Saturday, March 08, 2008

Well, I was engaging in that hallowed tradition among theology students—watching YouTube instead of studying—just now. As I left this morning, one of my favorite songs was playing: “Two Occasions” by The Deele (a band that included Babyface and noted producer Antonio “LA” Reid in the 1980s). Because I had to rush out, the video played to an audience of zero. But I have returned. So, it dutifully asked me if I’d like to watch that video again, which I did. YouTube shows you other related videos, so as I watched, I noted that Pebbles’ “Love Makes Things Happen” was an option. (This song shows you what beautiful things are possible with a keyboard before any words are sung.) And I like the song, I guess. That ambivalence is why I’m writing this post. From a Christian perspective, this is one of the worst songs ever written. Love is portrayed as a disease you catch, a mysterious force that leads normal people to commit adultery, (or at least fantasize about other people) and that it’s all really OK, because it’s so powerful. In the comments for the video, many people pointed out that it sounded like lust to them, and that’s right, I think. Here are the words. Interestingly, Babyface seems very aware of this when he wrote “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” two years later (1992) for Toni Braxton and the Boomerang soundtrack. (You’ll get a great line from the movie from a female character (Nia Long, maybe?) explaining that very thing, in the full video on Yahoo. The chorus of that song:

Love shoulda brought you (brought you) home last night
You shoulda been with me
Shoulda been right by my side, baby
If you cared anything for me
Then love woulda brought you to me last night

Yeah, this song only is poignant because of adultery, and that sucks, but it’s well-crafted, true, and well sung. No surprise there. Much better than “Love Makes Things Happen.” And that is too bad, because it too (apart from the lyrics) is well-crafted and sung.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I don’t have to write this post. And I could dispatch with recent days’ events with a fairly nerdy, clinical recitation of the relevant football statistics. [Frankly, maybe I should write about the horror of this.] But I’m hurting right now, and it has nothing at all to do with anything serious, or important. Not for people outside of sports. And I feel guilty about that, in a way. But as I noted, Brett Favre is walking away. For me, that’s very hard. And I won’t say he’s a hero; heck, I won’t even say he’s my hero. But a joy to watch, good or bad? Yes. Do I feel privileged to have done so? Yes, indeed. Will watching football be less fun? Certainly. Go ahead and call me an idolator (if the Bible’s any guide, I am the worst) and I’ll admit that. Moving on. People can sometimes be more powerful symbols than they are as human beings. I think of Favre, I think: man, tough, strong, America, team, guts, like me, like us, your neighbor, your dad, your friend. If someone did a Fourth of July montage that showed Favre as something American, something good, nobody (outside Chicago) would flinch. In 5-10 years, if he chose to run for office, he’d win. Not kidding. Lots of sports ‘heroes,’ true, but not like him. I’m feeling safe on that one.
Many of us lived through him, (me included) at least on Sundays after church. There’ll be a million ‘regular guy’ stories about him (as there were throughout) but they’re basically true. And it makes it all the harder. Many NFL legends (lots of quarterbacks) have retired recently. I don’t honestly remember hurting when they left. Football’s not even my favorite sport. But something about Favre, a certain something, a certain ‘we’ that we can’t explain, he carried, just by playing a game. Better than most, but not flawlessly. He screwed up often, and we liked that about him. A lot. ‘Legend’ and ‘beatable’ don’t go together in sports, but with Brett, they did. Brett got addicted to painkillers and alcohol back when; that’d tarnish some athletes, but not Brett. I daresay the identification got deeper.
And that’s not even fair, certainly to black athletes we’d shun if they rented a porno. But that’s how it goes. It defies logic with Favre, though, more than usual. We watched him blackmail the Packers with retirement talk, skip out on camps, etc. and we, Favre Nation, just didn’t care. I don’t, and I’ll admit it. He’s a great teammate, but not always. Likely a great husband and father, but not always. And yet…I cried today, just like he did. I still don’t regret becoming a Packers fan in 2003. I don’t know who my team will be now; perhaps I’ll stay. I loved every second I saw Brett Favre play. If I could preach to three famous people right now, as a personal chaplain, they’d be President Bush, John Mayer, or Brett Favre. And wonder at this: the God who made the world, who gave us His Son, made this one guy, whose giftedness at throwing a ball for far too much money, has made me cry, for wanting to do something else. That’s at once sad, and perfectly understandable, no?
I’d venture to say that if you’re a football fan, you’ve heard the criticism of noted former coach, John Madden—namely, that Madden is the biggest Favre apologist on Earth. I’ve laughed and wondered if Mrs. Favre loves Brett that much! But tell the truth: you felt like Madden every day of these 17 years. Me certainly, for these four I counted myself a fan. Brett’s 38, and ¾ of the league would take him as their quarterback right now, even for the sheer fun of watching, I daresay. I exaggerate, and perhaps I say too much, but I’m less sad, and I needed that.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

