30 April 2012

The Osteens' "Night" of Hope in Washington, DC

The Night of Hope was a New Wave revival meeting that was held is a largely filled National's Park in Washington DC. Due to inclement weather, the event was rained out on Saturday night and held on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. That shift of dates might explain the number of empty seats behind home plate as many VIPs may not have been able to move mountains to delay their return flights.

National's Park set up for Olsteen's Night of Hope from the upper deck.
Joel Osteen, the scion of charismatic Lakewood Church founder John Osteen, has pastored the Houston non-denominational mega-church since 1999 and helped them acquire the former Compaq-center as their new worship space. So the large setting was not problematic but the rain was.

Osteen lifts spirits by combining elements of an evangelical tent revival with a squeeky clean rendition of a rock concert. Even the Osteen's entrance to the stage was televised and generated excitement among the gathered crowd.

Joel, Victoria and daughter Alexandra Osteen's entrance to the Night of Hope

Much like a rock concert or a major league sporting event, the Night of Hope offered sensory overload with preaching, music, video, scrolling billboards...

Helicopter with live action Scoreboard for Night of Hope

and fireworks!

Fireworks for the Night of Hope as seen from the Upper Deck.
The fireworks were not as stunning as originally planned due to the rain delay, as this pyrotechnic display would have lit up the twilight sky.  Still, the fireworks bolstered the message of praise from the stage. 

Victoria and Joel Osteen testifying with son Jonathan playing guitar
Although there was a large gospel choir, the music ministry rocked out their Christian inspired pop.  One of the guitarists for Joel and Victoria's backup band included their son Jonathan. The Night of Hope included a headline performance by season eight American Idol standout Danny Gokey playing his hit country song "My Best Days Are Ahead of Me".

Danny Gokey singing "My Best Days Are Ahead of Me".
Danny Gokey shares his life experience which illustrate "My Best Days Are Ahead of Me".
The tune complimented the seeds of hope that were sowed during the Night of Hope.


The Night of Hope was truly a family affair.  Aside from Joel and Victoria in the lead, their son Jonathan and daughter Alexandria were prominently involved in the music ministry.


The Matriarch of the family, Dodie Osteen poignantly preached about how the power of prayer saved her from a dire cancer diagnosis over thirty years ago. 

Delores "Dodie" Osteen testified about the power of prayer and how 20 key healing scriptural passages allowed her to survive cancer for over 30 years.
Joel Osteen and his mother Dodie hugging backstage during the Night of Hope
 Joel also enlisted his half brother Justin's help to highlight an international ministry.  Justin  Osteen is a medical doctor who spends much of the year in Africa to help the under-served.  When the collection plates were passed to the crowd, they were encouraged to adopt a child in abstentia through monthly Champion of Hope donations through the Osteen Ministries.  At least the pitch was less maudlin than Sally Struthers schtick.

The Night of Hope incorporated some of the local evangelical non-denominational church partners through a string of declaratory "prayers".

Joel Osteen keynotes the Capital Region pastors Declarations
The highlight to the Night of Hope were the segments where Joel Osteen preached his positive message.  Part of the event was filmed for a Trinity Broadcast Network special.  But the last segment of the program began with that familiar mantra "This is my bible..."

Joel Osteen preaching
While there was not a symposia of deep theology, Osteen's message about forgiveness, self worth and being open to moments of destiny were welcomed words to a receptive audience.

[L-R] Joel, Alexandra, Jonathan and Victoria Osteen

24 April 2012

Skewering Santorum with a Polemic Political Parody

As Rick Santorum bowed out of the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination, liberal feminists could not resist giving his conservative candidacy a final kick. The internet humor site Funny or Die hosted a video featuring Ashley Judd which skewered Santorum with an edgy parody "When to Abort a Candidacy".

The parody was well produced and the black humor certainly was sharp. Fox New's Bill O'Reilly thought that the skit comparing terminating a candidacy to an abortion would hurt Ashley Judd. The actress might be Missing (sic) some of the audience by pushing her politics in a polemic manner.

