Twisting History

(A Facebook Post.)

My wife and I recently began watching a show on Netflix called “Turn: Washington Spies.” The following is AMC’s brief synopsis of the series:

“TURN: Washington’s Spies takes viewers into the stirring and treacherous world of the Revolutionary War and introduces Abraham Woodhull who, after aligning with a group of childhood friends, forms the Culper Ring — America’s first spy ring.”

Now, we just watched an episode in which George Washington is portrayed as more or less at the edge of delirium—imagining his teeth falling out in a pool of blood, hearing the ranks of his soldiers mouthing things they aren’t actually saying, seeing and talking to his dead brother, Lawrence. Near the end of this particular episode, he wanders away from the camp in a frenzy and out into the surrounding woods where he is confronted by his deceased brother. He falls to his knees in a prayerful stance, begging his brother to answer him. Finally, he does. His brother offers an instructive monologue and then disappears. The camera pans out and away to show Washington still on his knees, hands folded reverently, and bearing an enlightened look of resolute peace.

As soon as it flashed on the screen, I knew exactly what I was seeing.
This was a depiction of one of the better known portraits of Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge. AMC and its writers purposely mishandled what is a solemn American image of a great man, having recast him in the scene as that of a madman talking to his dead brother rather than kneeling devoutly in prayer.

I was truly bothered by this. Not necessarily surprised. But bothered. I say this because, for example, any young person who may be following this series, if they do by some slim chance happen to come across the prominent portrait in a history class—and knowing the situation in our classrooms, I do mean slim—the student may just recall and then apply this cinematic interpretation.

“Oh, yeah. Washington was crazy. Did you know he used to talk to his brother’s ghost? In fact, that’s what this portrait is all about. He’s talking to his dead brother.”

Having said this, I offer two final observations.

The first is that I rarely enjoy watching TV, other than the news, and I’m hard-pressed to say I actually enjoy such viewing. Still, I’ve made the effort to engage with this particular historical drama. And yet, this one episode has now stolen away all flavor of interest for me in continuing through to its end. Likewise, I’ve lost all interest in reading the book upon which the series is based. As is the case for most volumes translated from print to the screen, my guess is that the author most likely consulted and agreed to these overly creative articulations of his work.

Second, there was another scene previous to the one I described above in which the writers worked vicariously through the character of a jail warden, going well out of their way to impose upon the viewer an absolute certainty that there is no God or devil, and that all that truly exists is the base instinct of every man. That primality, from the warden’s perspective, is most truly revealed during times of extreme pressure. Having that explanation in hand, the scene changes and the viewer is ushered more deeply into the crazed struggle of George Washington. The effort is deliberate. We are, indeed, meant to be carried along by an obvious anti-Christian agenda within the script.

The Tragedy of Parkland, Florida

I meant to get word out to you yesterday, something of a comfort following the events in Parkland, Florida. And while I managed to tap away at the computer for a few minutes, seeing a scrap of my thoughts end up on Facebook, I hadn’t yet finished what I intended to share with you, my Christian family. There certainly was a lot more on my heart and mind.

And so, with that…

Once again as a nation, as a community, as individual members of the fellowship of human depravity, we find ourselves shaken by a horrific school shooting. Together, our guts are turning inside out as we watch the newscasts, read the articles, see the images—the terrible images—of one weeping parent’s outstretched arms as she receives her child with thankfulness while another portrays a parent wincing in collapse, embracing the pavement of the crime scene’s perimeter, having just learned her child is gone—snatched away so violently, so unjustly, so unfairly.

And what are we to do? Just like you, I ask myself this question. Of course, as a Christian, I know that God is the only One to whom we can turn. We do so in prayer. And this is good. But it is something that happens most often while we’re alone. We turn to our God in worship, too. We receive there the gifts that sustain not only for the good times, but also, and perhaps most importantly, for the bad. And we do it together. We stand beside one another, not necessarily knowing the deepest concerns, but more than able to admit to being equals in this world before God.

This is good, because even as we gather before him in the unified confession of our sins, we leave His presence as a holy people, justified by His grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit with hope, and enabled to endure in a world of uncertainty, sorrow, and pain.

There’s a lot to be mined from this divine reality.

The faith that is comprised of these things has eyes that are open to see what the world cannot see. It has ears to hear what the world cannot hear. It has a heart that is willing to admit to what is truly happening in this world and what is at stake.

I speak this way having participated in a press conference yesterday afternoon in which I stood beside a group of fellow Christian pastors in support of another pastor who’s received death threats from the LGBTQ community for, in essence, his biblical stance on sexuality. No, I am not in fellowship with this man theologically. He and I have very different views on any number of theological things. And I can say the same of a majority of the Christian pastors who stood there at the podium in solidarity. But that wasn’t the point. The point is that we have a common, external goal that involved protecting a Christian pastor’s freedom to submit to and ultimately proclaim the Word of God as the standard for faith, practice, and life in this world.

But here’s the more simplified take-away of my participation in the press conference as it relates to the events in Parkland, Florida…

If we as a society are willing to allow (and perhaps even applaud) any community to threaten another in such ways over such things—for what in the midst of common discourse would be considered differences of opinion—should we be surprised when the society’s children kill one another? Something else is behind this. So much more is going on.

I think that the most honest answer to this particular question was penned by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Scaer, a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and a friend of this congregation. Perhaps you remember him being with us last year to preach and to lead Bible study. I encourage you to read his words. I’ve shared them here. They beg you, the reader, to assess with honesty the compilation of situations in our culture and then to dig deep enough to admit to the findings—the God-awful findings.

Still, we’re asking, “What do we do?”

Go to church.

Heed the biblical mandate to be present in the house of God to confess your participation in sin. Be absolved of your failings, and then receive more and more of His blessed forgiveness by the Gospel gifts that preserve through this world’s darkness. Don’t look upon your time with God in holy worship as something so easily traded away for anything else in this life, no matter what it may be. Everything else is transient, and in an instant can be snatched away. Eternal life is just that: Eternal. Be immersed in the Word of God proclaimed and the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood administered for the forgiveness of sins. I’m absolutely certain that God will open your eyes in ways that such tragedies won’t surprise you, but also, they won’t overwhelm you to the point of uncertainty or despair. Instead, you’ll be equipped to grieve for and with others. You’ll be able to shine the light of Christ to those who need it. And if, God forbid, such a tragedy happens to you and your family, you’ll most certainly mourn deeply, but not as one with no hope. And I’ll be willing to bet that same hope will burst into a bright-burning pyre in others in your Christian family, folks who will wrap their arms around you, who will come down to you in your sadness, who will point you to the One who has borne your grief and sorrows in a way that certifies them as temporary and never permanent.

God be with you, my dear friends. Know that I am praying for you and your families.