Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Gospel according to Mandy Patinkin, and one more word about Jerry Falwell

On the ipod, two songs come out back-to-back (as I'm mowing the lawn). Both are from Mandy Patinkin's Album "Dress Casual."

The first - "Trouble in River City," the jaw-cramp-inducing sales job from Meredith Willson's The Music Man. The second - "There are Giants in the Sky," from Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.

I couldn't help but notice the juxtaposition. The first is a sheister attempting to sell band instruments using the ages-old "Fear-based" method. Create a fear, then attempt to fill it with your product. The second is about grace and love - a young man finds himself surrounded by giants in a land far far away, yet finds safety first in the motherly love of the female giant, and then eventually finds grace and mercy back in his own home. The first speaks of danger and protection, the second of fear and love.

Jerry Falwell fell well into a long line of preachers who use the first method. Stir up fear. Talk fast and loud and play on emotions of uncertainty and fright. The fear of hell if you sin. The fear of America falling to terrorists if we allow gays certain rights. The fear of our children living in a hellish America if we allow feminists to speak. Go back to the revival preachers of the 18th and 19th centuries. Hellfire and Brimstone preachers are famous in our land. Even our billboards have God saying "Don't make me come down there!" as if God is the angry parent, and if we don't shape up then he's gonna give us a whuppin!

So they create fear - fear of hell, fear of gays, fear of feminists, fear of God, fear of the unknown - and they they sell you their nicely packaged product ("I heard there's going to be a boys' band!"). In this case, their product is a certain religio-political worldview. Vote a certain way. Believe a certain way. Behave a certain way. Fight back against the gays and feminists and democrats in the name of Jesus! Pray this prayer and you'll be safe from hell! (Get you kids in the boys' band to keep them away from the pool hall where they say things like "so's your old man!") Fear based religion. Fear based political work. I made you afraid. Now I'm going to sell you my product.

Compare that to "Giants in the Sky." Where Jack finds himself in a strange land, in great danger, and someone "comes along the hall to swallow you for lunch." And you know your own fear - "your heart is lead and your stomach stone and you're really scared being all alone." And the answer "And you scramble down and you look below. . .The roof, the house, and your mother at the door, The roof, the house, and the world you never thought to explore. . ." It's about coming home. It's about grace. It's about finding love and acceptance. It's the story of the prodigal son who comes home to find his father waiting at the gate, and then running to meet him on the way.

Which is the biblical image? I have to say the latter. While I dare not judge the eternal state of Falwell's soul, I grieve for the way he (and those like him) chose to sell a God of fear and hatred, for the way they tried to sell that God through fear like Harold Hill tried to use "the presence of a pool hall" to sell his band instruments. The Bible speaks to the reality of judgment, yes, but the overall message is one of grace to people who are broken and lost, who just want to come home, who find that God has been patiently waiting all along. Would that the Church could speak that message - one of love, compassion, and healing, waiting for the wanderers to come home again. There might just be a little less anger and division out there.

1 comment:

Karina said...

Yes love, but what's wrong with truth. We live in a world were sins that are outright prideful take advantage of God's love (which also rebukes us.) So we preach a messagae of love and compassion and mercy, which Jesus did and which we should exemplify BUT Jesus himself set the standard for sin "Love God with all your heart, mind soul and body." Preaching a way of life with a loud and judgmental tone of voice would deter me from folling Christ, actually it did before my conversion, and it was a still small voice that called me into His presence, but Proverbs also says that I need to fear God. It might be beneficial to sit in a class at church to learn about the truths of scripture reagarding hot topics like homosexuality and abortion and how to dialogue these issues with those who are in the midst of these issues. But do we just sit in fron the abortion clinic and say "So can I talk with you about God's love? I'll just wait until your abort your child, okay?" OR "I'd like to hear about your passions in life and share mine, but go ahead and have your homosexual sex and then we can go and um, see a movie, okay?" Yes, I do believe that there is a way. I get frustrated with the girls when they don't hear my warnings and then I tend to yell. But even if I talk get down at their level and sweetly direct them to obey, forget it, Olivia just takes advantage and then asks me for candy. We are a lot like little 6 + year olds and have agendas. Who then will be the parent with constrained voice to point out the sin? Isn't sin that? Truth always seems to pinch our spiritual sciatic nerves, but again this world knows exactly how to fix the pain with instant validation and expects us Christians to just "dialogue".