Some think that Ashley Judd would be insulated from offending an audience as she has been a well known liberal activist.  But one must wonder if Oprah Winfrey's downfall from the heights of her popularity was magnified by Oprah's entry into partisan politics by overtly supporting Barack Obama in 2008.  This loss of viewership has signficantly impacted her Oprah Winfrey Network's success.

What do you think?

19 April 2012

Forcing Catholics Institutions Out of Charity Not Fine with US

The HHS final rule on qualified health plans imposes a Contraception Mandate that poses a poison pill for faithful Catholic and other institutions that believe that life begins at conception. Mark Rienzi, the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty attorney who represents Ave Maria University, Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University and ETWN , is confident that the outcome in federal courts will come out the right way and protect religious liberty in America. However, if Rienzi’s optimism is misplaced, he believes that Catholics could end up engaging in civil disobedience against an unjust law.

  The civil disobedience with religious liberty protestors will not be like the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. Instead, Rienzi anticipates institutions not paying for the contraception, sterilizations and abortifacients. This would lead to crippling fines which eventually would put the charitable and educational missions out of existence. 

In a perverse way, such a shuttering of Catholic identity might be the aim of the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration budgetary proposal for FY2013 sought to limit the deductability of charitable contributions for those making over $250,000 a year, exactly the demographic which makes substantial gifts to non-profit causes. As for Catholic hospitals, they make up 15% of all bed-space in America and they are often the only provider in rural regions. If conscientious Christians cede the field due to the Contraception Mandate (or being fined out of existence), the federal government will dominate the health-care playing field and be a major step towards a single-payer system. 

It is not fine to force charitable institutions from living their faith by penalizing them for not acquiescing. It may be time to recall the Man of All Seasons, St. Thomas More who was a martyr for not submitting to an unjust law proffered from English King Henry VIII, the secular power that be.

h/t: CNSnews

18 April 2012

Dick Clark–The Eternal Teenager Now a Teen Angel

Dick Clark in 2002 (age 73)

Dick Clark, a fixture of American popular culture for over six decades, died of a heart attack at age 82 following surgery. Clark was the host of American Bandstand from 1956 to 1989, versions of the network TV Game Show Pyramid from 1973-1988, as well as hosting Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve for 33 consecutive years.  Clark was know as the “World’s Oldest Teenager” as he kept from aging until he suffered a stroke in December 2004, which caused notable verbal and physical challenges.

While people will to fix our attention to Dick Clark’s perennial presence in front of the camera, it is worth considering how Clark was a shrewd an innovated businessman.  Clark owned an KGUC-FM in Santa Barbara during the 1960s and was the principal in pro broadcaster operator on KPRO in Riverside, California from 1962 to 1982. Clark produced American Bandstand from 1957 onwards. Amongst other shows, Clark produced: TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes, So You Think You Can Dance, the American Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, the Golden Globes Awards and, of course, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.  Clark sold the production company in 2007 to Daniel Snyder for $175 million.

Clark began producing a rock and roll oriented New Year’s Eve Program in 1973 to compete with Guy Lombardo’s stodgy celebration.  But in the first year on NBC, the pre-recorded celebration was hosted by Three Dog Night. The second year’s Rockin New Years Eve was hosted by George Carlin, before Clark took over hosting and was broadcast ABC.

While Clark missed the New Year’s Eve 2005 due to his stroke, he reported ready for duty the next year.  Some viewers cringed because of his post stroke slurred speech, as they thought that it was not telegenic or they missed the myth of the eternal teenager. 

C- Dick Clark in 2009 (aged 79) 
 But New Year’s Eve is all about traditions, nostalgia with a side of hope.  Since Clark owned the production and had established himself, he could choose to do the countdown to midnight.  Although it did not sound like the Clark of before, I was struck that it was Clark’s ebullient enthusiasm that made Clark beloved as “the World’s Oldest Teenager”. May his good spirit be co-hosting at the Pearly Gates.

17 April 2012

Space Shuttle Discovery’s Final Flight Over DC

People between-the-beltways were treated to the sight of the retired Space Shuttle Discovery on its final flight to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.  The Discovery was the most traveled space shuttle, having made 39 missions which totaled over one service year in space.

