“Marley was dead, to begin with.”
So begins the classic tale of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a story that has been told and re-told through various mediums since the novella was published December 19, 1843.
I sat down recently to watch the new Disney version of the tale. It features a CGI rendition of Scrooge with the voice of Jim Carrey.
After 15 minutes I shut it off.
It wasn’t that it was particularly bad. I didn’t give the movie enough of a chance even to figure whether it was worth watching. What I realized is that I wasn’t much interested in hearing the same story again from a secular perspective.
A Christmas Carol, I would argue, is not ultimately about Christmas, but conversion.
Christmas is the stage and the catalyst through which transformation occurs. It is a leading character to be sure. But, it is the radical change that occurs in Ebenezer Scrooge that most compels me.
Scrooge repented, promised to “honor Christmas in his heart” all year long and to never forget the lessons of the three spirits.
He celebrated Christmas day with his nephew, sent the Cratchit family a prize Christmas turkey and then given Bob Cratchit a raise. He became a second father to Tiny Tim, was known as a good man in the city and was remembered for his ability to keep Christmas well.
But, as Dickens pointed out, this didn’t come without some laughter and derision.
Some people who knew Scrooge as a misanthrope before, now saw the old, mean man as a fool. The radical conversion Scrooge underwent caused some to question whether this new Ebenezer was still of sound mind.
This is as it should be.
At the center of the nativity picture is that baby in the manger.
That baby Jesus will be many more things as his life, death, resurrection and eternity continues but here in the straw, and central to everything he will do and be, he is a symbol of grace.
This is what Christianity boils down to. This is it at its most naked. Shed the tragedies of Christian history, the boredom of what you’ve experienced in Church (how was that possible!), the legalism that has oppressed your youth or whatever else has damaged your perspective of God and you are left with this amazing concept of grace.
Put most simply, grace is the “unmerited favor” of God.
It is with death that Dickens begins his story and it is with death that Scrooge completes his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Scrooge hears other businessman saying that they wouldn’t attend the funeral unless there was sure to be lunch served. Men for whom he had great business esteem gave no more thought to his death than they did the weather. There were thieves who stripped the clothes off his dead body and the curtains from around his bed.
He begged the Spirit to show him a scene in which some person, any person, was moved to emotion at his death. The Spirit brought him to the house of a debtor who rejoiced with his wife at the death of Scrooge because now they might have time enough to pay back their loan. When he was shown the Cratchit household there was no mention of Scrooge at all, only mourning for the passing of Tiny Tim.
The specter of Jacob Marley entered Scrooge’s room. It had been seven years to the day since Marley died.
Before he sees them, Scrooge hears the clanking of the heavy chains his old business partner now carries with him.
Scrooge asks how it is that Marley became thus fettered.
“I wear the chain I forge in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free-will, and of my own free-will I wore it.”
Marley did not realize in life that he was a slave. He assumed that his wealth and the absence of external restraints meant he was free, when in fact his miserly and selfish ways were forging the means of his own bondage.
An ebenezer is a reminder. It tells the story of God’s faithfulness and our repentance. It is a marker for transformation and conversion.
Dickens, I would assume, did not give Scrooge the first name “Ebenezer” without reason. While the word has fallen out of common use (the hymn “Come Thou Fount” is often sung now with the word “altar” in replace of “ebenezer”) it is still powerful with meaning.
“Ebenezer” is the marker that commemorates the moment that everything changed. In difficult times it is the reminder that what was true at the time of the original change, namely God’s faithfulness, is still true today.
The question of moral character and how it plays into public life has tended to be fairly low level conversation in our country. It’s subjects of discussion are usually those who we aren’t planning on voting for.
This is why it’s hard to trust what most commentators, religious leaders or politicians are saying right now. Things said in this moment might have more to do with which party or candidate they are planning on voting for than serious thinking about moral character and public life.
Social justice is redundant.
Justice, properly understood in a biblical sense, always has social implications.
Personal salvation is redundant in the same way. Salvation, properly understood in a biblical sense, while it may have broader implications, is always personal in nature.
Why the modifiers?
When I applied for a job at CNN in the 90s, and told the interviewer that I had interned with an evangelical magazine called Christianity Today, his response was, "If it's Christian, it isn't journalism."
