Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fletch

My wife and I watched Fletch the other night. This would be my 37th time watching the film. I almost don't laugh anymore, I just revel in the greatness of it. Here are some classic lines, taken from the screenplay, which you can find online:
The jaguar goes up the center of the drive toward a white-pillared mansion. The lawns and planting are spectacular. Fletch stares out the window.

FLETCH What a coincidence.

The car stops before the mansion.

STANWYK What? (as they get out of the car.)

FLETCH I came this close... (holds fingers slightly apart) ... to buying this place.

Stanwyk ignores Fletch and starts toward the house. Fletch follows.

FLETCH Then I found out Hopalong Cassidy killed himself here ... blew it for me.

STANWYK Who?

FLETCH Hopalong Cassidy. Bow and arrow. Very weird.

Stanwyk stops before the front door, stares at Fletch

STANWYK What are you, doped up or something?

..................

WALKER So let's go! We run the pictures.

FLETCH He's not the story! There's a source behind him.

WALKER Who?

FLETCH Well, there we're in a bit of a gray area.

WALKER How gray?

FLETCH I'd say charcoal.

..............................

FLETCH (rapidly) Oh, Margie, sorry, Frieda lost the number of Alan's realtor in Provo. Can you give it to me real quick?

MARGIE Jim Swarthout?

FLETCH Yeah.

She writes it out for him.

MARGIE And, I'm sorry, who are you again?

FLETCH (grabbing the paper) Frieda's boss.

MARGIE (calling after him) Who's Frieda?

FLETCH (out the door) My secretary.


Yes, it does occur to me that these don't seem as funny unless you've seen it. Oh well. I love it. Curiously, if you read the screenplay you see how much Chevy Chase ad libbed in character, which gave each scene of dialogue just that extra hilarity. I was going to put in the scene near the end with the airline clerk, but it would seem most of it wasn't scripted. Classic.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Baptism

Today in church we had a baptism service. It was great. The sacraments of baptism and communion are the highlights of the church. Of course, in our evangelical tradition we don't call them sacraments. This label has come to take on some connotations that we do not wish to imply. The act of baptism doesn't save you. Communion is not the actual presence of Jesus Christ. So we call them ordinances; acts of obedience; symbols.

Which they are. But what have we lost by talking about them only this way? There may have been a time when this was a necessary corrective and a counter-balance to prevailing assumptions, but I would assume for most of us evangelicals that time has passed. Perhaps what we need is a corrective in the other direction.


Certainly these special events in the life of a church are more than mere symbols? The apple with a bite out of one side is a symbol. Songs have symbolic value and can be quite moving. And certainly they are more than mere obedience? Going to church is obedience. Again, singing worship songs is obedient, and much easier to get into. What else are the sacraments?

Join me on a thought-experiment. If the act of baptism or the act of communion doesn't save you, what does? If baptism is a symbol of salvation, what is the salvation moment then? The moment you decided for Jesus? The moment you made the step of faith? When exactly was that? When you prayed the prayer? What prayer? Did you get it right? Who witnessed it? Did you mean it? Could they tell? Could you? Was your faith pure enough? Was it real? Or were you just caught up in the moment?

I'm not trying to get you to question your faith. I'm just trying to point out the lunacy of us thinking that our assurance of salvation lies in some sort of sincere words we said one day or one moment of faith, importance as it might have been, which somehow effected our salvation.

How is it sillier to say that an act of baptism effects our salvation than to say that a moment of passionate and private faith did so?

The truth is that Jesus Christ effects our salvation by His Spirit according to the will of the Father, often at a moment we can't quite pinpoint. Many of us have a sense of exactly when that started, but how exact can we be on that? Baptism is a fairly wonderful gift of God because it is so exact; so physical; so public; so communal.

After all, you can't baptize yourself! A church must do it for you! And you can't be baptized without getting wet! It has to touch you! What a wonderful thing. It mystifies me how we can clamour for more visibility from God---and so we write songs and plan dramas and put together slide shows to move us in a visible tangible way---and then we drain the God-given rite of baptism of much of its power, calling it merely a symbol of something else; some intangible personal thing we call our moment of salvation.