Many Washingtonians took a break before 10 am to see this fond farewell to flight by Discovery. The Discovery was piggy backed on top of a modified 747 jet on its trip from the Kennedy Space Center to Washington.  But it was not a direct point by point flight.  The Space Shuttle made several dramatic pass overs Washington, to fly by the Monuments on the National Mall, the NASA headquarters and Capitol Hill before landing at Dulles.

The flight was a bittersweet moment, as crowds spontaneously applauded when seeing the Space Shuttle, which had served the American manned space program for 27 years.  But it is sad to think that NASA does not have a replacement manned space craft ready.  So American space interests need to be served through Russian Soyuz spacelifts from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the foreseeable future.

These triumphant pictures of the Space Shuttle flying by national landmarks will have an iconic appeal. It seems fitting that there are be photos of the Space Shuttle flying by the  White House, as the Obama Administration has effectively scrubbed the American Manned Space Program.

Now NASA can concentrate on helping Muslims feel better about their contributions to math and science. But on the bright side, Space X is a private American company which is set to make its first payload mission to the International Space Station on April 30th.

These final flights of the Space Shuttle are also a reminder of the politics of allocating NASA museum pieces.  The Atlantis will remain at Cape Canaveral, Washington was a natural pick.  New York and Los Angeles were also chosen to receive Space Shuttles.  Yet Houston, which has hosted the Johnson Mission Control Center for half a century was shut out, as decision makers seemed to be seeing red on electoral maps.

 Next week, the Smithsonian Institution will relinquish the Enterprise, the engine-less prototype Space Shuttle to New York City’s Intrepid Space-Air-Sea Museum, which will build a $100 million hanger for it.  This piggy back Enterprise flight ought to be better received than Air Force One’s joy ride over Manhattan in 2009 which created a panic by stunned spectators.

12 April 2012

Keeping Politically Curious on Public Broadcasting

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the ban on political advertising for public radio and television stations on a 2-1 vote.  But Judge Carlos Bea affirmed the ban on for profit companies advertizing goods and services.

The stated legal logic is:

Public issue and political advertisements pose no threat of ‘commercialization'..."Such advertisements do not encourage viewers to buy commercial goods and services. A ban on such advertising therefore cannot be narrowly tailored to serve the interest of preventing the 'commercialization' of broadcasting.

Be mindful that this is the Ninth Circuit, has a reputation of being the most overturned federal jurisdiction. But for this election cycle, prisoners of PBS might be praying for telethons rather than the onslaught of election ads.

In the abstract, this ruling may be a good thing for public broadcasters.  Conservatives have long felt that PBS and NPR slants markedly left in its coverage and sensibilities. It might be profitable for them to get paid for broadcasts.  But a close reading of the US Code indicates that public broadcast stations can not substantially relying on underwriting acknowledgments for funding their operations.

It might be interesting to learn how much underwriting spots cost, as it could be a cheap way for underdogs or even ideologically insurgent (read Republicans) to introduce their ideas to public broadcasting viewers. Of course, denial of political sponsors on public broadcasters could generate some earned media for campaigns as well as exposing the nearly translucent veil of impartiality by many public broadcasters.

While it is more of a political than an judicial issue, Minority Television Project v. FCC might spur a rethinking of the 1967 Public Broadcast Act in our information overload area and perhaps a retooling of the FCC itself by Congress. When there were only a few choices on the television dial, it made sense to have an alternative which supported niche programming.  Now cable, satellite, digital over-the-air multicasts and internet streaming offers an alluvia of choices for consumers.  In this changed media marketplace, it might make sense to rethink TV.

There are also some absurdities in Public Broadcasting.  It used to be that public broadcasters relied on the largess of wealthy individual underwriters (or their trusts) to sponsor favored programming like “Masterpiece Theater”.  Underwriting can now be done by corporations, but not to commercialize products.  So there tends to be warm fuzzy branding for the corporate sponsor, even with moving images-but no commercials (sic).  Really?

