Saturday, February 23, 2013
A disappointing movie. . .
I had a chance to see Iron Lady the other week and found it was exactly the same kind of film. Margaret Thatcher comes off as somewhat batty, rigid, and yet disoriented. The constant flashbacks and the way they were utilized gives you the distinct impression that she also is a sometimes likeable lunatic thrust into a heroic position. It is a disconcerting and somewhat shallow picture of a woman who will stand large in history no matter whether you appreciated her or opposed her.
There is one speech in the movie that is prophetic. It follows a theme in which Thatcher challenges the way we have become captive to feelings. In one section she laments that people have stopped wanting to do something and have chosen instead to be someone. Perhaps that truth is so blunt and so accurate as to make us blush. We have certainly chosen fame and notoriety over accomplishment, preferring a legacy less in what is done than in who we are. This is in no small way the problems we face in marshaling the full resources of our nation and its leaders on the great problems before us.
The actual speech to which I was referring is the one where Mrs. Thatcher reluctantly visits her physician who wonders how she feels:
Doctor: ‘It must be a bit disorienting. You’re bound to be feeling – ‘
Thatcher: ‘What? What am I bound to be feeling? . . . People don’t think any more; they feel. . . . Do you know, one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Now, thoughts and ideas – that interests me. Ask me what I’m thinking.’
While spoken more in the vein of the political realm, this truth should not be lost to us in the realm of faith and church. She has it spot on. We are captive to our feelings and feel both the need and demand the right not only to have them but to express them freely. From the social media to the ever present cell phone, we connect less on the level of concrete ideas and more and more on the level of feeling.
The Church has long suffered from an aversion to the concrete and an infatuation with what we feel. Worship appeals less and less to truth and fact and more and more to feeling. We entertain ourselves into the presence of God and assume that God's main interest in us lies in what we feel. Preaching and teaching has marginalized objective truth so that our opinions reign over all and those opinions are shaped more by feeling than by truth or fact. Our old enemies of sin and death are no longer confronted with forgiveness and life in Christ. We are far more concerned with how we feel about our sins and how we feel about death than we are confronted by their concrete reality and consequence. Marriage and sexuality have also become captive to feelings -- almost always self-centered and hardly ever enduring past the whim. We pursue them on the level of feelings, we judge their success on the level of feelings, and we cast them aside when feelings change.
Truth has become whatever we feel right now and faith has become a truth captive to those momentary feelings and church the place where people who feel similarly hang out -- for the moment. No one in their right might would suggest that feelings be completely abandoned or ignored for a unfeeling idea or a thought that bears no consequence for the heart. However, just as God is not cold hearted reality devoid of emotion, neither can faith simply be feelings detached from fact and truth. The love of God is not an idea or a feeling. It always takes concrete form. In creation and in redemption -- finally and fully in the incarnation. We meet God not in the emotional roller coaster of the heart but in the concrete of water, Word, bread and wine. Yet these concrete realities confront, answer, and shape our feelings so that the whole person is redeemed by God. I find little danger today that we might slip into some intellectual religion of ideas but I know that we are daily confronted by the temptation to believe that feelings and spirituality are one in the same. And that, my friends, is a big problem.