Maybe baptism, in some crazy way, is our moment of salvation. Not in a way that invests the water or the ceremony with magical powers, but in a way where God's promise meets human acceptance and a sacred thing happens.

Although I have major problems with infant baptism as a regular practice, there are some things I like about it. Infant baptism is not just about me and my obedience. It is not just a declaration of my faith and a symbol of my salvation. Infant baptism reminds me that baptism is the gift of God to the person through the church and the family. It can be grown into and accepted or it can not. It requires confirmation and it puts the onus on the church to step up and share that journey with that person.

Though there are problems with infant baptism (for instance, in that it devalues the role of faith and personal experience in Christianity), on at least one level it is more significant than believer's baptism. Sure, many have been baptized as infants and it did not end up meaning squat to them or their families. But the same could be said for many believer's baptisms too.

I'm not saying I want to go out and start baptizing infants. I would hate to take the responsibility of faith from a person or rob them of that special moment of experiencing their own baptism and welcome into the church. It is a gift of God to them. But I do realize there is more to this sacrament than is often given it credit, and that goes for many traditions.

Having said that, even with all this ordinance talk in our church today, we got the sentiment right, and more importantly, God was there doing his thing. People were baptized, and lives were touched by the Spirit and the Christ in, and even by, the Church. It was a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Three Days in St. Paul

I recently returned from a conference in St. Paul, Minnesota where everyone I met was Catholic. Some extremely so. It was great to meet them.

I grew up with the definite impression that Catholics were bad. Maybe not even Christian. This was never taught from the pulpit or in my home as far as I recall, but I picked it up somewhere. I have some serious doctrinal reservations (as they would with me) when it comes to Catholicism, but find much good and Christian within it and its people. I would like to be counted as one of them.

So I'm sitting at lunch with these folks, and when the conversation gets around to me being in seminary I can see their quizzical expressions: How is it possible I could then be married with kids? Their perplexity goes away with two words: "I'm evangelical". I think they are as surprised to meet me at this conference as I am to meet them.

One fellow, who calls himself a "papist", is very forward about what he prefers about Catholicism and what mystifies him about Protestantism. We had a good talk.

Far as I can tell he thinks evangelical denominationalism is an inexplicable break from the unity of the body of Christ. He asks me who the head of our church is, expecting no answer. When I said "Jesus Christ" it seemed to catch him off guard. He went on to talk about our lack of unity though, and I had to admit he had a point. I wish we could have a pope.

The conversation went back and forth and we were both making pretty good points. I saw some things I hadn't seen before, and hopefully so did he. In the end I felt like I had spoken with a brother in Christ, and when we shook hands and parted ways I hoped he felt the same way.

It was funny to me when I was with all these Catholics because I was imagining what some of my evangelical friends would be thinking if they were with me. Some would have been shocked at the liberalism: Free homemade beer and wine flowed all week (but they were charging for bottled water). Some would have been shocked at the conservatism: I haven't heard the word "contraception" so much in all my life. It was an interesting bunch to be with.

They sure know how to do their architecture. Stained glass and brick everywhere you looked. It had all the feel of fine workmanship and beauty and yet somehow avoided the sense of luxurious overspending. The whole place just felt reverent and connected to the past. I like that. I think it a little ridiculous that my papist friend wanted all Mass to be in Latin, but I do like that immediate connection with Tradition that one feels as soon as one participates in anything Catholic.



I was actually intending to go to Mass and I was even hoping to sneak communion. But when they announced that it was open only to "believing Catholics" I knew I couldn't pull it off because my cover had already been blown. I had known already that this was common practice, but to my surprise it actually hurt when they said I couldn't take communion with them. Even though I know there are good reasons for it, it felt like I was on the outside looking in on them and their Jesus. I did not like that feeling at all. So I didn't go. It would have been too painful.

It was great to lunch with these people at the same table. Personally, however, I long for the day when we can eat at the same Table. They are certainly welcome at mine.

