Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Evangelicals on Sex: “High Bars” or “Hang-Ups”?

"Happy Condom"

On most any afternoon a small ecumenical council of women convenes on the school playground: we include a converted Jew, backsliding Catholic, conservative evangelical, “spiritual but not religious” seeker and yours truly (who, if resorting to labels, would describe herself as a “feminist evangelical”).  We solve the world’s problems while mending skinned knees and changing diapers.

The other day we were wondering which of our represented faith traditions has the biggest monopoly on guilt.  Catholics, evangelicals and Jews were all in a dead heat for first place, with the one difference being the way we talk about sex.  Jews, we agreed, at least have fewer hang-ups about the issue- and they are more apt to talk openly about their problems with guilt.  (Which probably means that in the end Catholics and evangelicals win the prize for biggest guilt trips.)

But, assuming there is a difference between “hang-ups” and “high bars” for morality, where does one begin and the other end? Sometimes I wonder if the space between these two poles is a very small one.  I’m not sure how to negotiate it exactly.  Maybe you’ll have some ideas, and I hope you  leave them here.

A recent video put out by the National Association of Evangelicals claims that eighty percent of evangelicals are having premarital sex.  Yesterday’s article in The Huffington Post would suggest that statistics like these are signaling a change in how evangelicals talk about sex and the abortion.  The article cites, for example, the results of a survey at this month’s Q conference in Washington: when participants were asked in a session addressing how to reduce abortion whether churches should support the use of contraception among their single 20-somethings, 64 percent said “yes” while 36 percent said “no.”

If genuine, these movements in the direction of a more honest conversation that speaks to the reality of how we evangelicals are living outside the pew are welcome.  I hope they keep developing.  I hope that, as the parent of two children who not long from now in the scheme of things will be teenagers, I will have the courage to talk about this reality rather than just offer rose-colored prescriptions.

My own introduction to this otherwise forbidden and mysterious realm consisted of a (literal) “birds-and-the-bees” book in fourth grade, followed in high school by some fear-inducing casette tapes by James Dobson.  Later in college, I remember the leader in my InterVarsity chapter standing up publicly to admit to a small sexual indiscretion (with the exception that it happened to be with someone of the same sex).  He asked for forgiveness only to be relieved of his responsibilities.  It was a bit like a scene in the movie, Saved, except that it really happened, and it wasn’t really funny.  It was downright humiliating.

Experiences like these contributed in those years to my own guilt-laden, “fumbling through” in this arena of sex and sexuality.  To be sure, the inculcation of sex’ covenantal sacredness, on the one hand, protected me from a lot of potentially unsafe and self-destructive behavior.  For that I am grateful to this day.  I instead lived vicariously through the stories of fellow swimmers and sorority sisters who would often shamelessly regale me with the details of their one-night stands.  (Incidentally, I can’t help but wonder if the jaw-dropping popularity of Lauren Winner’s book some years back had to do at least in part with the voyeuristic thrill it offered evangelicals- a chance to be titillated by Winner’s intimate revelations?  But, I digress.)

On the other hand, this somewhat obsessive focus on bodily sexual purity at the expense of other dimensions of the Christian life also reduced the beauty and adventure of a relationship with Christ to little more than “sin management,” and my own failure to live up to the ideal in my relationship with my future husband left residues of shame and guilt around this expression of intimacy that impacted our early years of marriage.

So the question thus becomes, how do we straddle this tension of, on the one hand, lifting up sex as a beautiful, powerful, potentially soul-enlarging expression of our humanity, and letting it become a guilt-ridden hang-up that actually impedes our Christian witness? Not long ago I featured Jefferson Bethke- (another one of those now-controversial Mars Hill people, thanks to Mark Driscoll and his book on sex and marriage)-rapping about how Jesus came to abolish religion.  Here is Bethke again, this time on the subject of sexual healing.  And I must admit that overall I like what he has to say:

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Assuming there is a difference between “hang-ups” and “high bars” for sexual morality, where does one begin and the other end? How do we inhabit that space with integrity?  Leave your comments below!

