Friday, November 7, 2008

Assorted Notes: Beauty, Spurs, Movies, SNL, Publius, Obama, and Prayer

For the first time in my life, I am experiencing Autumn. The glorious, innumerable trees of greater Atlanta are standing tall and changing colors. They are not dead, their leaves did not disappear overnight, and there are colors other than green and mortuary brown. Blood red and startling yellow and lively brown and all shades of green; this may very well be my first "Hey, there are good things outside of Texas!" moment.

I'm walking through campus underneath (as always) huge trees, and I realize that, in a consistent but random pattern, leaves are slowly falling all around me. I'm eating red beans and rice, and a leaf actually falls into my bowl. I had to stop walking it was so amazing. I felt like I was living in a Robert Frost poem. In the face of so much depoliation, degradation, and bad stewardship, God's good creation resists and lives on in its beauty and wholeness and power. Praise God for such a marvelous, gratuitous gift.

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This is me not giving up on the Spurs, nor even on my championship prediction (with which the editors of Sports Illustrated agreed, by the way!). They may be 1-3, they may have had the worst start of the franchise post-merger, they may be utterly devoid of a competent scorer in the post (other than Duncan), they may be playing their worst defense in a decade ... but I'm not panicking.

You ask for reasons? Here's five:

1) It's the first four games of the season! We played Phoenix, Portland, Dallas, and Minnesota; we lost to the first two by a combined six points, and all three losses have been to playoff-bound teams. Duncan hits the three against Phoenix, Finley hits the baseline buzzer-beater, we're 3-1.

2) Ladies and gentlemen, our offseason pickups! Roger Mason and George Hill are going to work out even better than expected (though realizing how much we lost by the Blazers taking Nicholas Batum one pick ahead of us is devastating). Mason is already knocking down shots like crazy, and Hill, in his first NBA game ever, scored 11 points in 16 minutes, played fantastic defense, and was the only spark for a listless team. I'm okay with giving these guys time to get their rhythm with the team.

3) We are beat up! Manu Ginobili -- number five in Bill Simmons' MVP rankings at the end of last season, behind only Garnett, Paul, Kobe, and Lebron -- will be back in a couple of months, finally healthy and rested, just in time for our second-half push. Then we will have Parker and Duncan as starting scoring options, with Ginobili, Hill, and Mason coming off the bench. Again, I'm fine with this.

4) The Spurs are fully aware of their big man problem. Kurt Thomas will work okay as a defensive starter, but coming off the bench -- assuming Mahinmi and Tolliver don't blossom, which they could -- we need an offensive threat. Well, already there are reports that San Antonio might be interested in trading for Eddy Curry. I don't know if I endorse such a trade, but the idea is there: Buford and Pop know they need help in the frontcourt, and they're going after it aggressively. Could Curry work? A troubled player with potential but little discipline? Someone like Dennis Rodman or Stephen Jackson? Nah...

5) It's Pop! It's Duncan! It's Parker scoring FIFTY-FIVE POINTS AND TEN ASSISTS AND SEVEN REBOUNDS!!! (Who called Parker having a careeer year? Moi.)

Yep, if you're looking for a panicked Spurs fan, this is the wrong place.

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I am used to being concurrent with the world of film. I keep running lists of movies I've seen and rankings of the year's best. Well, a little thing called "graduate school" combined with another insignificant item called "married budget" has resulted in seeing less than a half dozen movies in the last three months. I really can't put into words how vastly different this is than my normal experience. I think I saw around 150 films in 2005. A bit much, but my pace right now is about 1/6 that. My psychological makeup is simply not taking the whole cold turkey thing well. I'm dreading ending the year without a respectable end-of-year list!

(Thus complaineth the married, employed, housed, healthy graduate student surrounded by family, community, support, church, and food on the table.)

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This fall officially converted me to Saturday Night Live. (I accidentally wrote "Love" instead of "Live" -- that should tell you something about my state of mind!) Their political satire has been brilliant, as have been the episodes in general (sans Michael Phelps). I think it is a combination of the times and and the writing, but also the spectacular quality of the hosts: James Franco, Anna Faris, Anne Hathaway, Josh Brolin, Jon Hamm, Ben Affleck. Not a poor actor among them, and if you're thinking Affleck, just watch his over-the-top, relentless Keith Olbermann 10-minute piece. I almost fell off the couch.

