God in the magazine

Two very unlikely media bedfellows have done me some good this week: The Christian Century and Parade Magazine.

Yes, you read that right: Parade, the thing that comes with the ads in the Sunday paper. Probably not one of those periodicals I should even admit to glancing at.

But, this Sunday’s edition featured an interview with Stephen Colbert. I like him. And, in defense of actually reading the article, I thought it might be a bit professionally edifying because Colbert is known to be a devout Catholic who actually teaches Sunday School. But, based on the journalistic non-depth of Parade, I didn’t expect to get much out of it. It was just a convenient thing to read while I stuffed food into my mouth during my quick afternoon break from a string of Sunday events at church.

Now I’ve been thinking about the article all week. Here are the two paragraphs that stuck with me:

…one icy winter day, as Colbert walked down a street in Chicago, a Gideon handed him a Bible. “It was so cold, I had to crack the pages,” he recalls. “I flipped it open, and it had a list of things to read about if you were feeling different ways. Under ‘Anxiety,’ it said ‘Matthew V,’ the Sermon on the Mount.” He paraphrases: “‘Who among you by worrying can change a hair on his head?’ It spoke to me.”…

…Colbert remembers the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount: “That’s being fearless,” he says. “Not living in fear is a great gift, because certainly these days we do it so much. And do you know what I like about comedy? You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time—of anything. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.”

If you watch Colbert for awhile, it becomes clear that one of the things that bothers him about the state of our country right now is that way fear is used to manipulate people. Personally, I’m not particularly afraid of some of things our current leaders want us to be afraid of. But there are many other things that I’m afraid of, and many things that make me feel like we’re headed to you-know-where in a hand basket. I’m a very anxiety prone person. I love that Colbert had an Emmaus, come-to-Jesus moment over that particular verse.

When I read those two paragraphs, I put this together (maybe it’s a little speculative, but I think it’s a much healthier way to speculate about celebrities than “Will Brittny lose custody of her kids?”): I think Colbert sees it as his calling (in the fully Christian sense of the word), to make people laugh at the things that they are afraid of. This is his way of preaching the good news of the Sermon on the Mount…”Do not worry.”

With that percolating in my head, last night I heard Peter Gomes speak at the Christian Century lecture. (Gomes, by the way, is hysterically funny. And, for more conservative nay-sayers, at least from what I heard, he’s unapoligeticaly Christian. I think one of the things I’m looking forward to in heaven is a to sit on a good rap session between Gomes and Colbert.) One of the things that absolutely thrilled me about his talk was that he brought up eschatology (the study of “the end” in other words, what’s going to happen at the end of history), and he talked about is as his great hope: he has hope in the future because God is still doing things and the best is yet to come.

And then, he gently chastised this roomful of mainline pastor-folks and their friends to preach on Revelation. I was ready to jump up on the table and start dancing. In my seminary training, eschatology was a big deal. When I was ordained in the CRCNA, I had to be prepared to talk about eschatology. When I shifted over the PC(USA), suddenly no one was talking about it, it wasn’t a big deal, and I miss it. Because for me, when I get anxious about tomorrow, about what the future holds, I really need to return to that idea that Jesus IS coming back, and a new creation IS on its way.

I don’t like the destructive version of eschatology–that God is coming to knock heads together, wipe everything out and start from scratch. But I am a classic pessimistic Calvinist. I’m really not convinced that humans are capable on their own of cleaning up the big mess we’ve made. We need God to enter in and give us some help. In the meantime, I we need to laugh. Not just as a way to ward off fear, but because laughter is a sign of hope.

4 Responses to “God in the magazine”

  1. Katherine Says:

    Yay! I love this post so much. I was also duly impressed with the piece on Stephen Colbert, and I think you nailed his mission to a T.

    And I’m also a fan of preaching and teaching biblical eschatology. My favorite band, Over the Rhine, has made a practice of writing songs that are full of eschatological themes, and in a nuanced, biblically-sound way that rarely happens in pop culture. These are the lyrics to their most recent apocalyptic pop song:

    The Trumpet Child

    The trumpet child will blow his horn
    Will blast the sky till it’s reborn
    With Gabriel’s power and Satchmo’s grace
    He will surprise the human race

    The trumpet he will use to blow
    Is being fashioned out of fire
    The mouthpiece is a glowing coal
    The bell a burst of wild desire

    The trumpet child will riff on love
    Thelonious notes from up above
    He’ll improvise a kingdom come
    Accompanied by a different drum

    The trumpet child will banquet here
    Until the lost are truly found
    A thousand days, a thousand years
    Nobody knows for sure how long

    The rich forget about their gold
    The meek and mild are strangely bold
    A lion lies beside a lamb
    And licks a murderer’s outstretched hand

    The trumpet child will lift a glass
    His bride now leaning in at last
    His final aim to fill with joy
    The earth that man all but destroyed

    Ooooh, gives me chills every time. Sorry to hijack your comments!!

  2. ppb Says:

    I think Peter Gomes is hilarious, too. I heard him speak at Yale where he started his lecture by saying, “I bring you greetings from your elder siblings in Cambridge. We’ve all been anxious to see how the little experiment in New Haven would turn out.”

    I’ll have to look for the Colbert article. It sounds great.

  3. joanne Says:

    i’ve been looking for the exact bible segment that stephen colbert paraphrased, and i cannot find it. can anyone help?

  4. Erica Says:

    I’ve got it for you, Joanne. (And, you’re right–I think Parade got the verse reference wrong.)
    It’s from Matthew 5, and I think he meant verse 27.
    “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

    I’ve been thinking even more about this passage lately. It really does seem like a passage and a word for our times.