Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Apostle Brings The Spirit To DVD

I have very rarely had the sense in watching a movie that I was watching not just performances, but real people, doing what they do. Sure, I know people like this. Heck, in a small way, I AM like Sonny. The joy he had when his little church had their first meeting and it was chaotic and kind of silly and everyone was ready for something to happen-- I've been there. It's real.

I've never been one for that style of preaching that is exhibited in The Apostle, honestly. I always feel like I'm being yelled at. My preaching is much more intellectual, what churches call "teaching" rather than preaching. But you can't deny the power of it when you're in the midst of it. You may not believe a word that's being said, but you will shout out "amen" at the appropriate time. The Apostle not only caught the rhythm, the emotion, they caught the frenzy of those kind of pentecostal/holiness meeting. Amazing. How does something like this get transfered to a DVD?

In a sense, watching The Apostle was a lot like going to a church for the first time, considering whether you might join this congregation or not. You see some things you like, and some things that might irritate you, but at the end of the visit you're going to decide whether this church is for you or not.

And there's a lot to like here. Perhaps the preaching isn't to my particular appreciation-- I prefer a lot more Bible references and less yelling-- but I can appreciate the energy and the art of the preaching. The music is fantastic. Old fashioned gospel with a lot of energy. You've got the kind of choir that you wish you were singing with, making that joy come alive with you, yeah... that's good.

But in the end, whether you attend this church or not, you are looking at the preacher, his charisma, his life, his spiritual wisdom. And I have to say, Apostle E.F., or Sonny, "everybody calls me Sonny" is really charismatic. He's got it. Man, he's powerful. And he's sincere. He may be talking to the Lord or yelling at the Lord or talking to someone about the Lord, but you know that he's not faking. He's the real deal. He's not someone who's in it for the money. He's got passion and drive for Jesus. That's powerful.

But that same man has no real control over himself. Perhaps that's a characteristic of a passionate man-- a lack of self-control. When his wife left him for another man, he lost control and gave into violence. When a man was disrespecting him before his congregation, he took him out of the church, in the middle of the service, and beat him down, just to give him something to think about. Mind you, when that same man came back with a bulldozer to flatten the church, Sonny did the right thing and beat him not with fists but with the word of God. That was right. That's the true Spirit. But in the end, Sonny is a man just like any other man. Maybe he's more than other men, actually. When he's sanctified, he's powerfully sanctified. But when he sins, even David can't win in the sinner contest.

A leader of a church is a position of trust. A church leader has peoples' souls in his or her hands. And Sonny had to change his name, had to throw away his old life because of his sin. In the end, he couldn't really be trusted. He could be trusted to begin a church. But he couldn't be trusted to really lead people to Jesus, to really be filled with the Spirit.

The Spirit, you see, isn't about the frenzy. It isn't about the miracles. It isn't about shaking and fainting. Instead, the Spirit is about love. Sonny loved as any man loved, but he didn't love with the Spirit's love. He didn't love with the love of peace or the love of gentleness or the love of patience or kindness or goodness. And God knows, not with humility.

But Sonny was real. The congregation was real. That final service was magnificent and powerfully moving. And the film just took its time, through every section of the service so we could experience it all and it's deeper meaning with cops standing at the door. Amazing.

This film passes Howard Hawk's test: Three great scenes and no bad ones. 1. The scene at the baseball diamond. 2. The scene with the bulldozer and 3. The final service. A number of great performances, and, at the lead, Robert Duvall playing the greatest role of his career.


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