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Lay off Mel Gibson, for Christ's sake!

I’m not being sacrilegious; I mean this admonition literally and reverentially.

I know both individuals personally, Mel and Christ – and my friend Mel is no anti-Semite. He worships and magnifies the most famous Jew who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth, whom millions and millions call ”Christ,” or Messiah.

So do I.

We’ve both committed our lives and eternal destiny to this rebbe (rabbi), this central figure of human history, the One from whose earthly life our calendar has been constructed. This year is 2006, A.D. – anno domini, ”the Year of Our Lord.” The Year of the Jew who with his disciples, also orthodox Jews, forever changed and shaped religion, culture, philosophy, art – and a little thing called democracy.

He himself said, ”I did not come to destroy the Law (the Law of Moses), but to fulfill it.” And from the first century (as the world describes it) till this minute, wherever JUDEO-Christian principles have been dominant, that nation or society has tended to prosper in every conceivable way. Compare those nations to any and all others, and you must concede that truth.

And it’s for His sake, and in His name, I urge, ”Get off Mel’s back! He’s admitted his grievous mistake, apologized in the most humble and earnest way, and has gone into alcohol rehab! For Christ’s sake, forgive him and leave him alone!”

Our society, and especially the avaricious, malicious, and scandal-hungry media, have jumped all over this story, exploding it into front page and TV lead item prominence, which it certainly doesn’t deserve. Actors and actresses getting pulled over and arrested for drunk driving, drug possession, shoplifting, belligerent public behavior, all kinds of irresponsible actions, have become so commonplace in the last several years that they quickly earn a ”hot spot” on entertainment shows and barely a mention in reputable papers and magazines. Robert Downey? Lindsay Lohan? Courtney Love? Puffy Combs – in a nightclub gun possession case? Snoop Dog and his ”pound” in a London airport brawl? Paul McCartney in a Japanese hoosegow for pot possession? Nick Nolte? On and on and on; do you even remember these incidents, what they did, what they said? No? And why should you?

But almost all media, from the late night moment the police booked Mel Gibson, have trumpeted and obsessed on this incident to the point of pushing our war in Iraq and the horrific violence in Israel and Lebanon off to the side, or even off the front page. Every talk show on every network, even those devoted totally to political and economic topics have dwelt long and speculatively on a drunken man’s wild and stupid ravings, as if they were somehow massively important to us – to anybody.

Why is this, do you suppose? What makes Mel Gibson a hotter news item than, say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most vocal and vehement Jew hater in the world?

Oh sure, it’s partly this piranha, flesh-devouring mentality our society has slipped into. The instant anybody, but particularly a celebrity, slips or falls into the water, the man-eating fish swarm all over him and strip his bones bare. It’s a modern blood lust kind of thing. Really terrible.

But Mel’s case is something more, much more. He defied the movie establishment and all media wisdom in privately financing, writing, directing, and producing the most wildly successful Bible film in history, The Passion of the Christ. Before it was finished, before anybody saw any of it, there arose an unprecedented outcry and resistance, and loud accusations of anti-semitism. Mel understood and empathized, and went way out of his way to confer with Jewish leaders, assuring them he wasn’t slanting the story in any way, and even deleted scenes he’d already shot that were (and still are) right out of the pages of the New Testament. He didn’t make up the story – he simply told it in the most dramatic and factually accurate way it has ever been done.

He did this, not expecting the movie to be so hugely successful, but because he was spiritually on fire, feeling compelled to make the Passion of this first century Jew, this Messianic figure, to be as real and compelling to others, as it is to Mel personally. He devoutly believes this Jew to be the son of God, and the saviour of his soul, and he was willing – yea, driven – to portray His suffering and willing sacrifice in the raw and profoundly emotional way it actually happened in the streets and courtyards of first century Jerusalem. It’s a Jewish story, from a book written by Jews, almost totally about Jews, and purportedly to be about fulfillment of Jewish prophecy concerning the Jewish Messiah.

Mel Gibson anti-semitic? Don’t make me cry.

Gradually, people are being reminded that he’s always been exceedingly ”hyper,” possibly obsessive-compulsive, wildly energetic and driven, and he’s admittedly an addictive personality. Drinking has been a recurring problem, obviously because of his penchant for doing almost anything to excess (He and his wife have a truckload of kids!), and bouts of spiraling depression were said to have brought him near the point of considering suicide, after all his monumental success in movies. It was this that brought him to spiritual renewal and commitment, to fundamental Catholicism, to a deep love for Jesus – and to the Passion project, to which he committed his own fortune.

There’ve been stories about some strange ideas held by Mel’s dad, to which Mel was surely subjected while growing up, but he has always declined to discuss those things, out of a son’s respect for his father. I know, though, because he and I have had private discussions, that Mel’s ideas and beliefs are his own, that they’re based entirely on the Bible, Old and New Testaments, and that, like me, he considers himself an ”adopted Jew,” grafted into the olive tree of Judaism through our allegiance to the one we see as the Jewish Messiah.

And what did that One command us?

”Let him who is without sin cast the first stone …”

Did you, or anybody, ever say things rashly, in anger and frustration, you really didn’t mean, that were hurtful and meant to hurt at the time, and then had to apologize profusely for? Anybody who hasn’t called other people names and accused them of things you knew they didn’t do, because you were mad and out of control? And you weren’t even drunk?

This was not a ”nobody hurt” incident. One person was hurt, badly. Mel Gibson. And I submit he deserves our empathy, the forgiveness for which he has asked abjectly, and our understanding of the all-too-human condition from which he suffers – humanness.

Many know our grandson Ryan Corbin was grievously injured in a 40-foot fall through the skylight of a West L.A. apartment building roof, when he and a buddy from Pepperdine University had gone up to sun on towels five years ago. He was in a coma for seven months, and the neurosurgeons told us he’d never come out of a vegetative state. They advised us to ask ourselves how long we’d want to maintain him in that state; in other words, when would we want to ”pull the plug?”

Today, after years of prayer and treatment and therapy, Ryan is steadily recovering. Though he’s in a wheelchair, he’s cognitive, mentally alert and conversational, and he’s regaining use of all his limbs and faculties. He himself has prophesied, ”2006 is my walking year!” And we believe it.

But along the way, this stellar young man, this devoted Christian leader of his peers, a kid who never cursed or was known to use profanity in his conversations, has been afflicted with something all too common to brain injured patients, even minister’s widows, elderly moms, and little children – Tourette’s-like outbursts and exclamations of profanity! Though we, his family, were warned in advance this would probably happen, we discounted it, because it was so totally unlike our Ryan, the good guy we’ve always known.

But it happened. And it still happens, though less and less frequently.
And when an outburst happens, he immediately says, ”I’m sorry…I’m sorry.” And we know he is. So are we, but we understand.

This decidedly uncharacteristic behavior is beyond his control, for now.
And Mel’s uncharacteristic behavior, a total repudiation of all he stands for now in his new dedication, was beyond his control. His brain was sotted, and he spouted vomitspeech that he doesn’t believe or condone when he’s ”himself.”

The likewise ”out of control” savaging by the media – and some harsh critics that have been salivating for some opportunity to attack Mel Gibson – are at least as reprehensible as Mel’s outburst, because his attackers aren’t drunk. At least on alcohol. Blood lust will cause people to say and do strange things, too.

The Jew Mel Gibson loves so devoutly also said, ”Blessed – happy – are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

So bear up, friend Mel. The Jew you extolled so magnificently in The Passion hasn’t forsaken you. He loves and forgives you. And any of us who have needed forgiveness for our own absurd and hurtful behavior should follow His example.

For Christ’s sake.