Hard-Living Outlaws and the Good Women Who Save Them: “Like Jesus Does”

The other night, I was turning the radio dial (actually now pushing the button) trying to find something worth listening to and I was drawn to some electronically-enhanced Vegas-style country singer telling a familiar tale —

Eric Church - Having a Beer On Stage - Capitol Records Street Party 2011 - Nashville, Tn by tncountryfan

I’m a long-gone Waylon song on vinyl,
I’m a back row sinner at a tent revival,
But she believes in me like she believes her Bible,
And loves me like Jesus does.
I’m a left-foot-leaning on a souped-up Chevy,
I’m a good old boy, drinking whiskey and rye on the levee,
But she carries me when my sins make me heavy,
And loves me like Jesus does.
All the crazy in my dreams, Both my broken wings,
Every single piece of everything I am, Yeah, she knows the man I ain’t,
She forgives me when I can’t,
The devil, man, no, he don’t stand a chance,
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does.
I always thought she’d give up on me one day,
Wash her hands of me, leave me staring down some runway,
But I thank God each night, and twice on Sunday,
That she loves me like Jesus does.      (from “Like Jesus Does” by Eric Church)
          What is the “good news” here?  And is it really “Good News”?
          First, it is good that the singer acknowledges himself to be a sinner.  He is humble, it seems.  But has he been redeemed?  He says, “he is a long-gone Waylon song on vinyl”.  It seems he is lost in sin.  So where does he turn?   To Jesus?  Nope.  To the love of a good woman.  On the one hand, you have to admire that she loves him “like Jesus does”, but you also have to wonder what this means, if she believes in him [her man] “like she believes her Bible”.
          The woman’s faith is somehow strong enough to balance allegiance to God with loyalty to her “good old boy, drinking whiskey and rye on the levee.”  Her faith is strong enough even to carry him and the weight of his sins.  She believes, so he doesn’t have to.  Is this loving like Jesus does?
          Again, he admits his “craziness” and “brokenness” – essentially his need for forgiveness.  But who forgives him?  God?  Nope.  His little woman, of course, whose redemptive love is so powerful that even the devil himself doesn’t stand a chance.  All he can do is be grateful to God for her (perhaps saying a prayer on his way to the levee for more whiskey and rye).
          I must admit as much as I love classic country music, this theme of a hard-living outlaw saved by the love of a good woman is an archetype celebrated in song and even revered in life.  Take Johnny Cash and June Carter, for instance.  Until June came along, Johnny was on a sure road to destruction.  Even with her help, he lived on the outlaw edge, but with her by his side, it was if he were made complete, redeemed by her love.
           This false theology does an injustice both to God and humanity.  When we strip the story of Christ’s sacrificial love on the cross and hang it around the necks of even the best women, we commit idolatry.
            For the women, we are setting them up for abusive relationships where men can destroy themselves and those around them while the women are left behind to pray (and, of course, stand by his side).
             Men, then, are freed from the responsibility of faithful living and grow up never really growing up.
              Good news?  What do you think?
(photo above “Eric Church – Having a Beer On…” from tncountryfan)

Give Your Life or Choose to Die: Eponine and Javier in Les Miserables

les miserables

I just got back from the movie Les Miserables – my first movie theater experience in about 20 years.  All I can say is – it was worth the wait.

But I will say more… probably several posts worth.  First, let me caution you that if you are planning to see the movie (and I recommend you do), see it before you read this review.  That said…

Today, I want to focus on the lives and deaths of two characters in the film – Eponine (the inn keeper’s daughter) and Javier (the policeman).

Eponine grows up in the household of unscrupulous parents who favor her over Colette (“I mean Cosette.” – as the inn keeper would say).  She sees their greed as they rob, cheat, and steal even a a randy Santa Claus from his goods (including his pants).  As they fall on harder times, as does most of France, they are still only looking out for themselves.  To the end of the movie, they sing out their selfish creed as they are carried away from crashing a wedding.

Yet, in spite of her skewed upbringing, Eponine manages to develop strong values.  Though she falls in love the handsome and brave Marius, she consents to show him the way to Cosette when she sees this is his heart’s desire.  Though she could have become embittered at only seeing love from a distance, she channels her rage to fight for the freedom of her people.  In the end, she gives Marius Cosette’s love note, making their union possible.  As her reward, she is able to die in his arms, as he declares love for her as well.

Eponine lives a virtuous, self-less life.   She gives her life for her love, and for people.

Javier, on the other hand, lives for vengeance.  We first see him overseeing prisoners as they are treated like slaves.  Though he hands Jean Valjean his parole papers, he tells Valjean that he will  never pay for his crime (of stealing bread to feed his sister’s son).  Javier represents the dark side of merciless law that favors the punishment of death-in-life rather than make room for forgiveness and grace.

