Friday, May 12, 2006

A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

Last night I went to see a performance by the modern dance troupe, Momix. (A semi-complete review will come after I return from New York.) The music for the piece was "Passion," Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for Martin Scorcese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," one of my favorite records. If you remember, there was a huge furor at the time of that film's release, with Christian groups calling it blasphemy, and expressing horror over the depiction of Jesus as having a relationship with Mary Magdelene. I remember at the time thinking how incredibly wrong-headed and short-sighted the Christians' protests were, as that film came closer to making me a Christian than any other piece of media, including the Bible. (Perhaps especially the Bible!) For me, the power came in that last temptation: Satan came to Christ and showed him what he could have if he denied the cross. He showed him a normal, ordinary life: a loving wife, children, happiness. And yet, Christ chose to make the sacrifice. I found it deeply moving.

Now the Christians are at it again, raising a furor over "The DaVinci Code." This time, I think their case is better, since "The DaVinci Code" is primarily about humanizing Christ, and pays no attention to sacrifice or atonement. Still, I think all they are doing is playing into the hands of the film's publicity machine.

With all the furor and zealotry that is inflamed by media depictions of Christ, it makes me wonder about the true Christian nature of many Church leaders. Does Christ really need their "protection"? Is this the best way to spend part of their limited time on Earth? And that got me thinking about the "Christian" nature of our political leaders, especially our President.

It all put me in mind of a hymn: "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief." The song tells of meeting a man in need: hungry, beaten, in prison, condemned. Each time, he is helped, lifted up, released. In the last verse, the man's identity is revealed:

Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in His hands I knew;
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name He named,
“Of Me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto Me.”

The idea behind the song, I was told in church, is that Christ might return in any guise, and that we must therefore treat all humanity with love and respect and dignity. Last night, sitting in the darkened theater, listening to Peter Gabriel's powerful music, I wondered: what if this man was Christ returning to live among us?:

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