Of Torture, Politics, and Faith

There has been much written and said of a recent survey which showed the highest support for torture by our government comes from evangelical Christians.  Suffice it to say I am no fan of torture.  As a Christian, I do not find it in accord with Scripture and as a military officer, I know it is an extremely poor source of intelligence information.

But what I found most interesting in the report was that the statisticians also tell us that one’s political leanings are much more telling on how we stand on torture than our religious beliefs.  What that tells us is that whether one is for or against – we allow our political leanings to determine our outlook more than our religious beliefs.  And that my friends, is the tail wagging the dog.

Please do not take this to mean that I believe that one’s theology should totally determine one’s political affiliation.  I see each major political party in the U.S. as uplifting different values highlighted in Scripture, and ignoring others, so one has to use discernment and prayer on how one votes and which parties one affiliates with.  I know deep and profound Christians who are Republicans and Democrats.  

But when it comes down to a particular issue, the Bible should be our first reference.  And I can’t count the number of passages that are being broken when one human being tortures another.  And the subtlest thing about it?  The worst damage is done to the torturer not the one being tortured.

Let’s keep first things first and let’s never act in a way that runs counter to what almost every major Christian theologian and denomination inteprets Scripture as saying on this issue.  

In Christ,

Tom Paine, Pastor

Parkway Presbyterian

Of Jesus, Salvation, and Terminators

This week, I had the opportunity to go out with some friends and see Terminator Salvation.  The title itself would have piqued interest but I have been watching this series since it first came out.  I thought it was a pretty good effort (better than the third but not matching either of the first two) but was fascinated to read some of other reviews on the net when I got back home.

For those of you that “Terminator” movies just aren’t your thing, suffice it to say that these movies offer the opposite of the Star Trek optimistic humanist view of the future.   Instead of humanity building a virtual paradise where good guys only need to raise up to fend off the occasional bad guy, in the Terminator movies, the good guys struggle to survive.  But here is where it gets interesting, some people are running with the idea (including the producers)  that John Connor is somewhat modeled on Jesus (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/may/29.66.html)  Even their initials paralleling are intentional.

Does the future depend upon John Connor in the movies?  Sure it does.  But to think John has a vision similar to Jesus is – stretching it to say the least.  John Connor is the typical American hero in an action movie – the problems of the world are not my doing and the future depends upon no one but us.  There is no praying.  There is no point beyond surviving (and helping others to survive).  And success depends upon courage and innovation.

Jesus did not put us in the center of the stage but God in the center.  He also did not see vanquishing the “bad guys” as the key for success.  As a matter of fact, Jesus seemed intent on finding ways of turning the bad guys.  In the movie the Terminators are building “infiltration models” to sew seeds of destruction.  Jesus, by contrast, infiltrated the ‘bad guys’ (all of us) to turn us for life instead of termination which faces us all.

The most interesting character in the movie isn’t John Connor, it is Marcus Wright – which I won’t write about in case you’re going to see it.  It is in that story, versus John Connor, that you find the strongest parallel to Christ (not as much at the beginning of his story but especially at the end).

All in all, an ok Scifi flick.  But I often think there are many in our society who still “don’t get” the real message Jesus offered.  If true, it places the challenge on all of us to change that.

All the best and until next time,

Tom

Two movies worth a look…

This weekend my wife and I watched two movies with merit.  The first one was His Girl Friday.  It honestly surprised me.  It captures the time (the late 1930s) when newspapers took off, when they were wedded with rapid (for the era) communication, like the telephone and telegraph.  Everything rested on getting “the scoop,” as papers competed with one another.  Cary Grant plays the editor, and Rosalind Russell plays his crack reporter.  The problem?  They started dating, got married, and she grew tired of his focus on the paper instead of their marriage.  The movie starts with her returning from a vacation to announce that she is getting married and leaving the paper.  Grant, a conniver, throws a wrench in it by luring her back into it, slowly but surely.  It becomes obvious that reporting is her calling, but what about her fiancé? It all makes for a good screwball comedy from that era.  But what was particularly interesting to watch is how the media, even back then, was portrayed as a bit jaded and self-serving (just as it is today).  The dialogue is as rapid as West Wing, and the wit is strong.  It’s good food for thought (and it’s free on http://www.Hulu.com).

