Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The parable of Clint Eastwood

During a break on a working trip to Washington, D.C., my host took me to the downtown area for a look around. Strolling along, we came across a jumble of camera gear and cables on a street corner. Among the names stenciled on the back of several of those collapsible directors’ chairs were Clint Eastwood and John Malkovich.

Curiosity piqued, we followed the trail of cables to a nearby street where we discovered that the two actors were shooting In the Line of Fire. Learning from some of those around that a crowd scene was being filmed, we decided to muscle in and join the action.

It turned out that the scene in question featured Eastwood, as a veteran Secret Service agent, on duty for the arrival of the French President’s motorcade. The take involved him walking alongside one of the vehicles, one hand on the side of the limo and his other touching the earpiece of his headset so that he could hear his boss’s instructions above the noise of the crowd.

We pushed in close to the official extras who had been given flags to wave, as someone called “Action!” The motorcade cruised down the street, Eastwood looked dedicated and deadly in his usual flinty Clinty way, and it all seemed to go well. That should have been a wrap. But the director wanted to do it again, and then again.

After about the third or fourth take, one of the production team picked up a megaphone and gave some instructions. “Look, folks,” he said to the crowd with a touch of exasperation. “Stop trying to shake Clint’s hand when he comes past, for crying out loud. And don’t wave or smile at him, okay? He’s just one of the security detail. You’re meant to be excited about seeing the French President.”

Clint was supposed to be playing a supporting role, but he had become the center of attention.

That moment has come back to me at times in the years since, usually when this Christian author or that Christian artist is being heralded as the latest John the Baptist. You know: “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater…” (Matthew 11:11). Amid all the hype and hoopla surrounding them I wonder, “Are we forgetting the real focus?”

When someone of faith becomes prominent in the public eye, many fellow believers tend to do one of two things; either lionize them or demonize them. They can do nothing wrong or they can do nothing right. They are God’s gift to the world or they are part of some satanic plot to deceive everyone. We believe everything they say or doubt everything they say. Either which way (but loose, I guess I could add), we end up giving them more attention than we should.

If Clint had been given the megaphone that day, he might have borrowed some words from John the Baptist: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).

In the cheering crowd, we need to be asking ourselves, Where are we focused? Are we waving at the bodyguard rather than welcoming the real dignitary?

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