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The Chosen - Yes or No?

Today, I am writing about two people in my life, and I am finding their types in the disciples of Jesus … and in Jesus’ mom.

“But look here,” said my friend, who is the first of the two people above. “I am worried about the TV show The Chosen. It presents many back stories about the disciples. That back story approach may mislead some viewers into doctrinal errors. That could threaten their reach for salvation.”

I love The Chosen.

Clearly, my friend has his doubts.

This friend is a longtime leader in the field of Christian apologetics; he manages an institute devoted to that work. His job is figuratively to drop pebbles into the shoes of doubters. That is, to alert them, to make them uncomfortable, and to make them think…and, ultimately, to decide.

One way or the other; this is what Jesus offers them. Heaven or hell.

The Chosen explores the disciples’ back stories and also the conflicts among them. It personalizes the twelve disciples in ways the gospels cannot. The gospels are gospels and inerrant; The Chosen is fiction. But the writing, acting, directing, and cinematography in The Chosen are exquisite. They raise this TV series into the realm of holy art.

That said, I was troubled after my conversation with my friend. He is a perceptive man. Perhaps he is right to be worried. I, on the other hand, do have a tendency to over-enthuse. Others have pointed to this weakness in me.

Nevertheless, here’s what happened next.

Please meet the second person I am writing about.

That very afternoon, at church, I fell into conversation with a woman who has two sons, one nine and one four. She speculated about how her sons, when they should reach their late teens and early twenties, might disappoint her. She told me that, now, they need her – they really need her, and of course she provides.

But what would happen, she wondered, when her boys reached an age when they might, for example, forget her birthday, or otherwise make it plain that she was not foremost on their minds? How hurtful to her that would be, she worried.

I understood and commiserated. We parted ways.

That evening, as it happened, I turned on the TV and came across The Chosen – season two, episode three. If you are already a viewer, perhaps you’ll remember.

On the screen, it’s evening. The disciples and several women are gathered around the fire outside. Jesus is off in a hut healing his way through a long line of Samaritans who have gathered for his help. One of the women around the fire is Mary, Jesus’ mom. Mary Magdalen persuades her to recount the moments of Jesus’ birth, and so Jesus’ mom narrates that story.

Mary fondly recalls how much the baby Jesus needed – really needed – his mom thirty years ago when he was so small. Now, she says, he is kind to her, but she lacks the impression that he really needs her now. At that moment, Jesus stumbles by the circle beside the fire, wordless, exhausted, having healed the sick during all that live-long day. He makes his way to his tent and tries to remove his cloak but can’t.

Mary sees his difficulty and goes to him and removes his cloak. Then she washes his feet. She washes his hands. She washes his face. He mutters, “Imma, I am so tired,” and she helps him to lie down. She covers him with a blanket.

As we watch these moments in the almost darkness of Jesus’ tent away from the nighttime fire, it is a scene of breathtaking, quiet power. Here we see Mary blessed by the Son of God, by her adult son who once was so small and who needed her then – really needed her – and whom she serves again now, as a mother does, in his need right now.

Moved, I froze the frame, dialed the woman I had spoken with earlier that afternoon, described to her what I had just seen, and then learned from her later, the next day, that hearing of that scene had blessed her and had made her weep with joy.

Next day, I wrote to my apologist friend and described my encounter with that scene as being my own God moment from my previous day. Nowhere in scripture is that scene depicted, I wrote. No issue of doctrine is threatened by that scene, I wrote. But here’s where the artistic rubber meets the road, I wrote.

Bible truth and artistic truth differ. And it was artistic truth which had made that mother of young sons cry.

Bravo, to The Chosen and to its creators.

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Dikkon Eberhart

One man could sail around the world and not hold a single reader with his memoir. E.B. White could describe a row across Central Park Lake and hold a reader breathless.

It’s not the events of your story. It’s the story of your events--in you.

Scene One

Location: a party at a house by the harbor.

The conversation: it might go something like this.

One of the men turns to me—about my age, getting grey—we’ve been chatting boats. “You’re the one who’s just published that memoir.”


“You retired?”

“Yes. I enjoyed doing the book. But I only had the time after retiring. Lot of work. I suppose not everyone could do it.”

