Monthly Archives: September 2012
I appreciate the folks who stop by on a regular basis to see what foggy notion has flown through my mind recently. I have not posted in a few days, but it is not because I am not writing. Actually, I am up to my eye balls in paper, ink and pixels. I am completing a project for my Doctor of Ministry program, and when everything is all said and done I will submit between 85 – 90 pages of writing (about half of it in single spaced book reviews).
So, I’m writing, just not in this space.
When I finally submit this project to my professor I intend to distill some of my observations for posts in this space. So, beginning in October I will probably have at least one article per day – maybe more, who knows.
Until then, I am far more tempted to consume distilled products rather than create them.
I just discovered that Dr. Neil Lightfoot, one of my treasured professors at Abilene Christian University, passed away earlier this week. To use the word “devastated” would be an understatement. There is a very small number of men who have profoundly shaped my life. Dr. Lightfoot stands as a large part of that circle. His death leaves a huge hole in my life.
My introduction to Dr. Lightfoot came in the course for 1 and 2 Thessalonians, which also served as the introduction to exegesis course. I was a fairly typical student who thought he knew how to write a paper. I handed in a product that I was convinced was going to earn glowing praise. When I received Dr. Lightfoot’s graded response I was sure he had made a mistake. There was an obnoxious red “B” on the cover page. I was stunned. How dare he.
Only later did I learn that grade was pure grace.
I was later to take Dr. Lightfoot for his course in Hebrews. He loved Hebrews. I think the only person who knew more about Hebrews was the author of Hebrews. To listen to Dr. Lightfoot lecture on Hebrews was like drinking pure nectar. He was not just teaching Scripture – he was teaching his passion. To be able to sit at his feet was a treasure. Oh, how I long for those days again.
My last experience with Dr. Lightfoot was when he served as the professor of record for a guided study I took in the text and canon of the Bible. I would go once a week or so and report on my readings and Dr. Lightfoot would ask some questions and give some directed advice. Sitting one-on-one with someone who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, I felt like Elisha talking to Elijah. I wanted double of Dr. Lightfoot’s spirit.
One thing I will always remember about Dr. Lightfoot was the twinkle in his eye. It was interesting, in the article that was posted on ACU’s website announcing Dr. Lightfoot’s passing, that same twinkle came up in another person’s memory. Dr. Lightfoot simply had a passion for study, for teaching, and for his subject – the Bible. He had a delightful dry sense of humor that many students were either too dull or too lazy to understand. I thought it was hysterical.
I knew this day would come. I knew that at some point I was going to look back over the life of one of my beloved mentors and shed bitter tears. Dr. Lightfoot was not the first, but he was perhaps the first of those who touched me the most deeply. This day is a day for weeping for me. But in a few hours I will teach a class of my own, and I pray that my students will see that same twinkle in my eye that I saw in Dr. Lightfoot.
A great servant has gone to share in his reward. His eyes were firmly fixed upon Jesus while on this earth, may his gaze be eternally fixed upon his Lord in the blessed Kingdom yet to come.
Rest in the peace you so richly deserve, Dr. Lightfoot. Your labors will live on for generations.
(Note: Photo from ACU Today)
There is one thing you can say about the British, love ‘em or hate ‘em. They sure know how to put on a good show.
The latest skirmish between the Royals and the commoners concerns some pictures taken of the young Princess Kate. It seems she was on a secluded beach with her husband, the king-to-be after the king-to-be, and she took off the top of her bikini. Now, let it be known the royal couple was on a private resort miles away from anyone, and she had every right to expect that her actions were private and guarded. Well, some paparazzo managed to take a few blurry photos, and quicker than you can say photoshop, they were spread all over the future King and Queen’s realm. Every day since that time the royal family has been trying to get the pictures seized, which has only driven interest in the whole sordid affair, and has made the value of the pictures skyrocket. The royal family should really learn a fundamental lesson. Once toothpaste is squished out of the tube, there ain’t no getting it back in.
This situation really begs a reasoned response. First, what a young married couple does or does not do on a secluded beach miles away from anyone is totally their business and none of anyone else. Period. She was with her husband, not parading up and down Bourbon street in New Orleans. Regardless of her royal status, her privacy, and that of her husband, should be respected by everyone, the pathetic little maggots in the print media especially.
