Movie Review Extra: “Jesus Revolution”

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Yesterday I took the family to see “Jesus Revolution.” This movie is inspirational, but it’s also a cautionary tale about the fine line faith leaders of all denominations walk between Good Shepherd and Cult Superstar.

In a genius piece of casting, it stars Jonathan Roumie, who also stars as Jesus in “The Chosen”—the miniseries that itself has become cult-like among many of its fans. I’m sure many fans of that show can’t help but see Roumie as Jesus in real life since he’s become part of theirs. But as Lonnie Frisbee in THIS movie—he’s an itinerant hippie preacher who winds up visiting a small, conservative and tired old-school Baptist church somewhere in Southern California during the hippie movement of the 60s. This Jesus-like young preacher slowly reintroduces the young people who left this church, to a vibrant faith they’d never known. Lonnie soon becomes a superstar Christian cult leader among the hippie movement, inspiring Time Magazine to do a story on this trend. The fame and Chosen-like fandom that comes with it soon go to Lonnie’s head, and his inflating ego plays a number on it too.

As quickly as we in the “Jesus Revolution” audience saw Jesus when we first saw what we thought was The Chosen’s version of Jesus hit the screen, he instantly becomes Lonnie Frisbee—a self-absorbed superstar with a cult following. It’s now clear to us in this movie’s audience that this character is just another sheep looking for the true Good Shepherd among the rest of his fellow sheep.

When someone brings to Lonnie’s attention the ego trip he’s been surfing, he moves out of town in a huff—leaving that church he took over back to the original preacher (played beautifully by Kelsey Grammer). THAT preacher, while Lonnie was feeding his ego, became a better and less judgmental man of God thanks to the legitimate Christian message Lonnie sent out while preaching the living Word of Jesus that’s always lived among us.

The divisions that show in this 60s cult fed by Time Magazine aren’t unlike the fissures that formed in the church during the 16th-Century Reformation, or even the cult that formed around the Jim Jones People’s Temple movement in 1978—the one that introduced “drinking the Kool-Aid” to our Pop Culture vocabulary. But humanity’s lust for Religious greatness goes back even further—before Christ.

When I looked into the Old Testament of my Bible, the introduction to the Book of Ezra compared this prophetic scribe to Moses. The editor notes that Ezra became the most important literary source for the formation of the Jewish religious community after the Babylonian exile. In fact, The Talmud regards Ezra as the “Second Moses.” Imagine how THAT might have gone to the head of this simple but inspired man!

“Jesus Revolution” ends with a healing of these rifts among the various preachers involved, and as the credits roll, we see pictures of the real people on which these characters were based—all of whom made a significant contribution to spreading God’s word despite themselves.

In my ego-driven fantasy as a Hollywood producer, while watching these credits, I imagined myself as producer of this movie, and just as I too would also have cast the Jesus of “The Chosen” in it, I would also have used those cast members to re-create the gospel scene in Luke 22:24 where an argument breaks out among Jesus’ disciples—that debate about who among them is the greatest. Jesus tells them: “Let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater, the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves.”

We end this review with a quote from today’s meditation for the First Sunday of Lent, as presented in the “Little Black Book” of meditations distributed by many Catholic parishes in the Cleveland diocese. It offers this bit of wisdom from St. John Chrysostom (350-407), a monk who himself became a popular preacher in his day and earned his nickname Chrysostom, which translates as “golden mouthed”:

“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”

–Tom Andel

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