Jed Bartlet’s Job Moment

bartletOne of the themes on this blog lately has been the propriety – or not – of railing against God in times of distress. I tend to (surprise!) take a liberal view on this topic, that God not only can handle our complaints and frustrations but wants us to bring them to him. He made us to be emotional beings, and stifling our emotions is neither healthy nor productive.

Many Christians disagree, and I confess it’s difficult to listen when someone truly “goes off” on God – as happens in the Season 2 finale of The West Wing, which my wife and I are working through on Netflix.

Below the jump, I’ll post the speech in its entirety; most Christians, I suspect, will wince multiple times. You might even be offended. But the question we need to ask is this: Are we offended because God is, or are we offended because we have been taught to be?

[This paragraph contains spoilers] The speech occurs in the National Cathedral, after a funeral for President Jeb Bartlet’s longtime assistant, Mrs. Landingham, who had died in a car wreck. The death occurred after a string of crises and tragedies – including an assassination attempt that nearly killed his deputy chief of staff, Josh Lyman – that, let’s be honest, serve to make the show interesting, but would lead a normal person to consider whether she had been singled out to play Job in some sort of modern-day heavenly remake. [End spoilers]

Bartlett asks the Secret Service to close the cathedral so he can spend some time alone, and after some unnecessarily loud and echoey door slamming to let us know the cathedral has been closed, Bartlett begins walking up the aisle toward the vestibule.

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Pope Francis and the Progressives

505px-Card._Jorge_Bergoglio_SJ,_2008

The defining moment in the papacy of Benedict XVI, at least for this Protestant, was in January 2012, when the Obama administration was getting set to release its regulations for what insurance companies must offer in basic health care plans as dictated by the Affordable Care Act.

It was no secret that contraceptives likely would be among those required to be fully covered; their role in reducing unwanted pregnancy, protecting women, fighting poverty and ultimately reducing abortions was too great to be ignored.

Yet Pope Benedict chose a different emphasis when addressing American bishops in Rome, decrying alleged threats to religious freedom, including what he called attempts to “deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.”

Two months later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a letter they asked all priests to read in their Sunday mass, criticizing the mandate and painting it in the stark hues of religious freedom – this despite support for Obamacare by Catholic nuns, whom the bishops then attempted to muzzle. Later in the year, when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan proposed budgets that would cut services to the poor to pay for defense spending and tax cuts for the wealthy, the response from the bishops was much more muted.

The message was clear: Under Pope Benedict the church would go to much greater lengths to protect its own power than it would the powerless.

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A Letter to Three Daughters

you_cant_scare_me_i_have_three_daughters_card-p137304788121685777envwi_400Last year for International Women’s Day, I wrote a letter to my three daughters. International Women’s Day was last week, so here is a slightly edited version of that letter.

Dear J, G and H,

This world will tell you lies. It will lie to you about your value, about your appearance, about your place. It is filled with people who will see you as weak, who see you as less valuable – to them and to God – and who see you as an object, all because you are female.

I pray you keep this letter in mind when you hear those things. I am afraid that, though the world is changing, it will not do so fast enough to spare you from the warped wisdom and twisted value system that prioritizes, above all things, the gender of a person.

Because you are more than women, as I am more than a man. We are children of God, three daughters and a son. We are loved, valued, respected, prized by the one who made us – the parent of the entire world, the one who is big enough to breathe life into existence, small enough to weep with us when that life goes awry.

But you are, in fact, women. And you should be proud of that. I pray you never accept the attempts of men to make your gender a cause for shame, embarrassment or pity. You are women. Congratulations!

This is my prayer for you:

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When God Abuses

images-2Does the Old Testament portray God as abusive?

In our Old Testament Theology class, we must give two presentations about the topics covered over a given week’s reading in our textbook, Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony. Dispute. Advocacy. My first presentation was on the topic of Yahweh as hidden, abusive and inconsistent. The next week’s assignment was covering the topic of Yahweh as unresponsive, unreliable and unjust.

These are Brueggemann’s categories, and they end up being pretty redundant. The same verses used for describing Yahweh has hidden are equally applicable for describing him as unresponsive, and vice versa. Further, his hiddenness and unresponsiveness clearly make him unreliable, as does his inconsistency. In which case, Brueggemann could have saved a lot of space and simply focused on Yahweh as abusive, unreliable and unjust. But to the extent Yahweh is unreliable and unjust, doesn’t this also make him abusive?

I’d argue yes. In fact, I’d argue the primary counter-testimony of Israel in the Old Testament, whether the authors intended this or not, is that Yahweh is abusive. Abuse is God’s defining action in the texts that push back against the central portrayal of God as loving, just, merciful parent and partner.

There are a number of reasons why I argue this.

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Every Day Is Saturday

theology-old-testament-walter-brueggemann-cd-rom-cover-art

A friend of mine has been going through some tough times, and as he was telling me about them, he mentioned being angry at God, then being embarrassed for being angry at God. Embarrassment strikes me as wholly unnecessary – but a natural and understandable outgrowth of our American culture, which moralizes success and makes failure in any sense a matter of character rather than circumstance or dumb luck.

It so happened that I had finished reading the counter-testimony section in Theology of the Old Testament where Walter Brueggemann discusses the counter-testimony of Israel. And much of what Brueggemann had to say about the difficult passages that make up that counter-testimony seemed appropriate for my friend’s feelings – and I suspect the feelings of many of this blog’s readers, who seem to be questioning, doubting types. So here’s what I said, and I hope it blesses you today: Continue reading