Public broadcasting is not a fledgling operation either.  Eighteen months ago, KCET in Los Angeles, one of the founding members of PBS in 1970, decided to become an independent public broadcaster because PBS wanted to charge $7 million a year for their West Coast flagship station’s broadcast rights, which was double the assessment of KOCE, This assessment comprised 5% of PBS overall budget.  The KCET executives may be ruing their decision to declare independence, as they had to sell their Hollywood Studios to the Church of Scientology for $45 million.  Alas, KCET’s new mixture of Al Jazeera English and BBC News has not helped, as contributions were down 41% in 2011.

When Juan Williams was unceremoniously fired by then NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, it was revealed that only 2% of National Public Radio’s budget came from federal earmarks.  If that's the case, then cutting Federal funding and allowing these public stations to establish alternate primary income streams should be simple.
Of course, this rosy budgetary situation for NPR greatly assisted from the $200 million endowment by the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc in 2003.  But NPR does not rest on it’s laurels for funding, as it was happy to accept $1.8 million from George Soros Open Society Foundation to hire 100 political reporters.  Public broadcasters have programming staples like “All Things Considered”, “and Morning Edition” on the radio and shows like “Sesame Street” and NOVA on PBS which could enhance bottom lines with merchandising agreements .  As it stands, the underwriting ads now are all but commercials.  The Minority Television Project case may facilitate a restructuring which allows stations to better support themselves and networks to underwrite their costly programming.

11 April 2012

Huckster Exposed?

On Monday, the Mike Huckabee Show premiered on about 40 stations nationwide, syndicated by Cumulus Media (the current owners of ABC Radio).  The show is slotted to compete head to head with the Rush Limbaugh show from Noon to Three p.m.. To distinguish himself from the King of Talk Radio, former Governor Huckabee’s (R-AR) slogan is “Less Confrontation, More Conversation”, which is meant to appeal to the mushy middle of news-talk listeners.

Huckabee took his first phone call fifty minutes into the show from “Mike in San-Francisco”.  The caller chimed in:

Well Governor, let me start by saying it's great to have a different opinion and a different person on the radio and I'm very, very happy that you're doing this radio show. One of the reasons why I want to listen to your program every day is because you ran for office and you've been a politician, you have a different perspective I think.

What a wonderful way to start off your show. Unfortunately, the background behind this sterling first call may expose the Huck-ster.

The first thing impeaching the bone fides of this call is that the host had not given out the call-in line for first fifty minutes of the show.  Huckabee gave the toll free number and immediately “Mike from San Francisco” was cued up and ready to flatter.  That was a miracle!  It was kind of fishy that a spontaneous caller could parrot the talking points for the show in the first hour of broadcasting, but perhaps “Mike” was a groupie

However, Jeffrey Lord from the American Spectator was able to discern that the caller was Mike McVay, the Senior Vice President of Cumulus Media (the syndicator of the Mike Huckabee Show). McVay never identified himself or his affiliation with the show.  It is remarkable that Huckabee could have a radio colloquy with “Mike” for a couple of minutes and not recognize the voice, with whom the Governor presumably had hours of conversations in the run up to the premiere. Huckabee is no newbie to radio, so it is unlikely that nerves overcame his manners or morality.

Politically, Huckabee is not my cup of tea but I have no animus against him.  Huckabee can be charming on his Fox News Saturday Night cable show, picking the guitar while fiddling with politics. In fact, I believe that Huckabee’s first candidate forum with questions from state Attorney-Generals was probably the best of the score of GOP debates.

It seems quixotic to challenge Rush Limbaugh head-to-head, as challengers like Bill O’Reilly, Al Franken, former Governor Mario Cuomo (D-NY) et ali have been felled in the same field.  My media gut check is that Cumulus is vying to create a moderate success on the cheap.  Cumulus may offer enticing terms (like less expensive syndication fees and more local commercial slots).  Moreover, it is likely that Cumulus may leverage their  their Owned and Operated stations (like DC’s WMAL and New York’s WABC when contracts expire) migrating from Premiere Radio to their own Cumulus network.  Considering how the Obama Administration and the campaign continues to demonize Limbaugh, as seen with the Fluck Flap, Cumulus can champion any stations switching as a groundswell against Rush.  Furthermore, Limbaugh is looking to upgrade his affilates to FM carrier (as was recently seen when Rush left Philadelphia’s powerhouse WPHT-AM for WKDN-FM), which opens up AM signals for Cumulus to syndicate and gives them dubious bragging rights that they replaced Rush.