Fast forward to the revolution.  Javier is a prisoner of the revolutionaries, being caught as a spy.  Jean Valjean is given the opportunity to kill him for his crime.  Instead, he cuts Javier loose and grants his pardon.  This confuses Javier.  In fact, it causes him to question his existence.  Not long later, when the tables are turned and Javier lets Jean Valjean escape, Javier can’t bear to live with his identity confusion.  The world can not contain both Valjean and Javier (mercy and vengeance), he sings.  He chooses to kill himself rather than to live by grace.

Death is something none of us can escape.  But we do have a choice.  We can live by grace, and do what is good and right and loving, as Eponine does.  Or we can die clinging to a perverted sense of human injustice that can never measure up, as Javier does.

Give your life or choose to die.  Which will you do?

(image “At the Movies – Les Miserables” from erjkprunczýk, some rights reserved)

The Death (and ultimate life) of Ivan Ilyich

In the eleventh post of Christmas, I truly give to you…

the death of ivan ilych

Leo Tolstoy’s short story The Death of Ivan Ilyich is at times an excruciating book to read.  Ivan Ilyich’s callous social climbing, care-free lifestyle and heart-less unconcern for his family are difficult to bear.  When he becomes chronically ill, one almost cheers for his payback, but we are made to instead endure his unending complaints and cries for relief.  At one point in his suffering, he scolds his wife –

“For Christ’s sake let me die in peace!” he said.

She would have gone away, but just then their daughter came in and went up to say good morning. He looked at her as he had done at his wife, and in reply to her inquiry about his health said dryly that he would soon free them all of himself. They were both silent and after sitting with him for a while went away.

“Is it our fault?” Lisa said to her mother. “It’s as if we were to blame! I am sorry for papa, but why should we be tortured?”

It seems nothing can be done to relieve Ivan Ilyich’s suffering (and insufferability) and it only grows steadily worse.  As the end draws near, he spends three full days simply calling out a monosyllabic cry, “Oh!”

He is lost – alone – in his struggle.  But just when it seems he will go to his grave suffering alone, his neglected son enters the room.  He becomes aware of his son’s presence.

At that very moment Ivan Ilych fell through and caught sight of the light, and it was revealed to him that though his life had not been what it should have been, this could still be rectified. He asked himself, “What is the right thing?” and grew still, listening. Then he felt that someone was kissing his hand. He opened his eyes, looked at his son, and felt sorry for him. His wife came up to him and he glanced at her. She was gazing at him open-mouthed, with undried tears on her nose and cheek and a despairing look on her face. He felt sorry for her too.

“Yes, I am making them wretched,” he thought. “They are sorry, but it will be better for them when I die.” He wished to say this but had not the strength to utter it. “Besides, why speak? I must act,” he thought. with a look at his wife he indicated his son and said: “Take him away…sorry for him…sorry for you too….” He tried to add, “Forgive me,” but said “Forego” and waved his hand, knowing that He whose understanding mattered would understand.

In his deathbed confession – to his family, and to God – Ivan Ilyich finds the grace to die in peace.  The pain is still there, but he doesn’t focus on it.  He chooses instead to take the self-less path of gratitude for those who surround him, who care for him, who make it possible for him not to die alone.

As a pastor, I have seen many people at the verge of death and I’ve seen some as they died.  Some die peacefully.  Others resist.  It isn’t always the case that those who are right with God and others die a more peaceful death.  Sometimes the suffering is still agonizing.  But it makes a big difference when we can clear our slate by asking for and accepting Christ’s forgiveness and making the most of whatever time we have remaining.

I like the way one prayer I’ve said puts it,

Give us your grace, O God, to live as those prepared to die, that we may go forth to live so that, living or dying, we may always walk with you.

How about you?  Are you ready to die so you can fully live?

(image “The Death of Ivan Ilych” from  Dottie B., some rights reserved)

*****

– In the first post of Christmas, I truly gave to you…. “God is With Us (a Christmas Story based on Matthew 1.18-2.12)

– In the second post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “Assaulting a Felon with a Fruitcake.”

– In the third post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “Some of the Best Christmas Blog Posts for 2012

– In the fourth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “I Wonder as I Wander

– In the fifth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Be More Like a Child at Christmas (and beyond)

– In the sixth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Five Favorite Movies for the Christmas Season

– In the seventh post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “From India to Indiana: My New E-Pal

– In the eighth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “What Sam Found in His Backpack After Break (A Prompted Poem)

– In the ninth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “The Precise Dilemma: A Book Review

– In the tenth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Potentially Praiseworthy Poems Posted on WordPress