Pulp Christian – Pulp Fiction vs. Passion of the Christ

One offers brain particles all over the interior of a car, the other a drawn out, bloody journey to the cross.

One is viewed as gratuitous violence, while the other is praised for portraying the anguish of the Savior.

Let’s face it, Pulp Fiction and The Passion of the Christ rival each other in brutality.  However, I left the one movie feeling like I had witnessed a miracle while leaving the other feeling like the extreme torture and suffering were imposed on me.

To start, let’s take a look at the two examples of grace in Pulp Fiction.

The first scenario has Jules and Vincent narrowly escaping with their lives after a round of bullets misses them from pointblank range. Jules calls the experience “Divine Intervention,” and he upholds this view even after Vincent’s gun goes off by accident and blows a kid’s head off in the back of the car. To be fair, Jules’ understanding of grace is flawed. According to his logic, we have to conclude that if God saved them from the bullets the reverse is true as well: God’s equally responsible for the kid’s unfortunate, untimely—not to mention inconvenient–demise.

From this perspective, a depiction of God’s grace is ambiguous at best.

Then there’s the other storyline involving Butch, a boxer in the twilight of his career who’s being paid by Marcellus—Jules and Vincent’s boss—to throw his upcoming boxing match. Butch, always feeling underestimated, find himself at a moral crossroad and ends up double-crossing Marcellus so that he could walk away with a good chunk of change and every last ounce of his pride.

It would have been the perfect plan if Butch didn’t end up crossing paths with Marcellus while retrieving his most precious possession, his watch. After they nearly kill each other, Butch and Marcellus are captured while both of them are in a weakened, vulnerable state. When they wake up, they find themselves tied up and gagged by a redneck store-owner and a dirty cop, who have extremely ill intentions. When Marcellus is dragged into the back room so that these perverts can have their way with him, Butch frees himself and heads for the door. He could have abandoned Marcellus, but something “within him” compels him to turn around. Butch chooses to make the compassionate decision and saves Marcellus, putting his fate back in his boss’ hands.

So I have to say, it’s only appropriate, after Butch and Marcellus have a no-nonsense discussion where they come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement, that Butch rides off on a rather loud chopper with the word “Grace” airbrushed on it to collect his girlfriend and start a new life with her in a new city.

Now let’s take a look at Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and see how he handles what’s “supposed to be” the ultimate religious example of grace.

When Mel Gibson brought out his Passion of the Christ, I wasn’t interested enough in the theme to see it in the theater. I think many Christians allowed themselves to be emotionally swept away by the image of the tortured Christ and all the bloodshed he endured on their behalf. But after taking the time to watch the movie and form a reasonable opinion, I found that I wasn’t touched by this graphic recreation of Christ’s execution at all. In fact, I felt that by reveling in Christ’s flogging and eventual crucifixion—when I say reveling, I mean allowing ourselves to be emotionally swept away by it, sickened and saddened—we were indulging the dark side within ourselves that would entertain the idea that this gruesome episode was required by God to atone for our sins.

If there’s an example of grace in this movie, it would only be from Christ’s point of view—I mean, if he did, indeed, think he was enduring all of his torture and punishment as a way taking the sins of the world upon himself. This would be a monumental sacrifice, no doubt about it.

The way I see it, Pulp Fiction brings out two very important elements of grace. In the first scenario, Jule’s convinced that God saved him for a reason. This conviction leads to a spiritual transformation, the miracle, which we see come to life when he doesn’t kill Ringo in the cafe in the final scene of the movie. So the miracle really happens within.

In the second scenario, we see Butch come face-to-face with his humanity. He chooses to save the very man who was trying to end his life only hours earlier. Not only is this compassionate, but this mercy is born under conditions where he was willing to risk his life to do the right thing.

I think that all of us are our own worst critic and that it’s difficult to forgive ourselves. Grace isn’t exactly forgiveness. It’s more powerful than forgiveness. Grace isn’t extended because one asks for forgiveness (although asking for forgiveness can have a role). It’s granted regardless, and wipes away the slate as if the transgression never occurred. For Jules, the bullets missing him allowed him to wipe the slate clean with himself and go on with his life with the intention of being a good person from that point forward, and he did so feeling validated by God.

With Butch, it was all about what he was willing to live with. When it came to the boxing match, he couldn’t live with himself if he threw the fight. In the situation where he saved Marcellus, he went back because he couldn’t leave anybody, even his most deadly enemy, to the devices of such degenerates, and he couldn’t have lived with himself if walked out of the store without helping. This is the type of grace that’s born for goodness sake—the selfless kind, grace in its purest form.