So, they have officially captured me, and the only problem is that on the east coast it doesn't end until 1:00 am. Come on, people! Can't we be like India and just comprise one big time zone?

(P.S. Better than SNL, of course, is the funniest human being alive: Craig Ferguson. He doesn't actually start until 12:30 am here, so I rarely get to watch him -- getting up, as I do, at 6:00 am every morning -- but Wednesday night Katelin and I stayed up for an episode ... and nearly passed out from laughing so hard. I think it was when he compared Joe Biden to both Hannibal Lecter and Ed the hyena from Lion King that I blacked out for a few minutes.)

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Onto a few more serious things. First, "Publius" commented on the final post in the Voting series, and I thought I'd respond. Here was his/her comment:

"I read your post, and I could not help but be incredibly disturbed by your characterization of Dobson's words as "slander" of a sort that is "utterly reprehensible." Dobson's article was largely based in factual articulations on policy promises Obama has already made regarding the institution of FOCA, his selection of justices for the Supreme Court, his statements on dealings with Iran, and other policy and legislative proposals that are a matter of public record. Many, in fact, are directly from Obama himself. When we simply hold leaders accountable, even Senator Obama, for the things they have actually promised to do, what is slanderous in that?

Let us keep in mind that it is not only the poor who are victims in this country. How many of us have forgotten the plight of the full term child, who can be ripped limb from limb within a mother's womb with the legal imprimatur of the law? How many of us have forgotten that it is only because of an Act of Congress banning partial birth abortion, that it is no longer legal for a doctor to stab a fully delivered child (except for the head), in the back of the neck with a pair of scissors before sucking its brain out? How many of us have realized that Obama has pledged to repeal the very act that prevents this?

A world in which these atrocities do not happen is a world that both Christ, and Dobson, would surely approve of. There are many ways to help the poor, and people believe in different national policies for accomplishing such goals. If the Church is not to be a power wielding weapon in the hands of God, surely it is not our duty to impose our beliefs that others relinquish their money to help the poor. I am sure you would disagree with this statement, but to say otherwise is intellectually inconsistent. I must say, I have enjoyed reading your posts. However, on this point, I believe you are in error."

First, thanks for the comment. I so appreciate anyone taking the time to thoughtfully read and engage what I say. (And if I know you, feel free to name yourself! Anonymity usually creates distance rather than connection.)

I do not disagree on the issue of abortion. The church cannot be a faithful witness to the world if we are not a people who model what it means to welcome children into the world as a gift. I am less clear on what the implications ought to be for policy -- primarily because there is a fundamental difference, and moral ambiguity, between a rich woman in a healthy marriage and a homeless, poor, or abused woman having an abortion, and thus if Christians want to be "pro-life" they must be so holistically, in ways that nonjudgmentally welcome unwed mothers, adopt children, and call for economic structures supportive of single moms -- but I am in utter agreement that Christians must be a voice for the unborn.

I am not sure what I have written that might imply I think the state ought to redistribute money to the poor. I am not necessarily wholesale against the idea, but I am equally fearful of the kind of power a centralized state accrues when it exercises utter control over citizens' money. All that is to say that I don't have a formal stance on the issue, and thus have not intended to write as if I do. There are problems either way, and Christians (and non-Christians) can honestly disagree about what serves the poor best. There are other facets to that discussion that I think Christians ought to be able to agree on, but that is for another day.

And regarding Dobson's letter, we are going to have to respectfully disagree. His letter gives the overall impression of a kind of anti-Christian post-apocalyptic nightmare in the possibility (now reality) of an Obama presidency. I believe such rhetoric is unhelpful, fearmongering, and, yes, slanderous, especially against a fellow Christian. Furthermore, my criticism was that the entire letter misses the point: the church is not in charge of the world; thus, to envision a political apocalypse in the way Dobson does is to forget that the only apocalypse Christians believe in is the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to be completed and fulfilled in his return. That is why, on theological grounds, I found Dobson's letter to be inappropriate for public discourse.

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This post has already grown beyond intent -- as if that is ever a surprise for me -- but a few more reflections on a topic somewhat germane to this week's historic events: the election of one Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American President(-elect).

(Allow me to make clear: what follows is not written coming from my partisan perspective, but as a Christian. There are faithful Christians who voted both ways on Tuesday, and this has nothing to do with party, policy, or candidate preference. It has to do with language, attitude, witness, and faith.)

