Archive for March, 2014

“The Good Wife” and life’s sudden changes #goodwife

March 25, 2014

Among the many unwholesome habits that drag my soul down to the depths, television gluttony is near the top. It is a moral cesspool, and open sewer of depravity. If you have not pulled Sunday’s episode up for viewing, stop here. Major spoilers to follow.

There is HGTV, Hell’s Kitchen, Survivor, Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, and maybe next year it might be time for Chicago radio! Ah, but that was back in the day! The Good Wife seems to be culturally hip, even featuring an openly bi-sexual character. The mythical attorneys and their clients live in a make-believe world of privilege and power. The heroine, Alicia Floric played by Julianna Margulies, is constantly faced with personal reinvention and extreme multitasking.

The writers have put together plots which are often wrapped up in ways that we would not expect and the humans are very human. This part, it seems to me, is the most appealing aspect of the series. Nobody turns out to be completely good or bad. Just like in “real life,” they are all a misshapen fallen mix of various qualities.

The scenes around the break-up of Lockhart-Gardner are classic suspense. The scripts are typically fresh and devoid of cliché, and so it was with the demise of Will Gardner. From another court room, we hear shots, many shots, ring out as Will’s client faces his own uncertain future. It all comes down to a shoeless corpse in a draped area of a hospital emergency room. No matter that it was an expensive shoe and the corpse is impeccably attired for the day’s work. The perfectly tied knot would be the last knot for the named partner. The expensive shirt is now nothing but evidence. Life thrives brilliantly one moment and is ungraciously extinguished in the next.

The Book of Common Prayer petitions, “Make us, we beseech Thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of human life.” (1928, 316) While entirely fictional, Will Gardner’s life was certainly short, but he had no idea what uncertainty might await. A missing shoe says it all. Perhaps unknowingly, the writers have focused on an essential part of understanding our own lives. We are not in control.

Faithful Christians are reminded of the last four things; death, judgment, heaven and hell. Mr. Gardner, being the product of an active imagination, faces none of the above, but each is a sure future of our final encounter. Christians believe that there is a personal judgment immediately after death. If there is not an element of dread involved here, you have not been thinking about it.

If this were a moment for blowing dust of the volumes of books with page upon page of lined columns and each infraction noted with date, time, and place, each one of us would be damned. Ps. 130 cries out to God that, he he marks our inequities, no one can stand. God is not the head bookkeeper, unless you insist on it. Followers of Jesus depend on grace, that is God’s unearned favor. Judgment involves faithfulness in following Jesus. It is a measure of the required cross carrying. The judgment recorded in Matt 25 revolves solely around our recognition of Jesus in fellow human beings. Following Christ is not about rule keeping, but allowing our lives to be so completely altered that rules become unnecessary.

The Great Litany of the Anglican tradition pleads,

  From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death,
Good Lord, deliver us.
(1928, 54)


A question about God and violence

March 21, 2014

It was my great privilege to speak to the Growing in Grace (GIG) addiction recovery group at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock about a week ago. I write the messages to be applicable both to people dealing with this huge problem and folks in the mainstream that have similar difficulties. This talk concerned how we often feel lonely and confused in times of trial. You can listen here.

I went to the flood story in Genesis as my starting point. By way of background, it was observed that the catastrophe was provoked by mankind’s rampant corruption, especially violence. It seems straightforward to note that God hates violence. In fact, one of my most perceptive listeners had a serous question about my casual observation.

If God hates violence, why does he use it so much? Darn. I just hate it when that happens. Let’s see if it is possible to make sense of this apparent contradiction.

What follows here is not an original idea. In fact, I am partially borrowing from Jonathan Edwards and I hope that what follows is stated correctly. God has certain preferences, like peace. God wants humanity to get along. God demands that we not kill, or, as Jesus proposed in the Sermon on the Mount, not even be angry. Jesus was silent before his accusers, and did not retaliate, God forbids us from taking vengeance.

But God killed untold numbers in the flood. He slaughtered the first-born of Egypt. The Almighty stirred up all kinds of military enemies to do harm to Israel. And there was the directive to kill all the residents of the promised land – every man, woman, child, and animal. That is a nasty rap sheet for the Somebody who claims to oppose violence.

