Friday, March 30, 2007

The Nazi and Hitler Card

In this past week two people used the Nazi or Hitler card.

Tom DeLay. In his new autobiography he was lameting the fact that criminal charges had been brought against him. After all, he is a good Christian and an honest man. In fairness, however, the only person I've ever heard refer to Tom DeLay as being honest was Tom DeLay himself. However, despite the fact that he ventured into criminal behavior, and despite the fact that he was charged with a crime by a Grand Jury, and despite the fact that appeals courts upheld the charges, Tom DeLay is saying that the charges against him are liberal persecution of him. Then he said it.

"By charging this big lie, liberals have finally joined the ranks of scoundrels like Hitler."

Tom DeLay. There it was. People who are opposed to him are like Hitler and and Nazis.

But then Tom Coughlin (must be a Tom thing of late), who is the coach of the New York Giants (football team) decided that he too had to use the Hitler card.

Tom Coughlin is not beloved by NY Giants fans. I happen to be one. I've been a Giants fan since Fran Tarkenton was their quarterback. I saw Rocky Thompson play live. I've watched them from bleacher seats in Yankee Stadium as well as numerous other places. I'm a diehard.

Tom Coughlin's NY Giants were, last year, at one point 6-2 and ended the season 8-8. The players hated him. The fans hated him. The press was critical of often very foolish calls on his part. But the Giants gave him a one year contract extension. The owners of the Giants have been largely the Mara family, some of the kindest souls in existence and they didn't want to be unfair to their coach. His job was saved by the act of very gracious owners.

But Coughlin had been roundly critized and then he said it.

"I hear some of it and I see it," Coughlin said in response to a question about the criticism he received last season. You know (VP of communications Pat) Hanlon tells me about it, what's going on . . . Hitler and then me, in that order. Unfortunate, but it is."

Which means that the only person in history who has been criticized more than Tom Coughlin was Adolf Hitler.

So, to Mr. DeLay. You, sir, have been indicted. You sir, have been one of the most notorious partisans who has ever been on Capital Hill. You sir, are one of those dreadful people (both parties have them) who puts party over nation. We sir, are better off without you in Congress. Go to trial and see what happens. But please, never compare those who opposed you to a man who gave the order to exterminate 6,000,000 Jewish people for the simple crime of being Jewish. Never mind the countless people who survived the concentration camps, those who died in combat saving the world from his maniac, as well as the countless others who died as a result of Adolf Hitler. A corruption charge against you, which looks quite valid, does not compare to this.

So to Mr. Coughlin. First, I hope that the Giants fire you for your comments. They should. Hitler was critized as perhaps the worst human being in all of history. Valid criticism. You have been criticized by people who follow the NY Giants for being a lousy coach. For your information, Allie Sherman was criticized more than you. We even sang "Good bye Allie" to him at games. But to state that you are the second most critized human being in all of history, just behind a person who did all of the above mentioned things, you, sir, are an eggroll shy the #3 luncheon special.

Either people have a bad sense of history, or are just plain stupid, using Hitler or the Nazis as a comparison should be used judiciously and sparingly, at best. They were a blight to civilized people and we ought to remember that before we start throwing them around.

These are two Toms who need to find their rock and crawl back under them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Titanic Easter

Recently there has been a great deal of ‘buzz’ surrounding a documentary by James Cameron who directed Titanic and Simcha Jacobovici a Canadian documentary maker. They claim that they have ten ossuaries (small coffins for bones) of Jesus and his family. It almost makes one feel that we are in for a Titanic Easter where two people have proven that Jesus was not raised from the tomb. At least bodily. I had the impression as I watched these two individuals on the Today Show that they wanted to disrupt Easter for people. It was like “We have found Jesus’ bones!!! We have the smoking gun!!!”

I’m taking the claim of James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici with the same seriousness I would take a Saturday Night Live skit. Despite their claims otherwise, this is a sad joke.

James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici are film makers. Jacobovici has done some interesting and controversial films mostly around Judaism. He made a film on the ossuary of James, brother of Jesus which many people said was historically and theologically inaccurate.

Cameron is mostly famous for two Terminator movies and Titanic. Titanic was a visually stunning movie and it very aptly demonstrated the final moments of that great ship and the terror of people involved. Cameron does seem to demonstrate his theology of Heaven at insipid vision that “Heaven” was being back on the ship uniting two people who had been together for a fling on their journey. Ugh.

These ossuaries were found in 1980 and have been examined by theologians and archeologists alike who have pretty much universally stated that they are nothing particularly special. It wasn’t until these two film makers got together and decreed to the world that they had found Jesus’ bones. And, to prove this, they produced statisticians to prove that these names were more rare than people believed.