Monday, June 11, 2007

5 Best TV Shows Ever

There is, of course, no debating this list. These are unarguably the 5 best TV shows ever:

5. Saturday Night Live

As much as this show has had its ups and downs, and whole seasons when I haven't watched a single episode, it must be admitted that it has been a perpetual laugh-maker, humour-former, culture-feeder, and televesion mainstay for several generations. I loved the Farley/Hartman years and have a plethora of skits from this show forever ingrained in my psyche. This show was the single greatest bond of my high school friendships and has been the fodder for many, many laughs.

4. M*A*S*H*

Even though I'm sure a lot of the political edginess wore off by the time I watched it, this show still made some of the most poignant statements about life and war that I've ever seen on television and it managed to be heartwarming and funny as well. Very funny actually. I must have laughed out loud between ever commercial break. Even if I teared up at some of them too. What an amazing show.


3. NYPD Blue


Yeah, I saw more rear ends than I would have liked to, but this show got a bit of a bad rap for all the publicity that was made of its edginess. After the first couple seasons this show really settled into its own and I got quite attached to its characters. I thought it depicted reality in a very touching and truthful way. Interestingly enough, the show lasted long enough to be an essential part of my life when I still lived under my parent's roof, watching with my brother, and then under my own roof, watching the last two seasons with my wife. Sipowicz is possibly the greatest character ever on television.

2. Seinfeld

For all that might be said about this show's legacy (turning the trivial into the important and the important into the trivial), it was supposed to be a comedy, not a worldview former! And as a comedy it hit the mark like no show ever has. Unlike the Simpsons, it bowed out before it got repetitive and boring. It was always, always, always, very, very, very funny.

1. West Wing

I don't know where to start with this show. The best and smartest writing, acting, and story-lines I've seen on any screen. It was funny. It was intelligent. It was timely. It was gripping. It was moving. It was a fine peice of work. It is sorely missed. I don't know why its viewership slipped. I hardly watch TV any more since this went off the air.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Ancients: Augustine

Considering the comments I've made before about the role of religion in society and the pervasiveness of faith in every aspect of it (from science to pop-culture, everyone believing something), I find it very interesting that Augustine, in the fifth century, said:

"Nothing would remain stable in human society if we determined to believe only what can be held with absolute certainty."

After Sunday School the other day a guy told me that my class was making him think, which he thought was a good thing. He said when he first became a Christian his pastor confronted him saying he was a "lazy thinker". He is a retiral-aged man at my church now and I can say he has thought and is still thinking. Good for him. Good for that pastor too. I think a lot of pastors today have caved to the consumeristic pressures and are the ones dumbing it down rather than speaking from the Word for the maturation of their congregations. Motivational speeches instead of sermons.

But let's not pretend that we aren't thinking. We are just thinking lazy.

Augustine said: "No one believes anything unless one first thought it believable. . . . Everything that is believed is believed after being preceded by thought. . . . Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking."


I think a lot of evangelicals in my tradition do not think of themselves as theologians. But they are. The thing is that a lot of us simply accept certain teachings on the basis of accepted authority. This might seem shocking to many to realize this, since many of them cringe at the Catholic concept of papal authority, but we accept certain truths based on a mixed-bag of authorities, mostly determined by bookstores and dynamic church leaders in our own era rather than on some sort of dialogue with church tradition as a whole---i.e. theology.


So we think from Lucado and Yancey, Hybels and Bell, instead of through them to everything behind them. Of course, you have to start somewhere, but we start from a few decades ago and move towards today instead of starting today and moving back into the faith that was entrusted to those before us; those from whom we've inherited this faith. I sometimes think evangelicals are alot like the Mormons, who think there was nothing useful between Peter and Josef Smith.


I sometimes wonder: Who is our Josef Smith and where do we get off thinking we can get to the pristine nature of the biblical faith and ignore all thought regarding about how it got to us in the first place? The Bible did not come to us without tradition. Tradition not only brought us to our current understanding of it but brought us the Bible we have to begin with. What ended up in the Bible was determined by the church of the first four centuries.


But we skip all that and pretend to believe in the Bible alone. But there is no such thing. We all think from somewhere. So will you think from Christian top 40 or from Christianity as a whole? It may be a difficult road forward, but evangelicals need to get about the hard work of reuniting with the faith of our heritage, rather than a truncated version of it.