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The Ray Rice video got me thinking about a mental image of judgment I once had. I thought that after I died I would go to heaven and stand in front of God while we watched the movie of my life. I mentioned this to a coworker on Friday. She laughed and said, “You must have read the Chick tract.” I had no idea what she was referring to, until my memory was jarred by a trip to the internet.
“This Was Your Life” was a melodramatic gospel tract by Jack Chick, featuring heaven as a sort of celestial drive-in theater, where the movie of your life rolled. Seeing the images brought it back to me, and I know I imbibed this stuff when I was in junior high. The idea terrified me, even though I was filled with doubts. I remember wondering how in the world God got all the camera angles he’d need. But then I’d roll my eyes as I remembered nothing (certainly not camera angles) was impossible for God. Yet skepticism would creep in again, and I’d wonder how God had time every day to watch thousands of 80 and 90-year-long movies. (Did they fast forward while you slept? What about when you were in the bathroom?) But then I’d think about a thousand years being a day in heaven and roll my eyes again at my lack of faith. Still, a cynical thought would come back – what about people who lived before Thomas Edison and the invention of movies? Ah, but is God bound by the timeliness of our discoveries, oh ye of little faith? Jack Chick had me in fear of the movie of my life.
Later, I heard a much different take on the movie of your life idea from Michael Warren; a Catholic educator who wrote some compelling youth ministry books a couple of decades ago. Warren would imagine the movie of your life scenario and then have you imagine a standing ovation at the end of it. “Do you have any idea how good you’ve been?” he’d say. Warren felt young people needed a positive message instead of guilt. “The movie of your life,” he’d say, “would show your kindness and compassion over and over and over again.”
Or would it? I’ve been wondering how any of us could stand if our worst moments were aired. What would yours be? A fit of rage? Lying? Cheating? Stealing? Or something even worse? All have sinned and fallen short, and the reality in our digital world is there is a greater and greater chance our moments are caught on video.
I don’t remember the details exactly, but over a year ago someone came to the seminary where I work and dropped off a gift in the care of a new employee. Our employee didn’t know the donor. No one else had seen the mystery donor. Here’s where my memory is hazy – the gift couldn’t have been a personal check because we didn’t know who to credit the gift to. What could we do? Someone mentioned the dilemma to a salesman from a printing company who happened to be in the building and he said, “Check your security camera video.” Did the rest of us even know we had security cameras? Not really. But we consulted the security video and easily identified the donor. The moral of the story is the camera is always on.
Do we act differently if we know the camera is on? Police departments across the country – including Ferguson, Missouri – are now putting body cameras on their officers. No one knows if the riots in Ferguson could have been avoided if the police officer who shot Michael Brown had been wearing a body camera, but what we do know is that excessive force complaints against police officers drop dramatically when officers wear body cameras. Are police officers less likely to lose their cool if they know what they are doing is being recorded? Or are suspects less likely to complain when their belligerent behavior is filmed? I’m guessing the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
All of which brings me back to Jack Chick and that darn tract and my original question about what if the worst moments of our lives are caught on video. I’m hopeful that the final things aren’t going to play out exactly as Jack Chick imagined them, but I have to say I am also hopeful that the last words in Jack Chick’s tract are the last words any of us hear: “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” Not because the movies of our lives reveal our goodness, but because we’re forgiven.