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Archive for December, 2010

Updated: Washington 19 – Nebraska 7

Never did I imagine that Washington would not only win but dominate Nebraska. And even though his passing numbers were ugly, Jake Locker’s running and game management were superb — especially considering the frightening hit he took in the first half.

It’s hard to think of a player who deserved a better send-off than Locker tonight, and it was great to see how the entire team elevated its play. They believed when no one else did.

Yes — thanks again, Jake Locker.

Original Post: I’ve missed nearly all the college football bowl action this month, but tonight I will pause for a few moments to watch the University of Washington play Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. It will be Jake Locker’s final game as a Husky.

Though Locker’s senior year did not turn out as hoped, one can only express appreciation for a classy young man who has acquitted himself so well while carrying enormous expectations. Today’s New York Times captures this very well today with a profile of Locker:

“The people who consider themselves to be the true Washingtonians, the true Northwest, they identify with Jake,” said Rob Rang, a high school literature and history teacher from Tacoma who has followed Mr. Locker closely as part of his moonlighting job — as an N.F.L. draft analyst for cbssports.com. “Not to make Jake sound like he’s some lumberjack, but he’s more of that than the latte-sipping, work-at-Microsoft kind of thing.”

Considering that Nebraska already beat Washington once this season, 56-21, it’s hard to see a victory coming out of tonight’s game. But Locker has always been much more than wins and losses, important for a program still trying to escape the shadows of scandals past. So many thanks to Jake Locker for being a man, and not just the man.

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Stephen Colbert recently engaged in one of his classic takedowns, this time at the expense of Bill O’Reilly, whose early December column on the extension of unemployment benefits concluded on this note:

Every fair-minded person should support government safety nets for people who need assistance through no fault of their own. But guys like (Washington state Rep. Jim) McDermott don’t make distinctions like that. For them, the baby Jesus wants us to “provide,” no matter what the circumstance. But being a Christian, I know that while Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, he was not self-destructive.

The Lord helps those who help themselves. Does he not?

Colbert “endorsed” O’Reilly’s position, denouncing McDermott’s “flagrant injection of charity into the Christmas season” and praising O’Reilly for understanding that “Jesus said we only have to love those who deserve it.” His withering satire ended with a call to get the baby Jesus out of Christmas because:

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit we just don’t want to do it.

I couldn’t help but laugh at such a potent critique, but it was an uneasy laugh. As I’ve re-watched and reflected on this segment I found myself going back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s discussion of cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

However righteous Colbert’s critique of O’Reilly may be, and however much it invites me to join in righteous indignation, if this critique begins and ends with satire its righteousness is cheap — just like the grace that Bonhoeffer laments. Cheap righteousness is the willingness to demand of others what we don’t deliver ourselves. It is the proud posturing of the Pharisees, who prided themselves in following the letter of the law while hollowing out its spirit.

Don’t get me wrong — O’Reilly’s argument deserved a strong response, and Colbert offered it. But in the end that response circles back on me, cutting through the laughter like a boomerang. I must be willing to see that. If I’m going to disapprove of O’Reilly from the comforts of my suburban home, then what am I willing to do that’s different?

If all I do is laugh, without dropping to my knees to reflect on how I might live differently, then am I just being cheap?

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(Updated — last paragraph recast for clarity)

Years ago Louis Menand offered this observation about the admirers of George Orwell:

Orwell’s army is one of the most ideologically mixed up ever to assemble. … Almost the only thing Orwell’s posthumous admirers have in common … is anti-Communism. But they all somehow found support for their particular bouquet of moral and political values in Orwell’s writings, which have been universally praised as “honest,” “decent,” and “clear.”

Much the same could be said of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and World War II martyr whose thought was forged in much of the same refiner’s fire as that of Orwell. Eric Metaxas, author of a recent biography of Bonhoeffer, recently said in an interesting interview with Scott Horton:

Bonhoeffer was not a liberal or a conservative, but a Christian. He was zealous for God’s perspective on things, and God’s perspective is inevitably wider than the standard parochial political points of view. It sometimes forces us toward a liberal view and sometimes toward a conservative view.

