As an avid young Christian attending the Mount Olive Baptist Church youth group, I was totally stoked to go see The Passion of the Christ. Sure, it was rated R and publicized as too graphic for many adults, but I was ready to lift God’s name on high. If the time called for it, I was even prepped to sing his praises, right there in the movie theater. As for all the reports of people dying of heart attacks in the middle of the movie, I was just Evangelical enough to believe that it was because God willed it. How lucky might we be to be taken during the most biblical cinematic treasure of our time? In retrospect, I was kind of bat shit crazy. Love me some Jesus. Down with the G-O-D, but honestly, I was drinking the Koolaid and picking out rosaries whilst taking a break from witnessing to all the goth kids at school. God only knows where Charlotte Howard would be without me today. You’re welcome, Charlotte.
I was totally pumped about being a youth minister one day. I had found my calling at fourteen years old. It was going to be awesome, blessed, and all the other words that really enthusiastic Baptists use to describe their faith. That all changed the day that I finally saw The Passion of the Christ. We lined into the theater, waiting to be moved and shaken. However, I went through three stages during the movie: totally pumped, hysterical, and catatonic. I prayed immediately after the movie, then went home and sat by myself for a really long time. I don’t think I ate that night, and it was one of probably three times in my life that I didn’t talk to anyone for more than an hour. I was in cinematic shock, and it was not cool.
If I remember correctly, I never went back to Mount Olive, but the trauma lasted for a while. Once I had recuperated from the shock of seeing Jim Caviezel/Jesus Christ hang on the cross for a solid thirty minutes, the terrors would come in bursts. Yes, I would use the word “terror” because my reaction to allusions to the movie were absolutely terror-filled. One particular moment I remember was watching television with my dad. The DVD preview came on commercial, and I jumped up from the couch and ran outside. I’d sit out there until someone found me, crying. The worst of the commercial stints was when I was singing to myself in the dresser mirror in my room (because that’s what lonely middle schoolers do). All of a sudden, I saw the commercial in the mirror. Jesus, Mary, Satan… the whole gang was there. All I could do was stand there, frozen. I jumped up on my bed afterward, waiting for one of the characters to crawl out from underneath.
The worst case of my Passion of the Christ induced PTSD came about two years after the fact. I had healed. I was whole again; I was bright and shiny Justin. Surely, I could download a song from the soundtrack (which is surprisingly good); it was only a song. I got on my Limewire and downloaded “Born Again” by Brad Paisley and Sara Evans, playing the roles of Jesus and Mary, respectively. I started listening to the song, and then halfway through, the song started making a loud, repetitive, mechanical noise. EHHHH EHHHH EHHHH! Over and over. I pulled my headphones off, threw them across the living room, ran outside screaming, all whilst my parents were watching a movie. To make my parents understand, I made them listen to the song… after I went outside, got in my dad’s truck, turned on the radio as loud as it could go, and covered my ears of course. Eight years after the fact, I still refuse to watch the movie and get chills just thinking about it.
Look at what you’ve done, Mel Gibson. Look at what you’ve done to me. No, it wasn’t a heart attack, but it was pretty freaking intense. I have all but fully recovered from my Jesus PTSD, but it has been a long road. It helps to think of the Bible in the way that I had read it previously; I always liked Biblical interpretations like Evan Almighty and Saved! more than I did the gory, descriptive ones. Also, I made a major breakthrough the day that I realized the final Satan scene could possibly have been used for Faith Hill’s video for “Breathe.”
It all gets better one day at a time, but I would like to offer some advice. Don’t ever go and see the movie. Don’t ever let your children go see the movie, and for the love of God (no pun intended), do not buy the DVD for your home collection. That’s like buying Deliverance or any movie starring Nicholas Cage so that you can watch it again. Some movies are one watch wonders, and they should be left that way. On the very off chance that any movie director, writer, or producer ever reads this… just leave the Jesus story-telling to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and/or John. Actually, Charlton Heston freaked me out in The Ten Commandments, so leave the entire Bible alone. It gets revised by someone every four days anyways; let’s just leave this one to literature. And to everyone, maybe we should quit trying to encompass Christ’s love in new media. The videos, the music, the movies… it’s tired. The horse is dead and will not rise again in three days. Maybe if we tried to encompass Christ’s love through our actions instead of via an economic market, we’d be getting to the point a little faster. Of course, this is coming from the ex-Evangelical. I’m just some humdrum Christian that prays every once in a while and tries to be nice to people.