Friday, May 19, 2006

The DaVinci Code

The movie The DaVinci Code opened in theaters today. In my town there were churches that planned to protest the movie. One is led by a pastor who has been interviewed by the media in one of those “debunking the code” features. Everyone seems to think that this book and movie is an affront to Christians. My pastor reminds us that it is fiction!

In a sermon during the Easter season my pastor asked what if archaeologist found a burial “box” with bones that were identified by DNA testing to be the bones of Jesus, somehow suggesting that Jesus was not resurrected but lived to an old age and simply died. Of course he was not suggesting that was the case, but asking us to think about how such a finding, if it were even possible would effect what we believe.

I have thought about this hypothetical question a lot. And I have thought about the DaVinci Code and the premise that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and that the blood line continued into the French monarchy. But then how can one avoid thinking about this especially if they watch the History Channel!

I have come to the following conclusions. If Jesus was not resurrected in the sense that the Church believes, then at least the resurrection is true in that his spirit continues to live on in the hearts of many people some 2000 years after his death.

If he was married to Mary Magdalene and his blood line continued on what does it matter? It seems to me that there is plenty of evidence in the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Thomas and in Q that there was a historical person known as Jesus who taught an alternative wisdom and was crucified by the Romans most likely because he was creating too much controversy for the empire.

The alternative wisdom taught by Jesus was and is some powerful stuff! The law as it was written in the Torah was not the only way to know God. The most important commandment was to love God and your neighbor. That God loved us regardless of our short comings. Jesus’ message was one of compassion and love. His teachings pointed to God’s grace and that we should try to demonstrate grace as we lived our lives. These points seem to be all through the New Testament, the Gnostic gospels and writings of Paul. We know about this message not only because of the church, but also through archaeology. This message remains constant regardless of a resurrection or an alleged marriage to Mary and the continuation of a bloodline.

In some ways it is a shame that the church has become a system of “right beliefs” and requirements that detract from the message of grace. It seems to me that if the church were more focused on God’s grace and living grace then the DaVinci Code would not only be fiction, but also just another blockbuster.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ray Wylie Hubbard and Marcus Borg with a little Buffett in Between

When I graduated from high school I left Little Rock for college at the University of Oklahoma. My first weekend in Norman found me attending an outdoor concert. The affair began quite slowly and then the wind picked up. Speaker towers were tumbling and tarps were blowing. The roadies called out for help and help we did. Then it rained. My buddy and I managed to stay around back stage and under stage out of the rain, but blending in. At one point a roadie called for security because an audience member refused to leave the dry refuge under the stage. When security arrived they addressed my buddy and me. The roadie spoke up and said, “No, they work here”. So we tried to make it look like that.

Eventually it cleared and the show went on. We spent our time looking busy and chatting with performers. I will always cherish listening to the late John Hartford tell stories before he went on stage to do a show I had seen from the front on more than one occasion. And then there was the new up and coming songwriter with songs like My Love Lies Waiting Behind Door Number 3 and Pencil thin Mustache who later wrote the great hit Margaritaville. Yes folks, I met Jimmy Buffet in 1974. He was holding a Martin guitar and a fifth of Weller’s Whiskey by the neck. The next day the weather was worse and the show was canceled. But, we were roadies so we went into the city (Oklahoma City that is) for a little private party. I sat down to play spades with a few bearded fellows and boldly said that I would set one who was going for nil. I did! Later I learned I had been playing cards with Rusty Wier and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Jerry Jeff Walker had a hit at the time called “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother”. It was sort of an anthem in the cosmic cowboy, outlaw music scene and it was penned by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Time past and apparently it did not go so well for Ray for awhile and then it turned around. He is now known as the guru of the Austin music scene. He is one of those artists who has experienced God’s grace and does not mind sharing it with other musicians though he isn’t the “preachy” type.

In the 21st century I find myself reading lots of theological type books. Not because I’ve become one of the “preachy” types, but more because like Ray Wylie Hubbard I am beginning to learn about grace and have found a nice little congregation that is all about grace. Recently we have read Marcus Borg’s Heart of Christianity where he describes the emerging paradigm of Christianity. One of the attributes of the emerging paradigm is embracing pluralism. In short the emerging paradigm does not see Christianity as a system of requirements and rewards -sort of believe in Jesus and get a free pass to heaven. Of course requirements and rewards negate grace. You can not love all and accept all if there are requirements. Either there is grace or there are requirements, not both. As a result the emerging paradigm accepts the validity of other religions. God will save us all.

Ray Wylie Hubbard explains the logic of this in terms that everyman can understand. In a song from Crusades of the Restless Knights called “Conversation with the Devil” he tells the story of a dream in talking blues fashion. He finds himself in hell and bewildered about why he is there.

Now I said, “I made some mistakes but I’m not as bad as those guys.
How can God do this to me can’t you sympathize?”
He said, “You’re wrong about God being cruel and mean
God is the most loving thing that’s never been seen.”
I said, “Well, hot shot, tell me this, which religion is the truest?”
“They’re all about the same” he said, “Buddha was not a Christian,
But Jesus would have made a good Buddhist.”

--Ray Wylie Hubbard

From the memories past and present of Willi.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Derby Day

The first Saturday in May, Kentucky Derby Day! A day I always enjoy. As a kid I loved horses, as teenager I rode horses and off and on through adulthood the opportunity to ride or be around horses presented itself and I cherished each one.

