Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thoughts on the Lockerbie Bomber

I've heard and thought a lot about this story this week. Another blog I contribute to tackled the subject, with mixed results. How does religion (or more accurately, our theological views) jibe with what has happened? At first blush, it seems that Grace has won the day. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the terrorist act (blowing up a plane over Scotland, killing everyone on board and several bystanders on the ground), was released by Scottish authorities on "compassionate grounds." He was freed from prison to go home and die with his family in Libya. He has a terminal cancer, and has only months to live. There was enough outrage at his release due to its very existence. Then, he was greeting in Libya with cheering throngs...a hero's welcome. This left a sour taste in everyone's mouth.

So...what are we to make of this? The conventional "grace" argument is that it's an act of grace to free a guilty man. If that were as far as it went, that might be true. But Al Megrahi is dying! Would we think it graceful if Scotland released him a day or a week before his death? Probably not. How about 10 years? We might more readily say yes. So is there a time horizon for release to turn to

Another problem is that we might also argue that Scotland is in no position to offer grace. Al Megrahi harmed Scotland only in the abstract. His crime occured in their airspace and only a small percentage of the victims were actually Scottish. In any case, none of the victims (or their families), released Al Megrahi. The Scottish government did. The main sqwauk is coming from the families of the victims (mostly American) and the American government. The question, I suppose, then becomes: Is there a difference between Grace and Mercy?

In that Grace is the opposite of Law, the release of Al Megrahi does seem graceful. His penalty was abrogated in favor of release. It seems a little less than merciful due to the cancer. True grace would seem to entail the release of someone fully capable of repeating his offense. I've called this blog "Thoughts on Grace." In the end, my own views on this story are a little muddled. I feel fine about releasing an aging, dying, murderer so that he can die with his familiy. I was sickened at his reception in Libya. I don't however, feel like this is a great example of Grace. It is a nod to Grace when the cost is low. The cost is basically looking bad to one's constituents.

Grace, as discussed in previous posts, is extended to sinners who are fully expected to sin again. This is the profundity of it. Grace is love that is one way; love that is not expected to be returned. I'm not sure that Al Megrahi has been shown grace. I think he has been shown compassion. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughts on The Wedding Singer

Adam Sandler is more hot than cold for me. A lot of people hate the man, but I've found that I like everything from the stupid early comedies (Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison) through the newer comedies (The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy) and even into the dramatic stuff (Spanglish, Punch Drunk Love). There are certainly stinkers in there (I'm looking at you, Little Nicky), but, on the whole, the man is in a lot of good movies.

The Wedding Singer was actually on TV in my house, which is a rare enough occurrence. We have the movie on VHS, and the fact that we have DVR means we're NEVER watching movies, or really anything, on live TV. But there we were, watching The Wedding Singer live, and this scene comes up, between Robbie (the good guy, played by Sandler) and his best fried Sammy (the one-night-stand artist, played by Allen Covert):

Robbie: That's it, man, starting right now, me and you are going to be free and happy the rest of our lives!
Sammy: I'm not happy. I'm miserable.
Robbie: Wha - what?
Sammy: See... I grew up idolizing guys like Fonzie and Vinnie Barbarino because they got a lot of chicks. You know what happened to Fonzie and Vinnie Barbarino?
Robbie: Yeah, I read that Fonzie wants to be a director and Barbarino, I think... the mechanical bull movie? I didn't see it yet.
Sammy: Their shows got canceled. Because no one wants to see a fifty-year-old guy hitting on chicks.
Robbie: So what are you saying?
Sammy: What I'm saying is all I really want is someone to hold me and tell me that everything is going to be all right.

There's something here. I think it's a combination of the inside/outside distinction that we've talked about before (Sammy LOOKS to be perfectly happy, despite being miserable. All he can control is how he looks on the outside. He can't keep himself from feeling miserable), and the simple human-nature needs we have: someone to hold us and tell that everything is going to be all right.

