Narrated by Tyler Perry, the production was performed semi-live for the television audience and the thousands who attended in the outdoor venue.
It was a retelling of the greatest story of the Gospel set in modern New Orleans, Mr. Perry's home town. I am not here to review it per se. I thought the song choices interesting, the setting quite thought-provoking (after all, Galilee was the present day to those who bore witness to Jesus’ life) singers/actors from Jencarlos Canela as Christ to Seal as Pontius Pilate and Chris Daughtry as Judas Iscariot first-rate. Mr. Perry treated the occasion with a proper level of respect, humility and warmth worthy of the subject without slipping into the overly sanctimonious. But I’ll let the viewer decide for his/herself if it was for you.
What I couldn’t help but notice was the racial mix of the cast and the audience. I saw no hatred. No suspicion. No resentment, grievance or fear. No Klu Klux Klan on one side. No Black Panthers on the other. Just Americans.
In particular, Christians experiencing the moment in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility with “arms wide open” as one of the songs went. Throughout the production a procession of the faithful carried a 20-foot lighted cross through the streets of the Big Easy. Again, there were no whites or blacks in the marchers' minds, no ethnicities…just people united by the love of Christ.
I found myself dismayed when comparing the images before me in "The Passion" with the ambient hum of racial disharmony we are pelted with every day through politicians, activists and the media.
Black Lives Matter, for example, continues to push a demonstrably false narrative of the Ferguson “hands up don’t shoot” fiction and this discord is promoted by race hustlers and media outlets hungry for ratings who draw financial sustenance from racial tension. Indeed, the worst thing that could happen to the grievance firm of Sharpton & Jackson, Inc., the 24/7 news media, and even the Democratic Party would be racial harmony. The first two would lose money and the third a reliable voting block. So there is a very cynical motive on many fronts to promote racial discord. Is this where a half-century of legitimate struggles for Civil Rights has landed us?
It is a tragedy that after seven years of the first African-American president in our history—a man who many saw as a potential healer of past wounds—we seem more polarized by race and ethnicity than I can remember. What a wonderful opportunity to move this country forward gone to waste.
I look to "The Passion" and I see light.
I see through the media firestorm, through the hype and the fanning of grievances in the name of divide and conquer and profiteering and harvesting block votes. I see harmony. I see the love of people of all hues united by a force whose power mere politicians and pundits cannot begin to fathom. I see Christians standing together, strangers arm-in-arm, united by the perfect love of Jesus Christ. And it makes me realize that those who foster racial division are swimming against the tide.
If I may paraphrase a quote often attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. (it was actually Theodore Parker): the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards…love. In this case the love of God.
Ironically, the original version of a live "The Passion" comes from the Netherlands. Yet it's hard to imagine such a production happening in any other country but the United States these days. To be sure Europe has beautiful cathedrals, but they are empty. (You have to go down to the local mosque to see throngs of believers). They have abandoned their faith just as they have forsaken their future. Secularism reigns supreme on the continent. And this loss of their core tenets goes together with Europe’s demographic decline.
I wonder how the rest of the Western world viewed "The Passion," if they did at all. Very often the self-proclaimed sophisticates deride Americans as backwards, religious rubes. “Clinging to guns or religion” I believe is how our own citoyen du monde phrased it. I wasn’t even aware that belief in the Constitution and God is a pejorative. But perhaps what will keep America intact as a nation of distinct character, culture and spirit beyond just lines on a map are the two thousand years of Judeo-Christian values and commonly held beliefs The Bible represents and has so made us who we are.
Although Christianity is not so overwhelmingly dominant as it was in America a few decades ago, it still is a mighty powerful force. Perhaps a bit more seeing ourselves as servants of higher power, and the humbling of a citizenry this implies, might help heal the divides among us. Again, when I watched "The Passion" I saw Americans…period. And I like to think this is how most of us wish to view ourselves and one another. It gets tiresome being bracketed into this ethnic group and that. It takes a lot of negative energy to keep the grievance industry in business. "The Passion" showed us who we really are and what we can achieve together as one people with just a thimbleful of God’s love.
For two hours, one week before Easter, Tyler Perry gave us a reminder of the best of America. We are indeed all one family under a Father who laughs at protozoan machinations of D.C. insiders, narcissistic politicians, and bleating pundits. The cynics and exploiters are like a collective King Canute trying in vain to hold back an ocean of God’s love we yearn to share with one another.
We have problems in this country today. All countries of any consequence do. But I think when you strip away the cynicism, the quest for ratings and power and profit, what you have in America today are people quite capable of living as one. E Pluribus Unum. Perhaps it's time to celebrate our commonness and not highlight our superficial differences.
Brad Schaeffer is an energy broker, columnist, historian and author of the World War II novel "Hummel's Cross" about a Luftwaffe flying ace who saves a family of Jews during the height of the air war over Europe. Drop him a note at: shafemans@yahoo.
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