The fact that most archeologists said that what Cameron and Jacobovici said were names, were, in fact scratches that may have remotely appeared to look like writing if one had a very fertile imagination.

Cameron has stated, “I'm not a theologist. I'm not an archaeologist. I'm a documentary film maker."

For the record, I’ve never met a theologist in my life. His ignorance of people who study theology demonstrates what is wrong with this film.

But it also speaks to wider issues.

First, there often seems to be a serious diminishment of those who seriously study theology, the Bible, and these ancient times. Whether you liked it or not, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ had some major historical inaccuracies and was not consistent with Gospel accounts. I recall teaching one of the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and I was called to task for disagreeing with Gibson. Actually, it was Luke and Matthew who disagreed, not me, but, oh well.

The thing is, serious study is serious study. I don’t agree with every theologian I have ever read. To be blunt, I think many of them are off the wall. (Unless a theologist is an off the wall theologian!) I do appreciate the fact that there are serious people doing serious research and serious study of both theology and archeology. When two film makers come to a vastly different conclusion from all the experts, I’m putting my money on the people who are the experts. Sadly, Cameron and Jacobovici have, whether intentionally or not, put themselves out there like experts and have made fools of themselves. Of course, they are making a lot of money for this so they might not be so dumb! But prostituting one’s self may be profitable, but it doesn’t make it right.

But, even more profound, the resurrection of Christ is about faith. It cannot be historically proven to have taken place or to have not taken place. Jesus appeared to believers. He didn’t pop in on Herod and Pilate and decree, “I’m back!” He appeared only to those close to him. And it was their faith that enabled them to see who was in their midst.

Faith is believing in things unseen and unproven. It is ultimately about belief.

As for me, I am angry at James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici. Their carelessness and thoughtlessness, and pitiful research will lead to many people questioning their faith during a very holy season. For some, faith is very difficult and it is easier to embrace what they can see than it is to believe what cannot be seen.

Faith is based on belief and cannot be proven. And that is the joy and the adventure of walking with Christ. So invest yourself with Jesus this Easter, and do not sink to the level of these clowns and embrace their nonsense.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bluffton University Tragedy

I was drinking coffee on the Friday morning when it happened and I heard that a bus carrying the Bluffton University baseball team had been in a horrible accident in Atlanta. I jolted up. One of the kids from my old church in Ohio was on the Bluffton baseball team. I called my old church and found out that Brandon was okay. I watched the CNN special on the accident and found out that Brandon was the one who called 911 and he, as well as his parents, were interviewed for the piece.

It was and is a stark reminder of the fact that when these tragedies take place there are people who know the people in the midst of the tragedy. Buses and planes and automobiles, are filled with people who are known and loved by others. Often, on the news, we see the story, we learn about the facts, but we often don't feel the impact of the event. This time, I did, and wow.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Can We Question God?

Can We Question God?
Text: Acts 9:10-19
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
February 11, 2007

The Lord appears to Ananias and tells him to Straight Street to find a man from Tarsus named Saul. Now Ananias was a God man who was used to being obedient to God in all things. But when asked by Jesus to find this Saul from Tarsus, Ananias is alarmed. Had Jesus, in Heaven, not been on top of things?

This was not unlike someone appearing in a vision in 1942 and being told to go to Berlin and talk to a man named Adolf. Or go to Bagdad and see a man named Saddam. Saul, to the early Christians, meant two things. Trouble and death. And no one wanted any part of him.

So Ananias asks about Saul and Jesus assures him that all is well and Ananias goes off and does what he has been asked.

But rewind the tape a little. Ananias questions Jesus. Ananias questions God. And lives. It makes you want to ask the question, can we question God?

The short answer is ‘yes.’ So if you wanted a really short sermon and wanted to get to the bottom line, the answer is ‘yes’ and you are free to go. But if you stay, I do have some more thoughts.

Have you ever thought what you’d ask God about? I have several thoughts.


What were you thinking when you created the ostrich?

Why did you make the pit in the avocado so big?

Why is it then when I’m driving down a road there is always someone going way under the speed limit who is in front of me?

Why is it that some people are just so annoying?

And maybe a bit more in depth:

There is good and evil and I don’t understand what it is that drives people to do such tremendous evil or good in the world?

Why do people have to suffer?

Why do children have to die?

Why do good things happen to bad people; and bad things happen to good people?

We probably all have questions we’d like to ask God.

Sometimes we question God like Ananias did because we don’t understand God’s logic, we don’t understand God’s wisdom.

I have this vision that we are going to go to Heaven and God is going to ask us one question and the question is this:

“Why did you believe all the people who said that when you got to Heaven, I was going to ask you this question or that question?”

I am amazed and dazzled by all the books and preachers who claim to know what questions God is going to ask us at the pearly gates. To even claim that indicates, to me, that people think they have deciphered God’s wisdom and logic.

