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I think ironies make life interesting unless they become cause for cynicism. One of those ironies is our spending a full day of thanksgiving with our attention on gratitude and blessings, whole families volunteering to feeding the poor at the Salvation Army or a homeless shelter and, so far, the retail industry has not figured out a way to turn the focus to presents, cards and extravagance – other than food.
Still, a whole population of shoppers cannot be content with a day of rest and a consumer economy counting on a 24 hour splurge for 40% of their annual revenue cannot allow more than a single day to celebrate what we already have. As if Thanksgiving were just a momentary “time out” or a brief penance, we are prodded into immediately celebrating Black Friday before Thanksgiving dinner has even digested. It’s the exact reverse of Mardi Gras, isn’t it? Instead of a binge preceding the intentional simplicity of Lent, we take a moment to be grateful before rushing into the stores at midnight.
Alexis DeTocqueville noted this characteristic of ours when he wrote about the causes of the “restless spirit of Americans in the midst of their prosperity” in the 19th century. “The recollection of the brevity of life is a constant spur to him. Besides the good things which he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others which death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon. This thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret, and keeps his mind in ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to change his plans and his abode.”
“A native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach, that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications.”
This is not a sermonette or a lecture. It is just an observation…and maybe a pitch for making Thanksgiving a two day holiday and eliminating Black Friday altogether.Comments
Last week, I attended the annual three day Faith Angle Conference conceived and hosted by Michael Cromartie, the Vice President at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He also directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life program as well as having served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2006-2010. (http://eppc.org/scholars/scholarid.10/scholar.asp). It’s my good fortune that Mike invites me to sit on the “outer circle” of observers who are there to listen but not contribute to the discussion – except during the meals and breaks!
Every year has different themes and speakers but the format is consistent. Three presenters make remarks and then the invited journalists and scholars are free to ask questions. For me, the opportunity to hear the presentations and questions is one of the highlights of the year. “For more than ten years, the Faith Angle Forum has brought together a select group of nationally respected journalists and distinguished scholars for in-depth discussions of some of the most crucial issues facing Americans today.”
For those of us who like to follow Michael Gerson, David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, Jeff Goldberg, Fred Barnes, Sally Quinn, Peter Boyer, Ross Douthat and others, this is an opportunity not taken lightly. This year was as good as any I have attended. Dr. Peter Berger, the sociologist of religion from Boston University reflected on his career and the lessons he has learned over a lifetime. Dr. David Campbell, professor of American Politics at Notre Dame (and a Mormon) made remarks about “the Mormon Moment” and the upcoming Presidential elections. Finally, Dr. Ard Louis, professor of Theoretical Physics at Oxford University presented his thoughts about evolution, intelligent design, atheism and other light topics!
I’ve said this every year but feel even more strongly about it now. If you ever have a chance to sit in on these sessions do it. Don’t hesitate. It’s a great investment.Comments
Some things run in the family. Years ago, author Pat McMillan (http://www.theperformancefactor.com/author.html) went to my father for advice about becoming a consultant. Dad sat him down and did his best to discourage him with all the obstacles and hardships of building a consulting business and the likelihood of failure. Fortunately, Pat listened with respect and then went and built a very successful consulting business - Team Resources. On my part, I spent the better part of a lunch dissuading a young pastor from trying to build a ministry on some wild ideas he had about an innovative ministry he described as Mosaic. Erwin McManus did exactly the same as Pat had done with my father. He listened and then went out and spent the next several years building one of the most creative ministries in the country - Mosaic. (http://mosaic.org/about). I have a number of those stories about my unfailing discernment in picking new leadership and I actually enjoy reading about their success. I tried my best and, fortunately, they didn't listen.Comments
My church hosted David Zahl, co-author of The Gospel According to Pixar and the founder of Mockingbird (www.mbird.com) in Charlottesville, Virginia where he is on staff at Christ Episcopal Church. The premise of the book is Pixar films have created high quality films that engage not only children but adults. Moreover, “the films tell compelling stories about love, forgiveness, fear, loneliness, identity, etc. that provide vivid illustrations of how the Gospel interacts with real life.” It’s ironic, of course, that animated films have been the vehicle for capturing the essence of many Christian themes and, more importantly, the possibility of redemption for everyone. As well, David talked about the “Nazareth Principle” in these films where good things come from unexpected and out of the way places.
But because I knew David’s father, Paul, briefly when he was the senior minister of a growing Episcopal congregation in Birmingham, Alabama, I was especially interested in David’s comments about and obvious affection and respect for his father. In so many ways, Paul’s example and wisdom has allowed David to grow into the extraordinary young man he is. As he talked to us about his own desire to communicate the essentials of grace through the media of movies and music, he gave credit to his father for knowing how to encourage and listen to David as a young man growing up.
I was especially aware of that as I had read an article in the Washington Post this morning written by a young man David’s age who described himself this way:
“I’m 31, an Iraq war veteran, a Penn State graduate, a Catholic, a native of State College, acquaintance of Jerry Sandusky’s, and a product of his Second Mile foundation.
And I have fully lost faith in the leadership of my parents’ generation.”
He goes on to say: “One thing I know for certain: A leader must emerge from Happy Valley to tie our community together again, and it won’t come from our parents’ generation.
They have failed us, over and over and over again.
I speak not specifically of our parents -- I have two loving ones -- but of the public leaders our parents’ generation has produced. With the demise of my own community’s two most revered leaders, Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I have decided to continue to respect my elders, but to politely tell them, “Out of my way.”
They have had their time to lead. Time’s up. I’m tired of waiting for them to live up to obligations.”
Pretty bleak. So that makes me think how much I hope Pixar is right in presenting redemption as a possibility and while we are truly our own worst enemies there is hope that out of unexpected places will come grace. We need more Paul and David Zahl’s in our world.Comments
I hardly ever read books ahead of time when I travel. I don’t know why. Most people prepare. I “postpare”, I guess. I’ve been reading “God’s Continent” by Philip Jenkins (http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/02/004-the-much-exaggerated-death-of-europe-16) after coming back from our Europe trip and he says something that makes sense – in a way that concerns me about our own church in America. What happens when the “Christian social vision” is accomplished but is detached from the church? What happens when the way we define that vision leads the way to the demise of people being engaged in the church?
“Living in a society that tries to achieve the Christian social vision – through a generous welfare state, care for the poor, and wide-ranging humanitarian ventures overseas – one no longer needs to participate in public rituals. However skeptical other Christians would be of such claims, they do reflect a perception of how thoroughly Christian values have penetrated European thought, and formed cultural identity.”
Os Guinness and I have had an exchange of emails about the trip and my ramblings on not only the well publicized dangers of secularism but the danger of a distortion of the Christian social vision. He sent along this quote from Heinrich Heine’s book “Religion and Philosophy in Germany” written in 1834. Only Os would have these kind of quotes!
“Christianity – and this is its greatest merit – has somewhat mitigated the brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. This talisman is fragile, and the day will come when it will collapse miserably. Then the ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals… Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder… [W]hen you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then you know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar, the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll." Heinrich Heine in “Religion and Philosophy in Germany."
Since coming back I have been thinking more and more about that “subduing talisman, the cross” and what it would mean to drift toward the realization of a Christian social vision without it.Comments