Second, why the huge double standard between the princess and any other young woman whose privacy has been violated? The publishers are saying “It’s no big deal, they are just pictures” and the Royals are saying, “NO, it is a huge deal, because it is the Princess.” I want to say, “NO! It matters because it is a young woman and privacy is privacy!” She did not consent to the pictures being taken, and the family surely has not consented to their publication. To argue that there is no prurient interest is just a blatant lie.
Some may be tempted to argue that the princess should never have taken her bikini top off. Well, let’s just argue that she should never have even been on the beach, that she should never have left the palace, and that she should never have married the prince at all. I mean, if you are going to blame Kate, why not blame her for everything. Try living in a fish bowl 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Every outfit that you wear, every pair of shoes you own, every handbag that you carry, every word that you utter – everything is scrutinized by every scurvy little “journalist” in England. I would venture a guess that you too, if you had every reason to believe you were finally protected by miles of ocean and sand, might want to indulge in a little free-spirited frolicking with your young husband.
Let us not forget that our Scriptures, the Holy Bible, contains a book in which the highest joys of sexual attraction are clearly magnified. We have 66 books in our canon, not 65. And the Song of Songs, the Song of Solomon, whatever you want to call it, is right there smack dab between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah.
I do not like the seductive way in which females dress in public today. I have already opined about that. To dress seductively in order to attract the sexual attention of the opposite sex is wrong on many levels. But that is not what this situation is about. This situation is about a young married couple and the privacy and freedom they had every right to believe was theirs, and how that privacy has been stolen and sold for a mess of pornographic porridge.
Just another sign of the coming apocalypse, in my opinion. When we start treating anyone, let alone a royal princess, like trash to be used and thrown away, then our culture has neither the right, nor the strength, to survive long.
Update: It has been pointed out to me that those who have published, and are attempting to publish, these pictures are those outside of the rule of the British monarchy. Apparently members of the British press has so far refused to print them. If that is true (I am not as in-tune with the British realm as my correspondent) then I have to give credit to those publications who have chosen not to publish them. However, if the reason is given that the pictures should not be published simply because they involve a royal, then my point remains valid. It is not her royalty that makes these pictures inappropriate. It is her humanity.
Allow me a little reminiscing as I begin this post. My entire football playing career consisted of one glorious season in the fall of 1976. I was a freshman in high school, and like just about every other male freshman that year, I went out for the football team. There was a “no-cut” policy in place, so if you survived you were given a jersey on game day. My role became 4th string running back and something-or-other string defensive back. I also got to play on the kickoff team. You will have to look really, really hard to find my name in the record books. I did get to carry the ball once, so maybe I am there; who knows.
But I remember a lot from that season. I learned how much football hurts. I learned the value of teamwork. I learned how to look cool on the sideline, acting like I was a “bmoc.” I fought hard, lost most battles, but had a great time. I really had wanted to continue my career all the way to Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Minnesota Vikings, but alas, my body simply would not allow it. The football world has no idea what it never had.
One thing I clearly remember is how our coaches taught us to block and hit. Head up, shoulders square, get under your opponent and lift with your legs as you drive through his mid-section. And so, this past Sunday when I saw Golden Tate of the Seattle Seahawks absolutely level Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys I had to smile. Not just because I enjoy watching the Cowboys lose (that is a long and tangled story), but because the block was textbook perfect. Now, as I write this on Monday there is some discussion about whether or not Tate will be fined, and he very likely will be. The NFL has a new policy – they want bone crushing, smash-mouth football and then fine those who provide it. I predict the NFL will not exist long with that hypocritical stance, but anyway, I digress. As I said, the block was textbook. Tate put his head in front of the defender, lowered his body and used his leverage and the opponent’s speed to effect the block. It actually looked far worse than it was because of the speed that Lee was running. At my high school that block would have earned a “pancake” award. I can remember only one other block that even came close – this one at my college. While our opponent had the ball the quarterback attempted a pass which was intercepted by one of our defensive “good guys.” A defensive lineman, who had to endure all kinds of assaults all game long every game, suddenly became an offensive lineman and enjoyed every second of it. He lined an opposing player up in his sights and just absolutely unloaded on him. The block brought the crowd to its feet – I am sure the runner was wondering what happened – at least until he watched the film. I don’t think the offensive-turned-defensive player remembered much of the rest of the game, if he remembered any of it at all.
