Sunday, March 20, 2016

Billy Graham and me

Last night, I intended to catch up with my Lent devotionals.  Just a couple of days behind, I thought I would blitz it, a biblical binge if you like.

The focus was on the cross – the actual process of crucifixion. Earlier in the week I had read a web page of fifty five facts about the death of Jesus.  For someone with an active imagination the words on screen transformed into a set of violent pictures in my head – things like the dislocation of shoulders, elbows and wrists, the difficulty in breathing, the build-up of fluid in the lungs. When you have watched the TV series “Jesus of Nazareth” with Robert Powell’s blue eyes and absolute serenity, it’s hard to think in terms of pain and distress.

I don’t know what string of thought led me to thinking about the Stations of the Cross, but I goggled it to find images.  Someone’s pinterest board had all I needed to know.  Some of the images were very peaceful and serene – Jesus looked like he was just strolling along the Via Delarosa. Other images, those painted by Peter Howson, a Scottish painter, were gruesome.  Every muscle was stretched and sweating.  Jesus’ eyes were full of pain.

It wasn’t long before tears were streaming from my eyes. Inside somewhere a voice saying, “No more! No more!” but I kept looking. That one human being, or a group of them, could do that to another human being is beyond belief.  It happened then and it happens now.

I sat stunned for a while. My world is not a violent one – not my small circle of experience. I haven’t been hit by anyone, unless you count a small street brawl when I was a child and Philip Hopper broke my front tooth. I suppose that the violence I endure tends to be verbal rather than physical and I know plenty of vocabulary and can modulate the tone of my voice to give as good as I  get – yes, I know there’s the whole turn the other cheek stuff that I struggle with.

“Was I worth it?” I asked to no one in particular. “Ah well, Jesus, at least you got Billy Graham.” He, Billy, has brought his millions to Jesus and I’m not sure I can credit just the one saved soul. Between the two of us, taking an average of souls saved, we’ve done fine.

“Billy Graham?” said God, “For all his millions of souls he didn’t walk Ian down to the Co-op to buy him two bags of groceries to make sure he had food in his house on Friday night.”

“Imagine if you will, Mel,” God continued, “Billy Graham leafing through a hundred images of the Stations of the Cross (a very Catholic thing that he might not have done, incidentally) and afterwards, stunned, asking that same question – “Was I worth it?”.  Imagine his next comment being “Ah well, Jesus, you got Mel”. Billy didn’t take Ian to the Co-op to get the two bags of shopping.  But what else didn’t he do? He didn’t sit with him over cups of coffee listening to Ian’s struggles. Had he known about Ian’s debt he might have paid it for him.  And he would never have had the conversation about the 500 hats on Ian’s wall at home, some of which could have been sold to pay his debts.  He wouldn’t have known about the Indian wigwam still in its box or the Elvis Presley signed record covers.  He wouldn’t have known about Ian’s encounter with someone that invaded his personal space and spewed the gospel at him.  He wouldn’t have encouraged Ian to stick with the church and not push his friends and supporters away.

“It’s not that Billy wouldn’t have done it if he could, but there would be cameras soaking up the moments, perhaps, following Billy around, famous as he is.  Every line of conversation would be noted down, typed out, printed off and splayed over a newspaper, perhaps.  Ian wouldn’t have said anything anyway, because he doesn’t know Billy like he knows you.

“Billy does best what Billy does best – he doesn’t do Mel.  You do Mel.”

“The answer to your question – were you worth it? Hand on beating heart? Yes – always, yes.”

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