Saturday, April 16, 2005

Michael Coren's The Passion and God Bless America

Michael Coren is a Canadian journalist who, among other things, hosts a nightly talk show and writes a weekly column in the Toronto Sun. I've enjoyed his work for several years and want to share some of it with you.

The Passion
I realised long ago that there is nothing brave or noble about refusing to change one's mind, no art or grace in being pointlessly stubborn. To alter an opinion because of fear of consequences is something different, but I don't believe that even my harshest critics could accuse me of cowardice. I've never been influenced by threats and insults.
I originally wrote about The Passion movie the week it opened in theatres. I stated how excited I had been before I saw the film and how disappointed I was afterwards. Many supported me in my views, many opposed me. Sadly, the majority of the latter were abusive. It was a sobering experience.
Months later I have watched Mel Gibson's version of the death of Jesus Christ on DVD. Over and over again. I still believe that this work should have been different in various ways. Yet now I have seen, or allowed myself to see, what lies at the very core of The Passion. The Eucharist.
The epicentre, the quintessence of the Christian faith was no symbolic act but a literal instruction. “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.” And “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all men so that sins may be forgiven.”
What had been a barrier has now become a bridge. A connection between a broken, smashed and needy creature like me and his perfect and glorious creator. The great paradox of God. In so simple a matter as a wafer is the most wonderful gift in all the world. Given at a very great price indeed.
The interspersing of scenes from The Last Supper and the institution of the Mass with the immense and intense suffering of Christ was irksome to me when I first saw the movie. Now these flashes of truth serve as chapters of explanation, each one shining a unique light on the events that surround them.
Let us use the metaphor of the swimmer. I was thrashing about in a frightening sea, making the water splash into the air around me. Much motion, little progress. Not swimming but drowning. It was only when I relaxed and allowed the waves to take control that I felt safe again.
Yes, I relaxed. “Do this in memory of me. Do this in memory of me.” I swam, and the ocean lifted me up and made me feel warm and strong and full. Here was truth, in front of me for so long but seemingly out of reach.
I am not saying that a movie alone was responsible for this, but I am saying that it was part of a greater and perhaps inevitable process. To watch it now is like watching an entirely different film, one that seems a companion rather than a foe.
As I watched again another reality embraced me, like the arms of a loving mother around an eager if sometimes foolish child. It was that Mary is not merely a background figure in a magnificent drama but is the divine conduit for salvation. In other words, she is sublime and perfect and with us forever. The mother of us all.
Through her eyes I saw the life and death of Jesus once again, with all of the human as well as Godly suffering that it entails. I use the present tense, because although Christ died for us so long ago, He still lives. His sacrifice exists in the present and can be witnessed every day by us all. Yes, even by me.
Mary weeps for her son. Her tears and His blood mingle to soak the world in hope and love. Within their grandeur all despair is smothered and all sin cleansed. Yes, I see it now. I see it so clearly.
Perhaps one day I’ll meet Mel Gibson and be able to thank him for what he has done and tell him how his screen meditation helped to change me. Also apologise to him, for not understanding what he was saying. “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. But only say the word and I shall be healed.”

God Bless America:
Goodness me I’ve never been a particular fan of many of the foreign and domestic policies of the United States. I’ve said this, written this, broadcast this. I’ve taken a few blows for it as well. But there is a time and a place for everything. And at this time and in this place I say just three words. God Bless America.
For leaving half-a million men on the battlefields of Africa, Asia and Europe during the Second World War, a conflict the United States could easily have sat out. For effectively forcing Japan to declare war and thus join the alliance of light against the gang of darkness. God Bless America.
For that farm-boy from Nebraska who had never even heard of Normandy or Sicily, who wanted so much to walk back from the hill but continued on, the bullets flying over and around him. For his not turning back. For his determination to do his duty and for his dedication to freedom. For his mother and for the stars and stripes flag she hung in her window. For his life, and for the fact that he gave it. God Bless America.
For being prepared to rip the country apart in a bloody spasm of civil war because, however delayed and reluctant in some quarters, the leaders and people knew that slavery was wrong. For seeing the future dawn when others could only see the enveloping night . God Bless America.
For Lincoln and Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Truman, Kennedy and Franklin, Jefferson and Adams. For Mark Twain and John Steinbeck, Henry James and Scott Fitzgerald, Melville and Whitman. God Bless America.
For the legion of Nobel Prizes won with grace, for the medical breakthroughs celebrated with decorum, for the sporting records, the intellectual triumphs, the moral victories, the glory. For embracing yes rather than hiding behind no. God Bless America.
For the pastures and forests vibrant with green and brown lushness, for the mountains and valleys that startle and shock the world. For the cities and the towns, the highways and back roads. God Bless America.
For not taking offence at the smug disdain that comes too often from other countries. For smiling with them instead of laughing at them. For usually extending a hand of friendship to those who extend the fist of anger. God Bless America.
For jazz and pluralism, baseball and religious tolerance, burgers and equality. For inventing and pursuing an ideal that, though not always achieved, is still glorious in the making and pristine in the chasing. God Bless America.
For the billions in foreign aid, greater per capita than any other country in the world. For the food, clean water, medicine, machinery given to every continent on earth. For the Marshall Plan and Marshall Dillon, for Tom Sawyer and Tom Hanks, for New York and for the New Deal. God Bless America.
For not minding when foreigners actually show more ignorance about American culture than Americans ever do about theirs. For in fact being more polite and sensitive when abroad than many other peoples but merely smiling when described as ugly. God Bless America.
For inviting Irish, Jew, Italian, Pole, German, Hispanic, black, Asian, man and woman, all and every into the highest levels of government. For being the first nation in the world to treat the outsider as a guest rather than a problem. For being a melting pot rather than a melting society. God Bless America.
For allowing God and prayer and faith to enter public life and for not running scared of gratitude to the almighty for all that He has given us. For not lauding the religion of secularism whilst hypocritically lambasting the religions of the church, mosque and synagogue. God Bless America.
For your comedies and your dramas, for your movies and your novels, your sentimentality and glamour, your self-parody and self-criticism. For your splendour and for your silliness. God Bless America.
For being right more often than being wrong. For being the United States of America and for being unashamed of it. For being the nation that still leads the way in so many ways, still lights the path on so many days. For being you. For being. God Bless America.

To read more of Michael's work, go to or