; I kind of groove on Donald Pleasance as the Devil. Claude Rains as Herod is not a bad choice, but Claude always had the gift of being a good actor in a bad movie. But overall, it's like the whole thrust for this film was "How many people that you would never cast in a Biblical epic can you cast in a Biblical epic?" John Wayne as a centurion with one line. Oh, gag me. (I'm expecting, "Let me tell you pilgrim, this hombre was the Son of God.") Jamie Farr as a disciple (Who's the Arab dude with the Twelve?). You even get a bit of a sneak peek for "Planet of the Apes" coming out a few years later b/c Roddy McDowall with his beard, as Matthew, looks suspiciously like Cornelius the scientific chimp, and Charlton Heston, as John the Baptist, has a lot of the look Taylor will have as a captive in "Apes."

I realize among the people who groove on religious movies, this movie still gets good press for it's cinematography and scene development, but even then, it's too "contrived" and "perfect" to do anything for me. How long did they have to look to get a snow white donkey for the Palm Sunday scene? The Last Supper scene is like they tried to recreate the painting, only in white. But I'm thinking, overall, if this were the "real" rendition of the story of Christ, Christianity would have been doomed because it would have bored the followers to death.

Years ago, I remember watching this movie in my pre-teen years on TV with my mom and making some comment about how boring this movie was and how goofy the casting was on this flick. I swear my mother dropped three steps back from me as if I'd be struck by lightning. "I can't believe you are making fun of a movie about Jesus! That's like...blasphemous or something! Shame on you!" (Ok, so I learned a valuable lesson. All the good works you ever did in your life will be totally tossed on the scrap heap if you dare to diss a movie about Jesus.)

It doesn't help that I have an awful tendency to start finding funny moments in serious movies. Flashback to when I went to see "The Passion of the Christ" a few years back. It was like I went on "Baptist Day" at the movie house. I got to laughing at how Fellini-oid the "albino Satan" was (I was expecting the albinos from "The Matrix" to show up any minute.) I was wonderfully amused at how disgusting Barabbas was, he reminded me of Keith Moon as "uncle Ernie" in the rock opera Tommy.

But back to The Most Boring Story Ever Told. Max's crucifixion has to go on record as "the least painful crucifixion I've ever seen on TV or at the movies". He doesn't even strain to breathe, while hung on a cross. Let's also not forget the overload of Mormon Tabernacle Choir soundtrack. Everyone in that movie is just too clean, too white robed, and too unrealistically well-groomed for Biblical times.

I'm beginning to think the best way to portray Jesus is how it was done in Ben-Hur fashion--just show His hands only or show Him from behind, and leave the rest to my imagination!

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Carrol's text this week focused on the one leper that turned back. Historically, this is preached as a story of gratitude, but Carrol raised the possibility that this man simply "went against the grain". Actually, the other nine did exactly what Jesus instructed them to do: Show themselves to the priests. It was necessary for them to do this to fully "get their life back". If you carefully read "the rules" in Leviticus, the priest makes the call. Once declared unclean, it was only until the priest dcclared that person "clean" that they could rejoin family, friends, community.

I wondered to myself, why did this one man delay this declaration? Why would he disobey Jesus and turn back to see him? Technically speaking, even though Jesus cured this man of his disease, by law Jesus had no authority to validate this cure. He still needed the seal of approval from the priests.

Perhaps it was simply because this man was a Samaritan and he was away from Samaria. He was a "double outcast". He was no longer a leper, but he was still going to be a Samaritan. Was he worried that the first priest he could find had prejudice towards Samaritans? Maybe he was thinking, “What do I have to lose? When I go to the priest, he’s still gonna know I’m a Samaritan, maybe he won’t pronounce me ‘cured’ just for spite. But this Jesus guy knows. I’ll cast my lot with this guy and let the chips fall where they may.” He no longer had to add insult to injury when it came to the festering sores of his disease--his cure had spared him the indignity of having to holler "unclean" when people came near him--but it was not going to change he was a Samaritan in hostile territory.

I got to thinking about all the ways we point out we are bad people when we feel "unclean" inside. How many times, when we could so easily sit at the feet of the One who can make us feel "clean", do we instead run away a safe distance, and start to holler, "Don't touch me! I'm unclean! Don't even get near me!"

I also thought of that childhood game where some poor unfortunate child has "cooties". Some kid would yell, "Jimmy has cooties!" All the other kids would make an "x" on their arm and holler, "Shot! Shot!" and the poor last kid to give him/herself a "shot", like poor Jimmy, "had cooties." So there you were, standing with poor Jimmy, both outcasts. Both thrown from the camp. Both isolated from your little spot in childhood community. You are thinking, "Now Jimmy, of course he has cooties. He's such a dork. He has boogers hanging out of his nose. But I do NOT have cooties. I'm too cool for cooties." I am sure, early in the course of the Samaritan's disease, he looked at other lepers and said, "I just simply am NOT a leper. No way. Dirty sinful people are lepers." But as the weeks and months went by, and his fingers began to no longer work properly, and the flesh began to peel off of him, he could no longer play that game. Yes, he was a leper.