Maybe only media junkies will notice or remember this disingenuous commencement of the Mike Huckabee show.  Fifteen hours of broadcasting a week is a long time over the airways.  Loyal listeners will quickly figure out who is the real Mike Huckabee.  Good luck in the future.

h/t: American Spectator

UK Must be PC on IPs

Adrian Smith, an 18 year veteran of the Trafford Council and Trafford Housing Trust (near Manchester, United Kingdom), was significantly demoted on his job for making moral comments on Facebook.

In October, Smith for daring to post on his own time on a private Facebook page that he thought that same sex “marriages” in churches was “an equality too far”.   When a colleague followed up on whether Smith disapproved of “Gay church marriages go too far”, Smith commented:

I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.

These comments were brought to the attention of a supervisor.  Subsequently, Smith was demoted from a £35,000 managerial post to a £21,000 position.  The only reason that he was not fired outright was because of his long record of service. 

Smith tried to appeal in court a seemingly out of proportion disciplinary decision that violated his free speech rights.  But in Manchester County Court, District Judge Charles Khan ruled that Smith could not rely on a human rights claim and could only pursue the case under a breach of contract theory.  If this strict separation between public and private employers holds, it does not bode well for the British cases before the European Human Rights Court about wearing a cross on the job.

Even though Smith was disciplined because the Housing Council was worried about its reputation acting as a public housing provider, the judge ruled that employment practices were a private function hence it was not covered by the Human Rights Act.  The lawsuit will continue to be pursued for Mr. Smith by The Christian Institute, a non-profit organization seeking to defend the religious liberty of Christians.

The fracas over Adrian Smith’s Facebook posting raises some interesting issues.  Are Christians’ religious liberties being respected by western secular governments?  Conversely, are other moral or religious perspectives privileged over orthodox Christian beliefs?  What is the demarcation line between a persons freedom of speech outside of the office and “towing the line” regarding moral and political issues?  If employees need to tow a line, is there a manifesto of beliefs or it is a politically correct fluidity, as it depends on what favored protected class poses the greatest threat? 

Even in America, which has freedom of speech, the press and religion enshrined as the first thing enumerated in the Bill of Rights, Adrian Smith’s case could give a cause for pause.  The Obama Administration’s Contraception Mandate dictates that Catholic Charities must offer (and indirectly finance) services that are morally repugnant.   Prospective employers are now demanding that applicants surrender their Facebook passwords prior to hiring for inspection.  

It may be time to break out the Aldous Huxley: “Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself."  It’s a brave new world.  If that’s the case, stop the world, I want to get off.  But it is said that the world is what you make of it. This episode give a clear blueprint of what not to do.

10 April 2012

Scottish Cardinal Urges Faithful to Wear Their Crosses

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh
During his Easter homily, Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien urged Catholics to make the cross a more prominent thing in their lives by wearing crosses. The Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh’s reflections on the “Triumph of the Cross” observed:
I hope that increasing numbers of Christians adopt the practice of wearing a cross in a simple and discreet way as a symbol of their beliefs. Easter provides the ideal time to remind ourselves of the centrality of the cross in our Christian faith.
Cardinal O’Brien contends that the sign of the cross is not a morbid way of looking back but acknowledging the path set out for us by Christ Himself. Although O’Brien did not reference it in his homily, the theme of proudly wearing our cross is influenced by the cases before the European Court of Human Rights about two British women who were dismissed from their jobs by wearing cross pendants while at work.

  Cardinal O’Brien’s exhortation that the faithful take up their crosses and wear them is a stark contrast to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who urged Anglicans to attend church on Sundays, even if they are “a bit vague” about religion. As Williams celebrated his final Easter as the spiritual head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury revealed that he does not lose any sleep about cultural Christians who just attend at Easter and Christmas. Williams hopes that the Christian story will wash over them but that there would not be a doctrinal examination.