That was a very long wind-up for my curve-ball pitch here (sorry to change metaphors in the middle of the stream). We need to face the fact that as Americans we are enthralled with violence. We live for it, we cherish it, and as long as we make excuses for it, consider it to be healthy and necessary. It feeds our sense of national being. From George Washington to George Bush (and after) our motto has been if you disagree with us we will just take you out. Just think of the sports that dominate our culture – football, hockey, soccer and even basketball. (Basketball and soccer are collision sports, although not primarily contact sports. If you doubt me just try officiating a high school basketball game.) You might say that baseball is the one shining exception, but even baseball has the bean-ball, the brush-back pitch, the brutal collisions at home plate and the ever-present bench clearing brawls that one of the preceding always seems to create.
From athletics to religion, violence permeates our language. We have soul-winning “crusades.” We honor those who in their debates “annihilate” their opponent. From journals such as “The Heretic Detector” to “The Spiritual Sword” to “Contending for the Faith” our loudest voices have often been militaristic ones. We argue that this language is appropriate because it is found in the Bible. Well, yes it is. But in the New Testament it is always in reference to our arch-enemy Satan, never against his human minions. We want to exalt the Lion of the tribe of Judah, all the while forgetting that the Lion is also the slain lamb.
It seems ridiculous to even mention it, but one of the most dangerous firearm ever created was nicknamed “the peacemaker.”
Yes, I enjoyed the hit on Sunday. But it was as hollow and empty feeling in many ways. Years ago I gave up watching boxing simply because I could not justify the idea of a Christian actually enjoying or even watching two individuals attempt to knock each other out. I am growing convinced that football is the next item on my sports agenda to be eliminated. I love the strategy, I love the skill level that is required to play the game, and I love the competition. But the violence is starting to get to me. Men are dying at increasingly younger ages because of the violence of the sport. How can I as a Christian embrace and promote that culture? At some point we must demand of ourselves some measure of authenticity. Do we wish to promote a world free of violence, or do we think that we can contain it in one three hour segment each week? And, much more to the point, what is the cost are we willing to pay? In the words of a 1960′s protest song, How many deaths will it take before we decide that too many people have died?
One thing I believe is certain. It is hypocritical for us to glorify violence in the form of sport and entertainment and then stand in the pulpit or write from the desk that violence is unchristian. The human body can demonstrate skill in so many non-violent ways. We can have friendly competitions in so many different arenas. We can enjoy sports that do not call for the decapitation of our opponents.
Why did I enjoy that hit so much? Why? Because I too have been enculturated to enjoy violence. Breaking that habit will be difficult. But I did wean myself off of boxing, so I know it can be done. Maybe it is time for Christians to take a serious look at our concept of entertainment. Why must violence and pain be a part of what we consider to be enjoyable?
The question should at least give us reason to stop and think for a while.
I just spent well over an hour writing a book review, and upon further review, had to delete 80 % of it. It was just all wrong. Now I am mentally fried and frustrated and I am going to have to turn my ‘puter off and go take a nap. Who knows when the review will be finished. Arrrrgh.
I was told a long, long time ago that the toughest part of writing is in the editing. When we write something we are just so proud of it – I mean, it did come from our brain so it has to be perfect right? Problem is, very few writers have that ability to create publishable quality material on the first attempt. It takes cutting and re-writing and editing and more cutting and more re-writing. Writing would be a wonderful profession if it were not so cotton-picking difficult. I probably should edit out “cotton-picking” but I am tired of hitting the “Del” button.
This post has relatively little connection to flying through the fog. Except that every once in a while even the best pilots have to “go missed” and wave off a bad approach and set up for another one. In pilot speak, “going missed” is the equivalent to the writer’s “Delete” key. The really good pilots rarely use it, but every approach plate as a section dedicated to the procedure a pilot has to fly if he or she cannot land on the initial approach. Sometimes it’s the weather that gets worse, sometimes the airport has a problem, and sometimes the pilot just makes a mistake so critical that it is important to quit while you are ahead, go around and try again.