How many times do we run from pillar to post in our psyches when it comes to sin? At first we say, "no way, not me, You've got the wrong person," to God. Then when we are convinced of our own "cootification" we act like we'll give God our cooties and hide from Him? Instead of drawing closer to him, we back further away. Instead of lessening the gap between us and God, we widen it. Maybe it's because we know that even if he "cures" us, we are still like poor dorky Jimmy, we will still have that booger in our nose. Like the Samaritan, he will probably be declared "clean" by the priest, but he will not be considered "whole" because he's still a Samaritan--the pharisees will still see him as dorky Jimmy, booger and all.

So what happens to our Samaritan? You know he has to be wondering if he's doing the right thing, going back to that Jesus guy. Perhaps Jesus will rebuke him ("Why are you back here? I told you to go to the priest! Go get your life back and get out of my face!"). Perhaps by disobeying, his sores will return--and he will have lost his one chance to start over, to rejoin life in general. But in for a dollar, in for a dime. He's made his choice. He keeps going--and what a surprise. "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." wait a minute. Jesus didn't say "Your faith cured your leprosy." He said "Your faith has made you well." Now there's a concept--we can be cured of a terrible disease and still be unwell? What's up with that?

How many times does someone declared "cured" of their cancer, always keep in the back of their mind that despite the odds, they convince themselves that everything that goes wrong means, "the cancer is back." A good friend of mine, almost 20 years out from his prostate cancer, got lower back pain one time from one of the piddly back injuries we all do. He was convinced, however, his prostate cancer was back. Only after he bullied his doctor into getting a prostate surface antigen test and the result was 0.0 was he convinced that "too much yardwork" was not "metastatic prostate cancer."

How many times do people who remarry after a stint with an abusive spouse, become hypervigilant about the subtle irritations of the new spouse? Again, another friend of mine illustrates this. She would routinely overinterpret mild surliness in her new hubby's answers to things when he was in a bad mood as having the potential that he could suddenly start beating on her like her first husband did. She would cry and withdraw from him, and he would stand there, bewildered, thinking "What the hell was THAT?"

In both of these scenarios, these people were "cured" but were still "unwell" in some ways. We forget that faith is a two way street where our lane is busier. Like the Samaritan, we have to take the risk of daring to be "well." Again, this is OUR call, not God's. God simply puts his hand out to us every day. We have to ignore the risk and keep pushing forward to be spiritually "well"...and only in the heart of that risk can we reach wellness.

Yes, Shadow's last day at Camp Kirkepiscatoid was a good one. It turned out to be a lovely fall day and she got to bask in some warm fall sun. I have been amazed at how, over the week, her "special needs" had diminished simply from being in the company of two other dogs. By the time her parents had finally returned for her, she was really not missing them that much. None of the scratching, whining, and barking of the first night. She had settled in. Maybe she even thought this was her new home. Then she got a special happy surprise when her folks finally returned. She really did greet them like she'd thought she'd never see them again.

Ah, if only I could re-adjust to a total upheaval of my world in six days!

Well, just as Shadow is starting to act like a dog who "blends in" around here, her folks will be back in two days. Right now, all three dogs are having nice "dog naps" after a hard day of playing. It has been fun to see how just having two other dogs around has made her more "normal" in a lot of ways. For her, "normal" is pathologically shy most of the time. Simply by being in the presence of two other dogs, her shyness is much less noticeable.

Funny how just being around "folks we trust" makes us more manageable, doesn't it?

Things are coming along very well at Camp Kirkepiscatoid. Shadow handled being out on the line all day today very well. Today was my day off, so I was around the house most of the day. She only barked excessively early on, and I think having both of "the boys" tied out within view calmed her down a lot.

When they came in for the evening, things were a lot calmer. Shadow didn't do the "scratch the storm door incessantly as if I'm never coming back" thing like she did yesterday when I'd take Eddie or Boomer out to potty. Everyone napped appropriately this time, including Shadow.

The one thing Shadow is learning here that is different from home is that "bugging me on the couch is not allowed." She has a habit of being annoyingly in your face and on your lap when I want to be on the laptop. She has already learned to avoid the rolled up Kirksville Daily Express when she's acting up, not to mention I had to smack her behind one time with a copy of "A Brief History of the Episcopal Church"!

