Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Passes for Christianity

I thought I was done with this subject when I wrote about it here a couple-three months ago (Said, and Done)...and it's true that I can't get all that worked up about it anymore, being now on the outs and no longer having any material stake in what happens. But the assaults upon the character of--nay, the character assassinations of some of my friends and former co-workers in the local synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), by self-styled "reformers" who think they're pretty swell Christians, is really over the top.

(These "reformers" remind me a lot of Tea Partiers: They're certainly angry, but it's hard to know exactly why. They say it's because the ELCA voted last year to allow its congregations to call "practicing" gay clergy, but given that no one tells any congregation that it may or may not or must or must not call a particular pastor, their all-consuming angst and ire seems more than a little overdone. Not unlike Tea Partiers' "anger" about taxes, which are at their lowest level in years. And as with Tea Partiers, these "reformers"--who travel under such banners as WordAlone and Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) and LutheranCORE and, most recently, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC)--speak frequently of their burning desire to "take back" "their" church...though, as with the Tea Partiers, it's unclear from whom they intend to be "taking back." Which leaves one to conclude that, as with the Tea Party movement, it's really about making sure that "the other" is kept at bay.)

Well, whatever. I'm not a Lutheran and I no longer work in a Lutheran organization, thanks to the "reformers" and their successful efforts to siphon funding away from their church's national and local offices. But I am a "Lutheran in-law" and, as indicated, I have friends who still have to put up with the slings and arrows of outrageous "Christians," so, my hard feelings notwithstanding, I find I'm not as far removed from the matter as I had thought.

Indeed, I proved that to myself a couple of weeks ago when I spotted in the Rapid City Journal a brief article, "Bishop warns four congregations violate church law." The article reported that "a Lutheran pastor from Philip [S.D.] and the four Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations she leads have been told by their bishop that they are in violation of church law for affiliating with another Lutheran association and withholding funds from the South Dakota synod."

Asked by the reporter to comment on the article, a friend of mine who is an associate to the bishop misspoke. He said the letter was not a "censure," when in fact it was. In the trade we call this "a mistake."

But in the world of righteous and self-righteous Christians, evidently, there is no such thing as a simple mistake. Everything is part of a grand underhanded conspiracy against them. Nobody's motives are innocent. A follow-up comment on the newspaper's website--perpetrated, predictably, by one of the local pastors who has been most vocal in excoriating the ELCA for its sins and heresies and who likes to demonstrate what a fabulous Christian he is by slinging lots of mud--gives the proof. This great "Christian" writes:
    I have been in direct conversation with the pastor involved. The information from the assistant to the bishop who is quoted in the article is incorrect if not intentionally misleading.

Ah, the passive-aggressive junior-high balderdash: Not sufficient nerve to actually come out and call the other guy a liar--which this so-called pastor can't and couldn't know--but just enough to sling mud at the other guy's back. "...if not intentionally misleading." How charming. How typical. As is the parting shot to his comment:
    There is no reason for [the associate to the bishop] to be spreading this "disinformation."
Nor is there any reason to be casting aspersions in re my friend's motives, if any, for using the words he used, but there they are anyway. Eighth Commandment? What Eighth Commandment?1

Add to that another bit of slander popped up on my radar screen a few days ago, courtesy of a "discussion" group called Friends of LCMC. The subject line of the thread in question is "Bishop Zellmer: Kool-aid drinker."

Well, that's certainly attention-getting, no? If there's anything these guys are good at, it's getting attention. And smearing people with whom they disagree. Long ago I noted that the members of these various "discussion" groups on this and related topics are far more interested in slandering other people than in actually "discussing" anything. Evidently this will serve as a cornerstone to their new denomination.

The thread--remarkably uncharitable and ill-tempered, even by these people's own standards--seems to have begun when someone posted to the group an "important news" item drafted by the pastor whose comment I quoted above. It starts off pretty straightforwardly, summarizing the facts of the "censure" against the congregations and their pastor. But this individual is incapable of maintaining the pretense of impartiality for long, and soon has to give the back of his hand:
    Frezil [the pastor] is on medical leave recovering from surgery for colon cancer. She is scheduled to return from leave in two weeks.
    It is fascinating that Zellmer chose to take this action while Frezil is on medical leave.
    It's interesting that he chose to have this done while he was visiting Cameroon (no doubt, spending the synod's supposedly limited funds).