 It would not be surprising if such pusilanimous expressions of faith from Archbishop of Canterbury Williams inspires another wave of orthodox Anglicans joining the “Our Lady of Walsingham” Ordinariate in England that Pope Benedict XVI created in his 2009 Motu Proprio “Anglicanorum Coetibus”.

01 April 2012

Reflections on A Fool's Prayer and Christ’s Passion

As this year April 1st marks both April Fools Day and Palm Sunday for most Western Christian churches, it is worth trying to appreciate how humor aligns itself with scriptural hermeneutics. Some straight laced religious types wonder about Laughter and the Lord. But on a deeper level, the Passion of the Christ left many to wonder about heaven’s perceived foolishness.

Edward Rowland Sill, an American Poet in the mid Nineteenth Century, penned “The Fool's Prayer”
The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: "Sir Fool,
Kneel now and make for us a prayer! 

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head and bent his knee
Upon the monarch's silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: "O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

"No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: but, Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

" 'Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
'Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

"These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.

"The ill-timed truth we might have kept -
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say -
Who knows how grandly it had rung?

"Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must clense them all;
But for our blunders - oh in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

"Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!"

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
"Be merciful to me, a fool!"
Several things are striking about this Victorian aged verse. The mocking royal court commanding a comedic solemnization misses the true message about prayer. The fool has a bitter smile that is hidden by his painted grin. This reveals to the reader that he bows before the terrestrial potentate with dutiful reluctance. The fools prayer alludes to his foibles and failures. While asking for mercy the fool gently shows truth to power revealing how this world lauds the knave (which can mean deceiver) and punishes the fool who does the Lord’s work.

These arresting dichotomies are reminiscent of what was termed “jarring ambiguities” in the Johnine Passion account. Jesus knew that deciding to visit Jerusalem during the Passover could lead to His death, yet He did so anyways as he was obedient to His Father’s plan. Jesus’ triumphant entry into the Holy City was greeted by throngs of adulating fans, yet Jesus cried as He realized that they could not embrace the true Kingdom of God as they were still slaves to sin. The people still expected the Messiah to be King who would overthrow the Earthly Oppressor and they would have trouble embracing the Prince of Peace who road to the seat of power on an ass. When the earthly end game began, the Christ chose to be meek and allow Himself to be crucified amongst common criminals. These ironic details in our salvific history of Passiontide could certainly seem foolish to the eyes of man. But as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”.

Long time Harvard Divinity Professor Harvey Cox was inspired by this concept of the foolishness of God. When he wrote “Feast of Fools” (1969) he included a chapter entitled “Christ the Harlequin” which proposed a Theology of the Jester. Cox theorized that Christ the Harlequin shows the divine willingness to reveal the true self to the world through humbleness and ways that may seem foolish to the world. Steven Schwartz and John Michael Tebelak thoroughly embraced this joyful revelation of the divine in Godspell (Play 1971, Film 1973).

But the reach of the Theology of the Jester did not stop on Broadway or in Hollywood. Fr. John Naus, S.J. who has graced the Marquette University campus for nearly fifty years, also was inspired by Cox’ spiritual insight. For years, Fr. Naus would periodically conduct a Harlequin Mass and celebrate the Liturgy in the guise of Tumbleweed the Clown. While this was not a High Mass held in the basement of Schroeder Hall , it was definitely no mockery of the mass. Fr. Naus is a Doctor of Philosophy who shared the Jesuit charism of “Finding God in all things”. The Clown Mass was a way of reaching college students to demonstrate how Jesus could identify with our weakness and was willing to “look foolish” to the world and shed His own Precious Blood for the New Covenant and give us eternal life. Naus' good humor helped him recover from a serious stroke in 2004 to remain active as  Marquette University's Alumni Memorial Union's Chaplain at age of 88.