The White Chip

 

“The White Chip”

He said she’d not make a good poker player.

She only played once, now one’s for the taking.

The white chips— for the lowest wager—

and she’s still gambling on a turnaround.

No more conceit.  No more lies.

“Double or nothing?” Sure…

when your life is at stake.

She’s in the circle blinking back the tears.

Now they’re all clapping, and she has it in her hand,

Rough edges, smooth center, the imprint of its maker,

Kind of like the shape of a soul trying to heal.

You carry it with you anywhere but can forget it is there,

Until all bets are off and you’re under the table.

Some cheap tokens earn more than their weight in grace.

“Earth Day” a.k.a. “Easter”?

"The Psychotic Earth Day Spokesman" provides tips on being green.

We were driving home from school during Holy Week last year when I put the question before my then four-year-old son.  “Do you know what happens this weekend?,” I had asked him- and I’d be lying to say I had no expectation about how he would respond.  Surely, I had figured, all those bedtime Bible stories, weeks of Sunday school as a “Lion” in “Noah’s Ark” and a mommy who worked as a pastor would have rubbed off in an answer that betrayed at least a primitive understanding of the event called “Easter” on the church’s calendar.  That, after all, was the day that Christians around the world entered into a whole season of celebration around the resurrection of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

My son’s answer had therefore elicited surprise: not “Easter,” not even “the Easter bunny”- at the time his response had seemed more heretical than even this.  “Earth Day,” he had said almost matter-of-factly.  He was referring of course to the day that now annually draws global attention to environmental issues like global warming.  What first began as a national teaching moment on the environment, having been founded by the U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson some forty years ago has now been officially designated April 22 by the United Nations as “International Mother Earth Day” and belongs to a full week of related activities.  My son had spent the whole morning with classmates planting seeds in take-home biodegradable pots as a way to mark the occasion.

Earth Day?  This environmentally sympathetic but dolefully uneducated mommy was admittedly taken back.  Sure, we regularly recycled, and our sympathy had extended to buying energy efficient light bulbs and free range meat at the grocery store.  In addition to occasional contributions to The Sierra Club and some new energy-efficient windows, we had even tried a compost pile in our backyard until a local possum made it his noisy perch in the middle of the night to the frustration of neighbors.  But if truth be told, I was still chafing a bit at the strict enforcement of the ban on plastic sandwich bags and paper napkins at my son’s school, and “Earth Day” in my ignorance had seemed a bit more like the pagan alternative to Easter for anyone seeking a more “loosey goosey,” pantheistic spirituality than what the Bible offered.

Earth Day. “Say, what?,” I had said at the time, laughing a bit at the scandal of it and then proceeding with the explanation that the most important event taking place this weekend was in fact Easter, when we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead after dying on a cross.  In a few days, I had insisted, we would be celebrating Easter.

But what I failed to appreciate at the time was the undeniable and inextricable connection between Easter and Earth Day.  When we as Christians celebrate these (traditionally) forty days of Easter, we marvel at the way that Jesus, having embraced the whole world and all creation, His arms extended on a cross, gives Himself away in death only to be resurrected and to invite us to participate in that new, unending life.  No greater affirmation of our humanity and the earth we have been charged to care for can be found than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In this one great marvelous act of God, God says “yes” to the broken, frail, limited stuff of our earthly existence; God weds God’s Self to us and to the earth God loved into existence, with the result being that the inevitable decay of our own bodies, the disruption of fragile ecosystems and all of the ways that “the whole creation groans and travails…waiting for redemption,” (as the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans observes), find purpose, transformation and meaning in the hope of this new life.  “See, I am making all things new,” the resurrected Jesus says (Revelation 21).  All things.  New.

