One Punk Under God, Episode 6: “The Moral of the Story is Love”

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death
                      I John 3:14
 

In writing for television, as I’ve begun to do again, there is something called a “tag.”  It’s that 2-3 minute scene at the very end of the show that ties up all the loose ends and summarizes what the story has really been about.  In this, the final episode of the series, it’s done both on a meta level and on the level of a family discovering in the last remaining moments of life, what the story has truly been about.

The episode begins with a phone call between Jay and his father.  Jay invites his father to come up for the first service at the new church that’s starting in New York.  Jim says that the next time Jay’s in town, he’s going to have to stop by.  Ever since Stu Damron made mention of the editing problems in episode five, I’ve been on the lookout for non-sequiturs in the editing and I truly can’t tell if this is one of those, or if it’s just the disconnect in communication that’s been so prevalent between Jay and Jim Bakker.  Either way, Jay snickers and says “the speaking engagements aren’t what they used to be.”  Strange how the whole gay issue resonates throughout this show and, on a larger issue, the true cost of standing for what you believe in.

Jef was Jay’s youth pastor growing up.  The two haven’t seen each other since 1991.  In their sitdown conversation, there has been significant change.  Jef has lost his faith.  He was truly devoted, then fell away after examining other cultures.  He claims that the real reason, though, was that he just didn’t have what Pascal referred to as a “God-shaped hole” in his soul.  Jef asks Jay if he thought there was any way possible that Jay could do without God in his life.  No, replies Jay, because I *DO* have that God-shaped hole in my heart.  Jef replies that if a church is just a bunch of people who believe the same way gathering together and supporting each other, then he has that in his friends.  Now, being the Pharisee that I am, my first thought was buddy, the minute one of those friends lets you down in any meaningful way, you’re going to lose your faith again and I hope it truly doesn’t cost you everything.  But no, Jay sits and listens and loves his friend in a way that makes me admire him all the more.  Yes, love is not an entirely fluffy emotion.  It is an action and a choice that you make.  Love means sometimes having to tell someone you care for that they’re doing things that will eventually bring significant harm to themselves.  But not here, not now.  This time is for reconnecting and finding that emotional intimacy that makes those difficult conversations possible.

The first service in New York takes place in a bar called Pete’s Candy Store.  Jay welcomes everyone and makes some general announcements about the philosophy behind Revolution — that this is their church, that they have yet to determine what the city’s needs are, but that figuring out process will happen in time.  We cross-cut between Jay’s post-mortem on that first service and the service in process.  He says that with the congregation, he doesn’t know if he’s making a difference.  Sure enough, the congregation is the very model of New York City blase.  They know that they’ll be back next week, but not so much after that.  Hint: the church has a kickin’ web site at revolutionnyc.com.

Jay calls home to speak to his mom and gets Tammy’s husband.  (Are they divorced?  If so, he’s still around, taking care of her.)  We don’t hear the conversation in it’s entirety, but at one point Jay looks over to Amanda and touches his eye, mouthing the word “blind.”  (This makes no sense in a later scene — editing again?)  Amanda reminds Jay to tell him that if they need anything, they’re here for them.  When the conversation is over, Jay goes into the bathroom to get away from the camera.  When the camera peeks in, Jay and Amanda are hugging.  Jay says that his mother has stopped eating.  “It hits me in saves.  It’s unreal that she’s going to die.”  He feels guilty for feeling so sad, but Amanda tells him not to feel so guilty for feeling bad.  Jay says that a lot of this comes from growing up in a church, that they would always tell him to “get it together.”  An odd admonishment coming from a church  whose pastor’s wife was known for her crying jags.  Jay will be off to see his mother, Amanda will fly out shortly after Jay’s had some time alone with her.

In Matthews NC at Tammy’s home, we’re told that Tammy hasn’t left the house in 5 weeks.  When we enter, we return to that clear glass bowl where the frogs were struggling.  At the bottom of the murkiest water, we see the frog lying dead on its back at the bottom of the bowl.  Silently I cursed both the cameraman and the editor for that shot.  We know she’s dying and it hurts us, too.  Leave film school irony out of it, would you?

