Archive for March, 2013

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIf given the options of either a time of celebration or contemplation of deep, dark places, which would you choose? I would certainly look for the party. There is far too much darkness in this world, why give it any more of our time? Still, there is a fine line between looking away from the dark and plain, simple denial. Moments arise in our days when we must take a good and honest look at what is wrong with the world and our lives, even come to terms with our own mortality.

People who identify themselves as Christian are inching toward the week to end all weeks. By most identifications we call the week “Holy”. The drama begins Palm Sunday, as we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem carried by a donkey. Events then unfold in the happenings of Maundy Thursday, (Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest), Good Friday, (trial and crucifixion), and of course Easter Sunday, (resurrection). We mark our remembrance of these events as they are central to our faith.

Each year I’m a bit surprised, however, with the ratio of worshipers on Palm Sunday and Easter, and those who arrive on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Certainly I understand that mid-week services are not our norm, and people are certainly busy. Given that this is our big week, however, I can’t help but wonder if a big part of the vastly greater numbers on the two Sundays has something to do with our aversion to the real difficult parts of faith. Death? Betrayal? Arrests and beatings? Give me a good celebration any day.

A number of years ago a friend made the powerful Holy Week observation in his comment, “Well, this is the week we live for.” How very true. He died much too young on an Easter Sunday not long after this statement. He lived fully and knew how important it is to observe this Week and contemplate the deeper issues of faith and life, perhaps even that which makes us uncomfortable.

Check out the full events of this week to come. As one of my favorite restaurant proprietors often says, “You give it a try; we’ll see what happens.”

Storytellers always have a perspective, a slant, a certain viewpoint from which to tell their tale. It’s with this in mind that my viewing of the History Channel’s “The Bible” is rife with disappointment. Although I absolutely love viewing the images and stories come to life, I’m afraid these storytellers missed the point. The production value is top quality, but they’re telling the wrong story.

The storytellers in this series tip their hand in what they choose to tell as well as with the tales they omit. Last weeks installment spent an inordinate amount of screen time on Samson, and the most recent episode gave us way too much time on the Babylonian Exile. Specifically disturbing was the telling of the tale through the perspective of Daniel. “The Bible” provided far more material about Daniel than could ever be squeezed from the Holy Writ. (Seriously, the Book of Daniel was not written until 400 years after the Exile. It was also offered as an apocalyptic vision of hope for 2nd Century B.C. Judeans persecuted by the Greek-Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes). We are shown nothing of King Solomon, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, nor the tremendous importance placed upon the Jerusalem Temple. Wow, astonishing.

We’ve also not gained the true perspective of why the people endured the Exile in the first place. All the biblical prophets agree it is for one reason and one reason only; unfaithfulness. Repeatedly we’re told of empty and meaningless worship, going through the motions, ignoring the poor, the widow and the orphan, and worshiping the pagan gods of their neighbors. Indeed archaeology supports the fact–90% of Israel worshiped pagan deities 90% of the time when the Exile occurred. How did this shows producers miss this? We’re only given the perspective that the enemy is always from the outside, not from within the hearts and minds of the people. Good God, even the angels are decked out in military regalia.

Greatest of all the faux pas of this production is the portrayal of humanity’s standing before God. Both individual and nation, we are led to believe, we receive blessings if only their faith is strong enough. This could not be further from the biblical witness. Time and again, both individual and nation are shown to lack, to be full of flaws, shortcomings and foibles. Yet through it all, God is one who remains faithful, even when the people come up short.

Folks, it’s always best to read this for yourself. I mean the whole thing, not just bits and pieces, but take the biblical narrative as a whole. Without this, you’ll probably get the wrong story.

Ferris Buehler stated, “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you might miss it.” Ferris is right, even if he is a fictional character. Life is too fast, and we need to slow down and absorb our surroundings. We are trained and conditioned to instant pleasure, satisfaction and gratification, and all to seldom do we take the time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, let alone dig into the more important parts of existence. Fast food, fast cars, fast love…we want what we want and we want it right now.  This gives me concern for “fast faith.” If this is how we want our faith, we must be prepared for what we get.

Hence, back to “The Bible, part 2”, History Channel’s mini-series. It was about what I expected. As I wrote last week, I greatly anticipated this series as I am a fan of visualizing the stories and seeing them come to life. I’m still disturbed. Each story we’ve witnessed thus far portrays the character’s as somewhat troubled, yet they come up light when reviewing their faults and shortcomings. Even more so, beginning with the portrayal of Abraham, we discover they are blessed because of their faithfulness. In other words, this series would have us believe that the more faithful we are, the more God will bless us. Sounds good, but it is oh. So. Wrong. Indeed, when we read through the fantastic and sometimes confusing biblical narrative, we’ll discover this perspective to be quite the opposite. Bass-ackwards, in fact.

