January 10, 2007
Three Celebrities and a Funeral
Gordon MacDonald brings together Gerald Ford, Pat Robertson, and Oprah as he asks what real Christian behavior looks like.
I took a bit of morning time to watch President Ford's funeral service as it was televised from the National Cathedral. There was music (Christian hymns which have buoyed the heart for many generations) sung and played with a beauty, a grandeur, and an artistic excellence that made the soul soar. There were scriptures-so appropriately selected-read with great dignity. There were eulogies (marked with affection, historical reminiscence and humor) that reminded one that Gerald Ford was a very good man. Words like decent, nice, and principled were used more than once to describe his character. All in all, it was a cleansing experience to watch that funeral.
Then later in the day, my wife, Gail, called me down from my study to watch a few minutes of Oprah Winfrey who has brought into being a school in South Africa which will train hundreds of girls who come from the deepest poverty, from abuse and molestation and AIDS-dominated circumstances. The gleaming smiles on the girls' faces, their alertness in responding to questions, and their simple girlish beauty was stirring, arousing tears. All in all it was an inspirational experience to see what Ms Winfrey has accomplished through her compassion and determination to help others avoid the kind of background out of which she came.
Then in the evening on the national news came the report that Pat Robertson was informing our nation of a word he has received from God to wit that several million Americans (who knows where or how) would perish in some unspeakable disaster in 2007.
I must be frank here - what kind of a god tells someone, "there's going to be a big disaster in the next 12 months, but I'm not going to tell you when, or where, or who." When God told Abraham about an impending disaster, he mentioned the place: Sodom. Couldn't he have done the same this time?
Three experiences in one day: one about a man of whom President Bush said, "he brought grace to a nation in grave doubt." Another about a woman who decided to invest in the future of some remarkable girls. And a third about a man and his "god" who speaks vaguely about the doom of millions.
When I was a child, the people in my church would have disparaged a Gerry Ford who smoked a pipe and said "damn" on occasion. "Couldn't be a Christian," they would have said. But his achievements and personhood as celebrated in his funeral speak to me of what the Biblical tradition said of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus: he was a righteous man.
The people in my sub-culture would have put distance between themselves and Oprah citing a few aspects of her private life that they would have found totally unacceptable.
But many of them would have embraced the third because he espouses an essentially evangelical theology. And they would not have through what his "prophecy" means to a larger world where many people think evangelicals are fools and now have a bit more evidence for their opinion.
Now I will humbly offer my own "prophecy" (if one minds). When Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet fork over billions (billions!) of dollars to deal with poverty, eradicate disease, find clean water, freshen the air, and educate the young, could God (just humor me here!) be saying to those who (like myself) claim an essential orthodox foundation of belief, "if you will not be known for doing these things unto to the least of my brothers, then I will use others not of your fold to get the job done."?