Monday, January 7, 2013

Les Miserables--the Movie

I went to see Les Miserables New Year’s eve night with Jan. Great movie. It was riveting. I’ve seen the play twice but the visuals that are available in the realm of film were powerful. The singing was pretty good. Even Russell Crowe sang fairly well.

The whole theme of redemption was very evident in the movie. I’m not saying that this was a theologically accurate film. I’m not saying the writers and musicians were making a theological statement. But the contrast between legalism (Inspecter Javert) and license (those manning the barricades and others in the culture) and the balance of Jean Valjean who experienced grace and forgiveness is striking. At one point he notes, that the life prior to his conversion was dead. It’s a great movie. Go see it.

Newtown—The Anatomy of Response

Mike Hucabee may have been smarter to say nothing after the masacres at Newtown, CT a few weeks ago. The former Governor of Arkansas was asked, “Where’s God? in all this.” His response: “…for fifty years we’ve systematically attempted to have God removed from our schools and public activities but the moment we have a calamity we wonder where he was.” Apparently some of the responses to his comments were less than kind, particularly by those from the left.

In response to the responses Huckabee said something to the effect that we’ve escorted God out of our culture and marched him off the public square, then we express our surprise that a culture without him, actually reflects what its become. Honest truth, in his response to the responses he actually made a pretty good case for some of the social ills of our society. There are certainly natural consequences for turning our backs on God. St. Paul says essentially the same thing in Romans 1. But the timing of his comments, and the way they were made, were probably unhelpful. James Dobson did essentially the same thing not long after, but his were even more severe. There’s a great post called The Callous Theology of James Dobson by Peter Wehner that does an excellent job of exposing some of the problems with what some Conservative Christians do when they attempt to find some deep theological explanation for the evil we witness in places like Newtown. Maybe I’ll include it in another post subsequent to this one. But this is very real to me because the church I’m currently pastoring as in interim is twenty minutes from Newtown, CT. Some of our congregants knew one of the victims—a little boy. It breaks my heart.

Here’s a thought: Maybe Huckabee and Dobson should just not say anything when things like the tragedy in Newtown happen. I think that probably would be a good idea. Scripture says, “Weep with those who weep…” (Rom 12:15). In other words, there is a time to weep and when its time to do that, you do that. Throwing peoples problems or pain back in their face in the middle of their grief, even if the problem is their own (which in the case of Newtown, you can’t say that it is) doesn’t usually help. Its like smacking your head on a short doorway because you didn’t duck—something I’ve done far too often in my life in spite of my limited stature. It’s my fault for not ducking, but in the middle of my pain I don’t need someone saying to me, “You idiot! Why didn’t you duck?!” I need, “Wow, that hurts. Sorry.”

Furthermore, the Mike Huckabee’s and the James Dobson’s of the world are in danger of being just like Job’s three friends. Job experiences great tragedy and his three friends, if you want to call them that, jump to the conclusion that he’s not right with God. In fact, the opposite was true and in the end, they were rebuked by God himself for their poor theology. Read the story! Job never found out why he suffered. Then again in Luke 13 a tower falls and kills eighteen people. Some people ask Jesus about it. He says, “Do you think these guys are worse sinners because of this? I say, no. But unless you repent, you too will perish.” In other words, there is an evil in our world that will touch every one of us. We can’t get away from it. It’s original sin and the problem of the curse. You can’t blame this entirely on a culture that has turned its back on God. You can’t connect the dots like that.

To blame the Newtown killings, Hurricane Sandy, the 9/11 attacks or any other tragedy on our national sin can’t be validated. This is particularly true since it assumes certain sins are far worse than others: homosexuality and abortion are the sins of choice today for those of us on the religious right (which I guess would include me). We don’t seem to think that the racism and slavery that plagued the south for hundreds of years, and other national attrocities committed over the life of this country seem to matter. Given the reasoning of some today, maybe we should say the attacks on Pearl Harbor were retribution for centuries of racism or something else. Hey, why not? There’s enough evil in our national treasure chest of history to warrant that explanation.

I’m not saying that the trajectory of our country is the way I’d like it. It bugs me that God is not welcomed in the public square. But I’m equally bugged that people on the right and also on the left seem to so effortlessly connect the dots and provide us the definitive reasons why these things happen. I realize that the social commentators of the day feel the need to respond and explain things. I know that they are bugged, perplexed, and saddened so they are trying to make sense of it all. But its curious to me that in this case they seem to blame either the social inadequacies of current gun control legislation (usually those on the left) or the personal moral failure of individuals, or the nation (usually those on the right). And while both make a good point--government exists to protect its citizens so we need legislation that protects us and its citizens must act virtuously in order for society to function well--neither of these responses solves the real issue. Neither of them seem to adequately consider original sin or the darkness of the human heart. My point is that the problems not going to be resolved simply by legislating or moralizing!

Christmas is about Gods solution: God comes in the person of Jesus Christ, innocent and small as an act of divine love only to grow up still innocent, and yet be nailed to a cross as an act of divine justice. The empty tomb is the proof that love and justice have met and been reconciled. The incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the demonstration that God is infintely loving and infinitely just.

The Newtown massacre is heartbreaking. But as a member of the Christian community, I wish those from the right would stop feeling the need to explain things by blaming these kinds of tragedies on our national sin. I really don’t see how that can be proven and I don’t see that its even biblical. It just makes people mad and solidifies the caricature that Christians are moral snobs out of touch with reality.

Screw Tape Letters—The Play

I went and saw CS Lewis play The Screw Tape Letters Friday (Nov 18) with some friends. It was in Manhattan for a short showing. The play, a recreation in dramatic form of Lewis’s classic book written in 1941, was well presented.

Lewis book, and consequently the play, draws out several key things: the focus on pleasure, the little sins like pride, that actually send us to hell. The book is not intending to produce a theology of hell or the demonic. But it causes one to think about ones own behavior and how easily it is to fall into that.

The actor—Max McClean—became a Christian in college. He is now working on a play from one of my all time favorite books, The Great Divorce, which is about a bus ride to heaven from hell. Lewis isn’t trying to create a theology of hell. So if you read the book, remember it’s a story. But I’d suggest reading both books and if its ever back again, go see the play.

Athens Marathon

“Nike!” he yelled. He then dropped dead.

The legend of Phidippedes has it that after victory in the plains of Marathon, the said runner ran approximately 25 miles to Athens to announce the victory. His announcement was his last.

Last week (Nov 11) I ran the Athens marathon with several friends. There is a book on WW2 called The Longest Day. Its on the D-Day invasion of Europe. At the Athens marathon I ran into The Longest Hill. At the top, my legs died. They totally rebelled and said, “Uh, you are not doing this to us any longer.” The legs gave way at mile 20—something unusual for me. But the experience was great. I’d do it again. I got food poisoning before the trip to Europe. Ate at the wrong place at Kennedy Airport!

I fell in love with the Greeks. I think I’ll adopt the Greek family I stayed with as my own. They were wonderful. 

(I write these posts then forget or just fail to put them up so I'm doing it all on one day)