Tough Cases

My lovely wife tends to become periodically addicted to TV shows. When she does, she’ll binge on Hulu for extended periods of time, taking in an entire season in a few nights, on occasion. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind that much…after all, everyone needs a vice, and, as vices go, this is a pretty harmless form of escapism. Her choice of programming, however, baffles me at times, as it seems very out of character for her. 

Case in point (as well as current addiction): Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the course of Karen’s addiction, we’ll assign this case number Buf-1.
Earlier this week, she borrowed a previous season of Buffy from a friend of hers. Enter case number Buf-2.  She came home a bit later to recount to me a conversation she had with a few friends about the show (apparently there are other closet Buffy fans out there…this comforts me a bit.  Perhaps we’ll add a support group to the treatment strategy for case Buf-2. Details to be confirmed later). The conversation, as Karen recounts it, was about how her friend tends to see the spiritual very plainly in prime-time television shows such as this. Specifically, her friend described to her a recent episode of Desperate Housewives, during which this friend was able to identify several women of the Biblical narrative in the characters of the show, and actually found herself inspired to search the Scriptures while the episode was on she was so taken by the similarities (perhaps she’ll comment here and leave details). 
A strange development in case Buf-2. 
Rewind to Sunday  morning. I’m in the green room of my church waiting with two actors who were about to go on stage for a technical rehearsal. The band was finishing sound checks. I commented to one of the actors that worship music typically just doesn’t cut it for me. It always seems a bit too fluffy and happy. She felt the same. Seemingly innocent conversation, right? But wait! A connection has developed to case Buf-2!
My job involves a significant amount of driving during the summer, and my agency rents a vehicle each week for this purpose. Sometimes I get lucky, and score a vehicle with XM and an iPod connection. See, I’m very picky (some would say a bit snobbish) about my music selection. Basically, I want to listen to my music a la carte, what-I-want-when-I-want-it. XM is an alternative, because I can at least choose what genre I want, or catch up on the news. This week, however, was an unlucky week, and I have a standard radio in the vehicle. Well, since nobody uses CD’s anymore (I’m not snobbish, really!), and there’s no iPod connection, I’m stuck with one of the banes of my existence: FM radio. 
After much complaining, I’m making the best of it. As I struggle with fuzzy reception and irritating commercials, alternating with periods of frustration in which I just turn it off and periods of  insanity in the ensuing silence, I did manage to find a classic rock station that was tolerable. Well, classic in the sense that its the rock I grew up with. I was thinking (aka, singing and drumming the steering wheel) with the music a couple of days ago, and I realized I connect spiritual implications to nearly every song. I seem to have developed a case of my own. 
We’ll assign this case number Roc-1. 
Now, perhaps I just have a tendency to theologize or philosophize things too deeply…seminary can do that a guy. Or, perhaps its the artist in me that sees the metaphor in the music, which almost always paints life where the musician is/was at that time. Likely, a combination of both is happening here (I don’t recall philosophizing Guns N’ Roses or Van Halen quite so much in my youth). Whatever the case, though, I end up praying more after listening to this than I do many worship sets I take in on Sunday mornings. 
Could it be that my hearing the spiritual implications in classic rock and my wife and her friend seeing them in prime-time television are symptoms of the same disorder? Could Buf-2 and Roc-1 be related cases??? 
Is there any hope for a cure?!?!?!?!
Perhaps, though, this isn’t such a bad thing. It occurs to me that I’d rather find the spiritual in the everyday, “real world” than a sanitized environment on Sunday mornings. Perhaps this is God being big enough to us that we see Him everywhere, instead of compartmentalizing Him into certain time blocks on our weekly calendars. Perhaps, as artists create television shows and music, they can’t help but point back to Him in some capacity as they ponder life, because, after all, we are all hard-wired to believe in a higher power (as stated early in Paul’s letter to the Romans). Perhaps all truth really is God’s truth.  
And perhaps these aren’t such bad cases after all. 
Prognosis: good. 

Satire…Gotta Love It!

What would the world be without a good controversy now and again? 