Today I had one of those major “missed approach” days. It kills me because I lost time, got hugely frustrated with a project that I really truly love, and now I need to set up again and try to figure out when I am going to get this project “on the ground.”
Oh well, all is not lost. I was able to salvage most of the opening paragraph.
The “Delete” key. You can’t live with it, you can’t live without it. I just wish I did not have to use it so often.
Update: as of 10:00 pm local time, after a long nap and a good supper, I was able to write the book review. It took me another two hours and a colossal number of hits on the “delete” button, but it is “in the can” as the old saying goes. Ahhh. Now on to a blissful night’s sleep.
I was going to begin this post with the stereotypical plea that, “I don’t want to be accused as being a Luddite, but…” and then it occurred to me – maybe I do. Maybe being a Luddite at the right time and for the right reason is not something to be ashamed of, but is in fact something to be proud of and something to pursue. So, call me a Luddite if you wish…if I am guilty I shall wear the badge proudly.
The issue upon which I opine this wonderfully rainy day is the growing (and virtually irrepressible) movement towards on-line courses in colleges and universities. What started out as an interesting experiment has now grown into a full-fledged growth industry. And, in the minds and hearts of us fully committed Luddites, that will, and is even now resulting in, a travesty of sorts as it relates to education at the highest levels.
Education is a major passion of my life. As my mom relates it, I have always loved learning, and I have always had a special relationship with my teachers. Not all of them have been equally skilled, but each has had a unique impact on my life. I have experienced life as a student in elementary, high school, as an under graduate college student, as a graduate student, and now as a participant in a doctoral program. I have also been a “vocational” student, first as a student pilot, then as a applicant for a commercial pilot certificate, and then as a flight instructor applicant. I have served on the other side of the lectern as well; first as a graduate assistant, then as a flight instructor, and now as an instructor in religion in a state university. Learning is in my DNA. And at every step, from my first grade teacher through the director of my last Doctor of Ministry special project has been a teacher, a mentor, a guide: in some cases someone who literally slapped me with a stick.
But now, with the advent of the computer and email and FaceBook and Skype and many other on-line learning tools the teacher is becoming irrelevant, meaningless, replaceable with the click of a mouse. Too harsh you say? I think not. I can see the handwriting on the wall, and at least to this knuckle dragging Troglodyte, the future does not look encouraging for the role of the classroom teacher.
In my view the process of education is not simply the transference of a bit of knowledge from one intellect into another. That is aptly described in the well worn definition of a lecture: “The process of transferring a professor’s notes to a student’s notes without passing through the brain of either.” Heaven knows we don’t need any more of that kind of education. But, I really do not call that education. Education is transcendent. Education involves not only the intellect, but the emotions and the body as well. The process of education is not complete until there is a mutual transformation that occurs between teacher and student, mentor and disciple.
And I will state emphatically and without reservation that transformation cannot occur unless there is a genuine “presence” involved – and that means the presence of a teacher/mentor and student/disciple.
Defenders of on-line education will, of course, argue that there IS a teacher-student relationship. I argue that relationship is only fragmentary at best, and is fictitious at worst.
First, a concession. If education is to be defined simply as the transference of a body of knowledge from one set of notes to another, then on-line teaching may have a place. Perhaps in the most elementary of classes, where there would be very little dialogue between teacher and student anyway a case could be made that on-line learning has a role to play. I would still argue that these situations are few and far between. There is simply too much involved in the education process that cannot be transmitted across DSL lines, even with HD digital cameras and video conferencing software.
However, as a student I learned as much, if not more, from the INTERACTION with my teachers and professors as I did from their lectures or assignments. My high school English teacher punctuated her displeasure with our efforts with the emphatic clicking of her (very long) fingernails on her desk. Dr. Lemoine Lewis became so animated when speaking of the early church fathers that it seemed he was transported back to Jerusalem or Antioch, even though he was lecturing right in front of me. The rich humor of Dr. Everett Ferguson’s witty asides informed me not only of the vastness of his knowledge, but of his impeccable ability to apply that knowledge to the modern ecclesiological scene. Dr. Bill Humble taught me of the value of loving my research topic in a way that no downloaded YouTube video or inter-active chat room session ever could. And, as an instructor, I have learned the value of noticing a student’s frown, a hopeless sigh, a resigned closing of a text-book, or an excited arching of an eyebrow when a confusing subject suddenly becomes clear.