Ah, again with the snide, underhanded, reach-around smear: "It is fascinating..." "It's interesting..." "...supposedly..." Not exactly coming out with a full-fledged accusation but certainly insinuating, with smarmy smugness, that something here doesn't smell quite right. And then, for lovers of irony such as myself, he proffers this little gem:
    I guess the bishop has decided it is time to play hard ball with any and all who dissent.

Wow...the guy vilifies his bishop, then follows up by slamming him for "playing hardball" with those who go against the policies of their denomination. Astonishing. And, I have to assume, he delivers it with a completely straight face, too.

Of course, this being a "discussion" group, that post is followed by a couple of other comments that are delivered with the same degree of Christian love and charity as the initial comments. First you have the bloke who asserts that his bishop has (sic) what we, in the early WordAlone movement, referred to as the "blue gas" (i.e., the historic episcopate). He follow-up (sic) his inhalation with a chug-a-lug of ELCA kool-aid regarding the party line against LCMC.

Yes, how astonishing that a bishop of a religious body would feel obliged to uphold the policies of that body. It defies the imagination. And then someone else piles on with this shining little bit of bilious nonsense:
    We could use the LCMC secret weapon. Our very own LCMC mascot to perform an exorcism on the bishop.

I confess, I have no idea what that means. I suppose the "secret weapon" and the "mascot" must refer to something that is well known to the inner circle of the movement but is no more than a wink and a nod to those of us who are not among the chosen. But I do, of course, understand full well the meaning behind the references to exorcism and Kool-Aid. The latter, of course, is a reference to the people at Jonestown who, under the sway of their leader, the Rev. Jim Jones, drank poisoned Kool-Aid. I find that right-wingers like to throw that insult at people pretty frequently, their intent being to say that one's disagreeing with them automatically means that one must be so mentally impaired that he or she blindly follows orders from another even when to do so is suicidal. And the former, the snide comment about exorcism, quite plainly is intended to assert that his bishop has been possessed by demons--how else to explain the fact that someone disagrees with us when we know what God wants, except to say that that benighted soul must be in the thrall of the devil?--and must be exorcised in order that he see the light, i.e., agree with us.

It's probably a bad sign when you quote yourself, but I will anyway. In my previous post on the subject, I included a comment that I had left on the blog operated by the pastor whom I have quoted above, a comment I concluded thusly:
    Is that your idea of "church?" Is that your idea of "Christianity?" If so, you are welcome to them both.

My feelings in that regard have not changed since I wrote that post almost three months ago. Nor have I changed my belief that this "reform" of theirs--CORE, NALC, whatever they wish to call it--stands scant chance of success. Successful institutions are built on something, for something. An institution built on opposition, on negativity, on character assassination, cannot long endure, simply because its so-called leaders must forever keep the "faithful" riled up. There must always be an opponent, there must always be an enemy, there must always be a siege, a conspiracy, a death-struggle that we are eternal victims of. There must always be a hated and reviled them so that there can be a pure and holy us, otherwise we are nothing.

A group can go on that for awhile, but in the long-term it can't hold together. Sooner or later there's going to be yet another disagreement within the ranks, yet another heresy, yet another blasphemy that simply cannot be tolerated by those of us who have the inside line to God's thoughts. Which will mean another split, another round of mud-slinging and name-calling and arm-wrestling to see who's the "better" Christian.

Which, come to think of it, is another bonus to those of us who appreciate the ironic.

1Depending on your religious tradition, it could be the Ninth Commandment. It's the one about bearing "false witness," in any event.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Be There. Aloha.

I'm looking forward to CBS's upcoming revival of Hawaii Five-0.

But I'm not sure why.

Sure, the iconic original was one of my favorite cop shows as a kid. But that alone might be good reason for me to plan to avoid the remake. After all, how often do these things really turn out to be better than the original?

For that matter, how often does the original turn out to be less than what one remembered, upon later viewing? I certainly felt that way when Barney Miller, one of my favorites from the 1980s, turned up on TV Land some years back: Didn't it used to be...better? However, when Five-0 debuted on whatever incarnation of CBN might have been in existence at the time (to much fanfare, which made its sudden and unannounced disappearance from the schedule mere weeks later a bit odd), I found it just as enjoyable as I'd recalled.

