Machine Gun Preacher, powerful film. The cinema was almost empty but the drama that unfolded on screen immediately filled the room. I felt traumatised, moved, challenged, inspired. The emotional turmoil was provoked by the images, voices, stories played out in the film.
It challenged my comfortable existence, my fluctuating passion, my feint-hearted commitment. It confronted me with a raw Christianity based on instinctive action, not theological beliefs or stances. It disputed reliance on peaceful means to overcome systematic, brutal violence.
It rekindled a flame I felt as a new Christian. The desire to scream, punch, kick against violence and injustice in the world. I was involved in human rights work, facing and feeling the trauma, the unending pain, of people suffering abuse and oppression in Central America.
I became ‘moderate’ in order to cope. The passion, anger and despair became all consuming. It exhausted and damaged me. My friends found me obsessed by the cause. I lost touch with those around me. Our normal, everyday lives felt pallid, collusive, meaningless, unreal.
I burned with ferocious passion, stoked the flames higher and higher, but eventually burned out. It was a crash and burn of a painful kind. I started to experience physical shakes, couldn’t think straight, felt continual trauma as if bleeding inside. It was a very dark and sobering period.
I cut off, switched off. I worked at a safe distance, didn’t think too hard. I forgot how it is to feel, to really feel, to feel so strongly and passionately that it drives me to determined action, to radical action, to give my life to bring about change. I felt safer, calmer, self-protected.
And herein lies the challenge that Machine Gun Preacher speaks to so powerfully. How to face injustice squarely, stand alongside those in pain, feel empathy that spurs into action, maintain perspective, accept realistic limits yet value our own distinctive contribution.
It’s something about hearing God’s call: what he is calling us to and what he isn’t. It’s about staring hard in the face of overwhelming injustice and yet knowing our own boundaries, his boundaries, in order to focus well on what he has called us to do, and to trust the rest to him.
Nick Wright is a coach and consultant, specialising in reflective practice.