Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ray Lewis, redemption & the rest of us

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is an enigma for much the media and football fans.

He is a violent and intimidating defender on the football field, but he has been involved in numerous off the field charitable activities for those in need in the Baltimore area.

Along with two companions, Lewis was charged with murder after two people were stabbed to death in 2000, but he has been quoting Scripture after games and his faith has been profiled by numerous media outlets.

While many have become enamored with the linebacker's story, others have become wary of any life change and weary of granting Lewis the status as some spiritual leader.

Suddenly, Ray Lewis has become fodder for a national conversation on redemption.

Photo from The Washington Post
Sports radio can be ... interesting. Often times, hosts attempt to be as controversial as possible believing that will bring in listeners and ad revenue.

Some have intelligent discussion on athletics in America. Others are little more than shock jocks with a limited focus. So it was not much of a surprise when I heard one host pushing the envelope on the Ray Lewis story.

The host was upset that Lewis had morphed into a religious figure despite his checkered, to say the least, past. He did not believe the former player for the infamous, in terms of brashness and rule violation, University of Miami warranted what he perceived to be glowing media coverage.

As he was closing out his rant to head to commercial break, he uttered something which struck me as much more revealing than the host was attempting to be. He yelled into his microphone:
"Maybe if you didn't kill two people, you wouldn't need a redemption story."
There it was. Lewis needed redemption because he was involved in a fight that resulted in the death of two people.

How dare Lewis speak anything about God or grace or glory when his past had this possible dark side? Lewis should spend the rest of his life atoning for his sins, whatever they may have been.

I'm guessing the radio host is morally perfect, right?

I don't know what Lewis did or didn't do on that fateful January night in 2000. For that matter, I have no idea what the host was doing that night or any other night.

What I do know is that Ray Lewis did indeed need redemption, but so did the radio host, and so did you and I. In fact Ray Lewis, the radio host, you and I still need redemption.

Every one of us needs a redemption story. It may not involving being redeemed from life as an accused murderer, but none of that changes our need for redemption.

As one who hunted Christians down and murdered them, Saul needed redemption, but his need was no greater than Lydia who was a wealthy, influential business women.

Matthew was a despised tax collector before he became a disciple, but he didn't need Christ any more than Peter who was a common fisherman.

When the standard is perfect, none of us measure up. When the gap between us and God is so great, everyone falls short.

We all need a redemption story – Ray Lewis, the radio host and the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Les Miserables: depictions of a Christian critic

Les Miserables, the film adaptation of the book and musical of the same name, has garnered rave reviews from both the secular and religious media.

Christians have noted the themes of grace and redemption lining up with a biblical worldview. Others are wary of the depictions of violence and sex in the film, suggesting that those counteract any good that may be found in the story.

It may be that the Christian critics of the film inadvertently reveal the gospel-centered point of Les Miserables with their criticism.

Jean Valjean from Les Miserables
Art, not being a person who can place their trust in Christ, cannot be called "Christian." It can, however, flow from and point to the gospel. That is the question to ask of Les Mis – is it a film that is consistent with the gospel and can Christians affirm the message of the film?

I would say without a doubt the film is drawn from gospel themes: grace, salvation, redemption, the emptiness of legalism, the inability to find life in the law, sacrifice. All of these are pictures of the work of Christ.

Some have said these are drowned out by the film show prostitutes, rape, abuse, having characters use sexual innuendo and other depictions of actions that are far from biblical.

One of these critics is Travis Ragon, a graduate of a Baptist seminary and a licensed professional counselor.

"As a mental health professional, I have worked with the victims of rape, incest and abuses that many do not want to know exist and most deny happens in their worlds," Ragon wrote to Baptist Press. "I see no entertainment value in their graphic depiction on a movie screen."

The irony of much of the film's criticism is that it seems to mirror the legalism of Les Mis antagonist, Inspector Javert, who is unable to recognize grace because of his obsession with the law.

I don't know Ragon, so I do not want to make comments about him personally. Criticism of a film, however, that focuses solely on particular scenes while ignoring the overarching theme of the movie is legalistic.

Ragon, like many of the critics, has not seen the movie. It is much easier to pull out isolated examples of unacceptable behavior when you do not have a grasp of the whole. As Javert, who was never able to see Jean Valjean for anything more than a bread thief, critics are unable to see beyond one scene of rape.

I would hope that Ragon and other critics of the film would not want the Bible to be judged by individual scenes pulled out of the larger context of the grand story of Scripture.

Should the entire Bible be dismissed because it mentions Lot having sex with his daughters?

Or because it describes Tamar dressing as a prostitute in order to sleep with and get the attention of her father-in-law Judah?

The Bible depicts slavery, unmarried sex, rape, racism, prostitution, murder, demon possession and virtually any other sin of which you can think. Should it be judged based only on those things? Would that be fair and right?

As a graduate of seminary, Ragon would have taken a Hermeneutics class, which helps students understand how best to interpret and understand God's word. One of the first rules in biblical interpretation is "Context is king."

You do not pull verses or even passages out in isolation in an attempt to understand them. They must be interpreted within the context of the passage, the particular book and the Bible as a whole.

It is equally wrong to attempt to evaluate and understand the message of Les Mis by pulling out certain scenes that depict sinful behavior.

Anyone who has seen the film would know that the scene in which Fantine is raped is anything but appealing or sexual. It shows the brokenness of humanity and the depths at which people without hope will go.

The scene does not glorify the behavior or the lifestyle. It laments their reality and aches for someone to bring hope into the situation, as Jean Valjean later does.

Les Miserables is about a man without hope is shown grace physically and spiritually and is redeemed from a life of slavery to the law he could never obey. That is the gospel and something that Christians can rejoice is presented so clearly in a modern movie theater.

We are Jean Valjean. God has radically saved us from a life of sin and slavery. Our tendency, however, is to become Javert. Les Mis is a beautiful reminder of both of those realities.