The long-term plan for mankind is an unending time of peace. Isiah has a view of old men leaning on their staffs and sitting under trees, and children playing in the streets. Scripture tells us that even the animals will be reconciled with mankind. (Isiah 65:17-25) What could be more wonderful than the vision of the river that flows past the Tree of Life, and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb? This is the future.

In the present, it would seem that God is content to use human institutions to subdue human nature. This is why God seems not to worry about a little war here and there, God knows that tanks are rolling in the Ukraine. That is the way of the world.

A candidate for congress in the Chicago area believes that God is angry about America’s moral condition and is doing something about it.

Susanne Atanus, of Niles, Ill., garnered 54 percent of the vote in her Tuesday win over David Earl Williams III.

“I am not in favor of abortions, I am not in favor of gay rights,” Atanus told the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper, in January.

She blamed natural disasters and mental disorders on recent advances in LGBT equality and legal abortions.

“God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions,” she said. “Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military, it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.”

I am not exactly sure what the candidate has in mind here, but I do know that God does not get angry in the same way as humans. There is a reference to this in my latest talk to GIG noted above. The Almighty does control everything, his general rule seems to be allowing people to make their own grief. God is very much opposed to many aspects of American life, including rampant individualism and the worship of material goods. We worship consumption and ignore the poor. You bet God is against that! I tend to think that if God was messing with the weather, we would get the message pretty darned quick. Could the candidate possibly be referring to climate change?

While the creation groans in expectation of ultimate restoration (Rm 8), God allows his human creation to use violence. It is part of our free will and, it must be admitted, sometimes part of God’s plan. In the end, when we see God face-to-face, there will be no place for coercion or any type of force among the holy people.

Bill Maher attacks Noah’s Ark story

March 19, 2014

We are lucky to have Bill Maher and probably luckier to live in a country that still allows his brand of hard-nosed criticism of big-shots just begging to be knocked down to size. Maher recently took on the upcoming film that deals with the biblical flood. That is a topic I approached here a few days ago. The story about Maher’s’s epic, if somewhat wrong-headed, take-down was in Daily Kos. The link is below. It includes a complete transcript and video.

Bill Maher attacks Noah’s Ark story.

Just a couple of thoughts.

Maher, an obviously well-educated man, seems to have deliberately made himself oblivious to the Ancient Near East custom of exaggerating the age of rulers. This may be the case with Noah. I do not pretend to know. It is reported that one guy back in ancient times was said to have lived 40-thousand years. Now, that is some kind of tall tale! There are flood stories in many of the old cultures and the version found in Genesis bears little resemblance to the Gilgamesh epic.

The more serious contention is that God is some sort of mass murderer and tyrant. This is not going to please Bill Maher, whom I respect and with whom I frequently agree, but, not one single innocent person perished in the Genesis flood. God is all knowing and sees the hearts and desires of every human being. The Lord spared eight people and wiped out the rest of civilization. That’s his call. He owns the world and everything in it. He owns the animals and the people. The Almighty is not afraid to deal with humanity on the same terms that we use on one another. I have no business judging God, and neither does Bill Maher.

When such an important man calls God into judgment, it is a tremendous misunderstanding and injustice. God will not tolerate that kind of misplaced boldness forever. That is why guys like me and Mr. Maher are well-advised to pay attention to these ancient narratives that reveal the character of God. He will punish, if necessary,. In the meantime, he is patient and loving toward lowlifes like me. He offers salvation from the rightful consequence of our rebellion, the end of which is eternal destruction. God loves Bill Maher and gives him as much time as all the people who drowned so long ago.

About that flood, Mr. Noah …

March 12, 2014

In preparing a talk  for the recovery meeting at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock, I started playing around with the theme of coping with the difficulties that are part of dealing with addiction. Of course, there is also a need to widen the scope to include the rest of us who are in trying circumstances.

The story of the flood has many of the characteristics faced by those who are being treated for substance abuse. One feels isolation, for example, and a sense of being deep in unfamiliar territory. During the preparation process, there was a question that hit me hard. Can I really expect to be taken seriously if I talk about a universal deluge? Good question.

Th editors of the 1928 American Prayer Book were so concerned about the same issue that they dropped Martin Luther’s “flood prayer” from the Baptismal rite. My goodness, one cannot expect modern educated people to believe such nonsense. But what would one expect from people who do not believe in miracles?

