Saturday, October 14, 2006

ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING

You might not have heard this but another religious movie has made it into theaters. This one is being made by a Christian production company and is called "One night with the king" and it’s based on the story of Esther. Already I dislike the title. I shouldn’t, of course, but the title is so dang romantic. And Esther, which is a great story of God’s protection and timing, is not romantic. Therefore, this is a movie I have determined not to see.
Somewhere along the way, though, we Christians have begun thinking of it as a great love story, and of Esther herself as the perfect symbol of submissive wifeliness. Perhaps the story has been in the hands of too many male ministers. We need to hear a woman minister tackle the story.

Let’s start with the king: Xerxes or (as the name is transliterated into Hebrew/English) Ahauserus. Xerxes was a braggart. Sure he had conquered more than his fair share of kingdoms and certainly had a right to brag. We Christians accept this because arrogance is perfectly normal for a king and certainly an arrogant male needing to be enlightened is considered a fairly popular romantic theme. After all, the woman who tames such a guy...well, it’s the old good girl/bad guy thing. This kind of pairing happens so often in Christian romances that one wonders why Christian women would want to read stories about women taming workaholic braggarts. We should be a bit more enlightened than to be attracted to guys like that, I think.

As the story goes, Xerxes gives a great dinner party, lasting 180 days, in order to show off. And in the middle of all his showing off, he suddenly gets the very drunken idea that he wants to show off his wife. Basically, he wants a veiled Arabian woman from whatever century that was to put herself on display for all his drunk friends. Vashti, his wife, (rightly, I think) refuses, giving him a snide answer. The men in the palace become quite upset about this and convince the king that if the women in the kingdom hear about how uppity Vashti has been to the king, the women will all start back-talking their husbands. And in that neck of the world (then as now) women’s equality with men is the offense par excellence! We don’t seem to realize that this is one of the reasons why the Christian-influenced West is so feared (in addition to other historical factors): the men in power fear the western world will upset the sexual status quo. Kid you not.

Christians have written tomes about how horribly unsubmissive Vashti was to do this. I think they’re wrong. I understand that when Esther enters the story we all want to be on her side, but does this mean we have to demonize Vashti. After all, maybe Vashti wasn’t so proud as all that. Maybe God used her integrity to get her to lose her place as queen. Yes, let’s think about that one for a moment. And for another moment.
Enter Esther. Raised by her uncle Mordechai, she is already shown to be a wounded soul who owes a male authority figure very much. Raise the stakes: she is beautiful. Is this not the perfect trophy wife for a king such as Xerxes? She will never question him, and she is perfect for a king who regards the external. So, she is perfect for him...but is this the perfect guy for her?



Of course not! Esther probably wanted a husband and a house in her neighborhood. instead of all that palace intrigue. Who wants to live among foreigners and away from one’s people? Who wants a husband who has five hundred concubines and secondary wives? Who wants a husband whom one can only see when it please him...or else? And remember, Vashti, the former queen is still in the harem. She’s demoted, mind you. She’s not out of the picture. What gets me is that many Christians seem to think that this story is a love story and that Esther actually falls in love with the king. Where does it say this in the Bible? Alas, nowhere. But films are replete with it. We really must try to see the Bible as it is...and not put cultural romantic ideas into a story. When we add our cultural dime-store romantic notions to a Bible story we miss the point entirely. Needless to say, I’m not going to waste my time seeing the film...should it arrive at a theater near me.

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