That, I suspect, is the message of the Bible in a nutshell.  Since the very beginning, when God instructed the man and the woman to tend the garden and take care of the animals, human beings and the earth have been locked in a fateful embrace of sorts.  Adam and Eve’s first sin was to pick fruit from a forbidden tree; they then used fig leaves to hide from their Creator.  When Cain murdered his brother Abel, Abel’s blood “cried out” from the ground- maybe not unlike the stones that will themselves later cry out that Jesus is the Son of God in the face of human beings’ silence.  God’s judgment of Pharaoh manifests itself in droughts and plagues and God’s provision for the people of Israel in food that falls from the sky and rocks that overflow with water.  Sin and the possibility of forgiveness are therefore interwoven into the very fabric of creation.  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” the God of the Old Testament promises (2 Chronicles 7:14).

And is not Earth Day, which we will again celebrate in two days’ time, in essence, this very thing?  Humility in the face of the grandeur, beauty and mystery of the earth.  A turning from the ways in which we deface and pillage our fragile ecosystems.  An act of contrition and a seeking of forgiveness- if not explicitly from God, then at least from one another- for our failure to remember the delicate interconnectedness of all created things and our necessary unity in “creatureliness.”  A prayer for the healing of our world?  In a way, yes. So it seems fitting this second week of Easter to wish you a very, very happy Earth Day.

For some tips on being green, watch this video compliments of “The Psychotic Earth Day Spokesman”:

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“The Stewardship of Pain”

Frederick Buechner is a writer, theologian and Presbyterian minister.

It was a warm summer day in Vermont when friend and fellow saint and sinner Molly Collins introduced me to Frederick Buechner at his longtime home.  That was some seven years ago. I remember at the time being struck by this well-known writer and thinker’s openness and honesty  with an otherwise complete stranger.  He shared his hospitality with us that day in the form of a bowl of soup, a tour of his home and his favorite authors.  (I was glad to know that we even shared the same favorite book in the form of The Brothers’ Karamazov.)

But what struck me most was Buechner’s ability to speak about some of the pain in his life with a gentle and honest matter-of-factness, not pretending that the pain wasn’t there, not presenting a slick image, and certainly not indulging in self-pity, either.  Buechner’s recent thoughts on pain spoke to me this morning.  They come compliments of Abbie at Unsteady Saint:  http://unsteadysaint.com/frederick-buechner-on-the-stewardship-of-pain/

Buechner’s reflections beg the question: what does it mean to be a good steward of our pain?  Can pain ever be a gift?  If so, how do we “steward” it well?  Send your thoughts along and I’ll republish them for the benefit of the Fellowship.

 

 

 

Temptation

"Adam and Eve" by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Temptation.  I have to imagine Jesus knew what a fact of life it is, because he taught us to pray daily for ourselves in this respect: “Give us this day our daily bread, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Some versions of this prayer read, “Save us from the time of trial.”

We can be tempted by all sorts of things.  Trials can come when we have given ourselves over to temptation just enough that what was once just an unhealthy thought becomes inscribed in our thought patterns and behaviors, causing pain to ourselves and sometimes others.

I’ve been here before.  Maybe you have, too.  It’s a hard, painful place to be, and it is easy to despair when we’re there that we’ll never get out of the rut or break free.

Enter this quote from C.S. Lewis, thanks to friend and fellow saint and sinner Tammy: “I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience et cetera doesn’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of his presence.”

Some of us kids fall more than others- or at least are apt to notice more than others when we skin our knees or stub our toes.  We can tend to obsess about the dirt, tears, mud and boo boos.  Thankfully, as Lewis reminds me, God has plenty of clean towels and new clothes- and a great First Aid kit.

Faith When the GPS Breaks

This is the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac as it really happened, starring comedian Jonathan Katz as God. See full story below.

By faith, Abraham when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  -Hebrews 11:8

Every once in a while I spend my morning with the old devotional classic, Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman.  With the exception of the poems there, which are often a throwback to the cheesy sentimentality of a different age, I often find its reflections both an encouraging and realistic account of the Christian life.  Which, as the book admits, is often one of walking “in the dark” and muddling our way through the wilderness, so to speak- not knowing where you’re going but trusting that God is your trustworthy companion.