At one point–and I can’t remember where I read it–Tammy Faye reached 86 lbs.  Just the difference between Episode 5 and now is…startling.  She is being fed by IV, which as we enter, Jay is ready to take out of her arm so they can go to a restaurant together.  Jay says that his mom wants to go on film to tell everyone what God’s doing in her life, as she always wants.  She says that her family has never been a “hugging” family and that they’ve always gone their own direction, but now that her life is coming to an end, everyone is coming back together.  She admonishes everyone watching this tape to get back together and play games and laugh and be with each other before you have to.  I think of my own family and my own heart stabs at the truth.

Jay takes Tammy to lunch.  They carry on small talk for themselves just as much as for the camera, trying to make this a light afternoon.  But it’s clear when the food comes and Jay begins to eat, that Tammy is here for Jay.  She’s trying to carry on bravely for her boy, but just a sip of her iced tea makes her ill.  They need to go.  Tammy tries to hold back the tears, but they come anyway.  Jay gets up and embraces her and before now, I never realized how difficult it must be to be a cameraman during times like this.  How do you stay and record something so private and painful?

Amanda arrives at Tammy’s home and Jay waits for her on the stoop, forlorn.  He says that the hospice tells him that every day they have with her is a miracle.  They enter the house and the door closes.  The title over this shot:  Jay says there will be no more filming of his mother.  The timing is right.  Whatever happens from this point on is too painful, too private to be shared with the likes of us.

Later in NYC, Jay thinks that the world is going to be very, very different without his mother.  Time is short.  She is nothing less than his foundation.  In a separate interview, Amanda says that with Tammy in such rapid decline, Jay will be looking to Jim for support.

Two months later, Jim meets Jay in NYC.  This is only the 2d time that the two have met each other.  He’s here to speak at a meeting of Jay’s church.  How did we come from such a disconnect between these two pastors, this father and son, to Jim now agreeing to speak at Jay’s church?  There is a maddening lack of explanation here I’m tempted to write off to bad editing or a lack of time for the episode; I could only surmise that Jay is nothing if not determined, to find reconciliation.  I also suspect that Tammy’s imminent passing is one of those things that’s forcing the two back together.

Anyway, the strangest thing happens on the pulpit.  Jay explains to the congregation his relationship with his father and the rest of his family, giving these young people a history of the PTL Club and all the scandal that happened before many of these people were even born.  Jay goes on to explain the distance between him and his father in such a way that made me squirm not a little.  When Jay and Amanda have both previously said that these guys really only communicate on the pulpit, it’s never more clear than it is now.  Jay says that his father communicates better because he needs an audience.  I’m not entirely certain this isn’t also as true for Jay.  This time, Jay’s pulpit is on videotape as well.

Jim speaks about grace, about giving grace healing the giver.  “I don’t live in shame.  I AM shame,” he says, and the effect is startling.  No KIDDING the real communication happens in front of an audience.  “I was never able to please my father.  I am so proud of Jay.  He is doing what I wish I could do.  The New Testament can all be summed in this: to love and forgive one another.”  Jim admits that he is afraid of rejection and you get the feeling of such raw, naked intimacy that whatever shortcomings Jim has had in his relationship with Jay, they’ve both come to a realization that at the pulpit (and by extension, at the foot of the cross) they can find enough commonality to really communicate and share their faults and strengths as men and as children of God.

I don’t have it specifically in my notes who makes this observation (I suspect Amanda), but it’s noted that Jay is a little boy who sees his mother leaving for the last time, so he’s been reaching out to Jim for support.  I agree somewhat, but it’s deeper than that.  The same deficiency that drives some of us to romanticized attachments to the same gender is the same deficiency that Jay senses and is trying so hard to correct.  It is not the needy little boy looking for daddy, so much as it is, I think, the young man looking for that which is the most important in life.  That connection, that vital approval and friendship with our fathers is so critical in our development as men that to be without it can be critical to our emotional and sexual development.  That strong drive for connection is never more focused in this time of need for Jay.  When he says in the opening credits that this tough transition is the hardest time of his life, we understand instinctively why this is such a short documentary series.  We could go on for episodes about the re-founding of his church and Jay’s life in general, and it would not have the depth that this brutal transformative transition is having on Jay and everyone in Jay’s world.  As we’ve just passed Martin Luther King’s birthday, I’m reminded of this in an entirely spiritual context:

