Three from Saturday’s Newspaper

I’m a little irked with the younger generation of preachers who get all their news from the internet…or from the Jon Stewart show! Buy a newspaper, friend! You’ll find a hundred things a week that will fascinate you, instruct you, inspire you, and mortify you.

Here are three from Saturday’s “Times-Picayune” which are great preaching values.

“Transocean failures called systemic”

This refers to the explosion a year ago of an offshore rig operation for British Petroleum by Transocean. “The rig was finishing up its work drilling the Macondo deep-sea well for BP when oil and natural gas blew out from the ocean floor a mile down and ignited in fireballs.”

A Coast Guard report has just been issued (Friday) that lowers the boom on Transocean. “Unlike previous reports on the catastrophe that killed 11 rig workers and polluted the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard’s report says almost nothing about the raft of decisions and mistakes by BP personnel that led to the blowout.”

“Instead, it looks at actions and systemic failures after the Deepwater Horizon had already lost control of the well–all in the realm of Transocean and its crew.”

Notice the word “systemic.” It is the key.

The report faults that company, not for a few mistakes or errors in judgements, but for an entire culture of bungling, corner-cutting, safety-negligence. The problems were throughout the system, from top management down to the lowliest hand.

Pastors and teachers, take note of this please. That’s the problem with humans these days. That’s what original sin is all about. Sin is “systemic” within us.

Sin is not a misstatement. Not misspeaking. Not a lapse in good judgment. Sin is not a slipup, not an error, a failure to adhere to otherwise good principles.

Sin is throughout our hearts and lives. It is not a small segment of our lives that needs to be salvaged, healed, redeemed, helped, bandaged, treated. It’s all of us. Throughout.

“Why should you be stricken again? …The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.” (Isaiah 1:5-6)

Second thing from the newspaper.

Truck burglars have rough time.

In the nearby town of Chalmette Wednesday night some youths attempted to steal a truck out of a fellow’s driveway. Problem is, that man heard noise and came outside with a gun in his hand. When one of the thieves pointed a gun at the homeowner, the man fired and thinks he hit the offender.

The other thief, described as a youth, tried to climb into the car being driven by the man just shot. He fell to the ground and–get this–the right rear tire of the car ran over his right arm. The car stopped and he jumped in, “his arm dangling.” The car then sped away. They’ve not been caught.

Sooner or later, authorities expect that teenager to show up in a hospital to have his broken arm repaired. When that happens, they’ve got him. So far, he has not been found.

My single thought on this is that, whether or not the young man gets caught, he has just learned how dangerous is this lifestyle he was choosing for himself. Maybe it was a lark, just a prank. But he came as close to being killed as he will ever want to get in this life.

Anything that teaches that lesson to a young person on the verge of a life of crime is worthwhile.

Last thing.

When feel-good spirituality falls short.

New York Times columnist David Brooks can always be counted on for a thought-provoking article. We see him frequently on news-talk shows and C-Span, and hear him on NPR. His column in Saturday’s op-ed section dealt with a new Broadway play that is all the rage. Oddly, it’s called “The Book of Mormon.”

Briefly, before getting to the gist of his article, Brooks says the play concerns a couple of Mormon missionaries who go into an AIDS-ravaged African country to do their type of evangelism. The play ridicules Mormon doctrine but not the missionaries themselves, who are “loopy but ultimately admirable.”

Brooks says the show has some great music and at the end drew a standing ovation of a type he has not seen in years.

The message of the play, Brooks says, is that many religious doctrines are rigid and out of touch and are no longer needed in today’s world. What is needed, what works best, is “taking religious teaching metaphorically and not literally” and “understand(ing) that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars, and the main thing is to love and tolerate the differences.

That warm theme “infuses the play with humanity and compassion,” Brooks says. And it feels real good…until you clear your head the next day and think about it.

That’s when you realize “its theme is not quite true.”

He says, “Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last.” In fact, the opposite. “The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.”

The rest of Brooks’ article is a call for “rigorous theology.” His points are…

–Rigorous theology provides believers with a map of reality.

–RT allows believers to examine the world intellectually as well as emotionally.

–RT helps people avoid mindless conformity.

–RT delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us.

–Rigorous codes of conduct allow people to build their character.

Brooks ends with this:

“I was once in an AIDS-ravaged village in southern Africa. The vague humanism of the outside do-gooders didn’t do much to get people to alter their risky behavior. The blunt theological talk of the church ladies–right and wrong, salvation and damnation–seemed to have a better effect.”


Preach it, brother.

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