It’s too late for this year, but if you’re looking for a good movie for reflection for Lent, get Changing Lanes (2002; R for language). Actually, it’s probably a pretty good choice for these Great 50 Days of Easter as well. Susan and I saw it recently when it came up on our Netflix queue.

On Good Friday, two men are rushing to court on the FDR freeway in New York City. One is Wall Street lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck), who must prove to the probate judge that the appointment of the board of a foundation was in accord with the wishes of its founder, recently deceased. He’s in a huge rush, and in his impatience and inattention, has a car accident with the other man, Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also stressed and inattentive. He is due in court to try to convince a judge to let him have dual custody of his sons with his estranged wife. His marriage has fallen apart due to his drinking, but he’s trying to get his life back together. That’s been very difficult, though, since as his AA sponsor says, Gibson is “addicted to chaos.”

In the aftermath of the accident, Banek leaves an important file—indeed, the file he needs to prove his case—on the highway. Gibson picks it up, after having been left stranded by Banek with a wrecked car. The lawyer must have the file back, and throughout the day, as he seeks to get it, a game of one-upsmanship pits the men against each other in an ever-escalating cycle of revenge and dire consequences.

The movie is the kind you can and must unpack for awhile. At the very least, it raises questions like: What does it cost to be a good person? What happens when good people are put in situations of extraordinary stress? How do we maintain our standards in the midst of tremendous temptation to abandon them? What happens when even those we love and trust betray us and/or urge us to do wrong? How do choices we make at the spur of the moment affect us for good or ill? How does our true character come out in times of distress?

As I said, the film’s action takes place on Good Friday, so another question worth considering is how the story meshes with the biblical narrative of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. For some insight into that, particularly check out the extended scene in the DVD extras in which Banek talks to a priest in the confessional.

The story ends on a kind of Holy Saturday note, that is, open-ended. I highly recommend Changing Lanes, especially if you like small, thought-provoking, character-driven movies.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.  

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At least as early as the Friday before Palm Sunday, a church up the road from us posted John 11:25-26 on its sign. In that passage, Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life.”

While every Sunday in Lent is considered a “little Easter,” I was bothered by the timing of the message. The church is not a liturgical one, and thus does not observe Lent, but surely they would know something about Holy Week or at least Good Friday. Why would they rush to Easter in such a way, skipping over the crucifixion and the suffering of Jesus? I’m certain the preacher often spoke of how “Jesus died for our sins.”

Maybe the congregation was trying to offer a little hope in a world of constant war, economic uncertainty, joblessness, greed, violence, abuse, brokenness, hunger, and on and on. Do we really need one more instance of grief and suffering, namely the death of Jesus, to think about? And the church was right in its strategy insofar as the gospel word is never complete without the word of resurrection that reminds and assures us of the ultimate triumph of God over all the forces that deform and destroy human life.

But skipping over Good Friday, rushing to resurrection, does not help us in our suffering. Instead, we need to meditate on the terrible events of this day, because they remind us that God in Jesus Christ knows our troubles, has endured the worst oppressive governments and threatened religionists can do, and goes with us even to death. He has known loneliness and sorrow in the experience of betrayal and desertion by friends. He has even been subject to that ultimate suffering: godforsakenness, the sense that we are utterly alone with no one to help.

And Good Friday calls us to stand in solidarity with the suffering of our world just as Jesus did. It’s a summons to mission, to love as servants to our neighbors, to give of ourselves in sharing and sacrifice. Maybe when it comes down to it, that’s why someone might want to rush to Easter, with its bright and joyous message of victory and new life. Discipleship is not easy, and we obey One who, before he was exalted and sat down at the right hand of God, endured the cross and grave. He bids us daily take up our cross and follow him. 

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

Q. 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
A. That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself
but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood
has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion
of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of
my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything
must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit,
he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing
and ready from now on to live for him.—
The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1

On a Sunday earlier in this Lent, I decided to eat lunch at a Mexican restaurant that had recently reopened in Amory under a new name, “El Rey.” It was about 12:45 PM, and the wait line was long. After finally being seated, I started munching on my chips and looking over the menu. My server came in a bit, and I ordered the taquitos.

Usually the meal is on the table in any Mexican restaurant in no time, but today was different. I waited and waited, and still no food. Finally the manager came over and explained that the place was so busy the kitchen was having trouble keeping up. I told him I was in no hurry. By the time the meal came, I had made my to-do list for the week on the little pocket pad I always keep with me.

The taquitos with the usual sides were delicious, and I was stuffed. But no sooner had I finished than the manager appeared again with a banana chimichanga and ice cream. It was on la casa, an apology for my having to wait.

What an incredibly gracious thing to do, I thought (and of course, it was also good business). But then I got the real surprise. When I had finished the dessert, my server came over and said in her halting English “Someone pay for you.” I was floored. I was fully prepared to pay and truly had not minded the wait. Yet “someone pay” for me.

On Good Friday, as the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us, “someone pay for you” and me. And in this case too, it was El Rey, the King,  Jesus the Messiah from the line of David. 

© 2011 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

“What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain; mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain…” (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded", attr. Bernard of Clairvaux [1091-1153]).

