Thursday, December 25, 2014

God as Tiny Tim

God as Tiny Tim

            In the recent Exodus movie Moses ends up dialoguing with the Great I Am, otherwise known as God.  I will admit that for Hollywood it is a challenge to depict the Almighty but in this particular cinematic venture God is portrayed as a young boy whose face is often a bit grimy and who speaks with a British accent.
            That is a bit of a reach since in the Hebrew Bible God’s name could not even be written because it was so holy and removed from human reach.  The writers of the sacred text would substitute “adonai” or “Lord” instead of using the word “God.” 
            The filmmakers did not let such holy otherness get in the way so God comes off as a mixture of a young Jedi Master and Tiny Tim.  Actually believe it or not that is not the part that bothers me.  Portraying the divine has always been a bit of challenge and should be.
            It is what “the kid” does that concerns me.  After Tiny Tim convinces a reluctant Moses that he should return to Egypt to pronounce the famous “let my people go” speech, Moses goes back and decides the way to free the long pent up slaves is to teach them guerrilla warfare and how to shot bows and arrows from ever position possible.
            Tiny Tim is not pleased with this strategy.  It may be because according to my Bible such beat’em by armed might technique simply is not there.  So God gets mad and like an angry child tells Moses to bug off and get out of the way.  Of course that part is not in the original story either but remember the creators of this version never let the bible get in the way of a good story.
            When Moses shouts at Tiny Tim and asks how he is supposed to free the slaves without force “God” simply says, “I don’t want you to do anything.”  “What am I supposed to do then,” responds an astounded Moses.  With his best Jedi Master look God simply says, “Watch.”
            Then comes the part that is really troubling.  The plagues start happening like some wild video game.  The Nile turns red with blood because huge alligators that resemble something out of a bad Disney movie start chomping on unsuspecting Egyptian fishermen.  Then come a series of calamities all getting worse than the one before including frogs, flies, boils that no cortisone cream can soothe, hail like the size of softballs, and finally a shadow that comes over all of Egypt that looks very much like that scene in the War of the Worlds when the aliens overshadowed all the good people on earth.
            As the shadow passes over all the first born of Egypt have sudden cardiac arrests including Pharaoh’s prize possession, his only son.  It is truly awful.
            God comes off as a very spoiled kid who is used to having his way or else.  As a working theologian this kind of stuff is not good for business.  I have enough trouble trying to deal with “why bad things happen to good people” without movies like this making God out even more capricious and calculating than the original story implies.
            All this is to say that when I try to interpret the Old Testament to people who say something like, “How this angry and vengeful God can be the same God that Jesus calls “Abba, Father,” I tell them that the Old Testament is a bit like the Grand Canyon.  You cannot take one of the many layers and dig it out and then say, “Now this is the Old Testament.”   Quite frankly some of those layers need to be mined and explored.
            The realization that there are some newer layers on top is good to know also. Some of those early layers in the Old Testament are what you might call “heavily theologized” renditions of what happened.  It is often the theological view of the writers and editors that we witness when we hear the story. 
            This Christmas again we will hear the story of a God becoming a child.  This time it is not a Tiny Tim look alike but the real thing.  What this child ends up doing helps us take another look at those layers. It seems that one reason Jesus comes is to help us get a better picture of the real God.
            This child of Christmas does not say “watch” but asks us to participate in the healing of the nations rather than the destroying of them.  An historical examination of those plagues that were done with all those special effects by Hollywood can reveal some rather natural explanations of how those “natural disasters” may have happened rather than being the result of a vengeful, angry God who acts like a spoiled child.
            If you want to wrestle with what the Bible means and not just what it says for God’s sake, and I’m not using that phrase lightly, do not pay much attention to what you see on the big screen.  The recent Exodus movie makes for good special effects but the Bible needs to be viewed absent the popcorn version.
            I know God will appreciate that and Tiny Tim probably would too.  God bless us everyone.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Annual Christmas Poem: Into the Silence

Into the Silence

Into the silence of a world
weary of waiting
came but a whisper
eager hearts wanted
a crescendo of wonder

“Overcome our longings with
shouts and cries of
‘no more tears’”
came the pleas from
so many who thought
God to be asleep
if not dead

But the very awake God
shaped a sound that
was unexpected
and the soft cry of
the child was
heard only by those
who were still listening

So shepherds thought the
stars just might be singing
but what did they know?
No one would listen to them
for they were ones
of no account

And strangers who watched those
same stars heard what sounded
like, “go and seek,”
so they followed their hearts
though some
doubted their minds
and thought their long journey
 So the whisper was discovered
in the awesome silence
of a world surprised
and God said to the silence
and to the seekers and shepherds,
“Emmanuel…I am
now one of you.”

And so now this year
in the midst of so
much noise
Will you listen again
to the silence?
If you do you will hear
God say,
“Love is born for you”

Jody Seymour
Christmas 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Between the Laughing and Crying Jesus As I sit here behind the desk in my office I look up to my left and on the wall is a picture of “the laughing Jesus.” Many people who come to my office make comments about this picture which depicts Jesus with his head slightly tilted backward and his mouth wide open as he laughs. His eyes are closed and one might wonder why he is laughing. We do not know of course, but the picture can open the door of one’s imagination. Perhaps he is laughing in response to one of the religions leaders, who has just chastised Jesus because he healed a man on the Sabbath. “You are kidding aren’t you,” Jesus may have just uttered. “You are more concerned about a religious observance than you are about this man’s well being?!” Or maybe Jesus is laughing because one of the children he has just blessed despite the lecture by his disciples that it is inappropriate to be spending time dealing with children who after all should be seen and not heard; has just pulled at his beard. Just after Jesus closes his mouth and ends his laugh is when he looks at one of his serious minded disciples and says with a bit of a chuckle, “By the way if you want to really understand what this new kingdom I am bringing is like, you must become as one of these children that you seem to want nothing to do with.” We may never know why Jesus is laughing in my picture but to my left there hangs another image of him and we all know why he is crying. This Jesus is hanging on a cross. His head is again tilted slightly but this time it is titled downward. If you look close there are tears in his eyes. You say, “I have never seen tears in his eyes.” O, they are there. He is in the process of dying on that tree. As with questions that come up about his laughing one might ponder what the tears mean. Is he crying because of the physical pain he is enduring? Is the source of the tears the memory of words that pierce his soul; words like, “I will never deny you,” or “That’s him, the one over there” that were spoken by Judas? Maybe he is crying because he feels so all alone. Even his father seems absent. So I live my life between the laughing and the crying Jesus and so do you. He laughed for you and for me, and he cried for you and for me. I think he still does. He laughs at how we get tripped up on religious stuff when the big picture of helping God heal the world is so much more important. He laughs when we think we can hide our thoughts from him because we are ashamed of them and perhaps he whispers through a smile, “Come on you don’t have to do that, it’s me.” And I suppose he cries when we get so busy that we forget what it took to gain our attention. He still weeps when we ignore the people who are forgotten. He came so that no one would be forgotten. Thank you Jesus, for laughing with me and not at me. Thank you for the tears you shed because you loved me and us so much. I shall bow my head and say to you, “Keep me between your laugh and your tears.”