Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Les Mis Revisted - with a disturbing twist

I have now seen Les Mis three times in the theater, and I still love (nearly) everything about this movie. But I am not writing now about all the things I love about the movie and about the musical in general. I am writing about one thing about the movie that I find disturbing. 

Every time I've seen this movie, I notices different things. This time, I noticed one unfortunate prop addition that I hand not noticed before. This prop, in my opinion, has no business in this particular scene. In fact, the addition of this prop undermines everything that this scene is about, and indeed in my humble opinion negates many of the themes of this movie/musical. The scene? the final one, of the heavenly barricade. The offensive props? GUNS.

Yes, guns. At the heavenly barricade, where all the people we have just witnessed in the last two hours tragically die, most of them from guns, they are sporting more guns. Check it out. As these poor dead souls sing: 

Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light-
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise!

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare
They will put away the sword

The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!

It is a song of peace. It is a song of freedom from violence. It is a song of hope. They are now free from war and death and pain and suffering and violence. So why on God's green earth are they holding GUNS!?!?!?

It is true they are not shooting them at anyone. Rather, they are waving them in the air in victory. But why are they even there in the first place? If this last scene is indeed supposed to be heaven, as we are lead to believe, shouldn't heaven be a gun-free place? If it is true, what this musical is telling us, that "to love another person is to see the face of God," then guns have no place in heaven. If it is true, that at the end of our days God will wipe all our tears from our eyes and pain will be no more (Rev. 21:4) then guns have no place in heaven. If in Jesus Christ our death has been swallowed up in victory and no longer has any sting (1 Corinthians 15), then instruments of death have no place in heaven. 

It may seem like a tiny detail, but I see this one small prop undermines the beauty of the entire piece. The film makers should have known better. Had whoever was in charge of props watched their own movie, they would have learned that violence only leads to senseless death, and love is the way of life worth living. And if love is good enough for life, it should be good enough for death too. 

When we see gun violence in the news nearly every day (especially living near Trenton, where there are shootings nearly every week), showing guns in a place that might be heaven is very unsettling and upsetting, at least it is to me. 

Lent Homily - It's a good thing we're not being graded

For Lent, we are going through the passion narrative according to the Gospel of Luke. I preached this homily on our second Wednesday of Lent, February 27th on Luke 22: 39-62

Lent began with the testing of Jesus in the wilderness. We heard the story just a few weeks ago, how the devil tempted Jesus with food to satisfy his physical hunger, with power to rule the world, and with the ability to live without human limitations. Jesus passed the test with flying colors, and the defeated devil ran off to reappear at an opportune time. Well, the moment has arrived; the time has come – the power of darkness has returned in full force and is now running the show.

This time, it is the disciples, not Jesus, who find they are facing the devil’s exam. And this is no “pop quiz” - three times Jesus prepped his followers for what was going to happen, saying “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised;” and later, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands;” and again “For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon.” Jesus gave his students ample warning that the end of their semester was close at hand. And the test that the devil would dish out would be the most frightening experience of their lives.

For some last minute cramming, Jesus takes his disciples to his favorite place to pray. Jesus tells them to pray that they will not fall into temptation. Judging by what happens later on, they should have prayed that they would not be overcome by their confusion, fear, and grief, because they end up succumbing to all three. Jesus himself prefers to pray in solitude, a short prayer that shows a resigned yet determined Jesus, who seems to rise from his “dark night of the soul” ready to face the many trials of the night.

Imagine his dismay when he comes upon the disciples, not fervently praying as he recommended, but drained by grief and stress, and yielding to their exhaustion. I can’t really blame them, though. Many of us have felt what it’s like to feel drained after an intense crisis. The adrenaline of the moment does not last forever, and when it runs out, the fallout of tiredness can be crushing.

They were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes and Jesus was in the middle of scolding them - when Judas arrives. He had found the perfect time to finally trap Jesus – alone and in the dark, away from the masses that followed and supported Jesus. Twelve peasants from the country were no match for a crowd of armed men. But instead of simply pointing which man was the one they came to arrest, Judas instead approaches Jesus to kiss him, and so solidifies his reputation as the most notorious back-stabber in all of history.

When it dawned on the disciples that Jesus was in trouble, they lashed out in their confusion and gave in to anger. After all, the beloved teacher they had been following for three years was in danger! He was being unfairly arrested under the cover of darkness! It was an unfair fight from the beginning, and they wanted to fight back!

But the disciples had not only forgotten the three times Jesus had warned them of this moment, they had forgotten entirely what the Jesus was about. Three years later, and they had still not gotten that Jesus is about healing, and not hate. He is about forgiveness, not force. He is about reconciliation, not revenge. But instead, his disciples lash out at the nearest person, someone not even there by his own will, and cause him bodily harm. Yet again Jesus had to show them the right answer – compassion, not violence.

When Jesus is seized and the other disciples likely run away, it is only Peter who remains, though following at a distance, not wanting to be seen or caught. But even our beloved Peter, the star pupil, fails his last test miserably - even after being given three chances to “get it right.” Though earlier he had professed his determination to follow Jesus even to death, he too is overwhelmed by fear, and gives into his own desire for self-preservation.
I think though, even though Peter in the end failed the test, he did to one thing right. He may have fallen asleep at prayer, he may have wanted strike at those who wished him harm, and he may have wanted to run away, but he stayed with Jesus, and when in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial, Peter sat in the light.

When the darkness seemed thickest, when the forces of evil were surrounding Jesus and licking their lips in anticipation, when it seemed that dawn might never come, Peter still sat in the light.  Though it caused others to be able to identify him, he could not leave the light, nor could he not leave Jesus’ side.

Peter should get extra credit for this, but he doesn't  The rooster still cruelly crows and Jesus looks at Peter, perhaps with a mixture of reprimand and pity. But in the end, we remember it is really Jesus that is on trial here. It is Jesus who is being punished for his welcoming message of healing, love, and forgiveness. It is Jesus who is fighting the ultimate battle against temptation, the powers of evil, and death. Though Peter can’t see it yet, though it will test Jesus to his utmost and will cost him his life, Jesus is going to win.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pastor Blessings/Perks

One of the perks of living on the East Coast is the easy access to the ocean (unless you are in the middle of a hurricane. Then it is pretty horrible). Even better are generous members of our congregations who own rental homes minutes from the beach. A family from Beau's congregation owns a home they rent in the summer in Brigantine, NJ, and offered to let us stay in it when we want to, off-season of course. We took them up on their generous offer two weeks ago. The previous weekend we spent apart, me at the synod HS Winter Youth Assembly and he at camp Konionia in Upstate NY for a youth weekend. So we decided it would be a good time to get away! It was also very good to get away from the business of our lives (it IS Lent). We had both been crazy busy for the last few weeks that it was so nice to get away together! Brigantine is a actually an island directly north of Atlantic City. It's very peaceful, especially off-season, and we found a great pub with awesome food and live music, and a nice bagel shop. It sustained some damage from the storm, mostly homes, but it seems most business are still running. It was rather rainy and overcast, but it was still lovely.