Forgiveness

The Bible and Movies and Violence – Oh My!

David and Goliath illustration, Milena Moiola / Shutterstock.com

David and Goliath illustration, Milena Moiola / Shutterstock.com

Whenever I hear someone lament that kids these days need to read their Bibles, I tell them that the Bible should be rated R for violence, nudity, rape, drug deals, and even genocide – and that’s just in the first book! Of course, as a youth pastor, I’ve found that the best way to get kids interested in the Bible is to tell them that if someone made it into a movie, it would be rated R.

The Bible and movies tell stories. Gareth points out the importance of stories in his article “It’s the Movies’ Fault/It’s not the Movies’ Fault” in which he brilliantly states that, “we could benefit from recognizing that the relationship between storytelling and the formation of human identity is crucial.” Indeed, the stories we tell are crucial to the formation of human identity, but the Bible and movies tell stories that are permeated with violence. So, the question becomes, how do we make sense of those violent stories in terms of human identity?

What Jesus Didn't Say

photo by Lawrence OP / Flickr.com

Jesus and a woman at the well, painting in museum of the Dominican priory of Santa Sabina in Rome, photo by Lawrence OP / Flickr

In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus speaks with a woman when they find themselves alone at a well at midday. We can learn a lot from what he says to her, and from what he chooses not to say.

Jesus tells the woman, “Go, get your husband, and bring him here.” She replies, “I have no husband.” Jesus tells her “That’s right. You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re now with isn’t your husband.”

These could have been shaming words. In her culture, to be without a husband is to risk economic ruin, and to have been divorced by your husband is to be shamed.   

Had he wanted to, Jesus could have scored some serious points here: I’m a prophet, and you’re a sinner. I’m celibate, and you’re promiscuous. You are living in sin by living with a man who is not your husband.

Evidently, he didn’t want to say those things.

Green Pastures and Valleys of Death

Photo courtesy luxorphoto/shutterstock.com

Last week was on in which what God envisions for our world seemed so very, very far away.

We watched in horror last Monday as two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. We wept as we heard about the death of an 8-year-old boy, a 23-year-old grad student, a 29-year-old restaurant manager. We shuddered as we thought about the 170 people injured in the bombings, many of them losing feet or legs. We asked why. Why did this happen? How could human beings do this to others?

Tuesday, we learned about poisoned letters being sent to elected officials. Real poison, not just the poisonous words that are so much of our political dialogue. Is this really what God envisioned for us?

 

A Struggle for the Nation’s Moral Center

Court gavel with play letters, zimmytws / Shutterstock.com

Court gavel with play letters, zimmytws / Shutterstock.com

Sharletta Evans of Denver says it was her faith that motivated her to forgive the teens who killed her 3-year-old son, Casson, during a drive-by shooting. When she did, Evans says, she could feel the hate evaporate from her body. She has since developed a relationship with one of the young men, whom she hopes to see released from prison.

Minnesota’s Mary Johnson drew on her faith for the strength to meet with and forgive Oshea Israel, who was 16 when he killed Johnson’s 20-year-old son, Laramiun Byrd. Mary now considers Oshea, who lives next door to her, her spiritual son. The two now frequently speak together about anti-violence and the power of forgiveness.

And Mona Schlautman, whose 15-year-old son, Jeremy Drake, was kidnapped and killed in a park in Omaha, Neb., says her faith — plus her belief that it is good public policy — have led her to support changes in that state’s laws that would ensure young people who go to prison for serious crimes have meaningful opportunities to be considered for release after they have acknowledged what they did, asked for forgiveness and sought to make amends. She testified before the Pardons Board several times on behalf of Jeremy Herman, who at 17 was convicted of kidnapping her son. He was released from prison after 19 years.

Throughout the United States, people of faith are on the front lines of the effort to replace life-without-parole sentences for children with age-appropriate accountability measures that focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The Juvenile Justice Week of Faith and Healing is an annual event intended to engage faith leaders and further increase awareness of individual, community and social needs arising from the current juvenile justice system.

If I Were Manti Te’o's Pastor

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Manti Te'o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish warms up before a game. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Listen, I’m not here to bash Manti. I’m not here to ridicule or mock him. I’m not even suggesting that Manti is lying or that his statement is not accurate but we can all agree that the whole story is absolutely bizarre and the total truth has yet to be fully revealed. But because I’m a believer in people – and more so – because I believe in the power of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration, I want to see Manti do well – not just as a football player – but as a man … as a human being … and as someone who often speaks of God.

If I were Manti’s pastor …

While more details will emerge in the future,  I wondered what kind of advice I would give him if I were Manti’s personal pastor. (Manti, being Mormon, is supposedly a deeply religious person.) Here are the four pieces of advice I’d give him.

