Friday, March 6, 2015

WE'LL MISS YOU JON


For years, Uni and have followed The Daily Show, a satirical "news" program, hosted by comedian Jon Stewart.  When Stewart announced he was going to leave his program, we asked each other, "Where will we go for our news?"  Though there are plenty of news programs on the air, we felt that there will be a huge gap in coverage.

An article in The Week magazine (2/27/15, page 16) gave various views on the program's demise, and I suppose these comments are an honest sampling.  Though some recognized the contribution Stewart made, many seemed to be simply saying "good riddance."
Stewart was a master of satire, skewering not only politicians, but also other news coverage and commentary (and Arby's).  One of his favorite, and I believe most effective routines was to take some self-righteous pronouncement of a politician or pundit and to throw on the screen the many totally contradictory (but just as righteous) pronouncements they had made previously.  Of course, most of his attacks were on those of the right but he especially loved to attack Fox (Faux) News, whose "newspersons" seem to always have something stupid to say.  Some have even wondered if Fox News was really set up just to supply him with material.
He clearly hated pomposity and hypocrisy and loved shredding those who were masters of those arts - Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity.  And he enjoyed airing their "defenses" against him.
One commentator who claims to be "one of those liberal Millennials" quoted in The Week article said he was "glad to see Stewart go."  He said that "Stewart's sneering dismissal of all politicians was a form of 'anti-politics' in which sophisticated debate over genuine ideological differences take a back seat to snark, and the only correct response to our national dysfunction is cynicism."  Apparently this person failed to watch whole programs, every one of which always included an interview with some well-known person.  Though many movie stars and comedians had their place, as often as these, Stewart was visited by leading people of America and the world - authors, congressmen, presidents, presidential candidates, many with "genuine ideological differences."  And there was "sophisticated debate."
I don't always agree with Jon Stewart.  There are many times I that wince at his criticisms of opinions that I hold closely.  But they are usually fair, even to religious people.  And I also wince at his crude language and his 5th grade level sexual and bathroom humor.
Another complaint in the article was that Stewart's audience is small and includes mostly "young, East Coast liberals" or "Millennials."  However there are a few of us mid-American old geezers who watch.  We certainly won't get this kind of coverage on the networks or 24-hour "news" channels.
We'll miss you Jon!!!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

SARCASM AND SATIRE

I often have difficulty communicating with people who do not appreciate sarcasm and satire whether used by me or others.    They tell me that it signifies a weak argument or that it is hurtful - even un-Christian.    (See:  FRANCIS & CHARLIE  -  1/19/2015.)    I've tried to ex- plain that these are legitimate ways of conveying truth and have even given examples from the Bible:  the Hebrew prophets, the apostles, even Jesus used it frequently.

I began to think that possibly those who object to sarcasm may have difficulty under- standing it - perhaps their brains are wired differently, like even the brilliant genius Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.  I recall my frustrations in teaching Bible Study Methods at the College of Biblical Studies.  There were a few - though very few - students who just couldn't catch on, not only to sarcasm and irony, but to similes and metaphors.  As I recall, their inability to grasp these and other figures of speech had little to do with their intelligence or lack of the same.  Perhaps the objections I was receiving were from those who just couldn't get it.  Perhaps.

However, I am now of the opinion that many who object to sarcasm do so, not because they don't get it, but because they do.  They don't like it because it points out their faulty thinking or behavior.  In other words, if your argument is weak, if you can't refute what's being said, condemn the method of argument - or even better the one who uses sarcasm to make his argument.  Use ad hominem; sometimes a good offense is a good defense.

Often in the Gospels we're told that Jesus' hearers didn't catch on to His use of parables - "You'll keep on hearing but won't understand" (Matthew 13:14).  But now and then they did understand.  "And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them" (Matthew 21:4, 5).  And what was their reaction?  "... they tried to seize Him" (verse 46).