Today’s reflection is a reminder of this. So much of life is spent in this existential space of “not knowing where we’re going.”  Even if in one arena of our life we may have it together or know our destination, there’s usually at any given time a whole other realm in which we feel paralyzed by indecision or confusion, or unable to see the way forward.

Any manner of things can conspire to ruin our vision, but usually it involves pain and suffering of some sort.  When we’re discouraged, afraid, lonely or depressed or in a place of temptation or great stress, our own hearts can, as 1 John instructs, “condemn” us.  They can blind us to the reality of a God who is with us and holds out God’s very best for us.

And maybe it is precisely in these spaces that God seeks to give us faith.  Not faith in our ultimate destination, but faith in God’s very Self to carry us through when we can’t see where we’re going.  In this sense, the more “lost” we may feel, the better: it means that we have more opportunities to find our home in the One who travels with us; to wake up to and become conscious of the love of One who is closer than our breath.  When we’re lost like this, it matters less where we’re going than who we’re traveling with, and that we’re willing to keep putting one foot in front of the other regardless of how lost we may feel.

I take heart in the reminder that Abraham, the so-called “father of faith” in the Judeo-Christian tradition, hadn’t a clue where he was going, either.  He got so lost in places that he even outsourced his wife not just once but twice to powerful men; took a mistress whom he then literally dumped; and managed to sire a son of his own in his geriatric years, only to then almost kill him.  How’s that for dysfunctional?

In all of that, Hebrews tells us that Abraham managed to keep believing that God was with him and carrying him through.  That, I think, is the qualitative distinction between one who “believes” and one who doesn’t.  Most of us regardless of our creed will lose our way, often more than once in this life.  When we keep believing in these hard places that God is with us- despite our mess-ups, blindness and blunders- we make a pretty radical claim about the nature of reality.  Because a God who is “with us” is also, implicitly, calling us to God’s very Self and the inherent richness and purpose of a life in Him.

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“A Resurrected Christianity?”

Diana Butler Bass is the author of "Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening"

In recent days, Diana Butler Bass and Andrew Sullivan (in a Newsweek cover story, “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus”) have both given expression to some angst about the death of the church.  Bass has gone on to hold out the possibility for a “resurrected Christianity.”  This Christianity, she argues, one that she catches glimpses of in “exile” communities on the margins of mainstream church, will thrive only insofar as it learns to answer the questions of belief, behavior and belonging in their newest incarnation.  Here is Bass:

“Religion always entails the “3B’s” of believing, behaving, and belonging. Over the centuries, Christianity has engaged the 3B’s in different ways, with different interrogators and emphases. For the last 300 years or so, the questions were asked as follows:

1) What do I believe? (What does my church say I should think about God?)
2) How should I behave? (What are the rules my church asks me to follow?)
3) Who am I? (What does it mean to be a faithful church member?)

But the questions have changed. Contemporary people care less about what to believe than how they might believe; less about rules for behavior than in what they should do with their lives; and less about church membership than in whose company they find themselves. The questions have become:

1) How do I believe? (How do I understand faith that seems to conflict with science and pluralism?)
2) What should I do? (How do my actions make a difference in the world?)
3) Whose am I? (How do my relationships shape my self-understanding?)

The foci of religion have not changed–believing, behaving, and belonging still matter. But the ways in which people engage each area have undergone a revolution.”

Bass attributes this change, in the nature of how we engage these three foci of religion, to a revolutionary turn to internal individual authority (the self) as the main shaper of religious identity (or lack thereof).  And while I think Bass is really on to something here, both in her description of the questions we religious misfits are now largely asking and in her tip of the hat to what may be arguably the most powerful legacy of postmodernism (this turn to the authority of self), I wonder if she goes a bit too far when she implies that contemporary religious experience has essentially purged itself of a desire for external authority.  Her stark reductionism here threatens to elide the multiplicity of human experience- or, the multiplicity of self, for that matter.  For as much as I am constantly asking what it looks like for faith to be real for me, and holding up the claims of so-called religious “authorities” next to my own experience, I am also well aware of my innate desire to find a foothold for truth that is outside of myself.  A transcendent authority on which to stake my faith- in my own case, Jesus.  I venture to say that I’m not alone in my desire for an external authority here.