God’s wisdom, God’s logic eludes us. Mystics who have spent their lives in prayer and reflection on God and God’s ways all come to the same conclusion. The more time they spend in prayer and in learning about God the MORE mysterious God becomes. Over the years I have preached on many of the same passages in the Bible many, many times, seemingly simple passages, simple stories, simple parables, and often the truth of those stories eludes me as I discover more and more mystery within them.

I never worry when people say that they question God because they do not understand. I worry when people don’t question God, when people ‘know it.’ If we can fully understand God, if we can fully know God, our God is not big enough.

Secondly, we question God because we are troubled by God. I listened to a sermon once about forgiveness and the preacher said that at times we need to forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us. At times we have to forgive ourselves for getting ourselves into jams. And, at times, we need to forgive God because we have found ourselves in plights, in circumstances where we didn’t do anything wrong, but things have gone awry or even tragic.

Often when people are not that attractive in a world where beauty seems to mean everything, those people will be angry at God for making them as they are.

We are a society that almost worships athletic accomplishment. Go to scholarship night sometime at a school and you’ll hear athletic scholarship after athletic scholarship. Being a good athlete is a natural ability, a gift from God and often people get angry at God for not receiving this.

I saw the movie Amazing Grace two times. It is a wonderful movie about William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament who led the crusade to end the slave trade. Wilberforce was a person of great religious conviction who believed, with his whole heart, that he was doing God’s will be helping to end the slave trade. It took him twenty painfully difficult years to do so. He had to question, over and over again why God would lead him to such a frustrating endeavor.

Plus there is the fact that we all lose people we love, spouses, partners, children, and parents and friends. And we ask the question, why?

The question many people ought to be asking isn’t if they are ever troubled by God, and if they aren’t, why aren’t they? God, we say, often moves in mysterious ways, but that explanation isn’t always enough.

If you have never questioned God you have never read the Psalms. God is often praised for some very bizarre things.

In Psalm 135 it begins one would imagine:

Praise the Lord!
Praise the name of the Lord; give praise, O servants of the Lord,
you that stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for he is gracious.
Psalm 135:1-3

Most people would read this and say that this is nice. It’s a Psalm praising God and that’s a good thing. It’s what they are praising God for, however, which becomes bizarre:
He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
both human beings and animals;
he sent signs and wonders
into your midst, O Egypt,
against Pharaoh and all his servants.
He struck down many nations
and killed mighty kings--
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
and Og, king of Bashan,
and all the kingdoms of Canaan. Psalm 135:8-11

Maybe Og the king of Bashan was a bad guy, but what kind of a God longs to be praised for smiting Og?

In Psalm 136 a beautiful Psalm that inspired song On the Willows from the play Godspell. The Psalm is beautiful until we have the Psalm ending with people rejoicing in the day when they can dash the babies of Babylon against the rocks.

We question God, at times, because we need to. God is often a mystery to us and, frankly, when we are this mystified, we need to question.

Which brings me to the final point. We can question God because God loves us enough to be questioned.

Jesus professed God as Father. A Father is a parent who we hope loves his children. God as Father is a Father who loves His children perfectly. As any parent can tell you, children ask questions. Loving parents patiently and at times impatiently answer the questions. Some are answered right away, some are answered in time. Some are answered partially and simply at the time and the answer changes. Such as the question, where do babies come from? The depth and detail of the answer is different for a 5 year old than a 12 year old. (As an aside, we can quibble about the ages, but this is for example purposes only.)

We question parents because parents love us enough to take the time and answer. So it is with God. We can question God because God loves us enough to be questioned.

The most audacious question asked in the Bible was asked by the prophet Jeremiah. It’s the question that if asked, is the most likely to inspire a lightning bolt.

Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail. Jeremiah 15:18

Jeremiah’s question is poised because he had been called by God to be a prophet and people were tormenting him and hurting him. The question, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed” is made potent by the context: “Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.” When translation puts this so poetically when it says, “You are like a well spring of deceptive waters.” The words just hang there. Why are you tormenting me; I get the impression that you lied.”

And God takes Jeremiah back, gives him new promises, and restores him and loves him.

Frankly, after Jeremiah, any question we can ask God is not going to be nearly as tough.

The story begins with the Lord appearing to Ananias and telling him to get Saul and bring him into the fold. Ananias questions the Lord and the Lord answers and Ananias obeys.

Questioning God is a valid thing to do. It reminds us that we are paying attention, and it teaches us, grandly, that God loves us enough to answer.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Serious people. Not so serious people.

I am struck on political forums by serious people and not so serious people. Sadly, many of the not so serious people want to be taken seriously.