So if you object to sarcasm, ask yourself why you are objecting.  Maybe it fits!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS

I believe it's important for us - whatever group we claim allegiance to - to occasionally take a look at ourselves through the eyes of others, no matter how negative their views may be.  So when I came across the book The Great Derangement by Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, I was intrigued.  In reading the book, I never quite felt sure where Taibbi was headed and though it was an entertaining read, I still felt a bit baffled when I concluded.  His purpose seemed to me to be to demonstrate that America is full of crazies and is headed down the tubes.
To pursue his thesis Taibbi places himself with different degrees of feigned sincerity into four different "subcultures" - the military, a newsman in Congress, the 9/11 Truthers movement and a mega-church.  It is his experiences in the church that occupy the largest portion of the book, as well as my interest.
Though Taibbi comes across as a cynical atheist, in his dealings with the church, his descriptions of his experiences, though saddening, are fascinating and entertaining.  I found it hard to put the book down.  I have no idea why he chose the church that he did - John Hagee's Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas.  Perhaps because its pastor comes across even to us non-cynics as clownish, both in his preaching style and his TV appearance.
[Note:  I have no sympathy for Mr. Hagee.  I believe that his "Christian Zionism" is a politicization of a false theology.  His unquestioning endorsement of the nation of Israel has led him to a "two-Messiah" heresy which denies that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews.]

Taibbi describes his experiences in the church, beginning with a 3-day weekend retreat.  He goes through a "conversion," baptism and even speaking in tongues (which he accomplishes by reciting Russian poetry).  He prays aloud and sings praises, all the while holding a contemptuous and unsympathetic attitude toward his deluded fellow-worshippers.  But what struck me was an unexpected lengthy confession he makes in the middle of his narration of all his hypocritical play-acting on his 3-day retreat.

"After two days of nearly constant religious instruction, songs, worship, and praise - ... an unending regimen of forced and fake responses - a funny thing started to happen to my head.  There is a transformational quality in these external demonstrations of faith and belief.  The more you shout out praising the Lord, singing along ..., telling people how blessed you feel, and so on, the more a sort of mechanical Christian skin starts to grow all over your real self.  Even if you're a degenerate Rolling Stone reporter inwardly chuckling and busting on the whole scene ... outwardly you're swaying to the gospel and singing and praising and acting the part, and those outward ministrations assume a kind of sincerity in themselves.  ... that 'inner you' begins to get tired of the whole spectacle and sometimes forgets to protest ... while the outer me did the 'work' of singing and praising.  ... which one is the real you?"

"You may think you know the answer, but by my third day I began to notice how effortlessly my soft-spoken Matt-mannequin was going through his robotic motions of praise, and I was shocked.  For a brief, fleeting moment I could see how under different circumstances it would be easy enough to bury your 'sinful' self far under the skin of your outer Christian and to just travel through life this way.  ... so long as you are going through all the motions, never breaking the facade, who are you really?  ... it was the very first time I worried that the experience of entering this world might prove to be anything more than an unusually tiring assignment.  I feared for my normal."

Taibbi's confession took an entire page, I had to go back and re-read it; and then I did so again.  I read it aloud to Uni.  Here in the midst of Taibbi's cynical criticisms of his fellow-"worshippers" was a page full of un-cynical honesty!  What to make of it?

It raised questions in my own mind.  Could - should - I make a similar confession?  Have I, at least at times worn "a sort of mechanical Christian skin"?  Have I been guilty of "checking out into ... daydreams" in the middle of worship?  Have I simply gone through "robotic motions of praise"?

I'm afraid that there are many times I'd have to answer "Yes" to all of these questions.  While Taibbi was afraid of his experience affecting his "normal" - his cynical atheism, I am afraid for my "normal" - the reality of my Christian life.

Yes, we'd have a biblical/theological explanation for this phenomenon.  We'd say that this is worship "in the flesh."  But somehow having a phrase for this isn't comforting.  Worshipping in the flesh with our mind disengaged and with the Spirit disengaged, is easy to do.  Do I fit the description Jesus gave when He said, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me?"  (Matthew 15:8, quoting Isaiah 29:13)

The Sunday after I read this, I was very self-conscious in our Church worship service.  As I found myself going through the motions of worship my mind wandered - not to daydreams but to self-examination.  Is this real?  I glanced around at those worshipping around me, singing, clapping, and raising their hands, amening.  Is this real for them?

I am not questioning the validity of my faith, or that of my fellow worshippers.  But I am saying that our external Christian behavior can be unreal.  I often have thoughts - disconnected and irrelevant thoughts - running through my mind during worship at church or even prayer at home.  At times the very words used in worship can suggest other directions for our minds to follow.  I'm not speaking here of evil or greedy or lustful thoughts, however, just thoughts of any kind that distract from the reality of worship.  And of the ability to keep up the motions of worship while those thoughts are going on.

Lord, I do confess that my worship has often been carried on in the flesh.  Cleanse me from that sin and give me the grace to worship you with my mind and in Your Spirit.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

MAN UP!

