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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Is Football Immoral?

Normal-v-CTE-brain-courtesy-Ann-McKeeWord came this week that Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, a star in the National Football League for 20 years who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest several months ago, did indeed have CTE, the degenerative brain disease that leads to significant neurological problems for its victims.

Seau is the highest-profile NFL player to have had the disease, but by no means has he been the only one. In fact, of 19 brains donated by the families of former NFL players to be studied, 18 have shown evidence of CTE. Seau’s case is also troubling in another aspect: He never once was diagnosed with a concussion, implying that the routine, subconcussive hits that take place in a football game are no less damaging when compiled over years of play.

This increasing knowledge of football’s detrimental, even deadly effects for its players could have profound consequences for the sport, even leading to its demise – either in a natural way as proposed in this Grantland piece, or because the game is forced to change its rules to such an extent that it simply isn’t the same game that has become the runaway favorite for Americans.

Frankly, this wouldn’t trouble me in the least. There is little doubt in my mind that the net effects of football in our society are negative – whether that’s the perverse incentives that lead coaches to be paid more than high school superintendents and college presidents or the glorification of aggression and violence for which millions tune in every Sunday. When history and science classes are routinely given to coaches who care nothing for the subject but need to teach so as to justify their salaries, something is decidedly wrong with the way we prioritize athletics – football, in particular – versus academics.

But the latest revelations lead me to a new question: Is football immoral? More practical for us, is supporting football immoral?

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Eschatological Song Wars!

220px-Vice_versesI love the old hymns. I grew up singing them, and I wish there were more opportunities for singing them in our modern world. Nevertheless, it’s no surprise that some of them are chock full of bad theology (at least I hope it’s no surprise; you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Christmas hymn that takes all sorts of liberties with the biblical narratives of Jesus’ birth).

But in light of our discussion Monday about the way in which N.T. Wright (and others) have urged a reshaping of our eschatological consciousness from seeking to escape this world to instead seeking to restore it, I couldn’t help think of the following contrast between the 1929 hymn “I’ll Fly Away,” one of the most popular spirituals of all time, and the much more recent, decidedly unhymnlike “Afterlife,” by the modern rock band Switchfoot.

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Keep the Mithra in Christmas!

All right, people, it’s smackdown time.

My wife likes to watch this show called Drop Dead Diva. I know very little about it except that it involves someone dying and coming back to life in someone else’s body and now they’re a lawyer, or something like that. I also know that the other night, while I was studying for my final, I caught a moment of courtroom drama in which the prosecutor shocks the defense with some piece of evidence that makes the accused’s guilt all but certain. The defense, of course, had no idea this was coming.

This happens in courtroom shows all the time – the prosecution rocks the defense back on its heels with a stunning piece of previously unknown evidence. OMG! What will happen next?

In real life, what would happen next is that the defense would ask the judge to rule the evidence inadmissible and/or call for a mistrial, and the judge would almost certainly grant it. Because failing to provide a full disclosure of the state’s evidence to the defense, though certainly dramatic, is also prosecutorial misconduct and therefore tends not to happen much in real life.

So of course, I felt obliged to interrupt my wife’s enjoyment of this show to remind her of this fact, at which point she reminded me that it’s a show about someone being dead and coming back to life in someone else’s body, which also, last I checked, is not something that happens very often either. Touché.

Nevertheless, the feeling I get when TV shows and movies portray flagrantly unethical practices as commonplace occurrences to enhance courtroom drama is the same feeling I get when I’m cruising along on my Facebook wall, and I see this:

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People, this has to stop.

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P.O.D., Christians and the F-Word

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them shit, that I may gain Christ. – Philippians 3:8

Translators are clearly uncomfortable with the fact that the Apostle Paul uses a word in Philippians 3:8 whose most accurate translation in modern English is a four-letter word. The closest I’ve seen any translation get is “dung” (KJV) or “sewer trash” (CEB). But, in fact, Paul is using a first-century cuss word, and if we were going to accurately bring his context forward to our own language, we’d say “shit.”

Alex Heath has a good explanation for why Paul would do this:

I believe Paul uses the word “shit” in this passage because he is trying to create an incredibly stark and extreme contrast between the the “things” of the world, and the pursuit of Christ. It’s serious business.

This is the same Paul (well, potentially) who in Ephesians says, “Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth.” But Ephesians is a boilerplate epistle, written as general encouragement and instruction to any churches who might need it (the oldest versions of the letter have a blank where the addressees should be), and so Paul is speaking generally there, whereas in a specific letter to a specific church, he uses extremely strong language because he’s making an extremely strong point.

So the lesson seems to be: Generally we should avoid trafficking in the crude language of the culture around us, but occasionally the situation might call for a well-placed profanity to get people’s attention.

I’ve been thinking about this because the rock group P.O.D. has stirred up a kerfuffle on their latest album, Murdered Love. Continue reading

Capitulating to Our Culture

I was doing a quick shopping run the other day for my wife when I ran into this set of books prominently displayed at our favorite grocery store:

I was immediately leery, as book publishers seem to have certain ideas about what boys need to know versus what girls need to know about the same general topics. The covers are fairly innocuous – sailboat versus horse, diving versus jumping rope – nothing too offensive. Of course, inside the books was a different story:

Full disclosure: That’s the first page I opened to in the boys’ book. I flipped around the girls’ book briefly to find a page that corresponded – fun summer idea on one page and an activity on the other.

So boys are told they can skip stones and solve puzzles, and girls are told they can look good … and lie on the beach. Note also the actual text – “a girl has her image to think of” … “be a beautiful beach babe” – and the unnaturally skinny, bikini-clad preteens in the girls’ book, as well. And I would be remiss as a typographic nerd if I didn’t point out that the boys’ book has a strong, bold headline font compared to the girls’ frilly, cutesy font, which along with giving the boys’ book a better design also reinforces the subtle message that boys are to be strong and adventurous while girls should look pretty.

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Hating Religion, Loving Jesus, Accepting Imperfection

You’ve likely seen Jeff Bethke’s YouTube video that juxtaposes Jesus and religion in a poem/rap. If somehow you’re not one of the nearly 20 million people to watch it, check it out above. Certainly it exploded across my Facebook feed this winter, and the reactions raised from undying adoration to dismissive antipathy.

I confess that after I watched it, I felt more of the latter than the former. My objection, like many others, centered on Bethke’s seemingly poor understanding and/or lazy use of the word “religion” and its cliched juxtaposition with Jesus. “Jesus came to abolish religion,” Bethke stated, and it’s the curse of the journalist-academician to want to correct the sentence to add: “some forms of”.

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