In short, although I may have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century world of on-line education, I shall do so only with the most vociferous of objections. My Lilliputian resistance may ultimately prove futile, but I shall not go down quietly.
In conclusion, and almost as an aside, I feel I should mention what (in my mind, anyway) is driving this headlong rush into digitized ignorance – money. It is pure, red-white-and-blue American capitalism. On-line courses are less expensive for colleges and universities to fund, and they are less expensive for the student. So we make excuses about how advantageous these courses are, how they make distance learning possible, how they expand the reach of the college classroom, etc ad nauseaum, and we pocket the profit. If you doubt me then let us make a little wager. Let us increase the cost of on-line classes so that it is more expensive for the college or university, so that it would be more expensive for the student to enroll, and so that the instructor would get paid significantly less for teaching the class. Now – where would on-line education go?
In my fully convinced Luddite mind we in academia are selling our institutional birthright for a bowl of economic soup. We have an obligation not only to provide an education, but primarily to instill in our student what an education really involves. We do not exist simply to transmit knowledge. A book is all that is necessary for that, thank you very much. Education is about the expansion of the entirety of the process of becoming a human being. Education is at its core about transformation. And, education is at its core transcendent. Immediacy and frugality are unworthy substitutions for transformation and transcendence.
Thus endeth the rantings of a Luddite.
Today’s daily Bible reading included the story of Jeroboam 1 and the his two golden calves (1 Kings 12). For many the story is so familiar as to be commonplace. When Solomon died his son Rehoboam acted foolishly and drove the northern tribes into rebellion (actually, this was all foreseen by God, and worked according to his plan). Jeroboam, God’s selected leader of the northern tribes, however, acted just as foolishly. Fearing that the northern tribes would fall back into submission to the southern king if they went and worshipped at Jerusalem, Jeroboam set up two golden calves, one at Dan, the other at Bethel. This kept his people from crossing over into the land of Judah, under the authority of the southern king, and under the power of the true God in Jerusalem.
I have a couple of thoughts on this passage. One is that whatever the error in Jeroboam’s thinking, he obviously knew the subversive power of authentic faith. He knew that worship of the true God in Jerusalem would eventually lead to political insurrection, and he would be the loser if that happened. His solution was not to create a better political solution in the north that would keep the people safely allied with him, his solution was to create a false form of worship. True, he identified the calves as “your Gods who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,” but it was obvious that the molded images were not images of God, and they had nothing to do with the Exodus. Authentic faith is always more powerful than politics. However, politics can and will trump corrupted faith. This is what dictators and despots have known for years. Had Jeroboam simply trusted in God, God had promised that he would keep his kingdom secure. Jeroboam’s sin involved many things, but chief among them was a total lack of faith. Here we can see that true knowledge does not always lead to faith. Indeed, sometimes knowledge of the truth turns men’s heads and hearts away from the truth.
The other thing that occurred to me was that I am so glad America does not have two golden calves to bow down to.
Except, the problem is, we do have two golden calves where we worship.
The one is the calf of militarism. A significant portion of our annual budget is spent on the men, women and material of the U.S. armed forces. We feed, house, arm, and deploy thousands of soldiers, sailors air force crews, and marines. We are constantly creating new technologies to kill other people, and updating old tried but true systems. The politician who speaks openly and honestly about the need to downsize our military is without a hope of winning any kind of national election. America has beat its’ pruning shears into swords, and we love nothing more than to go to the air show and watch our multi-million dollar killing machines whiz through the air.
The other calf is our form of capitalism. We are primarily capitalists before we are Republicans or Democrats. That is why you see the slogan, “It’s the Economy, Stupid” plastered all over every election. We vote with our pocketbooks, although in radically different ways. Some think that it is our economic duty to keep as much money in the pocket of those who earn their wages; another group feels like it is an economic necessity to make sure that the poorest are taken care of and that the rich are not allowed to exploit the poor simply because of their wealth. Both “platforms” are wholly economic, although you will hear them described in various ways.