Indubitably, some Christians would find expressions of Christ the Harlequin as improper or perhaps even sacrilegious.  In  Fr. Naus'  Philosophy of Humor course, comedy was understood as what taking was readily identifiable but having it presented in an incongruous way.  So often humor can stem from sadness or pain but be transformed through a change of vision (metanoia) into something that can overcome the original hurt and uplift many.

In a similar way, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta's vocation to the Missionaries of Charity saw things in a different way.  Mother Teresa sought to see Jesus in the distressing disguise of the miserable and the poor.  By serving the least of her brothers, she served her Savior. While the suffering servant was no laughing matter to Mother Teresa, the seeming disparity between the  worldly reality and the spiritual reality involved seeing things differently and appreciating that weakness and travesty may not be as it seems as part of the divine plan.

While most celebrations of the Triduum will be rightly somber, understanding the jarring ambiguities in the Passion remind us of how Our Father’s Plan took in what Zealots would consider ignominious end in Jesus’ crucifixion into a divine victory which releases God’s family from the shackles of sin. If it’s God’s will, stay foolish!

Laughter and the Lord

According to secular calendars, today is April First, a time when it is acceptable to play pranks, hoaxes, practical jokes and other good natured humor.  The origins of April Fools Day can be traced to the Nun’s Priest’s Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392) when Chaucer described as “Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two” (meaning March 32, or April 1), but there may be some roots  in the Roman festival of Hilaria (March 25th) as a feria stavia when masquerades and amusements were allowed.   But some might question whether comedy is suitable to commingle with spirituality.

In Umberto Eco's "Il nome della rosa" (The Name of the Rose, 1980), the Italian academic spins a medieval murder mystery that a palimpsest of the plot was made into a major Hollywood film (1986).  The premise of the  novel involved a Franciscan friar William of Baskerville along with his novice  sojourning to a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy in order to investigate a theological disputation as to whether Christ laughed.

There were hidden power that be in the monastery who wanted to conceal a lost volume of Aristotle's Poetics about comedy, as that threatened their weltanschauung that laughter is diabolical thus not belonging in the spiritual life.  Admittedly, there are strong currents in the monastic tradition (Pachomius, Anthony, Augustine and Benedict) which  frowns up laughter in the spiritual life.

However, there are many instances in the Old Testament  in which humor unlock the hidden meanings of seemingly contradictory truths in scriptural wordplay.  When the Lord told Abraham that he would have a child, his wife laughed as Sarah was ninety years old.  Since anything is possible with the Lord and Sarah gave birth to a son, he was named Isaac (Yitshaq meaning “He will laugh”).  Some other gems are lost in translation from the Hebrew.  For example, during the first creation story in Genesis, God fashioned man (adham in Hebrew) from clay (adham?), and the woman created from one of his ribs was to be called woman (ishsh?) because she was produced from man (ish).

In his recent book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Humor and Joy Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (2011) , Fr. James Martin, SJ takes on the gloomy, pessimistic approach to spirituality.  Fr. Martin argues that having a "Frozen Chosen" approach to theology is both antithetical to the teachings of Christ, but is harmful to evangelization.

If hearing that humor is healthy for a spiritual life sounds jesuitical (sic.), then consider the series of “Bad Catholic” Guides written by John Zmirak which take a loving look at the lighter side of faith.

While there certainly should be a place for Laughter with the Lord, as the book of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under heaven.  Levity is less appropriate this week as most persuasions of Christendom are celebrating the Messiah’s Passion and sacrificial death on Mount Calvary. Holy Week is not the proper time to persiverate on Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the Life of Brian (1979). But after the solemnity of the Triduum, believers revel in the joy of the Resurrection.

Celebrating this joie de vie for theology is not limited to the “wrong” side of the Tiber.  As Presbyterian seminarians blew off steam before taking their ordination exams, a video went viral which lauded and laughed about things within his tradition.  This epitomized the great Quaker scholar  D. Elwood  Trueblood’s quote about “Never trust a seminarian without a sense of humor".

Such examples of  joy filled, self effacing examples of faith stand in stark contrast to dour doctrinarians or smarmy and snide secular humanists.  This joyful approaches to  teleological things could set the set hearts on fire, even without candles.