Over the years that expanded to, "If it's evangelical, it's Republican. Or Jerry Falwell. Pat Robertson. The Tea Party. Wrapped in a Patriotic Flag. White People. Derivative, cheesy music. Big Money. Big Hair." Fill in the rest of the blanks.
Are those labels a distortion of what it means to be an evangelical? Of course they are. Yet they are how evangelicals are perceived, rightly or wrongly (I personally think it's a mixture of both), in our society.
Naseem Rakha, author of the 2009 novel The Crying Tree sees justice differently. Rakha, an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on National Public Radio and elsewhere, has covered two death penalty cases in Oregon -- the only two in that state's history -- and has spent considerable time exploring the deeper story behind capital punishment, retributive justice and forgiveness.
"What I learned from talking to these victims is that there is a place, not called closure, not called moving on, but there is a place of empowerment," Rakha said in a recent interview with God's Politics. "Crime strips people of power, and there's nothing that the justice system or really even churches can give to you to replace that power. It is an act of wanting to sit down and meet with the person who strips that power from you that has transformed people's lives and gotten them to a point where they can forgive the act, because they see the perpetrator no longer as a monster, but as a human that has made a terrible mistake."
Last night, death was interrupted when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for a Texas man convicted of a double murder in Houston in 1995.
Duane Buck was set for execution by lethal injection sometime after 6 p.m., Thursday September 15 in Huntsville, Texas. His execution would have been the second this week and the 11th so far this year in Texas alone. Two more executions are scheduled for next week.
photo © 2007 Laura Askelin | more info (via: Wylio)Though I like a rousing round of ave maria's as much as the next person, the past few centuries of church prayer trends have eschewed Latin in favor of the vernacular -- that is, the language of the people. And to the tune of 450 million copies in more than 70 translations (and counting), it's clear that people the world around speak the language of Harry Potter. Or rather, the story of Harry Potter speaks to them.
So as I watched the final Hogwarts Express depart from Platform 9¾ in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II this past weekend (slightly teary-eyed, I confess), I started to wonder: What might it sound like to pray in the language of Harry Potter -- language that clearly resonates with folks around the world? Would it be cheesy? Probably. Profane? Perhaps. But I figured the God who relied on earthly parables about wineskins and fig trees to explain the Kingdom would understand.
photo © 2009 World Economic Forum | more info (via: Wylio)Most people know now that Rupert Murdoch presides over the News Corp media empire, and that he is fighting for his reputation after being forced to sink his scandal-laiden British newspaper News of the World, the most widely read English tabloid in the world. But few people know that Murdoch also owns Zondervan, the world's largest publisher of Bibles. For 23 years, the News Corp family has included the leading seller of the best-selling book in history.
Ten days after 9/11, Rais Bhuiyan, an immigrant from Bangladesh, was working at a gas station in Dallas, Texas when a man walked in with a gun. Thinking the store was being robbed, Bhuiyan opened the cash register
"I had no idea Martin Luther King was a radical!" These shocked words were spoken to me this weekend after an activist training I'd been running in Sydney. I had the privilege to be part of the Make Poverty History "action lab" -- a "teach-in" for 15 young anti-poverty activists chosen from each state of Australia.
I started running because of my sister. Kim and I began when we were pre-teens. I believed running was the key to making me more like her -- 5 foot 9, lean, beautiful, and highly intelligent. There was one problem: I hated running. After forcing myself to do it for a while, I was disappointed. My dreams of who I would become were dashed, and all I got from trotting around was a lower resting heart rate and bulky thighs.
Years later, much has changed -- including my relationship with running. Following her multiple-sclerosis diagnosis in 2009, Kim, who was once a long-distance runner, has retired her running shoes. She hasn't hit the pavement in more than one year. I still run. Something in my spirit won't let me quit.
Last weekend, I completed my fourth half marathon in Washington, D.C. As I toed the start line, a story began to unfold. At 7 a.m., it was barely 35 degrees outside and still dark. I was surrounded by a sea of 16,000 people -- all of whom were present for one thing: to put their bodies to the ultimate test. This morning was all about endurance.
Whether it was a brilliant marketing strategy or just a sad reflection of the charged atmosphere of Christian dialogue these days, one cannot deny that Rob Bell's latest book http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/006204964X?ie=UTF8&tag=sojourners-20&li...