We also watched the much more contemporary Ghost Town (which was not at all as it was presented in the previews). It was hyped as a kind of goofy Sixth Sense with the lead, played by Ricky Gervais (of the UK Office fame) being able to see dead people after dying on the operating table but being brought back.  Soon, he is seeing dead New Yorkers, who all begin to follow him.  But, the story quickly focuses on just one ghost (Greg Kinnear), who’s trying to make things right for his widow played by Téa Leoni.  The lead, though, falls in love with her, and while he thinks his goal is to break up an engagement, the real problem ends up being himself.  It had me laughing at many points, but I also appreciated an important message it relayed.  His colleague at one point asks him, “How is being an #%@$%^$ working for you?” (It obviously isn’t.) The colleague shows him a quote from Einstein: “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.” (I think that’s what it said.) Once he realizes this, everything begins to change.  Sometimes movies can say something better than any sermon can.  Dreamworks made this, one and you can find it on iTunes and Amazon Unbox for their typical rental fees.

Two comedies with good messages.

Until next time and all the best,

Tom

What Will We Do With the Time Given Us

This past week, I was on drill with the Air National Guard and went on an errand with a fellow chaplain.  When I got in his car he said, “Tom, I’m old school” and cranked up the Carpenters!  I certainly was alive when the Carpenters were famous.  I remember many of their songs on the radio.  But, when I was young it simply wasn’t the type of music I was interested in hearing.  It sounded too much like the “easy listening” music I heard at the dentist office. But, as I listened this weekend, I was amazed at Karen Carpenter’s voice as she sang Superstar.  It wasn’t just the quality of her voice but the emotion and thought she put into the song. 

Today, on a break I looked up Carpenter’s bio and read it.  I was aware that she had died of an eating disorder but knew little of the details of the rest of her life.  It was interesting and sad that we lost her so soon.   Her brother, the other half of the famous duo, said he was glad that he last told her that he loved her. 

It was simply one of many stories I have experienced, heard, or read that underscores that we don’t know how long we will have with anyone we love or befriend.  I raises the question, “Am I making my time count?”

I talked with our Session on a parallel theme tonight.  We are responsible for the members of our church.  We may have many years in the future with them.  But we might not.  Are we making our time count?  Are we helping our members in their spiritual development?  Do they know that they matter to us?  We are called to enjoy our time together.  But we also all need to be intentional in our relationships as well.

I hope you let you and yours know that they matter to you.

All the best and In Christ,

Tom

P.S.  My question for this post is, “What does spiritual maturity mean to you?”  Tweet it back, reply here, or on Facebook.

Laments

I am reading a book by Christopher J. H Wright with the unusual title (for a Christian author) “The God I Don’t Understand.”  There have been many books written of late questioning God and the way of the world but they tend to be written almost exclusively by atheists.  Wright, by contrast, contends in his book that questioning God with difficult questions is not only a Biblical calling but one in which some of the most profound people of faith have done over the course of time.  I’d like to type in part of a paragraph for consideration:

I feel the language of lament is seriously neglected in church.  Many Christians seem to feel that is somehow can’t be right to complain to God in the context of corporate worship when we should all feel happy.  There is an implicit pressure to stifle our real feelings because we are urged, by pious merchants of emotional denial, that we ought to have faith (as if the moaning Psalmist didn’t).  So we end up giving external voice to pretended emotions we do not really feel, while hiding the real emotions we are feeling deep inside.  Going to worship can become an exercise in pretense and concealment, neither of which can possibly be conducive for a real encounter with God.  

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree or disagree?

All the best & in Christ, 

Tom

Wright, Christopher.  The God I Don’t Understand (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI).  P. 52.

