Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Taking Up the Cross, Literally

A much-heralded but little seen movie has been languishing in theatres across the nation and will soon disappear into DVD-land. The movie moved and inspired me so much that I called people on my way home and told them about it, raved about it at dinner to Angela and the girls, made everyone within three family tree branches of me promise to see it, and arranged to watch it again with Angela two days later.

The movie is called “The Cross.” It is a true story presented in documentary form. The main person is Arthur Blessitt, but if he won an Academy Award it would be for best supporting actor. The main character is the twelve-foot wooden cross he carries with him… across the entire planet… over a forty-year span. I’ll let that settle in for a moment.

Blessitt’s journey began with a simple act of obedience. He was ministering to the hippies in Hollywood in the 1960’s and opened a coffee shop called “His Place.” He felt God calling him to put a large wooden cross on the wall inside, which he did (the details are very funny). Shortly thereafter he felt God calling him to take short trips with the cross along Sunset Strip, giving out food and telling people about Jesus. Soon, he felt God calling him to carry the cross across America. Blessitt explains that growing up as a Christian, he never had any particular attachment to the cross, per se. He didn’t have one in his room, didn’t wear one around his neck. He was as baffled as anyone when a 12-foot wooden cross became the centerpiece of his life and ministry.

He left Hollywood on Christmas Day in 1969 and walked across the country. (He was arrested in Mississippi for holding hands with a black man while praying with him). Everywhere he went he told people about Jesus and God’s love for them. The physical cross became like a beacon of hope to people as he gently, peaceably, lovingly offered his simple message in town after town. Crowds gathered. People wept. The actual film footage of this happening is simply breathtaking to behold.

In 1970 Arthur felt called to carry the cross in war torn Northern Ireland. He then began intermittent trips to specific countries to do his ministry while marrying and raising a family. In 1988 he felt Jesus tell him to carry the cross in every nation, which he completed ten years later. Then he launched out to carry the cross in every island group throughout the world as well. In 2008 at age 68, he felt that he had completed what God had called him to do; hence the documentary.

The parts of Arthur’s story that moved me most were the instances in which he faced danger and was told by everyone not to go, but resolutely decided that God’s call was stronger than harrowing circumstances. You will not believe the footage of him in northern Ireland, Beirut, and Nicaragua during actual street battles walking with his cross. Or the time during Spain’s fascist era when the authorities brutally club him, arrest him and confiscate his cross, all on videotape (!), while onlookers rush to keep the cross raised high during the melee.

The document’s narrator observes that “We started out thinking we would make a movie about what Arthur did with the cross, but we ended up making a movie about what the cross did to Arthur.” And to you and me, Lord willing.


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