Thursday, July 10, 2014

What Would Jesus Say to Shawshank Redemption's Samuel Norton?



The Shawshank Redemption is at the top of my all-time great movies list. It is punctuated with great lines and saturated with rich spiritual symbolism. The warden, Samuel Norton, is an icon of toxic Christianity.

The warden presents himself as a socially respectable, church-going, Bible-quoting Christian. It becomes clear, however, from the moment he appears in the story that his Christianity is in name only. His faith has holes in it larger than the one Andy Dufrense chiseled through his cell wall.

When Andy and the other prisoners first stand before the warden, immediately the warden’s self-righteousness dominates the scene. When one of the prisoners asks, “When do we eat?” the warden has him beaten. Holding out a Bible, he says to the captives, “Trust in the Lord, but your ass is mine.”

Contrast the scene above with the one in Luke 4 where Jesus, in the synagogue at Nazareth, applies Isaiah 61 to his understanding of his mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In one scene, the warden enters Andy’s cell and lays hold of Andy’s Bible. Andy and the warden quote Scripture verses back and forth as if in a Bible ping pong match. The warden does not open the Bible, which is a good thing since the rock hammer Andy uses to tunnel through his cell wall is hidden inside.



When the warden hands the Bible back to Andy he says, “Salvation lies within.”

Does salvation lie within the pages of Scripture? Yes and No. Much depends on what we focus on in the Bible, how we apply what we focus on, and why we do what we do.

In healthy versions of Christian faith the Bible is employed as an instrument of liberation and transformation. In the hands of Christians like warden Norton it is used to clobber our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, and to oppress women, keeping them “in their place” under the authority of men.

For Jesus, compassion always trumped blind obedience to Scripture. Love of neighbor, which included both the oppressed and the oppressor, always claimed precedence over biblical prescriptions and precepts. Jesus clearly read his Bible with a bias toward love. Thus he knew which Scriptures to accept and reject, to obey and disobey, to submit to and to ignore and dismiss.

For example, Jesus completely ignored the laws of clean and unclean in Leviticus 13 and 14 pertaining to leprosy when he touched and healed the leper in Mark 1. (“Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him . . . Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean!”)

Also, when Jesus allowed a woman “who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years” to touch him, he clearly dismissed Leviticus 15:25. (“If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days . . . all the days of the discharge . . . she shall be unclean.”)

Jesus completely reversed the laws of clean and unclean in these situations: Instead of Jesus being rendered impure by an unholy touch, the “unholy” touch resulted in the leper and the woman being healed and made whole.

Jesus refused to allow Bible literalists to tell him who he was or what he could and could not do. 

Now back to the warden’s interchange with Andy, which ends with the warden quoting John 8:12:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Of course, the warden does not have the foggiest notion what that verse really means. The warden walks in darkness and is about as blind and un-liberated a person as you would ever find. But he thinks he is a Christian.

Religion can easily become a cleverly disguised way of protecting the ego—a way for us to feel secure, superior, safe, and in control. Jesus saw right through this.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus enjoyed hospitable table fellowship, not with the moral majority, but with the immoral minority? The gatekeepers were invited, but they didn’t want any part of those Jesus kept company with. The religious officials were not comfortable around Jesus, while many “sinners” were drawn to him. 

Those who thought they could see were actually blind, while those who knew they were blind found spiritual sight. 

What would Jesus say to warden Samuel Norton? Perhaps what he said to the religious leaders in John 9 when they asked him sarcastically: “Surely we (the religious elite and gatekeepers) are not blind, are we?”

Jesus said:

“If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Is there a bit of Samuel Norton in all of us? I suspect there is. If we are certain that we see, then we are probably blind, and our sin (our illusions, ego defenses, false attachments, addictions to power, control, etc.) remain.
 
Healthy religion and authentic spirituality have nothing to do with being correct or citing Bible verses. Nor is it about wearing the right badges or shouting the right pledges. There is no “Roman Road” or “Four Spiritual Laws” that lead to salvation. There are no five steps, or six principles, or seven habits for highly spiritual people. 

What we Christians have is Jesus. And the real test of genuine faith is whether or not we have the passion and will to imitate him—to love the way he loved.

There are two dramatic scenes that I like to imagine represent the outcomes of these two different approaches to Christianity (or religion in general):

Scene 1: When the warden’s money laundering is exposed and the authorities come to take him into custody, he looks over at a message hanging on his office wall about God’s righteous judgment coming soon. Next, he pulls the trigger that ends his life.



Scene 2: On a night of heavy thunder and rain, Andy crawls through the hole he has patiently dug month after month, year after year from inside his cell. He reaches a pipe barely large enough for a human body, full of sludge, which eventually empties into a creek beyond the prison fence. With the storm as a cover, he busts through the pipe, crawling through the sludge. When he eventually “dumps” into the creek, he rips off his prison clothes in a moment of jubilation celebrating his new found liberation.



Andy’s experience can be our experience when we follow Jesus into a larger world beyond the prison walls of Bible worship and toxic religion—a world permeated and pervaded by love of God and love of neighbor.  




1 comment:

  1. THE DEFINITION AND PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM BY STEVE FINNELL

    What is the definition and the purpose of water baptism under the New Covenant?

    THE DEFINITION?

    Baptism as defined in the Scriptures.

    Acts 8:36 And, as they went on their way they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said, Look, here is water; what is there to hinder me from being immersed? (Ref: The Better Version of The New Testament by Chester Estes)

    The definition of baptism is to be immersed in water.

    Acts 8:36 As they went along the road they came to some water;and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" (Ref: NASB)

    The definition of water baptism under the New Covenant is immersion in water.

    Romans 6:4 We were, therefore, buried with him by immersion into that death; that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, thus we also should walk in newness of life. (Ref: TBVOTNT by Chester Estes)

    In water baptism, believers in Christ are buried by immersion in water. This symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

    Romans 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Ref: NASB)

    To be buried through baptism makes it clear that water baptism is immersion. Men cannot be buried under a sprinkle or by having water poured over them.

    Colossians 2:12 Having been buried with him by immersion, by which also you were raised up with him, through the belief of the strong working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Ref: TBVOTNT by Chester Estes)

    Water baptism is a burial by immersion.

    Colossians 2:12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Ref: NASB)

    Baptism is a burial by immersion.

    WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF WATER BAPTISM?

    Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Let each one of you repent and be immersed, in the name of Jesus Christ, in order to the remission of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Ref: The Better Version Of The New Testament by Chester Estes)

    One purpose of water baptism is in order to have sin forgiven.

    Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Ref: NASB)

    A reason to be baptized in water is so your sins may be forgiven.


    Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as have been immersed into Christ, have put on Christ. (Ref: TBVOTNT by Chester Estes)

    One purpose of water baptism is to put on Christ.

    Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Ref: NASB)

    A purpose for water baptism is so men can be clothed with Christ.

    Mark 16:16 He who has believed, and has been immersed, will be saved..... (Ref: TBVOTNT by Chester Estes)

    A purpose of water baptism is in order to be saved.

    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.... (Ref: NASB)

    One reason to be baptized in water is so that you may be saved from the punishment of your sins.


    YES, WATER BAPTISM (IMMERSION IN WATER) IS ESSENTIAL TO BE SAVED.


    you are invited to follow my blog. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

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