Growing up in Arkansas I was aware of horse racing a bit. My dad was an avid horse racing fan. During the month of February he spent his Saturdays driving from Little Rock to Hot Spring so he could go to Oak lawn race track. He would return home with a racing form and read the strange sounding names of thorough bred horses that had run that day. He would hand over a deck of betting slips. They were always a pale yellow, green or pink with words like win, place, or show. I quickly learned that you could come in first, second or third or you could win, place or show. I spent many Sundays playing on the front porch with those cards sometimes cheering for an imaginary horse in an imaginary race. And I always won and the horse always paid big.

Later in life I knew someone who raised Arabian horses. I would go to the barn in the afternoons and help with chores. Cleaning the stalls and feeding the horses hay and oats. We would open the barn gate and these wonderful animals would run down the center and into their stalls. I made a connection between horse racing and farming. It seems to be a thing that went deeper than my dad betting on a Saturday.

It has become my personal tradition to watch the Kentucky Derby each year. To smoke a very nice cigar –a Butera, a Jose Maritnez or an Arturo Feunte- a Churchill that would last from “the call to the gate” to end of the race.

My dad always said the best President was Franklin D. Roosevelt. It had a lot to do with the effects of the depression. I think I knew all about the W.P.A. before I entered the third grade. I remember taking my kids camping in Arkansas to Long Pool in the U.S. Forest area where there had been a W.P.A. camp. Yes, of course I attempted to teach them about the W.P.A. and Roosevelt.

This year after the Derby I found myself watching Seabiscuit. There is a scene where they serve the “red headed” jockey soup and it flashes to the soup kitchens of the depression era. The narrator says something to the effect of “it was a time when someone finally cared.” I found myself wondering how the country had changed from programs that expressed care, programs that even conservatives like my dad believed in to programs that people begrudgingly support. Sometimes you hear people talk about how “those” people take advantage of the system. Perhaps the difference is that the depression affected the dominant classes and now our social programs are perceived as benefiting minorities. When confronted with the data that shows this is not true we fall back on the myth that anyone could make it if they just put forth the effort.

We seem to live in a time when gas prices are out of sight and young people can not seem to get started on their own because the minimum wage is so low and the rent is so high. Even in the face of this data some of us cling to the conservative mantra that anyone can make it if they try. So we complain about the government programs of assistance and how it drives up our taxes. We read about the lack of health insurance among working and nonworking people. We complain about the cost of our own health insurance. And we resist any plans for universal health care because someone may take advantage of such a program. Where is the grace in that?


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Grace for All and Grace Above All

When I was in Bolivia for three years the government changed six times. With each coupe the government insisted that all persons in the country with a visa report to immigration for an update. Usually this meant reporting to the immigration office and standing in line and then proceeding to a minimum of three desks and receiving three stamps. You were good to go after that.

My final year there -1980 if memory serves me well- there were elections. These elections were preceded by some anti-American sentiment expressed by the dynamiting of the American Consulate and ending with a shoot out! It started in the plaza where the government buildings were located and moved towards the airport, as was the norm for taking a city during a coupe. I lived between the two locations! For protection I removed the mattress from the bed and went into the hallway away from any windows and waited. The next day we had a new government.

Those of us on visas were ordered to update them, but this time the location was near the plaza as opposed to the usual little government office. The line was longer than usual and the wait as well. While in the line, about three people in front of me there was a man a little older than my father. That would be my father, who lied about his age and ate bananas to increase his weight so he could get in the Navy and get out of trouble and fight the Japs in WW II. With nothing to do but watch people I notice that this man had two passports, a “modern day” German passport and a drab green passport with a prominent swastika.

My body seemed to tense and I never really took my eyes off the old guy, but never really looked at him. It was like all those Combat shows I watched on t.v. as a kid were haunting my rationality. I immediately sensed the evil. I mean, this was South America with all the legends about Nazis escaping there at the end of WW II. And one was right in front of me! I could sense that he knew I was onto him and he was uncomfortable. He “stamped out”. Then I “stamped out”. I don’t recall him leaving and do not know if he cared when I left.

Later that year the government needed money so they handed Klaus Barbie over to the French. They had taken him into custody and boarded him on a plane in La Paz. It made Newsweek and Time, both of which we could buy on the newsstands –and I did. Looking at the pictures of Klaus Barbie I realized that the old man I saw in the immigration line was him. I read the article and discovered that he ran a restaurant and recruited young people into a neo Nazi group. The restaurant was one our favorites –good beer and food and lots of jokes about neo Nazis in the Club Bavaria that now were not so funny.

Today I find that experience colliding with my developing theology. I have recently read If Grace is True, Why God Will Save Every Person by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. They do not believe in hell and believe that God’s grace will save everyone.

Now Hell was an easy one for me. I never really bought into the idea except for when I had to read Dante’s Inferno. I recovered and figured Hell could not possibly be real. The grace for everyone concept seems to “jive” with my belief in God’s love.

But, what about Klaus Barbie! Gulley and Mulholland deal with it in a transforming kind of way. I recently heard them speak with a panel of religious folks. One of the panel described a situation of seeing your life before you as it effected others. Something like Klaus Barbie experienced the evil he had done to others just as they had and this would lead to a transformation. I recall Gulley and Mulholland expressing it in similar fashion.

I believe in universal grace. God will save everyone. We all come home to God. We may not come home in the same fashion that we left. We may realize that our life has not been filled with grace, but God will love us all the same.

If we all realized God’s grace in the present and lived it each and everyday, then the world would be a better place for everyone and the kingdom of God would have begun.