Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday with Lars and the Real Girl

Today we remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ -the mock trials that were a travesty of justice, the beatings and spitting and humiliation heaped upon Him, and finally, the capitulation of the ruling governor to have him publicly executed in the most shameful and degrading fashion possible before a sneering mob.

As we have been finishing the Gospel of Mark in our Tuesday night fellowship, we have been focusing not on the theology of the atonement, but rather on the emotional strain and cost this had on Jesus as a son of Man, a real human being. How often we so easily mistake His use of scriptural principles and obedience as a mechanical device to save us, totally forgetting His heart!

As a teacher, and a student of scripture, I was amazed at how often we blow past certain nuances all because we know how the story ends. We get blase' because we have heard the facts so many times. I'm trying to put a stop to that - to have our group experience and empathize as much as their sanctified imaginations will allow.

We all believe God is mean-spirited at some point in our lives, because of inaction in some injustice or another. But He Himself used the very act of injustice to save the world and the souls of those who would listen to Him. When Jesus is hanging on the cross, He says many things that are immortalized - but one thing is blown past: his compassion for his widowed mother and his beloved disciple, John.

He's dying. He can no longer live here, but only visit us after the resurrection. So He must make sure Mary is taken care of physically. And John, hot-headed and full of rage (you are reading an account from that wounded man after 50 years of healing), who's brother was beheaded just as they were beginning to reach the world with the Gospel, John will need the nurturing and gentleness he never received. Jesus knows John will do anything He asks him to do. Of all the disciples, John's the only one gutsy enough to be right there at the foot of the cross with the women.
John 19:25-27
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby [John], he said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son," and to the disciple, "Behold your mother."

From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

John took care of Mary.

And Mary? She got another son.

It is precious to me, this verse, because I too am a 'son' to a second mother. I too have issues and did not realize it until I was getting better. Funny thing is, that is when you can see how bad you've been.

John loved Jesus and obeyed Him. But what he discovered was Jesus loved him so much He gave him the ministry, the so-called 'duty', that would also be a benefit to his heart.

I have an old saying I think I got from Steve Brown of Reformed Theological Seminary. "You cannot minister to others where you have not been wounded." Ministry - effective ministry - requires woundedness.

If you are an alcoholic and get well, you get to minister to other alcoholics. If you were part of a very dysfunctional family and have overcome it, you get to help others in the same situation. Its the principle of "I've been there and I understand. Here's what helped me through it."

John's gospel has so much relational love because that was where he was wounded - and that's where he was healed.

Now, about Lars and the Real Girl.

The concept: lonely guy gets an anatomically correct life-size doll and believes her to be real. In response, the community around him, who loves him, accepts her and treats the doll as if she is real, with very moving consequences.

This is a precious film and it is remarkable because one of the agents of healing is the Christian church Lars attends. Yes, they have a meeting to discuss this and yes, there are some stunned looks, but that is very minor part of the story.

As it progresses, you find that kind, gentle and very polite Lars - a good-looking boy, who when asked, says he is not gay - has a reason for avoiding human contact.

It is, like so many things in life, not immediately obvious. It is an 'emotional mystery' you have to see unfold. Why is he like this? Why did he get that doll? Does he really believe she is real? How in the world could ANY community - office co-workers and church friends - accept this weird behavior? How can he rationalize her immobility? And, worst of all, how can any sane friend who WANTS to help 'go along' with this farce?

It is masterfully told. Just enough restraint is used in all the performances (with a gentle musical score) that when the ensuing conflicts come - as they MUST even with the most idyllic relationships - we sit in awe at how the heart and souls of everyone who loves Lars is revealed.

The "better than the real world" aspect of this film is the lovingkindness everyone shows towards Lars. When Lars brings "Bianca" his "girlfriend" to a party to show his co-workers, they act towards her without benign superficiality or rank judgment. They say things that are true and let the rest lie still. "She has beautiful hair!" "Lars - Bianca is hot and what's even hotter is she doesn't know it!" By the end of the party, she is being 'danced with' in her wheelchair as Lars (with eyes shut) moves serenely by himself, untouched and untroubled, a pleased half-smile upon his face.

He is happy. He - and his unusual girlfriend who cannot walk - have been accepted. We sit in awe as we watch, amused and amazed at the story we are being told.

Then the stakes ramp up as we learn why Lars is this way. What human touch means to him, and it is not comfortable.

There comes a time for all humans to be greatly wounded. It is unavoidable. Some of the most brilliant people I know have some of the most God-awful childhoods you can imagine. It is almost as if they decided to develop their mind because they COULD NOT develop their heart. It was too dangerous. So instead of hitting people, they hit the books.

But there also comes a time to be healed. By other humans.

Even while dying on the cross, Jesus expressed this. "Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother."

It is relational, is it not, this command? He could easily have said "Take care of her -and you do the same." That would have been fine. But He had to make it relational, familial. "Son", "mother".

Jesus knew their losses. He would not prevent them. But He would answer them.

I guess we all want answers to our pain. But the answer we need - the answer we are given - is relational. When we are well-related to someone who loves us, we get healed. We can move on past the person who did not.

"For God so LOVED the world, that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it through Him."

We are saved from this world by love. But it must be a very, very powerful love to change us. Life-giving, compassionate and willing to suffer greatly just to see you face-to-face.

That's Jesus.

If you do go to him, please let Him love you. You can achieve this by accepting a relationship with Him, not just a philosophy or a religious observance. Jesus can no longer be a doll in a wheelchair. He must become real to you.

For He is not only the King of kings, and Lord of lords, but the Human of humans.

Amen.

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