I love going to movies that make me cringe.

I love going to movies whose themes reveal something ugly in my heart, that challenge me to shuffle my paradigm of perspective, that pierce me with the sin in my own life by making me identify so closely with a character that it hurts.

Jay Gatsby is one of those characters.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie, Jay Gatsby’s life is dominated by his pursuit of Daisy, a girl whom he loved and lost five years prior. Gatsby obsessively pursues the now-married Daisy through the passive means of moving close to her then throwing an array of extravagantly lavish parties in hopes that she will meander in one night. If he obtains Daisy, he sincerely believes, his life will be complete, a paradise of love and fulfillment.

What Gatsby doesn’t realize is that he has elevated Daisy to a level that no human being can live up to. To him, she is a symbol of the nostalgic perfection of the past that must be reclaimed to escape the drab, mundane present. She has no flaws. She is the one thing needed. She is a god. She is memory embodied.

No specific spoilers, but the pursuit of this idealized version of Daisy and the past precipitates an Anna Karenina size train wreck for Gatsby and all those around him.

And as I sat in the dark theater watching chaos and death and broken lives all set in motion by a selfishness fueled by putting hope in a mirage, I could not bring myself to judge. No, I could only sit still, breathe slowly, and feel the weight of the destruction humanity loves to pursue.

I could not judge, because I saw myself in Jay Gatsby.

I idealize the past and those people who shared it with me, walking a precarious line between reminiscence and idolatry every time I open a photo album.

I romanticize the past, replaying over and over the feeling-charged beautiful clips while discarding the shots of relational strains and conflicted feelings.

I idealize the far away, swallowing the age-old lie of greener grass and manmade perfection.

I saw myself in Jay Gatsby, and I cringed. Caught once again in the act of pursuing an idol mirage. Convicted once again of obsessively pursuing the creation rather than the Creator.My eyes are accustomed to turning both back and inward, searching for something that is both forward and outward. But unlike the hopelessness I observed on the screen, I am an heir to a hope that doesn’t need to construct wobbly, ephemeral ideals. My cringing turned to praise and perspective, to thankfulness for the vivid jolt that shook me to realize my eyes were on myself and not on Jesus Christ.

Yep, Jay Gatsby preached one of the best sermons that I’ve heard all year.

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