As for The Passion of the Christ, I don’t think there’s much we can learn about grace from this depiction, unless you consider the opposite of grace—which has plenty of material available in this picture. One man’s obsession with the torture of another human being does not transfer really well. The true miracle of the crucifixion is the difference it made in the lives of those after Christ, not the pain he endured.

There’s no need to be a pulp Christian and obsess over blood and guts. If you yearn for grace, consider the miracle of your own existence—that you were introduced to this world with so many experiences ahead of you and so many people to love. And then look to the love, forgiveness, and kindnesses people afford each other, for that’s where you’ll get the best representation of the grace of God presently active in this world.

Conscience Jolted and Yet No Apology

I’ve maintained for a long time that men need to hold each other accountable, at least to a certain degree. A few months ago I was on the receiving end of some firm advice and since then I’ve taken the time to digest the experience.

It was a late Saturday afternoon–gray and overcast, the roads still shiny after a light drizzle–and my wife and I were making a last second trip to the grocery store.

When I signaled to enter into the left hand turn lane, a weathered, aquamarine Toyota Echo darted across three lanes, forcing me to brake hard to avoid a collision. I could have stopped, but the maneuver slowed me down to about 30 km/hour. So, in total disregard of my wife’s protests, I zipped around the beat up compact and made the left-hand turn.

Appearances, especially during moments of indiscretion, can definitely be deceiving. When the car had cut me off, I assumed the vehicle was being driven by either an old lady or a teenager. I mean, who else pulls out in front of you and reduces their speed like that?

Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was to find out his identity soon enough. When I was weaving my way through the parking lot looking for some prime real estate, my wife pointed out we were being followed. Now that I was aware of this, I chose the closest available parking spot to the store. The Echo didn’t park, but stopped behind me with the engine still running.

In my rearview mirror, I watched an absolute brute open the passenger side door and stand there looming at the edge of my bumper. He looked apprehensive, unsure of who he was confronting, but determined to make his point.

“He’s waiting to talk to you,” my wife said, disgusted and embarrassed.

Slowly, I undid my seatbelt, opened the car door, and calmly walked over to discuss the incident.

In such a moment, it’s amazing how resignation can be so calming. As I approached the man, I could tell he was a hardworking blue collar, and as I drew even closer to him and saw his face I could tell by the scars and harshness of his eyes that he had been in countless fights.

“Do you always cut people off?” he asked.

“No, I try not to,” I said.

“You cut my wife off,” he said, poking me hard in the chest.

“Get his license plate,” his wife said, her face visible in the open door. I could tell by the look in her eyes she was concerned that it was going to get ugly.

When you’re a man getting poked in the chest, regardless of the physical prowess of your provoker there’s a rush of adrenaline that kicks in. I could feel it flood over me, leaving my fingers and toes tingling. I started to wonder if I was going to have to defend myself.

“I’ll bury you,” he hissed, poking me hard in the chest again.

I figured there was no point in telling him that his wife cut me off first. Everything about his demeanor said he was looking for an excuse to snap.

People were walking by, and I could tell the confrontation was turning into a spectacle. I glanced over my shoulder and saw my wife still standing by the car. She was observing the encounter with little emotion on her face. In her opinion I was getting what I deserved.

But I wasn’t concerned about being embarrassed. I was certain the brute could hurt me badly, but I was thinking about the repercussions of getting into a skirmish in public that would certainly draw the attention of the authorities.

On the other hand, I was feeling contrite – especially seeing the woman driving the car absolutely mortified by her militant husband. But no apology left my lips. I don’t know if this was my way of fighting back – the calmness, the lack of remorse . . . But it certainly managed to irritate him.

“Are we through?” I asked, meeting his gaze. I had hoped he noticed the apology in my eyes.

He stepped out of my way and I walked toward the store as though the incident never occurred. Although I had lost sight of my wife, I knew she was nearby. While I looked around for her, I heard him screaming, “If you ever do something this again, I’ll bury you! I’ll bury you, you here me!”

I didn’t acknowledge this ostentatious temper tantrum in the slightest.

Finally, my wife appeared and joined me. Before we went it, we talked in the grocery store lobby. She seemed more shaken by the incident than me. In a sense, I found it almost comical, but I also felt bad.

When we were shopping for our groceries, we crossed paths with the couple several times and neither of us said a word. Now that the brute was calm, I wanted to apologize to both of them, but I was also reluctant.

He was right. I was wrong. I don’t think I cut them off badly, but I know my driving showed lack of respect and impatience. He cared enough about his wife to defend her against the slight. I can appreciate that.

For me, my Christianity is less about what I believe and more about what I embody. I fell short that day, and in hindsight I consider it to be providence that there was a man out there willing to help me find my humility.

Men should hold each other to a certain standard, but there’s no harsher judge than a conscience jolted out of its dormancy.

First Speech on Love at the Banquet: The Young Man

After a long day in the office, I walked into the house to find my wife waiting for me with her hand on her hip.

