“Dallas Buyers Club,” starring Matthew McConaughey, is a biopic film about Ron Woodroof, a Dallas electrician, part time rodeo cowboy, and fulltime homophobic who is diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 and given 30 days to live. After receiving this apparent life sentence, Ron takes his health care into his own hands to acquire AZT, then the only AIDS medication approved for human trials in the United States. Following a life threatening reaction to the toxic medication Ron seeks alternative treatments in Mexico, and, after responding to the unconventional medications, becomes a self-taught authority in international AIDS treatment options and an AIDS activist.
The film effectively captures the stigma and discrimination that were the fear fueled, social side-effect of AIDS in the early 1980’s. Because so little was initially understood, and as it was seen by many as a “Gay Disease” and for some emblematic of God’s punitive judgment against homosexuals, patients in the early days of the epidemic faced discrimination in treatment options, as well as where they could live and work. For many AIDS patients, isolation became one of the first and most painful conditions of the disease. Watching the hate and malice piled upon those who fell victim to the diagnosis, including Ron by his own “friends,” I was reminded of Ryan White and others who became the targets of merciless cruelty after diagnosed with the disease. Through depicting societal attempts to limit contact and opportunities in life for those impacted by AIDS, I could not help but think of leprosy and leper colonies of earlier unenlightened ages.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a film about courage, transformation, and the power of purpose. When the viewer is first introduced to Ron, it is difficult to feel any sympathy for him. He is foul, and abuses drugs, women, and anyone who is different, especially those with a different sexual orientation. Although he appears to be the leader of his ring in dishing out hateful venom, as with most bullies, his perceived strength is only an indication of his true weakness. It is not until he becomes the bullied, the outsider, the different, the “one of them,” that he develops and demonstrates strength and courage. This transformation is initiated through the most unlikely of relationships, Ron and Rayon, a transvestite fellow AIDS patient played masterfully by Jared Leto. Once Rayon would have been the target of verbal and physical abuse, but after Ron becomes one of “the others” and is rejected by his “friends,” Rayon offers acceptance that Ron has never known, even before his diagnosis.
While Ron is helped by the alternative treatments that he has to go to the greatest lengths to find and acquire, one can argue that the best medicine for him is the purpose he finds in helping other victims procure treatments that offer greater efficacy and less toxicity than those allowed at the time in the United States. Where before Ron gained strength through bullying those who were weaker and different, now his battle against the heavy handed treatment of the FDA and pharmaceutical companies gives him strength and serves as a balm in his battle against the ravages of his disease.
“Dallas Buyers Club” offers several touch points with faith. Chief among these is the acting out of the “Sermon on the Mount.” Though Ron is not, nor ever becomes pure in heart, he does hunger and thirst for righteousness, and he is filled. Ron is salt who finds his taste in the service of others. He is a light that shines in advocating for those without a voice, and he refuses to hide even before judgmental friends. Ron discovers the fecklessness of storing earthly, physical treasures that can be stolen, or confiscated. In so letting go of the treasures of earth; wealth, envy, and hate, Ron Woodroof discovers the true treasure that is a healing heart.
Matthew McConaughey lost over 50 pounds and offers the most powerful performance of his career and is all but assured of at least an Academy Award nomination. Jared Leto, who lost over 30 pounds, will also assuredly receive a nomination for supporting actor. The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and also co-stars Jennifer Garner.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is rated R for strong language and adult content.
Scripture: Luke 19:1-10. Not only is the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus one of the most popular Bible stories for children, it is also very important for disciples as it speaks to the nature and needs of disicpleship.
As the reverse play seeks to use strengths of a defense against itself, speed, quick response and a strong rush to the ball carrier, the story of Zacchaeus seeks to eliminate what are often considered strengths in the world, quick assessment, assumption, and judgement of oneself and others.
Scripture: Ephesians 1:5-19
This passage is a Eulogy of God as we are reminded of the blessings upon blessings God has bestowed upon us in Christ. I suggest this might be the first Info-mercial or better said, Info-pistle.