I think it's important to note that Sammy doesn't want someone to tell him that everything IS all right...because it isn't. He doesn't want to be lied to. The "power of positive thinking" movement is all about claiming that things are not the way they seem. "Don't dwell on it," they'll say. "It's not real." But it is real. Happy Days DID get cancelled. Everything is not all right. It's not helpful and insulting to say that it is. What we can hope for is that it WILL BE all right one day.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Michael Vick, Redux

I wrote about Michael Vick's possible return to football several months ago, and note with interest that he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday. In reading the article on, I found this quote, which shocked me:
"Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said he did serious 'soul searching' regarding Vick. The owner said he met with Vick for hours and is convinced he can become a force in stopping animal cruelty.
'I needed to see a lot of self-hatred in order to approve this,' Lurie said."
Wow. Lurie DEMANDED self-hatred. Is there a difference between recognizing oneself as a sinner and self-hatred? Is one the platform for forgiveness and rebirth while the other is the pit? I haven't fully processed Lurie's quote yet. Wanna help?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thoughts on Eternal Sunshine

I just watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind again last night. As always, wow. If you haven't seen this amazing Michel Gondry film of 2004, written by the one-of-a-kind Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet (nominated for an Oscar), you must rent it TONIGHT! Call me and I'll loan it to you!

In broad strokes, (mild spoiler alert!) the film is about Joel and Clementine (Carrey and Winslet), a normal couple who fall in and eventually out of love with one another. Clementine, the impulsive one, has Joel erased from her memory. When Joel finds out, he is crushed, and in turn, agrees to have Clementine erased from his memory. The film follows Joel's memories of his relationship with Celementine (as they are erased!), and his gradual realization that he wants to keep the memories rather than lose them.

Unfortunately for Joel, the procedure gets completed, and he wakes up with no memory of the woman he once loved. Somehow, though, he and Clementine (neither remembering the other) go to Montauk the next day, meet up, and begin what they think is a new relationship. Confusing? Yes, you'll have to see the movie twice, but it's well worth it.

Meanwhile, a disenfranchised employee down at the memory-erasing office decides to mail former patients' files back to them, having decided that the whole memory erasing thing is immoral. The upshot is that Clementine and Joel, thinking they've just met for the first time, find themselves listening to tapes of each other telling the doctor why they'd like to erase their former lover. They hear all their complaints about each other before they get into the relationship! And then we get the following exchange:

Joel: I don't see anything I don't like about you.
Clementine: But you will! But you will, and I'll get bored with you and feel trapped, because that's what happens with me.
Joel: Okay.

Joel's "Okay" is a profound statement of love. Provided with empirical proof that this nascent relationship will not be idyllic, he decides that he loves Clementine enough to get into it anyway. I've thought since I first saw this film that this idea must have been Charlie Kaufman's inspiration: If two people knew a relationship wasn't going to work out, would they get into it anyway? How powerful is love?"

His conclusion is that love is very powerful...perhaps the ultimate power. Love causes us to do irrational things; behave in irresponsible ways. As Christians, we believe that love is the foundation of everything. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (John 3:16). And this love, true to form, is irrational and irresponsible. It is love that is one-way, love that is unreturned. We are incapable of loving back in the same way that we are loved. We might say, with Clementine, "I'll get bored with you and feel trapped, because that's what happens with me." And Jesus, knowing us, and loving us, says, "Okay."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thoughts on "Dragonball Evolution"

I preached on this on Sunday, and I wanted to give everyone a chance to interact with it. As I said, this movie is terrible. Dragonball is a cult-status manga (Japanese comic) about a hero, Goku, and his quest to collect the seven dragonballs to prevent Piccolo (an evil God) from acquiring them and having the ability to raise Ozaru (an eviler God or an evil assistant God) from the dead to destroy the world. Complicated? Yes. And the movie doesn't help you figure it out because it provides no information whatsoever. Why are there dragonballs? Why does possessing them give the possessor powers? Who lost them? How did that happen? Why does Piccolo have a green head? Why is an evil God named Piccolo anyway?

Goku eventually gets the dragonballs stolen from him, and they fall into Piccolo's hands. Goku comes face to face with Piccolo for the the final showdown, declaring that he is "here to defeat Ozaru." Piccolo, with a chuckle, says, "Defeat Ozaru? You will become Ozaru."

The point, theologically speaking, is that Goku has to come to grips with the Ozaru side of himself in order to have the power to defeat Piccolo. This is old-school, philosophically speaking. Jung called it the "shadow self," Freud called it "the id," and Walt Kelly might have put it best: "We have met the enemy and the enemy is us." For the theologically-inclined, Luther posited that humans are simul justus et peccator: simultaneously justified and sinner.

Goku (justified/righteous) must become "one with himself" (the sinner, Ozaru) in order to defeat Piccolo.

The FINAL WORD: The more a person is aware of and honest about their sinful selves, the more they will rely on the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Far from a process of "becoming more like Christ," this spiritual formation is a continual discovery of how much we need Him. This is true sanctification.
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