"You know, I’ve tried to write a memoir. People say my life is amazing. Can’t seem to make it into a book though. I could use your advice.”

“You’ve sailed across the Atlantic, right?”

“Three crossings. Once solo in a 28-foot sloop. France—Azores—Cape Verdes—then downwind to the Caribbean.”

“So what’s the point of your memoir?”

He looks puzzled. “I just said.”

“I don’t mean to be argumentative, but no, you didn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve told me what happened, not what the point is.”

“People say I tell what happened very well.”

“I expect you do. There’s a lot to tell about. All that sailing. I’m sure you’ve done a good job at what is not the job.”

He looks, perhaps, offended. “What do you mean it’s not the job?”

“What I mean is you’ve begun the job—to tell the story—but that’s not the real job. You’ve got your story so one event flows into the next event. That’s good.”

“Thanks.” And then, “I think.”

“But the real job is harder.”


“Because the real job is answering my question—what’s the point?”

“Why can’t I just tell the story and be done?”

“Because no one wants to read a sequence of your events. ”

Scene Two

“I don’t understand. Why do I do this then?”

“What someone wants to read is what that person needs to read.”

“How am I supposed to know what that person needs to read?”

“One thing everyone needs to read is the truth.”

“The truth about what?”

“About you, and about the point.”

“But the truth about me is what I wrote down already.”

“No, it isn’t. What you wrote down is a sequence of events, which you have ordered so they flow. That’s not the truth. That’s a sequence. And nobody wants to read a sequence of your events.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?”

“Tell the point.”

“What is the point?”

“Ah, that’s the big question, is it not?”

“Oh, come on. We’re going around in circles.”

He steps aside and pours himself another drink. I think he may have left the conversation, but he circles back. “Anyway, the truth right now is that I hate my boat as much as I love her. Maybe I’m too old.”

I pause, thinking there's truth right there if he developed it, but I ask, “What’s the point of your nautical life—of this sequence you have written down?”

“The point? I’m just trying to tell my story here. People say my life is amazing. That’s what I’m trying to tell about.”

“You really want my advice?”


“Take the sequence, each chapter, just as it flows now, and go back and rewrite it again. By the third or the fourth chapter I'll bet a new conception of your story will begin to emerge in your writing. Your concept of your story will have matured. That new concept is the point. Or at least it will be a new step toward the real point."

“Ah, that point thing….

“Yes. That point thing. Then, when you're all done, you'll need to go back to the beginning and do what I just said all over again another time."

"Oh, man."

"Eventually, you'll know what the actual point actually is. And that's what leads to the truth about you. The truth is the reason why people will need to read your book. So they can have truth in their lives. They need to have truth in their lives, and your book gives it to them.”

He muses. “It’ll take a lot of pages to write it again and again.”

“It takes a lot of days to cross the Atlantic. What’s the point of doing that? Just to get to the other side?”

"No." He pauses. “It’s being out there on the ocean and in tune with the ocean—for me, that’s in tune with God—and even more so when I’m alone.”

“So that’s the truth you need to talk about. Your focus needs to be on the truth, not on successive positions at noon. People will read your book, if it contains the truth about you and about your soul, so they can have the truth in their lives.”

“But what do I do with all this mass of paper? By now, I’ve got maybe a thousand pages on my desk!”

Scene Three

“Yes, you do have lots of pages. Now cut every sentence from the thousand pages that does not reveal the truth.”

“But what if I love those sentences by now?”

“You will love them. But your love is self-indulgent. You’re in love with your love of your sentences. Cut anyway.”

“Not easy.”

“In the Caribbean, did you ever take on board a huge bunch of green bananas and hang them in the rigging and, when they ripened, need to eat them as fast as you possibly could before they rotted?”


“What happened when they rotted?”

“Threw them overboard.”

"See? Even though you loved them?”

“Even though.” He smiles. “Okay, I cut.”

“That’s what you’ll do if you want someone else to read your story.”

“I thought I wanted that.”

"Don’t back away now. Now people will read your story—and will value it—because now you are telling the truth.”

“Anything else?”

