Well, this was not the first installment I planned to post to Pop Culture Preacher. Not at all. But that’s what happens when you wake up to sad news from across the pond. Alan Rickman has died. Rest in true peace, sir.
For many of you, Mr. Rickman will forever be Snape from Harry Potter, always, ALWAYS reminding us of the complicated nature of relationships and the complexity of good and evil – how there’s a vast variety of points in between. Likewise, every December, many of you will delight in Mr. Rickman’s charm while cursing the infidelity of his character Harry from Love Actually. I mean, really, how dare you cheat on our beloved Emma Thompson!
As for me, I’ll be keeping vigil with the movie Dogma. Alan Rickman played Metatron, The Voice of God, in that fourth film of writer/director Kevin Smith. That scene where Bethany runs full on into a muddy pond, flailing her arms, and shrieking, “What do you want from me?”– that’s me. I’m the girl called by God who, quite often, wonders what the fuck my Creator wants me to do and be in this world. While in Seminary earning my Masters of Divinity degree (as if we really ever master Divinity…) and working my way toward ordination in the United Church of Christ, I watched that Kevin Smith film a lot. A whole lot. Sometimes weekly. When I didn’t think I could do it and think theologically enough to make it, or when the depression I was battling threatened to pull me under, or when I just wanted to go do something else with my talents, I would pray about it, and then watch Dogma. When I watched the planes hit the Twin Towers at the start of my second year of seminary, thinking, first, “Why? God…GOD?!? WHY!?!” and then, “Oh, shit. Any time this kind of thing happens, I am going to be one of those people who must give voice to meaning, to Hope beyond shattered hope….I don’t know if I can do that.” Then, as the freak out ceased, I prayed about it and watched Dogma.
When I saw myself, reflected in the character of Bethany as played by Linda Fiorentino, pissed off at God for something that probably wasn’t God’s fault to begin with, and holding a grudge accordingly, the Voice of God, cleverly and gently embodied by Alan Rickman would ring in my ears. “Don’t allow eons of history and life to be blinked out of being just because you have a grudge with your Creator!”
When I recognized myself in Bethany, doubting my call and wanting, desperately, to just be a “normal” person instead of a “clergy” person, someone set apart for ministry, wanting to run my hopeless self far away from it all, I would often mumble, “I don’t want this… it’s too big…” right along with her. And Rickman’s Voice of God, like the call and response in prayer, would sound again, “This… is who you are….knowing who you are now, doesn’t mean you aren’t who you were. You are Bethany Sloan!” In other words, you’re still you, Leah…and you can still be you and be a pastor, too. “No one can take that away from you, not even God! … All this means is a redefinition of that identity- the incorporation of this new data into who you are. Be who you’ve always been. Just… be this as well…”
So, here I am – still who I am and a clergy person, too. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these words, written by Kevin Smith, and spoken by the Alan Rickman, saved me. That would not be an exaggeration at all.
As a pastor, each time I look into a person’s eyes and remind them that they are worth a life — they are loved and beloved, and each time I speak words of hope over and against hatred, violence, indifference, and the greed found in this world, and each time I shepherd grief-stricken people through the valley of the shadow of a death of a loved one, and each time I say to someone who’s wandered into my church’s building because of the rainbow flags we fly and tell them that God DOES NOT hate them because they’re gay – in fact God dearly loves them, each time I do anything transformative, by the grace of God as a clergy person, and I hear some reassurance from on high that I’m being who I’m called to be, supposed to be, and was made to be in this world, that reassurance sounds an awful lot like the voice of Alan Rickman. Thanks for playing Metatron, sir. I’m so very grateful that you did.