Wednesday, July 22 2020

quiet time, marinade, and the last temptation of christ

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. How are your mosquito bites feeling today? That's how Rodney greeted me this morning, and even if mosquitos aren't a pressing problem for you, I still think that's just a nice thing to ask somebody. Mosquitos can really put a damper on your day.

Last night during a Zoom hangout with my family, Rodney hid on the bed underneath a blanket. "Do you want to say 'hi' to Alice, dude?" I asked, expecting Rodney to come bouncing over to my computer.

"No," said a small, blanketed voice. "I need a lil' bit of quiet time."

Later while putting him to bed, I used our usual round of evening questions to check up on his mosquito bites. "Are your mosquito bites hot, or cold?" I asked, sticking to kid-friendly sensation questions.

"Um..." said Rodney, pondering. "Lil bit... pretty warm, I think," he said.

"How do mosquito bites make you feel?" I asked.

Rodney took much less time to field that question. "Pretty grumpy," he said. I wasn't expecting such a succinct answer.

"You feel grumpy?" I asked. "Oh dude, is that why you wanted quiet time?" Rodney nodded slowly with sad eyes. We exchanged a long hug.

In times like these, it's important to remember to ask for quiet time when you need it. You can't move at the same speed every day. Sometimes you need a little extra solitude to tend to your mosquito bites, whatever form they may take.

It's a beautiful day, isn't it? The sun feels bright and warm today, and I feel like attacking a long TODO list. Not to brag or anything, but I just did my own laundry, and I think the clean smell of a fresh new outfit is putting me in a mood.

Sip. We had a good day yesterday. Marissa began the undertaking of cleaning our outside windows - undoubtedly the reason why it feels brighter here in our living room. Rodney and I measured and trimmed replacement wood slats which will be installed in our backyard fence. We ran errands, took a nap, and finished things off with a big fajita dinner.

And I learned something important yesterday while making fajitas. Even a forty-five minute marinade is better than no marinade at all. Being a last minute meal planner, I rarely leave myself with enough time to leave things in the fridge for four hours or start a meal the night before. But since we have already made fajitas a few times this summer and I was in the mood to experiment, I tossed the sirloin steak in a plastic bag with olive oil, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, and other seasoning.

I had my doubts. I wasn't even planning on telling Marissa that I had tweaked one of her favorite recipes, but the difference was undeniable. The meat was more tender, and the flavors were more thoroughly incorporated. There might be something to this whole marinade thing after all. Evidently, the fact that humans have probably marinating meat since the dawn of our civilization wasn't enough for me. Being a millennial, I had to prove it to myself.

We put Rodney to bed, muscled through some nightly quarantine workouts, then settled into the couch for movie night. Last night we finished The Last Temptation of Christ, and boy do I have some thoughts.

Let me start off by saying that I had no idea what this movie was about. In all honesty, I picked this movie expecting it to be a straight-forward Jesus biopic with maybe a tinge of weirdness, accounting for the Willem Dafoe effect.

The film opens with large white text on a black screen - "This account is not based on the gospels, but a work of fiction exploring the life of Christ". It may as well have also said buckle up.

The movie wastes no time adding unsettling fictional elements to the life of Christ, opening with an anguished Jesus trying to live his life as a carpenter and deal with the voices he hears. His close friend Judas berates him for making crosses for the Romans. Jesus is wrestling with cultural identity, lack of conviction, and guilt over turning away the advances of Mary Magdalene, who has become a prostitute.

Marissa and I paused the movie to regroup.

"I just feel dirty watching this movie," said Marissa.

"I feel the same," I replied. "It hits different as a Christian, doesn't it?"

"Is this fine to watch? Is this blasphemy?" she asked?

The following evening, we filed onto the couch to pick up where we left off. "I have some thoughts," I said while climbing onto the cushion beside her.

"So I think this film is definitely blasphemous," I said. "In case it's not enough to trust our gut, it's a very vulgar depiction of Jesus. But I think we can still learn something from this movie. I'm still interested in what this movie is trying to say."

We continued to discuss the movie. Over a pair of beers, we decided that the movie was still worth studying. After all, a critically thinking, modern day Christian doesn't bury their head in the sand at the first wind of offense. I felt compelled to take it in, discern the deeper messages of the film, and form a more sophisticated opinion than what I was feeling - the feeling being yuck.

As the film's Jesus wandered through the shuffled storyline of miracles and ministry, it continued to put our resolve to the test. It became clear that this wasn't just a casual mishandling of the Biblical account, but a deliberate contradiction. "Forget the old law!" screams the film's Jesus. "I AM NEW THE LAW."

"It's weird that they keep repeating that," I said out of turn. "That's like the complete opposite of what Jesus said and meant. He said 'I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.' So that means someone had to read the Bible, understand it, and intentionally flip the dialog."

We hit another breaking point. There was a scene where, returning from a divine vision in the desert, Jesus pulls his heart out of his chest and holds it up before the disciples. We were so appalled that we broke out in a chuckle.

"So I've been thinking really hard about this movie," I said rubbing my eyes. "And I'm not sure what that was supposed to mean."

"This is just awful," laughed Marissa.

Luckily, there were no more mortal combat inspired scenes, and in the tail end of the movie, things got pretty fascinating. As the film's Jesus hung on the cross, an eerie silence fell over the jeering crowd and a little girl approached him. "I'm your guardian angel," she explained. "You've suffered enough, and God says you don't have to be sacrificed." She delicately pulls the nails out from the cross and helps Jesus down, leading him to a cliff overlooking beautiful rolling hills bathing in sunlight. "Now you can see the world for what it truly is," she said.

At this point, I sensed a plot twist coming. The scene just resembled the temptation of Christ in the wilderness a little too much. The little girl remained with the film's Jesus into his old age, following him as he had children and lived a regular life.

The film's Jesus even happens to encounter Paul, in the middle of giving a passionate sermon about his own conversion on the road to Damascus. "I heard the voice of Jesus Christ," yells Paul. "He asked 'why are you persecuting me?' And I decided to go out and spread the good news that Christ died, rose again, and conquered death."

"Ah," I snickered. "More proof that the author is very familiar with the actual story."

Following Paul's sermon, the film's Jesus confronts Paul. "I did those things," said Jesus. "And I never died. I never rose again. I'm a regular man now."

The scene takes a dark turn. Paul goes on to explain that it doesn't matter if he's really Jesus, and that Jesus is whatever he tells the people. "You underestimate how much these people really need God," says the film's evil version of Paul. "They will do whatever if takes to please God. Even if they have to die."

The film shows us an aging Jesus on his deathbed. The disciples file into his room and angrily confront Jesus. "You were supposed to be crucified," says Judas. "You are a traitor." I was at least happy that they finally cashed in on the irony garnered from making Judas Jesus' closest friend and having him utter the words trator.

The girl in the corner of the room vanishes, transforming into a flame. A menacing voice cackles. "There was no sacrifice, there is no salvation," laughs Satan. "Now die like a man."

Feeling probably the saddest I've ever felt, I held on as the film tried to turn things around. Jesus crawls out of his house, and while overlooking a burning, pillaged Jerusalem, he repents. Just as Christ cries out "I want to be the Messiah," he is instantly transported back to the cross. He smiles, and cries "it is accomplished."

Of all the horror movies I've sat through, this movie was the scariest. The final ending had my stomach twisting in knots, and a cold sweat running down my forehead.

"You know technically that was the last temptation of Christ," I said as the film credits rolled. "The Bible didn't say it was the devil, but I think the people taunted him to have God send his angels to take him down from the cross." As we discussed the twist ending, the point of the film began to crystallize.

Christ was tempted by the devil, both in the wilderness before he began his ministry and indirectly throughout his time on earth, all the way to the bitter end when a hateful crowd that gathered to watch him die. And the mere fact that he was tempted implies that the temptation was real. In every other straight laced depiction of Jesus (The Passion of the Christ comes to mind), Jesus is protected by Biblical plot immunity. The presense of evil, temptation, and the devil, no matter how artful, just isn't that scary.

But in a film that was intentionally contradicting the Bible - where anything could happen - I was gripped with fear. Christ cried in the garden on the night before his death and begged God to take the cup of suffering from him. Christ was tempted to climb down from the cross.

The Last Temptation of Christ succeeds in portraying the humanity of a wholly God, wholly human Jesus, albeit a little too much on the human side. Jesus never wavered in his message. He never had difficulty finding his purpose. He never gave into temptation. And thankfully he never pulled his beating heart out of his chest to make a point. But he felt real fear, doubt, despair, and temptation just as we do.

Even for a lesson like this, The Last Temptation is a difficult movie to sit through. I'm still feeling a little queasy from it. But if that's too much of a reach, than at least you can be grateful that our gospel is not a watered down message of changing the world with love crafted in the vacuum of fiction. Our gospel is real, living, and hopeful.

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you have a wonderful day today.