“Yeah, one more thing. Just go through and make every paragraph a pleasure to read—vivid, humorous, whatever it takes to make each paragraph a pleasure to read.”

He rolls his eyes. “Then am I done?”

“Oh, sure,” I smile. “Then you’re done.”

We shake hands.

As he turns away, I say, “But when an editor gets hold of it, you’ll have three or four more rewrites yet to do.”

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Where Do the Words Come From?

“Don’t keep your light under a basket.”

I was enamored of Ruth, who cautioned me thus. To her, I had just revealed my fear.

I asked, “That’s biblical, right, that light and basket thing? But what do you think he sees in me?”

The director of the show had awarded me the lead part in his upcoming production. Yes, I had read for that part. I had gotten it, but I had not expected to get it. Other and better men had read for it, too.

Here’s what Ruth said next. “There is a core truth inside anything that comes our way, anything in our lives that is big and troubling. That’s what I believe. We should keep our attention on that core.”

I smiled. “Then my core truth is that I want that part, but I’m scared.”

“So that’s it.”

“That’s what? The want, or the scared?”

“That you want it. Concentrate on that. That’s the core. That’s how you’ll pay it forward for him. To make it come real, what he saw in you.” She smiled. “And I’m so pleased for you.”

Ruth was making soup – since it was the end of August, it was tomato soup, with corn and shallots built on her rich chicken stock. Now and then, she would turn aside and muddle dried herbs in her mortar with her pestle, toss them in.

“How’s your wrist?” I asked.

“Better than three days ago. I’m not using it much today. Not stressing it. The swelling’s down. Still hurts.”

She had stumbled recently, fallen and sprained her wrist. Her forearm was wrapped in a tight bandage.

She went on, “I saw this show last night, about the disciples of Jesus, called The Chosen.” She smiled at me. “It’s a good show. You’d like it. Very well written. Anyway, one of the scenes shows this long line of people with health trouble waiting to get in front of Jesus so he’ll heal them.” She lifted up her bandaged wrist. “I kinda wanted to be one of them.”

I smiled. “Looking for a laying on of hands?”

“Just looking for a connection with him.”

As Ruth and I had gotten to know one another, sometimes we talked about her Christian belief. I admire that belief in her. She grew up Jewish and “came to Christ,” as she puts it, in college.

She has told me about the turning point for her, from Judaism. The turning point was when she got it – really got it – that the Jewish scripture, what we call the Old Testament, required the New Testament.

The Jews, she said, everyone she had known at her synagogue, they thought the Law and the Prophets is complete in itself. But how could it be complete?

This is what she got. Every verse, she said, even every word, demanded completion … and the completion that was demanded came through Jesus.

I had grown to like Ruth, a lot. I mean…really a lot. Of course, she’s beautiful. Anyone – you, anyone else – you all can see that for yourselves. And she’s funny, and smart. And she can cook. But the main thing is that she takes all this about Jesus seriously. It matters to her. I haven’t known many women like her.

Me? I act. Certainly, I act. What else can I do?

But about God? Whoever God is for me, I suppose I feel closest to God when I am privately perfecting a part – how closely am I being this other person, this other person who is not me? I’ve come to believe I have a gift.

Ruth helps me by considering that my gift is from God. But thinking about her help leads me to the bad of side acting. Shall I spend my life perfecting the art of being someone other than myself? What had Ruth just said about hiding the light under the basket?

I mustn’t reject Ruth’s kind support. Whose light am I hiding? The character’s light? Mine?

The words I use on stage aren’t mine. The playwright wrote the words with the intent of seducing the audience into experiencing the grandeur, or the irony, or the humor – or whatever it is – intended by the script. My skill, you see, is intermediary. It’s useful, but I’m between the truth of the words and the creativity of the author.

And where do those words come from?

One time I asked that question of Ruth.

I like it that Ruth is the sort of woman who has just the right sentence in her mind to read to me, right then, and she can lay her hand on the right book immediately. The book she pulled out that time recounted the stories of a missionary woman who had lived in Africa for 25 years.

Ruth found the page, smiled at me, and read, “A passionate pursuit of God draws me closer into his light.”

