Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Is the World Ending? Join the Left Behind Prophecy Club and Find Out

posted by doug howe

The world is closer to its end… or so suggested the press release set to Beliefnet by the Left Behind Prophecy Club (associated with, and intended to increase sales of, the highly successful “Left Behind” series). It pointed to such events as the devastating natural disasters over the last 12 months, successful Iraqi elections that “pave the way for rebuilding Babylon,” and President Putin’s arms deal with Iraq as signs that the apocalypse is upon us.

I suspect this publicist will struggle to generate interest in these spiritual road signs toward heaven, especially since the “Left Behind” novels have plateaued on the charts. Frankly, I think more people will be intrigued by Newsweek’s end-of-year cover story on Tom Hanks and the upcoming “Da Vinci Code” movie and Time’s Persons of the Year award honoring Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates for their fight to end world poverty. Now these sound exciting, fresh, and dynamic… or, at least, interesting.

As a seeker of spiritual truth—and as one knowing I have much still to discover—I am stunned at how often one of the greatest mysteries of all time is reduced to religious rhetoric that fails to capture our cultural and societal fascination.

And it shouldn’t be that way.

The biblical story of the baby Jesus—the Christ of Christmas—coming back as He promised (John 14:3, Luke 18:8) and as the Bible predicts (Daniel 9:24-27, Daniel 12:7, 2 Peter 3:10, most of Revelation, etc.) should excite us, fascinate us, captivate us. But it doesn’t. Perhaps it’s because too many Christian preachers and speakers—especially evangelicals—spend too much time threatening those outside their belief system, or preaching at or down to those less knowledgeable, or leveraging what feels like scare tactics to gain an audience–all of which seems like a departure from the way the Apostle Paul spoke of Christ’s revelation as being a great mystery (Col 1:27-29) and encouraged us to be informed (1 Thessalonians 5:13-18). The Bible makes it sound like a wonderful secret to be investigated and a beautiful opportunity to be explored. Somehow, it seems to have lost some of that spirit in today’s culture.

Perhaps if more churches—and those who go by the name of Christ—were recognized more for the Bono-Gates spirit of generosity, or even the adventurous and investigative spirit of DaVinci’s Robert Langdon, our minds and hearts would be captured and our curiosity would be piqued.

Until then, I suspect that the Left Behind Prophecy Club will be challenged to find members outside of the flock, while Mr. and Mrs. Gates and Bono will inspire millions more by living out the message of The Good Samaritan… even if they don’t talk too publicly about its Author.

Culturally Acceptable Prayers?

posted by doug howe

It was a tragedy that coal miners were trapped in Tallmansville, West Virginia, and an even greater tragedy that news spread of 12 survivors when in fact there was only one. Whenever hard things happen, it is heartwrenching and I join with all those who pray for the families and for better safety for miners in the future.

One of the postscripts of the reporting of this tragedy should be a discussion about prayer. CNN and ABC were among the many media outlets who reported that many were praying for the trapped miners and their families.

Why it it that reactive prayers in time of crisis seem acceptable in our culture, but proactive prayers seem to offend, divide and bring controversy? Why–in seasons like these–do the news networks suddely omit any talk of the need for separation between faith and government, religion and leadership, church and state? If we accept that prayer is a significant part of our nation’s health and heritage, then we could expose our kids to the practice openly and practice it in every area of culture and society.

I pray for the day when prayers for our kids, for education, for our legal system, for our leaders and for every detail of life are as culturally acceptable as those offered in times of national mourning and tragedy such as this–when prayer is a regular part of our mass media and pop-culture, not relegated to just those moments when the worst happens. Until then, I’ll continue to pray for all the families of the men trapped in that mine… and for more of us to pray for God’s power in every part of our culture long before the next tragedy stikes.

ABC Rights the Wrongs of the Justice System

posted by

I caught the preview episode on Sunday night of ABC’s new “In Justice,” which will be airing on Friday nights, starting this week. If you like court shows, it’s worth a look-see. The series focuses on the lawyers of the National Justice Project, a take-off on the real-life Innocence Project. Both the factual and fictional versions of this group revisit old criminal cases in an attempt to free prisoners who were, in their eyes, wrongly convicted.

The real-life Innocence Project, co-founded by Barry Scheck 0f O.J. Simpson Trial fame, focuses specifically on using DNA techniques that were unavailable when its cases were originally tried. The fictional National Justice Project employees on more general, and TV-generic, gumshoe detective techniques–which is another way of saying it relies on a heavy dose of faith in deciding which convicts’ stories to believe and how doggedly to pursue their case, even when the evidence continues pointing to their guilt. Their decision-making process–whom to believe? which stories grab a lawyer’s attention? how much of that is based on pure facts and how much on emotion or personal interest?–is a good reminder that there is always a large dose of the fallible human element in the justice system.

Bonus for those interested in pop-culture and religion: “In Justice” has an extraneous subplot in which two lawyers, already divorced, are seeking an annulment from the Catholic Church, but are told they must first undergo eight months of counseling. The story they concocted to get their annulment involved the husband falsely admitting to years of infidelity. Not sure where that’s going, but it ought to be fun to watch.

“Lost” in Faith

posted by ellen leventry

Rabid fans of ABC’s “Lost” have many suspicions about the meaning of the show, fueled by their examination of myriad clues in exruciating detail. And while I was just as curious about things like where those numbers came from, I was more interested in knowing about the minds behind this hit show, which tells the story of the survivors of an airplane crash on what seems to be a deserted island.

From its very beginning, ABC’s hit has been awash in a sea of faith. Early theories speculated that the mysterious island setting was actually purgatory. The first season introduced us to John Locke, who had been confined to a wheelchair until he miraculously regained the use of his legs following the plane crash. Even the name of the nefarious Dharma Initiative–a project of the Hanso Foundation, which seems to be conducting some form of experiment on the island–and the foundation’s logo–a variant on the bagua, a series of eight trigrams often surrounding a yin-yang sign and commonly associated with Taoism–have spiritual connotations.

As fans know, before Season 2 ramped up the collision between Locke, the man of faith, and Jack, the man of science, the show’s fundamental spiritual disputes really hadn’t crystalized. (And I’m not even going to get into Locke’s faith in fate vs. Mr. Eko’s biblically-based faith.) That’s where executive producers, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse come in. Creator J.J. Abrams may have given “Lost” its body, but Lindelof and Cuse have given the show a soul.

According to Entertainment Weekly’s “Best of 2005″ Issue, the Jack vs. Locke storyline was inspired “by the worldviews of Lindelof (Jewish and empirical-minded) and Cuse (Catholic and willing to leap beyond logic).” EW continues:

“The collision of our perspectives plays out on the show,” says Cuse, who cites [C.S. Lewis' "Narnia"] as one touchstone for the kind of fantastical otherworld “Lost” is trying to create. “Both of us are searching for the answers to the bigger questions of how you lead a meaningful life, and we’ve chosen to use the show to explorethose questions.”

Narnia? So that’s where the polar bear came from…. (Yes, yes. I know all about Walt’s comic book.)

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