Recently, the conservative columnist Mona Charen wrote about Rev. Al Sharpton’s ‘revelation’ that his family was owned by Strom Thurmond’s family. It, of course, raised the issue and discussion on slavery. Considering the wonderful movie, “Amazing Grace” is out speaking quite eloquently on the topic, it was an interesting moment. Of course, Sharpton did a lot of grand standing and Charen, to her credit, addressed the issue that slavery is still an issue in many parts of the world. She made an observation that Al Sharpton is not a serious person. I would agree with her.

I think that Jesse Jackson used to be a serious person. He followed Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a serious person. But Jackson seems to have been lost in his celebrity. Both Jackson and Sharpton ran for the Presidency and lost badly. I read of someone putting Barack Obama in the same category and almost fell of my chair. Agree with him or not, Barack Obama is a very serious person.

Seriousness is not a racial issue, it’s a gravitas issue. In the conservative world, George Will is a serious person. Whether you agree with him or not, he makes cogent arguments. Rush Limbaugh likes to ridicule people and though he seems to long to be a player, he has become increasingly less serious.

Which brings me to Ann Coulter who write prolifically and is invited to conservative gatherings because she brings ‘a voice.’ Sadly, she is not a serious person. She made a comment about John Edwards using the ‘faggot’ word and people have been outraged. Why they are outraged just now by her comments boggles one’s imagination, but they are outraged.

Ponder for a moment. Ann Coulter is a hard living woman. She is in her mid-40's and wears incredibly short mini-skirts to show the world how glamorous she is. She seems to delight in making tawdry comments about people. Who can forget her comments about the widows of 9/11 victims?

Coulter once dated Bob Guccione, Jr., whose father was the founder of that great and serious magazine, Penthouse. She’s never been married and is noted to be part of the hard party set.

She is questioning, however, what she perceives to be the ethical core of John Edwards. He has been married to Elizabeth for close to 30 years. They have several children and lost one in a tragic car accident. Elizabeth has battled through breast cancer. Edwards has never been questioned as anything but an upstanding family man. He has stood by his wife through better and worse, and nary a scandalous word about him. So, I guess that makes him a good target for a crude statement by Ann Coulter.

Ann Coulter is not a serious person.

Being liberal or conservative does not make one serious or not. Having gravitas does. As long as we empower the clowns in our society and give them the illusion of seriousness, we are going to be plagued by more and more of them.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Amazing Grace

I saw the movie "Amazing Grace" last night. It is a movie about William Wilberforce a British MP and close friend of the then Prime Minister William Pitt.

Wilberforce had been inspired as a youth from his pastor John Newton. John Newton had been a slave trader who had a conversion experience, gave up his slave trading business and went into the ministry. He coined the well known hymn "Amazing Grace." I used to hate the words, "that saved a wretch like me," until I realized that it was autobiographical to Newton and, perhaps most importantly, what had made him a wretch.

In any case, Wilberforce made it his life's ambition to end the English slave trading. This movie is about his efforts. Having dry eyes at the end of the movie is difficult.

It struck me. Wilberforce was a rare statesman. He fought for a moral good. He did it at great personal sacrifice and despite the fact for long stretches of his life, many of his colleagues loathed him.

In any case, this is an excellent movie to see and discuss!

Friday, March 02, 2007


Something cultural in our era revolves around the issue of honesty. Most people, if queried about honesty would say that it is a good and important quality. In theory, being honest is great.

It doesn't always work out that way in practice.

Several years ago I read Vincent Bugliosi's fine book entitled "Outrage" where he reflected on the OJ Simpson trial. Bugliosi spent some time on the issue of honesty or lack thereof. He said that when there is a trial there are people who are lying. Most defendents, no matter how strong the evidence, will state to the universe that they are innocent. As much as I like the CSI shows, I find the fact that virtually everyone confesses when confronted with the evidence to be stretching reality a tad. Or two tads.

We do not expect our political leaders to be honest. I write this sadly. We state that we expect political leaders to be honest, but it is not a real expectation.

Most of us watch commercials for candidates which are filled with lies. Both parties are guilty. When we vote and the person we voted for does not do what he or she said that he/she would do, we are not surprised. We expect people to lie in order to be elected.

Often, watching TV, the 'spin-doctors' take a bit of truth and 'spin it' which, essentially, is creating a lie using some actual facts in the process.

We purchase items from TV which promise the universe and are often not surprised when they don't work as advertised.

And, of course, Microsoft comes out with the latest, greatest version of Windows and our expectations are that we are in for an adventure. In reading much about Vista it doesn't sound like much has changed.

My point is that dishonesty is so rampant because we expect it and we tolerate it. Until we get to a point where we will no longer tolerate dishonesty, we cannot expect anything other than that.