Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Steve Bartman: Sacrificial Lamb

Last night ESPN aired a piece of original programming, a film called Catching Hell.  It was directed by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer) who, apparently, loves colons.  I wish I could say it was a "great" documentary because it's about a story that I find absolutely fascinating, but my fascination is, I think, the thing that saved the doc from being pretty sub-par.

The story of Catching Hell is the story of Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan who may have interfered with a Cubs outfielder attempting to catch a foul ball in the 2003 NLCS.  (That's "National League Championship Series" to you, the round of the playoffs before the World Series)  The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908, are considered (by Cubs fans) to be cursed.

The Cubs were ahead 3-0 when Bartman reached over the wall in the top of the 8th inning of Game 6, but when on to lose that game and the decisive Game 7 to end their hopes of a World Series victory.  The interesting thing for us is the fans' treatment of Bartman, both in the stadium after the fateful play and in the weeks and months following the end of the series.

I won't go into the details, except to say that Bartman has been in hiding, literally, since that day 8 years ago.  He was tracked down by a journalist for this article several years ago, but that's it.  He's been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for appearances, autographs, and commercials, and has turned down every dime.  He's gotten death threats, continually.  It's a tragic story.

In the documentary, a Unitarian Universalist minister, The Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, offers a religious perspective.  She compares Bartman to a sacrificial lamb, chosen by the "congregation" as the vessel into which they could pour their sins (or in this case, their hatred).  Of course, the Rev. Ms. Rolenz is constrained by her beliefs; she can't talk about Jesus.  Being a Unitarian Universalist, she doesn't think he's anything particularly special.  The image of the crowd turning on an innocent and demanding his blood (proverbial in Bartman's case, and literal in Jesus') is a "universal" one, but it's also a particularly Christian one.  Both Bartman and Christ were shouted at, spit on, and reviled.

It is our nature to turn our guilt into shouts of "Guilty!" directed at another.  The stadium that night and the city of Chicago did it to Bartman in 2003 and the world did it to Jesus.  A righteous man makes us all the angrier about our guilt.  Here's hoping that Steve Bartman knows that Jesus went through an even more terrifying version (the weight of the sin of the world versus the scorn of a baseball stadium) of what he did, and that Jesus' sacrifice was chosen.  And not only that, but that Christ died for Bartman, who ruined a game, and for all of us, in the face of all that we ruin.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Martin Luther on Grace and Peace

Having just begun our Bible study on St. Paul's letter to the Galatians (Thursdays at noon and Sundays at 9am), I was struck by some of Martin Luther's words in response to Paul's prayer that "God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace" (Gal 1:3).  Luther says that Paul chose those words carefully, and that those "two words [grace and peace] contain all the belong to Christianity."  He says that "grace releases sin, and peace makes the conscience quiet."

Despite our efforts to achieve peace through a host of other methods: sound financial planning, righteous behavior, whatever; Luther contends that Paul's claim is that true peace can only come through grace.  He says elsewhere that our "quest for glory [and we could replace glory here with "peace"] can never be satisfied.  It must be extinguished."  In other words, there is no place you could attain at which you couldn't imagine being more peaceful.  "The grass is always greener," and all that.

Despite the fact that, because of Christ's saving work, we actually have been given peace through grace, Luther goes on to say that though the words are simple, "during temptation, to be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing."  And this is true to human Christian experience, right?  When faced with a situation, to accept that our standing with God is secure even if we make the wrong choice is a next-to-impossible thing to accept.  This is why our consciences are so often troubled.  We just flat-out can't really believe that God will be graceful to us and we therefore cannot have peace.

This is why it is important for Paul to begin his letter by wishing the Galatians grace and peace through God and Jesus Christ.  This is why it's important for all of us to hear it every week, every day, every minute.  If you want to learn more about the wonderful grace of Jesus Christ that can lead to real and everlasting peace, join us as we read and digest Galatians on either Thursday afternoons or Sunday mornings.  All are welcome!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Days of Thunder - You're Out of Control!

Days of Thunder is such a fun movie.  For any who haven't seen it, it's Top Gun in race cars.  Literally.  Despite its therefore necessary fluff and Tom Cruise preening, Days of Thunder has at least one moment of true profundity.  Here it is:

I would argue with Claire (Nicole Kidman) on one point.  I don't think that most people "automatically know" that they are basically unable to control anything about their lives.  In fact, I think that the human impulse is to control every aspect of life, and we react very badly when control either slips away or is wrested from us.  Want evidence?  Just try telling someone that free will doesn't exist.  See how they react.  

I do, though, think that Claire is right in her main assertion.  Control is often an illusion.  Cole's assertion that he desires to "control something that's out of control" (his racecar) is an obvious contradiction in terms.  Even if he is able to control the car he's in, he can't control the other "infantile egomaniacs" on the track.  

As Claire points out, we can't even control the goings-on within our own bodies!  We can put braces on our teeth, Norvasc in our blood, Paxil in our brains, collagen in our lips, and silicone in our breasts...but we can't control the only thing we're really trying to:  aging and death.

This urge to control goes all the way back to Eden when Adam and Eve desired to "be like God," i.e. to be in control.  The result of their decision is that we all desire control and, most nefariously, have convinced ourselves that we have it.  The upshot of this delusion is that, as our sense of control rises, our feeling of need (especially for a savior) wanes.  Better to acknowledge the truth of the situation, that we are perilously out of control, both internally and externally, and are just moments away from a debilitating crash. 

Eyes open to the realities of life, and our lack of control, we are much more likely to cry out for help.

And the Floodwaters Rose...

After deciding to cancel the 10:00 service...where would you have parked, anyway?

Our foyer, which is about FOUR FEET above the ground!

So then, after the waters receded, and the dove did not return to the ark, the National Catastrophe Team showed up.  No, they're not a government agency.

Everything below four feet from the floor had to go...literally, everything.

Groundwater contaminated stuff needs to be thrown away...and there was a LOT of groundwater contaminated stuff!

The rebuilding process is underway...thanks for all the prayers and support!
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