Monday, December 25, 2017

They Do Not Balance

The Christmas story was read at late-night service tonight, and I thought of Garrison Keillor's telling of the story.  It is simply the best I have heard, and I hear his voice interwoven with the scripture as it is read. I have read that Minnesota Public Radio has excised his portions of "A Prairie Home Companion" from their archives.  This seems rather Soviet to me. It's reasonable to say to a person who has harmed others (I have not read what the accusations are, only that they are sexual) "You can't work here anymore. You can't stay here anymore."  It's what civilisation is and how groups protect themselves. But good and evil do not balance each other.  They do not erase each other. Each is solid and real.

If you have done some good thing, you have done it; it is to your credit. If you do something evil next year, it does not negate the good you did (unless it is a specific negation, such as stealing $1000 from a person you gave $1000 to).  Nor does the good you did in 2013 mean that the evil you did in 2017 somehow doesn't count and should be ignored.  That is how the world views things, to set up some balance scale of worth, so that a well-directed movie means we will overlook you having sex with underage females. God's measurement does not take place on the balance scale. The harm to girls is not negated by talent.

Peter the apostle declares that love covers a multitude of sins, but in its context I suspect it means within a reciprocal relationship.  Peter might be saying that if you love Lucy we'll overlook the fact that you kicked Ricky, but I seriously doubt it. Also, I think this is largely practical advice for living together, not a theological point.

The Scriptures don't record anything else that covers a multitude of sins. David brought his people freedom from oppression by the Philistines, but it was considered a serious matter that he sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba, and with those acts, against the nation and against God. He also wrote (or collected or had written) psalms, but no one suggested he was above the law because of it.

It is a point I have known for years but keep forgetting, which is why preachers and teachers are necessary, even among those who have been taught. Perhaps in the longest of long runs omnia vincet amor, love conquers all. Love is more powerful than death.  Yet we live in the world between the First and Second Comings, and pain hurts. It is both comforting and horrifying to know this. All things of God are both comforting and horrifying to know. I have done hurtful things, some not even noticing them as I have swept by and injured someone, in my self-centeredness; some I am still deeply aware of, years later, amazed that I could do such things. For those I know, I hope that they show forbearance because I have also done them good. Yet many are beyond the reach of my ever doing good to them again. They are far away, or dead, or so badly sinned against that even my presence might be painful to them.

In my early twenties, my father said something to me about his own father.  You should know the context that my father had done terrible things which caused my mother to divorce him, and so his sin came against me, who now had no father. He also did kind and good things for me, and most of my adult life we were on good terms, and he did not hesitate to apologise again whenever the painful topics came up.  Yet like all Wymans, he did at times blunder on and not notice what he was saying in the context of telling a good story, and could hurt me again, unnoticed. Al was the son of Carl, the egg man for Chelmsford and Westford, who was no one's idea of an intellectual or a great man. 6th grade education, few accomplishments beyond survival. Al admitted that he was ashamed of Carl when he was young.

Yet later in life, when Al had somehow wandered back into church and become serious about his faith, he told me he had been brought up short by the realisation that Carl had no enemies, while Al had more than a few. I nodded and kept my face blank but was shoved five steps backward myself.  I was still young and already had enemies - some I would never be able to make things right with. I create a few more of those every year, and arrogance is usually the spark. I hope that I do good in the world.  No, that is false modesty.  I know I have done some good in the world.  But balancing one's good and evil in the world is part of other religions, not Christianity. They do not balance.  Each is separate, hard, and irreducible.


james said...

In Victor Hugo's book 93 is a scene in which a warship is in deadly danger from a loose cannon. It has come free, and the half ton of iron slides back and forth with each wave, breaking bulkheads and crushing everything in its path and threatening to breach the hull and sink the ship. One man risks his life to jump in its path to ram wedges in place to stop it--and succeeds. The commander rewards such bravery with a medal--and then has the man shot because he was the one whose carelessness let the cannon come loose.

RichardJohnson said...

I have read that Minnesota Public Radio has excised his portions of "A Prairie Home Companion" from their archives. This seems rather Soviet to me.

Perhaps, but it might also be considered rather capitalist. Or as basic as taking your ball and going home. Keillor owned at least some of the rights to Prairie Home Companion. Minnesota Public Radio: Frequently Asked Questions Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) recently terminated its contracts with Garrison Keillor and his private media companies. (MPR cannot discuss specific details. Here is the full statement.)

MPR does not fully own the rights to continue to use the names or provide archive content for A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor and The Writer’s Almanac programs. Garrison Keillor and his companies own many of the rights to this artistic content.

It may be that as MPR was firing Keillor, he decided that he would withdraw what permissions he had for MPR posting his material. Undoubtedly Keillor's material has been a money-maker for MPR. When you fire me, I don't want you to make money off my material.
It sounds as if the details on Keillor's leaving MPR was one of those non-disclosure deals: "MPR cannot discuss specific details."