Well, I've agreed to have a guest dog this week. Two of my dearest friends at Trinity are going out of town, and I've agreed to let their dog Shadow camp out with my two dogs. My two dog boys are good friends with her, so I figure all in all, it should be ok. But I do need to make it clear that Shadow. is, in some ways, a "special needs dog."

She showed up as a stray at their house, and a fearful one at that. The other dog at their house was just beginning to help her become socialized when he suffered a stroke and died. She became disconsolate, and was on "doggie downers" for a spell. She has just started becoming more socialized again, and "the boys" have helped with this. So we all figured that rather than board her and stress her out, that she should camp out with the esteemed Mr. Boomer and Mr. Eddie.

Well, Shadow is going to be here for a week, so I think I will keep the readers of my blog entertained with her vacation.

Night one: Shadow barked outside for 20 minutes after her mom left. I am keeping her on a cable near where the boys' trolley lines are, so she can see them during the day. When I finally brought everyone in the house and fed them supper, we had a non-stop dog party for over an hour, complete with running, barking, and knocking a few things over. The boys finally decided it was time to take a nap but Shadow doesn't think napping is a good idea. So, she still shows no signs of sleeping by 10 p.m.

I figure she'll go to sleep when she wears out, right? Meanwhile, here is a look at her. Mr. Boomer is trying to snooze on the recliner but Miss Shadow shows no signs of thinking napping is a viable option....

Luke 17:5-10

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Ah, yes, the veritable mustard seed. Carrol got to do the sermon at Trinity this week, since Wallace was on vacation, and I bet she was happy she landed on a "classic" week in the lectionary! But she brought up some good observations about mustard seeds in general. She had bought a little container of them at Hy-Vee in the hopes they would inspire her. By her account, mustard seeds are not very inspirational when you look at them at first glance.

First of all, they're small. Second of all, they're all a little uneven; some are round, some are flatter, some are darker, some are broken open. She made a good point in her sermon...that one mustard seed isn't much, but when you put them all together, they make something, and that is, in a way, what the church is all about.

I got to thinking about that, and my mind added to it. Someone asked at coffee hour, "What do you do with mustard seeds besides make mustard?" and I answered, "I use them in barbecue." Then, on the way home, I got to thinking about the concept of mustard seeds and barbecue. Here in the midwest, people are more into the "red" BBQ sauces. When I barbecue, I like to do a little more of the "Southeast seaboard" tricks. If you ever ate real South Carolina barbecue, it's not a "red sauce" at all; it's a more mustard based sauce. I tend to baste my meat in beer and vinegar with a tad of crushed mustard seed thrown in, then top it off when it's done with a "red" sauce.

That got me to thinking of the power of those little mustard seeds. Just a few seeds change the whole character of the marinade. I challenge anyone to find the little boogers after they've been thrown in the marinade. You could look and look all day and never find them...yet you can taste them. You perceive their presence.

That's a good thing to remember when my faith is flagging and feels almost nonexistent. Maybe at that moment, to me, that faith is a tiny bit of nothing...but when you throw it in the marinade, you know it's there. Its presence is tasted--not just by you, but everyone who's tasting the barbecue. You may not even know who might be tasting it, but they know it's there, too.

Then I got to thinking about another barbecue fact about those little mustard seeds. If you really want the full flavor of them, you have to crush them, you have to break their little hulls to get all the flavor out of them. A thought flashed through my mind: Can we really open our hearts to another, can we really open our hearts to God, unless our own hearts have been crushed? Does the full flavor of our goodness maximally enhance the flavor of that marinade unless our own hearts have been broken open? The more I thought about it, the more I realized, probably not.

One of the things I'm starting to realize as I grow spiritually is that I have to shed the fear of my heart being broken open. I spent a good portion of my formative years and young adulthood "learning not to feel." Being dispassionate is a great protective device. Learning not to feel things, learning to "opt out" of some of your emotional matrix can keep a lot of hurt off your doorstep. But this imperviousness comes at a great price--because the barrier of dispassionateness keeps out the good as well as the bad. It also keeps away the more intense feelings of goodness.

I remember telling someone a few years ago, "I learned a long time ago to stop trying to be happy. I learned to settle for being pleasantly satisfied." I am finding myself eating those words. I am slowly discovering that, (at least in a relatively safe, quiet environment) that if I allow myself the luxury of vulnerability, I can at least experience fleeting, but intense moments of pure joy. The price, of course, is the pain of feeling your heart break open, and that comes with equally intense (but mercifully fleeting) moments of pain and helplessness. But perhaps those moments flavor the barbecue, too. The best tasting barbecue always has a sweet, deep flavor buried within overtones of hot and sour.

I confess I do not like the unpredictable nature of all this...but I'm starting to be a little more willing to take the risk to get to taste a sauce that good.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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