A remarkable story of heroism has stuck with me ever since I heard it on the news recently. It seems fitting to share on this Good Friday.

A 22 year-old nanny in Shelbyville, KY named Alyson Myatt rescued her charge, 5 year-old Aden Hawes, when the house caught on fire due to a faulty bathroom ceiling fan. She ran through the 400-degree flames to get to the boy. Alyson suffered second- and third-degree burns on her right hand and both feet. But despite those terribly painful injuries, she grabbed Aden, got out of the house, and drove to a neighbor’s for help.

In an interview, Alyson continued to show herself a hero: "I’m just happy Aden’s OK. That he wasn’t on fire…. I didn’t even think about me getting burned. I care for the kid a lot."

Aden’s dad has observed: “There’s no words to put how grateful I am to have my son with me, how grateful I am to have Alyson in our world, and it’s just one of those things you can’t put any value on…. There’s no price to be paid. It’s a debt that will never be able to be repaid”

Contrast Alyson Myatt’s actions with those of so-called “leaders” in the Church and the churches whose main agenda seems not to be to save others or care for their hurt, but to cover their own failings or those of their superiors, protect the bottom line or insist on some rule or irrelevant doctrine. Which, I ask, is the more Christlike: what Alyson Myatt did or what is all too common in the institution that is supposed to be the body of Christ on Earth?

I think it’s a no-brainer.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

Sources

http://www.fox41.com/Global/story.asp?S=12200134

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/36049625/ns/today-today_people/

 

“The problem with the culture war is not that it is wrong to fight for one’s beliefs. Rather, the culture war is a problem because in an all-out war, opponents become enemies to be defeated at all costs. In a war there is little incentive to search for middle ground or to make alliances on other issues” (“Prayer and Conversation,” The Christian Century, January 22, 2009: 7).

 

“‘[I]t is important for Americans to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues’” (Barack Obama, quoted in “Obama, Warren defy culture war, The Christian Century, January 22, 2009: 12).

 

“‘We don’t have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand, and you can disagree without being disagreeable’” (Rick Warren, ibid.: 13).

 

The culture wars continue to rage, with the cauldron of conflict continually stirred by pundits, preachers, politicians, and power-mongers who feed on hatred and fear like some ravenous sci-fi beast that thrives on negative emotions. For all the attention they get, the hot-button issues the culture wars are being fought over must be important to a great many people all over the nation in every generation.

 

But such a conclusion would be inaccurate or at least increasingly so. The church consultant and writer Tom Ehrich reports how a congregation working on a “Church Wellness Project” (www.churchwellness.com) recently asked members what questions they would ask of God. The two largest categories (each with 21%) were curiosity about the nature of God and the purpose of life. The next two largest were suffering at 16% and the nature of faith at 14%. “All other questions — including the topics that denominations and congregations fight most heatedly over, such as doctrine and leadership issues — accounted for tiny fractions” (emphasis mine).

 

Ehrich notes: “This congregation’s results are in line with every other Listening Church exercise I have led or seen. Left to their own desires, it seems people don’t pursue church conflicts or the topics that tend to underlie church conflicts, but rather have some fundamental questions about God and life” (Church Wellness Report, April 1, 2009).

 

Also significant is Neela Banerjee’s description of young evangelicals like those who attend Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Church. They are “tired of politics being at the center of faith and … want to ‘broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with HIV’” (quoted in Debra Bendis, “Bell’s Appeal,” The Christian Century, March 24, 2009: 23). Banerjee says that young adults are “tired of the culture wars”  (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/01/us/01evangelical.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1).

 

This Good Friday, I long for all churches and communities to stop their fighting over questions people aren’t actually asking and start addressing the problems, the fears, the needs that occupy their every waking moment. I still lament the culture wars and know that more than ever, we need the forgiveness Jesus asked God for from the cross, the deliverance of people who have no idea what they’re doing.

 

I share again with you my song lyrics that unfortunately continue to be relevant. They’re written as if a parent is speaking to his or her child, urging the young one not to get caught up in the wrangling and the hurt, but to seek the truth which continues to elude us. The good news is that today’s young adults, like those interviewed and profiled by Ms. Banerjee, are indeed refusing to enlist as culture warriors and instead, with right hearts, are serving as Jesus did.

 

“Good Friday (Lament for the Culture Wars”)

© 1994 Tom Cheatham

 

Slow, heavy rock (verses); acoustic (bridge)

 

There’s people out on the street; they’re startin’ to push and shove.

They use their words like swords and not a one is love.

The battle lines are drawn; the war’s about to start.

O my child, my child, you better watch your heart!

 

You tell me that you’re right, and that means I am wrong.

And so the hatred grows, and we can’t get along.

Your way, my way, no way out, unless we come to blows.

If you ask me what is true, I’ll just say “Who knows?”

 

            We won’t come to a meeting of the minds

            Until our hearts are right.

            And we won’t see the peace that there could be

            Until we live in the light!

 

Once there was a day when all of time stood still

And people watched a man as he died upon a hill.

“O Father, please forgive, they don’t know what they do.”

I wonder if his words were meant for me and you.

 

            We won’t come to a meeting….

 

Once there was a day when all of time stood still.

 

 Blog post © 2009 Tom Cheatham