“It’s too early to drink a regular cocktail,” announces Christian Kingery, a big, ice-tinkling glass in one hand, “so we’ve been drinking screwdrivers instead. We’re going to record an episode of our podcast right after we talk about the movie, so we thought we should go ahead and just start drinking now.”
It’s shortly before one o’clock on Christmas Eve and with a little help from the good people behind Skype, the Drunk Ex-Pastors are ready for action.
Co-hosts of a popular weekly podcast titled, yes, Drunk Ex-Pastors (www.drunkexpastors.com), Christian Kingery and Jason Stellman are indeed former Evangelical pastors, both having served as missionaries in Hungary many years ago, before rethinking their relationship to the divine and taking other, somewhat divergent paths. Stellman is now a practicing Catholic, while Kingery—ironically enough for a guy named Christian—identifies as an agnostic.
Both live outside of Seattle, Washington, where every week, drinks in hand, the longtime friends engage in an hour or so of lively conversation, tackling everything from the state of American culture and politics, to the complexities of faith and religion—and whatever their many fans suggest through emails and phone messages.
The Drunk Ex-Pastors are particularly fond of discussing “biebers,” Kingery and Stellman’s word for anything small and insignificant that really annoys them, such as big-budget Hollywood movies based on stories from the Bible.
Which leads us to the present moment, as we prepare to discuss Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. Inspired by the famous Old Testament tale of Moses (Christian Bale), the special-effects-heavy epic traces the Hebrew leader’s evolution from Egyptian prince and surrogate son to the Pharaoh (John Turturro) to liberator of the Hebrew slaves—but throws in a few surprises, many of which have drawn criticism from members of the religious right.
“I was much more entertained by Exodus: Gods and Kings, and much less biebered by it, than I expected,” begins Kingery. “The use of special effects was relatively tasteful. Not too overdone. But there were definitely things about the movie that bugged me. It was weird seeing Batman playing Moses, and Knish from Rounders as the Pharaoh, and Ripley from Alien playing Ramses’ mom.
“I think Christian Bale actually did a pretty good job,” he adds. “The guy they cast as Ramses—the guy from The Great Gatsby, right?—I thought he was very good.”
“What always cracks me up,” Stellman says, “is how Hollywood does all these period pieces, and it doesn’t matter what era or epoch it’s happening in, if they put in a bunch of people with English accents, it will seem legit. Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians—they must all have English accents! Except Moses, evidently. For Moses, they cast an English guy and made him speak with an American accent!”
“In this one, even God has an English accent,” I point out. “But then he’s also portrayed as a pissed-off 10-year-old boy who only Moses can see.”
The depiction of God, in fact, may be the most interesting thing about Gods and Kings, aside from its suggestion that an army of man-eating crocodiles might have been the root cause of the 10 Plagues of Egypt.
You have to see it to believe it, but it’s pretty awesome.
“I think that was interesting, the thing about Moses fighting with this 10-year-old God all the time,” Kingery says. “In the Bible, if you read beyond the Exodus story, there is a lot of tension between God and Moses. I was wondering if Ridley Scott read all of that, and used it as a template for his version of God. Isn’t there a part, Jason, where God wants to destroy the people and start over, and Moses talks him out of it?”
“Oh yeah, there is, definitely,” Stellman says, “and there’s also the whole thing about Moses not being allowed to enter Canaan after they’ve been wandering in the desert for 40 years. God was mad at Moses for getting angry and smiting the rock.”
In the book of Exodus, when the people are about to rebel because they are dying of thirst, God tells Moses to hit a big rock with his staff, and when Moses obeys, God makes water gush out of the rock, and everyone is saved. Years later, in the book of Numbers, when the same situation is happening, God tells Moses to speak to a rock and command it to produce water, but Moses—tired of having to bail the people out over and over—just hits the rock with his stick again. The rock gives water, but because Moses disobeyed God, he was not allowed to cross over into the Promised Land once they finally found it.
“Thanks a lot, God,” Kingery says. “I did all of this work for you, gave up being a prince of Egypt, and because I got confused one time and hit the rock instead of talking to the rock, I can’t go to the Promised Land?”
“Hey, 10-year-olds, they are hard to predict,” Stellman says. “Regarding that choice, the idea of portraying God as a child. I can see how fundamentalists would be upset about that, and see that as some sort of dig at them, and at God. Which, it kind of is. But it shows Moses questioning God, challenging him. God says he’s unhappy Moses hasn’t gotten Ramses to release the slaves, and Moses reminds God that it’s already taken him 400 years to do anything, so he should be patient, and God and Moses go at it for a while.
“A lot of people think it’s wrong to question God,” he goes on, “but I actually think there’s something wrong with you if you never question God and his choices. A listener wrote in and said that they never question God, about anything. And we were reflecting on that in our last podcast, saying that we think we’re maybe supposed to question God. We’re supposed to read the Bible and come away at times thinking, ‘What the hell is up God’s ass?’ What is wrong with him? Did he get up on the wrong side of the bed or what? Why does God act the way he acts? Out of those conversations and questions come some pretty important discoveries about the nature of God and the world and how we should behave in it.”
“Yeah,” Kingery agrees, “and that’s part of why I didn’t have a problem with God being portrayed as a 10-year-old. It was cool not to have the same old burning bush thing—though there is a burning bush at one point—and anyway, it’s just one artist’s interpretation.”
“And it captures something essential about God that casting someone like Morgan Freeman would have missed,” Stellman says, “which is that, you can’t deny it, God sometimes behaves in ways that look irrational to us.”
“When Moses asks God, ‘Dude! What are you thinking?’” I mention, “he’s actually speaking for humanity.”
“Moses was the good cop,” Stellman says, “and God is the bad cop. Like Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon. Mel Gibson was unbalanced and unpredictable. And if any believer in Jesus or God is honest, when you read the Bible—especially the Old Testament—that is how God comes across.
“He can be a bit impetuous,” he says with a laugh, as the Drunk Ex-Pastors each pour another drink. “The question is, ‘How do we deal with that?’”