And, if Jesus is this authority, then the church, it seems, exists simply to point me and other religious misfits in the direction of knowing and following Jesus, and giving ample room for us to get to know Jesus on our own terms.  The expression on our own terms can scare a lot of us, leaders and lay people alike.  We want to hand out a list of additional prescriptions for right belief, behavior and belonging.  But it seems to me that if the church is functioning at its best- a big, often elusive “if,” I know- then it is simply opening up a safe, wide open space in which Jesus’ authority can engage my own and, in the power of the Holy Spirit, woo and transform it.  Because the great beauty and scandal of the Incarnation are that God Himself gives us the precedent to let us know God on our own terms.

 

“Free Pizza, Free Eternal Life” and “God’s Quarterback”

Tim Tebow speaks at outdoor Easter service in Georgetown, Texas.

“Free Pizza, Free Eternal Life!”  That was the advertisement one of the campus groups at the university where my husband teaches put out the other day. I guess if you’re really hungry and really love cheap pizza, you’ll take the “free eternal life” as a throw-in- even if it comes with a short spiel about “The Four Spiritual Laws.”

It’s funny to think about all of the associations we can make in an effort to sell Christianity.  These days sports and Christianity are a big sell.  Take Tim Tebow’s Easter appearance the other day when 15,000 people showed up.  (Those Texans like things big, don’t they?) Or, Bubba Watson’s testimony of faith following his dramatic victory at the Masters.

I”ve got to hand it to Tebow and Bubba, too.  Their willingness to talk about their faith in the public sphere takes guts.  Let’s just say I’m a fan.

It’s the rest of us Christians and leaders in the church I’m inclined to poke fun at.  Because while, for example, Tebow and Easter may be a subtler association than free pizza and free eternal life, they still spell  “gimmick.”  They are still an example of how we in the church get stuck in applying slick  advertising approaches to evangelism. We can tend to make our Christian celebrities into “fields of dreams”: if we just “build it” (or invite the latest billboard for Christianity) “they” (the crowds that need to be evangelized and see how cool we and Jesus are) “will come.”

If you didn’t catch Colbert’s Easter routine, which features some all-in-good-fun pokes at pastor Jim Champion, who invited Tebow to speak at his megachurch, here it is.  Hats off to all my Australian friends for your work to save the “Easter bilby,” too:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/412155/april-09-2012/easter-under-attack—bunny-vs–bilby?xrs=share_copy

The Easter Grouch Speaks

"Always look on the bright side of life...Life's a piece of shit, when you look at it."

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” – 2 Corinthians 4:10

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“Christ is risen!”  My cup is running over- or so I’m told.

Meanwhile, the violence of a murderous regime in Syria spills across borders and the blood of innocent lives cries out from the ground.

“Christ is risen!”  We’re wearing pretty pastels- I even catch someone sporting seer sucker before the Kentucky Derby- and we’re  singing songs of triumph over sin and death.

“I’m just waiting for something good to happen,”a friend writes from a place of anguish and confusion about where her life is going, about her frustration over her inability to just “get it together.”

“Christ is risen!” We’re proclaiming that life negates death and healing overcomes brokenness.

But, he still has those recurring nightmares of roadside bombs and buddies blown to pieces.  She’s having trouble just “getting over it” when everyone else has moved on.  They’re the ones at the back of the church, or who never darken the doors, because “resurrection” is at best a weary trickle for them.  Because they’re still stuck somewhere between death and life.  Because their whole life, in fact, will be lived out “in the middle.”

