Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

 I'm going to spend this blog writing about some things I don't often write about, but sometimes I feel moved to get certain ideas out of my system. Partly I am prompted to write because, among most Christians around the world, today is celebrated as "Good Friday," the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by Roman governor Pontius Pilate in order to keep the peace in the troubled nation of Judea. And of course, Good Friday is the prelude to Easter, the following Sunday when the grave, sealed with a huge stone, was found empty and the followers of Jesus saw Him in person, very much alive. Nearly all of his apostles went to their deaths proclaiming this to be true.

 But if you're reading you probably already know all this. But the thing that we often seem to forget is that while we all grew up thinking of the Easter bunny and eggs and baskets and chocolate and marshmallows, there is nothing cute about crucifixion. There is nothing happy about a mob calling for the death of an innocent man. There is nothing cuddly about betrayal, or cowardice, or fear, all of which were on display by the men who were Jesus's closest friends. There is nothing pleasant about sin, which is what this is really all about.

 It is normal for people in the church to talk about how Jesus died for our sins, or was crucified for our sins, or something to that effect. What we really need to think about is why. After all, the Son of God was not executed for the purpose of atonement, in a legal sense. The Sanhedrin accused Him of blasphemy, but Roman governors, as a matter of course, did not execute violators of the Torah. No, if Jesus is who He claimed to be, He let Himself be crucified. Beating, scourging, public shame, followed by about six hours of death-by-torture. That is how important sin is.

 Sin can be defined as "missing the mark." I suppose this is what Paul meant when he wrote "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) A fatal flaw, the one thing--the one little thing--that keeps a person from that perfect score. Except that we all know it's never one thing. Usually it's several things, and often the same several things multiple times. How bad is sin? The only payment for it is death. Under the law of Moses, it was animal sacrifices. Jesus made Himself a sacrifice--the perfect, final one. The perfect innocent willingly going through all that because you (and everyone you've ever met) missed the mark. Serious stuff.

 What got me thinking about it is this trend in modern churches--not just those other churches, but yours too--to teach that sin really is not that big a deal. Everyone does it, everyone has it, so no harm, no foul. And if it's no big deal, then why bother actually doing something about it? Forget those lists of all the bad things you aren't supposed to do--we don't want to be judgmental. Just pray, and sing some repetitive simple songs, and hold hands and feel good about talking to Jesus, because we're all messed up and He loves us all so there is no point in actually having standards. We don't bother talking about Hell, we just talk about how we've been saved...from....well, something.

 But what about that part where we are supposed to die to sin? Yes, we're supposed to love everyone--that means, figuratively, that you tell them when they're missing the mark. Love isn't about making people happy; it's about telling the truth. I expect people who are not Christians to misinterpret, twist, misunderstand, and generally screw up what the scriptures say to make whatever points they want to make, but when people who claim to be Christians do it I really question what churches have been doing the past twenty years. Modern social media has been great for opening lines of communication; sadly, it has also made it all-too-clear that years of attendance at churches, camps, retreats, and Christian schools has been virtually useless for thousands of people who can't defend, explain, or justify a thing they claim to believe, to say nothing of all the folks who have turned away from the faith.

 Jesus did not die to make everyone happy. He did not die to justify us getting what we want. He didn't die to make sin OK; He died to make us OK. Jesus did not die because it was the best solution or the most convenient solution; He died because it was the only solution. The fact is that Jesus died to absolve you of every sin you could ever commit--this speaks to how great His forgiveness is, but it also speaks to how awful every sin is that you could ever commit. You'll never meet a person for whom Jesus did not die. You'll also never meet a person who has any hope without Him.

 Pilate famously asked Jesus, "What is truth?" The truth is that sin is real, and it is destructive, and it touches every life. The truth is that if there were any other way besides the crucifixion, Jesus would have done that instead. The good news--our Good Friday--is that in spite of how awful sin is, He wants us anyway, and He died--and lived--to make that possible.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Video of the Week: "Say Say Say" (Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney)

 After some time off from blogging for work, rest, and travel, I'm back this week with this gem from 1984, "Say Say Say." This collaboration, written and performed by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, is a great showcase for two of the best vocalists in pop music history. The two made two recordings together: "The Girl Is Mine," which was one of the numerous hits from Jackson's landmark album Thriller, and this one from McCartney's album Pipes of Peace. While the former was one of the admittedly weaker songs on an album full of great songs, the latter is generally agreed to be the best song on an otherwise mediocre album. McCartney had another notable duet with an African-American in the early 80s with "Ebony and Ivory," a sappy ballad about racial harmony performed with Stevie Wonder.

 This song was recorded in 1981 when Jackson was visiting the UK, though it was not released for two more years. Like much of McCartney's other work, it was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London and the sessions were produced by George Martin. Sadly, this was the final project the two worked on together, as a rift developed later when Jackson purchased the publishing rights to Northern Songs, meaning that he collected royalties from most of the Beatles' record sales and broadcast performances, as well as other artists' recordings of Beatles songs. Ironically, McCartney gave Jackson the idea by showing him the catalog of songs for which he had purchased the publishing rights, but McCartney was not happy when Jackson outbid him for the Northern Songs property.

The video was directed by Bob Giraldi, whose previous credits include Jackson's "Beat It" video. Giraldi remarked that the video works because, "Michael didn't outdance Paul, and Paul didn't outsing Michael." The video has been credited as popularizing the idea of using dialogue and a story in music videos, though in this case the plot of the video seems to have little to do with the content of the song. The song is about a man trying to rekindle a failed relationship, while the video features the two performers as con men/vaudeville performers who run numerous scams and give the money to orphans. Critics pointed out the unlikelihood of Jackson besting a muscle man in arm wrestling, but these critics seem to miss the point, since both of them are in on the scam.

 In addition to the two main stars, there are a few other familiar faces here. Linda Eastman McCartney, Paul's first wife, appears as a member of the gang, which is a case of art imitating life since she had been touring as a member of the group Wings and then as part of Paul's solo band for years. Though not highly regarded as a musician, her presence on tours may be a big part of the reason the McCartneys had a successful marriage up until Linda's death from cancer in 1998. Michael's older sister LaToya is also in the video, as the girl who attracts MJ's attention and gets a bouquet of flowers at the end. Actor Harry Dean Stanton shows up as a pool shark who winds up getting hustled by Paul. Stay tuned for more videos and commentary, some more of which will feature both of these guys....