Today, the American political scene exploded with the scandal that manifested itself on the cover of The New Yorker, depicting Senator Barack Obama in, how shall we say, less than flattering term? Okay, lets be blunt: it portrays he and his wife as religious terrorist extremists with aspirations of U.S. domination and having the end of democracy and the American way as we know it at heart. 
Or does it? 
The New Yorker, while always a bit snobbish for my taste, has always been (in)famous for its political cartoons. The publication specializes in satire, and that is exactly what editor David Remnick insists that this is. The thrust of the cover is to, in Remnick’s view, portray the ridiculous beliefs and summarize the backhanded mudslinging with which political opponents of Obama have attempted to defraud him as a potential presidential candidate. Personally, I think that this does its job well. Extreme? Yes. But cleverly so, and, as Obama tends to be difficult to satirize, one must be extreme in order to achieve the desired result here. As Remnick pointed out in an interview on CNN today, insulting caricatures of President Bush have graced the magazine’s cover countless times. Yet, here we have both Democrats and Republicans crying foul, and even calling for a boycott of the magazine…
Wait a minute, calling for what??
See, I thought that this was freedom of speech. Personally, I see exactly what the magazine was attempting to depict. In the same interview, Remnick says that to assume a majority of readers will not is to underestimate the intelligence of Americans at large. Granted, many will see this cover and not get past the shocking imagery…likely, the “working class” and lesser-educated people who do not fall within the target audience for the publication (as I said, its snobbish). I guess my response to this is twofold: Firstly, I’m glad it offended readers, because now it will cause them to think, especially now that the cover has been explained; sort of along the lines of explaining a poem or a painting: suddenly it takes on a new depth of meaning to the reader. Secondly, for goodness sake, we need to educate ourselves if we don’t take the time to move past a shocking cover and read what’s inside. Again, we’re so afraid of being offended or emotionally uncomfortable, so afraid that we will disagree with what we see, that we don’t want to look to begin with. That is why those who do give these things an opportunity and explore the ideas behind the cover are labeled “snobbish” or “elitist;” because they are an unfortunate minority. 
To threaten a boycott of the magazine, however, concerns me a great deal. This is a small but definitive step toward state-controlled media. A slippery slope to say the least, all over the sensibilities of a public figure, who, incidentally, is fair game for such satire simply because he is a public figure: its called “fair comment and criticism” in the field of journalism. 
So, before we get all up in arms about how horribly anti-American you might feel Obama is, or how horribly distasteful you may feel the cover of The New Yorker is, why don’t we take the time to explore the ideas that this conveys: the naive stupidity behind the accusations against Obama and his wife? This particular satirical endeavor paints those mis-perceptions beautifully. It seems to me that Obama would be happy about that if he took the time to move past the surface. 
But then again, politics is all about how things appear on the surface. 

The Unity Deception

If you ever want to have an instant debate (or argument, as it typically goes), ask someone in a leadership capacity at your local community for faith what the primary values of that community of faith should be. 

Of course, you’ll always get the usual answers: faith in Christ, evangelism (wow, there’s a burn word), etc. After the basics, though, it tends to get mucky (which leads me to another thought: why can we never stick to the basics? Oh, well. Such is the human condition, I suppose). 
The problem is that, at that point, preferences begin to be emphasized in the name of this ugly little word Believers like to use, “conviction.” And, before you know it, you’re hearing about how being a true follower of Christ has to look like this person or group thinks it should look like. Some denominations are notorious for this, and others disguise more carefully, but I’ve found that it almost always tends to be there. 
I wonder, at what point in our history as a church did we become misled with this concept that “different = sketchy”? As different groups unite as communities of the same world-wide church to follow Christ as passionately as they can (hopefully) and as best they know how, suddenly this concept of “unity” becomes a weapon for the purpose of squashing individuality. While unity is a Biblical concept (Jesus thought is was important), we should never misconstrue it to mean that we all must look, talk, and act in the same way. Certainly, there are givens that come with the following of Christ…certain moral imperatives, if you will. But these are not excuses for confusing “unity” with a desire for an homogeneous “fitting in” with the rest of the group. 
Somewhere, we seem to have forgotten that “fitting in” can, in fact, be one of the most dangerous things that a Christ-follower could do. And yet, we want so badly to ostracize different ideas and personalities, all the while wondering why we have a reputation for being intolerant. After all, differences cause us to question, to re-examine. And that’s a lot of work to do when you have a good thing going. 
So much for the values of comfort.