There is no expert opinion here, and that is part of the purpose of this little note. Yes, God does what he darned well pleases and the worldwide flood covering the tops of mountains is possible. If you can’t tell, I am having trouble with this one. Resolving this issue will demand serious reflection.

To begin, Noah’s flood is a part of sacred scripture. It is an ancient tale that is handed down to us. For thousands of years, believers have accepted this story as part of God’s word for man. That counts for something. The biblical account found in Genesis informs us about the character of God and a bit about man too. The text is very rich with important information. For example, Noah and his three sons each had a single wife. Worth noting.

A much larger question enters the mind. Who are you or I to question the biblical text? Of course, careful students and scholars are always looking for the messages locked inside the Bible, but the text is the text. One of the greatest scholars of all time, Jerome of Jerusalem, observed that some texts are difficult because the scrolls have been damaged or we cannot correctly understand the language, but back there somewhere is a message from God. The great mystery is that God does not reveal himself, or his truth, all at once.

The modern mind believes that it sits in sovereign judgment over everyone and everything. I am sometimes guilty of the gross arrogance. Humans are not the final judges. It would be better to observe that humanity is in rebellion against God and his ways. We are broken and without his generous gift of grace, hopelessly lost. None of us have nay business nitpicking the Almighty. Without making the sacred page into an idol, one must take it as is.  Take the hard along with the easy, and the pleasant with the unsettling.

The serious reader approaches the Bible with humility and open ears. One prays for divine guidance and learns as much as a small mind will permit.

Donnie and Frances Swaggert explain the Trinity to you!

March 6, 2014

One of the more fascinating developments in the wide world of commercial preachers is the rise of an older and more mellow Jimmy Swaggart. The Sun Network is on Uverse and the Swaggarts seem to be producing several hours of original daily “live” programming. When Fr. Mitch is done on EWTN (solid but not nearly as entertaining), the resourceful viewer can scoot across the channels to Frances and Friends, hosted by Mrs. Jimmy Swaggart.

On Wednesday morning, Frances, son Donnie, and a number of associated biblical scholars were reading emails from viewers, Take it from this little Anglican boy in Arkansas, nothing on earth sells like Catholic baiting. The question arose as to why Roman Catholics refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Mother of God.”

Frances takes the lead against the nefarious papists exclaiming that she just can not figure out what is so complicated about this thing. Mary, according to Swaggart’s comprehension of doctrine, was only the mother of Jesus the man. That is completely different from Jesus, second person of the Trinity and eternal God. Somehow the discussion moved around the Eastern Church practice of calling the BVM “theotokos.”

Memo to Frances: Not wishing to be critical, but when one enters a public discussion of such an important topic as the nature of Christ, it is really a good idea to learn how to correctly pronounce all the important words. That’s “God bearer,” not “God barrier.” While you, Mrs. Swaggart, may not have any problems understanding the Trinity and Christological doctrines, the undivided church could not get everything nailed down until 451 AD.

Although the informed viewer always hates to appear cranky, if one remembers the Tome of Leo and the Definition of Chalcedon, Jesus is very, eternal God and entirely co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This detail is important because, first, Jesus must be fully human so that he can experience real temptation, suffering and death. Because he is the perfect man, he is the perfect atoning sacrifice for sins. Because Jesus is divine, he may enter the holiest place and present his sacrifice to the Father. It might be good to footnote here that such terms as “Father” and “Son” are analogies in human words and represents the God-head in ways mere humans can never fully understand. That’s why I am not mad at you, Frances. Honest.

The most interesting part of the televised conversation, however, came when Donne realized that, while enjoying a good old fashioned anti-Catholic spasm, they had all slipped into Arianism. For just a moment, Frances and Friends was preaching the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fairness to everybody, Donnie came to his senses and quickly rendered the correct “orthodox” understanding of Christ’s dual nature. The exchange was amusing because of the gymnastics used to avoid becoming accidental Roman Catholics.

It is my personal opinion that calling Mary “Mother of God” is a bad practice and leads to confusion, even though it is capable of a correct theological understanding. Even more so is the Eastern Church expression for the God Bearer. Since Jesus is fully human and fully divine, Mary most certainly is the bearer of one who shared human and divine natures at the same time.

I hope that helped.