Militarism and capitalism. The two golden calves of Americanism. If you doubt my analysis, simply try to remove one or both of these idols from any political campaign. See how far you get. Propose getting rid of just 25% of the military budget. Propose ending the current tax structure so that everyone regardless of income will have to pay income taxes. Or propose that the current form of welfare be ended. How many friends have you made on both sides of the proverbial “aisle”. My guess is you will be laughed out of the room, first by one side of the political spectrum, and then by the other.
You see, when we talk about going back to Jerusalem, the political powers get very nervous and they start giving us something that makes us think we are worshipping God, when in reality all we are doing is bowing the knee to a pathetic idol.
North Israel never recovered from Jeroboam’s sin. Every northern king following him is described as sharing in his sin of rejecting God. America, as it bows its collective knee to militarism and capitalism, will fare no better. We have made the decision to build our two golden calves. We are adorning them and worshipping them with great passion.
The question for the faithful is, are we going to have the courage to go back to Jerusalem and worship where God set his face? In contemporary language, are we going to be willing to slay the false gods of militarism and capitalism and allow God and God’s will to rule in our lives?
“Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The golden calves, or Jerusalem? It is your move, disciple.
Today’s devotional reading lead me to Psalm 61. This brief psalm is a prayer for deliverance, although there is only one reference to an “enemy.” It could be read as a prayer for deliverance from a physical enemy, or simply as a prayer for help in one of those situations in life when everything seems to be working against you and you are reminded that there is only one place to turn – to a God who is above and beyond all that we can think or imagine.
It is a strange fact about idolatry – humans seek to worship something that they feel is beyond themselves, but the image that they create is a likeness of a creature that is by all accounts beneath them. Seriously – do we actually think that a bull is smarter, or more spiritual, or more blessed, than a human? Clearly a bull is stronger than a human – but so is a John Deere tractor. Do we really want to worship a harvester? The depictions in the books of Jeremiah and Isaiah of the futility of a human crafting an idol out of a piece of wood are meant to be humorous on one hand, and deadly serious on the other. Humans want to have a connection with the transcendent, but the best that they (we) can create does not even rise to the level of “humanness” itself. In the image of Psalm 61, every rock that we create remains shorter than we are. If we are bigger than the rock, the rock is not worth much.
So, the Psalmist seeks refuge, protection, guidance. Where does he turn? To the rock that is higher than I. He knows something transcendent exists. But he also knows that if it is transcendent, it must exceed all human thoughts and imaginations. For it to be God, then he cannot conceive of what or who that God is. He is a rock to be sure – a place of known security, a place where one can lay down his or her troubles, a place that provides life and not death, healing and not sickness. But this God is “higher than I.” A confession of weakness. A confession of humility. A confession that we as humans do not control the Divine One.
True prayer is by its very nature a confession of humility, a confession of weakness. In true prayer we do not seek to own God, nor command God. We seek to place ourselves in the control of the Transcendent One. We come seeking refuge and shelter in the only place it can be found – the rock that is higher than I. If “I” am bigger than my rock, then I am not praying. I am engaging in a psychological exercise of limited value. If I am bigger than my rock, then I have to depend on political power, financial power, the power that comes from having superior numbers, the power that comes from having superior tactics and strategy. If I am bigger than my rock, then my deliverance depends upon me, and I only use my rock as a crutch, something to lean on.
But, if my rock is higher than I, then the I becomes secondary. The I, while perhaps not totally unimportant, fades as to be indistinguishable from the rock. If God is truly transcendent, then we must truly allow Him to transcend. David, if he is the author of this beautiful little psalm, knew the reality of a transcendent God. Yes, he had to fight Goliath with a sling and five smooth stones. But he was shooting from a “rock that is higher than I.” Goliath did not stand a chance.
I encourage all who would know this rock to learn the practice of true prayer. Not, “Gimme what I want” prayer. Not “God, you promised me” prayer – but real, submissive prayer, honest meditative prayer, truly subversive prayer. The kind of prayer that says, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I…and I will do what I promised, every single day.”
