Monday, September 24, 2012

Was Jesus Married?

Karen King is a respected Harvard scholar, an expert in Coptic literature among other things.  And, like any good scholar, she is very careful in her work to clearly articulate the boundaries of her research.  So when she revealed that she held in her possession a scrap of papyrus, probably dating back to the fourth century, that had inscribed on it the words "Jesus said to them, "My wife . . . " she was made certain folks knew that if it was indeed genuine, all it proved was that folks were talking about the issue of Jesus' marital status in ancient times.  It doesn't answer the question "Was Jesus married?"  Rather it demonstrates that modern authors like Dan Brown and Nikos Kazanzatkis weren't the first folks to be intrigued by the possibility.

It does provide some interesting possibilities.  Married life is different from single life.  And it certainly challenges any clerical system built on the idea that celibacy and singlehood are essential for ordination because "that was how Jesus himself did it".  But in the end, I wonder is it really all that crucial to our faith, or rather, is talking about it yet another way to avoid dealing with the matters that really energized the ministry of the man of Nazareth?

Those who aren't Christian themselves must scratch their heads and wonder each time we come up with some other intellectual diversion.  They must wonder why we don't just get down to the business of following the one we call Lord and Savior.  They must wonder why we don't do a better job of tending to the sick, the poor, the disadvantaged and the oppressed.  Jesus never said, "Figure out my marital status!"  Jesus never said, "Develop a lavish set of doctrines."  No, Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."  Jesus said, "As you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters so you do to me." 

Was Jesus married?  Two thousand years later I don't really think it matters very much.  What really matters is whether or not we follow his way.  Whether we are married or single, gay or straight, male or female, all of us who claim to be his followers ought to spend more of our time caring for the sheep, and less time worrying about the marital status of the shepherd.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Much Ado About Movies

Back in 1988 Martin Scorsese released a film based on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation of Christ.  It proved to be a very controversial film that offered up a fictional account of the life of Jesus.  It was laced with very human emotions like doubt and lust, and portrayed Jesus as having a relationship with Mary Magdalene. 

Even though Scorsese clearly stated he was not presenting a gospel account, he was roundly criticized by folks on the right.  Many a preacher warned against seeing this "blasphemous" film.  I did not.  In fact, I went to see it--partly out of curiosity, and partly out of my love for the writing of Kazantzakis.  When I arrived at the little art house cinema in Albany, New York, however, I had to cross a picket line.  I was urged by the picketers to reconsider buying a ticket.  I was offered tracts which told the gospel story from their perspective.  But that said, nobody hit me.  Nobody threatened to kill me.  And nobody burned down the theatre. And at its best, that is the American way.  You can make a film that deals with even the most sacred of subjects in what some might see as a blasphemous manner, but you can also protest the making of such a film.  Freedom of expression, in the end, must cut both ways!

I thought about that experience as I was pondering the current situation in the Middle East.  And I was reminded how precious free speech truly is.  Throughout most of human history, including most of American history, folks have been constrained in their legal right to speak their minds.  And, sadly, it has often been Christians who have tried to squelch free speech.  Think Inquisition.  Think Puritans.  Think the Klan.  But today, in America, we do have that right, that privilege--and it is largely respected.

But with privilege, my father used to say, there always comes responsibility.  Or as someone else once noted, free speech isn't always free.  Nor should it be! 

The making of Innocence of Muslims, the film behind much of the current unrest, was and is a misguided use of free speech.  Not necessarily an illegal use of it, but misguided, even immoral.  But the undisciplined protests against that film are also a misguided use of free expression.  And when they turn violent, not just misguided, but wrong.

My father also used to say, "Two wrongs don't make a right."  The current controversy is a real case in point.

Monday, September 10, 2012


I don't know about anybody else, but I have started to turn a deaf ear, so to speak, to much of the political jabbering that is going on all around me.  On television, in the newspapers, online . . . we are being constantly assaulted by the noise of the campaigns.  Everybody is talking all at once, making it very hard to hear!

In her later years my grandmother became very hard of hearing.  Indeed it bordered on deafness.  She wore two hearing aids (the old fashioned kind, very bulky, very visible) and she hated them.  They never seemed to work quite right.  She also wore a button on her jacket which read "SPEAK UP I'M HARD OF HEARING!"  Still, much of the time she found it very difficult to understand what was said by others.  And the thing that bothered and confused her most was background noise.

Whenever we went to visit Grandma, we would take her out to eat.  She really enjoyed going to restaurants, except for one thing:  there's nothing noisier than a crowded dining room.  First there's the chatter of staff and patrons, then you add the clatter of dishes and silverware, and, of course, that curse of modern times, Muzak.  To make our meals with my grandmother enjoyable for all of us, we always had to insist on a corner booth.  And then, Grandma had to sit in the corner itself.  That way much of the background noise was blocked out and she could focus on what we were saying.  For Grandma to be able to hear the conversation, she really had to focus and listen.

And so it is in this campaign season--to really hear what the candidates are saying, we have to  listen.  We have to block out all the chatter and jabbering and nonsense, and really focus on the issues.  It's not easy--it never was easy for Grandma, even in the corner booth. But in the end, even though she was almost deaf, she could still hear because she was willing to focus and listen.  Maybe we can also really hear in this campaign season if we are willing to do the same.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On Getting Out the Vote--Your Own That Is!

I recently visited Philadelphia.  It was a short stay, barely twenty-four hours.  So I didn't get to the Museum of Art.  I didn't run up and down the "Rocky" steps.  And I didn't have a cheese steak.  (My doctor would approve!)  But I did spend some time in the Historic District.

Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are always a real thrill--but the highlight of the visit for me was the National Constitution Center.  In the main exhibit hall, the Center has a masterful display called the Chronology Wall. In many different parts, it traces the history of our nation, and the ongoing struggle for the various rights we enjoy as Americans.  One especially intriguing part of the exhibit were several interactive stations where you could answer a series of questions, hit a button, and discover if you would have been eligible to vote at that particular time in history.  The questions included things like "Are you male?"   "Are you a property owner?"  "Are you white?"

As I explored the exhibit there were two children just ahead of me, a little boy and a little girl.  As they stood in front of a display marking the late nineteenth century, the little girl, who was probably six or seven, entered answers in the interactive part of the exhibit.  When the results came up, she placed her little hands on her hips and said, rather indignantly, "What?  Women can't vote yet?"

We tend to forget that the right to vote was not granted all adult Americans right from the start.  We tend to forget that it has taken many, many struggles to extend the franchise to most of our citizens.  It is a hard won right and honor to vote.  Yet in any given election, a significant number of us fail to go to the polls, fail to exercise that right.  Sometimes only a tiny minority of voters pull a lever or mark a ballot.

In this time of conventions, in this season of campaigning, one can easily fall into a sense of despair and frustration about politics and parties and politicians.  But if you don't vote, you can't change anything.  That's how the system works--but only if you are willing to work it!

I have a suggestion:  this year, let's make it a rule, if you don't vote, you can't complain.  Either way it strikes me that it would make the world a bit better!