Some difficulties from last evenings chapter in the saga–there were too many troubling puzzle pieces, but I’ll offer these; A full half-hour on Samson? Seriously?! Sure, we need to gain some perspective on the period of the Judges, but a full quarter of last night’s installment? Then we move to the tale of David, which is of course so very rich and colorful, yet I’m irked at some blatant omissions. The Robin-Hood-type display with David on the run from a loathsome King Saul was wonderful, yet we continually find David with Uriah at his right hand. Where did they get this? Not even close. The only reason the show’s makers must have written this in is to heighten the well-known story of David’s adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Which of course, is horrible. Yet, David’s myriad other sins are conveniently omitted.

Here’s a list:

Number One) We gain insight into David’s marriage to Saul’s daughter, Michal. What we don’t see is David locking her in the palace, to ensure she never has a child, who would then have a claim to Saul’s lineage.

Number Two) Saul’s next son, Ishbaal, (or Ishbosheth), claims his father’s throne for the northern tribes. He is assassinated by David’s men. David then executes the assassins, hangs their bodies outside Hebron and cuts off their hands and feet. The message to the northern tribes is this, “Look what I did to the those who killed the king’s son. I brought justice!” The result is that the northern tribes take David as king. He’s shrewd, yes, but let us not diminish or white-wash his brutality.

Number Three) The taking of Jerusalem is a marvelous story, one in which we again find a very brutal, vain and bloodthirsty David. They do indeed enter the city through the watershaft, (sewer), but not before the city’s inhabitants taunt him, screaming they could defeat David even if their army consisted on the blind and lame. It’s a scene reminiscent of the French taunting King Arthur in Monty Python, “Holy Grail”. At David’s command, his forces slaughter the blind and lame as a message to his detractors, “Don’t mess with me”. When Solomon builds the Temple it is law that the blind and lame are not allowed in the Temple, a long-standing reminder of David’s hubris and cruelty. No mention of this at all in History’s showing.

Number Four) Saul’s son Jonathan has a lame son named Mephibosheth, whom David takes in to his own home. Now, this sounds altruistic at first blush. Be not fooled. The young man has a claim to Saul’s throne, and is therefore a threat to David. Our new king can now once again make certain that Saul’s line will die into legend.

There is much more to come, but we’ll see what next week’s installment brings.

All this brings me to my thoughts about “fast faith”. There is cause to wonder how many of “The Bible’s” millions of viewers will take this as the story of the Bible. After all, it takes months, years maybe, to read the biblical narrative in its entirety. Why not get the whole thing in ten hours or so of very entertaining television? Not to mention the very sanitized picture of these biblical characters, and their faith that appears supersized and greater than normal. This places us in the position of figuring that we either can’t measure up to the folks in the Bible, or we’ll only gain God’s favor by what we do. This gives me the same feeling I get about a half an hour after eating fast food. Ick.

Oh, I’ll keep watching. I love the cinematography, the images, the stories and the wonder of our spiritual ancestors. Just don’t wrap it in styrofoam and put it in a paper bag.

Characters Wanted

Posted: March 4, 2013 in Mind Over Matters

So, I watched the premiere of the History Channel’s series, “The Bible”. With much anticipation I awaited this showing. As pastor of a congregation there is always a thrill when people are interested in the full biblical narrative. The story, and stories, are rich and alive, filled with interesting characters and always, the movements of a wondrous and gracious God. Hence, “The Bible” is a welcome addition to the body of material telling the old, old, story.

The task of such an undertaking must have been daunting. Even with 16 televised hours, how do you choose which stories to include, what characters must appear, how do you shape this into a full, life-sized story. With my great anticipation, I must say I’m so far disappointed. The portrayal of the biblical characters is too clean, too neat, they’re too good. This couldn’t be further from the biblical witness. Let’s take Abraham for starters. The show sets him in the light of a strong-faithed individual, always urging other to trust God, have faith. The biblical accounts prove our faith-ancestor to repeated doubt God’s promise, several times placing the covenant in serious jeopardy. Our spiritual ancestor was a flawed and broken as the rest of us.

Next, Moses. The visual of the burning bush was stunning. However, we get very little protest from this great emancipator. The Book of Exodus shows him to continually try to talk his way out of God’s call. Excuse after excuse spews forth as Moses tries to convince God, “You’ve got the wrong guy.”

I think what the world greatly needs are portrayals of our biblical characters as simply that…characters. We tend to revere them, sometimes at the expense of revering the One who calls them in the first place. In fact, they’re just like you and me; broken, wonderful, flawed and trying-to-be-faithful-children-of-God. Noah’s strong fortitude in the show is countered by the biblical account of his actions upon reaching dry land. He plants a vineyard, makes wine, and gets drunk to the point of passing out. That scene must be lying on the editing room floor. Although, I’ll have to admit, his Scottish Highland accent was kind of cool. What a git!

Point is, let’s not venerate these folks to the extreme of missing the point. Although humanity continues in all our assets, gifts, brokenness, and flaws, God remains faithful and loving through it all.

Even so, I’ll be watching the next seven episodes! As I said in a Facebook post, if you think this show is great, you really should read the book!