Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mel is the Man

I really like Mel Gibson as an actor. And I’ve loved him as a filmmaker. So I, like many others, was disturbed by’s expose of the police report which quotes Gibson making crude and racist remarks about Jews. The fact that the news has centered on this supposed “anti-Semitism” shows the opportunistic nature of this form of journalism, hoping to cash in on the controversy surrounding Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, rather than addressing his long-time battle with alcoholism. Jewish movie producer Dean Devlin claims Gibson as one of his best friends, with the caveat that “he is an alcoholic, and while that makes no excuse for what he said…I believe it was the disease speaking, not the man."

Last year Gibson was the evangelical church’s newest pop-saint. Now he’s likely going to be dragged through the mud for screwing up in front of everyone. Which is what happens when you’re famous in America. We all make mistakes, but if you’re famous, someone is likely there to take a picture of it and sell it to a tabloid. We’re a sick society – we love our celebrities, but as Don Henley sang, we love dirty laundry even more.

I’ve been to a few sites while researching my sermon for this Sunday, wading through one sarcastic tirade after another.. Most of the sites and articles (even the ones at Newsweek, which featured Osama Bin Laden giving Gibson anger management advice) are far too smug to be considered good journalism.

We can afford to be smug when our experiences of sin are that of the voyeur, be it reading about Gibson’s latest fall off the wagon, or when listening to the story of David and Bathsheba on Sunday morning. After all, we’d never do such a thing. I wonder if the reason we’d never do such a thing is because we simply don’t have the opportunity. When I was a kid, I didn’t do the things my parents forbade me to do, not because I thought them expressly evil, but because I was afraid that I would get caught. I think we often lead righteous lives because we’re afraid of what people will say, of losing our standing in the community, of damaging the relationships we are in.

David was the King of Israel…who was going to give him a slap on the wrist for sleeping with Bathsheba? Many of us do not act as David did simply because we aren’t Kings. Our roofs aren’t as high as David’s was. We can’t send a man to his death and cover it up. I’ve never walked in David’s shoes, so I certainly can’t say how I would respond to a stroll on the roof that ends in a peepshow. There but for the grace go I.

We say love the sin and hate the sinner, but we find it easier practice to hate the sinner, and secretly love the sin. I know that in my own heart my reaction of horror to certain sin is only a ruse, a put on. In my heart I secretly wish that could be me.

Eugene Peterson writes, “The subtlety of sin is that it doesn’t feel like sin when we’re doing it; it feels godlike, it feels religious, it feels fulfilling and satisfying—a replay of the episode in Eden when the tempter said, “Ye shall not die…ye shall be as gods”

However, as good Christians, we throw on our Sunday best to cover up the hate, lust, pride, greed, envy and gluttony in our hearts and attend service on Sunday morning (exhibiting all manner of sloth in padded pews as the height of our Christian duty), and when we hear the story of David and Bathsheba, we can point our finger and say, “oh how the mighty have fallen.”

If all we know of David’s story is the adultery with Bathsheba, the lie of bringing her husband Uriah home to cover up the pregnancy, followed by the murder of sending Uriah to the frontlines to be killed, then our finger remains pointed. But the story of David never lets us off the hook.

Enter Nathan the prophet, who comes to the palace after David and Bathsheba have been married. He tells David a parable of a rich man who stole a poor man’s sheep and asks David for a punishment. When David makes the pronouncement that the rich man should be put to death, Nathan points a finger at David, and says “You are the man.”

There’s another famous story of adultery in the Bible. We don’t know the name of the woman involved, but she’s another Bathsheba. Caught in the act of adultery, and thrown at the feet of a controversial Jewish Rabbi. The men who brought her for judgment, a collection of religious leaders who apparently go around peeking in windows just waiting for someone to screw up so they can drag them into public for maximum humiliation (this sound familiar to anyone?), ask the Rabbi what ought to be done with her. The Jewish Law explicitly states that she ought to be stoned.

The Rabbi starts writing in the dust. No one knows what he wrote, though some scholars would like to think he wrote down the individual sins of the assembled lynch mob. I’d like to think he drew a happy face or a heart or something equally uplifting to console the woman. What he didn’t write was SLUT and an arrow pointing at her, given the words of his judgment on the woman, a phrase which is still used today. “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”

One by one, stones are dropped to the ground. The mob disperses. The woman is left to face the Rabbi, who by his measure of justice has the right to throw a condemning stone. Instead of a stone, he speaks again.

“Go, and don’t keep sinning.”

David writes Psalm 51. Mel Gibson issues an apology to the Jewish community. We try and say sorry. Dubious, the public will not forgive. Someone had the balls to call their post on Gibson’s current circumstances WWJD, and then launch into a lengthy accusation. The intention was to show what hypocrites Christians are. I’ve got news for him. The church has no monopoly on hypocrites, alcoholics or adulterers. Paris Hilton could give anyone lessons in debauchery, but despite a lurid homemade porn flick, she’s getting paid 1 million dollars to go and tell Austrians why she loves their country. Did I mention what a sick society we are already?

