Episode 283: Achilles Heel

It seems that human nature, or rather, one’s understanding of human nature, is the Achilles Heel of theology — and philosophy, too — throughout the “Spin-Me-Round” (Dead or Alive, 1985) of cyclical human history and cyclical failed answers to the problem of being human.

If you have a high doctrine of human nature, and human potential, you’ll generally opt for a low doctrine of God. (You don’t need Him.) But if you have a low doctrine of human nature, and human failed expectations, you may well opt for a high doctrine of God. Or rather, you’ll be more inclined to look for God outside yourself than to believe you’ve got intrinsically the answers.

Which is to say that the banana peel of Christian history seems to be a swelled inaccurate view of human agency and possibility. We slip, in other words, on the banana peel of exaggerated human potential.

My podcast reviews the doctrine of human nature, in broad terms, within the history of the American Episcopal Church. I see that doctrine as the key to understanding where we’ve been, where we are, and also where we could be. And I’m not without hope.

You’ll also hear an AMAZING British hit from 1971, entitled “I Did What I Did for Maria”. This odd, conflicted and brilliant song touches just about every raw nerve there is. (We LUV Tony Christie!)

Episode 284: They Came From Beyond Space

The subject of the cast is inspiration: where it comes from and how to get it. That may sound a little ambitious, but lots of us are looking for it, whether in our family and our marriage or in the pulpit and our ministry or just in the Wee Wee Hours of a stressed-out life.

Joe Meek, the odd independent English record producer from the late 1950s and early-mid ’60s, is a moving example of an inspired person, a creator whose inspiration came within the context of mediocre performers and lame song-material. His records such as “Son, This Is She”, performed by John Leyton, and “Paradise Garden”, performed by Peter Jay, are bizarrely convincing marriages of eccentric material with inspired crafting. Sort of like us poor preachers, who are pretty flawed instruments but hope to be “produced” by God in such a way that we can do some good.

I also refer to a preacher I admire whose balletic body-language in the pulpit is as effective and appropriate to the substance of the Message as anyone I’ve ever seen. (My own gestures and expressions when I speak in church are enough to make me wince when I see pictures.)

The conclusion of the cast refers to pilgrimage and the somehow decisive importance of going away from home and to somewhere in order to break out of ruts and fecklessness. It’s as if the Inspirer almost waits to see how serious we are about getting help in order to break out.

Episode 285: Listen to the Music

There is so much talk just now about the decline of Christianity in this country. But try to listen to the right music on that score. Or rather, the more accurate music!

The fact is, young people and young families are flocking to churches where the Gospel is preached. From Charlottesville to Lower Manhattan to Bedford to Waco to Louisville to Winter Park to Rice to Bradford to “Baltimore and D.C. now (Don’t forget the Motor City)” (Martha & The Vandellas, 1964)) to … well, you fill in the blank: people are coming to church where mercy is offered, hope is proffered, and defeated persons succored. And it’s not just “Back Row America”. The Offer’s being made everywhere.

And a further point. The poll takers of church attrition are not talking very much to Hispanic and other immigrant communities. The Hispanic pentecostal churches are thriving. I mean, booming! Go to Bridgeport. Go to The Bronx. Go to Orlando, near the Airport. Visit Guillermo Maldonado’s church in Miami. Go to … well, again, you fill in the blank. There are not many white hairs (like mine) in those churches.

So Listen to the Music. The music that’s in tune, that is; the music that’s on key and with the beat. The music you can dance to. And if ‘Heinz’ were looking for a church today — hear the cast’s closing track — I think I know where he’d go. LUV YOU!

Episode 286: Sine Qua Non

A scene near the beginning of the Russian movie version of War and Peace (1965-67) conveys the inner dialogue of a young woman as she lays dying after childbirth — actually, as she has just died.  Her spirit wonders to herself in sorrowful bewilderment: “I gave everything to everyone else, sought to love everyone else, but I was rejected by them, treated badly by them. I don’t understand.”

The passage is moving, and also unsettling, because the character’s inner reality comes to expression only in her closing moments, and it is most definitely un-resolved.

As Mary and I watched this, we both thought to ourselves, May it not be so with us. Please let it not be so with us when our time comes — whether that is sooner or later.

This podcast affirms three essentials, three sine qua nons, of the human heart — really, the human self — as we face death, whether “early”, whether accidental, or whether “in the nature of things” in old age. Three essentials for a happy exit.

Each of these I would say is necessary and primary, not optional nor secondary. Each is core and decisive. Each is “required”.

Wonder what you’ll think. Hope you’ll like the music, too, from an excerpt by Gordon Lightfoot, whose music has never appeared on the cast before, and from Livingston Taylor. Soft Rock, OK, but quietly profound, perhaps, in both cases. LUV YOU!

Episode 287: Julie, Do You Love Me

My subject is the birth of love in human relationships. What causes a person to love (as opposed to being indifferent, or even hostile)? What causes you and me to love another (as opposed to being merely dutiful, or resentful, for that matter)?

I recorded the cast because one is bombarded these days, within mainstream Christian circles, with calls to love, summonses to embody the way of Jesus, His program, as it were, for this broken world. These calls are sincere and appropriate. But they lack something. They lack motive. They lack the motivational power to perform the deed!

The Gospel is summed up in one easy sentence from I John 4: “We love because He first loved us.” A person can’t love on his or her own steam. Love is birthed from prior love.

This is true for Bobby Sherman, in the somewhat dumb but overwhelmingly true song from 1970, entitled “Julie, Do You Love Me”. If ‘Julie’ loves me, I can do anything. But if she doesn’t (love me), I’m an unanchored buoy floating on the surface of the ocean towards the royal road to nowhere.

With love, human and divine, everything hinges on the starting point. And that is the being loved, not the loving. But when you are loved, loving someone else becomes the most natural thing in the world.

Oh, and listen to “Easy To Be Hard”, by Three Dog Night (or “Hair”, depending on your record collection). Those lyrics have never been bettered. LUV U.