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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, February 25, 2013

And the Oscar goes to...

 Once again, I did not take home an Oscar, the award given to those of the film industry's own favorites. Of course, I only pay for movies...I do not actually make them. Maybe someday I will...

But I watch the Academy Awards ceremony just about every year, and when the kids were younger we had quite the Oscar's party. (I once even made a red carpet down the stairs to our TV room, and the dog promptly tripped on it, and ripped it to shreds as she rolled down the stairs. When she got to the bottom she stared at me with the "Well, that's gonna get you removed from my will look.") But theologians don't have awards ceremonies (although there are awards, and they carry some prestigious honor and money with them. The Grawemeyer Award and the Templeton Prize come to mind.) My only claim to fame, and about as close as I am going to come to seeing one of those awards was looking at the Templeton Prize given to Ralph Wendell Burhoe, whom I was working for at one time in my life. There are three main reasons for this why theologians won't ever award themselves.

One: theologians holds grudges. As Ben Affleck noted as he won a Best Picture Oscar without even getting nominated for a Directing Award, in Hollywood "you can't hold grudges." Theologians hold grudges for centuries, and they are expected to last to eternity. We may never know why Pope Leo IX excommunicated Michael Cerularius in 1054, but it is safe to say that the last 960 years have not exactly been forgotten by those we know of as the "Orthodox Church." Theologians would never put down their condemnations long enough to cast a ballot for anyone but there own "homeboys." (And for some, the "boys" is literal, as there are still many theologians even today who wonder if women have the chops for theology.)

Second: theologians have no agreement on what makes a good theological argument. To take the idea I started above, there are people who think because a woman has written a book about God, scripture, or the Bible, that it probably isn't very good. I remember a student of mine once criticized Letty Russell's Church in the Round (a truly great book of theology and ecclesiology IMHO) by saying she was a "feminist," and he didn't like feminism. Really? Saying Letty Russell is feminist is like saying Ronald Reagan is Liberal, probably true, but so wrong. It's wrong not because she is not a feminist, but because it is not the point of what she is doing in that work; however, some people just do not trust women who write about God. Their loss, and a reason why we could never get an awards ceremony going. Everyone differs on what makes good theology, and even more so than art, sometimes just talking about God is not enough.

Lastly: awards are stupid. This is the big reason why theologians would never have an awards ceremony for themselves...no one would show up, and those that did, would obviously not be theologians, at least Christians ones. I mean, when the namesake of your faith spends his life critiquing that idea that favoring what you like over someone else's likes, it's tough to vote for preferences. Jesus died. On a cross. Killed by some of the most elite religious and political traditions of all time. What award do you give that? Lifetime Achievement? Best Production? Editing? (truth be told, we could hold an awards ceremony for that one.) In the Christian tradition there is no need for awards. When Jesus says, "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first," notice that everyone gets in...it's just a question of how long you wait in line. For a Christian the only reward is dying, and dying well if you will. Dying, not because you're supposed to, dying not because you have to, but dying because the love you have for everything cannot be contained in this human vessel.

I guess, if I had a choice, I'd want my award to be written by a playwright who never won one. I'd want my epitaph to include this line: Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." Smiling friends and fond memories are the only awards I ever need. It's good enough for me when I'm here, and it will be good enough for me when I am gone.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

(By the way, the quotation is from William Shakespeare, who never once was given a Tony, Oscar, or Emmy for writing. But even without the awards still a surprisingly good poet.)



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