Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Full Padding of God (a skit)

(Skit published by Lifeways in their National Drama Service, Spring 2001 Edition)

Scripture - Ephesians 6

Props: TV monitor or projection TV and video of "NFL's Greatest Hits" or effect can be achieved by actors watching imaginary screen, listening and reacting)

Cast: Reporter (Blair Smith) and Player (Bo Masher)

Reporter: This is Blair Smith here on the sidelines with Bo Masher, moments before he goes on the field for perhaps the biggest bowl game of his life. So I need to ask you, Bo, how do you feel?

Bo: Hey, I feel great! I'm ready to g out and give it my all, 130%. I'm going to play my game, stay within myself, and we're going to work as a team, it's ours to win or lose.

Reporter: That's great, Bo. I couldn't help but notice that you aren't wearing any football gear, besides the jersey. Were you planning to dress during the National Anthem?

Bo: No, Blair, I think I can play more freely if I'm not wearing all those pads. I'll be able to cut, turn, and jibe more easily. So, no one will hit me, so I won't need the pads.

Reporter: And the reason you have no cleats?

Bo: I have an endorsement deal with Basset Hound shoes to promote these very fine dress shoes: so comfortable, so fashionable, and yet so sturdy, you can wear them to the supermarket, down the wedding aisle, or even on the football field. Basset Hound Shoes.

Reporter: And the reason for no helmet?

Bo: I need to see, and people need to see me. When I wore that helmet, people couldn't see the face of Bo Masher. They couldn't tell me from Barry Sanders (insert relevant name here.) But now people will see the face of Bo Masher, and know who is doing that magic on the field.

Reporter: One last thing, Bo. Can you look at the monitor to remind yourself of exactly what happens on the football field? (Thirty seconds of carnage on the screen.) Aren't you a little frightened Bo of going on the field with all that violence without the protection of cleats, pads and your helmet.

Bo: Nah, I'll be fine.

(Bo leaves the stage. Sound of a whistle and football play. Bo comes back to center stage on crutches.)

Reporter: Any regrets, Bo?

Bo: Yeah, maybe I do need some of that gear. I got to know my limitations. And you know what else? While I was talking to you, I missed the team prayer. But I got to go. I don't feel so good.

Reporter: Thanks, Bo. We'll be returning to the action now. But remember, these sideline interviews are brought to you by Ephesians 6 Wear. Don't leave home without it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Review of "George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution" by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

The book begins with this paragraph, "September - 1776 He was twenty-one years old and knew that in a matter of moments he would die. His request for a clergyman - refused. His request for a Bible - refused. After writing a letter or two to his family, this Yale grad uttered, with dignity, the famous statement 'I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.'"

It is quite difficult to imagine Eric Snowden ever saying the words that Nathan Hale said just before his death. Of course, Snowden might be more competent at stealing and communicating information than Hale ever was. But Hale was easily a greater man.

Kilmeade and Yaeger begin with the story of Hale, ill equipped for the tasks of a spy, but initially the only man the courage and willingness to do the job. Hale's story has been told in history books for the last couple of centuries. The story of the six spies that aided Washington and the Revolution's cause are much less known.

In fact, the identity of one of the spies, Robert Townsend was unknown for a century and a half until he was uncovered by the work of a diligent historian. The book follows the quiet work of five men and one woman who worked in British occupied New York. The deeds of the spies allowed the French to come to the Rebels aid unmolested, helped foil the treachery of Benedict Arnold and helped win the battle of Yorktown.

The spies didn't seek fortune and after the war, for the most part, sought no fame. It is impossible to imagine them running off to a totalitarian country to avoid capture and then bask in celebration as fighters for freedom.

The book is a quick read at two hundred pages and a pleasant read. It's good to celebrate these heroes, even if they didn't seek celebration.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Conservative Iron Chef

If you want to take a break from super heroes and obnoxious sex comedies this summer, you could see Jon Favreau's Chef. Favreau wrote, directed and stars in this charming film that features a character that faces dilemmas we all face: How to balance work and family? How should we respond when a boss asks us to compromise our integrity? Who is a better companion: Scarlett Johansson or Sofia Vergara?