But because Bonhoeffer has been so consistently portrayed as a theological liberal–which he was not–it’s important for us to see the other side, and I hope I’ve shown that in my book. He is clearly horrified at the way so many at Union Theological Seminary had cavalierly dispensed with the fundamentals of the Christian faith and had created an ersatz religion in their own progressive image. He was impressed with and moved by their earnest desire to help the poor, for example, but he wondered on what basis they called any of this “Christianity.” He found their theology shallow to the point of being almost evaporated entirely.

But he was equally alive to the dangers on the other side, the dangers of fundamentalism and pietism. He’s complicated, but in the best sense. He’s an equal opportunity theological critic.

If you read comments on Metaxas’ book at Amazon, amid overall praise you also find criticisms that Metaxas himself is recasting Bonhoeffer’s story to fit a theological/political agenda (see here for example). Perhaps it doesn’t help that Metaxas’ book has been promoted with such melodrama by a conservative publisher (see clip at the top). He’s also been embraced by conservative media; clips of his interviews with CBN and Fox News are easily found at YouTube:

In this context, it was refreshing to see Metaxas interviewed by Horton (definitely not a member of conservative media), and Metaxas drew several parallels between Bonhoeffer’s time and our own that grabbed my attention:

The question for Germans in the 1930s is the same question we face today. When do state concerns begin encroaching on the authority of the church to a point where the church needs to shout “halt”? If the church is healthy and is playing its role correctly, it will check the unbridled growth of the state and will protect its own members–and others, too–from illegitimate state power.

Metaxas’ statement here can be read several ways. Does his reference to encroaching state authority refer to the fears espoused by Tea Partiers and others that the state is negating the liberty of the free market and imposing a socialist agenda? Is he referring only to the debate over abortion, science and the definitions of human life? Or is he referring to the use of torture, extensive surveillance and abuse of the law  in order to prosecute the war on terror? Or some mixture of these issues?

How Metaxas answers those questions may offer insight about his approach to Bonhoeffer’s life. Nonetheless, his interview with Horton left me wanting to read the book, and I’ll be interested to see how he (and I ) navigate the challenge we all face when reading Bonhoeffer (and his interpreters): Are we willing to examine his work on his terms rather than our own? Are we willing to face assertions, ambiguities and complications that challenge our own assumptions? Or do we use Bonhoeffer, as others have used Orwell, to confirm our own presumptions?

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The New York Times Magazine has published its retrospective of people who have passed away in the past year: “The Lives They Lived.” While many other media outlets engage in similar exercises, the Times passes up many of the obvious choices and instead examines people who have lived notable but often overlooked lives, at least at a national level.

For example, read this profile of Allan Tibbels, a Christian who became a quadriplegic at age 26 and yet devoted his life to living the poor in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore. Joining him were his wife Susan, their two daughters and other friends. They not only founded a church, they loved their neighbors one day at a time and, with the eventual help of Habitat of Humanity, a rebuilt a community:

High in ambition but low in ego, (Tibbels’) focus was the neighborhood, where good works often seemed overwhelmed by great needs. Tibbels set out to overhaul 15 square blocks, and completed about three-quarters of the task. “I want to finish the focus area,” he told Susan on his deathbed. …  Over two decades, a man who couldn’t lift his arms built 286 houses. Though he often called himself a failure, Sandtown disagreed. One thousand people attended a funeral that mixed politicians and drug dealers, “Rock of Ages” and a favorite song from U2. There are programs that have built more dwellings, but few have built closer bonds.

Someone once described Tibbels as “saving Sandtown,” which made him wince. God saves; neighbors share. A condolence letter that Susan prizes came from the 8-year-old girl next door. “We’re a family,” she wrote. “We’re like stars all connected in a special way.”

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God blesses his people with extravagant grace so they might extend his extravagant glory to all peoples on the earth. This basic, fundamental truth permeates Scripture from beginning to end. Yet I wonder if we unknowingly ignore the great why of God.

We live in a church culture that has a dangerous tendency to disconnect the grace of God from the glory of God. Our hearts resonate with the idea of enjoying God’s grace. We bask in sermons, conferences, and books that exalt a grace centering on us. And while the wonder of grace is worthy of our attention, if that grace is disconnected from its purpose, the sad result is a self-centered Christianity that bypasses the heart of God.

— David Platt, Radical

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Here’s a beautiful version of the classic Christmas song, performed by Shawn McDonald and featuring clips from the documentary “Little Town of Bethlehem.”

A Merry Christmas to all.

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Have a wonderful, joyous Christmas — digital or not.

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