Friday, April 13, 2012

Just Say Sorry ("Blue Like Jazz")

In late February I attended—with several hundred other folks here in Franklin, Tennessee—an advance screening of the movie "Blue Like Jazz", based on Donald Miller's eponymous mega-selling book. The movie, which opens nationally today, was co-written and directed by my former colleague Steve Taylor. It is by far his best filmmaking achievement to date. Marshall Allman, Claire Holt and the entire cast are terrific—and, of course, the music is perfect. This production is sure-footed and confident, no doubt delivering exactly what fans of the book are hoping for. (Full disclosure: I made a small contribution to the now-legendary "Kick Starter" funding campaign responsible for getting this film launched.)  
But this isn't so much a movie review as a cultural critique prompted by the putative theme of the film ("forgiveness"), and yet another of President Obama's apologies. Evidently saying sorry is all that's required to make everything better in any situation.

The movie ends in a confessional booth with the lead character—newly-crowned as campus "Pope" and wearing a mitre-hat—reversing tradition by apologizing to non-Christians for...well, for everything. The scene, made famous in the book, takes place at ΓΌber liberal Reed College in Portland, Oregon. It will not surprise you to learn that the apologies are for stuff other believers have done wrong: "...for the Crusades, for U.S. foreign policy." We don't see the protagonist confessing his own sins and misdeeds. How convenient.

And how eerily similar to Obama's modus operandi. How nice to get credit for humility by blaming other people for your sins. How good it must feel to publicly confess somebody else's stupidity. How heart-warming to suck-up to folks whose approval I seek by mocking other believers.

But of course this kind of stuff is disingenuous and un-biblical. Confession is for my personal sin, and should be made only to God and those I harmed. If I do happen to lead a church, and if I have participated in wrongdoing, then I should publicly repent (ie: Willow Creek in 2007). But it's self-deception to imagine that confessing somebody else's wrongdoing is in any sense legitimate or will result in a clean conscience.

Perhaps the title of another recent film made by Portland-based Christians comes closer to describing the feelings of liberal believers: "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers". Evidently taking a cue from Gandhi's line ("...I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ") this 2009 gonzo-documentary confirms that liberal Christians are embarrassed by their conservative brothers and sisters. It evidently makes them feel good to apologize to un-believing liberals (ie: most liberals) for us wrong-headed, mean-spirited evangelicals. The rationale seems to be that if un-saved liberals see believing liberals repudiate paleo-Christians, those non-believing liberals will come to Christ. I'm not holding my breath for a fourth "great awakening" sparked in this manner.

I've been watching this trend since 1972—believers who want to apologize for all the prickly bits of the gospel to make it more appealing to the culture around them. The first place I saw this happening was in the United Church of Canada, which attempted to desalinate the Bible by omitting whole books from the Old Testament. Over time they became indistinguishable from the secular culture around them—except for their terrific bell-choirs. 

St. Paul famously smacked the believers in Corinth upside the head in his first letter to them. In his second letter, he is pleased that they finally saw the perils of living in such a pagan city. "Blue Like Jazz" however, seems to urge evangelicals to apologize to the pagans for having been, uh...for holding beliefs that...well—for hurting people's feelings. Okay. Then what?

Anybody? Bueller?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

No Athiests In Foxholes?

In 2005 the Vietnam Archive at Texas Tech University in Lubbock interviewed veterans from the November 1965 Battles of the Ia Drang Valley, which had been immortalized in the 1992 book We Were Soldiers Once, And Young as well as an eponymous 2002 movie starring Mel Gibson. During the actual battle Bill Beck was an assistant machine gunner whose actions at a clearing called Landing Zone X-Ray earned him a Silver Star. In an hour-long videotaped interview Beck is very candid about his emotions throughout the battle.
His three-man machine-gun team ended up being a duo—because their ammo carrier stayed on the helicopter after seeing his buddies getting shot. So Beck and his gunner ended up in an exposed spot with just tall grass to protect them. Before long his gunner was severely wounded, and Beck had to take over the gun—calling for a medic between bursts. 

"Lo and behold here comes a medic, but I only saw part of his name-tag: N-O-L-L. Blonde-haired kid, slight build...I told the General about him later, but they never found out who he was. I did years of research myself, but never found him." Beck and the medic are taking fire, kneeling over the wounded gunner, bandaging him and...praying. "We prayed. We had, like, a minute to pray." The battle is raging. "Somehow this guy and I start talkin' about God and stuff. I'm cryin', the fear had just jumped on me...we're prayin' to God out loud. I remember cryin' real tears. I'm makin' false promises y'know: If you get me outta this, I'll do this and that. I'm not proud of that. But I was scared enough to seek Him out."

Presently the medic carried off the wounded gunner, leaving Beck alone to cover a wide area filled with attacking Viet Cong.

"Anyway, I got everything straight, and—what I wanted to interject here is, the fear left as fast as it came. When I got back to business [with the machine gun] the fear was all gone. It was like the nicest calm you wanna experience...serenity or something. I don't know how to put it into words." The interviewer asks "How did that happen?" Beck is baffled "I don't know..."

I'm watching the interview and yelling at the TV: "Hello! What did you just pray for?" I suppose in the heat of battle, a scared kid forgets his panicked prayer. But 45 years later, when describing that prayer, followed by total peace—and, oh yeah, knowing now that the gunner survived—wouldn't it occur to Beck that his prayer had been answered? The interviewer certainly seemed to be leading Beck toward that conclusion. But the old warrior just couldn't make the connection.

Stop me if you've heard this one: an angel walks into a foxhole...