Carl Casper is the chef of a restaurant that was trendy but has fallen into a bit of rut. But his professional life is in good shape compared to his personal life; divorced and neglectful of his son, he uses his work to avoid any other responsibility.
The story is warm and funny. Favreau seems to have pulled in chits to form quite the all-star cast for a small, independent film; besides Johansson and Vergara, Dustin Hoffman plays Casper's boss, Robert Downey Jr. is very funny and a number of other familiar faces (Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, John Leguizamo among other others) brighten the film. But the real costar of the film is Emjay Anthony, a ten year old who plays Casper's son, Percy.

And through Percy, Favreau introduces a remarkably conservative message. Admittedly, a conservative message by Hollywood standards. By such standards, Favreau's Iron Man also had a remarkably conservative message: Islamic terrorists are dangerous and should be dealt with with force. Kind of obvious, I know, Hollywood has set a low bar. And the conservative message in Chef? Dads are important.

As the film begins, Casper is usually late for his appointments with his son and often cuts them short. The visits are centered on amusement; theme parks, pizza and movies. But Percy wants more. He wants to go with his dad to work. Without saying it in words, Percy wants his dad to introduce him to the world of men.

Our society says kids do just as well in single parent homes as two parent homes. And even if it is admitted that two parents are better than one, than it is argued that two moms or two dads are probably better than the traditional family.
Chef presents the importance of a father introducing a son into the world. Circumstances force Casper to care for his son for quantity, not just "quality" time. He teaches his son the importance of hard work and a job well done. Casper presents Percy with a chef's knife with quiet ceremony, emphasizing that it is not a toy, but a tool that must be respected.

He also introduces Percy to the man's world where drink, smoking and swearing have a part, but with responsibility and moderation (a taste for beer, cigars smoked in Percy's presence and if you have ever been in a restaurant kitchen, well...) Some might have problems with this, but there is certainly something to be said for not letting kids discover the temptations of the world alone.

Radical thoughts these, that kids are better off when their parents stay together, that it's a good thing for fathers to pass on their skills, that men and women have different roles in parenting...For a Hollywood film though, not too shabby.
(Chef is rated R for language and sexual references.)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Church During the First Week of July

Last week visiting a church, a song was sung for offertory that made me as uncomfortable as an atheist listening to a town hall prayer spoken in Jesus name. The song was 'This Land is Your Land'.

I was trying to figure out what bothered me about it. It wasn't just that the song was written with a communist tint (though, of course, the verse "A high wall there that tried to stop me, A sign was painted said: Private Property" was not sung.) Something else about it bothered me.

That something else was confirmed today when I visited a different church and the offertory was Ray Charles' version "America the Beautiful". (It was a recording of Ray, nothing THAT miraculous occurred in the service.) I really love that song, especially that version of the song. But it still bothered me. Why?

I grew up in a church that had a patriotic section in the hymnal. We had an American flag along with a Christian flag (I believe there was occasional disagreements over which flag should be higher.)

I love this country. I believe its foundation was a glorious gift from God to His creation. I love patriotic songs and sang along with many of them joyfully while watching fireworks on the Fourth. (I even like "This Land is Your Land" for its evocation of the vastness of the country and our ties to it.)

But the time set apart for worship in a church should keep the worship on praising God. I thought back to those songs included in our old hymnal and considered if I would be comfortable with any of them in a worship service. So, which of these songs do I think should be used in worship?

"This Land is Your Land" - No. Just, no.

"America the Beautiful" - Wonderful song, but again, in worship the focus should be on God's beauty, not this nation's.

"God Bless America" - After 9/11 I thought it was very cool when this was sung along with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at MBL games. But in church I'd rather be reminded that heaven is our true home, rather than singing about America as our home sweet home.

"My Country Tis of Thee" - The fourth verse is a wonderful prayer - "Our fathers' God to Thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing. Long may our land be bright, With freedom's holy light, Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King." But the song as a whole is more about the country than God, so no. Not in a worship service.

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" - Okay, here's my exception. Sure, I know Julia Ward Howe wrote this song about the Civil War. And it is quite militaristic. But there's some good theology in the song (I love as "Christ died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.") So this one, I'm happy to sing in worship.