The other week I happened to see the Clint Eastwood movie “Pale Rider”.
This movie follows the pattern of all Westerns. A small group of people is oppressed by big business. Along comes a ‘stranger’ who saves them.
Sometimes there is a variation on the theme, which is also present in Pale Rider. The hero is, in the beginning, committed to ‘non violence’. In Pale Rider, Clint Eastwood is a king of travelling preacher, who then goes to his safe deposit box, takes off is collar and gets out his guns.
These movies are a replay of the Myth of Redemptive violence, which, sad to say and despite rhetoric and coins to the contrary, is the main mythology of the United States.
An interesting feature of the movie is its use of scripture. In the beginning, the young woman who falls in love with Clint Eastwood, is praying. The baddies have just ‘shot up’ their settlement, and have killed her dog in the process. She brings these issues to God in prayer. She is praying psalm 23 as she buries the dog. She says ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…..but I do want! Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…but I am afraid. We need a miracle. I will l dwell in the house of the Lord forever…but I want more of this life first. If you don’t help us we are all going to die.
Everyone has asked these questions of God at some stage. At times when I have felt most alone, I have asked, “If the lord is my shepherd, and there is nothing I can lack, then why do I feel so needy?”
The young girl gets her miracle in the form of Clint Eastwood, the Pale Rider (preacher). Here is another Biblical reference. It comes from the book of Revelation,(6:8) and the ‘Pale Rider’ is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’: death, followed by Hell.
Here is the miracle that the girl was asking for. The pale rider does indeed kill all the baddies.
So what can I make of this. Is it so that what the movie suggests is true? Do we in the end need to depend on violence to establish peace?
This question is again pressing upon me because of the way that living before the face of God has become a big theme for me recently.
You know, it is possible to pray, and to do church, and not really think that God is real.
It’d like the old adage ‘Say your prayers and keep your powder dry’. This is a bind. Everyone knows hat the meaning of the ting is: If one has dry powder, one does not need prayer. If one needs payer, one does not need powder.
But the message of the martyrs is clear. They were not prepared to exercise violence. But they were prepared to endure, even to the point of their own death, because they believed that God would bring about the end of Time, and God’s rule without the intervention of a Pale Rider, or a Lone Ranger on earth.
They really believed in God’s power to do what God promised, in his own time. “It may just be” says the martyr, “that I will be killed beforehand.”
So for me the question that arises from the movie Pale Rider is then not so much about violence or non-violence as such, because I have not yet had to face this question in a very sharp way. But for me, the question highlights another one: would I be prepared to suffer violence because I believed in God, and God’s justice in a way that allowed me to trust God more than I do now? This issue highlights for me how it is possible to be a priest, and theological thinker, but be lacking in the ‘simple faith’ that says, “Just follow me.”
I think that this issue comes to a head in the context of being retired, and so not really responsible any more for the future of the Church in the place where I am priest.
When this responsibility is lifted, then the questions that take up the space are no longer the ones about how is the congregation going to survive financially, or who has got their knickers in a not over something I have said or done, or not done.
Instead the questions become more personal again. They are the ones like the one I have been asking about violence and non-violence. “So I really trust in God’s future. Can I put my life into God’s hands and not worry about what retirement will look like?
I would love this to become true for me in a way that is not the case just yet. Perhaps the fact that this question is coming to consciousness, and that I can say something about it means that this is in fact the direction in which life is going. I hope so.
I know that the proper answer to he young girl in the movie is this: The psalm goes “BECAUSE the Lord is my shepherd, I an lack nothing.” The Shepherd-hood and love of God for us is the starting point, not the consequence of something of which I am the judge. That is the kind of simple faith that I would like to have come true in me.