I have a sticker on my bass guitar that says SINNER. It’s meant to be a badge of pride in party circles, and is commonly thought of as a badge of shame in Christian ones. I think Christians ought to start claiming it as a badge of hope. I’m a colossal screw up. I’ve made major mistakes in my life. I have blown it big time. I am a sinner. But in that condition lays my hope. Jesus said he hadn’t come to heal the healthy, but the sick. And I need the cure. The Bible claims we’re all in that boat. If we’re going to start throwing rocks, we need to all line up facing each other and have at ‘er. As novemberdawn wrote in an excellent blog entry at ‘Nuff Said:

“When Paris Hilton called an aspiring black designer the n-word, we barely heard a peep. There were certainly no cries from Hollywood to derail her acting, modeling or singing career. According to The Smoking Gun, phone transcripts from an angry voicemail from Charlie Sheen to Denise Richards revealed that he called her the n-word. We still see him every week on 2½ Men. While the hip-hop community has adulterated the term, it is still hate speech. Where are the Hollywood powerbrokers protesting these atrocities? What does Barbara Walters have to say? Perhaps she is too busy offending black women thanks to her incessant need to touch and grope her African-American guest host’s hair, inquire if it is real, and call their children “creatures.””

I could add to the list all the invective that gets spewed in the direction of Christianity on a regular basis without anyone so much as batting an eyelash. To say nothing of the lampooning of Muslims. If Hollywood is supposed to spank Gibson for this incident as some have stated, then it needs to give Trey Parker and Matt Stone a caning at the very least for South Park and Team America.

I’ve already mentioned Gibson’s controversial Passion of the Christ. When Diane Sawyer confronted Gibson with accusations of anti-semitism by skewing the story to blame the Jews for Christ’s death (I still chuckle at Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan’s response: “Who the f**k do you think did it? The Mexicans?”), Gibson replied by “The big answer is, we all did. I'll be the first in the culpability stakes here,” and quoted Isaiah: “He was beaten for our iniquities, he was wounded for our transgressions and, by his wounds, we are healed. That's the point of the film. It's not about pointing the finger, it's not about playing the blame game. It's about faith, hope, love and forgiveness. It's a reality for me. I believe that. I have to. So I can hope. So I can live.”

We forget that what Jesus would do, is forgive. And that the words about casting the first stone are meant for us all. Nathan the prophet does not merely point the finger at David, he points the finger at us. “You are the man.” David was that man. Mel Gibson is that man. And you and I, are that man.


  1. Great...sermon? Just kidding. My first response to the news that Mel was arrested for DWI and shouting anti-semitistic remarks was he is going to roast for that one, especially with those that were critical of Passion. That thought was still present for me but then I was overwhelmed by the thought that you expressed, he is human. He is not immune to falling. He is not immune to public criticism, even though I agree with his being even more so because of his celebrity status. He is a man. A fallen man. Just as I am. I hope that there are those in his life that will be Jesus to him right now. To let him know that he is forgiven so that he can move forward. Isn't that all any of us can do?
    As for as the critics go, take a look at the man/woman in the mirror.

  2. Actually Jared, you hit the nail on the head. This was pretty much my sermon prep for the week. I'll spend more time on David in the actual presentation, but this is essentially what I'll be preaching Sunday morning.

  3. Excellent thoughts, and great insights especially as I prep to talk about Jesus and the stone throwers, with my middle schoolers :)

    I think this is a great reminder and I think the point of us objecting to sin as concepts but not when we're all that involved (if we where truly repulsed, why would we continue in them?)

    It made me think of an confession and accountability group I was in where one of the guys made it clear that he liked his sin, that's why it's so hard to stop.

    But we clam up and throw stones when we see someone high profile take a dive.

    I think about public figures of Christianity and I worry about the pedistals we put them on. I remember when Alice Cooper "went public" about his faith to the masses, and explained that the reason he waited so long between his acceptance of Christ and his public statemants was that he was a baby Christian and didn't want to be put on a pedistal where the mistakes and trials we go through especially at our beginings are open for public display, he wanted to wait until he knew what was going on first.

    I like that, but I think I'd take it farther because it seems at ever step there are huge, easy oppurtunities for our sinner badge to be shown, and a million people ready to jump down your through for one mistake, one sin, one problem, one half-baked idea. I think your comments on viewing our sinner badge as one of hope in the God that loves the broken is a better outlook.

    Not glorifying the sin, but not being shocked and appalled when it comes out. Great thoughts!

  4. The sin as badge of hope concept is Peterson's, not mine, although I did paraphrase it a bit to fit into the text better. But it is a great idea.

    I detest pedestals. I know what it's like to live on them, and what it's like to fall from them, so I feel for people caught in these situations. I believe it happens because we place what my friend George Hardy calls the God Burden on people or things. And those cannot support that burden and crumble beneath the weight of it sooner or later. We're disappointed with that person or thing, but our disappointment is, to quote an old blues tune, nobody's fault but mine.