She closed the book and smiled at me. “That’s where they come from, the words. It’s about the honest pursuit in the writer and about the light that is truly found by that passionate pursuit.”

Today, Ruth tasted her soup. She gestured toward one of the cabinets. “Get me more salt, would you please?”

I stood and found the salt cellar and handed it to her. “Ha ha,” I said. “Salt and light. Even more biblical.”

“Yeah, but in those days they weren’t always complaining about having too much salt. Know where our word salary comes from? The Roman legions were often paid in salt – salt was their salary. The legionnaires always wanted more salt.”

“What about the light side of it?”

She looked at me; had something to say. “I mentioned that show, The Chosen? A thing that really strikes me in the show is how dark it is at night – when there’s a night scene. Like two or three candles and maybe an olive oil lamp. But that’s it. Otherwise, the scene is dark.”

Ruth measured out a small amount of salt and added it to her soup. She stirred and then tasted and then smiled. “Good.”

“The dark?” I prodded.

“Here’s what really blew me away. You asked once about where the words come from. Listen to this.” Her eyes shone. “This is really exciting.”

Then she told me something that excited me, too.

“In the show, there’s a scene when Jesus has agreed to meet with Nicodemus, who’s the chief priest among the Sanhedrin, but they’ve decided to do it at night, in the dark, to protect both of them from being observed.”

“Did that really happen?”

“Scripturally, yes. But as the scene is written for the show, two of Jesus’ disciples plead to go along, as bodyguards. At first Jesus refuses to have them, but then he relents. However, he makes a rule. The two disciples will be allowed to come to the meeting, but they must stay outside. They can watch and listen from a window, but that’s all.

“As the scene is filmed, it’s very dark. Jesus and Nicodemus are on a roof, which is surrounded by a wall. The wall has an opening in it, like a window – no glazing, empty space. There are candles on the table where Jesus and Nicodemus sit across from one another. That’s the whole of the lighting. It’s dark nighttime. It’s really dark.”

“Sounds evocative.”

“I was enchanted.” Ruth’s eyes were sparkling. “The way they film things in this show are so provocative. You’ve really got to watch it. You’d love it – you, of all people, actor that you are.

“So, the camera shoots some longer shots and then comes in very close, focusing back and forth on the faces of the two men as they talk back and forth.

“Nicodemus has many questions. He’s really trying, really very urgently, to understand this man who makes miracles occur. But he has a hard time fully getting what Jesus is trying to tell him.

“In the end, Jesus pauses, thinks. Then he takes a deep breath and speaks again, summing it up. Now the camera is very tight on his face. ‘God loved the world so much,’ Jesus says, ‘that he sent his son into the world, so that anyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life.’”

Ruth stared at me. “Get it?”

I shook my head.

“What’s the single most famous line in the whole New Testament?”

“That line?”

She smiled. She nodded. “I confess it passed me by. I heard it, but it passed me by. I knew the line so well that it just rolled right out inside my head. And I was just so totally much into their conversation, the two men, and Jesus was so earnest in his effort to help Nicodemus understand.

“Then suddenly I thought, Wait, wait, wait – who are the disciples outside the window listening?

“Not – not…John?

And the camera cuts to the disciples, and one of them is John. And he is scribbling in a notebook.

Ruth came over and knelt down before me. She took my right hand and held it with her good hand. “A shiver ran through me,” she said.

She went on. “Where do the words come from? You want to know where the words come from? You want to have light shining from the actual words? Not cover them up with a basket? Have the actual people speak the actual words? You want to focus on the core truth that resides in those words?”

She took a deep breath and blew it out sharply. “The Chosen is fiction. It’s not the Bible. But what an idea! What a brilliant writerly idea they’ve put across! What if the single most famous line in the entire New Testament is an actual quote from the Son of God? What if it was, and not something made up by the author! What if it was?”

Her excitement radiated through the kitchen. It radiated within me. Ruth was lavishing for me the magnificence of art…and showing me the core of the New Testament all at once.

That may have been the moment when I realized – for my life – that I must subsume myself within the very core mystery of Jesus … and perhaps then I might even marry this woman.

I mastered my big part, with its words and its light.

And since all of you know my wife Ruth, clearly you can guess about the rest.

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