Again, maybe a reason to avoid it. But I won't.

Today's unveiling of the revival's title credits give one some feeling of hope. I'm not that wild about the "tech" aspect, either visually or melodically, and it's a shame that, in keeping with the dictates of this age, the unforgettable Morton Steven's theme has been shamefully truncated; but at least it's the proper theme music. And the fact that the creative team seems hip enough to make a few hat-tips to the original, (here comes that word again) iconic opening is another good sign that they respect the original material. Witness ye:

That original opening has got to be one of the best ever created. The matching of visuals to music is as close to perfect as anyone's ever come. There's not a shot out of place.

One wonders, though, to what extent the original series' success was owed to Jack Lord. Could anyone else have carried the series the way he did? Even when the original cast had departed, even after the series had passed its prime, there was Lord as McGarrett, still barking out orders and taking no guff. It's near impossible for me to imagine anyone else in the role. We'll see how Alex O'Loughlin does as McGarrett. I'm unfamiliar with his work.

There is undoubtedly a danger associated with recasting these parts. The safer route would have been to go with a "next generation" team instead of the familiar group. But would it then be Hawaii Five-0? A failed attempt to revive the series in 1997 seemed to take that tack--with Gary Busey as Jimmy Berk and no McGarrett in sight. James MacArthur, Kam Fong, and Harry Endo did reprise their roles as Danny WIlliams (now the governor), Chin Ho, and Che Fong, respectively...never mind that Chin Ho had been killed off in the original series. Maybe that's one of the reasons that, as previously indicated, this was a failedattempt.

(Aside: In college I was friends with a kid who was Kam Fong's nephew or great-nephew. Also I was friends with a girl whose mother worked in a big Honolulu hotel, and who (the mom) could be seen briefly behind the front desk in a scene shot in the lobby. I was friends with a great many kids from the islands, who for some reason had been lured away to attend college in Omaha, Nebraska. We would make a point of watching the show whenever we could, and my Hawaiian friends would helpfully point out all of the geographical mistakes.)

One alteration: In the upcoming series, Kono Kalakaua is now Kona Kalakaua, and is played by Grace Park, late of Battlestar Galactica. I suppose if the BSG reboot could recast Starbuck as a woman, the Five-0 revival can do likewise with Kono/Kona.

As is so often the case, time will have to be the final arbiter of whether the new venture is worthwhile. I recall that I anticipated Dick Wolf's update of Dragnet a few seasons back, and was sorely disappointed with everything except Ed O'Neill as Joe Friday and Mike Post's update of the original theme. But I semi-dreaded the revival of Doctor Who, which I soon discovered I like at least as well as the original. I guess that's the sort of thing that keeps us tuning in.

Some links:

    The new series' intro is here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Is a SUPPORT Group?!

Good thing I don't need a lot of outside support. This is the kind of thing that can really undermine a person's confidence:

A week or so ago a Facebook friend suggested I join something called Word Nerds Support Group. I was sufficiently intrigued to visit the group's page, which successfully told me virtually nothing about it:

Okay, well, one sure way to find out if it's worth anything, yes? After all, I can always unjoin later. So I click "Request to join":

Um, yes, yes, I do. I was sort of hoping to imply as much when I clicked the button labeled "Request to join." Having perhaps not made my intentions clear, I click "Join." Again. And...

...hit the brick wall. Interesting way to make friends. Not to mention an interesting approach for a "support" group.

Now, I get it that there are Facebook groups that exist to attract as many participants as possible (if I get one more post for a group called I bet we can find 1,000,000 Facebook users who _________ (fill in the blank) I shall have to start a group called I bet we can find 1,000,000 Facebook users who hate getting invitations for groups called "I bet we can find 1,000,000 Facebook users who _________" (fill in the blank), and groups that are meant to be more clubby, established by and for an existing band of people. And I get it that someone might mistakenly think an acquaintance is part of the "in" crowd when in fact he's hopelessly un-hip. But don't you think such a group could at least indicate on its page that it's closed and thus will take no requests to join?

I think I shall start a Facebook group and allow no one to join. That will show them! But of course it can't be my group I bet we can find 1,000,000 Facebook users who hate getting invitations for groups called "I bet we can find 1,000,000 Facebook users who _________" (fill in the blank), for that would, you know, defeat the whole 1,000,000 users thing.