Tomorrow, December 14, will mark the 30th anniversary of the premier of Philadelphia, a film based on the HIV/AIDS crisis that seemingly took over our national attention at the time. I remember wanting to watch the movie simply because of the lead actors in Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, but instead, I was actually reeled into the story. Hanks plays a lawyer who was terminated by a most prestigious firm, who were doing their best to hide their actual reasoning. Washington plays a fellow attorney, one of the last willing to take on the case. In the end, art as a whole is often meant to serve as a mirror on our human condition, compelling us to dig deeper than the bare surface of living we’re often most comfortable staying.
Several years later, I was reeled into another art form: the one of preaching. I was very much in the not-even-novice level of it by the time I started at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, where I was drawn in by this professor, The Rev. Dr. Bill Doubleday. His voice was transcendent, like everything he spoke from the pulpit (or anywhere else, for that matter) wasn’t just “spoken,” but proclaimed with the utmost life-altering importance. Part of his ministry journey was none other than a hundred miles north of the aforementioned film’s namesake in New York City, where he was part one of this country’s first pastoral care programs focused on serving people living and dying with HIV/AIDS back in the early 1980’s.
I always wondered if such a world-altering time forever impacted his voice. That, after having to be at countless bedsides of people fearful of their mortal end or enduring through such tragic pain and that so many others around did not care whatsoever of such patients’ health; that such a life-altering time empowered him to speak with even more of a holy emphasis on the Gospel. That Gospel that was evidently meant not just for the hospital rooms with cancer or heart disease or stroke-ridden individuals, but for absolutely every room in that monstrous metropolitan area and beyond. Chaplain/Priest/Child of God Bill Doubleday not only spoke the words of unconditional love; he proclaimed them with his whole being, and did so with a moving gravitas that reeled me in every time. He made me want to follow his lead in being part of an art form that isn’t meant to educate sanctuary-room occupiers, but empower them to be Gospel-proclaimers in all the rooms they go into throughout their lives.
But back to Philadelphia: one of the go-to lines of Washington’s character was asking people to explain the complicated lawyer and overall life circumstances “like I’m a four-year old.” It was meant to not only make it more relatable to him, but the nearby jury and whole courtroom of people…and probably subtly for us in the movie audience, too. Sometimes we disciples of Christ are under the impression we need to reach the Doubleday-level of faith-sharing artform to be of any use in any room we move into when it comes to any Jesus-speaking. And yet, sometimes the four-year old level is all we need. Sometimes, we just need to know we are loved. Sometimes, we just need to know that not even death can separate us from God’s love. Sometimes, we need reminded that Christ has already come among us: we don’t have to perfect any artform of living to reel him in. Soon enough, we’ll be beautifully reminded of that extravagant simplicity coming to life in a baby. It is the Gospel brought to life in Jesus Christ for the whole world to enjoy, in every room, and it can never be taken away. Thanks be to God indeed!