This one’s been percolating in the brain for a bit now; it’s controversial, so please hang on. I don’t think the defense of ‘justification by faith alone’ (as traditionally understood) is the most pressing issue of the day in the church. Rather, it is the relation between the finished work of Christ, the sacraments, (I am referring to Baptism and the Eucharist) the individual, and our ecclesiology. In no sense do I mean to deny Luther’s important contribution, but rather to ask, “What are the means of experiencing that justification?” If the blessedness of justification by faith alone is that, on my own, I wage a battle to convince myself that my sins are erased by the work of Christ on the Cross, if the (chief) work of the Church is to help individuals contemplate the gloriousness of their individual reconciliations with God in Christ, then, frankly, I want no part of it. It makes very little sense. I’ve now been a Christian 10 years, (6+ baptized) and for the first 7 or so, this is exactly how I thought. But I began to realize that it was beyond me, to hold in my mind the reality of God’s declaration of my innocence before him by the work of Christ. And the reason is not simply because of the greatness of it, though that is true as well. The truth is, the individual ‘Jason Kettinger’ is dead. The reason I found it so hard to contemplate how this individual could be forgiven by God is because he wasn’t. God had that guy killed, started over, and revived the body. I only know this because I’m still here, but things are different. I’m not so much important now, and the beauty is, I get blessings galore, even as someone else is getting the glory. Do we not sing, “My life is hid with Christ on high/With Christ my Savior and my God”? My point is this: ‘Salvation’ and ‘forgiveness’ and ‘reconciliation’ etc. cannot be understood (and barely contemplated!) individually. It was never intended to be that way. Read the Old Testament as I’m doing now; you’ll notice (if you read it plainly, not turning it into your own allegorical pop-up book, or ‘Where’s Waldo?—Jesus Edition’) that the story isn’t about you or me, or even about the people that are actually in its pages. God is up to something, and he isn’t laying the whole plan out at once, and even his chosen ones are on a ‘need-to-know’ basis as it unfolds. If you start your reading the Bible always with the question, ‘What does this mean for me?’ you’re guaranteed to foul it up. You might as well read a how-to book on whatever problem it is you’re concerned about. Sorry. The Bible has something to say, and it may or may not bear directly on your situation. To presume always that it does, well, is very arrogant. OK, that’s enough.
But I digress (petulantly, it seems). I’m wondering: What is the true meaning of the Reformation? Is it individualism vs. collectivism? Clerical vs. anti-clerical? Intellectual freedom vs. stability and orthodoxy? It may have been all these things, but what if…the most legitimate concern of the Reformers was the de-coupling of sacramental awareness and observance from the all-sufficient work of Christ? And church authority had insisted that it existed apart from Christ’s work. (and still does, to an extent) That is a more foolhardy notion than every excess ever conceived in the mind of a Protestant, that the Church could exist outside of Christ! (I hesitate, by the way, to say ‘finished work of Christ’ because we as individuals are unfinished--not yet conformed to his image—and the mission of the Church continues. And does He not promise his presence until the end?) But, though we’re right to view ourselves as innocent before God if we are in Christ, we cannot apprehend it, much less claim to possess it, except by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Body, of which we are a member. Should I try to think of my innocence by myself, contemplating the legal declaration wrought for me, I’ll be chasing a ghost for the rest of my days. Still, I surely know Him at his Table, as we share it. I know God by his Scripture, read to us, and through us, every Sunday. (Save two Sundays ago, when a dear friend and I worshipped the Lord over pancakes later that evening, because we are morning challenged!) I know God by our love for one another, and our songs.
If this is too Federal Vision-y/Catholic for my Reformed Presbyterian overlords, er, brethren, well, like Angelina Jolie, I can only say what I witnessed. As Jeff Smith would say, then, I bid you peace.
Tough news. I knew it would come some day, just not today, Brett, just not today. I won't write another lengthy post about him; I'll just say that Favre is the only one who could make me pause a second before answering the question, "Which is your favorite sport?" I reserve the right to write a sickeningly hagiographic post the day of the press conference.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I have a Facebook account, (it remains the more attractive option for non-teens in the social-networking world) and an application within it called ‘iLike’ that allows you to do various music-related things. It pleasantly informed me (as per my instructions) that Mariah Carey would be releasing an album in March, 2008 called, “Rainbow.” I said, “Wait, didn’t she already release an album by that name in 2000?” I clicked on the Amazon link, and sure enough, it redirected to the old album. Why don’t you just admit, iLike, that you have no idea what the new album in called? I wasted an entire 5 minutes of my life unraveling that mystery! Well, you wasted half your life listening to Mariah Carey.—ed. Touche! But if you had gone through the “I want to be ‘Black’” phase that every suburban white kid does (with no more than a quizzical curiosity about gangsta rap) you’d listen to MC as well. You’re still in that phase, aren’t you?—ed. Be quiet about that! Disclaimer: I in no wise endorse Ms. Carey’s annoying tendency to rip her clothes off in videos. Carey was a musical gateway to less ‘white’ soul/R&B music, like this cat Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, (The Man, in case you’re wondering) so I’m indebted to her. (Her early stuff especially rules anyway, IMO.) Her new single sucks, though; it’s trampy and not even catchy. Oh, well. Mr. Edmonds put out this song. I love this guy, but it shows you how much divorce is the devil’s work when the best (pop) songwriter of the last two decades can’t take the sting off it.