Holy Saturday. We don’t really talk about it in the church.  We prefer to fast forward to Easter.  Just like when someone is telling us about all of the shit in their life, and we would prefer to tell them how to fix it, how God will make it all better. Just like when we feel really uncomfortable when the folks with the really obvious disabilities join us in worship and aren’t invisible.  It’s hard to stay there, in the middle, between death and life, without jumping ahead to some triumphant ending.  Yet I would venture to say that many of us in the church, despite our well-heeled finery and fresh-faced smiles on Easter, spend much of our lives here. In the middle.

I just finished Shelly Rambo’s Spirit and Trauma:  A Theology of Remaining. If you’re looking for a theology for Holy Saturday, this is a good place to start.  Rambo argues that what the church needs in these spaces is not more triumphant proclamation about how resurrection has made us all better, but a willingness to tell the truth about how we’re still “waiting for something good to happen.”  She challenges us to think more about who the church is for those who occupy this middle ground.

And there are many of us.  Those of us who have experienced trauma of any kind know that life is never the same again.  That life is a painful, muddled mix of re- enacting the trauma and finding spaces in which to breathe again and move into life even as we carry this “death” with us.

Someone I admire told me an Indian proverb yesterday about a man who dies and goes to heaven.  The man upon entering the pearly gates asks if this is the only place he can go.  He is told that he can also go to hell if he’d prefer.  He requests that he’d be allowed to visit.  There in hell he finds community with those in deep suffering and decides that solidarity with those who are suffering is “paradise” itself.  He decides to stay there rather than return to heaven.

Maybe this is a bit of what it means for a God for whom “darkness is the same as light” to descend into hell.  Maybe courageous solidarity with those who are suffering, not some magic bullet proclamation about resurrection, is the most powerful testimony the church can give to a God who is “with” us.

In Messy: God Likes It That Way, A.J. Swoboda gives voice to my own gripe with church triumphalism when he critiques an expression that often gets thrown around in circles we both have run in.  You may have heard it, too: it goes, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  But Swoboda would say, and I couldn’t agree more, that the church’s witness would be better summed up in this: “Love the sinner, love the sinner.”  This, I suspect, is what it means to occupy Holy Saturday- what it means to be in that space where life and death, sin, sickness and healing are all tangled up with one another.

So this Easter, call me a grouch, but I’m going to keep grumbling whenever I hear that “Christ is risen”: YouTube Preview Image

Life is not a running game in “Touchback”

Happy Easter, everyone! Christ is risen, which is something I have some thoughts and even grumblings about- yes, you read that correctly- so stay tuned for another post about that.  In the meantime, the following review of “Touchback,” opening in theaters this week, is republished with permission of the Episcopal Digital Network’s online publication, “Sermons That Work.” If you haven’t visited, I invite you to check it out: http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/ I think you’ll find there a well of helpful resources for folks like you and me asking questions at the intersection between life and God:

Movies about football are usually not my cup of tea.  (I might watch the Super Bowl once a year, so long as nachos with all the works and some good company are part of the invitation.)  Neither are explicitly “Christian” flicks, which often can seem trite, contrived and a bit schmaltzy.

Touchback, which opens in theaters on April 13 and stars Brian Presley (Home of the Brave) and Melanie Lynskey (Up In the Air, Sweet Home Alabama, and CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”), with Kurt Russell as supporting actor, left me pleasantly surprised on both fronts: you don’t have to know what a “touchback” or “audible” is to find the plot engaging; and you don’t have to be a proselyte for the genre of “Christian movies” to walk away having been touched by the film’s message of redemption and second chances.

Presley plays a washed-up, high school football star, Scott Murphy, who after permanently injuring his leg in a game-winning play during a state championship game, is obliged to trade in a college scholarship at Ohio State and hopes of a future in pro football for a small-town life as a farmer and family man.  Murphy, resigned to an unhappy, claustrophobic life in his home town of Coldwater (population: 2,700), and forever haunted by regret and “what-if’s” as a result of that fateful night, becomes depressed and suicidal when bank foreclosure and an unexpected frost threaten to wipe out his livelihood.