Awe

                I often like to get my family outside – away from the television, computers, telephones, and anything in general that plugs into an electric socket or runs on batteries.  Last night, we sat on the steps of our home and watched a storm headed our way.  Sometimes it was sheet lighting.  Sometimes forks of lighting lit up the clouds.  Seconds after the lightning, the sound of thunder would follow.  It was fascinating  to our children.  How many adults will barley glance at the same tonight?  Yet the excitement and fascination in their questions just make them joyful moments.  We had the same experience a few months ago as Lesley explained to them about stars.

                Sometimes in church, I will overhear a child asking a question about God.  They have the same degree of curiosity about God as about lightning.  I’ll also note that often when children enter a sanctuary – their eyes will open wide as they take in all of the sites to which adults are long accustomed.  Giddy discussions are often stopped midstream as they look around the room.

                I once read a Christian author who maintains that we take the magic and the power away from God sometimes.  We treat the Bible as some ordinary book.  We believe sanctuaries are just like any other space.  We exclude the possibility of something remarkable happening through prayer. 

                Lightning is remarkable.  The Bible is a holy book.  Sanctuaries are special places.  And most of all, God remains mysterious, remarkable, and One for whom we should never lose our awe and reverence and respect (especially when we talk with Him). 

All for now.  In Christ,

Tom

P.S.  In general, I think we have to use pronouns for God.  The English language sounds stilted without them.  Nevertheless, I realize “Him” no more accurately refers to God than “Her.”  Nevertheless, I stick with Him out of tradition.

Time Travel

One of my favorite story telling modes is science fiction, and a frequently-used plot device is time travel. The current Star Trek movie, the upcoming Terminator movie, and the television show Lost all use this device.  I think I experienced it today – but in a way that moves from fiction to reality.

My day started off by hearing from one of our church members, who is recently back from Afghanistan. He brought in prayer rugs, ceremonial knives, and even dressed in Afghan garb. But what really made it futuristic was how, with pictures and videos, he showed us what his work was like over there. The pictures alone could never have told the story like he did, but with them, he was able to tell us the story in a way that even ten years ago would have been impossible.

Next, I headed down to First Presbyterian in New Orleans. I was baptized as an infant in this church. My parents were active there in the 1950s & 60s. Its sanctuary has always seemed tremendous to me. It is still gorgeous but looks different to my adult eyes. The reason why I was there was to observe their homeless ministry, which our congregation supports. About seven Presbyterians welcomed about sixty homeless people in for worship, food, clothes, and a ticket that pays for sleeping quarters at the Salvation Army. I felt that despite the difference in function between the church folks and the visitors (some there to give and some to receive), everyone talked with each other as equals. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of a future scene that hopefully will become more of a reality in Christ’s larger Church.

For lunch, it was a jump back into the past because I was able to eat at a restaurant that my father used to take me to as a child – Pascale Manales.  When I shared with the waitress that it had been some thirty years since I had been there last, she said, “Well the family that owns the restaurant prides itself in not changing. The meal you had then should be replicated today.” And it was – from the Chicken Parmesan to the fresh french bread, it was just as I remembered it.

Dinner and my evening class brought me back to the present, as about ten folks gathered to dig into the Scripture passages for Sunday. The passages in this Easter season have lots to do with the Holy Spirit, and we reflected together on the Trinity, issues facing the church, the city, and our congregation, and what God may be saying to us. Hurricanes, crime, hope, friendships, and diversity peppered the discussion. There were some great observations, including how stress is a common issue facing us all and how God’s love is frequently shown in community.

The past is always bitter-sweet. There are moments in time we will always treasure. There are others we’d like to forget but still inform who we are. The future is a mix of hopes, dreams, and fears. But the time machines in our heads, hopefully, always land us back in the present where God has placed us with a purpose.

What do you see our purpose as today?  Why has God given you the experiences that you have had?  How can they help us all have a better future?

Questions to ponder and enough for tonight.

All the best & in Christ,

Tom