“Hey beautyterrific,” I said with forced, friendly enthusiasm.

Jenna just glared at me.

Oh no,” I thought. “It’s going to be one of those nights.”

When I averted my gaze to kick off my shoes, a heavy object hit me in the side of the head, nearly taking me off my feet. It was the copy of “Stage of Life’s Way” I had lent to her.

“Ouch, what was that for?” I complained, rubbing my now throbbing head.

“Why do you think?” Jenna replied.

“You know, if you’re going to arrive home ahead of me – a nice dinner would be a lot more pleasant. Coming home to a big, fat steak after a hard day and a cold beer, now that’s what I call love.”

“Don’t try to be funny, Joel. I’m serious right now.”

“I think the lump on my head is convincing enough. Do you always have to be so dramatic?”

“That’s nothing,” Jenna stated. “You don’t even want to know the tortures I devised for you. Believe me, you’re getting off easy.”

I nodded in understanding. “I’ll take your word for it. I still don’t even know what I did.”

Jenna’s expression became dark again.

“I want to know if this represents what you and your friends think about women,” she demanded, pointing to the book on the floor. “Were you trying to communicate something to me when you asked me to read this?”

I looked into her accusative eyes for a second, trying to figure out what could have offended her.

“Oh yeah . . . ” I replied slowly, suddenly understanding. “Maybe I should have warned you. You must have read the banquet speeches from “In Vino Veritas” and stopped reading before you could give each character’s unique positions some context.”

“Oh yeah . . . ” Jenna mimicked, trying to get a rise out of me.

“Well, if we would have drank that whole bottle of wine together like I wanted to the other night, maybe I would have warned you that there was some material you were going to encounter that could be considered . . . well. . . misogynistic.”

“Is that what men do?” Jenna demanded. “Get together and philosophize about the various ways women inevitably seek to destroy the spirit of men?”

“Men do like to commiserate,” I said with a smile.

“So which one are you, Joel – the boy who’s afraid of love because of the pain of possibly losing a woman’s affection . . . or the man who thinks love’s a big joke . . . or the man who thinks the greatest service a woman can do for a man is break his heart, or, excuse me, by dying . . . or the fashion designer who thinks that women only care about how they accessorize themselves . . . or are you secretly the seducer who’s wise enough to take the bait and then move onto the next victim?”

“Right now, I can see why the seducer is the only one who escapes with the bait,” I joked.

Jenna shook her head in disbelief. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, if our relationship was only superficial, I don’t think we’d be having this discussion. I imagine that a seducer would think that a conversation like this wouldn’t be worth the reward. ”

“That’s true,” she acknowledged.

“So how about you have yourself a glass of wine and I’ll have a beer?” I asked.

Jenna nodded. “That sounds good.”

I walked over and gave her a hug. She actually allowed herself to be held.

I then whispered in her ear, “You’ll find the beer in the fridge downstairs.”

“No, my dear,” Jenna replied, “you’ll find the wine in the kitchen.”

Spell-Binding Sunset – Response To Dostoevsky’s “The Devils”

Spell-Binding Sunset

After finishing Dostoevsky’s “The Devils” again, I was struck by how sad Stavrogin’s decision made me despite the atrocities he committed; and I also found myself thinking about spell-binding sunsets.

Whenever I find myself awed by the brilliant colors of a setting sky, two scenarios take place: I either enter into a mode of appreciation and become distracted from my life; or I experience deep, untapped other-worldly emotions en route to a moment of transcendence.

When I’m spell-bound, I can experience it in two ways: Incapable of thought or overwhelmed with thought.

And from my experience, either predicament leads to paralysis.

In the past, whenever a woman has made me pull over the car to look at a sunset, I’ve always been more spell-bound by the girl and her deep appreciation for beauty—and her willingness to share that beauty with me—than the sky itself. Afterwards, I reflect on the experience and wonder how sharing something so small with someone else can prove to be so meaningful.

The truth is that you sometimes have to move out of the moment to process things. Kierkegaard said that to reach the spot you have to move away from the spot, and I’m not so sure any of Dostoevsky’s characters are willing to take a step back so they can see themselves in light of their own views about God and politics.

Once I learned the fate of Stavrogin and closed the book, I was left with the impression that almost all of the characters are spell-bound by their own idea of a beautiful Russia, except for Stavrogin, and perhaps Shatov. I also found it interesting that almost every character had the courage to act on his or her beliefs, which makes reaching a belief the core value of the book.

Apparently, for Stavrogin, the resulting guilt from his actions could not be reasoned away. He was spell-bound alright, but by his acts of nihilism, which no philosophy could provide an escape. When he ended up taking his own life, I get the feeling he did so quite certain in the existence of God.