The following is a portion of Dr. William H. Dickinson’s sermon “Living Out Our Faith” delivered on November 24, 1963. Dr. Dickinson was the pastor of Highland Park Methodist Church, one of the largest, most prominent Methodist Churches in the world, one of the most influential churches in Dallas, and was the church home for many of the leading citizens of the city and region. Dr. Dickinson was at the Trade Mart and was to give the benediction following the lunch that President Kennedy was to address.
This sermon calls for serious reflection on what it is to be a Christian, living faithfully in the midst of a broken world and responding faithfully to fear fueled anger, aggression, and hate. The sermon challenges intolerance that seeks to tear down or apart anything outside of a narrow spectrum of ideas or opinions. Such a spirit permeated the city in 1963 and has reemerged in recent years in many parts of society and the Church. Thus, this sermon still strikes a relevant tone 50 years after the it was preached. “Living Out Our Faith” was included in the book That Day With God, an international collection of sermons preached on November 24th, 1963.
Consider, if you will, at least four implications in the expression of our faith within the world:
First, this is God’s world, not mine nor yours, but God’s creation. And being free to make it what God wills it to be, we are, thus, called to live together, even in our disagreements. We are called to so order our society that our business and our government and our personal relationships in God’s world will move toward more justice and compassion, more responsible citizenship and more awareness of our personal guilt in this less than Godly life which our humanity imposes on us.
In the second-place this concept of a world as the only place in which our faith can be lived calls for a new dedication, at this very moment in history, to law and order. Do not underestimate the essential nature of this problem, for in times of stress and strain, fear and bitterness, the only way our freedom can be maintained at all is by the diligent acceptance of the limitations of some particular freedom imposed by law and order for the sake of the larger good. There can, in fact, be no freedom apart from discipline and law.
This leads to the third implication which is the fact that our faith must be lived in the world. When I speak of law and order, I do not mean merely paying enough taxes or going to the polls or providing adequate police protection or convening courts for the administration of justice. I mean the subtler support of our orderly society, maintained by deliberately refraining from irresponsible talk and excitement.
You will be, as I was, shocked to know that at a respectable dinner party two nights before the president’s visit to our city, a bright young couple of fine education, members of a church and possessing a promising professional future, said to their friends that they “hated the president of United States” and that they wouldn’t care one bit if somebody did take a “pot-shot” at him. You will be chagrined and deeply troubled to know that less than a month ago an honored and respectable doctor in Dallas, a member of a church, could not carry on an intelligent telephone conversation with one of his patients without making abusive and damaging remarks about the United States Ambassador to the United Nations who was, at that time, a visitor in Dallas.
Such irresponsible conversation, even when intended as facetiousness or humorous, has no place in the life of a Christian. Every Christian citizen in Dallas today may well join with the mayor of our city who on Friday evening stated that we must all search our souls for something we might have said.
There are among us today too many purveyors of hate, people who speak of intelligent, sincere holders of public office as traitors – people who fill our cars with leaflets bearing printed lies and calling our public officials “disloyal” – people who fill our mail with emotional, bitter, harangue and accusations, who make harassing telephone calls to honest and sincere citizens at all hours of the night. And then there are those who get subtler approval to such extremists through either indifference or through financial support.Hate, not only in our city but throughout the nation, has become big business and is supported by large contributions and exceedingly competent leadership. And we in Dallas, it seems to me, have more than our share of extremists. It is not a pretty picture into which an assassin found his place.
This leads me, then, to the fourth implication of living out our faith in the world to which Jesus sends us as Christians. There can be but one faithful motive for conduct in our world. Civic pride is not enough. Protection of our economic interest is not enough. The maintenance of our political prestige or getting our share is not enough. Recognition of God’s law and response to his love is the only motive by which our actions can be justified.
On the first anniversary of 9/11 I was pastor at First United Methodist church in Farmersville Texas. As on the day of the attack we worshipped on the first anniversary. It was a powerful worship service. In many ways more powerful than the service on 9/11 as the numbness had dissipated but our world had been changed for a year. As it had been a year all the victims had been accounted for. It was very powerful to see all those names, at first on the computer screen and then printed on page after page after page. The following was an article I wrote for the church paper the week leading up to the anniversary of 9/11.