“The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and moments of controversy.”–Martin Luther King, Jr., 27 January 1965

Back at the apartment, where Jim will be staying while he’s in NYC, Jay shows him around.  He shows Jim the first thing he remembers Jim ever giving him: a Batmobile with Batman and Robin “action figures.”  Jay shows Jim some of his “paintings”: shocking day-glo punk images with death imagery, including one skeleton behind a pulpit with a glossy pompadour.  Jim says “I want you to do a painting for me.  Something symbolic.”  Dude, are you NOT looking at what he’s handing you?  I have a feeling that Skeletor behind the pulpit with the pompadour is a young artist’s therapy.  Jay smiles and agrees that he’ll gladly do that for his father.

Before you know it, we’re nearing the end of the show.  It’s time to wrap up.

Jay says that he doesn’t look ahead to the future anymore, but takes one day at a time.  I think, given Jay’s character throughout this series, that’s not going to be a permanent thing, but rather a limitation of this tortuous struggle he’s going through.  A card says he goes to visit his mother frequently.  He shows off the tattoo he’s gotten to memorialize his mother’s legacy: it’s a steam locomotive on his chest, with Tammy Faye’s unmistakable smiling face in the center of the engine.

Another card says that Jim and his wife Lori are planning a 600 acre mountain retreat for Christians.  Additional description of what the retreat will include is an tactless intent to bring to mind Jim’s previous excesses with the PTL Club.  The effect, especially after the warmth we’ve developed for Jim over the past few episodes, is jarring and an irritant this close to the end.

Amanda is still studying at the NYU School for Medicine, graduating in 2008.

Jay is still pastor of Revolution.  There are now Revolution churches in NYC, Atlanta, and Charlotte.

Final credit:  Dedicated to Tammy.  Drive on.

Afterword:  In writing for television, they tell you when you write to know not only what your story is about, but what your story is really about.  As with One Punk Under God in the smaller context and in life as the larger context, the moral of the story is love.  We are all stories to be told, and as such, we do not begin our stories as perfectly formed characters.  Where is the learning in that?  We are full of sin: hatreds, wrong-headed passions, corruption, foolishness, shame, guilt, and all the other darknesses that make us just as human as does the Light.  Christians are no more immune to this than the rest of the world; perhaps, given our faith that demands a public declaration, our process—both the darkness and the light—is more visible to the rest of the world.  What One Punk Under God made so clear to me is that the moral of the story sometimes cannot be garnered until the tag of our lives, those final 2-3 minutes of life, wherein everything that is dross is burned in the fire of illness and decline and only the gold remains for us to take to the throne of God.  It is very easy to chew on Jay for his theology concerning homosexuality; as someone on this side of the issue, it’s maddeningly wrong-headed and exposes searching men and women to further sin and further struggle to find wholeness and healing.  Then again, as a moderate Calvinist, it’s easy to focus on the sin without a focus on the restoration.  The largest lesson I’ve learned throughout this series is that as Jay’s relationship with his father, with Stu, and with Jef all show, it is in context of a loving relationship that those lessons are learned and those sins are corrected.  Sometimes those sins can be directly addressed; sometimes they’re addressed in the process of our search for God’s healing love and restoration in our lives.  I know that holds with my accountability partner; when I’ve fallen and stumbled and he administers correction and healing, I’m amazed that I feel so loved and cared for afterward.  I Corinthians 13:1-3 says it all:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

There was much that was never addressed and, as the series so powerfully underlined for me, it’s a process.  We are unfinished dramas, still some distance from that final summation of our characters.  What is in this series isn’t so much the dross and the unimportant, but the refined gold through the burning of Jay’s life.  I am concerned, yes, about those who encounter Jay’s poor theology but I’m comfortable in the bigness of God and the love He’s shown Jay to know that the lesson will be learned if not now, then most probably by the tag.  God will see to it. 

Thank you, Jay and Amanda, for sharing your lives and this very painful season.  Thank you, Stu, for your example that shone through (despite the editing.)  Thank you all for the lessons learned.  It was an incredible journey and I’ve learned much along the way.

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~ by WriterRand on January 19, 2007.

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