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FIRST-PERSON: I saw the movie AND read the Book!

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Ever since the word got out that Mel Gibson was producing a new “Jesus” movie, pastors, Christian artists and speakers have been shuffling about, prodded by their flocks, trying to take a leader-like position — most without ever having seen the movie. So here’s MY official movie review since I saw the movie AND read the Book:

The room was filled with some of the biggest names in the Nashville entertainment industry: producers, songwriters, TV and radio personalities, print media, publicists, country music artists (with a few Christian music folks thrown in) — not a typical night at the movies for my husband and me. Then again, this isn’t a typical movie.

Country music entertainer Ricky Skaggs began the night with a prayer that the movie would change people. He nodded to someone in the back of the room. The lights went out and the movie started. Less than 10 minutes later you could hear sobs across the room.

As the story unfolded and the brutality of what we were watching set in, you could not only hear tender sniffs but moans — mourning, I think. I heard a weeping voice say, “I’m sorry, Lord. Forgive me, Lord.” I will never forget it — the sobs and moans of us in the room co-mingled with the pain played out on the screen.

Our cries became part of the soundtrack.

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I had invited my pastor and my brother (also a pastor). These men, who have dedicated their lives to “Go ye unto all the world and preach the gospel. …,” stirred in their chairs as the impact of the greatest story ever told was projected through a piece of magnetic tape and onto a large screen. All that was taking place on and off the screen mesmerized each one of us.

When the movie was over, no one moved. It was as if the room could not take a breath. A few minutes passed and a man stepped up to the microphone as the lights came on and quietly asked, “Do you have any questions?”

Still silence.

Then he said, “Well … maybe Mel could answer your questions.” Mel Gibson walked in the room and we stood and clapped but he shook off the applause, fanned it away, then sat on the steps to the platform and raked his fingers through his hair — kind of quirky, as if embarrassed because we kept clapping.

I looked at my pastor and said, “I wonder if he has a clue of what he has just done? He has just unleashed hell on himself.”

People began to fire questions at him right and left. My husband asked him an artistic question about the role of the Roman guards, someone asked about the role of “Satan.”

Others had questions about lighting, music and filming difficulties, miracles on the set, his marketing plan, distribution outlets, etc.

When asked what his goal is for the movie, what he hopes people will glean from it, he said, “I hope they watch the movie and want to read the Book. I hope they are changed.”

When asked what he’s doing to “combat the persecution” in getting this movie out, he said, “You know, I just pray for my enemies. I don’t pray for curses on their heads. I pray the good angels will go beat up the bad angels that are making them say and do evil deeds.”

To tell you the truth, I thought his innocent understanding of spiritual warfare was refreshing. Here’s a man who spent millions of dollars of his own money, risked his reputation, laid his career on the line and when asked to explain why, he says, “Because, I just had to do it.”

Weeks after sending my “review” to my database I am still answering questions about the movie, and I’m not Ebert or Roeper — I’m just a comedian. Funny thing is, people still do what people have always done — get bogged down in details, specifics and arguments.

Often someone will ask if the movie is true to Scripture. My pastor gave it three thumbs up (and he only has two!)

Folks ask where Mel Gibson stands on this issue or that.

Someone even asked me if I think Mel Gibson is going to heaven. They asked ME? I’m a comedian, not the Gate Keeper.

I can tell you this: This is a brutal movie. To express artistically what Christ went through, what the act of scourging is like, what a crucifixion looks like, you have to be brutal.

Some in the Christian community seems up in arms about that — an “R”-rated, Jesus movie.

But if an R rating were the sole criteria for missing this movie — then in the name of “consistency” I would also suggest that pastors not preach any sermons about David. Or Moses. Or Adam and Eve. Or Paul. Or Noah. Or Peter. Get my point?

Maybe Christians who oppose this movie are looking for a more touchy-feely expression of our faith. We want to woo the public with words like “love” and “grace” and a tender understanding of mercy and compassion.

We don’t talk about the cross of Christ. We don’t want to offend anyone, upset their senses or make them uncomfortable. Believe me, as a comedian I get the big picture of a seeker-friendly faith.

But I love my pastor’s observations. He said, “This is not just an evangelistic opportunity but a great wakeup call for the church.”

I just laughed. What a sense of humor God has! The church awakened by a Hollywood superstar! Now, that’s funny!

My movie review of The Passion of The Christ is as simple as Show and Tell: You can tell others about Christ. You can tell folks you love Him. You can tell people why we are Christians. You can tell them that the blood of Jesus has been shed for them.

And you can show them.

You can show them by the way you live, you can show them by the way you love — and now you can buy them a ticket, take them to a movie and show them what Jesus Christ did for them.

After viewing the movie, my pastor took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I’m going. And I’m taking as many people with me as I can.” (Which is remarkably similar to what he says about heaven!)
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Chonda Pierce is a Christian comedian based in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on the Web at www.chonda.org. For information on using The Passion in outreach, resources are available on the Web from LifeWay Christian Resources at www.lifeway.com/passion.