I was sitting in my recliner reading a newsmagazine with the pages folded over, when Uni started snickering.  She was reading the headline on the opposite page:  "How to Tell Time Like a Man."  I flipped my magazine over and read the fine print aloud to her.  It was a full-page 81/2"x11" ad for a wristwatch.

"Your watch ..." it claimed (and I'm not making this up), "should look and feel like a power tool and not a piece of bling.  Wearing it shouldn't make you think twice about swinging a hammer or changing a tire.  A real man's timepiece needs to be ready for anything."

Urrrgh!  Shades of Tim the Tool Man!

But that's not all!  After some info about the price the ad continues:  "Call me old-fashioned, but I want my boots to be leather, my tires to be deep-tread monsters, and my steak thick and rare.  Inspiration for a man's watch should come from things like fast cars, firefighters and power tools."

The rest of the page has details about the watch and its bargain pricing and it features an actual photo of the watch, about double actual size (I'd hope - otherwise one would have to wear it around his neck).

Now while the watch I wear was purchased for much less - seems like it was around $10 at Wal*Mart - I can understand that men in some trades would require a heavier-duty watch.  I do wear leather boots - "manly footwear," as Merle's song goes (see picture above).  And I do have a few power tools.  Alas, my 14-year-old PT Cruiser doesn't qualify; it's not fast and doesn't have monster tires.

But is my masculinity to be measured by the appurtenances of manhood mentioned in the ad?  If I lack any of these am I less of a man?  That seems to be the implicit message I'm being given.  So if I'm a real man I should call the number given on the page immediately so that I can add this watch to my power tools, leather boots, etc.

I do suspect, however, that this type of appeal gets more response from those who are unsure of their masculinity than from those who are confident in theirs.

Well then, how should I measure my manhood?  What are the signs of manhood if they're not the external macho trappings mentioned?  How do I "man up"?

Once - and only once - is there an expression given in the New Testament telling us to "man up."  Paul uses the Greek verb andrizomai in 1 Corinthians 16:13.  The word is usually translated "be men" or "act like men."  It is related to the noun aner which is simply the word for "man" as male.  [This word is not to be confused with anthropos, which though translated "man" in older translations, basically means "human" or "person" and can include those of both genders.]

Andrizomai was, however, used about 20 times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (ca. 200 BC) usually in pep talks to troops before sending them off to war.  Moses to the Israelite armies before sending them across the Jordan to conquer the Canaanites:  "Be men (andrizomai) and be strong!  Don't be afraid or cowardly or fearful in their presence ..." (Deuteronomy 31:6).  He repeats the same to his successor Joshua in the next verse.  Then after crossing the Jordan, Joshua is found giving the same command to his troops (Joshua 1:6-7, 9; 10:25).  The word is still used in modern Greek, though more in the sense of "be strong."

But when Paul exhorts his (male?) readers to be men, he is not sending them forth to physical combat.  Neither is he telling them of those external features or accessories that are supposed to be the marks of a "real man."  In his concluding remarks to his First Letter to the Corinthians he says these words:

"Stay awake, stand firm in the faith, be men (or man up) be strong!  Let everything you do be done in love!"  (1 Corinthians 16:13, 14)

There are five imperatives in these two verses, all in the present tense, which gives the sense of continual action.  These are to be the characteristics of Paul's readers, including us - our continual behavior.  And the third command is the one that I believe sums up the others.  Or to put it another way, the other four commands tell us what it means to man up.

·       "Stay awake!"  This word is often translated "watch."  It's what Jesus commanded His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before He was betrayed.  Real men are spiritually alert.  They understand what's going on around them.

·       "Stand firm!"  The idea is of standing firm, confident in our faith in Christ and in our freedom in Him.  (Galatians 5:1; Philippians 1:27; 4:1, etc.)

·       "Be strong!"  The word is used of both John the Baptist and of Jesus as children.  (Luke 1:80; 2:40).  The idea seems to be of a continual growth in strength.  But I don't believe that Paul is commanded physical training here.

·        "Let everything you do be done in love!"  Love is an active word - that which seeks what is best in its object.  It is to characterize every action of the real man.

So how is our - my - manhood measured?  Apparently not by the standards enumerated in the magazine ad, nor by other standards urged upon us by American culture.

Our manliness is a goal we are to strive for - our likeness to Jesus Christ.  Or as Paul says elsewhere, we are to continue our growth "... until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man (aner), to the measure of the stature of Christ's fullness" (Ephesians 4:13).