What’s in a name? I forget who first coined the phrase, Homer, Shakespeare, Whitman, Cosby, or some anonymous advertising copywriter. Regardless who wrote it, the question still lingers. So many things are in a person’s name. In the old days one’s profession was somehow conveyed in the name. Now days, countless hours go into the selection of a name. Books galore offer ideas, rankings and meanings of every name under the sun. Today there seems to be so many things to think about when naming; carrying on family tradition, sending the right message about the person, and making sure the initials don’t spell out something strange like M.A.D. or R. A. T. Most names last a lifetime so I suppose it is good to put some time and effort into the process.
I was reminded of the importance of names yesterday. I printed out the names of the victims of the 9/11 attacks in preparation for our memorial service. Though the memory of that day still has the power to haunt, and is not too far from my consciousness, I, like most people not directly impacted have been able to move on in life. I celebrated birthdays, Christmas, Easter and marked other routine occasions during the last year. Now, however, I prepare to mark this occasion, and many of the same feelings from that day return. Immediately after the attack, the thing that brought home the scope of the tragedy was the announcement of the number of firemen killed. For me 300 plus firemen killed seemed in some way more disturbing than 3000 “casualties.” Perhaps the other number is just to high. More likely, knowing what a city and department go through when 1 fire or policeman is killed made 300 plus too hard to conceptualize.
Now, a year after the attack, I had the same reaction when I saw the names, ages, and professions of the victims. Now suddenly, they were not anonymous numbers, they were people, each with loving families and friends. As I sit here I have in my lap over 100 pages of names. As I read each name, I see what is in a name, a person taken before their time, a family still mourning and missing, unanswerable questions from no longer innocent children, memories of happy times now clouded by the current time of hurt and anger. Though I did not know any of the victims by name, in seeing their names, I felt bound to them and their families. I am bound in both the pain of loss, the fear of the unknown, and the hope for a future of peace.
On Wednesday September 11, we will bind ourselves with those names as we honor those who died, mourn with those left behind, and seek God’s power to not only bind us spiritually together, but to bind our individual wounds and fears in the balm of faith, community and God’s Spirit.
I was the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Farmersville Texas on 9/11/01. I had been there six weeks and was still getting to know the church and community. In the midst of the shock, chaos, fear, and planning a worship service for that evening, I tried to take time to jot down my feelings that day and the next. It’s still hard to imagine even as I remember.
Tuesday September 11, 2001
There is numbness that comes from witnessing dramatic events. This morning I awoke to the radio broadcasting a breaking story that a “small plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers.” ..I immediately turned on the TV to see the coverage, and while watching the horrible pictures of smoke billowing from one of the towers right before my eyes I saw a plane fly into the picture and crash into the other tower in a fiery explosion
“OH!” was all I could say. I could not believe my eyes. I still don’t believe it. The irony is it was a beautiful day outside.
Now, Washington is attacked, more injured and damage. The numbness has returned even as I write this. This seems to be a movie, but it is real, and it is horrible. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people killed and injured, lives lost and forever changed. Not since 1941 have we as a nation experienced such surprise and loss.
Wednesday September 12, 2001
Another day passed. We have watched, we have cried, we have wondered, and we have worshipped. We do not know exactly why this has happened or why God has allowed it other than it is yet another horrible consequence of living in a world that is fallen and separated from God. The answer is not satisfying, no answer brings satisfaction. While we do not know the why’s of God, we do know the where of God. We know that God is present with us, now, in our loss, sadness, anger, and grief. As God loves each of us more than one can comprehend, God therefore grieves more than anyone grieves or can even imagine. May God bless us, and may we feel God’s love and presence as we continue to lift up others in prayer. May God bless and comfort those waiting for word of loved ones. May God bless and strengthen those working and risking their own lives in the search for survivors. And, may God be with, and somehow change, those who organized the terror. May the cycle of violence and hate be broken. May our response as individuals and a nation be in accord with God’s Word, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.