Joe Eszhertas grew up in refugee camps and then in America's back alleys. When his mom died he was twelve years old. He turned against the church and God and dedicated the rest of his life to attacking everything virtuous and religious that he knew. Eventually he became a police reporter and covered robberies, shootings and serial killers. He then wrote dark, sexually graphic, and very violent films like Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge and Jade.
Joe knows a whole lot about darkness. He became addicted to cigarettes at 12 and drugs and alcohol by 14. He did everything within his power to dull his pain and to live out his anger at God and the world. But in his late 50s, on a very hot day in the summer of 2001, Joe came to faith in Christ on a street in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Battling to save his life from the throat cancer that had caused him to stop alcohol and cigarettes Joe, the big, dark sinner, cried out to God to have mercy on him. In his own words, after he understood what happened, he was "born again." I believe him after reading this 242 page memoir.
I only knew the old Joe from various things that I read about him, a very few pages I had skimmed in a popular book of his written back in the 90s, and from his terribly dark, dark work in writing screen plays for the sixteen films that made more than a billion dollars at the box office. This was not your normal candidate for church and faith, that much I was sure. When I saw Joe on "Religion and Ethics Weekly" on PBS a few weeks ago I ordered the book. I was not disappointed.
Joe the young Christian is fresh, edgy and very interesting. This book will put off the self-righteous but those who want to see a rough-cut man working his way to the light, all by the grace of God changing him from day-by-day, will love it. Be forewarned: the new Joe is still growing. His language will offend some. I can't remember a memoir of faith making me laugh so much. This was not because Joe is unreal at all. No, he is so real that his story is compelling beyond words. What made me laugh so often was just how unlike so many Christians Joe Eszterhas really is. And this is a good thing in so many ways.
The title of this book, Crossbearer, comes from Joe's unique role in bearing the crucifix in the processional before the Mass in his local Catholic Church. (There is a very funny story here of Joe and his family trying a local evangelical mega-church and how they felt. It should be read by every evangelical pastor.) Joe has more good sense about the Christian faith than many, so-called, "mature Christians." This is part of the reason the book was so real for me.
I am working on a major article about this book, and another memoir about losing faith, written by a man who became a Christian and then left the faith after twelve years. I want to show, side-by-side, how one great sinner was converted and how another convert finally left and why. The lessons are important for us all. I will say more about this article when it is published by a major Christian magazine that has tentatively agreed to my idea. Now I just have to write the article and turn it in. Stayed tuned.