Canon Jim Irvinethe penultimate WORD
Series 2000 - November
"Do you love me," asked Jesus.

The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican


It was a particularly disappointing Sunday afternoon.  It was raining and cold.  A new skateboard deck, purchased the day before, having been installed with old trucks stood idly by the door.  It wouldn’t get broken-in today.

“I can go up and get a video, if you like,” Jamie said, hoping to coax a few dollars out of my pocket for an afternoon’s pastime… and a packet of Twizzlers.

Easily persuaded, money was transferred and my son headed out for a video.  No telling what he would bring back.  His tastes don’t always reflect mine.  I’ve become accustomed to a wide selection of films and I could imagine what he might bring back.

I was going to be surprised.

Oh, it began like a lot of videos found on the walls of convenience stores across the province.  On the surface, it looked pretty much predictable.   The characters, introduced in cameo entrances, coming together in a story line that was lack lustre, were typically lewd and vulgar.

The plot line was simple.  Three lubricant salesmen attending a convention in Wichita, Kansas, are preparing to host a hospitality suite for prospective customers.  The story is short.  Starting by suppertime, it’s over by midnight.

Phil, played by Danny Divetto, is a 52-year old, divorced, chain smoker.  Larry, a 40-something flirtatious braggart who, we discover has never been unfaithful throughout his 15-year marriage, is played by Kevin Spacey.  The two of them are fast friends, long-time colleagues, irreverent and offensive.  Bob, the third character in the story is in his early 20’s, 6 months out of college, 6 months in to marriage, and a Christian.

About half way into the story, Bob having gone off in search of a signed contract, Phil and Larry are alone at a hospitality hour run out of time.  The table lamps cast a low light as Phil taps tobacco in his cigarette, puts it in his mouth, and exhaling, asks, “Larry, what do you think about God?”

I nearly fell off my chair!

And so did Larry.

Questions of life and death abound, wrapped in a disarming vocabulary seldom heard giving voice to faith and faith questions. 

A late supper shared by the two as they continued to wait for Bob’s return has Phil place his napkin to the side of his plate, his fingers sliding the plate away to indicate that he was finished.  He lights another cigarette, and as he exhales, asks, “Larry, do you love me?”

Shocked and unnerved, Larry is quick to respond, “Well, if you mean do I want to bear your children, Phil, the answer is no.”

Isn’t that typical?  Men don’t handle love well, and are often afraid of it particularly when asked in such a way.  I was reminded of Jesus’ question to Peter, following his resurrection.  You know the scene.  Perhaps we credit Peter with more piety than we should at first blush.  Possibly Peter was as awkward answering Jesus as was Larry.  In any event, Phil does not dismiss his question.  And neither did Jesus.  Uncomfortable, Larry demurs.

But Larry does ask a question of Bob, on his return to the suite.  It’s another one of those love questions.  “Do you love your wife, Bob,” he asks.  “What do you mean by love,” responds Bob.  “I see you are a man of principle, Bob, Larry goes on.  “Let me tell you a story about a man who had principles.”  As Bob sits, Larry continues, “one day, this guy with principles met a woman who had principles… and you know, their principles got married, Bob.”

An altercation between Larry and Bob, while bloodless, is shockingly unpleasant.  Bob is strangling Larry on the floor, with his hands wrapped around Larry’s neck.  Shocked, embarrassed, the two of them recover their composure and Larry takes his leave and retires to his room.  Phil and Bob remain in the suite, and Phil, sitting astride a chair and lighting yet another cigarette, tells Bob, “you don’t know what regret is, Bob.”  “You mean I have to do something that I have to regret to have a place in your eyes?” Bob asks as an awkward smile breaks over his face.  Phil continues, “Oh, no, Bob.  You don’t understand.  You’ve already done a great deal to regret.  The thing is, Bob, you just don’t know it.”

Bob, angry, confused, ashamed, escapes.  The phone ringing breaks the silence.  Phil on picking up the receiver, says, “You just missed him… he just left. … I love you, too.”  Larry had been able at last to give his answer.

The question Phil asked Larry, the question Larry asked Bob concerning his wife, are wonderful echoes of Jesus’ words to Peter.  We don’t ask that question easily and when we do it is usually asked in a manipulative self-serving way.  “I love you,” we’d say, “do you love me?”  We want to hedge our risk of rejection, of ridicule.  Oh, we know the new commandment Jesus gave us.  We are uncomfortable applying it.  We can quote it, we can refer to it, and we can hold it up.  But to ask another without our fears getting in the way is something we find difficult.  Between asking the question instead of talking about the question is a world of difference that gives life, vitality and allows for the trust to grow without weight or obligation.

The Big Kahuna is not your run of the mill evangelical film.  But if you survive the vulgarities (and who among us has not heard or said these before?) you’ll be surprisingly encouraged in your pedestrian witness from day to day.  The Big Kahuna is worth every nickel!

Copyright © 2000 James T. Irvine

Series 2000

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton