The other night I had the great privilege of hearing Dallas Jenkins, creator of The Chosen, which I now remember I said a long time ago I would review on this blog at some point and then I didn't, do a Q&A session with Mormon Studies Chair Patrick Mason at USU. He was, as always, charming and funny and spiritually supercharged. He talked about giving his career to God after one of the biggest failures of his life, and how God has guided him since then. It's very clear from his stories and from the most recent results of his career that this guidance is powerful and frequent. I thought to ask myself on this occasion, what does "the gift of the Holy Ghost" include that he doesn't already have? I was taught that my church has exclusive access to this gift, which is bestowed at baptism; that the Holy Ghost can and does speak to people outside the church, but only we can have it as our constant companion. And in fairness, I don't know of any other religion that places nearly such an emphasis on personal two-way communication with God as we do. Evangelical Christianity, which Dallas calls his spiritual home, places far more emphasis on the authority of the Bible and even asserts that feelings are an unreliable guide to truth. Yet I would wager that he has a stronger and deeper relationship with God than the overwhelming majority of Latter-day Saints. And he's one of the people that Brad Wilcox thinks is only "playing church" because he doesn't "have God's permission."
He talked about how focusing on Jesus can bring down religious barriers, and how people of different denominations can disagree even about significant things, refuse to compromise on their own beliefs, and still be friends and collaborators. I wish his fanbase would get the memo. Last I checked, evangelicals in the The Chosen group on Facebook were constantly posting about how Latter-day Saints and/or Catholics aren't really Christians, and it was very annoying. I got more defensive of the Catholics because life is too short to care what idiots say about my church. I would call out Catholic-bashers and conclude with "Sincerely, not a Catholic." I also mentioned more than once that this holier-than-thou gatekeeping bullcrap just makes Christians in general look bad to everyone else, and is a contributing factor to the modern secular world's lack of respect for them. That didn't fix the problem, but it made some people really mad because they knew it was true. Anyway - focusing on Jesus. There can never be too much focus on Jesus. I came away from the event convinced as ever by this godly man that whatever else I may or may not believe at any given time, I believe in Jesus.
Dallas talked about some things from a writing perspective that of course interested me as a writer even though I've heard him talk about them before. For example, he portrays even Jesus' enemies as nuanced and complicated people, which is both realistic and good storytelling. We see why some of the Jewish leaders opposed Jesus. As Dallas puts it, Shmuel didn't just wake up one morning, twirl his mustache, and ask himself how he could make Jesus' life difficult. Judas, who's introduced in the last episode of Season Two, seems to just be a regular decent guy, as he must have been at one point. This show skillfully avoids the dogmatic us vs. them persecution complex approach that makes the first two God's Not Dead movies unwatchable (and makes my own church experience insufferable sometimes). Very few people do evil things just for the sake of being evil. Even Putin has realistic motivation for his evil deeds. I'm not saying lust for power is a good motivation, but it's a little different than waking up one morning, twirling his mustache, and asking himself how many war crimes he can commit just for fun. I thought about this principle again the following evening when I got Zoombombed for the first time.
Dr. Solimar Otero of Indiana University was giving the Fife Folklore Honor Lecture entitled "Stories of Our Lives - Material Culture, Memory, and Narrative on the Bóveda," and I tuned in because I was bored and lonely. I half paid attention and half read a book. Half an hour into the lecture, someone screenshared pornography, and I cycled through six thoughts in about six seconds.
1. Ew, gross.
2. This is the most embarrassing moment of someone's life.
3. Ew, gross.
4. Wait, is my computer doing that somehow? If it is, I'll have to kill myself.
5. Ew, gross.
6. Wait, this is no accident.
My realization was immediately confirmed as someone started saying the n-word over and over and over again, and at least three people pasted it in the chat several dozen times each, rapid-fire. It was a blitzkrieg, a far more efficient invasion than Putin's. Someone said "If you make me the cohost, I can get rid of them," but for all I know he was one of them. It was very difficult to think under this barrage, but I tried to focus and come up with something to say that would make these Zoombombers understand that their lives were collectively more pathetic and less valuable than a mosquito's, and I failed to do so before the meeting closed. I couldn't just say any old rude or angry thing because that would play right into their hands. They wanted to get reactions out of people. And in the days since, I've grappled with the curious fact that this appears to be the entire extent of their motivation. The only reason I can think of for grown adults to ruin a complete stranger's Zoom lecture with pornography and racial slurs is that they just get a thrill out of being turds for the sake of being turds. They weren't well-written villains at all. And perhaps the greatest mystery of the universe, I thought to myself, is what Jesus saw in them that was worth dying for.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.