Hating Charlton Heston and Following Jesus
Scandal is an essential aspect of religious consciousness. It is not simply negative. The victim who offends us also helps us to recognize that the ‘normal’ way we do things is fundamentally flawed. So are we willing to let ourselves be scandalized in a way that challenges us?
I have never held a gun in my hands or fired a weapon of any kind, but (and?) I am steadfastly in favor of gun control. The image of Charlton Heston with a rifle brandished above his head at an NRA meeting after a school shooting, declaiming “From my cold dead hands,” makes me red with anger. It has completely ruined “The Ten Commandments” for me, which was one of my favorite movies. I can’t watch any Charlton Heston movie anymore (yes, not even “Planet of the Apes”) because my hatred of Heston, may he rest in peace, obscures my vision. Why anyone would put their precious right to bear arms above the safety of children is impossible for me to fathom. My condemnation of such callousness is securely rooted in the righteousness of God’s justice which seeks to defend the weak, protect the innocent, and end the plague of violence once and for all.
It seems that Charlton and I are locked in a rivalry over the meaning of guns. Are they peacemakers or child killers? Is “bearing arms” a right or a threat? And who gets to decide? The more Charlton claims the right for himself, the more I want to take that right from him. Prof. Jeremiah (Jay) Alberg would say that I am scandalized by Charlton. I knew that before reading Jay’s book, Beneath the Veil of the Strange Verses: Reading Scandalous Texts. I mean, I know that my self-righteous anger and my movie boycott are two scandalized reactions which kinda embarrass me. Seriously, why do I care so much about what Charlton Heston thinks? I cope with my embarrassment by mostly avoiding the gun control issue. No need to think about it anyway, because I already know where I stand, and that I stand in the right.
I try to avoid conversations with fans of conceal-carry laws, but sometimes it’s impossible. I have a dear friend, Dave, who owns a ranch in Wyoming. He says he foregoes the conceal part and openly carries his weapon, especially to meetings with neighbors about water and grazing rights. Not to openly carry would put him in a weakened position. It’s not that anyone is going to use their weapon, he tells me, but it sends a message. My reaction? I try to avoid having a reaction in front of Dave, but afterwards, I can’t help but judge Wyoming as some sort of primitive state, literally and figuratively, that is far inferior to mine.
What I didn’t realize until I read Jay’s book was that by avoiding Charlton Heston and gun control conversations I was jeopardizing my spiritual development. If I claim to be a follower of Jesus, which I do, Jay says that I must learn how to use scandals as a path toward deeper understanding. He says that it’s an essential part of the Christian journey because, get this, “Christ is a scandal… He cannot be without scandal, and the Gospel cannot be proclaimed without the element of scandal.” Geez, what does that mean? Jay explains by offering a paraphrase of Jesus saying, “Blessed is whoever is not scandalized in me” (Matt. 11:6):
Jesus is suggesting “Precisely insofar as you draw close to me, you will be tempted to stumble. My relationship with you will inevitably lead to that point where you do not want to go, where you will find it difficult to follow. I will ask something of you that you would rather not give. It will be particular to who you are, the thing to which you are attached.”
Great. I’m getting the idea that where Jesus is inevitably leading me is to get over my seething anger toward Charlton and my sense of superiority over Wyoming. Sigh and sigh again. I don’t want to. I like explaining to my family and friends every Easter when The Ten Commandments is cycled endlessly on cable channels why I refuse to watch it. Because I’m a good guy, okay! Good guys hate Charlton and everything he stands for! And so when my dear friend, Openly-Carry Dave, invited me last weekend to go to the shooting range with him, I hesitated for a second. I froze between my sense of superiority and Jay’s admonition to find a way through the scandal. Maybe this was the way. So I said yes.
I went with Dave and let him teach me how to safely shoot a .22 caliber and a 9 millimeter gun. Am I even writing that out correctly? I don’t know, but I do know that Dave was delighted to be my teacher and I began to understand a little bit about why guns can be – dare I say it – fun. The guns we were using were primarily for target practice. They are no good to cowboys and wouldn’t stop a charging elk or moose, but I guess they do send a message! Anyway, Dave said, “If you are good at something, you like it,” by way of explaining why folks like target shooting. Hmmm, I get that. I do like things I’m good at, and I get good at things I like. Makes sense.
I wasn’t any good at target shooting, but I felt my heart soften a little bit. I realized that there might be things about Charlton I didn’t understand and perhaps shouldn’t judge. I wondered if there were ways, God forbid, that I put my own wants and desires ahead of the well-being of children. Maybe there are. Maybe I should think about that a bit more. Maybe if I care so much about children I should devote more time to listening for where God might be calling me to help rather than nursing my grudge against a man who died years ago. Geez, maybe I will have to watch The Ten Commandments this year and find some other way to be good. Wish me luck.
Join me for a live video chat with Jay Alberg on Thursday, March 27. For more info and how to join the call, click here.