Unexpected Grace in Les Miz

Movie poster for "Les Misérables" from Universal Studios, Christmas, 2012

Movie poster for "Les Misérables" from Universal Studios, Christmas, 2012

For many centuries Christmas Day worshippers have been hearing these words as their New Testament reading: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all” (Titus 2:11). Grace, everyone used to know, is foundational to the Christian Gospel.

But this Christmas I’m noticing the surprising version of grace in Les Miserables, already seen by 60 million people as a musical and now as a film. Victor Hugo’s novel may be seen as a story of grace transforming in the life of the common man Jean Valjean and grace rejected in the life of the rigid functionary Javert.

As the story begins, Jean Valjean is being released from 19 winters of imprisonment for having stolen some bread to save his sister’s son from starving. But in the eyes of Javert, Valjean will always be a thief, which is his nature, because he has not learned the meaning of the law. Crushed under this ideological overlay, Valjean sees himself as a slave of the law — in a way remarkably similar to that of St. Paul, who makes grace and law antithetical. The chorus confirms it: “Look down, you will always be a slave.”

In his first job after prison, Valjean is deliberately underpaid. When he objects, the boss says: “Why should you get the same as honest men like me?” (Jesus once told a parable about laborers in a vineyard to open people’s eyes to grace.) Valjean concludes that society has closed every door to him. When he is refused lodging, the innkeeper says: “We’re law-abiding people here. Thanks be to God.” The conservative identification with the law is commonly made in alliance with God, while Victor Hugo seems to understand that the Christian vision identifies grace, not law, with God.

Two Reasons I'm Not A 'None'

Anne Marie Roderick

Anne Marie Roderick

Editor's Note: Anne Marie Roderick tells her story of why she's NOT part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

It’s not surprising that a third of my peers say they are religiously unaffiliated. Our religious lives are too complex these days to fit in neat boxes with one-word labels.  I may be a “Christian,” but does that mean that I am like other Christians? Not necessarily.

There is sometimes more truth in being a “none” — in stating what we are not — rather than trying to pin down exactly what we are. But, I choose to affiliate anyway. Here’s why I am not a “none:"

No Man (or Nation) is an Island

Laralova / Shutterstock

Fantasy flying island. Laralova / Shutterstock

NEW YORK — Manhattan was a traffic nightmare as the United Nations General Assembly was in session and security precautions ramped up.

Iran's president gave his usual insulting address. Israel's prime minister volleyed with dire warnings of Iran's nuclear-weapons intentions. Not much was expected of a session that was more political podium than problem solving.

But the event did underscore a reality that Americans often overlook: Not everything is about us. The world doesn't turn on a politician's latest line of attack. The fine points of Obamacare or Mitt Romney's 1040 or Paul Ryan's budget? Meh.

On the one hand, this unconcern is nothing unusual; hometown affairs are always of far more interest to locals than to anyone else. I could go months without caring about Kate Middleton's topless cavorting or political show trials in Beijing.

On the other hand, it is good to be reminded that we are one piece of a vast global mosaic. We connect with others but aren't necessarily the center.

Rather than proceed as a nation-level version of the "narcissistic princess" — as one reviewer labeled tell-all author Monica Lewinsky  we should pay more attention to the connections among us.

Seeking Love and Forgiveness in the Shadow of St. Francis

Basilica in Assisi, edella / Shutterstock.com

Basilica in Assisi, edella / Shutterstock.com

ASSISI, Italy — Swimming against a global tide of religious violence and political polarization, about 550 religious and humanitarian leaders met recently here in the birthplace of St. Francis to propose a new way forward: love and forgiveness.

The ambitious aim of the Sept. 19-23 “Global Gathering” was nothing short of putting those values to work in some of the most hate-filled and unforgiving places on Earth. Following the example of Francis, whose feast day is on Thursday, participants pledged to make lofty ideals real through dozens of creative projects researched and funded by the Michigan-based Fetzer Institute, the conference convener.

“There’s a power in love that our world has not discovered yet,” said Fetzer President and CEO Larry Sullivan, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Let’s put our backs into the work of love and forgiveness.”

Sikh Calls for Peace Echo Amish Shooting Response

Amish boy (left) and Sikh boy (right).

Amish boy (left) and Sikh boy (right).

Like most people, I was deeply troubled by news of another mass shooting, this time at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., not far from Milwaukee. On the heels of the tragic massacre in Aurora, Colo., this seemed all the more savage to me, given that it took place in a house of worship.

Maybe it’s because my wife and I work in a church and are aware of such vulnerabilities every day, but my first reaction is defensiveness. I want to raise my guard, double-check the locks and do whatever I can to ensure our safety. It’s the response that makes the most sense, after all.

Or is it?

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