Sometimes when the same event, or word, or some image appears repeatedly over a short period of time we have to stop and ask ourselves, “what is going on here?” I had to ask that question over the past couple of weeks. I was beginning to wonder if God was trying to get a message across.
It started when I was trying to make a point to my college class. I love the power of images to convey certain concepts, and I decided to use a scene from the movie “A Christmas Carol” starring George C. Scott. Anyway, (I’m not sure of the exact sequence of thoughts) I was reminded of the movie “Oh God” starring John Denver and George Burns. I went to YouTube and sure enough, there was a brief trailer for the movie. If you have never seen the movie, “Oh God” is about a common ordinary man (Denver) who is granted an interview with God (Burns). Then, this week a bulletin shows up with an article that talks about…the movie “Oh God.” As Yogi Berra is credited with saying, it was like deja vu all over again.
The movie gets perilously close to blasphemy in places, but in other respects is a delightful, light hearted attempt to convey what it must feel like to actually come into contact with the Divine. Now, I don’t think any of us would picture God as looking like George Burns. So, John Denver questions him about his appearance. The response is somewhat humorous, but also theologically true: God chose a look that a human could understand.
So it was with the incarnation of Jesus. God chose a visual image mankind could understand. Understand, possibly, but it turns out we could neither understand it nor appreciate it. The incarnation was simply too scandalous for us to accept.
The apostle Paul talks about the scandal of the cross. Today we have all but eliminated the idea of the scandal of the cross. We wear crosses around our necks, we wear them as decorations in our ears, we adorn our shirts with images of the cross, we erect crosses on the tops of our houses of worship and we place them in the main meeting room of those places of worship. We have come, in the words of the beautiful old song, to “cherish the old rugged cross.” Scandal you say? What scandal?
No, today our scandal is in thinking that Jesus was even human. In the 21st century we are dangerously close to the early heresy of docetism. God may have appeared to come to earth, and we certainly like to think of Jesus healing the sick and feeding the hungry. But, still, he wasn’t quite human. He never had to wrestle with the dirt and the grime and the muck that afflicts me as a mere mortal. He was God, after all, so he never noticed a beautiful woman, or suffered any kind of pain when he hit his thumb with a hammer, and living as he did around a group of coarse, Galilean fishermen he never, ever heard an off-color joke.
But, if we are to believe in the gospel story, we HAVE to believe in the scandal of the incarnation. Jesus was human. He did stub his toe on Roman cobblestones and it hurt when he did. Women were just as attractive in the first century as they are in the 21st century (although, perhaps clothed a bit more modestly) and salty sailors told salty jokes. If we separate the human from the Divine we may end up with something that we like a little bit more, but we do not end up with the Christ, the Son of God.
The author of the book of Hebrews works diligently to make this point. Jesus was “in every way” tempted as we are. Let those words sink in. “In every way.” Jesus did not escape human temptations, if anything he had more struggle simply because as God he had greater power to defeat those temptations. In a recent on-line discussion among ministers and others, there were even some who believed that this passage does not mean that Jesus was actually tempted, but only that he faced what would be temptations for us, because we are human and he was God. Pure docetism. And, pure heresy. If Jesus was not tempted, then he was not human. If he was not human then the incarnation did not take place. If the incarnation did not take place then the gospel story is a pious fraud, and we are of all men the most stupid to believe it.
Somehow viewing God as George Burns is more attractive to me than trying to view Jesus as anything other than the Incarnate Son of God. The writers of the movie may have pushed orthodox theology in some parts of the show, but in that one line they had it perfect. God had to show us an image that we could understand, and he started off with a little baby in Bethlehem, and he ended with a cross outside of Jerusalem.
The manger and the cross are both scandals, but we cannot have a Christian faith without both. Let us, as the body of Christ in the world today, fully incarnate both so the world around us can have an image they can understand.
I have wrestled with whether or not to post this. Just a warning...this is not for the faint of heart. All I ask is that the comments not get into political wrangling but stick with what is really going on here.
Last week I saw something I hadn't ever seen before. I saw a picture of an aborted baby. It was graphic.