From the moment the networks called it for Obama, my wife and I were aghast at the ugliest kind of reactions spilling out from seemingly all corners, including Christians. Like Dobson, many Christians have forgotten about the only apocalypse we believe in, because a great deal seem to think that Obama himself has inaugurated the end times. As I wrote about in a previous post, I term this phenomenon political eschatology.

There is a great deal to address here, but I guess all I want to say is that there is a way to appropriately express the opinion that Obama was not the better choice for President, and it is not by talking as if the world is on the precipice of disaster.

In an example I find horribly depressing, I get a tri-weekly e-journal by email that is politically conservative. I do my best to get my news and commentary from both sides, and this is one of my primary sources for the view from the Right. For the most part I find this publication to be honest, informing, detailed, philosophically astute, honorable, and helpful. Though not a "Christian" publication, it is written by Christians and largely assumes Christian faith.

Well, in their last few issues, they have gone too far. They have called Obama's victory a widescale deception of the American electorate and since Tuesday have been flying their office's flag upside down as a sign of distress. More than once they have implied that Obama's presidency holds such potential for evil and disaster that violent revolution is not out of the question, in order to reinstall what the Constitution actually calls for.

It is difficult to formulate words in response to such claims.

Though it may sound cliche, all I can ask is that we read our Bibles again. What does Romans 12-13 tell us? "Return evil for good." "Be subordinate to the governing authorities." What does Jesus say? "Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you." What did Israel expect of God's anointed? Throw out the occupiers, violent revolution, political reconstitution. What did Jesus do? Submitted to torture and death on a cross. What do Jesus' followers do in Acts when living in a pagan empire, when persecuted, when falsely charged, when given the death sentence? They resist through worship, they endure suffering, they speak truth to power, they love their enemies, they ask forgiveness for their murderers, they submit to death. They are martyrs. They live what Jesus commanded and modeled.

Friends, let us remember the way to which we are called. Nary a post goes by without me somehow finding a reason to re-tell the story of the gospel, the story of the suffering God and his suffering people, but we cannot live into the story if we forget it. As we think, and discuss, and argue, and disagree, in things political or otherwise, let us remember our story.

And when we remember our story, I am confident we will remember that one Barack Obama is categorically not two things: messiah, or antichrist.

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Living in Atlanta affords Katelin and I the wonderful gift of going to school, working, and living with a significantly higher population of African-Americans than we have experienced previously in Atlanta and Abilene. I cannot put into words how meaningful it has been to celebrate Tuesday's events with them. Not that Obama the Democratic candidate was elected, but that a nation with such a scarred history toward blacks could have come so far in so short a time. The joy and hope and impact on our friends' faces is something we cannot pretend to know personally, but it is undoubtedly something to celebrate. I hope all Christians, of whatever political persuasion, can celebrate such a meaningful event with our black brothers and sisters.

(For a brief but powerful story about Tuesday's events, go read Mark Love.)

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One more thing.

I am not a very good pray-er. I do my best, but often fail. That is okay -- God is gracious -- but because I am not a very good pray-er, my prayers don't always include all that they should. For example, in contrast to Scripture's repeated refrain, I realized Tuesday that I don't know if I have ever prayed for the leader of our nation.

Well, that's stopping right now.

While watching Obama after his speech with his family, two things hit me:

1) Holy crap, Obama has the weight of the world on his shoulders.

2) Holy crap, Obama could be assassinated.

Because political assassination belongs to "history" -- JFK, failed attempts on Reagan and Roosevelt -- and because there has been so little written about attempts made against Obama, I hadn't really given it any thought. Well, it had me like a freight train, especially with the racial implications. So I prayed. O God, please keep Barack Obama and his family safe.

And regarding the former, I realized just how much is riding on Obama's presidency. Wholesale change, "the first black president," international peaceable diplomacy, ongoing wars, a dreadful economy. So I prayed. O God, please give Barack Obama wisdom.

Those will be part of my daily prayers from here on out, for Obama as well as every president that we have. May God call all Christ-followers into prayer for their leaders, and in those prayers may we remember the One in whose hands we truly rest.

1 comment:

  1. YES! I love Craig Ferguson! He is my FAVORITE late night dude. He is on too late for me now too since I moved out here. I was pretty bummed when I figured that out. Oh well.

    By the way Brad, I am sorry I have dropped the ball on the whole email thing. I will do it soon. i promise.