Second chances come unexpectedly in the form of a dream that takes Murphy back to the days leading up to that night.  The overall effect is that of a serious version of Back to the Future.  If there are no cool time machines or mad scientists here, some of the same questions present themselves- about free will, or the lack thereof, about the intersection between human possibility, chaos theory and God’s “providence,” and, about the nature of redemption with respect to our past, present and future.

This theme of redemption is one that Touchback both enriches and problematizes.  The possibility for Murphy’s redemption comes when he is able to return to his past and view it through the lens of the present- when he, in essence, is offered through a dream the chance to choose with the gift of hindsight a different fate for himself.  The college scholarship, pretty blonde girlfriend, and a ticket out of “Backwater” (the slang he uses to describe his home town), all present themselves once again for the taking- and these, in contrast, to the prospect that he will end up with his future wife (Lynskey), after lying injured in a hospital bed with a shattered knee.

“Redemption” in the end is about staying- “blooming where you’re planted,” so to speak.  “Salvation” is learning to find gratitude and community in hard, painful circumstances.  And what that looks like at the end of the movie may bring you to tears.

Still, the film leaves me frustrated in places with its subtle tone of judgment about Murphy’s ambition to leave his trailer park neighborhood and the confines of “Backwater” for the larger world.  In conversations between Murphy and his future wife, coach and mother, I am left to feel little sympathy for those who would choose a way out.  Take, for instance, this dialogue between Murphy and his mother:

Mom: “Things don’t make me happy…you being happy makes me happy.”

Murphy: “I am going to be happy and things are going to be different.”

Mom: “What is so wrong with right now?  What if this is all you get, kid? What if this is it?  It seems like nothing is ever enough with you, you know!  If you can’t be satisfied with what you got, then you’re never going to be happy, no matter what you get…If there was one thing I could change, that would be it.”

In this context, ambition itself seems unredeemable, and liberation in the form of an escape a cop-out.  And, if this definition of redemption works for Murphy, it is left wanting in places where violence, oppression, and the trauma of ongoing abuse make staying and blooming downright impossible.  In such places, be it an inner-city neighborhood riddled by gang violence, or war-torn Sudan, or a situation of domestic violence, redemption not only demands a way out but depends to a certain degree on both our ability to imagine that “things are going to be different” and our determination to make it so.  Murphy chooses to stay- (you’ll have to watch the movie to find out what this really means)-but I am left wondering if there’s any room here for those who don’t have a choice, or choose differently.

 

Previous Posts

Mental Health Break—Sprawl II
My favorite band these days is Arcade Fire, and I've featured the Canadian indie rock group before at this intersection between God and life. The lead singer studied Kirkegaard in college and their songs, like this one, are often subtle but brilliant critiques of the least aesthetically pleasing thi

posted 12:58:15pm Dec. 18, 2014 | read full post »

I Can't Breathe and the Widow's Cry—A Guest Post
Fellow saint and sinner Saskia de Vries is a neuroscientist in Seattle, Washington and has posted before at this intersection between God and life. She, like so many of us, is grappling with the tragedies of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the larger systemic problem they seem to reveal—namely,

posted 2:10:09pm Dec. 11, 2014 | read full post »

Advent and Emptiness, Via Louis CK and the Prophet Isaiah
I've been making my way through the book of Isaiah. This morning's reading was from chapter 6, where the prophet Isaiah receives his call to go to the people of Israel and proclaim God's judgment of a people who have wandered away from God's purposes for them. Isaiah asks how long God's people will

posted 11:45:39am Dec. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Advent Resurrection
It may seem strange to pair Advent with resurrection. Usually resurrection comes more naturally at Easter. But at heart the labor pangs of all creation giving birth to the Christ child are a longing for a new start. Advent is a longing to be born again. Neuroscience now teaches that every minu

posted 2:47:38pm Dec. 04, 2014 | read full post »

Birthday Cred—Ecclesiastes Via David Foster Wallace
Today I'm still (barely) on the left side of 40, and bea

posted 11:01:03am Dec. 01, 2014 | read full post »


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