Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Oscars, "Spotlight" and the Church

Don’t fill out your Oscars ballot based on my movie reviews. My taste in movies is not reflective of the Hollywood voters. Still, I enjoy movies and I try to watch as many of the nominated movies each year so I can compare my aesthetic values to those of whose lives are devoted to the art.  The movie that made me think the most; the one that I had to sit up for an extra hour digesting, was “Spotlight.”

If I was president of a seminary I would make “Spotlight” mandatory viewing for all of the students. I would encourage anyone who serves a church in any capacity, as a layperson or a professional, to watch the film and consider the message. The message I saw played out on the screen is this: I trust that Jesus knew what he was doing when he left the church to be run by human beings, but I wonder if there was another option if he would have taken it.  People who are called to serve the church, to be representatives of the Church (that is, of Christ; of God) must be constantly aware of the fact that their failure to be faithful to God can fatally harm the faith of the very people they are entrusted to serve.  When the servants of the Church fail they bring judgment on themselves because they bring judgment on God.  In my mind this is why James wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)

I do not stand in judgment of the Roman Catholic Church or the priests whose behavior is revealed in “Spotlight.” God does.  But the real lesson of the movie for the rest of us is that God sometimes needs to use people who are “lapsed” in their faith to reveal the horrible things done in the name of protecting “religion” or “church.”  Does God forgive the priests who abused children? Yes. Does God forgive those who covered up the abuse because “the church does many good things for this town”? Yes. But, that does not mean that they do not suffer the consequences of a more strict judgment.  God sometimes give the spotlight to those “outside” the church to reform the inside.

Everyone who seeks to serve the Church of Jesus Christ will fail in some way because we are all human.  But the judgment will be harsh when the spotlight shines. We have been warned. And for that reason,  my “Oscar” for the best religious film of 2015 goes to “Spotlight.” 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"My Messy Room"

The junk is piled high and wide. I am in the midst of a forced cleaning of our “furnace room” because we need a new furnace (have you priced furnaces lately?). So far I have managed to move the junk about 20 feet, from the furnace room to the door in my home study. Up until recently, of course, that junk was precious to me. An old dehumidifier I was sure would miraculously heal itself the next time I plugged it in; basketball coaching shoes which I kept “just in case” I started coaching again; and enough assorted books and magazines to start a store. I am trying to work up the strength of mind and will to take it all to the town dump, but excuses abound, like “try writing about it and perhaps it will make the mess disappear.”

Kathleen Norris wrote an amazing book titled Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith containing short entries about faith and life.  In her  entry on “Repentance” she tells the story of a little boy who wrote a poem about how angry he gets when his father yells at him. In his poem his response, he imagines, is to “throw his sister down the stairs, and then to wreck his room, and finally to wreck the whole town.” The conclusion reads, “ ‘Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself I shouldn’t have done all that.”

It is hard to clean up the messes in our lives. Sometimes they come because we ignored the growing monster in the other room, allowing hurts and wounds to pile up because it was easier to throw them in the furnace room that throw them out when we knew we should have done so. Sometimes we allow our emotions to ruin not only our lives but our families, our homes and even “the whole town.”  It isn’t hard to create a messy room, but it is really hard to clean it up, as any mother of a teenager or wife of a “rat packer” like me can attest.  But, I know that once I get the junk out the door, into my trunk and delivered to the dump I will feel like a man set free.  The little boy, in his confessional poem, was taking the first step toward the healing that repentance offers in the great tradition of “Have mercy on me, O God….” (Psalm 51)

 This first weekend of Lent find a time to gather with others and begin cleaning up the mess we all carry around inside our lives, so that by Easter you have plenty of room for the sheer joy of the Resurrection to rise within you. Norris concludes,  “If the house is messy…why not make it into a place where God might wish to dwell.”  Time to clean.